One of the bright spots in a miserable year has been the emergence of All Elite Wrestling, the most significant rival to World Wrestling Entertainment since WCW went out of business in 2001. After launching in early 2019, the company premiered its flagship series, AEW Dynamite, last October on TNT. This week, the show celebrates its first anniversary with a stacked show featuring four title matches, including AEW World Champion Jon Moxley versus Lancer Archer, and TNT Champion Cody versus the hilarious Orange Cassidy.

It’s been a good first year for AEW, and a particularly impressive one given that a few months into their run a pandemic struck, shutting down their live touring business and forcing countless adjustments to storylines as wrestlers were quarantined. Two of the key figures in the team behind the company’s success are Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson, who play dual roles as stars of the show’s tag-team division and executives in All Elite Wrestling, where they are executive vice presidents helping to guide the show.

On the occasion of Dynamite’s anniversary, I spoke with Matt and Nick about a variety of topics, including how they think the first year has gone, how they write and plan a live weekly television show in the midst of a pandemic, whether AEW programming could wind up on a streaming service, and their personal goals for year two.

Looking back over year one of Dynamite, is there a moment that stands out as one where you guys thought to yourselves “We’ve got the hang of this now, we’re starting to get into the groove”?

Nick Jackson: We’ve told this before, but man, the first episode live, we were scared to death. It was probably career-wise the most nervous I had ever been, just because we had never helped produce a live television show ever. Once we got through that, we could breathe. But man, it doesn’t end, because it’s a weekly show. I don’t feel like we got our footing right until probably January. It took quite a few episodes to get in the groove, so to speak.

Matt Jackson: I was thinking about it, and I remember the episode. It was the go-home episode for last year’s Full Gear. It was just this crazy brawl, and I felt like it was the best go-home show for a pay-per-view on TV in a long time for any professional wrestling company. I think at the end, we all sat in the back and we were also proud of what we had created. That was the moment for me where I felt like, “Man, we’re really getting the hang of writing, compelling television.”

We had a couple of hiccups before then, and even after that. Sometimes I still have imposter syndrome where I’m like, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not good at this.” I think that’s natural, because we’re so new. Then we’ll string along three or four great episodes, and I’ll be like, “Man, we know what we’re doing.” Like Nick said, it’s a week-by-week, case-by-case thing where you’re only as good as your last episode. We’re still learning. And I feel like for the first year we’ve put on some really great, interesting, compelling, exciting television.

You mention writing the show; I’m curious how far out you guys plan the storylines on Dynamite, and whether that has been impacted by the pandemic.

Nick Jackson: The pandemic has screwed up a lot of week-to-week plans, but we try to keep the long-term ideas intact as best as we can. Of course it’s changed a few things. Some of the big stories that we had planned, we’re still doing. but some week-to-week matches sometimes have to change just because of the nature of what’s going on. You’ve got to really book on your toes here, and that’s the hard part, because you just never know who’s going to be available.

We take this really serious. If, for instance, someone has been exposed or was near someone that had Covid, Dr. Sampson’s not even going to allow that person to get on an airplane. So stuff like that changes things on a weekly basis.

A big part of wrestling is the crowd’s reaction. You guys have let a few fans back into your building where you’re filming, but for most of this year, you’ve been performing without crowds. How does that affect how you plan the show? In other words, how do you know who is connecting with fans when there aren’t fans there to connect with? 

Matt Jackson: It’s so hard. The way I describe it, it’s like if you’re a standup comedian and you’re telling jokes and you’re not getting laughs with the jokes so you don’t even know if the jokes are good. In a business like wrestling, it’s all about the crowd reactions. We gauge everything on the over-ness of the wrestlers and there’s no crowd to really gauge it off. And social media is so toxic, you can’t go off that anymore. Like, it’s really hard. I think you just have to have good instincts, and you have to go with your gut, because most of the time when you’re doing something good you can kind of feel it, you can feel the magic, you can feel the chemistry. You’ve got to go off that.

Nick and I have been doing this 16, 17 years. In the past, we went off of that crowd reaction and we would change things accordingly, even if we had a plan. Sometimes organically things just change and things happen and you just go with it. So yeah, it’s harder in this case, because you don’t know where you’re going sometimes. You would go “Well, in four to six weeks, we’ll see how the crowds react to this guy.” That’s not there anymore. So I try to put myself in the shoes of a fan. So if I was watching, this is what I would like. If I saw this, I would probably be rooting for this guy. Or if I saw the Young Buck characters doing this, that would make either like them or dislike them. It’s really just instinct. It’s like probably like writing any other television show. Now we kind of have to write it more geared towards as if it was just a standard television show and not a show with a live audience.

It has gotten better, I will say, just putting in a couple of hundred people, because man, you really need to hear that crowd reaction to get that energy. When you go out there, there’s nothing more embarrassing than posing to nothing and hearing nothing or coming out to an entrance song would no reaction. It’s almost like you’re living your worst nightmare.

[laughs]

It’s really awkward, man! Nick and I, at one point, we were two of the most interactive wrestlers in the world. I would have my matches and I would always appeal to the audience, or I would always fire up to the audience, and they’re not there for me anymore. It’s really made us change our act and change the way we do things and change the way we structure matches.

You used to be able to take more time in between some of the smaller stuff, because you would look to the audience and get eye contact with the people in the front. That’s just not anymore, and it doesn’t translate right now. You watch on television; if you take too much time in between things, it just looks boring and slow and plodding. It almost makes your matches faster; there’s more of a sense of urgency. So yeah, it’s changed pretty much the entire way that we do business. Like I said, now that more people are coming in, it’s going to probably get a little bit like the older days. It’s a little, but it’s better than nothing.

I had tickets to see the “Blood and Guts” show back in March that was one of the first shows to get canceled because of the pandemic. Not that I’m personally ready right now to go to a big show indoors surrounded by lots of people, but do you have any sense when you might start touring again? Is it six months away? Is it a year away?

Nick Jackson: For the foreseeable future, you’ll see us at Daily’s Place. [AEW CEO] Tony [Khan]’s taking this pandemic very serious. He’s very cautious with putting wrestlers at risk, and we all agree with that. So I don’t think it will be any time soon. I’m not sure what the time table is, but I can’t even predict to be honest.

Matt Jackson: I think it’s all up in the air just like with the rest of the world. Everyone’s just waiting on this. Will there be a vaccine? Will there be rapid testing? Nobody knows anything about anything. We’re all watching the news and we’re reading the newspaper and we’re reading online. We’re all following along, and nobody really truly knows. Anybody can guess it, but your guess is as good as ours. For me, the sooner the better, but we’ll see. We’re not going to do it until it’s safe to go.

My personal favorite moment of the last year, although it technically wasn’t on Dynamite, was the Stadium Stampede Match. I would love to know whose brainchild that was, and then whether there has been any consideration about how you could eventually top it. Like, I can’t conceive how you could top it, but you’re still doing pay-per-views, so you’re going to have to at least try to at some point, right?

Nick Jackson: Yeah. That was actually Matt and I’s whole idea, and Tony loved it we pretty much ran from there. Matt and I did a singles match against each other on our web series, Being the Elite, pretty much as a pilot to show Tony what we could do in that type of setting. And that was a huge success, so we told him “Hey, if we could do this with Inner Circle, we’ll make magic” and man, we pretty much did. That’s probably one of my favorite moments that we’ve ever done, because it was so fun. It was a huge collaboration with such good guys and creative minds. We shot that thing for like 16 hours. It was insane.

Matt Jackson: You know, what’s funny is we spent the entire day, even the day before that really, prepping everything and ordering from production what props we needed and figured out what we were going to do, and whether or not the NFL was going to allow me to do a moonsalt off of the field goal posts. Spoiler alert: They didn’t want me to, but I did it anyway.

Wait, why would they not want you to jump off the goal posts? What would be the problem? I don’t understand:

Nick Jackson: It was an NFL thing. I guess, it’s a rule that the league has, but Tony cleared it.

The NFL has a staunch “No Moonsaults Off the Goal Posts” policy.

Matt Jackson: The actual rule is you can’t even touch the thing anymore. It’s really unbalanced. I’ll tell you this, when I was up there, I was terrified. I described it like if you were in the middle of the ocean and you’re trying to stand on a log and the log was spinning from underneath you. There’s no balance on it. It seems stable, but it felt like it could probably collapse at any moment. So it was terrifying!

We shot this thing all night. At one point, we were rained out for an hour and a half because obviously we’re in Jacksonville, and Florida weather can be crazy at any moment. We were all exhausted, drinking coffee. It was like we were trying to create a movie in a day. It was like trying to do something that wasn’t possible. The only reason we even finished when we did was because the production was like “Listen guys, the sun’s about to come up. We’re not going to get the shot, and you’re going to have to shoot the rest of it live tomorrow.”

Nick Jackson: And the fire marshal was leaving, remember?

Matt Jackson: That’s right! The fire marshal was there for the pyro shoot at the end. So it was a race against the clock. We finally shoot this thing, and I want to say it was like five in the morning. Then we’re in the locker room around six and we’re all just exhausted. But we knew that we did something special. It was like lightning in a bottle.

So the next day was the actual pay-per-view and we didn’t have to work cause we did all of our work the day before. They put it up on the big screen and we all watched it in the bleachers. Chris Jericho was sitting right next to Nick and I. It was such a low time in the world, because the pandemic was really … I don’t want to say it was at its peak, but Nick and I were stuck at home on lockdown for like a month. The group of guys, collectively, nobody had been together as a group in a long time. We all sat there and watched this thing with popcorn in our hands and it was like this special time when we were one. We were a team. And when the match ended, the whole building, the production, everybody stood and clapped. And I remember Chris Jericho and I had tears coming down our cheeks and we were hugging. He said “That was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my entire 30 year career,” and I agreed. That was just magic.

You asked how are we ever going to top that? I already have some ideas of how we will top it. So [laughs] if the time comes, don’t worry, we will top it. Or we will come close to topping it. I don’t even want to think about that match now; I want to let that match sit for a little while longer. But if the time comes, I am confident that we have the right team, and we can do something just as good.

You were both a part of the biggest reaction I’ve ever personally witnessed at a wrestling show, which was when the Hardys made a surprise appearance and challenged you to a match at a Ring of Honor show in New York back in 2017. I’ve never heard a crowd make a sound louder than that one. Where does that moment rank in your careers in terms of the biggest reactions you’ve gotten?

Nick Jackson: It’s funny you say that; Matt and I were just talking about this with Matt Hardy backstage two weeks ago. We both agreed that was a special moment. That was so fun. Funny enough, there’s another moment like that, where it’s like your ears feel like they’re ringing because of how loud the reaction is. We were having a tag match with the Hardys in Santiago, Chile, and our music hit. We thought we got a massive rock star pop until we heard the Hardys’ music hit and it was like Elvis had just entered the building. It was insane. That was definitely one of those special moments that I’ll never forget. And I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Matt Jackson: One that comes to mind for me, this was back in the old American Legion Hall in Reseda [former home of independent wrestling promotion PWG], when we did the old lights out gimmick and Super Dragon returned for the very first time in 2011, and he’d been gone for years. It caught everyone so off-guard, because nobody saw that coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a reaction like that. Maybe it was even louder because we were in such a small, intimate building with 500 people. They were right in your ear screaming. To this day, that place, that building, holds a special place in my heart because that’s where we basically created the Young Bucks brand, and where we made ourselves into who we are today. I don’t know if there’s a building that had more electricity than that building.

Nick Jackson: More recently, because I just watched this a few weeks ago, I would say Kenny Omega kicking out at one from our double knee strike at the pay-per-view Revolution.

Matt Jackson: As far as hearing a crowd hot for a long length of time, because that was about a 30 minute match, that may have been one of the hottest crowds that we’ve ever performed in front of in Chicago. That match was just magic and the crowd really helped make it magic. just by being the way they were that night.

Looking ahead, who are one or two people you think fans should keep an eye on who could have a breakout year on Dynamite?

Nick Jackson: I think year two’s going to be all about Kenny Omega. He’s been very … what’s the word I’m looking for … I guess “unselfish,” and he’s ready to explode. So I would keep my eye on him. Another one off the top of my head would be Darby Allin. He’s got so much potential to be such a massive star for AEW that we have to use him in the right way, and he’s definitely going to be a top player.

Matt Jackson: You ask about the immediate future, a year. I still think it could be “Hangman” Adam Page. The guy’s a star. He’s a sensitive dude who thinks about every little nuanced thing. He’s so interesting, and he puts so much thought into his stuff, and he’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with. He’s going to be a huge mega star. Obviously he’ll be a world champion one day. I don’t know if it’s this year; maybe it is. I don’t know. He’s someone to look out for. Also, our tag division. If you thought the first year was hot, just wait until you see what we do in year two. There’s so many matches we haven’t done yet. I would love to handpick specific tag teams, but there’s just too many of them. Every one of them could be tag champs.

When TNT renewed AEW earlier this year, they also announced that there would be a second weekly AEW show besides Dynamite. Is there a timetable for when we might see that?

Nick Jackson: I’m not sure yet. I think the pandemic clearly pushed that to the side. I assume it’s going to happen, I don’t know, maybe in the next year. I would stay tuned on that. I guess we’ll see.

Similarly, I’m curious if there any discussions about an AEW streaming service, or maybe even joining up with an existing service. Purely for selfish reasons, I would like a place to rewatch the Stadium Stampede, for example, whenever I want.

Matt Jackson: I would love to somehow get us on HBO Max. I’m such a huge fan already, like every night now I’m scrolling through their stuff, seeing what they’ve got. So that right there is the no-brainer for me. I would love to get some of our content on that.

As we’re winding down, I recognize that it’s a crazy time and probably impossible to forecast what the months ahead will look like, but is there something in year two, that you guys are really focused on improving? Or that you’re looking forward to doing?

Nick Jackson: Just keeping the stories intact, trying not to have as many plot holes as pro wrestling normally does. Those are the things we’re always trying to look out for because we don’t want to be the same old same old. We want to be different, to be consistent with what we’re doing, and of course to have the best in-ring wrestling possible. 

Matt Jackson: Within the year, I would love to see a tag team wrestling match be the main event of a major pay-per-view. We’ve talked about that. Tag-team wrestling can be the main event. Has it been the main event? Yeah, a couple of times on Dynamite, and it was great and people loved it. But to truly to truly showcase like, “Hey, we’re betting on this,” I think you’ve got to make it headline a pay-per-view. I would love to see that happen in the next year.

Why is there such a hesitancy on the part of some companies to put a spotlight on tag teams? I’ve never understood that.

Matt Jackson: God, good question. I think it’s because as far as WWE is concerned, it’s really up to one guy, and it’s his one opinion. And I don’t think that he thinks that tag-team wrestling is box office. Why is that his opinion? I’m not sure. But my brother and I, we’ve been doing this 17 years, and we’ve probably been considered box-office draws for the last decade at least, especially the last five or six years. We were constantly the main event wherever we went, and we were making main-event dollars and main-event merchandise money. So we we’ve already proven to the naysayers that’s incorrect.

So I don’t know why other companies are hesitant about it. I love that Tony Khan believes in tag-team wrestling, clearly, because he saw our vision and he let us do what we wanted. I think 10 years from now we’re going to look back at this era of what the AEW tag division is and we’re all going to go, “Oh my God. Did they even realize what they had here?” Hopefully, yeah, I think we do. And again, to really show that, is to let a tag-team match be the main event, and that’s my goal. And it doesn’t even mean that I’ve got to be in that match! I just want a badass tag match to main event a big show.

AEW Dynamite airs Wednesdays on TNT at 8PM ET.

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