How WWE SmackDown Vs. AEW Rampage Could Change The Very Definition Of Wrestling Wars
The conflict between WWE and AEW rumbles on, but this week's developments could change everything.
A key argument in the messy, constant WWE vs. AEW discourse has been that of ‘competition'.
Those who push back against the rise of AEW are often reminded that WWE’s modern dominance of the wrestling business has stifled creativity, and that a genuine rival will lead to a greater sense of competition. This will therefore lead to a more compelling product all round.
While I consider myself to be a believer in this theory, I must admit to being surprised by recent events. I’ve thought of ‘competition’ as some sort of far-off end goal, something AEW could potentially bring to the industry in years to come.
However, it has become rapidly clear that Tony Khan isn’t interested in waiting that long.
With the Wednesday Night Wars a thing of the past, attention has turned to Friday - or, more specifically, this Friday.
The battle for ratings has certainly intensified in recent weeks, with the return of the NFL and the beginning of the MLB postseason complicating matters further. The next key battleground is this coming Friday, with WWE SmackDown going head-to-head with AEW Rampage.
Both cards are pretty stacked - perhaps not quite as must-see as the return of The Rock or CM Punk (appearances which have electrified both shows in the past), but certainly bigger than your average weekly event. SmackDown is the final blue-branded show before Crown Jewel. It will feature a Brock Lesnar appearance as well as a marquee match between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks.
Rampage boasts CM Punk’s fourth comeback bout, as well as a six-man tag between the Inner Circle and a team including former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos, accompanied by Jorge Masvidal.
The stage looks set for an exciting night of action, proving again that competition in the industry has arrived earlier than many of us expected. Except, contrary to what I said earlier, the shows aren’t quite going head-to-head. This is a complicated tussle fought over shifting timeslots and, as we’ve recently learned, played out on different media platforms altogether.
To give a brief summary of events so far: WWE announced a half hour ad-free extension to this week’s SmackDown, taking it 30 minutes into the beginning of Rampage’s runtime. Tony Khan, never a shrinking violet, took to Twitter…
This provoked a wave of reaction online, both supporting and ridiculing Khan’s fighting words. However, his next move has changed the conversation entirely, and could change how we think of promotional battles in wrestling.
Khan would announce on Tuesday a special AEW Rampage pre-show featuring Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki. That’s the sort of dream match one would expect to shell out for on pay per view, not witness for free on a standard Friday night, over a month from the next big AEW show.
Crucially, it’s also on YouTube. An exciting, if slightly complicated, development.
We’re in uncharted territory here, far removed from the ancient tales of channel-hopping between Raw and Nitro in the ‘90s. The metrics for understanding who ‘wins’ Friday night’s tussle aren’t quite clear.
If Danielson and Suzuki attract many viewers on YouTube, how do we consider that alongside the TV ratings of both shows? What if SmackDown is damaged substantially by the Rampage pre-show, but comfortably dominates the broadcast itself? Will there be a notable drop-off for WWE's blue brand in terms of audience after their first hour?
Time will possibly tell, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we never truly know who comes off better in the skirmish. One could always say that the real winners are the fans, although given the intensely partisan nature of the story so far, it’s becoming increasingly hard to enjoy this new era of wrestling for what it is.
At least one thing has become clear in recent months: this is more of a fair fight than we first suspected.
For all the excitement of AEW’s initial rise, there was always the lingering fear that they would be a flash-in-the-pan, remembered by history as a brief challenger to WWE, before being crushed by the latter’s sheer stature. AEW may not have WWE’s mainstream name value or sense of history, but they have other weapons. They have a collection of the hottest names in the industry today, and aren’t afraid to showcase them immediately.
Danielson vs. Suzuki may have been booked on a whim, which is important to point out - just as we did when WWE booked a WWE Championship change on the September 13 episode of Raw, seemingly in response to AEW's building momentum. But the bout itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some matches don’t need weeks of justification before they take place.
For all the negativity brought about by WWE vs. AEW, I’m still excited by such developments. The idea of competition had taken on an abstract nature over the course of the last two decades, almost looked at as a quirk of wrestling’s past. ‘Remember when the industry wasn’t a monopoly? Crazy times!’
But now competition is tangible again, and it seems fitting that we’ll celebrate this sense of realness by watching Bryan Danielson and Minoru Suzuki slam limbs into each other’s chests. What this will mean for Rampage and SmackDown is unclear, but whatever the result, it’s likely to lead to the next chapter.
As wrestling fans, that’s all we’ve asked for so long.