Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, The Undertaker, Kane and Triple H made the late 90s era of professional wrestling unforgettable. The ‘Attitude Era’ propelled the niche wrestling market to new heights. All of a sudden, an art form that had been marginalized by the mainstream was considered cool. And it was cool to be a wrestling fan. Being part of this incredibly wild and passionate fandom was special. It was edgy, obscene and the energy infected the fans and the WWE ‘universe’ expanded.
Like all good things, the Attitude Era came to an end in early 2000s. And with that, WWE gradually began to lose its viewers. The PG era in late 2000s affected it even more.
But when we say ‘pro-wrestling’, what we are mainly referring to is WWE. After all, WWE is the biggest and the most popular wrestling promotion in the world. And while the company may be seeing an all-time high in business, it’s been on a consistent decline in ratings in the last several years.
However, with hundreds of wrestling promotions all over the world seeing a big boom lately, fans have got more options than ever. Today, there is something for everyone. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), the second largest promotion in the world, founded by Japanese legend Antonio Inoki in 1972, saw a massive rise in popularity in the last few years, thanks to homegrown talent Kazuchika Okada and an American mega talent Kenny Omega.
NJPW’s slow expansion into American territory began last year. Meanwhile, smaller promotions such as Lucha Underground have been making waves with their unique presentation for four years. Its combination of fantasy elements and Mexican style of Lucha libre presented in a fictional television show format has attracted new fans and has carved a devoted niche in the hugely populated wrestling industry. Pentagon Jr, Fenix, Brian Cage and Mil Muertes became well-known stars through Lucha Underground. The show even attracted legends such as Rey Mysterio, Konnan, Vampiro (who serves as one of the commentators) and former WWE veterans like Jack Swagger, Alberto El Patron and John Morrison (who wrestled as Johnny Mundo).
But that’s not all. Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks threw a curveball late last year by organizing an independent wrestling pay-per-view titled ‘ALL IN’ on September 1. ALL IN made history for being the first non-WWE or WCW event to sell 10 thousand tickets since 1993. In fact, the event led to something even more historic than anybody could have expected.
On January 1, 2019, Cody and The Young Bucks announced the formation of a new wrestling promotion called ‘All Elite Wrestling’ (AEW). Backed by the Pakistani-American billionaire Shahid Khan’s son Tony Khan, who is a huge wrestling fan. With the Khan family’s support, AEW is set to hold their inaugural event ‘Double or Nothing’ on May 25 in Nevada, and possibly sooner than later, the weekly televised show will begin.
Before even its first pay-per-view, AEW has been making waves. While it’s too early to debate its potential success or failure, its launch gives fans all the more joy who have been sick of the same old WWE formulaic matches and inconsistent storylines. Its launch (and possible success) even poses a long-term threat to WWE who have been hoarding talent to keep them away from AEW.
Despite everything, AEW has one big ex-WWE name that definitely increases their value: Chris Jericho. One of the greatest performers of all time, Jericho has reinvented himself countless times throughout his career and his recent stint in NJPW and now AEW shows he can risk it all to go to new heights and simultaneously elevate talent.
Besides AEW, NJPW, ROH, Lucha Underground, Progress Wrestling (British), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) and many more, WWE’s own so-called developmental territory NXT (and now its UK equivalent, NXT UK) serves as a high-quality alternative to the main roster (RAW and SmackDown Live) shows. NXT’s rise in the last six years has been nothing short of phenomenal. And its weekly episodes remain consistently entertaining, providing a platform for stars to showcase their true potential. Its dedicated fan base has grown exponentially with each year. It also helps that NXT specials almost always overshadow the main roster shows in terms of quality.
The late 90s buzz may have died down a long time ago. We may not wear our old 3:16 and The Rock t-shirts anymore. But we have the likes of Omega, Young Bucks, ‘The American Nightmare’ Cody, Roman ‘Believe That’ Reigns, ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles and Seth Freakin’ Rollins.
Countless alternatives for each different kind of wrestling that one may be into means there is so much wrestling out there. And the fact that all of them seem to be thriving is definitely a positive sign.
2019 may not yet be a year when casual fans turn into hardcore devotees of this performance art, but the rise of AEW, ongoing expansion of NXT and the birth of new stars taking the global industry by storm surely signals that the next boom period is imminent, if it’s already not started. With wrestling rapidly taking over, it’s definitely cool to be a wrestling fan again.
What a time to be alive!