Word ‘Round The Inn: Kicking Down The Fourth Wall

The discourse in wrestling has been set ablaze in the weeks since Eddie Kingston’s widely shared post-show promo on June 26, 2021. After that night’s broadcast of AEW Dynamite, he took aim directly at WWE, seemingly without a care in the world in doing so. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but is it smart for one business to bring up and highlight its competition? Is it a risk to even put that into the atmosphere and into the minds of its fans?

That is what we at Wrestle Inn are pondering this time around in the latest Word ‘Round The Inn. Not whether what he said was right or wrong, or the usual “Yay WWE/AEW-Boo AEW/WWE” stuff that circulates around social media, like so much slop in a landfill. Let’s go deeper into what we would have done in those shoes, or the ones who had to watch it all unfold from backstage. Read along, and don’t forget to share your thoughts with us @WrestleInn!

-Corey Michaels (@CoreyMacdazzle)
-Caro (@Caro_Taro)
-Thumbly Squeezed (@ThumblySqueezed)
-Kyle Sparks (@kyleksparks)
-Katie Rose (@KatieBrady383)

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

What was your initial reaction to Kingston’s promo?

Corey: Growing up in the time when WWF, WCW, and ECW were taking shots at each other, it didn’t bother me at all. I mean, if you’re working for a company you enjoy being employed at, why wouldn’t you want to boast about it? I took Edward Kingston’s comments about how they won’t find the same passion on the other channel the same way I would have if it was ECW. The atmosphere for wrestling promotions have their own aura and passion given off that gives it something special. Hell, WWE takes their little shots sometimes. So, I didn’t feel any certain way about it. Eddie is a passionate dude, and is the heart and soul of AEW because he speaks directly to us in a way that has us resonating with him whether he be good or bad.

Caro: I admire Eddie Kingston’s dedication and work ethic, as well as his love for wrestling, so for him to talk about how much AEW means to him is always a treat! Personally, for me, I don’t mind ribs towards other promotions here and there; they’ve existed in wrestling even before I was born. That being said, I wasn’t mad at his speech, but I dreaded what the rest of the internet would say. The IWC is rife with tribalism and bias all around. It was a speech that had a good intention behind it, as I’m sure Eddie Kingston meant to do, but it was marred by social media for the sake of arguments and fighting. Lots of people took it the wrong way, which didn’t shock me. TLDR: I was less “Ugh, not another jab at WWE” and more “Ugh, not another timeline-filling IWC squabble.”

Thumbly: It seemed mostly harmless. There’s always been a lot of rah rah stuff done at the end of shows, we just never used to see it so widely. I’m sure during the Monday Night Wars it touched on how much better the show you were at (be it RAW or Nitro) was vs the other. What did surprise me was extending it past the product to the performers themselves, the talk of them lacking heart and such. But honestly, is anyone in a room w/ TK and Cody going to walk away because of Eddie Kingston’s opinion? I doubt it. The outrage will fade and we’ll remember his next on-screen work far longer than this.

Kyle: I didn’t actually hear it for a couple of days after it happened, and given the uproar, I assumed it was something monumental and earth shattering. When I did watch it, I heard a version of a promo that you hear at literally every mid-to-upper level independent promotion in the country at least twice a weekend. I’ve personally heard Davey Richards cut a version of that promo probably a half-dozen times. Everybody compares themselves to WWE, for better or for worse, because it differentiates your brand from the monolithic entity that is “sports entertainment.” Part of what helps a brand to succeed is explaining why its value proposition is different from direct competitors. Whether it’s in-ring style, storytelling choices, roster creation, match stipulations, whatever, promotions have done this for decades. Not only that, but it wasn’t even on-camera. And yes, social media complicates the matter of whether or not something is part of continuity, but this feels like a stretch for clicks from the folks who posted the video.

Katie: I must admit, I was a little surprised! But you see other companies taking shots at each other and it’s just the norm. The fact that it was done after the show was over made it seem like it was just for the audience – to send them home on a high note. As a pretty big WWE fan, I get it. AEW really does feel like a “family” and they put on pretty consistent shows week after week! But we also have to remember, every promotion has its ups and downs. 

If you were running a promotion, would you acknowledge the competition or ignore it?

Corey: It’s inevitable, isn’t it? You can’t ignore the outside forever. What is this, North Korea? If you’re Angel Soft and Charmin is shitting on you, you gotta shit back. Just make sure you wipe. This is a business where part of the appeal is talking trash to opposition, only natural for it to be across promotions in the business.

Caro: If I was born 40 years earlier and suddenly found myself as head of WCW creative in 1996, then absolutely. Part of what made the Monday Night Wars era so profound to many fans were the constant disses each side hurled at the other. It was necessary to do so, and it was an essential means to survive a ratings ”war”. But here’s the thing: that was 25 years ago, and times have changed so much in the wrestling industry since. Whether we like to admit it or not, professional wrestling isn’t as mainstream as it was back in the ‘90s. There’s no need to fight over which promotion is “better” when we have each other to enjoy wrestling with. Speeches like Eddie Kingston’s, which was done after the show went off the air, are fine to boost fan morale, and the occasional reference on TV is fine, but only if necessary. Fixating over the “competition” and firing shots on main programming weekly is past its prime. It wastes time that could be given to other wrestlers that need TV time. Short answer: No, but if I have to, I wouldn’t mind it.

Thumbly: Adapt or die, man. I know in the past it was either verboten to acknowledge stories or realities other than the one that night, OR it was hard to pull off (see: The Huckster/Nacho Man ads, “that oughta put butts in the seats,” et al). But these conversations are out there, and will happen whether you’re in on them or not. Why not set the tone when the moment hits? Not every week, not for its own sake, but don’t pull punches. Everyone knows you’re well aware of what else is out there.

Kyle: Would I go out of my way to do so? No. Would I make it a focus? Definitely not. I will say that I wouldn’t name-drop them specifically. But I also wouldn’t prohibit my talent from even making reference to them either. At the end of the day, fans have preferences, but they’re not stupid. They know WWE exists. Pretending they don’t is just insulting.

Katie: I would say I’d definitely keep my eye on what every other promotion is doing but not obsess over it. I’d want my company to stand out for being unique and different from the competition. Although that being said, I wouldn’t allow my talent to take shots at other companies. To me, that makes it seem like you’re jealous of the other companies and their success. 

Should AEW creative work in a follow-up response to the response or just let it all go? 

Corey: I would leave the moment as is and let it go. If WWE responds, then it’s time to fire back. Just know when to rein it in, otherwise it would then grow tiresome, or turn you off from the product in general. *cough cough* TNA *cough cough*

Caro: No, no, no. Maybe on Being the Elite, as all inside jokes inevitably end up on their channel, but that’s the only medium I can give an excuse for. AEW shouldn’t spend TV time acknowledging it. You threw the punch, you know what makes you shine best in the wrestling industry—-just move on and keep doing you, AEW.

Thumbly: Not beyond Eddie himself. I’m down with trying out just about anything that involves handing that man a mic, to which AEW finally introduced me (my  own fault being late to the party) and which hasn’t let me down be it as face or heel. Being the guy who addresses reality would fit with his no-BS approach. But that starts to feel more like a gimmick over time and he’s good enough that he doesn’t need that. But hitting it again here or there strategically with him involved, I’m game to see that.

Kyle: Absolutely not. There’s nothing wrong with calling them out in an off-the-cuff promo for the live crowd, but as soon as you start working it into continuity, you start looking desperate in a way that (1) I don’t think AEW has to be, and (2) you very much don’t want be perceived.

Katie: I’d just let it go. At the end of the day, Kingston is known for his off-the-cuff remarks and brilliant promos. This was no different. Fans love when he’s standing in the middle of the ring with a mic in his hand. Wrestling fans should know by now not to take offense to anything

You’re the head writer of RAW or SmackDown: do you respond in any way?

Corey: Not to Kingston’s promo. But I can see making mention at something AEW misfires where it is excelled at by Smackdown or Raw (lol). It could range from friendly banter by Kingston’s former opponent in Kevin Owens to a remark of ridicule by Roman Reigns, or by Becky Lynch, whenever she comes back, because Lord knows AEW is still struggling here and there with their women’s division (hoping this comment ages poorly).

Caro: The most I would do is sprinkle in a funny comment for a wrestler, a la Sami Zayn’s electric chair segment because that was actually hilarious, but that’s it. We are not going to storm Daily’s Place in a tank and have Triple H and Shawn Michaels crotch chop Triangulo De La Muerte

Thumbly: Only if I’m serious about it and willing to commit to it. Specifically for RAW, which has been struggling both in terms of quality and ratings for a long time now. Don’t wink at it, don’t have an offhand remark up for interpretation, it’s “tune in Monday for HHH’s reply to AEW” or it’s nothing. Given how RAW has been written lately, nothing is the safer choice and assuredly the one that will happen.

Kyle: Nope. You keep doing what you’re doing. Though if I’m the head writer, maybe they *don’t* keep doing what they’re doing…wait, that’s a different article. Regardless of the product you’re putting on, you’re widely considered the tentpole of the industry. You gain nothing from engaging here. You don’t necessarily lose anything, but if you don’t gain anything, there’s not really a point.

Katie: The only way to respond would be to figure out how to make my product better. Obviously if someone is calling you out, there is a problem. As a life-long WWE fan, I can admit that there are a whole bunch of problems there. I’m more frustrated than content watching RAW and Smackdown. So I’d clench my teeth and fists, take the insults with a grain of salt, and start trying to reshape my company, hoping the result would be happier fans! 

Credit: WWE

As a fan, do you enjoy this kind of behind-the-curtain talk or would you rather focus on the on-screen stories?

Corey: No, I must take it as an insult, and a threat upon all that I love and cherish, and I must take the highest offense to this. In all seriousness, I dig it. Like I said earlier, this is a business built on trash talking. As long as it isn’t frequent, it does not detract from the on-screen stories. In fact, we even see callbacks from previous stories from other promotions in AEW, so it does not hurt at all to make references once in a while.

Caro: I’m a wrestling nerd who thrives on behind the scenes talk and lingo. But as I’ve said before, I would really prefer if the focus is given to on-screen storylines. A wink and a nudge is fine on TV for the hardcore fans because honestly I get a kick out of that stuff when done tastefully, but again, we are not going to storm the Thunderdome riding a Jacksonville Jaguar to land a Cero Miedo on Roman Reigns ok?

Thumbly: Part of kayfabe being dead is that we know these are people, and our interest extends into wanting to know them. People got behind Daniel Bryan not just because he’s so great in the ring (which he is), but people felt like he was genuinely their favorite guy. Similarly, a prior viral Kingston moment (go to 3:50) had nothing to do with a storyline, it was real and got a real reaction. So, as long as it feels legit and spontaneous, then it’ll connect and I’ll want more. Just don’t try and manufacture it.

Kyle: It’s fine, and it tends to make live crowds happy but as I said, I wouldn’t let it bleed onscreen. Let the two things be separate, and sort of like the old rule that WCW and WWE set…if it didn’t happen or get talked about on TV, then in your promotion’s internal canon, it didn’t happen. The Forbidden Door being broken down in some ways is great, but in some cases, there’s a reason those doors were there in the first place.

Katie: As a fan, I cringe when I hear it but I understand it, especially since this particular instance was directed toward WWE. I totally get it. But I also think it can come back and bite you in the ass eventually. Once their product starts having little hiccups and seems like it’s going stale, this will be brought back up again and the tables will have turned. So I think it’s better to keep that to themselves rather than let that become a regular thing.