A WWE spokesperson recently criticized AEW’s “bloody self-mutilation” from the December 31 episode of frenzy. This AEW event featured a violent women’s tag team match that included anchor bolts, barbed wire, and a lot of blood. In criticizing this level of violence, WWE has been trying to position itself as the company that truly cares about the children, sponsors, and health of the wrestlers.
It might be tempting to look at WWE’s current PG producer, as opposed to more mature AEW content, and think that they’re telling it the way it is (aside from the weird assertion that they’re in a different business than AEW). But all you have to do is go back to a post from February 1996 to see WWE’s hypocrisy and the motivation behind it.
Vince McMahon was struggling to deal with the rise of WCW in early 1996. He decided to attack Ted Turner and WCW’s oldest roster through several skits on WWF programming. In an attempt to damage WCW’s relationship with its sponsors, he wrote the following letter to Turner on February 8, 1996, again focusing on “self-mutilation”. This is the full message in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
With no response to my repeated request and stopping you and your loyal company from practicing self-mutilation, I can only assume based on the last two weeks of Nitro that the practice of self-mutilation (dissecting oneself with a razor blade) is not only condoned but encouraged. You know, Hulk Hogan has been bleeding everywhere for the past two weeks. There have been numerous signs around your wrasslin program that this weekend’s double cage match will be so violent that one of the opponents will “bleed to the point of being unrecognised”. This encouraging practice of self-mutilation is disgusting, violent, potentially infectious and diametrically opposed to your testimony before Congress in June 1993 and contradicts your 1995 participation in Voices Against Violence. Despite the many unprecedented predatory practices against the WWF, if you continue to promote self-mutilation, I hope your contributors will hold you accountable for this potentially unhealthy, unethical and potentially unhealthy practice.”
Of course, we know that the WWF didn’t take long to embrace the “self-mutilation” that Vince was criticizing in that letter. The most astonishing Attitude Era helped propel the WWF to new levels of success from 1998 through 2001, culminating with WCW going out of business. When it was financially beneficial for the WWF to adopt “self-mutilation” in its content, Vince McMahon did not seem to care about the extent of the potential violence, damage, contagion, or contagion.
Fast forward to today, and WWE no longer embraces this type of violence on their programming. But let’s be clear here: The reason they introduce PG today is because they think it’s the best way to make money right now. As Vince’s letter from 1996 shows, if WWE believed that more intense content and extreme violence was the best way to make money today, they would flip their position with the touch of a finger. Consider, as recently as 2016, WWE booked a controversial corner where Brock Lesnar caught Randy Orton with legitimate elbow strikes to the head. When WWE thinks this is the best way to generate interest in their product and make money, they suddenly don’t mind looking otherwise at the potential danger and health risks involved.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that WWE cares more about their wrestler’s health than AEW, WWE cares more about family values than AEW, or that WWE stands on a higher moral ground. Just as in 1996 with Vince’s letter to Ted Turner, WWE’s recent criticism of AEW’s violent content was yet another attempt to damage AEW’s relationship with its network partners, and damage AEW’s ability to make money through sponsorships.
It’s always about money and the situation in the market for WWE. They will even enter into a long-term and disgusting relationship with a government that punishes the killing of journalists and commits horrific human rights abuses, as long as there is a lot of money to be made. That’s what WWE cares about more than anything else.