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.