Young Bucks On Their Vision For AEW And Being 'Unafraid' Of The Future
Never say that Matt and Nick Jackson — together known as the Young Bucks — aren’t gamblers.
Rather than continuing their successful careers with Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling or even taking lucrative offers from the WWE, the brothers went in a totally different direction: helping build All Elite Wrestling from the ground up.
But for them, it really wasn’t that big of a gamble. It was more of a calculated risk, betting on themselves.
Just last year they decided to literally go “All In,” putting on an independent show with the same name along with Cody Rhodes in what some thought was a big risk. That turned out to be a huge success with the show selling out all 11,000-plus seats at the Sears Center in less than 30 minutes.
Despite not having held a single event yet, AEW already has a huge buzz around it. The promotion has grand ambitions with billionaire Shad Khan — who also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham F.C. of the Premiere Soccer League — funding the project while his son, Tony, is its president and helping bring a grand vision to the promotion for the long term.
Adding to the excitement is the roster it has already putting together that includes The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega — all of which also serve as executive vice president with AEW — as well as Chris Jericho.
AEW will hold its first event — titled “Double or Nothing” — on May 25 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with tickets selling out within minutes of going on sale.
Fans everywhere are now wondering what is next for AEW and what could it possibly become. Will it be a big success and prove to be an alternative to the WWE on a national scale or will it be another wrestling promotion with big hopes that comes and goes?
Sporting News recently spoke with The Young Bucks about joining AEW, some of their plans for the promotion, being not only talent for the company but also management, “Double or Nothing” and more.
Sporting News: It has been a pretty wild for both of you from the "All In" show to the big choices you had to make regarding your futures. What was it about AEW that sold it for both of you?
Nick Jackson: Right off the bat, I would say the freedom, the creative freedom. It was an outlet for us to express the way we feel pro wrestling should be done, the way we think it should be done in 2019 and the future. It was pretty easy from there on out. We were like 'OK, we can should the world how we feel wrestling should be represented and this is how we feel like it should be.' The other options were to stay where we were or go to WWE. For me, personally, I feel like this was the easy choice because we're going to be with all of our friends and we're having a good time. It feels like it pretty much what we have been doing for the last four or five years but on a bigger scale.
Matt Jackson: Clearly what we were offered was everything. Since day one ... day one, AEW wasn't even going to be called AEW. It was going to be called something else. This thing that's called AEW now was simply just a conversation between me and Tony (Khan). I was the first person who picked up the phone for Tony. This entire thing was a conversation that I had with him on my back porch on the phone with him [laughs]. We didn't know it was going to be a thing — it was all hypothetical.
I remember talking to him and saying if we do this thing, we're going to have to have 'elite' in the title and we're going to have to have a lot of control and he completely understood that. He knew that 'The Elite' brand was a winning brand and we were just coming off the success of 'All In' and he knew how important that was. Right there, we pretty much committed to it. Like Nick said, he basically said 'Listen, hire who you want to hire and you're in charge.' Nobody else can compete with that. A dollar figure can't compete with that. We're artists and we're creative.
We want to express ourselves and we want to do it our way and we want to surround ourselves around people we trust. You just don't get that. To me, and I'm not comparing myself to this guy, but it's like Spielberg going, you know what, 'I need these people to be my cameramen, I need this crew, I need these actors' and the studio says 'whatever you want, go make your movie.' We get to make our own movie the way we want to make it and that's because of Tony and Shad. They're giving us freedom to express ourselves and do it the way we like.
Like Nick said, at the end of the day, there were some great offers on the table but nothing compared to what AEW was offering us.
Considering the freedom that you are going to have and there is an immense amount of buzz surrounding AEW already, what are some of the things that you're looking at to make it stand out in what's now a very crowded landscape for pro wrestling around the world?
NJ: Right from the start, I would have to say what's cool about AEW is we're going to give the spotlight to wrestlers that some fans might not even know of. I know a lot of people had no clue about OWE and as soon as announced it, people started reaching it and were like 'Man, wow, maybe this is going to be something that's cool.' Things like that I'm most excited about, to get some of these wrestlers a spotlight that they haven't had yet.
MJ: We've talked about this before, but we really want to do slow-burn, long-term storytelling. We don't want to just give up on stories and we want to have continuity. It sounds crazy in the pro wrasslin' business because usually we treat fans like wrasslin' fans. It's like, no. This is the Netflix, HBO, Showtime watching people who sometimes will binge watch television shows and they don't like plot holes. They like seeing all of the loose ends tied and that's one thing that's important to us.
We've already shown on 139 episodes of our web series 'Being the Elite' — every single segment or bit on our show, there's a reason for it. There's a position for it and we pay it off. We just want to reward our viewers for watching our show. If we're regularly doing this more often, hopefully, if it's month to month, week to week, whatever it is, we're hoping that they feel rewarded for continuing to watch our product.
With that being said, I know everyone is waiting for a big television announcement. When it comes to your vision for what AEW is going to be, how much have you thought ahead when it comes to possibly weekly television or even booking special events? How far into the future have you looked and mapped things out?
NJ: Well, I can tell you this. I know I've told Matt and I've told Kenny and Tony that I'm giving my career to this project. So, however long my career lasts, I'll be here and Tony sees it just like that as well. He's already talking 10, 15, 20 years from now, still running this thing. We're in it for the long-term. We want this to succeed. We want this to be big and we don't see it failing.
MJ: We're all in on this, man. This is it. We're working on very big things. We don't want to give anything away but, hopefully, rather sooner or later, we'll have some stuff to talk about. As far as creatively, I'm already thinking about it. I know who a lot of the guys and girls, who aren't even announced yet that are on our roster, I'm already thinking of stories for them and what we can do to evolve their character and what we can do with each division. We're already planning ahead.
When it comes to weekly television, if and when that happens, what is ideal for you? Some people say it's an hour or two hours. We even have a three-hour show on TV. What in your mind is ideal for a wrestling show in the 21st century?
NJ: Definitely not three hours, that's for sure. I feel like three hours is too much. You get into a problem where you overexpose your talent and some people get tired of the talent you use because you're using them so often. A three-hour show, that's a long time. We do our mini-series on YouTube and it's 15 minutes once a week and people seem to love that. We can't do a 15-minute TV show or something like that. I think the sweet spot would be 1-2 hours at most.
MJ: I feel like in the 21st century, professional wrestling shows are best when they're live because everybody wants to watch a sporting event live. They want it to be happening right before their eyes because they don't want to have to read the results later. I think being live is very important to help with the must-see aspect. That's one thing I would love to have. And then, I don't know? What is the best option? Is the best option to have a monthly special, so you're just doing one big one a month or is it weekly? That's a good question.
There's so many different options and different ways to go about this. Like Nick said, it feels like we've picked our time every week pretty specifically, it's 15, sometimes 20 minutes a week and we give each character a little bit of a spotlight. Sometimes, each character isn't even on every week. And that's OK; they don't forget. I don't feel like every single character has to be on every week or every show. I feel like we don't want to shove each of the talents down our throats because then it's like I've seen enough of this guy already and then you grow tired of him. I feel like we're going to try and be mindful of that very thing.
You guys are not just talent with AEW, but also part of the management as executive vice presidents along with Cody and Kenny Omega and working with Tony Khan. What's the process been like early on going from talent that is also in charge?
MJ: You know what's funny is, for Nick and I, we kind of starting booking pro wrestling shows ... in the early 2000's, we had our own independent company so we know about how to tell a story and how to look and how to promote. Then we got to PWG and we really assisted Super Dragon with the long-term stories as well and we started getting an idea of how it works. So, we've been kind of doing this for a while. Then we got to ROH and towards the end of the run, we had a big hand in helping with those stories to the point where they would just give us free roam basically and let us do our thing. We earned their trust and showed them that we know how to do this. We know how to book long-term stories and how to draw fans into it and draw interest. We've felt like we've already gained that experience.
Then, finally it culminated in 'All In' and we did the 'All In' show and that was all us. I think at that point we felt confident. We thought 'You know what, I think we'll be able to do this.' So, now, we're executives with this company, but at the same time, I think the biggest reason that Tony brought us on board to give us these positions was because he's seen that we can do this creatively. The creative part is the fun part for me. That's the part that I already know how to do. It's all this other day-to-day stuff like getting visas and making sure the talent has their flights and hotels. All of that boring office paperwork, that's all the new stuff for me and that's an adjustment for me. Having to answer emails all day on Outlook, like, this is a lot of work! That becomes tiresome, but at the same time, it's exciting because it's a whole new thing for me. I had never had an office job. That's probably the biggest adjustment for me is the fact that we're not running a wrestling show yet.
We're trying to get everything off the ground and Nick and I are wearing 20 hats each and so is Cody and so is Kenny and Tony as well. We really don't have the infrastructure yet; we're working on it. We're doing a lot more work than we'll probably end up having to do once we get the entire team together. [Laughs] It's definitely been an adjustment, but it's been exciting.
Is it tough not to micro-manage? You're forming this from the ground up and you want to have a hand in everything, but there's only so much that one person, or in your case, two people can do.
NJ: Yeah. When it comes to micro-managing the actual wrestling shows, promo-wise, match-wise, we're going to be very fair about it because we feel like when wrestlers are telling their own stories, they know best with what their character should do. We feel like we're going to try and give the wrestlers that option to try and tell the best story they can.
MJ: We've already been kind of doing that with the press conferences. We just give the guys bullet points and we don't write them a script. We say 'Hey, say this and get to this point.' Again, it's the same thing with our show ('Being the Elite'), we really don't write scripts. It's really loose. I think we're going to use a lot of the same things that have worked for us in the past that have succeeded and try to do that.
Understandably, if we end up doing a live television show or pay-per-view or whatever, it's going to be a little bit different because it's all timed. It has to hit a certain time. It's all new to us and, like Nick said, we're going to try our best not to micro-manage and not to filter too much because the artist knows what their songs want to sound like. We're going to let them play their music.
Who do you think is going to be happier about non-scripted promos — fans or talent?
NJ: Oh man, probably all of them to be honest.
MJ: I think what we're missing in wrestling right now is things that are organic. Sometimes, we go by the script so something might happen and we're so afraid. Wrestlers, entertainers, are so afraid to improvise now and that's a big part of what we do. A lot of the stuff we do is calling it on the fly. You've got to feel a certain way or you have to react to certain situations and I think that's what wrestling is missing right now. Hopefully, we can add to that element again.
At your most recent press conference, you announced that Kenny Omega is coming on board with AEW as talent and as an executive vice president. Was there ever a point where you were concerned that he would not be joining AEW?
NJ: Nah, we knew the whole time.
MJ: I'll tell you this right now: Kenny was the missing piece. I talked earlier about how Tony called me originally and got on the phone with him and he told me we need Kenny. We need The Elite. I need the best wrestler in the world and I need the best tag team in the world. That was it. Originally, it started as the three of us and then Cody later came on board. We kind of had to sell him on it because, in wresting, and he's probably heard a million stories about startups and billionaires investing in wrestling and we all have. We finally, the three of us, got him on board and once he was on board, he was all in and here we are.
You have "Double or Nothing" coming up on May 25 and that's your first official AEW event and it sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale. What did you learn from "All In" last year that you can bring with you into this show?
NJ: Oh man, that's a good question. We learned a lot doing that show. One thing is we're going to have to be a little more strict on times, but that's not even that bad of an issue.
SN: It's all Marty's (Scurll) fault.
NJ: [Laughs] There's a few matches that went over, so it wasn't just him. There's actually like three or four matches that went over their time. We're going to definitely learn from that. There's so many little things that we didn't realize that were pretty hard to do. For instance, the last press conference in Vegas, we went 10 minutes under the time we were going to have, so that was a good thing. Things like that — times would be the most important, though.
MJ: I was going to mention the technical issue. We didn't have the exit ramp for the wrestlers, so they had to take the long walk back up the ramp after the match and that killed us. If you add up the time that added onto the show, man, it's massive. This time, we're going to have an exit ramp as boring as that sounds. That's going to save us valuable minutes and seconds.
NJ: Yeah, it's kind of boring the stuff we did learn.
MJ: Maybe like logistical things like the audio levels with the crowd and mic'ing them better. A lot of technical stuff like that.
Matt, you tweeted out that "we need to look into doing one of these in a bigger building" because the show sold out so quickly just like "All In" did. Was there any thought into using a bigger building and when do you think might be the right time to try a building that's bigger that can hold 10, 12,000 people?
MJ: Literally when I was tweeting that, Nick and I and some of the guys like Cody and Kenny, we were already discussing the possibilities. Right now, it's all hypotheticals. There's nothing set in stone, but we're already talking about it. Imagine doing it in a stadium. As far as when, I don't know. Like, while we're young, while we're hot, while we've got everybody's attention so sooner rather than later.
So, you're saying Cowboys Stadium next year?
MJ: [Laughs] That's a good one!
NJ: That would be great.
I think you don't know until you actually try. I'm not saying go for a building that size, but who knows? Maybe you would have sold out a bigger building than can hold 30,000 or even 40,000.
NJ: Who knows. I'll tell you this — Tony is very ambitious and the four of us, we're all ambitious as well, so you've got five very ambitious guys that will reach for the stars.
MJ: Five guys that are unafraid.
Obviously, this is an enormous project and there are still so many steps involved even before we see television or regular events or however this plays out along with filling out a roster. When does it feel real for you guys, the enormity of this project or has it already?
NJ: I think it finally hit me when the pyro went off in Jacksonville and Jericho is standing on the stage and announcing that he had signed with us. That's when it finally felt like 'OK, this thing is going to be big.'
MJ: For me, it's so hard because it's been such a sprint. It's hard to believe that the Tokyo Dome (Wrestle Kingdom 13 on Jan. 4) was literally last month because so much has happened since that day. I don't know. It's like my life has been on fast-forward. I'm just moving from event to event, from call to call and my entire life has become AEW. It's almost impossible to sit back and relax and to take a breath because we're so busy with this thing; hyping it, promoting it, and getting ready for it. I don't know if it's hit me yet to be honest with you.
When we sold out, I'm like 'Great, we sold out! What's the next thing?' I can't even enjoy that. I'm thinking about the next show, which we've already announced, our idea of doing one in Jacksonville, so now we're trying to get that one all secured. It's hard with the position we're in. You always have to think about what's next. And it's hard as a person because I really want to take a second to take it in and to go 'we're doing something really special right now.' I know that in 10, 20, 30 years from now, I'll look back and I'll go 'Man' ... maybe then I'll truly realize what we've done here.