The EVOLVE vs. Fight for the Fallen Controversy, Explained

The battle between major wrestling companies ramped up recently. Here's what went down.

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All is fair in love and war. But that hasn’t stopped many from asking if the WWE has gone too far with a recent programming decision. The WWE’s arrangement to air the EVOLVE promotion’s programming on its own streaming service at first elicited a jubilant response, but a wave of detractors who detected more nefarious politics behind the decision have since changed the conversation. What exactly was so scandalous about what went down, and what does it say about the growing battle between pro-wrestling companies?

Since 2015, WWE has been partnering with EVOLVE for an ongoing series of crossover events and bouts. This has allowed talent from WWE’s developmental brand, NXT, to appear on shows of a much smaller scale against a plethora of indie brawlers. WWE letting their superstars compete in these events remains remarkable because the company generally goes out of its way to pretend like much smaller competition doesn’t exist at all, even refusing to name major companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling on mic. EVOLVE and WWE have managed to strike a mutually beneficial deal: WWE’s rising talent gets indie cred for appearing on underground shows while the upcoming generation of new kids get the shine from fighting TV stars. EVOLVE, meanwhile, serves as a pipeline for promising athletes whose entry into the lower card of NXT can be streamlined through a vetted indie league.

At first, it seemed like a natural evolution of the partnership between EVOLVE and NXT when EVOLVE announced that its 10th-anniversary show would stream live on the WWE Network. It would be easy to read this as WWE showing generosity and a kind of reciprocal benevolence towards scenes they might have previously attempted to crush. Indeed, the up-and-coming wrestlers are sure to benefit greatly from the exposure.

But skeptics noticed an ulterior motive. On the night and time that EVOLVE events are scheduled to air on the WWE network, All Elite Wrestling (a newer wrestling company started by the spurned Cody Rhodes, which many in the industry see developing into WWE’s biggest competition) is scheduled to run their next major pay-per-view. Is the WWE simply broadcasting the small show to undercut AEW viewers? With the easy accessibility of the WWE Network, it seemed obvious that some people would choose the bigger company’s streaming service simply out of convenience.

But perhaps the dirtiest part of this whole deal is that AEW’s next PPV, dubbed "Fight for the Fallen," is a charity event with the event’s proceeds going to victims of gun violence—a technically bipartisan cause with distinctly liberal overtones.

Kenny Omega, one of AEW’s biggest names, was outspoken about his disgust with WWE’s decision.

“If lining your pockets with blood money is OK, then what’s wrong with trying to undermine a charity show for victims of gun violence? I hear that healthy competition is supposed to be a good thing, and yet I can’t help but feel like I’m gonna be sick,” Omega wrote in a since-deleted tweet, according to Pro Wrestling Sheet. (He later issued an apology to clarify that he was directing his disdain not at the athletes but the machinations of the “decision-makers.”)

On the one hand, EVOLVE is such a small-scale production compared to the millions of dollars being invested into AEW that it seems hardly worth AEW executives and athletes worrying about it. On the other hand, WWE’s pure ruthlessness with regards to its rivals and its immense capitalistic greed seems to have no bounds, as has been evident from the pursuit of their almost universally panned dealings with Saudi Arabia.

The meta-narrative emerging in pro-wrestling is that AEW is being created as a progressive, inclusive alternative to WWE’s old-school conservatism. If WWE is going to insist on undercutting AEW’s liberal-minded pursuits with such viciousness—and pettiness—it is only going to make the dichotomy between the two brands more apparent to fans, even if the decision was relatively minute to what WWE potentially could have planned.

Pro-wrestling, like all performance art, has always reflected the politics of the moment it exists in. As the United States is increasingly divided in statistically provable ways, it’s unsurprising that the mercilessness of our polarized domestic affairs is playing out in the context of sports entertainment. While usually the socio-political dynamics are dramatized in the ring, now we see the very politics of wrestling companies themselves mirroring the national divide between the bleeding heart ethos of the left and the craven brutality of the right.

Related: Why ‘205 Live’ Is WWE's Most Underrated Show

Related: What Does Creative Control Look Like in Pro Wrestling?

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