While typically remaining silent in the public sphere when it comes to AEW, fans were given a treat on Saturday morning when WWE elected to make a rare public comment about their competition from All Elite Wrestling in an article published in the Toronto Star. The article, which was pointing out how close the ratings in Canada were between the two companies, received this statement from WWE about their competitors.

“If you look at the gory self-mutilation that bloodied several women in the December 31 event on TNT, it quickly becomes clear that these are very different businesses. We had an edgier product in the ‘Attitude’ era and in a 2022 world, we don’t believe that type of dangerous and brutal display is appealing to network partners, sponsors, venues, children or the general public as a whole.” 

While the statement is short, it does provide a lot of insight into how WWE views its own product, as well as how it plans to leverage itself above AEW as competition. It also reveals that while time has gone by, WWE’s strategies to defeat its competition have not exactly evolved with the times.

The statement, which was not attributed to a single person but almost surely can be attributed in some way to Vince McMahon, is obviously hypocritical. WWE has benefitted from the use of blood historically, which they do acknowledge in the statement, but in WWE’s statement it’s made to look like it was something WWE has moved past. Fans can easily point out more recent times where WWE has relied on gory spectacle, such as the infamous “eye for an eye” match at Extreme Rules 2020. A more recent example would be just a few weeks ago, where Edge doused The Miz and Maryse in a “brood bath” which while not red, was clearly implied to be some blood-like substance.

To examine the hypocrisy further, while WWE may not have blading on its programming, the company still markets itself around the concept that fans will see incredible violence and carnage on its shows. With so many various shows based around gimmick matches such as Hell in a Cell, Extreme Rules, Elimination Chamber, TLC, etc. the company is happy to try and increase fan interest by marketing matches as being violent spectacles that allegedly shorten careers. That of course, is the wrestling business and while WWE tries to escape that notion as much as possible, it is infeasible to be in the industry and not market your product around some form of violence.

The most truthful part of the statement on WWE’s end is that the company mentions that they don’t think that kind of “self-mutilation” is going to attract networks, sponsors or venues. That does point to how WWE is in a completely different business than AEW. WWE doesn’t say that the blood doesn’t appeal to wrestling fans, even they cannot be that obtuse, but they do say it doesn’t appeal to either corporations, or things corporations would seemingly care about (children or the general public).

WWE’s business is not wrestling fans, it’s partnering with networks for massive rights deals, or with corporate sponsors for advertisement deals. A company like Pizza Hut may not be interested in shelling out to sponsor a bloody wrestling match; but they will for WWE’s comedy-laden battle royal. Who cares if the match is boring and people are distracted by the Pizza Hut commercial happening during the match? The content isn’t for wrestling fans, the money is all in getting a company to pay to sponsor the match.

WWE over the years has worked hard to shed its image as a violent or offensive brand of programming. While the company has been happy to cash in on Attitude Era nostalgia, it has also simultaneously worked hard to point out that they don’t do that kind of stuff anymore, with the statement to the Toronto Star being the most recent example. WWE has seen corporate sponsorship deals and TV network deals balloon over that time span, so clearly, in their mind, the strategy is working.

On the flip side, one could argue that WWE has misread the situation in the sense that television across the board is more violent than ever, and the question of whether some advertisers would be scared away from AEW’s programming should be up for debate. AEW doing stuff like blood that delivers ratings in the key advertising demo is clearly a strategy by AEW and it is working, which is how the company has gotten so close to WWE in that demographic in such a short period of time. Sure, some advertisers would probably stay away from pro wrestling entirely, or TV-14 programming in general, but is that a problem really unique to AEW?

If one watches AEW, it doesn’t seem like the company is struggling for sponsors or advertisers during the programming. Most recently, viewers will have noticed that State Farm, the largest auto insurance provider in the United States, has evolved into getting live on-air ad reads on AEW programming. AEW has also gotten the full support from Time Warner, going from one show on the network to two weekly shows, a quarterly weekend special, and a reality-show on Cody Rhodes. While WWE can claim that AEW’s programming doesn’t appeal to sponsors and TV partners; there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of evidence that suggests that is actually true.

The Same Old Playbook

It’s telling that when WWE was asked to comment on their competition with AEW, the company elected to take a shot at AEW’s programming and tried to twist the knife with the general public by labeling AEW as a barbaric promotion putting on a product unfit for most audiences. WWE could have easily put over their own product, highlighted their own business success, and dismissed AEW as true competition given that WWE is roughly 15 times the size of AEW. Instead, WWE showed some insecurities in knocking AEW. If the company truly wasn’t concerned about AEW as competition, the statement could have easily blown off the notion; instead, they used the article as a chance to try and beat back a company that is furiously nipping at their heels.

This is hardly surprising, it’s the exact same playbook WWE has been using for decades. WWE has notably gone after its competition before with the exact same terminology, probably most famously with Vince McMahon’s letter to Ted Turner in 1996, decrying WCW’s use of blading.

The statement in the Toronto Star article is amusing in that sense. Much like how WWE’s creative process seems stuck in a bygone era, WWE’s attempts to deflate its competition hasn’t evolved much over the years. All that time has gone by and yet, WWE is still rolling out the same tired strategies to destroy its rivals. Can’t you guys come up with ANYTHING else? Everyone but the slowest of WWE hardcore fans was able to see the blatant hypocrisy in the statement anyway.

Laying at the bottom of the statement to the Toronto Star is perhaps the most insidious aspect of the entire affair. AEW does not have just one match that involved a lot of blading; WWE had many options to choose from if they wanted to pick one as an example. They very purposefully chose to point out the match between Anna Jay/Tay Conti and The Bunny/Penelope Ford, and that is something that is flying under the radar when it comes to this discussion.

WWE could have pointed to the Adam Page vs Bryan Danielson match from January 5, a match that was more recent and much higher profile than the women’s tag team match that also had a ton of blood.

Instead, they chose the women’s match with the implication that the idea of having women do a match like that will be seen as more dangerous, more barbaric and something that would certainly never happen in WWE.

WWE loves to pat itself on the back when it comes to elevating their female performers, and are happy to advertise things like the first women’s Hell in a Cell match. However, when it comes to women actually doing stuff like the men, or achieving true equality in what they are permitted to do in the ring, not only does WWE resist doing that, they have now labeled it as a massive negative, something only that monstrous rival company would ever do.

In WWE’s eyes, pretty blonde women would never bleed in a match like that, and that is why WWE’s product is superior and why AEW isn’t real competition. WWE may market itself as the leader in women’s sports evolution, but the statement in the Toronto Star article reads like WWE would never allow their women to actually work a pro wrestling match the way men can. They think advertisers will run away from women competing like men, and maybe they are right, but it shows how shallow WWE’s support of their women’s roster really is. Women wrestling is viewed as a weakness if they go too far; so better keep that kind of action under control, right?

The statement in the Toronto Star article will come and go as part of the weekly news churn; but in all this time with AEW emerging as a true #2 company, that statement from WWE was by far the most revealing the company has been when it comes to how they really view AEW, and also how they view themselves within the pro wrestling sphere.

On the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) go over the major takeaways from NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 and look at NJPW’s 2022 outlook. They talk about the excellent main events, the future of Okada as champion, needed changes to the junior division, NJPW working with other promotions in 2022 and more.