Nicholas Massie’s Tuesday morning provided a glimpse into the struggles of superstardom.
The alarm hit 6 a.m., and Massie—still hours away from stepping into a metaphorical phone booth and transforming into the Young Bucks’ Nick Jackson—had only one thought on his mind.
He was not consumed with the story line development of “Hangman” Adam Page’s frustrations with the Elite, whether it was the right time to take the women’s title off Riho, or even the subtleties and nuances of the Cody Rhodes–MJF program. Massie’s only concern was making sure he found time to feed breakfast to his children before leaving for the airport.
Massie’s children were far from enthralled with the idea of their father leaving their home to fly to Austin for that week’s Dynamite, despite the 817,000 viewers who may have disagreed.
“My son is pretty attached, so he takes it hard when he sees me leave,” said Massie. “That always make it hard.”
His woe was exacerbated following the drive to the airport, where he was informed that strong winds had caused multiple flight delays. The trip to Texas took 17 hours, approximately 15 more than anticipated.
Fortunately for Massie, he had someone beside him throughout the ordeal. Matt Massie, who the wrestling world knows as the charismatic Matt Jackson, is four years Nick’s senior, and he did everything possible to ensure that his little brother kept his sanity amid the delay.
“If I didn’t have my brother, these types of events would drive me crazy,” said Nick. “Right before we step out through that curtain we always say a prayer, which helps us focus and get into the zone. Having him there for a lot of pressure-packed moments helps a lot.”
“There’s absolutely zero people other than him that will ever be able to relate with what I’ve gone through,” added Matt. “He’s my tag-team partner forever.”
Nick and Matt began teaming together long before the creation of the Young Bucks. Wrestling runs through the Massie family’s bloodstream. Their father watched countless superkicks as his sons perfected the now-iconic move. Their mother taught the importance of stretching and tricks on back tucks, which they still use, and their older sister—a gymnast—shared advice about aerial maneuvers. They also have a younger brother who once wrestled.
There are endless memories from growing up at the Massie home in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., one of which is wrestling in the backyard on a first-rate wrestling ring.
“Our father is a general contractor, and he built the ring for Matt’s 16th birthday,” said Nick. “This was our dream, and they wanted us to follow it.”
“We joke now that the softest ring we used to fall on was the one our dad built us,” added Matt, who opened his own promotion, High Risk Wrestling, in 2004.
The Bucks are now executive vice presidents of a much larger operation: All Elite Wrestling. Pro wrestling certainly has its fair share of faults—the travel, a portion of fans who feed off negativity, which was the driving force behind the Bucks’ decision to leave Twitter, and the cutthroat nature of the industry—but every sacrifice is worth its price to Matt and Nick, who are living out their passion on live television every Wednesday.
“Every time before I walk up those steps and hit the curtain, I’m a nervous wreck,” said Matt. “No matter what it is that I am doing out there, whether it’s just a run-in, or a full blown match, I feel like I’m having heart palpations and I could pass out. I feel every single emotional and physical feeling before that moment.
“Then I look at Nick and wonder if he feels these same things. I feel more comfortable having him by my side. I feel my most alive. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m terrified of slipping on live television. I have self-doubt. But then, the crowd roars and I hit the ring and I remember that I belong, and that I’m actually really good at this.”
The Bucks are somewhat of an anomaly in the hierarchy of AEW. The Khans, who own AEW, are business savants. Fellow EVP Cody Rhodes has a WWE pedigree and legacy from one of the most famed wrestling families of all time, while Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes earned her degree from the University of Michigan and had built contacts over the past decade with many philanthropic organizations. EVP Kenny Omega main-evented the Tokyo Dome for New Japan as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in a history-making title reign. Senior advisor Jim Ross is the signature voice of wrestling and offers five decades of experience.
The Bucks are none of the above. They are a tag team in an industry that prioritizes singles wrestling, operating for years in a landscape where their ideas always veered off the beaten path. But they revolutionized the genre with an ability to grasp the importance of social media—you may have heard of their YouTube show, “Being the Elite”—and their ability to infuse advanced wrestling psychology into their tag matches.
“For a long time, I enjoyed proving others wrong,” said Matt. “Every time we accomplished something, I craved rubbing it in their faces. But I realized at some point recently, these people will just continue to move the goalpost and they don’t deserve my energy. I’m more interested in positive energy, and doing my best for true fans who love and have a passion for good wrestling content.”
The chance to paint his art on a wrestling canvas before an engaged crowd also resonates with Nick.
“Wrestling is really all I’ve ever known, and I love everything about it,” said Nick. “One thing I love is the friendships we make, and there’s really nothing like getting a loud response from the audience. It’s a high that you can’t duplicate.”
For two brothers whose love affair with wrestling runs deep, another aspect of the business invigorates them. Away from television viewers and live crowds, the Bucks relish the chance to plan story lines and perfect the layouts of their matches, pitch ideas, and lay out long-term stories, all behind closed doors in the room where it happens.
“Putting together matches is almost just as fun as performing the matches, often,” said Matt. “You get to create art from a blank canvas. It’s always a challenge when you’re given limitations—time constraints, injuries, story lines to get across—but I enjoy making the most out of my minutes and always turning in an entertaining segment. Every week you get to work with someone new, so it feels like you’re collaborating and writing a new song with a new partner all of the time. Sometimes you can see real-life character flaws in each other, whether it’s insecurities or lack of confidence. However, you can also see how truly talented and intelligent your colleagues are, sometimes giving new ideas from a different perspective, seeing things from a different lens.”
Their open nature about the once-sacred elements of pro wrestling does not always endear them to the wrestling cognoscenti, but they are making music for their fans, not their critics.
“Wrestling is my favorite thing in the world because it allows me to make other people happy,” said Matt. “If I could bottle up the emotions that I feel right after a great show, I would live forever.”
“There was a four-way tag match on Dynamite a few weeks ago, and we sat down and called it for about eight hours,” continued Nick, referring to the tag title match from the “Bash at the Beach” episode of Dynamite that featured the Bucks, Hangman Page and Kenny Omega, Best Friends, and Santana and Ortiz. “The end results made us happy. It’s a lot of fun collaborating with other artists.”
The wide world of wrestling is full of memorable moments, and the Bucks have created many of their own. Their “Ladder Wars” from Ring of Honor combined a performance equal parts storytelling and death-defying athleticism, as well as unforgettable moments in New Japan alongside Kenny Omega, including the Bucks–Golden Lovers tag team match from March 2018. The Bucks appear destined to wrestle Omega and Page for the AEW tag titles at the upcoming Revolution pay-per-view on Feb. 29, which harkens back memories of the moment when the Bucks and Omega plotted to become the most successful act in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The Bucks and Omega never asked New Japan’s booker for permission to break off into their own subgroup called “The Elite”—they instead stayed true to themselves by following their instincts.
“We came up with the Elite name on a bus as a joke,” reflected Nick. “We’d ask each other, ‘Who do you think are the most elite wrestlers in the world?’ Then we’d make a list, but every list was just us and our friends. We thought it was hilarious, and we decided, ‘What if we just called ourselves that?’”
“‘The Elite’ is something we did on our own,” added Matt. “We were all leaving the ring after turning on AJ Styles at Korakuen Hall. Kenny asked us, ‘Should I go back in the ring and give AJ the Styles Clash? And you guys double-superkick him?’ The rest of the Bullet Club had left, so this was going to be a signal to the audience that we were the three guys.
“Kenny looked at Nick, and Nick said, ‘Ask Matt.’ So Kenny asked me, and I said, ‘Let’s go.’ Kenny slid in the right, we were right behind him, and he picked up AJ in the Styles Clash. We double-superkicked him, Kenny gave him the deal, and we all posed. That was the night the Elite was born.”
“The Elite” led to the creation of AEW. In a society, and industry, filled with an increasing amount of negativity, there is a positive light every week on Dynamite. The promotion is not designed to be WWE, or attack WWE, but rather live in its own space and provide a legitimate option for those who share a passion for pro wrestling.
“Live weekly television wrestling is a completely different beast, but it’s a new challenge,” said Matt. “My goal is to conquer those challenges. And I really enjoy watching the process of a character growing into a star. The power of television makes things happen so rapidly, and it still blows me away. What took us 10 years on the indies to do only takes a couple of weeks with the exposure TNT gives us.”
As executives, the Jacksons’ goal is to give all of the talent on the roster the opportunity to increase their profile as AEW continues to reach an even wider audience.
“Seeing new stars develop right in front of your eyes, that excites me the most,” said Nick. “There’s nothing better than seeing someone you have high hopes in get a big reaction from the audience.”
The Bucks now continue their wrestling odyssey, every week, on the unforgiving-but-influential platform of live television. They are grateful for their fan base, for the position they now hold as first-time executives, and for the chance to compete at an elite level.
There are precious few certainties in pro wrestling, but for the Bucks, one that remains true is that every success—and failure, frustration, tear, toil and victory—will be shared together.
“We joke that we see each other more than our own wives, but it is probably true,” said Nick. “It’s a pretty crazy thing we have going here. We don’t fight. I’m not kidding when I say that. We never fight, and we always get along. We’ve seen each other at the very lowest and the highest this business brings. He knows I would never be where we are without him, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be where he is without me. I’m very blessed to have him by my side.“
“Even if it ended tomorrow, we’ve lived 16 years in wrestling that will probably define us for the rest of our lives,” said Matt. “We’ll look back fondly at this time and forever be tied together.
The Bucks are firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of wrestling’s elite tier as performers, innovators and executives. Perhaps not every wrestling fan will connect with their vision, but that has yet to alter their unrelenting work ethic and vigor to create a new space in the industry.
“I am a competitor, so I always want to compete,” said Matt. “I want to have the best matches. I want to have the best segments. I want to come up with the best ideas. After the first year AEW has had, I truly believe anything is possible. If someone would’ve told me two years ago that we’d help run a new wrestling company with a cable TV show that sometimes outperforms the NBA in the key demos on Wednesday nights, I would’ve told them they were nuts. What’s next? God, anything is next.”