The Young Bucks meet in the main event of the 200th episode of Being the Elite. Without giving away any spoilers, the match delivers.
“It was one of the best days I’ve had professionally in a while,” says Nick Jackson, who has been off of television as he and his wife just welcomed their third child to the family. “It’s hard for me to stay home this long and not be creative, so doing this match satisfied my craving. It’s one of my favorite matches I’ve ever done. I think fans are going to love it.”
There were plenty of battles between the Massie brothers, better known in wrestling as the Jacksons, growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. But it is rare to see Matt and Nick face off against one another, so the moment fits the milestone. Reaching 200 episodes of Being the Elite has allowed the Bucks to share their own vision of pro wrestling long before they were executive vice presidents with All Elite Wrestling.
“It’s the one platform we’re allowed to inexplicably and unapologetically express ourselves without a single filter,” Matt Jackson says. “For almost four years now and 200 episodes deep, it’s been and will continue to be the black sheep of every company we’ve ever worked for. And I think I like it that way.”
The YouTube show began in May 2016. It was months before Chris Jericho, then a WWE performer, unveiled “The List,” three years before the letters AEW meant anything in a wrestling context and when the Bucks were still considered junior heavyweights in New Japan. Also featuring Kenny Omega, who was building his case for becoming the best wrestler in the world, Being the Elite brought entertainment to fans craving more from New Japan, which was not as easy to access four years ago, as well as Ring of Honor, whose television programs can still be difficult to find in the United States.
The show, as Matt Jackson noted, has not always been met with enthusiasm from wrestling executives. Ring of Honor could not monetize the product, which would prompt some to ask why even bother with the project. For New Japan, it was seen as a blatant disregard of the fighting spirit and legitimacy of pro wrestling, the defining characteristics of the business in Japan. Even now in AEW, there are some internal discussions about whether the Being the Elite content is a distraction from the weekly programming.
Just like the Bucks’ career, Being the Elite goes against all longstanding pro wrestling traditions. It is filled with satire, which is more prevalent in Mark Twain literature than in the squared circle. Wrestlers want to have a certain mystique and be seen as larger-than-life figures, hoping that perception becomes reality with regard to their on-screen personas. The Bucks have done the exact opposite on their show, highlighting that, if anything, they have more in common with their fans than they do with the biggest names in the business. Undoubtedly, the success of the show has infuriated those who believe its formula should fail.
Throughout the doubt and criticism, Being the Elite has persisted.
“Every week, for 10 to 20 minutes, we’ve been given the ability to speak to our fans,” says Matt. “Sometimes literally, as we talk directly into the lens to them, about our schedule, interests, struggles and triumphs. And sometimes we speak to them through a silly sketch, or a long-term story with complicated characters. Being the Elite has given us the privilege to pull back the curtain, letting fans get to know us on a personal, deeper level. Being the Elite represents our lives’ work, at least in wrestling.”
A blend of reality and story line are two of the ingredients that have allowed the show to resonate, but another key to its success has been the free-flowing forum of ideas that occur when the cameras are not rolling.
The past 200 episodes of Being The Elite have led to memorable on-screen moments every Monday for the past four years, but the brilliance of the show is its ability to spark creativity.
“One day Hangman walked up to me, Matt and Brandon Cutler, who helps film Being the Elite, and he said, ‘I think I want to become an alcoholic,’” said says Jackson, detailing “Hangman” Adam Page’s alcohol-fueled story line. “And I said, ‘What?’
“We heard his idea, which was incredible, and we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Look at him now compared to where he was a year ago. He’s a superstar.”
Being the Elite has provided a chance for the Bucks, Omega, and Page, as well as a rotating host of others that include a few WWE stars, to bring meaning to their characters in a way that is limited on television.
“A lot of people criticized us when Hangman didn’t beat Jericho,” says Matt. “I don’t think he was ready yet. Look at his work now on ‘BTE.’ His acting is unbelievable, his confidence is through the roof. He’s ready now. If we saw this Adam Page against Jericho, who knows what would have happened.”
The seeds of Chris Jericho’s post-WWE dominance were also first planted on Being the Elite. Despite some initial doubts from both performers and fans, Jericho has firmly established himself as the face of the AEW brand.
“I always call him our Hulk Hogan,” says Nick. “He’s done it all, and there is something about that. Even though he has been in the business for 30 years or so, he still wants to give back and get characters over. You never see that.”
Jericho has been part of Being the Elite and even made a surprise appearance at the All In show in 2018, highlighting his work with Kenny Omega in New Japan and casting a spotlight on talent that many fans were just getting to know.
“Most wrestlers want to be over, and they don’t care about anybody else,” says Matt. The prevailing attitude in this business is often, ‘I want you to do good, just not as good as me.’ Jericho wants everyone to be elevated. We made the right call. Look at how he made Darby Allin. Those matches with Jungle Boy and Scorpio Sky were really important, too.
“And Jericho watches all our matches, too. People don’t realize he’s the guy that pulls us aside and says, ‘This was great, but you could do this better.’ We don’t have enough of those guys in the business.”
Being the Elite constantly provides new ideas and story lines for AEW, especially the weekly Wednesday Night Dynamite show on TNT. This has been a new challenge for the Bucks. In addition to wrestling on live weekly episodic television, they also serve in executive roles. In a business filled with angles and gimmicks, it’s refreshing to hear an element of honesty when the Bucks speak about their front-office learning curve.
“Just as wrestlers, it’s an entirely different beast,” says Nick. “For us, the Young Bucks, I want to say 90% of our matches have been cut, sometimes by 50%. There was a tag title match right before the Christmas break with SCU and we were given 15 [minutes], but something went long and we had just over 10. So we went on the fly and did our best to tell the story we wanted to tell.”
The Bucks became superstars with matches in New Japan and California super indie PWG, where they could have as much time as needed to tell the perfect story, but that’s simply not the way live television like Dynamite works.
“Our match times never stay true to the format,” says Matt. “Nick mentioned the Dynamite match against SCU, and if you’re watching, we want you to think that’s the way it was supposed to happen. The [number one contender’s battle royal on the Feb. 18 edition of Dynamite] ended with me and Proud and Powerful, and the original plan was for me to be in the ring with them for three or four minutes. We had 90 seconds. So that’s a big part of live television.”
Everything the Bucks have done in their careers has led to their current spot as stars of a live show every week on TNT but unlike fellow EVP Cody Rhodes, they are not armed with the benefit of years of experience working on live television. It can be a difficult art form to master.
“Time constraints, like getting three different stories across in eight minutes, that’s part of the art,” says Matt. “That’s the difference from when we wrestled in Japan and we could do whatever we wanted for however long we wanted, or we could go as long as we wanted on the indies. When you’re match three on the Dynamite format, and there will also be a commercial break in between your time, it doesn’t change the fact that you still want to make magic on television and entertain the live house.”
AEW has its share of stars who were once big names in WWE, but the roster is largely filled with up-and-coming talent who do not have a tremendous amount of experience on live television.
“We have a lot of young wrestlers, and it’s been challenging for them to learn on the fly,” says Nick. “A lot of the guys have never had television wrestling experience. We had some before this, and we’re still learning, so it’s been really fun to be part of a company full of young wrestlers learning on the fly—and doing it pretty good.”
Episodic television adds new challenges. Unlike Being the Elite, which is built around wrestling behind the curtain, wrestling on television has also changed the way the Bucks structure their in-ring work.
“Our entire career was modeled off hitting grand slams every night and giving fans everything we’ve got,” says Matt. “Going week-to-week, we’ve had to present ourselves differently. We can’t show it all every week because every week is building to something different and bigger. Week-to-week TV is a different animal.”
The WWE shadow always looms large over any other wrestling promotion. But the Bucks’ mentality is reinforced by Tony Khan and the other EVPs, who collectively refuse to rush storylines, even if it could help gain a win in the ratings against NXT.
“It’s the long game, man,” says Matt. “That is what we do, and we do it on Being The Elite, too. We do long-form, long-term story line telling. We’ve been doing it all along. So hang on for the ride and watch it.”
All of the Bucks’ accomplishments and achievements have placed them in an unfamiliar spot, at least in terms of the wrestling ring.
Matt and Nick Jackson are now the favorites. There have been fans disappointed that the Bucks have yet to wear the AEW tag titles, and there was plenty of discussion that the Bucks lost too often on the early episodes of Dynamite.
“It adds more to our characters,” says Nick. “We want that.”
There is irony in their new status as favorites. They were always the team working from underneath, the guys selling the heat and working the big comeback, and it wasn’t that long ago when the Bucks had to advocate in New Japan to be considered a heavyweight tag team.
“Sometimes you’ve got to suffer with the characters and go through their struggle,” says Matt. “Look at our struggle to become tag team champions. People criticized us for losing too many matches. We can’t just win the titles—if we did, then what? We’ve got to go through a hardship to get to the good part.”
The Bucks continue to keep their fans excited to see what comes next. Those who do not see their brilliance are unlikely to change any time soon, but perhaps that just accentuates the unorthodox and different route they took to stardom.
They were never in WWE. They are not second-generation wrestlers. Matt and Nick Jackson came from the backyard.
“Our story doesn’t make any sense,” says Matt. “We went against the grain and never followed any of the traditional wrestling places.”
Being the Elite defies the past and defines the present. It is an opportunity to create, even if that creation stands directly opposed to the longstanding tried-and-true logic of pro wrestling.
“Our recipe works for us,” says Nick. “It’s a chance for people to control their own destiny.”
The key piece of Being the Elite that the Bucks brought to AEW is the freedom to create.
“Darby will send in a video and ask, ‘Can we put this on television?’” says Matt. “And I’ll say, ‘Of course we’re putting you with a flamethrower on television, it’s awesome.’ Hangman has helped scope this entire story. There are so many chances for people.
“That’s our entire career. The moment we put our hair down and started doing what we wanted, it worked for us. So how can I tell other wrestlers they have to do it a certain way, even if it doesn’t feel right? That goes against everything I believe.”
Hitting episode No. 200 of Being the Elite is significant to the Bucks because it confirms their original belief. They knew that they had a product wrestling fans wanted, even if not everyone around them believed it.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
“I knew it was the next big step for our career,” says Nick. “I knew it would lead us to bigger things other than just wrestling. I said many years ago that we’d end up being bookers of Ring of Honor. I was wrong about that, but I was right about becoming bookers of a company. We owe it all to Being the Elite. It taught us how to book creative on a weekly basis, and going on four years now it definitely prepared us for what we do now.
“We have a loyal fan base and they’re a big reason why we ‘made it’ untraditionally. So we owe them a lot and that’s why we’ve kept doing the show going for so long.”
Reflecting back on their 200 episodes provides a snapshot of the Bucks’ journey, with Being the Elite a pivotal piece of their ascent from two backyard wrestlers into one of wrestling’s most recognizable tag teams.
“When I look back years from now, the show will represent such an important time in my life,” says Matt. “The time I got to travel the world with my baby brother and do the one thing we love the most. In the end, that’s really what this is. A show about two brothers, following their dreams. I’m so happy that it’s all documented for our children to later watch. Even with all of the d--- jokes from the first 50 episodes.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.