There aren’t many pro wrestling companies that can say they’ve built their place in the business all by themselves. Major League Wrestling (MLW) on the other hand, can. Forming in 2002, not even a half-year after the formation of Ring of Honor (ROH), MLW was one of the bigger companies born in the absence of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) following its acquisition at the hands of the WWF. While criticized for being an ROH copycat, MLW was much closer to the original idea of ECW. It even boasted former ECW stars like Terry Funk and Sabu, as well as famous ECW commentator Joey Styles, and found an identity in the same style of hardcore wrestling. This was the story of the first MLW, though, a story that ultimately wouldn’t last very long. The story of modern MLW is a much different one.
After a lengthy absence from the wrestling world starting in 2004, and a return in the form of a podcast network in 2011, MLW would finally make its return to full form in 2017 as a wrestling promotion. After several months of running independent shows, the company managed to secure a television deal for its new weekly television show MLW Fusion, which still airs to this day. The problem is, MLW has yet to truly find its new identity as a pro wrestling company. There are still several very glaring issues that plague MLW, and keep them from being taken seriously.
Major League Wrestling in 2022
Questionable Business Practices
Anyone who’s familiar with MLW is probably familiar with the name Court Bauer. He’s the CEO of MLW and has been since it’s the foundation. The problem is, his efforts have been suspect. In the last couple of years especially, Bauer has made a series of incredibly questionable decisions, as well as letting several big stars, such as the Lucha Bros, Tom Lawlor, and MJF slip through his fingers. There have been many indicators from comments made by wrestlers like MJF and Joey Janela that this is because MLW cannot afford to keep such stars, despite portraying themselves as an alternative home for wrestlers that isn’t WWE or All Elite Wrestling.
Bauer also regularly proclaims that he has “big announcements” stirring up, and will do so for weeks, even doing so once last year with a television distributions deal. In wrestling, several things are best when unannounced until the last minute, but information on where to watch the show at all is definitely not one of those things. It feels somewhat pointless to say, but if you want people to watch your show, you may want them to know first and foremost where they can find it. This could, however, be due to the alleged “anti-trust” violation on WWE’s part, which killed MLW’s impending deal with Tubi.
Even before this, however, MLW had problems with the distribution of their product. They had bounced from FITE TV to YouTube so many times that it was nearly impossible for fans who couldn’t keep up weekly to know how to watch the show. Lack of steady distribution, of a consistent home, is the death of big pro wrestling companies in the modern age. You need not only consistent content but a regular home as well.
A Lack of Identity and Vision
In a wrestling world where the fan has more choice than ever before, it can be hard to offer them anything that doesn’t feel like a repeat of something from the past. Still, it’s important to have a defined identity for people to attach to. WWE is a juggernaut with enough name value to keep it popular with old fans forever. AEW is more of an alternative for the lapsed fan from the late ’90s. Game Changer Wrestling is a spiritual successor to ECW that offers something more edgy and unfiltered for fans of hardcore wrestling. So with all that taken into account, what exactly is MLW’s identity? They say that it’s “hybrid wrestling” that offers a blending of all the different styles of pro wrestling, but they don’t really execute that vision very well.
Despite regularly forming partnerships with other wrestling companies around the world, and even managing to work with some of their talents, MLW has done very little to feature any actual blending of styles, nor feature another company’s talent in any real meaningful way. Tajiri won a championship, but almost immediately lost it. Azteca Underground, while enjoyable, hasn’t done anything past having flashy matches. As an introduction to a new style of wrestling or even a blending of it, it fails. Sure, Vikingo, Aramis, and Octagon are all there and in matches, but that’s the extent of it. They’re just there, having a match. As a regular MLW viewer, there’s no reason to care about them past that.
It would’ve been nice to see some of the luchadors used in different ways. At least Pagano landed a role as Cezar Duran’s hired gun, which was somewhat interesting. The rest of the talent were nothing more than random luchadors.
Anything but “Major League”
Despite its name, MLW doesn’t feel “major league” in any sense of the word. It very much feels like a smaller wrestling company, albeit with slightly better production value. Much like in its early days, perhaps even more so now, MLW feels like watching a lesser version of IMPACT Wrestling, and considering that IMPACT isn’t doing so well these days, that’s not a good thing. Like MLW programming, IMPACT is a show that regularly features segments and angles that are poorly shot and edited, with fairly bad acting. Now that I describe it this way, it’s actually more like WWE, ironically; a show with incredible depth and variety of talent, that is regularly crippled by its own inability to not overthink itself.
If MLW truly embraced the concept of portraying themselves as “major league” and “hybrid wrestling,” their content would likely find more success. Instead of running segments and angles that feel straight out of a reality TV show, streamline the show to be more simple. AEW, WWE, and even ROH to a point, shoot angles and segments, so do something different. Format the show a bit more like a real sports show. Stick to simple promos and sit-down interviews that don’t ask too much of the audience. Do more tales of the tapes before matches to highlight the difference in styles between wrestlers, and what we may see with them. Implement a win/loss record-oriented ranking system like AEW. (Only actually use it properly)
An American wrestling show that portrayed itself in a more realistic, sports-like format would be a breath of fresh air considering how story-driven wrestling usually is here. As of now, it’s just another wrestling company and not even one of the better ones.
Major League Wrestling in 2022 – In Conclusion
Major League Wrestling is a company utterly and completely rife with poor decision-making and shady business practices. While a change of both aesthetics and creative direction would certainly help, I fear it wouldn’t be enough as long as the people in charge were still at the helm. Court Bauer and company will forever hold MLW back unless they completely change their philosophy on what it should be, and how it should be run, and that won’t happen anytime soon, if at all. It’s likely MLW will always be known as it is now, just above an indie company, but just below everyone else.