How Bazar: How AEW Reignited My Love of Professional Wrestling

My name is Nick, and I am a lifelong fan of professional wrestling (this is also basically how I introduced myself to my now wife, but more on that later). I still vividly remember that one fateful Monday Night in 1996 when my channel surfing came to a sudden stop at the sight of a dark shadowy silhouette of a man in a trench coat and hat, backlit by a striking purple glow. I ran to my Little Tikes desk, grabbed an index card, and wrote “USA Channel 43 WWF.” I was hooked. My parents thought it would be a phase, but 25 years later I can confidently say: Sorry mom and dad, this is who I am.

Just like that, the WWF became my favorite thing. My first fandom, my first love. I had all the Bone Crunching Action figures, I had the magazines, I watched and re-watched the Coliseum Home Videos so many times I could recite Vince McMahon’s commentary, and so on. They provided all the action, chaos, and colorful characters of the Power Rangers, but also somehow felt more “larger-than-life” than even a Megazord. While I was vaguely aware of the competition, I was solidly a WWF kid through and through: the WWF was my home team.

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Fast-forward to 2018, and while I was still a fan, my interest was waning. I was a weekly viewer of their product, I would continue to spend hard-earned money on live events; hell, I even boldly asked my girlfriend of less than one month to join me on a trip from Miami to New Orleans for Wrestlemania 34 (she thankfully said yes, and then a different kind of “yes” a couple years later). It was awesome to experience a show like that with someone so special, but the source of the magic was different for me at that point, and my relationship with the WWE was on the rocks. I was burned out on the same storylines, the same character arcs, the same disappointments, and the same sameness every week. The magic was gone. I was watching out of habit rather than out of anticipation. Safe to say, the honeymoon phase was years and years in the rearview mirror.

But I still loved professional wrestling. I would seek out old matches I hadn’t seen before. I would study up on other companies and familiarize myself with them. I would dig up my old VCR and re-watch my old recordings of past shows. I started realizing that I wasn’t necessarily a fan of one brand, I was a fan of the industry.

Then, less than one year later in January of 2019, professional wrestling changed my life again in the form of All Elite Wrestling. As I watched that first AEW press conference, I might as well have been that 6-year-old watching his first episode of Monday Night Raw. Instead of watching on an old-school tube TV in 1996, I was live streaming on YouTube, but the feelings were the same. Instead of jotting down the name of the station on an index card, I was subscribing to social media channels, but the fandom was ignited just the same. AEW came into my life at the perfect time, just as the WWF did all those years prior.

But that initial tease is the easy part. Especially after years and years of fans craving a legitimate new competitor in the industry. The hype was real, the T-shirts were real, the time slot on TNT was real, but what would this product look like exactly? My wife and I had to find out, so we took another wrestling related journey from Miami up to Daytona Beach for the first ever Fyter Fest at the infamous Ocean Center (coincidentally or not, the same venue where Hulk Hogan turned on the WCW faithful and joined forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the New World Order).

However, instead of Hall, Nash, and Hogan, we were treated to the in-ring debuts of Darby Allin and Jon Moxley, as well as a cavalcade of captivating talents like Kenny Omega, Young Bucks, Lucha Brothers, Adam Page, and Cody Rhodes. Right from the start, the characters AEW presented jumped off the page with passion and grit. They felt real and raw, not washed out and sanitized. This is what I had been craving and this is what I wanted out of a professional wrestling show. This, to me, IS professional wrestling, and it is a show that will live with me forever.

Then the pandemic happened, and life as we knew it stood still. While the competition was also still producing weekly television shows, the AEW product specifically made me feel normal for at least two hours a week. Somehow, someway, their show allowed me to “suspend disbelief” not only for the fictional storylines being played out on TV, but in real life as well.

And looking back, AEW’s success has only skyrocketed from there. This is the punk band that fans want to see grow and reach their full potential, because there is an organic confidence that the qualities that brought them this far will remain sacred. Organic, home-grown confidence. It is that same confidence from the ever-growing fan base that materializes into record-breaking Pay-Per-View buys, strong television ratings, big attendance numbers, and of course loads and loads of merchandise sales. But from a non-ratings, non-numbers, and non-analytical point of view, this wrestling company simply just rocks and reminds me every single week of why I became a fan of professional wrestling to begin with.

So thank you AEW, for making us all feel like kids again in the best way possible. I look forward to the future because it feels like the best is yet to come.

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