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Into the Fire? The Recent Trials and Tribulations of the NWA

It was all going so well. The first episode of NWA’s flagship Powerrr show on YouTube garnered many rave reviews, the old school studio feel and aesthetic combining with fiery promos and tough, more grappling based action to provide a real alternative to those perhaps jaded with the modern wrestling landscape.

Over the following weeks, the audience dipped from that first exciting premiere, as to be expected with any wrestling show after that initial showing (the same thing happened after AEW Dynamite), but there remained a respectable core audience, passionate for the NWA product and discussing every happening and announcement with a furious fervour on social media. These are the kind of fans any promotion would be lucky to have, a strong bedrock to build up a promotion’s following with.

However, in the last two weeks, there has been much dissent amongst the troops. The end result has been a substantial amount of fans vowing to boycott the group over the handling of Jim Cornette’s unfortunate and tasteless comments during the seventh episode of Powerrr. Then, on the 26th November, the show saw its eighth episode garner near equal likes and dislikes, an extraordinary feat and not a positive one, whilst the comments spewed forth much in the way vehement protest.

What the hell happened in the space of two weeks and, more importantly, can it be fixed? Let’s take a look back at what’s been going down.

A Joke From 1986, Repeated

Oh, Jim. The Ethiopian Joke? Really??

During the opening match on the date episode of Powerr between World Champion Nick Aldis and everyone’s favourite Southern hardass Trevor Murdoch, commentator Jim Cornette dropped a line that was last heard in 1986 when Cornette was a manager and used it to describe his charge, Big Bubba Rogers. The line? “the line.

There was mass outrage on social media, some NWA fans, some not (which raised the ire somewhat of NWA fans defending Cornette). The episode was temporarily taken down so the offending line could be removed and Cornette, in turn, resigned from the company.

Now, being familiar with Cornette’s politics, I don’t think the man is racist, at least in the most concrete sense of the term. Nor did the line personally offend me as, being a white, comparatively well off man, the joke was not aimed at me, and I find it patronising to be offended on behalf of those who are the real target of the joke.

What I do feel is that the joke was clearly tasteless, inappropriate and unnecessary, white privilege punching down. On an individual level, Cornette should have recognised that the joke would offend people and that the language used in said joke was particularly loaded with racist connotations, having been used in racist jokes for a long, long time. The man is not stupid. What he is is arrogant and tasteless. Even if he didn’t care on a personal level, he should have had the sense to realise from a business point of view that such a joke would put off a lot of current and potential customers. Isn’t it better to just bite your lip rather than to have some sort of moral high ground over freedom of speech?

In any case, Cornette has been unrepentant about his comments, going so far as to say in F-bomb filled podcast that his NWA experience was “becoming not fun anymore.”  It’s a shame because when Cornette is on his best behaviour and is on form, he adds a legitimacy and authenticity that aided MLW previously and then the Corgan-led NWA. His passion for and knowledge of the business cannot be matched. But oftentimes his ability to put his foot in his mouth cannot be matched either.

Jim Cornette sat in front of the NWA banner

For everyone who was upset at Cornette’s comments, there were plenty of people who either did not find Cornette’s comments problematic at all, felt the NWA handled it badly, or a mixture of both. The amount of people who said they would stop watching Powerrr because Cornette would no longer be commentating is pretty staggering. People were seemingly ok with dropping a show whose wrestlers and action would remain the same as that they had been enjoying, just with a different voice. If the most popular person in your company is a commentator, then you’ve got a problem.

A more reasonable complaint is that the NWA handled the matter badly. The original tapings for the batch of Powerrr episodes currently airing (next week being the last of the batch) were recorded at the end of September and start of October. The promotion had all that time to edit out the line. So why didn’t they? NWA Vice President David Lagana has taken responsibility, blaming tiredness, and claiming that a lot more of Cornette’s material actually was removed.

While this may be so, and mistakes do occur, the amount of editing time they had was still substantial. Not only that, but the NWA didn’t claim any responsibility, putting the blame squarely on Cornette’s shoulders.  Whilst Cornette should shoulder the majority of the blame, the fact that the NWA deflected claiming their own responsibility in the matter was disheartening, Still, there would always be next week’s Powerrr, right? Surely a high-action, super hard-hitting hour of grappling would get people back on side and continue the company’s buzz?

Yes. About that…

At Half-Power

Wrestling has never been shy of putting out a recap show where necessary, especially on smaller, studio shows. If used effectively, it can really build up hype for a big show.

With this in mind, the 26th November edition of Powerrr did not deliver.

In an age of internet spoilers, many people are aware of a certain veteran team taking part in a very special match (my lips are sealed). As this hasn’t aired yet, a lot of people have suggested that they aired a recap show this week so as not to air anything ‘fresh’ with Cornette commentating on it, so they can re-edit that last show. In reality, this doesn’t make too much sense. Again according to spoilers, Cornette is physically involved in a feel-good moment with said veteran team. There is no real way to run this and cut Cornette out without spoiling things. So why not air the episode?

According to Eli Drake, the plan was always to air this episode as recap episode. All well and good, but why? Yes, there is precedent with studio wrestling shows to have recap episodes, but usually there was a point—to highlight the build up to big matches on a major show.

Conversely, there seemed no real reason to air this episode in this slot. Not only is the NWA PPV Into The Fire due to air on December 9th, after next week’s episode is due to air, but the recap show itself didn’t really feel like it was designed to build to the PPV. Sure, big matches were announced (and I’m certainly looking forward to World Champion Nick Aldis carrying Sweet Charlotte into battle against James Storm in a 2 out of 3 falls match) but the structure of the show felt very much like a hodgepodge of things. We got two large backstage segments of Thunder Rosa’s backstage experience at her recent MMA fight. We got highlights from an excellent Eli Drake promo on a recent episode of Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. Out of the whole hour, we only got one match, an empty arena match between the ever-popular Question Mark and Zane Dawson, in which the loser had to recite Shakespeare. Whilst The Dawsons reciting Shakespeare whilst Aron Stevens puked into a bucket was amusing, it didn’t do much for the Dawsons reputation when they’ve been booked like monsters recently.

If the show didn’t already feel like padding and unnecessary, we even got an advert for NWA President Billy Corgan’s new solo album (I was always more of a Husker Du/Nirvana man myself…)

Whilst this was disheartening, the reaction of the audience was even more so. The amount of people who have streamed the episode is roughly 50% less than Episode 7’s. Not only that but the amount of likes and dislikes is also roughly 50% each, a very uncommon scenario so far. Many fans have claimed the show was like a WWE show (which it wasn’t) and have demanded the wrestling “come back.” As it has only gone away for a week, I think that’s a little bit of an overreaction. Even more so for the people that have said this show, combined with the Cornette removal, have forced them into not watching the NWA anymore. While I can understand people being annoyed at a bad episode (imagine what it must be like to be a fan of Raw!), the amount of people throwing their rattle out of the pram is bizarre, quite frankly. Yes, there’s been a wobble. But I believe in the NWA. I believe in what it stands for. The card for Into The Fire is shaping up to be a lot of fun. So far the group has only done one set of tapings. There were always going to be teething problems and lessons to learn from. Fairweather fans need not apply.

It’s still real to me, dammit.

Chris Flackett

Written by Chris Flackett

Wrestling obsessed since '91. Lived through the Monday Night Wars and is still here to tell the tale. Major fan of Strong Style, technical and Super Jr. Wrestling, as well as big versatile hosses smacking the hell out of each other. Lives in Manchester, England.

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