Nearly twenty years after the end of the “Monday Night Wars,” the landscape of professional wrestling is on the precipice of a massive shift.
The catalyst for the seismic change is All Elite Wrestling, the upstart company founded by Tony Khan, son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, and professional wrestlers Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and Matt and Nick Jackson — better known as the Young Bucks.
After holding four shows — two pay-per-views and two free events — all eyes will be on the upstart wrestling company this week as it debuts its live television program, titled “Dynamite,” on TNT.
“I guess you could say there are a lot of nerves because going live you face that fact that anything could happen,” Nick Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “You just never know if something wrong is going to go down, like someone getting hurt. Knock on wood, hopefully everyone just kills it and we have a great time. We’re just hoping everything goes right.”
The birth of All Elite Wrestling
Wednesday night represents a culmination of a months-long effort by the Bucks, Omega, Rhodes and Khan, among others. On the heels of their successful independent show, “All In,” in August 2018, the group announced the creation of All Elite Wrestling in January and the buzz immediately started.
What started as a conversation on his back patio between Matt Jackson, his wife and Khan had finally become a reality.
“With the feedback right away we knew it was something that could be big,” Nick Jackson said. “As soon as we announced Chris Jericho, then people knew this was real and it could be as big as anything we’ve seen over the past 20 years. Right off the bat we knew. When we hit a home run with [May’s event] ‘Double or Nothing,’ that was further proof that this was going to be the next alternative.”
While the concept of All Elite Wrestling kicked into high gear over the past nine months, the Jacksons recognize that their YouTube series, “Being the Elite,” served almost as a training ground for the production aspect of AEW.
“I don’t think we would have ever guessed that it would get this big,” Matt Jackson said. “When we first started it, it was just a fun little project that was Nick’s idea to document our day-to-day activities for the fans to help us connect on a more personal level. The fact that it became what it became is really crazy to us. We’re hoping to keep it around.”
Since its inception in 2016, “Being the Elite” has grown to include several other members of All Elite Wrestling’s roster and has served as a conduit to further storylines in between events. As AEW grew, inching closer to the October debut, the Jacksons’ responsibilities expanded and ultimately, the brothers admit that the hit series may change.
“We’re hoping to keep it around,” Matt Jackson said. “I don’t know what that means though exactly, it will depend on what our schedule looks like. We have a huge following, it’s too big to just go away. I think we’ll be going through a transitional phase here soon while we figure out what ‘BTE’ will look like.”
‘My sleep schedule hasn’t been great’
The biggest adjustment for the Jacksons has been juggling dual roles. In addition to being two of the marquee talents on AEW’s roster, the brothers serve as executive vice presidents for the company.
It’s one thing to have to prepare for your own match ahead of a show, it’s an entirely different beast to ensure every aspect of the production is firing on all cylinders.
“I’m learning that it was a lot easier just being a wrestler, especially with this whole project,” Matt Jackson said. “The biggest adjustment for me has been being on the phone every second of the day, trying to be a dad also. Trying to stay fit, trying to do all of my other daily things.”
“A few months into this my phone never stopped ringing and I never stop getting text messages. It’s been a non-stop work pace since June. I love it, but at the same time I will admit that of course I’m struggling with balance. We’re an upstart but I have my own family too. Juggling a billion things at once, my sleep schedule hasn’t been great.”
Juggling their time is just one part of the equation for the Jacksons.
As All Elite Wrestling continues to grow, there’s inevitably going to be the perception that if they are continuously booked at the top of the card that the Jacksons — along with Rhodes and Omega — are putting themselves “over.”
The Jacksons are attempting to squash the issue before it starts.
“That’ll always be a concern,” Nick Jackson said. “Matt, myself and Kenny, we’ve made this a rule where you cannot talk about our position in the office on camera. You’ll never hear about anything that we do outside of being in the wrestling ring when you watch an episode on TNT. The only way you’ll know that is if you’re really a true insider, a huge wrestling fan and we want to keep it that way.
“If we’re the most popular act on a show, then that popular act should win,” Nick Jackson continued. “If we aren’t getting the biggest reaction, we should lose. We just have to know better and what’s right and wrong. I feel like Matt and I are pretty thoughtful in a selfish business.”
Making a place for tag-team wrestling
The Jacksons are one of the best — if not the best — tag teams in the world, so it’s no surprise that All Elite Wrestling is placing a huge emphasis on the format.
The early success of “Dynamite” will hinge on a number of factors, but one of the most important will be the tag-team tournament that will inevitably crown the promotions first champions.
“We’ve always fantasized — we never thought we’d get to do it — but if we had the book, we would make tag-team wrestling a priority,” Matt Jackson said. “Every team that you see with us, they were hand-picked by Nick and I. We’ve either worked with them elsewhere or have been watching them. We asked ourselves, ‘Who are the teams we want to work with?’ We figured, if we could have a good match with these wrestlers, the other teams could as well. A lot of it was almost selfish, us saying, ‘Who can we tear the house down with? OK, sign them.’”
There’s obviously an old-school feel as AEW goes up against WWE — by far the biggest competitor in the wrestling industry — but putting tag-team wrestling front and center is a sign that the company hopes to take the business even further back than the “Monday Night Wars” of the 1990s.
“Tag-team wrestling historically has been big box office,” Matt Jackson said. “In the old territory days, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express was the main event in every town. It was clearly something that worked. Even as recently as the TLC era, Matt and Jeff Hardy were the biggest box office draw in tag-team history. They’re brothers, there’s a lot of parallels. I don’t know why it hasn’t shined as brightly in the past 20 years, but it’s time for it to take its spot back.”
With teams like the Young Bucks, Lucha Bros. and SCU, among others, it won’t be difficult for AEW to sell tag-team wrestling. Anyone who has watched a match involving these teams knows that there is no shortage of death-defying and jaw-dropping spots.
While some teams may alter their style with the move to weekly television — there’s a belief that wrestlers want to save certain moments for bigger shows — don’t expect that in the early going from the Jacksons.
“Matt and I have built a career off doing everything every day and every show,” Nick Jackson said. “I don’t think we’re going to change that philosophy. You might see that change with other wrestlers, but Matt and I are going to go into it thinking, ‘Let’s do what we do and keep doing what got us to the dance.’ Maybe during commercial breaks we’ll take it a little more easy.”
“Now is not the time to hold back,” Matt Jackson said. “Now is the time to show the world what we’re capable of. This may be the moment where everyone wants to sample our product and we may just have 15 seconds to gain some viewers when they are flipping through the channels. Now it’s the time to show the world what AEW looks like.”
And if fans are hooked, they’ll get to see tag-team wrestling in the biggest time slots.
“I don’t want anybody to be surprised when tag-team matches headline and main event a bunch of our shows,” Matt Jackson said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than a good tag-team wrestling match.”
The billion-dollar question
AEW is far from the first wrestling promotion to try and compete with Vince McMahon and WWE.
After Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling and Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling were purchased by McMahon, the wrestling landscape has been dominated by WWE.
Smaller promotions such as Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action have all operated over the past 20 years, but none has gained a large enough share to truly pose a threat to McMahon’s behemoth.
With AEW debuting on TNT — the same channel that aired “Monday Night Nitro” in the 1990s — things feel different. WWE has also moved its NXT brand, which more closely resembles the independent-adjacent style that AEW will have, to air on Wednesday nights in the same exact time slot as “Dynamite.”
“Of course [competition] is a conversation [we have],” Matt Jackson said. “I feel like the entire group of guys, we’re all so tunnel-visioned on what our idea is and what we want our show to look like, we have a vision of what we want AEW to be and we can’t stray too far away from that.
“Obviously, it’s smart to survey, see what the competitor is doing and what’s clicking or not clicking. A lot of this is going to be organic. If one week they are putting on something similar to what we have planned, maybe we change that. If they have a huge match planned and we didn’t, maybe that changes things. I think all it does is breed competitive nature in all of us, makes us all step up our game and put on the best show possible. It’s corny, but the fans win in all of this.”
At the end of the day, AEW’s ability to compete will boil down to the in-ring product and its production value.
Although the members of the AEW roster have vast experience in the professional wrestling world, there’s a significant difference between working on the independent circuit and putting on a live television program every week.
“We need to learn how to tighten up the show and tell our stories in 90 minutes,” Matt Jackson said. “The other thing is it’s going to be on live television, so we’re working with commercial breaks. I think we will gain our footing. This is all new to us and we’re a brand new company. We’re expecting hiccups but the best thing will be for us to pivot from those things and learn from our mistakes. We’re learning on the job but we also think we’re the most qualified team.”
Much like wrestlers calling a match in the ring, everyone involved in AEW will also need to be able to change things on the fly.
“We have an idea of where we want to go, but we also have to be ready to switch gears,” Matt Jackson said. “In wrestling, things just kind of organically happen. I always use this example, but we didn’t have a clue that after doing four shows that having a guy who dresses up as a dinosaur be one of our most over acts. Happy surprises happen. One thing we need to be ready to do is shift things and go with the flow.”
Saying goodbye to the old Young Bucks
In August, the Jacksons said goodbye to the independent circuit with a main event match against Private Party in Queens, New York. The show, put on by House of Glory, was in a venue that held maybe 1,000 people.
For comparison, “Dynamite” will take place at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. — a 20,000-plus seat venue that sold out in minutes.
“The one thing Matt and I will certainly miss is how close we were to that fan base,” Nick Jackson said. “We’re not leaving them, but it felt so intimate, being in a smaller venue.”
It’s not just moving to a bigger venue for the Jacksons, it’s leaving behind the part of the business that helped make them who they are today.
“It’s an environment for being able to really thrive, be creative and try new things, take risks,” Matt Jackson said. “That’s one thing I miss. Every match we have there’s a lot of pressure, it’s high stakes, we have to hit a home run every time. It felt good to do independent shows because that’s where we really crafted our act and created these characters that everyone has come to love now.
“[Now we’re] realizing that that part of our career is over and I’m not sure if it has really sunk in for us.”
On arguably the biggest night of their careers on Wednesday, it will.
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