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Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling

There Will Be Blood: The Role of Extreme Violence in Modern Pro Wrestling

Hello AW Universe,

Well, AEW’s Full Gear is in the rearview mirror, an event that received generally great reviews. The matches were solid, with three successful title defences– this was to be expected, considering all these inaugural champions have held their respective belts for a combined 124 days* and it was simply too soon to change any of the champions. But, they did a great job of building storylines without any title changes.

Britt Baker went over strong in her Buy-In match over Bea Priestley– who was subsequently trampled by the Brandi Rhodes-led Awesome Kong– and is now clearly on a path to face Riho for the Women’s Championship, after the champion successfully defended against her teacher, Emi Sakura; SCU successfully defended their titles in a three-way dance that still made the Lucha Bros look like legitimate contenders, and Proud-N-Powerful earned a win that only makes The Inner Circle more dominate. Hangman Adam Page got an important win to move back into the World Championship picture and Shawn Spears looked strong against an always entertaining Joey Janela. But the most buzz-worthy matches were no doubt the co-main events, beginning with the AEW World Championship match between Cody and Chris Jericho.

*at time of writing

Cody lost. It was a little unexpected, considering the stipulation that was attached to the match– he can never challenge for the AEW World Championship again. But it was done in a great way, finally pushing MJF into full heel territory, diverging the paths of the match participants as Cody will most certainly be booked into a program with MJF, while Jericho will continue to reign as Le Champion, indulging in a little bit more of the bubbly, and take on the next babyface challenger (my hopes is that it’s Hangman Page again).

But it was early in that match, in what looked like a very ugly botch by Cody, that would be a harbinger for the bloodshed in the unofficial main event.

Cody got himself busted open hard-way, and it looked bad, but it was nothing compared to what Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega did to each other in their unsanctioned Lights Out Match that closed out the night.

**READER DISCRETION** The following videos do feature graphic images of blood and violence.

The match was a 38:45 gorefest, with Moxley picking up the (unofficial) win over Omega in a match that was a true throwback to nearly two decades ago, channelling the best of the absurd (a board of mouse-traps) and the barbaric (a barbed-wire… trampoline?) that defined an era of pro wrestling that engaged in extreme brinksmanship, pushing the envelope with blood-stained fingers as far as the limits the human body– and the legal system– would allow. The match did everything to re-capture that bygone era of mainstream pro wrestling* and the buzz surrounding it during and after is likely a result due to unexpected escalation of what the wrestlers did and how long they did it for.

*It should be acknowledged that promotions like CZW and even Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore have been filling this niche since the original ECW folded.

Cody, Omega, and Matt & Nick Jackson– and presumably Tony Khan and the executives at TNT– set out to create a product that was distinct from WWE, both clearly in terms of match quality, storytelling, and, frankly, maturity. WWE is beholden to a PG television rating at the behest of their television network partner and share-holders– though they toe that line as best they can during some of the third-hour segments (see: Lana/Rusev/Lashley storyline)– while AEW is free to operate within the TV-14 realm without repercussion, much to the pleasure of the segment of hardcore (pun intended) pro wrestling fans that have yearned for a return to the seemingly limitless bounds that the late-90s had to offer.

But therein begs the question: by consciously setting out to separate themselves from their biggest competitor by reaching back into pro wrestling’s brutal and violent past, does it set them on the greatest path to glory?

Is that even their goal?

Personally, I find it hard to watch a match armed with the ample amount of knowledge that we, as a sports-viewing society, have regarding the effects that tangible violence has on the human body, particularly the brain; every time a Daniel Bryan gets spiked on his neck from a German Suplex, or a Cody Rhodes takes an unprotected chair shot to the dome, I can’t help but wince. Although, there is an argument to be made that cutting each other up with flesh wounds, though more visually upsetting and observable, are “safer” in the long term than delivering blunt-force shots to the head.

The match was a gruesome display to behold, but perhaps it was in the most controlled way possible; Omega and Moxley, after all, are seasoned veterans in this business, and know how to keep one another safe– as much as that’s possible in the environment of a hardcore match. It cannot be stated any more that Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley deserve every bit of praise that pro wrestling fans can heap upon them for the performance that they put on for the spectators in the Royal Farms Arena and everyone watching on PPV; they put their bodies through sheer agony to both shock and awe the crowd, to give pro wrestling fans something to talk about, and to fill a desire that has been denied by WWE for a very long time. I personally just hope that it’s a segment that AEW chooses to turn to in the rarest of cases, both to keep the Lights Out Match unique and “special,” and to avoid relying on it more often than not.

AEW has the ability to separate the itself with a degree of freedom that WWE is not blessed with, and the hope is that they use it in a manner that allows them harken to it when the opportunity is ripe for it, when the storytelling is compelling enough that it can only be enhanced by it, but not rely on it for cheap pops and nostalgia-pandering, and certainly not ultimately become it to reach that aforementioned glory. But again, perhaps that isn’t even their goal. Perhaps it’s simply to appeal to a segment of the fanbase that has been underserved in the aggregate.

But maybe I’m also just too soft for this world now, and it’s not for me anymore, and I should just shut up.