As AEW hit the road again on July 7, an individual with a scowl and a tone largely reminiscent of a backward American conspiracy fan and surely a loyal supporter of Donald Trump presented himself to the crowd at the James L. Knight Center from Miami. His point is simple: He is a fervent nostalgic for territorial wrestling and cannot stand the wrestling offered by AEW, judging his talents in complete opposition to the standards of yesteryear.
The fans boo him copiously before Lance Archer comes to inflict his Blackout for form. What we thought was a few minutes to kill finally gave Tony Khan ideas. The gears naturally started over the weeks, leading to a rivalry with Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle.
Dan Lambert, passionate above all
First and foremost, Dan Lambert happens to be a lifelong wrestling fan. He often confided that he saw The Assassin (also known as the late Jody Hamilton) thrashing Sir Oliver Humperdink while his partner Ox Baker was forced to watch the beating, entangled in the ring ropes .
Now seduced by the world of wrestling, the very young Dan goes to ask his grandfather to bring him to attend many shows. Dan and his friends even have the chance to meet Gordon Solie who makes them do some menial tasks in exchange for free tickets. During his adolescence, Lambert manages to dig up Japanese wrestling tapes and is passionate about his rougher and sportier style, which we call shoot style.
Time passes, Dan Lambert has grown up. He developed a successful cruise line in South Florida, but his passion for wrestling and combat sports remained unfailing. Enlightenment comes when he gets his hands on tapes of the fledgling Pancrase Figthing Championship, founded by Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki, young NJPW hopefuls who turned to Yoshiaki Fujiwara’s PWFG as well as the UWF. by Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada. At the same time, Lambert met Marcus « Conan » Silveira at an MMA event and whose gym was ten minutes from where he lived in Miami.
Gradually, Dan Lambert made a name for himself in the then nascent MMA community, without entering a ring or an Octagon, but his passion spoke for him. At the same time, the UFC began to make itself known and Lambert, surrounded by Silveira as well as Ricardo Liborie, sixth dan in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, decided to found the American Top Team during the year 2001.
The formula of « boomer » until the caricature
One thing is certain: we take pleasure in hating Dan Lambert. He’s a jerk like we rarely do. Is it in real life? We will not allow ourselves to judge someone without knowing them, but this ease in embodying the character is quite incredible. The man is looking for the job. It’s this uncle, a little puffy, who comes to bellow that wrestling is nothing but quid, that the talents of today are princesses and that their fighters are from his American Top Team. A thought shared by many fans of MMA and other combat sports.
Given the reactions to his first appearance and to his surprise, Lambert was recalled by AEW. He accepts, stating later that between the promotion of Tony Khan and that of Vince McMahon, that of the second approaches his product in a « selfish » way while the first lets his talents express themselves. Lambert is not this first experience with wrestling: in 2017, he appeared alongside Bobby Lashley, then a member of the ATT, to fight Moose. A passage since relegated to oblivion.
The sauce takes and the founder of the American Top Team pushes his character which one will qualify as « boomer » to the excess, until the caricature. The crowd plays the game while on the microphone, with which he is comfortable, Lambert continues to drop a whole lot of nonsense to anger wrestling fans while promising that his fighters like Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arloswki, Jorge Misdaval or Paige Van Zant will come to fine AEW talents. The formula that wrestling “was better before” still works.
In this epic, Lambert takes on Scorpio Sky and Ethan Page, now known as the Men of the Year, having just served as cannon fodder for Darby Allin and Sting. The two men are former MMA fighters and black belts in taekwondo and karate, respectively. Despite everything and even if their promotion was sometimes risky, wanting to make these two killers, the idea was not really bad. It’s also a way to surround his MMA fighters with experienced guys who can guide them in the ring in the optics where they would participate in a wrestling match.
Playing with limits to entertain
So that the sauce can take with AEW fans, pitting Dan Lambert and his buddies against a thief like Chris Jericho was glaringly easy but turns out to be the best choice. Accompanied by his now crowd-favorite Inner Circle band, touching them is synonymous with a general bronca from the fans. Even beaten up several times, Jericho, Hager, Gueverra, Ortiz and Santana get up no matter what.
The key to this rivalry was first in the kayfabe. We have never had this thought that MMA fighters could dismantle a band of wrestlers without great difficulty. And then there was the tone of the promos, not always tasteful but fiercely effective with fans.
Listening to Lambert and Jericho exchanging countless punchlines over the weeks still held in suspense throughout a rivalry that was not so enticing on paper. It was necessary to use savvy to amuse the crowd. Making jokes about the supposed homosexuality between members of each clan was certainly not in the best taste for the public of 2021, but they caused a reaction and for men of the generation of Jericho or Lambert, that is all that account. The problem is that they are not unanimous behind the scenes if we are to believe certain rumors and that the AEW has in its roster several talents concerned, and sometimes the victim of homophobic comments from fans.
Paige VanZant has not escaped the ribaldness of Chris Jericho either, several times the target of the latter because of his publications intended for a major audience. When the fighter declares that she could “take the entire Inner Circle by itself”, it is certainly blessed bread for a Chris Jericho.
AEW knows this may be shocking, but this one seems to be testing its TV-14 (the television rating system) just as much as its crowd. At TNT it passes in any case, unlike the fact of taking out a cigar.
Wrestling and MMA, rivals but not too much
The rivalry has also revived an old tradition: that of moving athletes from MMA to wrestling. From the wrestling ring to the octagon or the reverse, it is a phenomenon that has become commonplace and initiated by athletes like Ken Shamrock or Dan Severn. After a first adventure in All Japan as well as in the South Atlantic, Shamrock had decided to embark on the martial arts before returning to the wrestling ring in 1997 in the WWE. As for Severn, he ventured into wrestling through the UWF-I, before winning the world heavyweight championship of an NWA in distress for four years.
Further still, the RINGS, founded by Akira Maeda. This one has long left a blur between the true and the false in his approach to wrestling, but the fact remains that the one who is considered as one of the precursors of shoot style brought in names like Volk Han, Andrei Kopylov, Kiyoshi Tamura, Mitsuya Nagai and Masayuki Naruse. After the organization closed in 2002, Nagai and Naruse notably pursued careers in more traditional wrestling. The year 2003 also saw the return of Minoru Suzuki to the wrestling rings after ten intense years of Pancrase.
More recently, names such as Matt Riddle or Tom Lawlor have caused a stir after a career in the Octagon. The most glaring being also Ronda Rousey, who despite only one year of career, made an impression. We also think of Brock Lesnar, who left his mark whether on a wrestling ring or in the octagon of the UFC. The GCW Bloodsport series also allows you to build a bridge between two opposing worlds, one often pejoratively presented as « chewed » while the other is the quintessence of courage and self-sacrifice where almost anything is possible. . But in the end, these two universes remain intimately linked.
So, even though athletes like Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski are still credible names within the UFC, this first venture into the world of wrestling surely must have given them a headache. We also lack what we call enforcers in wrestling, a practical role to mask the lack of charisma or just an inaptitude for the microphone. Paige VanZant, who easily stood out from the rest of the American Top Team was the only one to speak outside of Dan Lambert and has the skills and the savvy to appropriate the crowd as she wishes. If she gets tired of MMA or bare-knuckle boxing, the Bare Knuckle Boxing, wrestling will welcome her with open arms, especially if AEW decides to sign her. VanZant would certainly be a rookie of choice within a female roster still in skating mode.
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However, the transition does not always bode well for everyone. We think of Cain Velasquez, above all the victim of a dismal booking at WWE and then pushed towards the exit due to famous budget cuts. We also think of Brawl for All of WWE in the summer of 1998, during which it tried to mix the true and the false, the egos of each then did the necessary work for what would become one of the most disastrous episodes in history. of the Stamford company. Finally, we also think of the period of Inokiism where the NJPW was weighed down by the fad of its founder on the martial arts fighters, who came to discredit the entire locker room of the Japanese promotion in the process.
The AEW has above all succeeded in a bet that few fans had perceived with a good eye at the start of this whole storyline. What the hell would they do with a character from boomer completely in contradiction with the values of the promotion? Taken to its extreme, the second degree has gradually burst into the minds of many while providing a useful pedestal for fighters and wrestlers alike, and even for Tony Khan’s promotion. The latter was able to place his popular veteran Chris Jericho in a story that did not overshadow any other while guys like Sammy Guevera, as well as Santana & Ortiz were able to grow out of it over time, increasing their credibility along the way.
A time that is little reminiscent of the great hours of a Attitude Era impossible to replicate these days while delivering a fairly popular program with fans, Dan Lambert’s first steps in AEW proved once again that an unbreakable bond is forged between wrestling and MMA, with both doing in the art of the sensational.