Why AEW and WWE Need More Tournaments

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On Nov. 7, 1985, live on PPV, the WWF hosted The Wresting Classic. The event was held in Rosemont, Illinois to a crowd of 14,000. It featured a 16-man tournament to determine…a winner.

That’s it. A winner.

The show was headlined by the WWF World Championship on the line between champion Hulk Hogan and challenger Roddy Piper. The tournament itself was won by the Junkyard Dog, who defeated Randy Savage in the finals. JYD and Savage would receive pushes as a result of the tournament, and well, that’s it. No storylines (sans Hogan/Piper) but the tournament itself. But for 1985, the tournament itself was good enough.

We don’t see tournaments in professional wrestling as much as we think, and to be honest, we need more of them. The narrative that there are “too many” tournaments is overblown, in my eyes. There have been a good amount of one-off tournaments in both AEW and WWE’s histories, but nothing excessive when it comes to annual tournaments.

Wrestling needs more annual tournaments. There’s a few reasons for this, so let’s take a dive into why we need more brackets and tables in our mainstream pro wrestling products.


Current Major Tournaments


WWE holds two annual tournaments as of now; both in NXT. The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, and the NXT Breakout Tournament. AEW holds only two annual tournaments per year: The Owen Hart Cup and the new Continental Classic.

New Japan Pro Wrestling holds more than both American brands, as we have the Best of the Super Juniors, G1 Climax, the New Japan Cup, World Tag League, and up until 2020, the Young Lions Cup and Super J-Cup.

In Stardom, they annually hold the 5 Star Grand Prix, Cinderella Tournament, Goddesses of Stardom (tag team), and Rookie of Stardom tournaments.

WWE and AEW need to catch up. Yes, there have been many one-off tournaments sprinkled in, but we can do away with most of those and focus on beefing up the annual tournaments that fans can look forward to.

But first, some kayfabe logic (you’ll see why later).


In Kayfabe…


You are a professional wrestler. You have trained for years to enter the sport, and become (as Randy Savage eloquently put it) the cream of the crop. Your goal, like any athlete in any sport, is to become a world champion. Sure, there are players in the NFL and NHL who just like to beat people up, and pro wrestling is no exception. But at the end of the day, holding a championship of some kind is the recognition you need to validate all of that hard work.

Preferably, the top prize in a world championship.

However, like any hierarchy, you must work your way up from the bottom. Simply walking into the head booker’s office to request a world title match will get you laughed off the card. So you’re booked at the bottom in hopes to climb the ladder of wrestling success.

Along the way you’ll make friends and enemies, and those relationships will be featured on national television. Your journey will  be documented for the world to see.

If everything was treated as “real”, the above makes sense. And what all of this is, is a competition. What is a tournament? A sports-based competition, and you’re here to compete. This isn’t a stretch, right? A pro wrestling tournament is the ultimate nod to kayfabe.


We Know It’s a Show, But…


If what is on screen is presented as “real”, then shouldn’t we treat it as such? We treat characters in our favorite movies and TV shows vicariously. We sink a ton of emotion into our favorite sports clubs and athletes. So why do we treat pro wrestling any different?

Isn’t it more fun to invest in the story over what is “actually” happening backstage?

Off topic, but is it still worth our time as fans to overanalyze and deconstruct every minute of wrestling television? Shouldn’t we be having fun? And what better way to capture that magic than to invest in more competitive tournaments? After all, tournaments are a natural part of sport.

And let’s face it, it’s silly to fight over a stolen egg, shampoo, dog food, and a jar of Ucey Hot (among many other ridiculous stories in wrestling history). This is nothing against a well-written, well-crafted angle. But sometimes stories often feel forced and half-hazard, and they really don’t have to be when you have a device to utilize such as a tournament to build history with.

With tournaments, you get built in stories, readily available. An example of this was last year’s Continental Classic (C2).


Better Stories


Heading into the C2, Eddie Kingston had never defeated Bryan Danielson. Even though Eddie was a double champion at the time, Danielson was heavily favored to win the Blue League. After starting off with two straight losses (one to Danielson), Kingston sunk to 0-2. After an upset win over rival Claudio Castagnoli, Eddie gained momentum, qualified for the semifinals with 3 straight wins, and picked up a first-time-ever win over Bryan Danielson to advance to the finals to face longtime friend Jon Moxley. Kingston had also never defeated Moxley in singles competition.

And with adorning kickpads to honor his hero in Toshiaki Kawada, Kingston was victorious over Moxley in a bruiser of a match. He was crowned the first ever winner of the C2, and awarded the Continental Championship. It was the ultimate career pay-off that Kingston deserved.

While not victorious, the other side in the Gold League witnessed the continued rise of Swerve Strickland and Jay White. A sure sign of AEW’s future.

With any tournament, you have the ability to build stories within the brackets. In any sport, you have stories that present come playoff time. You don’t always need a well-written soap opera script to make the viewer care about the match in front of them. If you put two competitors on television with a prize on the line and a slight backstory, the nature of the sport will do the rest.

This works especially well for AEW, a more sports-based wresting promotion. Speaking of sports…


Four Seasons of Sports


NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. These are the four major sports in America. You can give a nod to the NCAA March Madness tournament as well here. In addition, across the pond, the UEFA Champions League takes over the world annually for fans of soccer.

We like tournaments. The drama of upsets, surprises, unexpected failures, Cinderella stories, great games, and high stakes. Most playoffs have it all — and it’s why we place so much interest into the four major sports come playoff time.

Tournament stories write themselves. Was there a story in the Texans/Browns game this weekend? Of course there was. After former Texans QB Deshaun Watson was traded (controversially) to the Browns over 2 years ago, his team (led by veteran Joe Flacco due to an injury), walks into the home of his former team only to get destroyed by the Texans and their new rookie QB, C.J. Stroud.

It writes itself.

We’re used to at least five major tournaments per year, six when it’s FIFA World Cup time, and more if you count sports outside of the U.S.

It is my opinion that pro wrestling needs to match this, and offer at least 4, preferably 5, major tournaments per promotion per year.


Future Tournament Recommendations

As for what tournaments I would personally like to see…


Bigelow Invitational | You can honor other big men here, but essentially, this is a tournament for exciting beefy boys. “MEAT” chants galore! The winner would receive a championship shot of their choice, and AEW has plenty for an 8-man tournament. Wardlow, Hobbs, Takehshita, Miro, Archer, Big Bill, Brody King, and Luchasaurus would fill out a tournament of this big proportion quite nicely.

Other tournaments would include adding a Women’s Continental Classic, a Young Lions Cup (men and women) to feature up-and-coming young talent, a Tag Team League (men & women) similar to what New Japan and Stardom does, and a World Cup. The World Cup would highlight some of AEW’s many global talents and working relationships around the world to culminate at Forbidden Door.


Eddie Guerrero Invitational | Let’s honor the one of the greatest wrestlers of all time in this tournament. The winner receives a championship shot of their choice (and to pick the match type), but the caveat in this tournament is that cheating is not only allowed, but encouraged. I feel like a promotion like WWE could have fun with this concept. They could even book all heels in this tournament for an extra twist.

Other tournaments include bringing back King and Queen of the Ring, and moving the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic to the main roster.


Tournaments Are Good For Pro Wrestling


In closing, tournaments are always underutilized when it comes to mainstream wrestling promotions, and they shouldn’t be. They’re an easy way to tell stories, elevate talent, and create a sense of excitement at times where current storylines may not be connecting with fans.

Above all, they contribute to the kayfabe element of professional wrestling; that these are competitors that compete in competitions. Crazy thought, right?

But what are your thoughts? Does wrestling need more or less tournaments? What are your ideas for tournaments? Leave them in the comments below!


NoDQ Debate Series

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