Don’t check your watches, your clocks, or your calendars. Bill Clinton is not president, “Seinfeld” is still in syndication, and “Armageddon” is not dominating the box office.

I promise, it’s not 1998.

But in a move that echoes back to that time, professional wrestling is making its biggest push — within the industry and in popular culture — since the “Attitude Era” in World Wrestling Entertainment, when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helped launch the business into a stratosphere the business had never seen. And for the first time in 18 years, the WWE — which has sat alone at the top of the wrestling mountain — may finally have competition.

Just two weeks ago, All Elite Wrestling — a company formed just 10 months ago — made its television debut on TNT, and will be regularly airing its show “Dynamite” on Wednesday nights on the network. AEW is the brainchild of Cody Rhodes — son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes — and The Young Bucks (the tag team of Nick and Matt Jackson). The group is backed financially by the Khan family, the same family that owns the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL.

In its infancy, the company has shown to have a strong mix of young, not-yet-worldwide-known talent mixed in with some former WWE talent, including Rhodes, his brother, Dustin Rhodes and Jon Moxley (formerly known as Dean Ambrose). The most notable of the ex-WWE group is former WWE champion Chris Jericho, who at 48 years of age has found yet another renaissance in a career that has spanned almost 30 years. AEW has even grabbed familiar talent for the broadcast booth, hiring Jim Ross — the former voice of the WWE — and former World Championship Wrestling announcer Tony Schiavone to call the action on “Dynamite.”

Though AEW is not currently going head-to-head with the WWE’s flagship show “RAW” on Monday nights, or “Smackdown” on Fridays, the company has been going head-to-head with WWE’s No. 3 show, “NXT,” on Wednesdays. In two weeks, AEW has had higher ratings, pulling 1.4 million viewers in its opening broadcast on Oct. 2, and just over one million viewers last week. “NXT” had 891,000 viewers Oct. 2, and 790,000 viewers in its latest episode.

AEW has been careful in saying that it’s not in competition with WWE, but wrestling fans are having none of it, showing strong support for AEW in the hopes the company will help bring back a glimpse of the “Monday Night Wars” WWE had with WCW in the late 1990s, a weekly ratings war that ended when WCW folded in 2001.

Fans have even heckled the WWE with AEW chants at recent shows, most notably after the main event of the “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view last week. Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt had a lackluster match, and afterwards, the fans showed their displeasure, with “boos” and “AEW” chants filling the arena.

WWE, by the way, is not staying stagnant. Aside from the debut of “NXT” on the USA Network (the show was originally shown previously on the WWE Network), the company moved “Smackdown” to FOX, a major move to get professional wrestling (or sports entertainment, as WWE CEO Vince McMahon calls it) on major network TV on a regular basis. WWE pulled no punches in its debut show on the network, with an appearance from Johnson, as well as the debut of former UFC fighter Cain Velasquez, who recently signed a multi-year deal with WWE.

Though on a different scale, smaller national promotions are also riding the AEW wave. The National Wrestling Alliance — the nation’s oldest wrestling promotion — has started their own web show, “NWA Power” on YouTube, Facebook and Fire.TV. The show gives a presentation that harkens back to the company’s past, filming shows in front of a small studio audience, with interview backdrops that mimic the company’s 1980s heyday.

This new wrestling boom is even helping at home. Maine-based Limitless Wrestling, which showcases top wrestling talent on the independent scene that have been signed and showcased recently in national promotions, was recently rated the No. 7 most-viewed wrestling promotion in the world on YouTube. That means a Maine-based wrestling promotion has been viewed more than the likes of established brands like Ring of Honor and Combat Zone Wrestling.

Where this new wrestling boom goes is anyone’s guess. Can a company actually beat WWE? Will AEW start strong but go to the wayside after a couple of years, the way other promotions have when trying to compete with WWE? And which wrestlers will take advantage and break out onto the national scene in the process.

Only one thing is for sure at this moment: This boom is a win for pro wrestling fans, and the industry as a whole.

 

Dave Dyer – 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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