We’re Six Months Away from a Pro Wrestling Boom

I really, really, really want to go back to a wrestling show, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

kenny omega kills a jobber
For all the talk about falling ratings and empty arenas across sports, no “sport” has been more impacted than pro wrestling. That’s because pro wrestling is a sport only in the sense that they are judges for each match and those judges are the thousands of fans watching.

Once COVID-19 ran over the world, pro wrestling was forced to adapt and it hasn’t always been pretty. WWE has been running empty arena shows for a year and a half now, their disastrous ratings saved by their Thunderdome concept – essentially the best-looking Zoom call in human history.

All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has been running an outdoor venue for the same period of time, using other wrestlers as “fans” to make noise, as only about 1,000 actual fans at most have been allowed to attend. Smaller promotions with less money, like MLW and Impact Wrestling, have only run shows in empty TV spaces.

It’s been brutal. Though there have been many great matches and interesting angles, it hasn’t been the same. It’s almost insane to think about what has happened to the industry. I was at the first AEW TV show in Washington, D.C. in October 2019 with about 10,000 of my closest friends and the energy that night harkened back to The Rock and Stone Cold Steven Austin two decades prior. AEW’s first six months on air were defined by large, live, and loud crowds that enhanced the product.

As I write this is in April 2021, AEW has spent twice as long in one empty arena than they have in packed arenas. It defied description and explanation then that AEW – along with WWE and Impact Wrestling – have actually seen their ratings go up in recent weeks.

If anything, ratings should be going down like they have for other sports, as fans simply can’t get into sports before thousands of empty seats. But pro wrestling fans are a different breed and there’s something in the water with the industry that hasn’t been there in a long, long time.

mask wrestling fans
I got my second vaccine shot, and now more than half of this country has had at least one shot. There are still too many cases due to too many either not getting the vaccine or not still taking proper precautions as new variants spread, yet there appears to be honest-to-goodness hope for the first time in a while. Case numbers are still too high, but hospitalizations and deaths are down. We’re not done with COVID just quite yet, though it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

AEW’s Jim Ross said in an interview recently that he believes that the company will start touring again in July. It would be a complete game changer for wrestling if they can get back in front of live crowds again because we are chomping at the bit to be back out there.

There’s been a lot of talk on Wall Street about “rebound stocks” that will take off when the pandemic ends, like airlines and movie theaters. There have similarly been stories about “revenge travel” as millions gets ready to explore again after being largely confined to our homes for the better part of a year and a half.

I’m here to tell you that pro wrestling might be the biggest rebound industry of them all. In fact, I predict there will be a full-fledged pro wrestling boom ongoing by the time we end 2021.

All the ingredients that were in place as 2020 began are still there, only with the added urgency of a country of wrestling fans who haven’t been able to go to shows for so long. WWE remains the top brand. They finally moved their “developmental” brand NXT to Tuesday nights, to increase it visibility and ratings. That has allowed AEW to shine on Wednesdays unopposed, as AEW has soared past 1 million viewers the past two weeks - the two top ratings the show has done since it premiered.

Smaller promotions like Impact Wrestling, MLW and Ring of Honor have stayed afloat during the pandemic, despite their need for live event revenue even greater than their larger competitors. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) had a big plan for United States show in 2020, culminating with a show in Madison Square Garden, that was fettered by COVID-19.

I’m ready for all of it. I assumed AEW would be coming back to Washington, D.C. in October 2020 to mark its one-year anniversary for Dynamite and of course that didn’t happen. If they come back for their second anniversary in October 2022, I guarantee you I’ll be there in person. I’ll be counting down the minutes and seconds for months to get back there.

aew dynamite crowd
When COVID-19 hit, there was fear that it would devastate pro wrestling because there was so much energy between the new promotions, the new stars being made, and the surge in interest. WWE is now on broadcast TV every week. Between AEW, WWE, and Impact Wrestling, there is pro wrestling on television every night of the week. MLW has signed a deal with Vice TV, the same network that airs the acclaimed Dark Side of the Ring series. Kenny Omega just headlined an Impact Wrestling show this past Sunday that early estimates have setting new records for the company.

Simply put, pro wrestling has never been more mainstream.

The pieces are in place of a boom when fans come back and we finally (hopefully) put the worst of COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror.

There’s a reason that the Roaring Twenties happened a century ago after the Spanish Flu pandemic. There’s something similar looming if when we get past this pandemic. We’ll be happier. We’ll be more excited. We’ll be more ready to get out and enjoy what we love. For millions of wrestling fans, that means going back to live shows and diving head-first back into this flawed sport we love so much.

Get ready, the next pro wrestling boom is coming.

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