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How AEW, New Japan, and Impact Wrestling are creating wrestling’s MCU

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For those of you old enough to remember, Iron Man was a gamble.

Actually, that’s only part of the story. More accurately, Marvel Studios’ entire plan was something to make a Las Vegas bookie smile like a kid on Christmas morning. Interconnected storylines told over multiple years featuring multiple characters demands devotion from an audience not known for the most significant attention spans.

Wrestling fans are different. Understatement of the century, yeah, but we’re wired to care about continuity. But there’s always been limits on the use of that continuity because wrestling promotions don’t live in an interconnected reality.

And then Don Callis showed up in AEW.

That one seed sprouted into AEW, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), and Impact Wrestling forming a working relationship that’s seen wrestlers cross over from one company to the next in service of different narratives. These three companies are laying the groundwork for their own “wrestling cinematic universe.”

The gamble is just as ambitious and potentially risky as the one Marvel made almost 15 years ago.

Different franchises with varying styles under one storytelling umbrella is a high wire act. Add a pool of sharks under that wire, and now you’ve got the degree of difficulty when it involves pro wrestling. Every organization has its own style, and these three are no different. It’s not just in-ring action but the overall tone of the product. AEW isn’t Impact, which isn’t NJPW. If there’s one outlier in the bunch, and it’s a big if, it’s AEW.

The fact the company is still carving out its identity gives this insane plan a real shot at working. On any given Wednesday, Dynamite can be hardcore “blood and guts” mixed with light-hearted sophomoric comedy and silliness. It can be more of a straightforward wrestling show with few backstage segments. And then there are Wednesdays when the wrestling we get is physical AF and demands we all take it seriously.

AEW is an amalgamation of NJPW, Impact, and everything that’s come before it. So when KENTA, The Good Brothers, or anyone else you can dream of shows up, they automatically fit. Marvel’s house style wasn’t really a thing their first few years. Each cast and director brought something different to their proverbial table, while storylines shaped the larger narrative. Once they all came together in The Avengers, everything clicked, and the studio found its formula.

There are right ways and wrong ways to integrate continuity. Acknowledging said continuity but not doing anything with it or not moving the story forward? Not that great.

Taking the backstory and adding more layers to it while building it into something new? Pretty damn great.

WCW had a knack for this back in the day when guys like Roddy Piper and Ultimate Warrior showed up, and it’s a blueprint the current promotions should follow and modify.

There’s plenty of history between so many cats in these organizations. The trick is using it in a way that doesn’t intimidate novices or make wrestling super-fans roll their eyes. AEW already relies a little too much on their entire audience watching Being The Elite and keeping up with everything they do on the internets.

As the company with the larger TNT platform, it falls to them to seamlessly connect many dots. This past Wednesday (Feb. 10) was a step in the right direction, if only a step. The main event featured four guys with ties to New Japan, all with different motives. Commentary explained those connections, including the Lance Archer of it all. As someone who doesn’t know much about NJPW, his time in the company was news.

But that little bit of info immediately connected him to the larger picture, explained his presence in the match, foreshadowed his sheer dominance, and informed his character. When the match ended, several new stories were created that can branch in different directions. Like any Marvel Studios flick, bits and pieces of the story will (should) get filled in on next week’s edition of Impact Wrestling, Dynamite, and hopefully NJPW on Roku.

Is this building to a super card of Avengers: Infinity War or Avengers: Endgame proportions? No clue. We also have no real indication of how long this experiment will last since it involves considerable money and even more considerable egos. What we do know is it has the potential to fundamentally shift the wrestling landscape.

This isn’t to say the venture will have the same commercial impact Iron Man did in 2008. But like that film, it opens up the possibilities for many new stories and matches fans thought were impossible.

In the end, Don Callis appearing on commentary and Jim Ross saying “Impact Wrestling” may be just as significant as Nick Fury uttering the words “Avengers Initiative.”

What say you, Cagesiders?