Pandemics, Global Politics, and a New Women’s Champ: February’s Pro Wrestling News Roundup

A recap of the most important stories in pro wrestling from February and why they matter

February was a historic month for professional wrestling and one that reassured me why the art of wrestling can be such an important outlet — one that, when it develops in a progressive and meaningful way, can provide incredibly satisfying and important moments. There was a lot to reflect on throughout the month, with NXT turning 10 years old and AEW continuing to put one foot in front of the other and further dig its heels in with confidence after another great pay-per view, but nothing was nearly as important as Nyla Rose becoming the second AEW Women’s Champion midway through the month.

If you missed Rose’s monumental win or any other major news this month, let’s take a look at the big picture news that happened in pro wrestling this February.

More Pro Wrestling:

AEW

Nyla Rose Becomes AEW Women’s Champion

What Happened?

Nyla Rose became the second woman to win the AEW Women’s Championship, defeating Riho, and becoming the first person who is transgender to win a major American pro wrestling title.

Why Does it Matter?

There’s no way to encompass all the reasons why this matters as much as it does in the realm of professional wrestling history in a tiny little paragraph like this, or an entire article, probably not even an entire book. I will say, before you read any further, take a moment to take in Colette’s account about why this moment was so important for pro wrestling. Pro wrestling’s terribly long and upsetting history of mistreating people from non-white, non-male social groups is the industry’s biggest black mark and one it may never fully detach itself from in our lifetime. But steps like this, which promote representation for all pro wrestling viewers, are seeds of change in both what has long been a troubled industry.

Dustin Rhodes, Chris Jericho, Others Speak Out Against Transphobia

What Happened?

In the aftermath of Rose winning her AEW Women’s Championship, there was a string of transphobic responses from wrestling fans online. But a handful of members from AEW’s roster stepped in to denounce the hateful rhetoric and defend Rose, who became the second woman to win AEW’s Women’s Championship in mid-February, including Dustin Rhodes, Chris Jericho, and others.

Why Does it Matter?

The AEW roster’s quick shutdown of hateful rhetoric was reassurance that the company, seemingly as a whole, wants to see progressive change along with a large percentage of those watching at home. But it’s also important to recognize who spoke out: Wrestlers like Rhodes and Jericho are some of the most important voices not just in professional wrestling today, but the history of the entire industry and culture. When prominent, legendary voices speak out in defense of equal opportunity like this, it shows a confident sign that Rose’s victory isn’t just a wrestling company seeking a momentary blip of congratulations for a basic level of social wokeness, but the foundation for a greater acceptance and normalization of equal treatment for its wrestlers — and its fans — across the board.

WWE

WWE Held Its 5th Saudi Arabia Show, While Some Wrestlers Remained Absent

What Happened?

The WWE held its fifth Saudi Arabia show with Super ShowDown near the end of February, as a number of stars continued to reportedly sit out from the long-criticized event, including Kevin Owens who reportedly decided to sit out Saudi Arabia shows in a stance alongside friend Sami Zayn, who the WWE has reportedly kept out of past shows because of his Syrian background and the two countries’ strained relationship.

Why Does It Matter?

The WWE’s business relationship with the Saudi Arabian government has been widely shunned by wrestling fans and critics due to the country’s ultra-conservative laws, its role in contentious Middle Eastern political issues, and the Saudi Arabian government’s involvement in the 2018 death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — which prompted stars like John Cena and Daniel Bryan to bypass the event last October along with Owens, Zayn, and others on the roster. The public criticism from fans and apparent protests from some major wrestlers on the WWE’s roster highlights the shadow around the billion-dollar company’s political and business relationships, which has troubled some fans’ relationship with the product in recent years. The WWE continuing to host major shows in Saudi Arabia, which has led many fans to say online that they’ve canceled their WWE Network subscriptions, also signal the company’s intention to continue its global push in spite of any public or internal backlash.

AEW Toys to Be Carried in Wal-Mart Stores

What Happened?

At C2E2 in Chicago, it was announced that AEW will be partnering with toy maker Jazwares and will be making action figures that will be sold in major retail stores like Wal-Mart — another major win for the new U,S. company that’s continuing to push into the mainstream.

Why Does it Matter?

On the surface level, it’s hard for someone who doesn’t collect action figures to see why this is such a big deal, but when you think about pro wrestling’s largely kid fanbase and its fanatic, collectible-obsessed fans, the picture gets a little clearer. For AEW, who is undoubtedly looking at every business decision through the frame of how it will help the company maintain long term relationships with its fans and compete with other major companies, a line of action figures are an enormous victory for the company.

The much anticipated singles match between Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi was one of many wrestling events canceled in February.

Coronavirus Causes Cancellations

What Happened?

A number of Japanese wrestling companies cancelled and rescheduled some major events at the recommendation of the Japanese government in the wake of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. New Japan Pro Wrestling cancelled live events for March, while Stardom and DDT both cancelled a number of live events, turning some into streaming-only, no audience shows.

Why Does it Matter?

With the coronavirus becoming a global pandemic issue, this might be a security trend that pro wrestling and other forms of live entertainment see play out in the coming months. By the end of the month, more than 90,000 cases had been reported worldwide, while the death toll continued to climb. Everyone from federal governments to individual businesses are trying to maintain calm around the world, but as some of the biggest live events on pro wrestling’s annual calendar get closer, the companies in Japan canceling a significant number of their events may telegraph a major issue for wrestling companies around the world and live entertainment as a whole.

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Sean Neumann

Sean Neumann is a journalist based out of Chicago, Ill. His writing on professional wrestling has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and more. Follow him on Twitter @neumannthehuman

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