“And I need you to open up your ears and hear this. Nobody wants you here, they never wanted you here. That whole locker room’s afraid to say it. Not me. So, get out!” – Eddie Kingston; AEW Dynamite November 11 2021
Before we get started, I’ve decided that this will end up being a 3-parts column. The next part will contain my thoughts about this subject and the events I presented in Parts 1 and 2; it will be up later this week. I won’t make y’all wait another week; otherwise I just may end up writing more and then we’ll end up with 10 parts. The entire essay combined is nearly 8,000 words, so it’ll be easier to read split up.
Catch up on Part 1 here
3 – The Cult of personality
You knew this was coming, CM Punk was the big fish, he was Moby Dick to pro wrestling’s Captain Ahab. Here was the guy who gave WWE the finger and quit. He left pro wrestling altogether, started doing MMA, acting in movies but stayed away from the squared circle. He joined WWE Backstage on FOX, but that wasn’t what fans wanted. No, fans wanted to see CM Punk wrestle. There were a lot of people clamoring for AEW to do whatever it took to get CM Punk on board. WWE fans meanwhile hoped that time had healed all wounds and Punk would return to the company that helped make him a superstar.
3.1 – The Return
On August 20th 2021; it happens. CM Punk officially returns to wrestling, and not in WWE, oh no, the Chick magnet chooses AEW and declares that he will wrestle for the first time in 7 years at All Out against Darby Allin, one of the young homegrown stars of AEW. Fans go nuts. People are crying in the stands. Ice cream bars aplenty for the fans in attendance, (it’s a celebration bitches)! Finally, the white whale has been caught. It’s high fives and champagne all around. The moment is perfectly executed and a massive PR win for AEW.
3.2 – The Split
And then everything goes tits up. I don’t need to recap everything for you here, we all know what happened. But the end result was that fans were pissed. Here was the guy everyone was waiting for and after only a year in the company, a great year I might add, things turned sour. The shouts are resounding, you can’t avoid them. You’re either on team Punk or Team AEW.
Fans on both side jump on this meaty bone like a starving cannibal; it’s too juicy; it’s too tasty; they have to feed. Some blame Punk, some blame Tony Khan, some blame The Young Bucks, some blame everyone. But when CM Punk opened his mouth on September 4th 2022 and went into what has been referred to as “The Gripe Bomb”, there was no turning back. Punk comes back to AEW in the summer of 2023 but it makes no difference, he gets fired after another incident. Now what? Everyone is looking for answers. They tried putting him on an island to himself, tried moving on from the drama, but the drama was never going away.
Clearly Punk wasn’t happy and the second run was doomed before it started. Trust is like a mirror, you can try to fix it if it’s broke, but you’ll still see the cracks in the reflection. We will probably never know what happened. Breakups are never easy and this one hits like 100 tons of bricks.
Then the unthinkable happens, he returns to WWE, the company that fired him on his wedding day, the company that bankrolled the lawsuit that caused a permanent rift in his friendship with Colt Cabana, the place he swore he would never go back to. What was once a trench war now degenerates into a frontal assault on all sides. The earth is shaking, the ground is splitting, staying in the middle is not safe. Those tremors you felt before? That’s nothing, because the world is on fire.
4 -The instigators
Now I’ve been laying out a timeline of when and how the rift happened between wrestling fans into AEW vs. WWE. But to pretend like everything was copacetic at first and that this is all due to specific events unfolding would be a simplistic answer. In 2023, we are extremely divided as people. Extreme ideals are now becoming more and more normal due to the fact that everyone has a voice now. You hate black people? You don’t need to put a hood over your head, join the Klan and fear getting your ass kicked anymore, you’ll find like-minded individuals somewhere on the Internet and now you can say everything you’ve ever wanted to say and get cheered on by like-minded individuals.
You’re a sexually frustrated young man who feels insecure and hasn’t been able to get a girlfriend? It’s not your fault, it’s the women’s. You need to take the red pill and you’ll learn everything you need to know. You’re not alone anymore, you’re a part of a community and you’ve got an enemy. You can even go on Twitter and leave a nasty comment to a Tweet by those damn man-hating feminists or those “Woke” snowflakes who champion diversity. The worst that’ll happen to you is either you get a nasty reply back, get blocked or get your account suspended/deleted (and hey you can just open another one). You try that IRL? You might get your cap peeled.
There are always going to be people with bad intentions, and you’re likely to find them online but that’s part of the deal. You take the bad with the good. However, there is a special kind of person, a person who not only promotes toxicity and who encourages discourse, but is actively making money off of it. We have the Donald Trumps, the Andrew Tates, the Tucker Carlsons and FOX News of the world, amongst others, that monetize outrage for money. Pro wrestling is no different, and while there are a lot of people who go that route, I want to bring up who I feel are two major culprits who profit from negativity and encourage division on the platforms they built due to their status amongst wrestling fans.
4.1 – Eazy-E
He’s back and most definitely not better than ever
First off is Eric Bischoff. Now I’ll give the devil his due, Bischoff has had some good ideas. To paraphrase his original philosophy when Nitro debuted: he says that you can be better than, lesser than or different than. If you can’t beat them at their own game, then change the game. Nitro was revolutionary at first and forced the WWF to adapt. With that being said, it didn’t last and after the initial play, Bischoff had no answers. He focused on short-term success but was never able to have a plan in place for what comes next.
The nWo is cool right? People love their shirts and that’s the storyline that brought you to the dance, let’s double down. Those cruiserweight guys that steal the show every week? Who cares, they’re fine where they are. That Goldberg guy sure is hot, the crowd loves him, let’s pad his record and pipe in those “Goldberg” chants so it sounds even better on TV. Bischoff talks a big game about Tony Khan and AEW, or at least he has since they stopped booking him, but what does Eric Bischoff know about promoting? The man never had to put his money where his mouth was. WCW was a line item on a major corporation’s budget.
Why Bischoff is irrelevant
Bischoff was playing with house money. You can’t fire an owner; you can fire a middle manager. Yet, according to Bischoff, Tony Khan doesn’t know what he is doing, he’s a fan boy, he doesn’t know how to handle talent etc. That’s funny coming from a guy who has been Hulk Hogan’s lap boy for 20+ years and who fumbled the biggest angle in WCW history. Bischoff’s ghost-written book “Controversy equals Cash” at least gets the title right. Bischoff has always thrived on controversy. He tries to convince people that he’s this expert and this very knowledgeable businessman who took on the WWE and won, but he’s just another one in a long line of people who booked a wrestling show, had some success and eventually flamed out.
He’s very similar to Vince Russo in a way, just with the added responsibility of having to report on financials to his higher ups and the perception that he was the one who made WCW a success. I don’t know why anyone would listen to what this man has to say about business and take it to heart. Why would I listen to the guy who contributed to WCW becoming so toxic that AOL Time Warner basically gave it away for peanuts? As a TV character, Bischoff was great. If he wants to tell old stories about his days in WCW, that’s fine, but to act like he knows enough to dunk on a man who has actually put up his own money and has already achieved more success than Bischoff is ridiculous. But he’s got a name, a podcast and he use that to play into the outrage and to push a narrative that gets him views.
4.2 – The Racket Man
Someone gets this man a cheeseburger, stat!
But now we get to the most toxic, the man who seems to live off of outrage, Mr. James E. Cornette. I’ve listened to a lot of Cornette. He’s a fantastic storyteller and he’s very entertaining. He has a deep knowledge of wrestling history but when it comes to modern wrestling, he’s a terrible influence on the culture. Some would say he’s a cancer even, but Jim Cornette is, at the very least, consistent. He likes old-school Southern Style wrestling.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It would be hypocritical of me to write a whole novel about toxic fandom and then shame someone for liking something I don’t. My problem with Cornette is that he is actively hurting the business he claims to love. If you listen to Jim talk about AEW, you’ll hear about how it’s terrible, he’ll call out the talent and wish for them to break their necks. He will review Dynamite, review PPVs and seemingly hate 90% of what he sees. He’ll call people names, degrade the product and just go on tirades on how it’s all fake BS and whatever other expletives he can add.
Corny the carny
I believe that Cornette exaggerates, I have no doubt he hates the AEW product, he doesn’t like the orange Cassidy gimmick, thinks modern wrestling has strayed too far but yet, he keeps watching. He keeps putting out clips on YouTube to just blast AEW because it makes him money. If you look at what gets the most views, the most engagement on his YouTube channel, it’s him talking crap about AEW. You look at the comments section and you’ll see that his fans are all for it, parroting his views and praising him for them. But yet, he’s not exactly complimentary of the WWE product either. He’s not nearly as down on it, he will not go into the same level of rants but it just doesn’t seem like he enjoys anything. At this point, outrage is a job for Cornette.
Here’s a man who says he wants to “Piss on Vince Russo’s grave” because of their beef over incidents that took place decades ago. I can’t imagine hating someone that much over something so small, can you? I get that pro wrestling is important to Cornette, that it’s his life and he blames Russo for what he perceives as its downfall. I know there’s also personal issues between the two, but at this point it’s getting ridiculous. The world changes, the business changes and you either adapt or die. If Russo hadn’t come along, someone else would have. The culture around that time was high on outrageous content like Jerry Springer and Howard Stern. ECW, while nowhere near the level of popularity and reach that WWF and WCW had, were also cult favorites, presenting a different vision of pro wrestling. There were the wild violent death matches which gathered a lot of attention, but some forget ECW’s contribution to modern wrestling. Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, RVD, Jerry Lynn, The Dudleys, Sabu, Eddie Guerrero, Lance Storm and many more got their first break in ECW. WWF had the resources, ECW did not, so they took a page out of both ECW and the media landscape and the Attitude Era was born. Vince Russo did a lot of idiotic things, but to act like he killed pro wrestling all by himself and hold that level of resentment towards him is unhealthy.
Should we listen and should we care?
Unlike Bischoff, Cornette has more credibility and has achieved real success in pro wrestling. He’s been a popular manager, has worked with lots of different promotions, helped book shows, ran his own promotion and even contributed to the growth of some of the biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling though OVW.
His words carry more weight than AEWSuxWWERulz42069 on Twitter and yet he chooses to use his platform to demean the athletes who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment. Kenny Omega is a frequent target of his, and why? Because Omega did some comedy wrestling in a small promotion in Japan years ago. He wrestled a 9-year-old girl and a blow-up doll, and as such he’s committed the cardinal sin of disrespecting the wrestling business and he must burn in Hell. This kind of vitriol is just unnecessary and over the top. I don’t fault Cornette for having an opinion, again he has the right to think that something is dumb and criticize it but it goes beyond that. If you hate the product that much, why do you watch it? Because money of course. If the podcast stops, Cornette’s fanbase will go elsewhere. He doesn’t like to travel and has so much bad blood in the industry that it would not be easy for him to land a full-time position in a major promotion.
I don’t think he wants to do that either, he’s not getting any younger and so if he wants to keep earning regular income, the podcast must go on. Would he still get listeners if he only talked about his past experiences? Of course. Would he get as many clicks and downloads as he does now if he wasn’t so outspoken? No. Expletive filled colorful rants are Cornette’s bread and butter. If there’s no appetite for his content, he wouldn’t make it. Classic supply and demand.
Cornette is trickier to fit in a box than Bischoff. I can point a finger at Bischoff and confidently say “This guy’s talking out his ass” but with Cornette, how much of it is true anger and how much of it is just him dialing it up to 11? I don’t have an answer for how to counter Cornette’s extreme views on wrestling. I guess the best I could wish for would be for him to tone it down a little. Maybe don’t call for wrestlers to suffer career-ending injuries, try to sprinkle in a little bit of positivity every now and then and stay away from name-calling whenever possible. That’s most likely wishful thinking on my part. If you are entertained by Cornette then by all means, listen to him. Do remember though that he is making himself miserable for money and be careful about parroting his talking points.
I could list a lot more names in this section, but honestly there are too many. It seems that there’s a large group of people who want to get attention off disparaging AEW. If you look at the comments section under my columns, you’ll see that the loudest voices are the ones trying to discredit my views because of the promotion I support. I tend to respond to a large portion of them because first, I love to argue, and second because I feel that someone has to speak up and try to rise above. Am I above being a little petty and condescending? Of course not, but my goal is to have real conversations.
END OF PART 2
Until next time, this has been the Steamy Files, you stay classy San Diego