AEW: Jon Moxley vs. Joey Janela Brings Hardcore Wrestling Back to MainstreamJune 2, 2019
The demise of Extreme Championship Wrestling in 2001 and World Wrestling Entertainment's transition to a TV-PG product in 2008 brought an end to hardcore wrestling on a high-profile stage.
On June 29, Jon Moxley and "Bad Boy" Joey Janela are set to square off at AEW's Fyter Fest, and if their histories are any indication, they will reintroduce hardcore wrestling to a mainstream audience.
It will be a welcome return of a sports entertainment art form that has been conspicuous by its absence for far too long and brought back to prominence by two performers whose roots are in the sublimely brutal genre.
The Monster Keeps Hardcore Alive
There were attempts throughout the 2000s to reintroduce hardcore wrestling in spurts to the audience.
WWE would, on occasion, dust off a gimmick match like Hell in a Cell and let Triple H and Batista beat the unholy hell out of each other in a brutal display the likes of which that clean-cut product had not seen in some time.
TNA Wrestling would pull out some spectacle of a bout whose name and explanation was always way cooler than its overall execution.
While those companies—at the forefront of the industry after ECW's fall—would only half-heartedly portray hardcore wrestling, it was only "The Monster" Abyss carrying the mantle for the art form on a major scale.
While other companies were harder to track down unless you were a diehard fan, TNA had just enough in Abyss to whet the appetites of the casual and mainstream audiences. The TNA Hall of Famer broke and scarred his body to keep the genre alive. Warning: Video is NSFW:
He fell on thumbtacks, was mangled in barbed wire and screamed in agony as his body was racked with intense pain. The modern equivalent of the legendary Mick Foley, he brought an artistry to hardcore wrestling that few can replicate.
Without him, hardcore wrestling on a grand scale may be long extinct, leaving Moxley vs. Janela in the deep, dark abyss of "what may have been."
Combat Zone Wrestling
While WWE has portrayed hardcore and unabashed violence on a rare occasion, that style of pro wrestling has been relegated to more niche promotions over the past two decades.
The Philadelphia-based Combat Zone Wrestling has carried the mantle for hardcore wrestling, oftentimes flirting with the fine line between entertainment and bad taste. It is not for the squeamish and has a passionate following of fans who appreciate the unflinchingly violent action.
Popularized by John Zandig, the company has been home to cult favorites like Nick Gage, "Sick" Nick Mondo, Trent Acid, legendary female competitor Lufisto and current WWE referee Drake Younger. Since its inception in 1998, it has been a breeding ground for hardcore wrestling, the likes of which built on the foundation laid by ECW.
It was jaw-dropping in its savagery and brutality. It used fluorescent light tubes, barbed wire and featured death-defying spots that continue to live in internet fame thanks to social media outlets like YouTube.
Most importantly, it was the company Jon Moxley and Joey Janela used as a creative outlet early in their careers.
Moxley rose to prominence on the indies as a two-time CZW world champion. He was a frenetic performer with a penchant for violence and an ability to talk fans into caring about his matches and feuds. It was his performances in that promotion that made him one of the hottest free agents in the industry and caught WWE's eye back in 2011.
Janela's trajectory was similar to Moxley's.
A wrestler who got his character over before joining Zandig for a massive bump off a roof, through a flaming table and a stack of light tubes and into the bed of a truck, Janela earned the reputation of a death-defying worker whose ability to bump was matched only by the larger-than-life Bad Boy persona he built for himself.
His work in hardcore wrestling, coupled with his ability to adapt his performance to that of his opponent, earned him attention from Cody and The Young Bucks as they put together the original All In pay-per-view. Warning: Video is NSFW:
Without CZW to build their characters and reputations, as well as to set them apart from the other, more sport-centric wrestlers coming up through Ring of Honor or TNA, the likelihood that they would be where they are, preparing to do battle on June 29, is low.
What Does Hardcore Look Like in 2019
Hardcore wrestling has been out of the mainstream eye for so long that no one is sure what it looks like here in 2019.
The likelihood that Moxley and Janela will be allowed the leeway to break out lighting tubes, flaming tables and jaw-dropping spots like falling off a roof is low. After all, they are integral parts of the young All Elite Wrestling roster and figure to play major roles in the future of that red-hot promotion.
A match that relies solely on the same kendo stick shots we watched Io Shirai and Shayna Baszler use at NXT Takeover: XXV on Saturday or piles of steel chairs like The Shield used to put away Braun Strowman, though, would be met with apathy from fans who have seen those weapons and spots done to death.
The surest way to combat that apathy? For Moxley and Janela to utilize the creativity that got them to the point they are at.
We saw some incredibly entertaining spots out of Janela during his Chicago Street Fight against Hangman Page at All In last Labor Day weekend. We know of the almost mythic brawls Moxley engaged in during his time in CZW.
Their ability to use what they have at their disposal to tell a story, to captivate the fans and to pay off what will be an adequately hyped and much-anticipated match will be their greatest asset.
Simply beating a guy in the face with a shovel no longer works. They will have to dig deep in their bag of tricks, consult their inner creative geniuses and pull out new and revolutionary ways to blend violence and storytelling for today's fans.