A Vicious Circle: AEW’s Backstage All Out Incident

Greetings fellow wrestling fans. My name is T.J. Stephens and I would like to thank PWMania for giving me a chance to talk wrestling, and a thank you too you for giving me a chance and reading this. I’ve studied wrestling territories going back to the beginning of the 20th century until Vince McMahon took over the wrestling empire.

As we all know, the biggest story in the wrestling world right now, is the fallout from All Out between The Elite, CM Punk, and what will Tony Khan do in response. First of all, my podcast co-hosts shacked ourselves and over 20 of our listeners in a suite at All Out for a wonderful experience, which you can one day be apart if become a listener of the Filter Free Popcast. The atmosphere in the arena was electric. Every match had decent responses and an energetic crowd, but The Acclaimed and the title match were hands down the most electric of the night. On the outside it seemed to be a successful night for AEW, but as our party bus back to the hotel took off, behind the scenes at AEW was getting a little strenuous.

After his title match victory, a bloodied and beaten CM Punk celebrated his world title victory by calling on Nick Hausman, but never allowed Nick to ask a question. He chose instead to go claws out on Colt Cabana and take not so subtle jabs at The Bucks, Omega, and “Hangman” Adam Page. While Punk was destroying some cupcakes and Tony Khan looked like he just remembered he left the stove on, Punk called his coworkers “F***ing children”. This media scrum tirade resulted in a physical altercation between Punk, Ace Steel, and the Elite. While the exact details are still foggy at best, one thing is for sure and that is that all parties are suspended and it’s a possibility that Punk’s time in AEW is over. I’m sure we will get all of the details sooner rather than later from one side of the battle, but there is an oft used quote that fits this scenario to a tee: “Controversy Creates Cash” (Thanks EB). There’s several ways to take the usage of this quote. It can definitely be said that the experiment of wrestlers having executive positions within a wrestling company is forever dropped, but that is not what I was referring to. The quote reference is explained in this way, if all parties could put differences aside, this angle would be the biggest angle in wrestling in the past twenty years.

Wrestlers having a disagreement backstage is not new, not even close. HBK and Bret Hart, Jericho and Goldberg, Edge and Matt Hardy, Piper and Mr. T, Hart and McMahon. With the exception of Jericho and Goldberg, all of these angles were utilized on, made barrels of cash in ticket revenue. Why? The fans can sense real animosity. The cat has been out of the bag for years when it comes to the validity of the struggle inside the ring. Fans have to be more intrigued inside of a wrestling show outside of seeing neat moves. How do we do that? We look for things that are real, especially when we think we see animosity in the ring spinning out of control and spills over. Although rare, it does happen. Google Earthquake and Koji Kitao. Mr. Kitao tried to go into business for himself and “shoot” on Earthquake but failed to calculate for the fact that Earthquake was a legitimate sumo wrestler. It didn’t take long for him to realize his mistake. After ‘Quake embarrassed him in short order, Kitao left the ring and screamed that wrestling is fake. Tremendous. So although the literal shoot is rare, real life animosity can mask aggressive in ring work as a shoot if handled properly. Imagine if Shawn and Bret could’ve had one more match after Survivor Series ’97, say in 2000. WrestleMania could’ve booked an entire card of the wrestlers having legitimate in ring poker games and main evened with Bret and Shawn, and it would’ve sold out. With the following of the Elite and the mic skills of CM Punk, this rivalry could go down as one of the best ever, however with the pride and more abundant stubbornness involved, it’s unlikely to happen.

Another factor in this fight that really has been bubbling up since AEW’s inception is the placement of main event talent as executive members of the company. Even though the concept of main event stars being in an executive position within a company is not a new idea, AEW has differed in how these stars were utilized in the past. Here comes the history lesson. Professional wrestling hit a renaissance period of sorts in the 1930s. It’s odd to consider with the Great Depression and all, but grapplers like Strangler Lewis, Jim Londos, and Bill Longson were trailblazing in the wrestling world even in hard times. These wrestlers also brought in “characters” and a fancy new move that was sweeping the nation, the dropkick, quit laughing I’m serious. Often relying on managers who would book them throughout the country, this practice worked fine enough on its own. Then in the 1950s, new wrestlers like “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers started logging payoffs in a notebook and noticed how much they were paying the “managers”. This movement started wrestlers taking more responsibility of both their careers and financial success. In 1960 the ante was upped when former NWA United States Champion (in Chicago) Verne Gagne started the American Wrestling Association in the Minneapolis territory. The exuberant hometown hero, Gagne would defend his World Title against all evil comers including Gene Kiniski, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, and Fritz Von Erich. Eventually over a twenty year in ring career for the AWA, Gagne was an 11-Time World Champion including winning the title against Nick Bockwinkel at the age of 55.

Booking yourself as the champion wasn’t a new concept, in fact it was common practice. Dick the Bruiser in Indianapolis, Jerry Lawler in Memphis, and the Von Erich boys in Dallas. As nice as it would be to say that it wasn’t nepotism, there certainly is a degree of that, but the main reason is trust. The promoters knew that they would not walk out on themselves with the belt. See the aforementioned Verne Gagne and his run ins with Stan Hansen…and Jerry Lawler as examples. Although we’ve established that wrestlers being in key positions isn’t new, there is a key difference, well a few. The first being that to get into a booking office in the territories, the wrestler involved would have to “buy” his share of the territory so he now has a vested interest in the well being of the company as well as the creation of new stars so you can freshen up the main event and keep the crowd interested. These wrestlers buying in on territories were also major stars in their own right, that’s how they get the money to buy a “share” of the booking office, and also had enough respect in the locker room that their marching orders were followed. This was also long before the times of guaranteed contracts. Your payoffs were directly correlated to how much you drew, therefore everyone in the locker room had an interest to put their best efforts forward to ensure solid crowds.

What does all of that historical drivel have to do with AEW? Quite a lot actually. There was usually one star on the top of the office or one booker. One person, one voice, one direction, one stop. When AEW announced their creation with the four EVPs and Tony Khan, I was excited. I like most fans have been longing for a competitor to the WWE for so long. After that fateful day on March 26, 2001, WWE has run mostly unopposed. They were getting comfortable in the car with no one in the rear view mirror. Then we get a company for the wrestling fans run by wrestlers. Sounds great on paper, hell, it sounds great to hear. However as we’ve seen, especially lately, when the company brings in stars who may not see eye to eye with the remaining EVPs, they don’t get utilized as well as they should. They also have possible new stars, young stars who don’t get the television exposure or the booking required to gain a following to become a star. They have three EVPs and one owner that seems to let the wrestlers run the show, which has worked until lately. It may be high time that Tony stops being a powerful fan, and becomes a promoter who takes more control of his locker room.

There’s some guys in the back that would be excellent in the advisor role, and I’m looking real hard at Arn Anderson, although it sounds like he may be leaning on Tony Schiavone which is also a great pick. We’re in an interesting time especially with WWE seemingly reinvigorated under a new regime for the first time…well ever and it’s time for AEW to strategize their next move. Do they want to be WCW in late 1999 and beyond with backstage politicking, or does Tony put his foot down and tell everyone, “this is my company and we’re going to do things my way”. As a 33 year wrestling fan if you didn’t watch WCW and don’t think that AEW is in a bad predicament, go back and watch WCW in 2000. Watch one Tank Abbott promo with 3 Count and when you’re done flushing your own head in the toilet, hit me up on Twitter @TStephens91 and let’s talk about it.

If you enjoy wrestling from the past and talking about all of the news, sports, movies, TV, and music from the past as well, join Dolla’ Bill Dave, Timmy C, and myself every Tuesday on the “Filter Free Popcast” wherever you find your podcasts. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

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