The GLOW-Up: AEW And Nontraditional Wrestling Fans

All Elite Wrestling

I want to tell you a story. Anecdotes don’t equal data, as contrarians on the internet are always especially quick to point out. But I think stories are important (Tyrion Lannister would back me up on this), and they can provide insight whether or not they exactly equal truth. Because here’s the thing: I see all these arguments about All Elite Wrestling. I see people saying it’s just for indie smarks, and that it will have have to change if it wants to reach casual fans when it comes to TV this fall. I think those arguments are leaving out a lot, and my story illustrates why.

One of my oldest friends in the world is a woman named Devon. We’ve known each other since high school, long before I was interested in wrestling, although I do remember making fun of Crow Sting T-shirts with her in the 90s, because we were goths and he was a poser. Now we’re both 40 and once again live in the same city. I got into pro wrestling in the intervening years, but she never did. Then she watched Netflix’s GLOW, and after the second season last year, she casually said “I’m kind of interested in getting into wrestling, if you want to watch some sometime.”

That’s exciting to hear from a good friend when you’re a wrestling fan, but what do you actually do with it? WWE’s a mess most times, and even when it’s not there’s so much time spent on guys like Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley, big boring jocks who don’t even appeal to me that much. I showed her some Becky Lynch videos and she thought The Man was awesome, but it’s hard to find the next step toward becoming a full-time fan when it’s so unappealing to actually sit through Raw (or even a lot of PPVs, if we’re honest). We also watched a bit of the big gothic Knockouts storyline from Impact, but at the end of the day that company’s not very welcoming to women either, and it just keeps getting harder to watch.

We live in Knoxville, so there’s not really local indie wrestling to go to, at least not until our county mayor’s brand new wrestling school starts running shows. And streaming services are a hard sell for a brand new fan, especially when there’s already so much other content streaming from other services, all of which her spouse and kids are more interested in. So the whole “Get Devon into wrestling” project was kind of on the back burner for a while.

Ricky Havlik, All Elite Wrestling

Then Double Or Nothing came around. I was excited to watch it, and felt a bit obligated anyway, because of my job. Since I was paying for the PPV, I decided to host a watch party. I invited people of multiple genders, but interestingly only women showed up. Only one of those women was really a big wrestling fan going in, and she came late to the party. Devon was there from the start though, as was a couple that we’re friends with, and all three of these women were hooked from moment one. This is the group I mentioned in the paragraph Brandon quoted in his Best and Worst. They just wanted the show to be fun and engaging, and when it was both of those things while also being way more ridiculous than expected, they were sold.

It’s worth noting also that they enjoyed the show the way women tend to enjoy things, which is not all that different from how I enjoy things as a nonbinary person (and of course, none of these are hard-and-fast rules, people of all genders can enjoy things however they want, but there do tend to be patterns). There was a lot of talk about people’s outfits (fortunately, Double Or Nothing gave us some great outfits to discuss). There was excitement anytime two men hugged, whether they were Best Friends or brothers covered in blood. They immediately adored Sonny Kiss and Nyla Rose for being who they are and presenting themselves the way they do. Devon, who has an autistic daughter, was also delighted when Brandi mentioned that the event was sensory inclusive.

All Elite Wrestling

The biggest pop of the night, in that room, wasn’t Jon Moxley. It was Awesome Kong. And it wasn’t because she was in a men’s Royal Rumble or had groundbreaking matches with Gail Kim in Impact. It’s because she plays Tammé “Welfare Queen” Dawson on GLOW. That made me wonder, particularly since she was up for doing this show, whether WWE has ever even invited her back for a match since GLOW happened. The few times WWE has crossed over with GLOW, it always felt like the GLOW stars were there to promote their show. They’ve never given the impression that WWE was interested in drawing GLOW fans toward their product (but as we discussed above, that probably wouldn’t have worked so well anyway). In the context of this show that everybody was already enjoying, on the other hand, the appearance of a wrestler from a show everyone in the room loved helped make the whole event feel that much more welcoming.

James Musselwhite, All Elite Wrestling