It’s been a long time since the curtain was pulled back on the wrestling industry. Much of the conflict we watch play out on our television screens every week is manufactured. A story that’s been written and subsequently acted out for our entertainment.
The shows are scripted. The matches are often planned out, with the winners determined long before the sound of the opening ring bell is able to reverberate off the venue walls.
Make no mistake about it though, while a performer is already well aware if his or her hand will ultimately be raised as they walk to the ring on a given night, there may be no more competitive industry in all of athletics than professional wrestling. And competition can lead to real-life rivalries. Real-life rivalries can lead to backstage drama.
Lights. Camera. Action.
All Elite Wrestling is set to debut its newest program, AEW: All Access, tonight on TBS. It’s a six episode series that gives fans the ultimate sneak peak behind the curtain, as some of the company’s top stars navigate the personal and professional challenges that come with being a pro wrestler.
Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D, alongside her boyfriend and fellow AEW star Adam Cole, are among the more prominently featured cast members of All Access’ first season. Cageside Seats had the pleasure of chatting with them both ahead of tonight’s premiere.
Dr. Baker is an AEW original. She was the first female professional wrestler to sign with the company and has risen to superstardom in the years since she put pen to paper.
Her sharp wit and take no guff attitude on the mic propelled her to a level of popularity not previously reached by anyone else in the women’s locker room. But it was the crimson mask she earned in an Unsanctioned Lights Out Match in March of 2021 that helped transform her into face of the company. A real pillar of AEW, one might say.
The bad news is... you forgot to kill me. Face of the women’s division. #AEWDynamite pic.twitter.com/5EYffwo4Iw— Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. (@RealBrittBaker) March 18, 2021
AEW received more than it’s fair share of scrutiny for how the Women’s Division was booked during the company’s first several months in existence, but Dr. Baker’s ascension could not and would not be denied.
A much needed spark for the entire division that Britt says would not have been possible without the AEW faithful in her corner.
“Wrestlers are already egomaniacs and they’re competitive by nature,” Dr. Baker said. “And in this industry, it’s very different. And it’s not that you get TV time because you’re the best at what you do. A lot of it is behind popularity too, and you need people to like you. And one of, unfortunately, one of the measuring sticks is social media and Twitter.”
Dr. Baker considers social media, with its propensity to bend and misconstrue the truth, to be one of the biggest villains in professional wrestling. However, even a big time heel like “Wrestling Twitter” has its moments.
As World Champion MJF has moved away from his rivalry with Bryan Danielson and into a program with his fellow pillar AEW originals, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, and Jungle Boy Jack Perry, fans online have been quick to give Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D her flowers, noting that All Elite Wrestling has five pillars, not four.
“It’s very rewarding that people do put me in that category as a pillar. I was the first female signed. And I have been a part of the growth and I have been the foundation for the Women’s Division, the face of the Women’s Division, for such a long time, that I think I deserve to be put in that category. I think I’m just as important to this company as an MJF, as a Darby, as a Sammy, and as a Jungle Boy. I think I’m right there with them. So don’t put me outta that category just because I’m a girl.”
The aforementioned match that served as a major launching point for Dr. Britt Baker, happened at St. Patrick’s Day Slam 2021. She was defeated by Thunder Rosa — a fast rising star in her own right. A rival both on screen and behind the scenes.
It’s been well documented that the Baker and Rosa do not get along in the slightest, which has led to real-life friction backstage on more than one occasion.
All Elite Wrestling is no different than any other major corporation. Not all co-workers are going to get along. Some may in fact hate each other. That said, when you run into Karen from accounting at the vending machine, you have the choice of sitting through 15 minutes of the latest office gossip or coming back later for your bag of Sun Chips.
When millions of fans want to see two of the top women’s wrestlers in AEW compete in the main event of Dynamite, those two have no choice but to put their differences aside and go out there and perform. Literally putting their lives into the hands of someone they hate, and maybe fair to say, someone they don’t trust.
That’s a tough ask in a business, where trust in your opponent is everything.
“It really comes down to being a professional. It’s professional wrestling. So that’s part of your job, your obligation as an entertainer and as an athlete in professional wrestling, you have to do what’s best for business even when you don’t want to. And you really have to trust yourself, first and foremost, to help protect yourself and keep yourself safe and just also to make smart decisions.”
Dr. Baker and Thunder Rosa were not only fighting for themselves that night, but seemingly the entire division. They were chosen as the first women’s competitors to wrestle a main event in AEW’s history and putting on a dud of a match was simply not an option.
With one common goal in mind, two enemies were able to work together to create something really special and memorable. And they beat the hell out of each other in the process.
“When [our feud] first started, it was really the story of good versus evil. It was the Batman and the Joker and Batman needs the Joker just as much as the Joker needs the Batman for the story to be good, right? I think as we were both so good at our roles and our respective responsibility as opposing wrestlers in the ring, that, that just created magic. And it was at a time when our Women’s Division was really under fire, under tough scrutiny and we were given an opportunity. First ever Women’s main event and we both had one thing in mind and that was to just shock the world.”
The cameras for AEW: All Access began rolling sometime later. Long after Lights Out, around the time that Dr. Baker’s 290 day reign as AEW Women’s Champion came to an end at the hands of her biggest rival, Thunder Rosa.
Rosa’s reign as Women’s Champion however, was cut short. A back injury kept her from defending her Title at All Out last August leading to Toni Storm being crowned the Interim AEW Women’s World Champion.
BREAKING NEWS: #AEW Women's World Champion Thunder Rosa announces that she is injured and cannot defend the championship.— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) August 25, 2022
Tune in NOW to #AEWDynamite LIVE on TBS pic.twitter.com/fxX6z7yW0b
Thunder Rosa’s inability to work through the injury, and the fallout it had on the entire division, appears to be a key focal point of AEW: All Access.
While Thunder Rosa still has not been cleared to return to action, she has taken on a new role with AEW. She’s back out on the road doing Spanish-language commentary.
According to a recent report, AEW held a backstage meeting last month with members of the women’s roster. Rosa was said to have addressed a number of issues that arose during her previous run with the company, including accusations of sandbagging and working stiff in the ring.
AEW management were hopeful that the meeting could be seen as a wiping the slate clean type of moment. When asked if she saw a future where her and Thunder Rosa had a positive and healthy working relationship, Dr. Britt Baker said the jury was still out.
“I don’t know. I guess to be continued. But I’ll say you don’t go apologize to the locker room, if you’ve done nothing wrong. That’s for sure.”
As for how everything will be portrayed on the show tonight, both Dr. Baker and Adam Cole are on pins and needles for the debut. They may have been there during filming, but they don’t know what’s going to make the final cut and how it’s going to be perceived by the audience.
“Very anxious, excited and nervous,” Dr. Baker said. “They’ve filmed hundreds of hours of content, so to think that they have to take all that and put it into one little tiny hour, it’s a little terrifying. But I I trust the process.”
“For sure,” Cole chimed in. “We feel really, really good about a lot of the stuff that was shot. Obviously, hopefully, the audience feels the same way and they find it intriguing and interesting. To me, there’s no question that they will, again, me diving into the recovery process that I went through. So, I’m very excited. But yeah, definitely a little bit nervous too.”
AEW: All Access will chronicle Adam Cole’s long recovery process from a very serious concussion he suffered back at AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Forbidden Door PPV last June. The series will give fans an in-depth look at just how close his career came to being cut short.
The story of Adam Cole’s comeback will be completed just minutes before the debut of All Access. The 2022 Owen Hart Cup winner will compete in his first match in nine months tonight on Dynamite, when he takes on Daniel Garcia of the Jericho Appreciation Society.
.@adamcolepro is BACK #BAYBAY! He makes his in-ring return against #JerichoAppreciationSociety’s @garciawrestling on #AEWDynamite LIVE from St. Louis, THIS WEDNESDAY at 8pm ET/7pm CT on @tbsnetwork! pic.twitter.com/OhaTtMyGci— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) March 26, 2023
“I can’t believe it’s here. Without question, I am very, very nervous, but more so than nervous. I’m just so excited. Again, there was real concern and question of if I was gonna be able to wrestle ever again,” Cole said. “Since I was nine years old. All I’ve ever wanted to do was be a pro wrestler and I thought at 33 that was gonna be taken away from me. So the fact that it not only has it not, but I have this huge match with a guy I think the world of, Daniel Garcia, on AEW Dynamite, you can’t beat it. I’m thrilled.”
But will the Adam Cole we see tonight, look any different from the Adam Cole we’ve grown accustomed to see perform over the years. When asked about changing up his in-ring style to lessen the risk of further injury, ala a Bryan Danielson or Sayara, Cole was non-committal.
What he would say, is that he’ll be paying a lot closer attention to what his body is trying to tell him.
“I think there certainly is a much better understanding I have now of listening to my body. I think for years I would go through things and be like, oh man, I’m not feeling so hot, but hey, it’s part of the gig. This is what we do. It’s like learning to understand when you’re sore and when something isn’t right. So, I am definitely gonna have a better understanding of that. Do I still plan on going out and having the best possible matches that I can? Absolutely. But I am really gonna pay attention to how my body’s feeling.”
For Adam Cole, this is a second chance and a fresh start. The man behind the character has a reputation of being one of the nicest guys in the business. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone, outside of maybe Pat McAfee, who has a bad word to say about the man. Inside the ring, he’s been one of the most diabolical heels in mainstream wrestling for years.
As time was nearing for Cole to come back to AEW, everyone agreed that his story of overcoming a nearly career-ending injury had sympathetic babyface written all over it.
It’s a new lease on his career. But after spending a vast majority of his 15 years in the business as a bad guy, Adam says it’s a bit of a nerve-racking change.
“Oh my God, absolutely. I think that’s where part of the fear comes from,” Cole admitted. “For over a decade, I have been a heel for most of my career, certainly on mainstream pro wrestling. I’ve been a heel. So this is my first real journey into being a baby face now. And it’s scary. It’s scary because it’s different. It feels vulnerable, but it’s really exciting.
Coming back to AEW as anything other than good guy Adam Cole, just wouldn’t have worked. Especially when Cole says his fans helped shine a light for him during some of the darkest times of his recovery. Social media, one of the biggest villains in pro wrestling, once again showing it can be a blessing as well.
“I would see, every single day, people wondering if I was doing okay. Saying stuff like, they don’t care if I ever wrestle again. They just want me to be healthy. And I read this every day and when I was down and out, that really helped me like a lot. Really, really helped me a lot. So now to fast forward and see that I’m making my return and so many of our fans see me as AEW World Champion, it’s motivating. It’s exciting and has me really thrilled for the future.”
A future potentially where Adam Cole dethrones MJF and holds that beautiful Triple B over his head to thunderous applause from thousands of the AEW faithful?
Sign me up for that.
Make sure to tune into the world premiere of AEW All Access tonight on TBS, at 10 p.m. ET immediately following AEW Dynamite. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.