By my estimation, the current era of storytelling style in American wrestling started sometime in 2018, amid Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa commencing their now legendary feud in black-and-gold era NXT. It was a feud that started off brilliantly but very quickly veered off course as the feud became less grounded in actual wrestling and more concerned with haphazardly trying to become community theatre.

It was the beginning of the decline of that era in NXT in general, as more and more of it became consumed in trying to evolve into some wrestling/theatre hybrid, with both aspects suffering as a result. In my analysis of pro wrestling over the years, it is often very easy to see each generation’s prominent storytelling styles and methods. The 1980s brought us cheesy Americana led by larger-than-life stars such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. It was simplistic, family-friendly storytelling that fueled WWE to become the company it is today. The late 90s brought edge, the Attitude Era. Gone were the days of family-friendly, good vs. evil entertainment, in comes swearing and middle fingers and a profound infusion of horniness. The 2010s brought the corporate era, as WWE sought to become more family-friendly and more attractive to mainstream commercial sponsors.

In the current era of wrestling storytelling, melodrama is in, and unfortunately for those who don’t enjoy it, it will only get worse before it gets better.

I would like to preface my opinions by saying that I don’t think melodrama is automatically bad. There are examples of melodrama being used to perfection to add to a match. The first Gargano vs. Ciampa match may have been the beginning stages of the infection of melodrama, but it was able to tap into those elements while also still being an all-time great match. One of my personal favorite matches of all time is Golden Lovers vs. Young Bucks at NJPW Strong Style Evolved 2018.

It is a match ridden with internal conflict and mid-match promos, mixed in with some of the most incredible wrestling conceivable, blending those elements to create a match near the peak of wrestling perfection. More often than not, however, the performers involved lack the skill or capability to execute this mix. I’ve never been a fan of the ongoing Bloodline storyline, and in general, I dislike melodrama in my wrestling. It is a fine complement that can add to matches, but at the end of the day, I want the actual wrestling to be the primary focus of the wrestling I watch. My peak ideal of what wrestling should be is Okada-era New Japan. Unfortunately for myself and fans who have similar tastes, the tides of professional wrestling are not blowing in our favor.

For the majority of the time I have been alive, WWE has not wanted to be considered wrestling, but instead sports entertainment. They wanted to be known as a product that was a blend of wrestling and “entertainment”, some sort of hybrid between the wrestling of past and the prestige TV of the present. Vince McMahon has always been embarrassed by the fact that his main success in life was wrestling, as evidenced by his countless failed measures into other business ventures. Thus, he tried changing his one success into something other than wrestling so he could finally claim that wrestling wasn’t what made him who he was. For years, however, the fans rejected his goals. Sports entertainment was a widely laughed at phrase in internet wrestling circles, often showing to be true within the live audience as well. Fans wanted their workrate favorites like Daniel Bryan and Cesaro to be pushed, rejecting the constant pushes of wrestlers they viewed as inferior in that department, such as Randy Orton, Triple H, and John Cena. However, it appears that McMahon and WWE have finally achieved their goals with the smash-hit success of The Bloodline.

After decades of failed attempts, WWE finally has an act that people regard as cinema, something worthy of Emmy consideration, as laughable a thought it is to compare Roman Reigns yelling the words UCE and COUSIN to any of the iconic acting performances once could see in modern peak television. It is unclear when this switchover happened, but ever since the pandemic has largely subsided and wrestling crowds have returned to normal, WWE fans have been lapping this melodrama up like parched puppies. Business is booming, with WWE selling loads of tickets to live shows whilst displaying strong television ratings and critical acclaim. Most importantly for the company, figures traditionally from outside the wrestling world are starting to notice and praise the Bloodline story. It is a twist of karmic fate for McMahon, as all of this success has come when most perceive him not to be involved in the company’s day-to-day. Regardless, it is abundantly clear that this storytelling style is a proven business success, and WWE will continue doing more and more of this in the future.

There is clear evidence that this is what WWE wants wrestling to be, as they are now training everyone in NXT to do this type of storytelling. As these acts continue to filter into the main roster over time, the influence of melodrama will grow and grow until it is the entirety of WWE’s product. Don’t like The Bloodline? Just wait until you see the seven identical clones on RAW and SmackDown every week, most of which will almost certainly be much worse. At least we have AEW at the end of the day, right? Right? For me, AEW has been the promotion that gives me something close to my ideal wrestling product, mixing wrestling and storytelling in a well-executed fashion, and has done that for most of its existence.

Unfortunately, that has been less and less true lately, as AEW have began to dip their hands in the melodrama pool.

Ever since his triumphant return at ALL OUT last year, I have found the booking of MJF to be absolutely dreadful, ridden with more WWE elements and evolving further and further away from what made MJF great. His character is becoming increasingly cartoonish, agitated at anyone who even mildly insults him, doing bug-eyed acting to convey irritation as if he were in a cartoon. The MJF vs. Bryan Danielson match at Revolution this year is widely regarded as one of the best of the year, but I found it to be a match overloaded with MJF’s personal indulgences. Whilst watching that match, I was actively groaning and just begging for it to be over in the last 10-15 minutes, as MJF kept on doing his now beloved overdramatic bullshit. The melodrama now extends beyond MJF as well, as community theatre skits are becoming more and more common as AEW attempts to find its Bloodline.

On the surface, it is hard to blame them for attempting to do so. WWE is able to sell 10,000 tickets two to three times a week, while AEW is resorting to comps and reduced ticket prices to get to 5,000. WWE television ratings are growing and maintaining, whilst AEW’s are stagnant. I’m not arguing that AEW is on death’s door or that they are a business failure, as that is objectively not true. However, it is clear they are not the hottest company in America right now. Some AEW fans even seem to like the melodrama that has been done in the company so far, despite it sharing many characteristics with the WWE storylines they universally pan. For me, this is the last thing I want out of AEW, and if they continue to go down this path, I expect my enjoyment and investment into the company to decline steeply.

At the end of the day, I am left wondering one simple question – Why can’t wrestling fans just enjoy wrestling?

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