wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Where Does AEW Rank As A Threat to WWE?

October 13, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Wednesday AEW WWE NXT, Shane Douglash

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

Hey, ya want a banner?

Mohamed is bringing the topical content:

Where does AEW rank in terms of being a threat to WWE?

WWE obviously thinks that AEW presents somewhat of a threat, because there’s no other reason for them to have put NXT on the USA Network directly opposite AEW Dynamite, including starting it off two weeks before the Dynamite debut and running the show that opposes the debut edition Dynamite with limited commercial interruption. Some WWE stans will try to tell you that this is all just coincidence and that Vince and company really aren’t that worried about the All Elite crew, but I don’t buy that line of thinking, because it’s not as though WWE went out of its way to create direct competition for TNA when that promotion received prime time television on a fairly strong cable network.

However, I don’t think that what WWE fears is a company like AEW competing with them to the point that WWE is run out of business or even put against the ropes to the point that they were at in the early/mid-1990s before the Attitude Era turnaround. If that’s what WWE fears, it’s unrealistic. The company has such a head start against any competition and so many resources at its disposal that it will take at least many months and more realistically years before anyone comes anywhere near slaying the giant.

WWE is right to have some degree of concern, though. Even if AEW isn’t going to be capable of killing WWE, they can certainly wound them. There is only a limited “universe” of wrestling fans, which has gotten smaller and older over the past twenty years, as many people have quit watching and the children and teens who were big supporters of the product in the 1980s and 1990s grow older and the product (for the most part) fails to capture the attention of new youngsters. The members of that limited universe have only so much time to watch wrestling and only so much money to spend on wrestling. If AEW can peel off even a few hundred thousand fans who regularly support WWE financially, they will feel it in their bottom line, even if they are able to continue operations. If they peel off a few hundred thousand television viewers, all of a sudden WWE becomes a less valuable property to networks, and television rights fees are where the E is making the vast majority of their money now.

So, I don’t see WWE going anywhere anytime soon as a result of AEW, but I do think that WWE is right to take the fight to the upstart promotion so that they can minimize their financial losses and nip the development of a powerful competitor in the bud.

Jimmy is trying to protect American jobs:

At a recent NXT Takeover, Io Shirai and Kairi Sane briefly wrestled each other. The only time I can remember a feud between two non-American wrestlers from the same foreign country was the classic Bret vs. Owen Hart (especially one with the face/heel dynamic which Io and Kairi did not have). Have there been many others?

You should check out New Japan Pro Wrestling. There are feuds between two Japanese guys there all the time!

Seriously, though, you are correct that feuds between two wrestlers from non-U.S. lands are relatively uncommon in the United States. This is largely because, though WWE has become much more international recently, American promotions historically have not had more than a handful of foreign competitors among their ranks, and with one notable exception it’s rare to have more than one foreign wrestler from the same country under contract. However, despite this, there have been some rivals from foreign lands that have competed against one another in U.S. promotions.

As you could probably guess, this most frequently happens with Canadians. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho were tied to each other for a large portion of their U.S. careers, including a WCW match at Fall Brawl 1996 and numerous bouts with one another in WWE, including an Intercontinental Title ladder match at the 2001 Royal Rumble. Jericho also feuded with countryman Christian Cage throughout 2004 when Cage was aligned with Trish Stratus, another Canadian, and with Edge, with the highlight of that feud being an encounter at Wrestlemania XXVI. In more recent years, Jericho has gone at it with Kevin Owens at Wrestlemania XXXIII with, somewhat ironically, the United States Title on the line.

(And, yes, Jericho was technically born in New York, but most people – I assume including himself – consider him to be Canadian since that is where he was raised.)

A few names who previously appeared in the paragraph above have also had feuds with other Canadians. Of course, Edge and Christian feuded with each other in 2001 after their longstanding tag team broke up, and that was bookended by two other Edge feuds with fellow Canadians. Before the Christian feud in 2001, Edge had been competing with Lance Storm for the Intercontinental Title, and, after the Christian feud, Edge went at it with Test, culminating in a match that unified the Intercontinental and United States Titles at the 2001 Survivor Series. Edge also feuded with Chris Benoit in the mid-2000s, including a last man standing match at the 2005 edition of the Extreme Rules pay per view.

Canadians facing Canadians in the WWF/WWE isn’t unique to the 2000s, though. Jimmy’s question references Bret and Owen Hart’s feud, but Bret had rivalries with several other Canadians as well. Though this was a face versus face match, Bret did do battle with fellow Canadian Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania VIII, and he feuded with Jean Pierre Lafiette (now known as PCO) in 1995, when LaFitte stole the Hitman’s trademark leather jacket.

Speaking of Bret Hart and Roddy Piper’s Intercontinental Title match, it was set up by Piper beating the Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) for the strap at the 1992 Royal Rumble, after the Mountie had taken it off of Hart.

There are also a few miscellaneous Canadian feuds to cover. Dino Bravo and Ronnie Garvin were rivals in the WWF, including a match at Wrestlemania V. Of course, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have been partners and rivals just about everywhere they’ve gone, including the U.S. independents, PWG, Ring of Honor, NXT, and the main WWE roster. TNA also got in on the Canadian violence situation, most notably with Bobby Roode and Eric Young having a rivalry with each other in 2006 and 2007 following the disbanding of the Team Canada stable that they were both part of early in their runs with the promotion.

The next most common type of international feud in the U.S. features wrestlers from the United Kingdom. Fit Finlay and Steven/William Regal, both from the U.K., actually feuded in two different American promotions, as they were rivals in WCW in the mid-1990s before picking it up again a decade later in WWE, where they had a match at the 2006 Great American Bash pay per view. Regal also had a brief run with Davey Boy Smith in WCW, defending the company’s Television Title against him at Halloween Havoc 1993. (Regal retained due to a time limit draw.) Finally, the U.K.’s Adrian Neville and Wade Barrett squared off against each other in WWE, including a bout at the 2015 Payback pay per view.

Though there is a ton of professional wrestling in Japan, a feud between Japanese wrestlers in the United States is pretty rare. Perhaps the best example that I could find in a major promotion was when a very young Yuji Nagata, who was on a learning excursion to WCW at the time, feuded with Ultimo Dragon after Dragon had a falling out with his manager Sonny Onoo and Onoo started to use Nagata to take out his former protégé. Dragon and Nagata wrestled each other at Halloween Havoc 1997 and World War 3 1997 as part of that rivalry. It’s also worth noting that the Great Muta and Masahiro Chono wrestled each other for the NWA Title on Starrcade 1992, though that was more of a one-off showcase match than it was a feud between Muta and Chono in WCW (even though they have feuded with one another in NJPW).

The original Psicosis and the original La Parka, both Mexican wrestlers, had a feud in WCW as well, highlighted by a match at Spring Stampede 1998. Though WCW featured a ton of luchadors throughout the Nitro era, they were usually just thrown against each other in random undercard matches as opposed to being put into actual programs against each other. Psicosis and La Parka had a legitimate program, though. (Before anybody mentions, Rey Misterio, Jr. or Eddy Guerrero, I feel I should mention that they are U.S.-born, while Konnan, another WCW luchador, is actually Cuban.)

Finally, in a clash of countrymen that you may not have been expecting, two men from the Kingdom of Tonga actually had a rivalry with each other in WCW, as the Faces of Fear tag team, consisting of Meng and the Barbarian, split up at one point in time and had an undercard program that managed to sneak on to the 1998 edition of the Road Wild pay per view.

That just about does it for my research. If there are any other examples, feel free to note them in the comments.

W. Balogna wants someone to go from chump to champ:

What is the best match that a regular late 80s/early 90s jobber has been a part of? Obviously, I would imagine that a squash match wouldn’t take the crown. But, which jobber, from that era, had the most praised match that you can recall. Even before or after that era.

For purposes of answering this question, I’m going to ignore wrestlers who might have started off as job guys but went on to become major stars later, because I don’t think that talking about all of Mick Foley’s great matches after he was roughed up by the British Bulldogs really follows the spirit of the question. The same goes for formerly pushed wrestlers who found their way down the bottom of the card. In other words, I’m not going to tell you about the four-star matches that Tito Santana used to have before he became El Matador.

Instead, I’m going to try to answer the question of the best match that a career jobber had. Once I asked myself that question, one answer immediately sprung to mind.

Fans of Jim Crockett Promotions will almost assuredly remember George South, who regularly appeared on their World Championship Wrestling program and was usually there to get beaten like a drum. By 1988, he was actually doing double duty, appearing in WWF squash matches as well.

South was considered to be a pretty competent professional wrestler by his peers, and he eventually became Ric Flair’s favorite squash match opponent. According to an interview with South by the Charlotte Observer, he was defeated by the Nature Boy over two hundred times.

However, on one fateful night in November 1988, Flair decided for some reason that he wanted more than simple “Wam, Bam, Thank You, George” and decided to have a competitive match where he made the longstanding underneath guy look like a million bucks. According to a 2015 episode of his Woooooo! Nation podcast with Conrad Thompson, before the two men went out the curtain that evening, Flair said something to the effect of, “Tonight, you’re Ricky Steamboat” to South and proceeded to give him a competitive eleven-minute match, a clip of which you can see below.

For my money, this is probably the best match involving a job guy of that particular era, though I’m open to hear other people’s suggestions down in the comment section.

Night Wolf the Wise is taking us back to an unusual match that has been retconned into being the origins of mixed marital arts:

In the boxing meets wrestling fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, there were rules and limitations put in place on Inoki. Was there legitimate concern that Inoki was going to hurt Ali? And did Inoki have legitimate heat with Ali based off of the comments Ali made before that fight?

One thing that often gets forgotten in the telling of the story of Muhammad Ali versus Antonio Inoki is that, when the bout was originally agreed to, it was not going to be a shoot fight. It was going to be a work, 110%. I’ve read two different versions of what the finish to the worked fight was supposed to be, though they are similar. In one, Ali was supposed to accidentally punch the referee, with Inoki then kicking him from behind while Ali was checking on the ref. Inoki would get the pin from there. In the other version, Inoki would blade, with Ali showing compassion to him and checking the wound, again setting up an Inoki kick that would cost Ali the match. The idea behind both versions of the finish was the same, namely that it would allow for a narrative that gave Inoki the major victory he was looking for while simultaneously allowing Ali to save face in the United States, because he would have shown compassion to his fellow man in losing and would have been hit while distracted.

For those who believe this was intended to be a shoot from the beginning, TV-Asahi, the network that aired the fight in Japan, apparently has an audio tape recording of Ali and Inoki’s camps negotiating the finish in a hotel room, which they aired as part of a television special covering the fight several years later. (This is according to the July 4, 2016 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which was doing a story on the 40th anniversary of Inoki versus Ali.)

Then, once Ali was already in Japan, he apparently decided that he did not want to take the loss in a worked fight, despite previously having agreed to do so. The New Japan Pro Wrestling contingent did not want to change the finish to Inoki losing, in part because the whole point of bringing Ali over was to make Inoki into a major international star in order to best their competition from All Japan and in part because they felt that, with the $6 million they were paying Ali for the appearance (yes, $6 million in 1976 money), he damn well better be willing to do whatever they want.

So, in a supremely odd turn of events, the match was changed from a work to a shoot because neither Inoki nor Ali wanted to lose a worked fight to each other. I say this is an odd turn of events because, typically, you would think that two fighters looking to save face would want their encounter to be worked, because it can allow for a finish where both men look good, whereas with a shoot there is always a possibility that one side will be humiliated.

With a shoot match having been decided upon, the rules then had to be negotiated, and the result of the negotiations was a ruleset that highly favored Ali. Inoki could not throw a kick from a standing position, which essentially eliminated the possibility of any kicks to the head or shoulders unless Inoki could first take Ali down. Inoki could not suplex or slam Ali or apply most submission holds. Inoki was not even allowed to throw a closed fist punch, as that was seen as unfair since Ali would be wearing gloves and Inoki would not. Also, in what I believe to be the main rule that Ali exploited if you watch the match, he was allowed to get rope breaks.

Were those rules imposed because there was a concern that Inoki would hurt Ali? Possibly. However, the bigger concern was probably that Inoki would *beat* Ali, even if he didn’t hurt him in the process. You have to keep in mind that, in 1976 when this match was occurring, Inoki was basically an unknown commodity in the United States, though this match did get some mainstream media attention. Had Ali legitimately been beaten by Inoki in this match, severe damage could have been done to his reputation.

As to the second part of the question asking about legitimate heat between Inoki and Ali, I’ve never read anything which indicates that was the case. Though Ali did make some colorful comments in the buildup about Pearl Harbor and bringing the ghetto to Japan, there’s no indication that anyone saw that as anything more than standard interviews to build up the match. In fact, Ali and Inoki continued to work together on and off over the years after their 1976 encounter, including Ali participating in the 1995 NJPW tour of North Korea that was Inoki’s brainchild and Ali sitting ringside for Inoki’s retirement match from professional wrestling in 1998. Inoki even claims to have been invited to Ali’s wedding in the United States just a month after the Inoki/Ali fight.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

article topics :

Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers