Book Review: ‘Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond’ by Jim Ross, Paul O’Brien

This book is really a continuation of Jim Ross’ first autobiography, Slobberknocker. This one picks up right where that one left off and it talks about Ross’ career from the early ’00s and onward, leading up to his recent job as the lead commentator for the new company, All Elite Wrestling.

The stories here are fantastic and Jim has a great memory, as he recalls the details and dialogues he had with all the great characters that were a part of his life in the wrestling business.

I especially like hearing his take on the angles where Vince McMahon used J.R. as a character in storylines and how that all played out behind the scenes, as he worked with Steve Austin, the Undertaker, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole.

The book also really gives you J.R.’s perspective on his relationship with Vince McMahon, his leaving the company, multiple times, and how things went when he was negotiating with Dixie Carter of TNA, as well as his time working for New Japan.

If you have read the first book and loved it as much as I did, this is definitely something you need to pick up. Jim Ross comes off as honest, sincere and doesn’t really hold back. The guy is a legend in his industry and deservedly so.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: JR’s previous book Slobberknocker, as well as other wrestling biographies and books about the business side of things.

TV Review: Dark Side of the Ring (2019- )

Original Run: April 10th, 2019 – current
Created by: Evan Husney, Jason Eisener
Directed by: Jason Eisener
Cast: Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, Jim Ross, various

Vice Media, Crave, 6 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wasn’t sure what to think about this series when I first heard about it. Wrestling documentaries are a dime a dozen and most of them are produced with an agenda in mind.

However, after watching the first season, I really thought that this was the best series of documentaries on the darker side of the wrestling business. Every episode felt well researched, well presented and very fair.

Interviews with the participants may be contradictory in some aspects but they are presented in a way that allows the audience to come to their own conclusion without any sort of agenda seeping in from the filmmakers or producers.

That being said, I was really impressed by this series and I went into it thinking that it’d just be more of the same and a little too “sensationalist cable TV”, if you know what I mean.

Hats off to the guys behind this series, Evan Husney and Jason Eisener, as they’ve created seriously compelling television in an era where compelling television rarely exists.

All of the first season episodes pulled me in and didn’t let go. Even the episodes I thought might be redundant like the ones surrounding the Von Erich family and Gino Hernandez gave me a fresh perspective on both of those stories, even though WWE did a pretty good documentary that covered those tales, a decade and a half ago.

Top to bottom, this series is great and I’m really excited at delving into season two, which features episodes on the Chris Benoit and Owen Hart tragedies. It’ll be interesting to see how these guys handle those episodes but after season one, I’m pretty confident that they’ll do those stories justice.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries but this show is hard to top.

Talking Pulp Wrasslin’: PandemicMania 2020

Well, 2020 has been a real kick in the balls. So much for going into a new decade with optimism and hope for the future.

Granted, all this COVID-19 stuff could actually be a wake up call but humans will probably just do what they always do and that’s be pissed for awhile, promise to make changes to ensure a catastrophe like this doesn’t happen again and then forget all about it after some time passes.

I hope I’m wrong about that but our leaders just react to things that happen and don’t put too much thought into preventing these problems in the first place. But I digress, as I don’t want to go on a political or social rant because that’s not what this is about, it’s about the state of the wrestling business.

Since The ‘Rona showed up and bitchslapped Earth, almost all industries and businesses have been adversely affected by it. The wrestling business is no different, as it can no longer have live shows in front of crowds and because the athletes and personalities involved have to be especially careful, as you can’t have a wrestling match and practice social distancing at the same time.

I noticed how negative it was on the wrestling community when a lot of the indie wrestlers I follow on Twitter were posting about shows being cancelled and not having any real income coming in. Some of them found ways to combat this in pushing their merchandise and by coming up with creative ways to fundraise for those most in need within their community.

The real big blow came just last week, however, on what many are now referring to as Black Wednesday.

In the much larger landscape that is World Wrestling Entertainment, many probably assumed that nearly everyone there was most likely going to be taken care of and a complete loss of their livelihoods wasn’t in the cards. But not too long after WWE’s flagship event, Wrestlemania, the company released and furloughed nearly forty employees, most of them being wrestlers.

Fans and the media haven’t been too kind in criticizing this decision with some calling it “morally heartless” and “not the way”. While it does suck, there could be a silver lining in some regards, as there was such a big pool of talent released into the wild and that could significantly alter the professional wrestling landscape going forward. Also, I’m sure that several of these people will be back sooner rather than later. For those that don’t make it back into the WWE in the next few months, there are at least more options available to them than there were even a year ago.

While they can’t all jump to All Elite Wrestling, the young company that may be able to become real competition for the WWE, there are still other places like New Japan, Ring of Honor and my personal favorite promotion, the National Wrestling Alliance.

I definitely think that AEW will scoop up a few and they could use the help, if I’m being honest. There’s some wrestlers that could flourish in fresh waters and be literal goldmines for that company.

Some of these released wrestlers have already hinted at where they could be going with one of the top tag teams letting it be known that they are most likely going back to New Japan, where they were once superstars as part of the most popular stable that country has seen in years.

All of this happened just a few days after The Revival got their release after wanting it for quite a long time. I put them at the top of the free agent list and I hope that they do stop off in the NWA because it fits their style and what they’re all about.

The landscape isn’t just going to change because of an influx of free agents into the open market, however.

It’s also going to change due to how these marquee wrestling companies have had to adjust how they present their product. Both WWE, especially at Wrestlemania, and AEW have gotten really creative in how they’re trying to make their programs work without live audiences and without being able to show their product in the traditional way that it has been presented in since the start of the television era over half a century ago.

That being said, a lot of this experimental content has been met with mixed results and it is going to be interesting to see what this means long-term.

Are we going to get more unique “matches” like the Firefly Funhouse Match or the Boneyard Match? Is it even wrestling if there’s movie style presentations, multiple camera setups, special effects and obvious edits and cuts? Does this somehow diminish the art of wrestling? While some fans may love this stuff, others don’t and won’t if this becomes the norm and with the wrestling business already having problems with ratings and audience numbers, should they try and reinvent the wheel beyond this pandemic?

While traditionalists will probably turn away, can these new creative changes possibly attract new audiences? I don’t think that they will but stranger things have happened and we live in a time where a new generation of fans don’t really know about the business before WWE became the only mainstream attraction in town.

Wrestling, like everything else, has mostly seen tradition stamped out and replaced with something that barely resembles what it used to be. I guess it’s all subjective but as a wrestling fan, I’d rather see the business thrive. But then again, if it becomes a business I no longer recognize and it can’t generate the same emotion and passion out of me as a fan, then what’s the point?

The great thing about wrestling, especially in a time where there are more mainstream options, is that there can be something for everyone. But if I’m being honest, AEW is guilty of some of the same things they claimed they disliked about WWE.

Plus, modern wrestling fans tend to have blind allegiances towards the things they deem superior. A lot of the things AEW fans claim they like about their favorite promotion’s product are the same things they say they hate about modern WWE. I’m mainly referring to the comedy shit, the goofy shit and the obvious favoritism that gives certain talent more screen time than those who probably deserve it more.

While I’m personally not against the expression of creativity and I’m all for trying new things, I hope that those that hold the keys to the business going into the 2020s don’t lose sight of the great history that existed before them.

Wrestling is fragile, right now. While it does need something to get it over this current hill, it can’t forget about the hard journey it had in getting to this point.

Side note: If you do want to help out your favorite wrestlers through this time, buy their merchandise. A lot of the current wrestlers have their shirts and other stuff available on ProWrestlingTees.

Vids I Dig 299: Jim Cornette: AEW ‘All In’ to ‘All Out’ – Deep Dive Omnibus

From Jim Cornette’s YouTube description: Presented here is Jim Cornette’s AEW All In to All Out Deep Dive Omnibus! This collection is compiled of segments from the Jim Cornette Experience & Jim Cornette’s Drive Thru between December 2017 – September 2019.

Talking Pulp Wrasslin’: All Elite Wrestling – Year One In Review

It’s been just over a year since All Elite Wrestling officially formed and close to a year since their first show, 2019’s Double or Nothing. We’re also several months into their weekly nationally broadcast show, Dynamite. So I figured I’d look at the first year of AEW and provide my thoughts, good and bad, as well as what I hope the future brings for those of us looking for a mainstream alternative to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Initially, my excitement was at an all time high after the success of the indie wrestling mega event All In, back in September of 2018. When I got wind that something bigger was happening beyond that, my excitement overflowed and I was “all in” on what this met for the future of the wrestling business.

However, right off the bat, there were decisions being made that made me question the newborn promotion’s direction and leadership.

First off, executive roles were given to wrestling talent that hadn’t proven themselves in that realm. While I was okay with Cody Rhodes being the public face of the company, due to who his father was and because he had flourished independently after leaving WWE, I was concerned as to whether or not he could effectively co-manage a brand new wrestling promotion with a lot of money pushed into it.

Additionally, when his wife and buddies were also given executive roles, I found that even more perplexing. Not because I’m hating on them but because none of them have had any experience in these sort of positions within a wrestling promotion.

Understanding that AEW wants to give more power and creative control to the on-air talent seems like a good idea in some regard but as history has shown, when active wrestlers become management, it typically leads to a shitty product and if I’m being frank, it’s not too dissimilar from some of their criticisms of other major league wrestling promotions, past and present. So even if they’ve got the best of intentions and are going to run their company differently, it still paints them into a corner. I’ll explain what I mean by that as this article rolls on.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the Young Bucks but I liked a lot of Kenny Omega’s work in Japan and especially liked his matches with Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and Chris Jericho. However, there are distinct stylistic differences between Western and Eastern professional wrestling. That being said, Omega has primarily wrestled in Japan for years but he and the Bucks have been given three of the highest ranking jobs in the company. As far as I know, based off of information that’s been discussed by many over the last year, these guys have their hands deep into the creative side of the women’s and tag team divisions. I’ll also get more into this, further into the article.

The first mistake that these guys made is that they started hiring all their other buddies. This also isn’t too dissimilar to what other wrestlers given power in promotions have done in the past. And while I’m not saying that the talent they’ve hired isn’t good or bad, it feels as if they don’t care either way and they’re trying to hook all their buddies up with gigs because they either didn’t make it big in WWE or because WWE doesn’t want them. From the outside it looks like, “Hey, buds… we’re your saviors! Come on in and let’s party!”

Plus, most of the guys they’ve hired wrestle similar styles to the Bucks and Omega where everything is highspot after highspot to the point that highspots become way too commonplace and lose their meaning and their effect on the psyche of the audience. I’ll also delve into this more.

Additionally, almost all of these guys are small by wrestling standards and even if the game is changing, a roster full of guys that don’t convincingly look tough is detrimental to a product that is supposed to be about kicking ass and being badass. No one is afraid of the hipster asshole that runs the register at Chipotle.

Furthermore, typical Western audiences don’t want to watch two hours of just high-flying shenanigans that are done so much that we’re seeing a record number of spot botches on national television. Anyone can Google “AEW botch” and see a slew of videos and GIFs that make my point for me.

Now there are a lot of good things about AEW too. I generally like the product, for the most part, and it is a decent alternative to WWE. While it’s got its issues, so does the juggernaut WWE, which is why AEW got massive support to begin with.

I think that the writing that’s been on the wall for well over a decade is that Western wrestling fans want to try a new flavor other than vanilla. AEW has answered that challenge but it’s like they took vanilla and added some hot sauce to it. Point being, you’ve got to have a palate in order to be a good chef. It’s like AEW has the palate of a six year-old kid left home alone with a full fridge.

Now I don’t say that to be insulting but the product they’re putting out is just recycling the standard mainstream wrestling formula but trying to overpower it with lightning fast matches, countless highspots, more colorful language and a pretty high emphasis on comedy wrestling. While all of that stuff has its place, doing everything with the volume turned up to 11 is pretty fucking tiresome to experience.

I feel like AEW is just throwing a lot of shit on the wall to see what sticks and what doesn’t. Maybe they’re in a little over their head due to how fast they got off and running and because of the lack of experience running a wrestling promotion. It feels like there is a lack of understanding in regards to the fundamentals of what works on this hemisphere. While Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks were big in Japan, it doesn’t mean that what worked for them there is going to work for them here. I’m personally a big fan of Japanese wrestling, always have been since I was a tape trader in the ’90s, but I also know that my love of it isn’t something that most mainstream normal wrestling fans have on this continent.

It’s like they’re trying to appeal to a niche audience. The problem with that is a niche audience will always be niche and not mainstream. If you’re “in it to win it”, you’ve got to think bigger and you’ve got to produce a product that is enjoyed by the largest audience possible.

That comes down to one simple fact: you’ve got to know your audience. Right now, I don’t know if AEW does. At least not fully and not this early. That doesn’t mean that they won’t figure it out, re-work some things and fix some of these issues going forward. I certainly hope they do because more wrestling is good for everyone.

Diversity between promotions is a good thing that helps build brand identity and uniqueness. However, there can also be too much diversity and I think AEW suffers from that in trying to encompass many things, all at once. But I really hope this is just growing pains.

My point with this is that you can’t try to cover all bases by trying to appeal to every little niche simultaneously. You have to find the balance between them while, again, appealing to the widest audience possible. I think that the solution is to be something between WWE and what AEW currently is.

The best example I can give is the Attitude Era of WWE. No, not because it was edgy with a Jerry Springer atmosphere but because it allowed talent to be themselves, have some creative control and it took chances and had diversity within the content of its segments. At its height, it found a way to take the best elements of the mainstream WWE formula, mixed that with an ECW influence and also adopted some of the better elements of what was working in WCW, at the time.

WCW succeeded for awhile too because it was doing the same thing. Even though they had their own style that slightly differed from WWE, both promotions were just different sides of the same coin.

So since I’ve brought up WCW, I want to go back to my thoughts on wrestling talent being in charge, as that was ultimately a major factor in WCW’s downfall.

Back in the ’90s, when WCW was buying up WWE talent like Beanie Babies, they gave their heavy hitters too much control of their characters and too much power in booking the shows. This led to these guys only putting themselves and their buddies over while younger talent got the shaft and ultimately, jumped ship to WWE, which helped that company recover and win the war.

I know that the guys running AEW know this, as does anyone that loves wrestling and has been paying attention to the business for several years. But just because they probably don’t want to make the same mistakes doesn’t mean that they won’t. Power is one of those things that can change a person and while I assume that Cody, Omega and the Bucks have the best of intentions, who is to say what this will mean over time.

Having now watched AEW for about a year, I can actually say that it looks like they are actually trying to deliberately do the stark opposite of what the WCW stars did. Maybe that sounds good but it isn’t. So let me explain.

First, there needs to be a balance, just like with all things. All four of these execs are four of the absolute best wrestlers in this new promotion. However, they seem to be putting everyone over except themselves. I’m not sure if they are just afraid of being accused of what guys like Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan were accused of twenty years ago or because they think that they’re building up the rest of the roster at their expense. But that’s just it, it’s at their expense.

You can’t objectively look at what has happened over the last year and tell me that Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks’ stock hasn’t dropped. Omega has lost his luster and the Young Bucks should be reigning tag team champions. Instead, Omega has been booked to look like a goof and the Bucks resemble the New Rockers more than the real Rockers.

In regards to Omega, he sucks as a babyface and he was at his best with The Cleaner gimmick. But the guy is sort of awkward and can’t cut good promos, at least not from what I’ve seen. And I thought of the guy as a superstar over the last few years that he was in New Japan. But now that I think about it, I watched his top matches and never really saw him talk all that much outside of press conferences. Also, the style of cutting a promo in Japan is different.

The Young Bucks just do three million superkicks per match and take two million dives to the outside. This reflects a problem I have with modern wrestling where devastating moves that should be finishers (or setups to finishers) are used so frequently that they’ve lost their luster and their impact. It’s like when someone uses a stunner or a cutter in a match and the opponent recovers like it was a simple neckbreaker. It shows a complete lack of understanding of ring psychology and in-ring storytelling. It’s like they’re just playing WWE2K and put in a cheat code to always have finishers active.

While some refer to this as a reflection of the times, I say that modern times suck because no one has time to have a real conversation without looking at their phone every five seconds while only having the attention span to absorb information the size of a tweet. But these people are what this style of “wrestling” appeals to. This is also probably why AEW considers an Ironman Match to be just 30 minutes. That’s more like an Aluminum-Man Match.

In regards to Cody, he’s at least had a main event spotlight on him but they booked him so that he can’t ever compete for the AEW World Championship again. I think that’s a massive mistake and hopefully it is rectified through a storyline because Cody, as well as Omega, should be World Championship chasers when the time is right. In fact, Cody should be the guy to take the belt off of Chris Jericho when that time comes. But I’d keep the belt on Jericho for well over a year because the title needs to build prestige and not be used as just a prop, which has been WWE’s problem for a few decades now.

I also have major issues with how the women’s and tag divisions have been booked. I don’t care how it looks on paper but the Young Bucks, despite my opinion on them, should have been the inaugural tag champs. They were the most famous team in the promotion and they came into AEW super hot after leaving Japan and Ring of Honor. I guess since they run the division, they didn’t want to crown themselves as the kings. That was a mistake and, as I’ve already said, their stock has fallen in the last year.

Now that’s not to say that the Young Bucks can’t recover but they’ve booked themselves into a corner and frankly, I don’t give a shit about them or the division anymore. Hopefully, management finds a way to right the ship.

Looking at the women’s division, despite her in-ring ability, Riho is not believable as the champion. They put the belt on Nyla Rose, who is massive by comparison, and that’s a much better fit. However, having Nyla lose to Riho when they crowned the first women’s champ was a major mistake that hurt the division immensely. People have talked up the quality of their last match but I can’t suspend disbelief enough for it to have physically made sense in my brain. Especially, when Riho’s neckline is below the top rope and she’s skinnier than a stop sign pole.

Beyond just that, the women’s division in general has been booked atrociously with just about everyone looking weak. They’ve ruined Britt Baker, their first female signed to a contract, and they brought in Kris Stadtlander and got her over immediately, only for her to get knocked out of the picture in a matter of weeks.

In a perfect scenario, Awesome Kong should have been the inaugural champion and she should’ve run through the division until management settled on who the top young star should be. Then, only after climbing the ladder to the top, should the new champion have been crowned.

Moving on, AEW also suffers from a lack of creative. Most of the storylines aren’t interesting and the show is carried by just two rivalries. Those are the Jon Moxley v. Chris Jericho (and The Inner Circle) feud, as well as the superb work being done by MJF and Cody Rhodes in their emotional conflict.

Outside of that, nothing interests me. I’m half interested in the Pac v. Kenny Omega Aluminum-Man Match coming up but that’s just because of the physicality of what the match should be and not the actual storyline that’s been booked like a fucking afterthought.

I don’t give a crap about The Dark Order bullshit and they’ve got enough Ministry/evil goth faction ripoffs between The Dark Order, The Nightmare Collective and The Butcher, The Blade & The Bunny.

Granted, The Nightmare Collective have been abruptly cancelled but that also is another problem with creative. You don’t just cancel an angle in the middle of it and say, “Oh, we weren’t feeling that, so whatevs!” No, you find a way to creatively end it within a storyline. How am I supposed to buy into what you’re selling when you can just pull the plug on it at any second? How do I build trust with your brand and the universe you’re building?

I’m not going to really get into my issues with the comedy stuff other than to say that I don’t hate Orange Cassidy like many old school purists do. I find the schtick to be somewhat enjoyable and it has got him really over with the crowd. But this will only work for so long and the character has to adapt and evolve if he’s going to have longevity and not go down as another joke lost to the sands of time. He needs to have something push him into actually getting physical in a non-comedy way. He can still fuck around and be funny but something has to make him actually pull his fist back and haymaker the fuck out of someone. You have to show him break through the character if you ever want him to emotionally connect with the audience beyond just being the doofus sidekick in a stoner comedy.

Granted, I don’t know what he’s actually capable of beyond his limiting gimmick and I don’t have the faith in AEW creative to capitalize on him and strike while the iron is hot. The thing is, you can only tell the same joke so many times before people start scrolling their Twitter feed.

The last thing I’m going to harp on is AEW’s insistence of having win-loss records. This is another thing that paints them into a corner, creatively speaking. No one really cares about wins and losses, they just care about seeing great matches and having the best guys get over. But to truly get the good guys over, you have to have them overcome the bad guys. Usually, this comes with losses and misfortune, only to have them eventually get the upper hand and win the rivalry. But with also including a weekly rankings system, keeping track of wins and losses is detrimental to that, especially when you compare them to the rankings and they don’t make sense. They need to get rid of this shit fast and just focus on stories and booking proper programs and feuds. They said, early on, that AEW was going to be treated like a real sport. Well, they’ve failed in that regard and seeing a guy ranked at No. 5 with a 3-1 record behind a guy ranked No. 4 with a 0-0 record is asinine.

I know it seems like I’m taking a big shit on All Elite Wrestling but hey, I’m still watching it every week and hoping for the best. Right now, I just have to focus on the things I love about the product. Those things are mainly Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, MJF, Cody Rhodes, Pac and Hangman Page, who could be the next massive superstar in the wrestling business. All six of these guys are the absolute highpoints of every show. I’m also really excited to see what Jake Hager can do in this environment, once he gets in the ring.

Furthermore, there are probably some new faces coming in. I’m most excited for what Brodie Lee (WWE’s Luke Harper), Lance Archer, Matt Hardy and The Revival can bring to the table if they sign with AEW.

The Revival are really what the tag division needs, as they can slow the matches down and add a new flavor to the proceedings, as their in-ring style is in great contrast to teams like The Young Bucks.

As far as Lee and Archer go, they would add some real size to the roster, which is definitely needed.

Keeping up with all the behind the scenes stuff, Tony Khan, the real guy in charge, has stated that he’s had some buyer’s remorse with certain wrestlers and that AEW, at least for the moment, are primarily looking for bigger, athletic guys. That shows me that he’s aware of the criticisms and that he’s trying to plug some holes and get the promotion on track.

Also, the commentary team is solid between legends Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone. I also like the recent addition of Taz. I’m still not sold on Excalibur, though. He needs to calm down a bit and focus on the action, as opposed to yelling out the name of every move just to prove he’s a human wrestling Wikipedia.

I feel like I’ve stated enough, even though I could go into greater detail on a lot of these points. The thing is, I like AEW and I want it to succeed because real competition benefits all parties involved. I want AEW to flourish and give me something to get excited about. I also want WWE to feel the heat and to start making their product better because they’ve become really fucking complacent at the top for two decades.

I hope that 2020 is the year where All Elite Wrestling finds its groove, works out a lot of its kinks and gives the fans a wrestling show that they don’t want to miss. I’d love for the Wednesday Night War to become as big of a phenomenon as the Monday Night War. The wrestling industry needs its fans to feel the passion that existed during that time. Hell, if you’re a fan and you don’t want to feel that passion again, why are you still watching?

Talking Pulp Wrasslin’: The National Wrestling Alliance: Out of the Fire

For almost two decades now, World Wrestling Entertainment hasn’t had any real competition, at least in the United States, its home country. But even on a worldwide scale, it’s been pretty hard for other companies to rise up and challenge them. It’s become an empire, poaching the best talent from everywhere on Earth while becoming a boring shell of what it once was. Because without someone really on your heels, what are you running from and what are you running towards?

In the last year or so, the landscape has changed pretty immensely.

Ex-WWE stars and other stars not wanting to ply their trade in that company (because of how they’ve wasted and misused talent) have started to band together, make noise and a new company has formed: All Elite Wrestling.

This fledgling AEW is being bankrolled by the Khan family, who own the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham F.C. after becoming billionaires in the automotive parts industry.

The Khans teamed up with an ex-WWE star, Cody Rhodes, as well as some of the top North American wrestlers that were working in Japan, one of which is arguably the best in the world, right now: Kenny Omega.

They then started doing their own pay-per-view events, showcasing all the great talent that left WWE or that didn’t want to go there. Then they got a major television deal with TNT, the same network that used to host World Championship Wrestling’s weekly Nitro program, the show that nearly broke WWE two decades ago until WCW imploded.

Companies like Ring of Honor and Impact (formerly TNA) started stepping their game way up. New Japan Pro-Wrestling started coming Stateside and everything started to evolve in an exciting way.

But this isn’t really about any of those companies. It’s about the one really old promotion that seemingly hadn’t come up for air in a really long time. A promotion that no one was looking at because for most fans, old and new, it had died out years ago, even if its championships still existed and were contested for at indy wrestling shows that didn’t have much, if any, national exposure.

I’m talking about the National Wrestling Alliance, the NWA, the once gigantic organization that served as a network and governing body between all the territories in the United States.

The thing is, the NWA never really left. On the grander scale of the professional wrestling landscape, however, it hasn’t made very much noise in quite some time. In fact, it’s been pretty damn mum and kind of an afterthought once the WWE absorbed it’s top competitors and nearly every major video library of every territory that got swallowed up by the global juggernaut. They even absorbed the libraries of several NWA-allied companies from yesteryear.

Two years ago, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame bought the National Wrestling Alliance. He had some prior experience running Revolution Pro Wrestling and handling creative for TNA, now Impact Wrestling. However, TNA had a lot of issues and Corgan ended up on the outs. But he had always had a love for professional wrestling and decided to purchase the NWA with the hopes of building it back up into the large brand that it once was.

In the time since, Corgan has grown the NWA’s exposure and with the help of his current world champion, Nick Aldis, he’s brought some real prominence back to the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship.

The title was defended in a major marquee match at the culture shifting pay-per-view event All In. Aldis even dropped the title to the soon-to-be AEW Executive Vice President, Cody Rhodes. Although, Aldis won it back a few months later in another massive match that got a lot of exposure.

The thing is, people were talking about the NWA and it’s premier title once again. It had national exposure, it helped make Aldis a more recognized performer on a larger scale and it planted seeds for something bigger on the horizon.

So back in October of this year, AEW was finally ready to debut their television show on Wednesday nights. WWE then decided to take their developmental brand, NXT, off of their WWE Network streaming service in order to move it to television, on the USA Network, to go head-to-head with AEW in order to try and keep that brand from becoming a juggernaut on the level that WCW once was. You know, because Vince McMahon is kind of a dick and has to own it all, unopposed.

This battle for wrestling ratings supremacy was coined the Wednesday Night War, as a play on words of the Monday Night War that was the nickname of the intense ratings battles between WWF Raw and WCW Nitro from 1995 through 2001.

But while all this was going on, the National Wrestling Alliance decided that it was going to return to the ways of old and start filming wrestling shows in a studio setting like they used to do in the ’80s, at the height of the organization’s popularity.

Knowing that nostalgia can be a very good thing and that this sort of studio presentation would generate the right kind of feeling in old school wrestling fans that miss the days of yore, Billy Corgan gave us NWA Power.

Personally, I was aware that the show was coming and that it would be broadcast on YouTube weekly on Tuesdays at 6:05, similar to how the NWA shows of old started at :05 on the hour because that’s how TBS did things back then. But I didn’t know what to expect or if I’d even like the end product that much. I knew it was going for the nostalgia thing and while that made me happy, I was unsure of what the end result would be. It could be disastrous if handled poorly and in a cheesy, hammy way that insulted fans’ intelligence.

Then the first episode dropped and as soon as I heard Dokken’s “Into the Fire” blare through my TV’s stereo speakers, I was immediately in the right place. I felt a nice ease come over my body, releasing the apprehension I had and then I heard Jim Cornette’s voice, the excitement of the live crowd in the studio and the classic blue ring apron and a set that looked like it was from the era it was emulating.

I didn’t care that NWA Power looked dated, that’s what made it so damn cool. But it also didn’t just rely on that. It taps into the right vibe and hits the right notes for fans of what the NWA once was but it doesn’t rely so much on old faces, as it showcases a lot of young, newer talent, most of whom seem like they’ve got legit chops in the ring and in the realm of being entertainers.

As each new episode dropped, my rekindled love of the National Wrestling Alliance grew. And despite the great shows that AEW and NXT have been putting out since the start of their war, it’s NWA Power that I most look forward to each week. There’s just something special about it. It’s pure and it sparks that feeling that I used to get watching wrestling when I was a kid. But nostalgia alone can’t do that.

NWA Power has stars and I don’t mean that to come across like they’re the stars of tomorrow. No. These are the stars of today. And while they might not be on the biggest platform, that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete and also, who’s to say that the biggest platform is the right platform for everyone? It’s been clear that it hasn’t been right for a lot of wrestling talent. And, at the end of the day, where the biggest platform fails their talent, it only benefits companies like the National Wrestling Alliance.

Billy Corgan has big plans for new things going forward. There’s a reality show starting soon, which works as a talent search for indy wrestlers that want a shot at being on NWA Power. There is also pay-per-views, which the NWA has streaming through Fite TV, an app worth getting. Plus, there’s the ongoing Ten Pounds of Gold documentary series that follows the story of the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship.

So this Saturday night, the NWA is putting on a big pay-per-view called Into the Fire. And that’s honestly the inspiration for me to put down my thoughts in this article. Reason being, I haven’t been this excited for a wrestling pay-per-view in decades, as far back as the Monday Night War era.

I feel like I just have to tip my hat to the National Wrestling Alliance, Billy Corgan, Dave Lagana, Nick Aldis and all the talent in front of and behind the camera for making me feel as excited as I do. Being a wrestling fan has been a really rocky road for a long time with only one big show in town. But now things are changing and weathering the storm ended up being worth it.

While the big pay-per-view is called Into the Fire, the National Wrestling Alliance really just rose like a phoenix out of the fire: reborn and ready to ignite the hearts of fans across the globe.

Book Review: ‘King of Strong Style: 1980-2014’ by Shinsuke Nakamura & Jocelyne Allen (translator)

This popped up as a suggestion on my Kindle, which made me happy. I’ve been following Shinsuke Nakamura’s career for years.

Being a fan of puroresu a.k.a. Japanese professional wrestling, I’ve watched Nakamura in New Japan going back to his time as a rookie. He’s since become a legend and now he wrestles in the United States for the WWE, where he is underutilized, if I’m being honest. But Vince McMahon doesn’t seem to have a great track record with Japanese superstars. But I digress.

This book is presented as an interview. It’s a couple hundred pages long interview but it is still pretty interesting from start to finish, as Shinsuke Nakamura is a pretty interesting dude.

The first few chapters deal with Nakamura’s childhood and his love of professional wrestling, which was in opposition of his father’s love of baseball. But we also learn what his school life was like and how he was pretty athletic between playing basketball and excelling at amateur wrestling.

After that, Nakamura delves into his professional wrestling career in the years that he worked for New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

This is where the book really brings the meat and potatoes. Nakamura is pretty respectful of the other professionals around him but he still provides great stories and insight into one of the coolest wrestling promotions on the planet.

For those who like reading wrestling biographies, this one is pretty good and it is very different, as there aren’t a lot of biographies on Japanese puroresu stars in the United States.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographies by professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists.

Video Game Review: Fire Pro Wrestling World (PlayStation 4)

I had a Fire Pro Wrestling game back in the day for PlayStation 1. I enjoyed it but it didn’t consume as much of my time back then as WWF Attitude, a game where I had hundreds of customized wrestlers added to the mix.

The main reason why I gave this Fire Pro game a shot is because it featured wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling and I really wanted a game where I could play as Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Guerrillas of Destiny, Tetsuya Naito and other massive Japanese stars.

I also wanted to create myself, as I do in every wrestling game, and live out the dream of beating the best to become a world champion.

At first glance, I love the visual retro style of these games. However, like those retro games, the gameplay mechanics leave a lot to be desired. While this certainly is more playable than those WWF games for the original Nintendo, it still feels like a button masher where you sometimes have to rely on unreliable luck.

In the creation process, there are so many options it is actually kind of ridiculous. Now I know that this is the real selling point for fans of this series of games but I found it poorly organized, overly complicated and heinously tedious.

I wanted this to be the wrestling game of my dreams and was damn excited to fire it up. But ultimately, I was left disappointed and kind of bored.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Fire Pro games as well as retro wrestling games.