Wrestlers like to pal up. Even when they’re loose cannons, they often find someone who has a similar worldview to hang out with, play air hockey and swap crochet tips (or something). With notable exceptions like Stone Cold, even Wild Things such as Mox have buddied up, Moxley having found familiarity with Edward Kingston.
It wasn’t always like this. In the good old days, when there were no cars on the road (OK, maybe a little more recent), groupings of wrestlers were brought together to win belts. They were manager-led groupings, like the Heenan Family with the best manager there ever was, Bobby Heenan, or the Stud Stable, who perhaps had their best run in the Continental Wrestling Association, led by Wrestling bully Robert Fuller. These groups dominated, both the belts and the promotions. it was a time-honoured way to do things.
There were exceptions to this, of course; perhaps the biggest being the Four Horsemen, who huddled together for success in Mid Altlantic and WCW. They never had a de facto boss although JJ Dillon was a facilitator, and having Slick Ric Flair as a member saw a certain deferring. And there is no forgetting the NJPW Bullet Club, which has had a storied but soap opera-type run, the fight for primacy in the disparate group always pulling in different ways being the real talking point.
There’s one more faction we have to mention, isn’t there? No, not the Oddities, this one is far more important. And it was a great idea for a while; not an original idea, it’s been argued, but the Outsiders and then the NWO were stunningly successful. And then it wasn’t. Why? It became too big. The Faction took over; when you have to spilt your Faction in two, when you have Vincent/Virgil/Soultrain in your group, you surely know you’re a little too bloated.
Which brings me (finally, eh?) to AEW. Yes, I know they are a golden promotion who can do wrong, but I think they can and are really about to. And one of the reasons is because it’s become a Factory of Factions. All Elite Wrestling has much quality and quantity, so what have they done? Stuck them in groups.
There’s nothing wrong with that, you may think. After all, it brings talents who may not get TV time to our attention and allows those who have trouble behind the stick to find their own way. And that’s right. That’s surely the basis behind the Inner Circle and the Pinnacle. It works, but if you have only a few factions. To my count, AEW has 11 and I reckon I’ve missed some. And when you have a roomful of Factions, two things happen:
People in them shrink in the shadows. Just look at that brilliant, innovative tag team Private Party, a sideshow to Matt Hardy in the Hardy Family Office, and likewise Best Friends, wingmen to Orange Cassidy.
And talking of wingmen, that’s the other issue.
Shove so many disparate wrestlers into so many groups and you get big bags of nothing, like the Nightmare Factory, or groups whose only character is that they are not getting their spotlight; step forward, The Wingmen. And so, factions becomes places to put people who can’t do it on their own, well, at least that’s the way it seems.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at Ring Of Honor. ROH has factions. Three of them. The Foundation, Los Ingobernables and Violence Unlimited. Less groups, more cachet; not just anyone gets to form one. Furthermore, each faction has a simple defining characteristic that feeds into the themes of the promotion; one keeps the tradition of wrestling intact, one delights in besmirching that tradition and the other just enjoys fighting. They serve ROH so well.
Because ultimately, factions have to make the wrestling stronger or there’s little point. Recently we had the sight of a faction that wasn’t working, the Gunn Club, turning heel because the brass surely had to do something with them. And that’s the reason why AEW has so many groupings: they have an embarrassment of riches. Surely CM Punk must be looking awry at the recent addition of Cole and Danielson, so don’t be surprised if the former and the latter get together with Christian, a signing not gaining traction even when titled, whilst old school wrestlers with managers, like Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky, are all but forgotten.
A big roster. And one that’s successful for now. Very successful. But tastes change, interests wax and wane. And can we honestly say that we’d put down what we were doing to watch the Wingmen vs. the Nightmare Family?
Some factories expand. But if they lose sight of their product, they store up trouble. Let’s hope this Faction Factory isn’t going the same way.