With the announcement that All Elite Wrestling (AEW) had found its national US TV deal with TNT, the former home of WCW’s Monday Nitro, fans around the world grew excited at the proposition of a US-rivalry in pro wrestling – with NJPW being a far stronger ECW – that would re-live the tensions and excitement of the Monday Night Wars of the late 1990s. But it started off somewhat slow. There was the announcement of NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff on the same date as AEW All Out (which itself was announced on the same date as NJPW Queen’s Quest UK PPV), seemingly in response to Cody Rhodes‘ symbolic destruction of Triple H‘s throne at AEW Double or Nothing. But nothing like what the pro wrestling world has seen in the past week.
The week began with WWE Universal Champion Seth Rollins challenging both AEW’s Jon Moxley (his former Shield mate, Dean Ambrose, and NJPW’s hottest star at the moment, Will Ospreay, in a Twitter tirade that rocked the wrestling internet community. It took another heated turn on Wednesday when it was announced that EVOLVE Wrestling‘s 10th Anniversary iPPV would instead be aired on the WWE Network on Saturday, July 13. On a normal date, this would be applauded as a huge victory for EVOLVE, to get arguably their biggest event of the year to air live on a platform that big.
It Has Begun: The Next Great Wrestling War Is Upon Us
— WWE (@WWE) June 26, 2019
But the date happens to run on the same date as AEW’s third event, Fight For The Fallen, a charity show to raise money for victims of gun violence. Needless to say, AEW star and Executive Vice President Kenny Omega was blindsided by the announcement (in a Tweet that has since been deleted).
It didn’t take AEW long to respond to the announcement. Whether intentional or coincidental, the timing couldn’t have been better, as AEW announced just under two hours later that former WWE World Champion Chris Jericho, arguably AEW’s biggest mainstream draw, would now be appearing at Fight For The Fallen.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) June 26, 2019
But these are just a handful of events that we’ve seen over the past few months that are happening, and not just between WWE and AEW. Reports claimed that IMPACT World Champion Brian Cage was backstage at Double or Nothing, but was pulled last minute when IMPACT management found out he was there and was scheduled to be in the Battle Royal. Jon Moxley was unable to work the NJPW G1 Climax event in Dallas, Texas due to his AEW exclusivity in the US.
There is a new landscape in pro wrestling these days. Thanks to on-demand streaming services like IndependentWrestling.tv and Powerslam.tv, not to mention individual sites for promotions themselves, the indie scene has never been more accessible to watch and follow online, be it North American, European, Japanese, South American or Australasian. This kind of promotion and access has allowed stars to grow at a faster rate on the independents and reach more out of region fans than ever before, creating a wealth of talent (and more importantly, emerging and new talent that moves up as bigger names sign elsewhere) that has helped nurture the top indie companies.
With four main majors in the United States now, each funded by big money and featured on national television deals, and a calculated invader from the East, we are approaching a level of pro wrestling competition unseen since the strongest days of the NWA in the 1970s. While no competitor is as globally big in brand stature as WWE, these are companies held up by successful and wealthy backers. Ring of Honor is owned by media giant Sinclair Broadcasting, IMPACT Wrestling is run by Canadian sports media magnate Anthem Entertainment, and AEW is owned by billionaire Tony Khan of the Khan Family that owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and English Premier League’s Fulham FC. While they may not be direct threats to WWE’s coffers or ratings, they do provide something that they are equally on ground with (if not exceeding) – comparable wages and more creative control. Former WWE lifers or Superstars are leaving the wealth and fame of the WWE Universe for more personal growth in smaller pastures and helping to bring more spotlight to stars that have yet to grace a WWE ring.
At first, it seemed the alliances were simple. A couple of years ago, it was WWE and it’s small band of indie allies – EVOLVE, PROGRESS, Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) – against the Anti-WWE Alliance. Spearheaded mostly by New Japan’s IWGP Conception – an alliance of NJPW, ROH, and Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) – it was most established indies around the world. But as the IWGP Conception grew in its stature, as CMLL rival AAA Lucha Libre began partnering with such companies as IMPACT Wrestling, Major League Wrestling (MLW), and AEW, battle lines began to get draw. And with IMPACT yanking Cage from an AEW event, and the news that AEW talents will become AEW exclusive in the US (for broadcast purposes), it’s clear that there are indeed growing factions within the Anti-WWE Alliance. Here’s a look at the current state of alliances in the pro wrestling world.
Wrestling War Party: The WWE Universe
Head of State: WWE
Brand Alliance: NXT, NXT UK, EVOLVE Wrestling (US), PROGRESS Wrestling (England), ICW (Scotland), World Xtreme Wrestling (wXw)
The “worldwide leader in sports entertainment”, WWE has been slowly allying with global indies going back to 2015, when they allied with Gabe Sapolsky (one of the men behind ROH’s peak years) and his latest promotion, EVOLVE Wrestling. A year later, they allied with England’s PROGRESS, Scotland’s ICW and Ireland’s Over The Top (OTT) Wrestling for the first WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament. OTT has since slid back into more of a mercenary role, but last year, Germany’s wXw joined the fold, offering up its wXw Academy for tryouts, and utilizing WWE-employed stars in shows and tournaments. There have been talks of a tiered system for the WWE Network for ages now, and it’s reportedly starting sometime in 2019. EVOLVE’s huge 10-year anniversary show on July 13 is actually the perfect launch teaser for that and it wouldn’t be surprising to discover it’s been the planned kickoff show for the Network since the show was in its infancy booking stages.
Wrestling War Party: The IWGP Conception
Head of State: NJPW
Brand Alliance: ROH (US), Revolution Pro (RevPro, England), CMLL (Mexico), Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW, Australia), National Wrestling Alliance (NWA)
The second most powerful faction in the world right now, the iWGP Conception has lost seen some interesting developments of late. While it’s flagship promotion, NJPW, has seen significant global growth and popularity in the US, it’s American partner, ROH, has seen its hold on the US wrestling market dwindle, thanks in part to a rebirth in IMPACT, the rise of AEW and MLW, and the inconsistency of it’s Women of Honor brand. The loss of The Elite (Omega, Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page) has caused a bigger blow to ROH than it has NJPW, and while the recent batch of new stars – names like Jeff Cobb, Bandido, Rush, PCO, Tracy Williams, and Maria Manic – the reality is that while the names are top tier talents, they have nowhere close to the global brand that the Elite had. ROH has a talented roster, but it’s going to take them time to re-establish themselves to a larger audience. CMLL is the world’s oldest active promotion (founded in 1933) and the NWA to AAA’s WWF in Mexico. It still produces top quality lucha libre and provides many new stars to NJPW and ROH, such as Dragon Lee and Rush, and gives room for such stars like Tetsuya Naito and Matt Taven to groom. With NJPW eyeing the Australian boom, they’ve been working a lot with Australia’s MCW to showcase the best of Australia alongside Japanese stars, and have integrated such Aussie/NZ indie names as Robbie Eagles and Mikey Nicholls into their line-ups. Main eventer Jay White is himself from the region. NJPW’s Southern Showdown this weekend, featuring Eagles vs Will Ospreay, is a huge indication of New Japan’s alliance with MCW paying off. The newly rebooted NWA has also taken a shining to ROH of late, partnering for several major events and champions.
Wrestling War Party: The IMPACT-MLW Coalition
Heads of State: IMPACT/MLW
Brand Alliance: AAA Lucha Libre, Lucha Underground (via AAA), PCW ULTRA (California), WrestlePro (New Jersey), Smash Wrestling (Canada), Future Stars of Wrestling (Las Vegas), DEFY Wrestling (Seattle), House of Glory (NYC), House of Hardcore (Philadelphia), Destiny World Wrestling (Canada), World Series Wrestling (WSW, Australia), RISE Wrestling (Women’s), Reality of Wrestling (ROW, Houston), Border City Wrestling (Canada), Championship Wrestling From Hollywood (CWFH, Los Angeles, Championship Wrestling From Arizona (CWFA, Arizona), Rocky Mountain Pro (Colorado), Preston City Wrestling (PCW, England), International Pro Wrestling (IPW, England), America’s Most Liked (AML) Wrestling (Florida), Capital Wrestling (New Jersey)
The most underrated faction is the IMPACT-MLW Coalition, due in part to its reliance on goodwill and web of association. MLW and IMPACT have shared many talents equally over the past few years since MLW rebooted after over a decade of dormancy. They both share an alliance with AAA Lucha Libre, and despite a mostly unique roster, have shared the likes of the Lucha Bros (Pentagon Jr. & Fenix), Sami Callihan, Rich Swann, and more on their TV product. Both initially had a soft alliance with AEW, but with Cage being yanked from Double or Nothing and MLW losing talents when AEW going exclusive, that alliance is held together only by their mutual friendship with AAA. But the real strength of this coalition is more the non-formality of it all. It’s a coalition built out of respect for the talent to work elsewhere and utilize each other. IMPACT and MLW talents still frequently show up with Tommy Dreamer‘s HOH, and various indie promotions partner with IMPACT for One Night Only (or IMPACT+ Exclusives), spreading the awareness of promotions across the country and beyond. IMPACT+ also features multiple other indie promotions archives, thanks in part to the deals with IMPACT’s parent, Anthem Entertainment, via their Canadian Fight Network.
Wrestling War Party: All Elite
Head of State: AEW
Brand Alliance: AAA Lucha Libre, Lucha Underground (via AAA), Oriental Wrestling Entertainment (OWE, China), Tokyo Joshi Pro (Japan), Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) Pro (Japan)
The true scope of the AEW alliance is yet to be truly known. As long as they have no TV on TNT yet, their talent is free to work wherever, as long as it’s not IWGP Conception or WWE (and that’s more on the others), unless you have a special deal like Jericho or Moxley. They’ve dug hard into their AAA alliance already, not to mention their OWE presence at Double or Nothing. DDT Pro‘s Michael Nakazawa is as much a corporate lifeline to DDT Pro as he is a comedic asset right now, which is why some of DDT’s sister promotion, Tokyo Joshi Pro is seeing its stars shine in AEW as well. But once AEW goes exclusive for North America, it will be interesting to see what North American indies the AEW roster will truly be free to work with, either by AEW or by rival companies.
Wrestling War Party: House of IWTV
Head of State: Beyond Wrestling (Massachusetts)
Brand Alliance: CHIKARA (Philadelphia), Black Label Pro (Indiana), Freelance Wrestling (Chicago), Glory Pro (Illinois), Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW, Ohio), Southern Underground Pro (SUP, Nashville), Alpha-1 (Canada), St. Louis Anarchy (St. Louis), Women’s Wrestling Revolution (WWR), Capital City Championship Combat (C4, Canada)
With indie wrestling gaining more traction thanks to online on-demand services, one network has created a “shared universe” of its own. Formerly Powerbomb.tv, IndependentWrestling.tv has created its own championship, currently held by 2019 indie sensation Orange Cassidy, and is defended exclusively throughout the promotions featured on its network. The flagship promotion is Massachusetts’ Beyond Wrestling, who have a weekly live show called Uncharted Territory, featuring top names used throughout Beyond and, well, beyond. Territorially, it’s top promotions encompass the Midwest and some of the more northern Southern promotions, seeing brands like Black Label Pro, Freelance Wrestling, St. Louis Anarchy, SUP, and Glory Pro become top indie stops. They even have two strong Canadian promotions in Hamilton, Ontario’s Alpha-1 (Ethan Page’s promotion) and Ottawa’s C4. With so many majors now, the IWTV group has become one of the top indie collectives in showcasing top rising stars and tracing the upper echelon of North American indie.
Wrestling War Party: The Collective
Head of State: Game Changer Wrestling (GCW, New Jersey)
Brand Alliances: Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS (Japan), Big Japan Wrestling (Japan), Desastre Total Ultraviolento (DTU, Mexico), International Wrestling Syndicate (IWS, Canada), Inter Species Wrestling (ISW, Canada), Hardcore Hustle Organization (H2O, New Jersey)
Speaking of “Collective”…in the past few years, New Jersey’s GCW has expanded beyond its Stateline to become the voice of aggression that CZW should have been. It went from a fledgling promotion to rise from the ashes of Jersey Championship Wrestling (JCW) to creating must-see events at WrestleMania with Joey Janela’s Spring Break and Bloodsport, to now traveling the US countryside, from East to West. It realizes international indie dream matches and presents the toughest competitors in the sport today, from the US to Japan to Mexico to Canada to parts unknown. This journey has allied them with some pretty rough promotions, from Japan’s notorious FREEDOMS and Big Japan Wrestling to Mexico’s ECW, the ultra-violent DTU. This past WrestleMania week, they formed The Collective, featuring other like-minded promotions, some from within the IWTV clan, and some more akin to their extreme lifestyle like Montreal, Quebec’s IWS and ISW.
Wrestling War Party: The Mercenaries
All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), Defiant Wrestling (UK), Fight Club: PRO (England) Over The Top Wrestling (OTT, Ireland), Pro Wrestling EVE (England), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Sendai Girls (Japan), SHIMMER (Chicago), Shine Wrestling (Florida), Stardom (Japan), WrestleCircus, White Wolf Wrestling (Triple W, Spain)
And while there are multiple factions forming – either by design or circumstance – there remains a lot of rogue promotions who form alliances with anyone and everyone, as long as they’re able to present the talents as they see best. AJPW is no longer the entity it was in Japan, but it’s still internationally respected. CZW is still rebuilding from its backyard years, but continues to develop stars for both the hardcore and traditional indie scene. UK’s Defiant Wrestling (formerly WhatCulture Pro Wrestling) offers an overview of the UK indie scene, while Fight Club: PRO straddles the line between WWE Universe (its owned by NXT UK’s Trent Severn) and Switzerland. Ireland’s OTT was previously in the WWE camp, but now have an Irish safe haven where stars from each camp are allowed to shine. PWG is allowing anyone but WWE at the moment (WWE rules), but they may end up in one camp or another when AEW goes exclusive. Most women’s promotions are rogue and form short alliances with companies globally, but share unabashedly amongst other women’s promotions, like America’s SHIMMER and Shine, Japan’s Stardom and Sendai Girls, and England’s Pro Wrestling EVE. WrestleCircus in Texas and Spain’s White Wolf Wrestling also have some unique freedoms that only enhance their own product and shed light on their regions.
This won’t be a wrestling war that has to have a winner. This isn’t Game of Thrones scenario where anyone – from organization to worker to rational fan – thinks the only way to win is by erasing the competition completely. It’s more a wrestling war of ego between the promotions. Not in the utmost arrogance, but in the sense of the word’s truest definition. That of a “sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” As long as each faction, each individual promotion, whether allied or not, finds the value in their product and continues to grow from this point on, then the only real winners of this war will be us: the fans. And in the end, that’s the true wrestling war of competition we really want. WWE fans don’t really want AEW or IMPACT to go out of business. AEW fans don’t want to see WWE die. But they do want to see stronger representations of the unique wrestling they want to consume.
And that time is now here. That time is now. The next Great War is upon us. Not a war of decimation or attrition, but a war of alternatives. A war of opportunities. A war of necessity. And in the end, we’ll all wind up watching more wrestling than we did five years ago, picking sides in public and rooting all in private, as we enter an age where there were more than just three sides to pick – there are now hundreds.
It has begun.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.