The Young Bucks are known for many things in the pro-wrestling world. Superkicks. Death-defying high areal moves. Winning championships (they’re 7-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tat Team Champions, 3-time Ring Of Honor champions, and the only team to win Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s DDT4 tournament three times). They Bucks – brothers Nick and Matt Jackson – are also known as the core of All Elite Wrestling, the first company “to take a swing at beginning to compete with the WWE on a major level in nearly two decades,” per CBS Sports. The Bucks are also known for one more thing: merch.
“Sky’s the limit with the merchandise,” says Matt Jackson, when talking EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife. “I am so open-minded with all of that. It really helps that my wife is in charge with all of that, so I can wake up in the middle of the night and elbow her and tell her, ‘Hey sweetie, I have this great idea for a t-shirt!’ And she will be so bothered by me.”
Matt’s wife – affectionately called “Mrs. Matt” on Being The Elite, the Bucks’ YouTube vlog series that helped lay the groundwork for All Elite Wrestling – also works with licensing, and Matt reveals one item he pitched her that fans have been dying for: ice cream bars. “I told her that I would love to have some type of AEW ice cream bar,” says Matt. “I remember fondly in the summer when the ice cream man would come, and I would get the Good Humor Hulk Hogan ice cream bar. I don’t know how much of a possibility it would be, but I put the idea out there, at least.”
One day, there may be an ice cream sandwich bearing the likeness of the Young Bucks, adding it to the long line of merch items: coffee mugs, phone cases, patches, neckties, flip-flops, high-top sneakers, women’s leggings, Funko Pop figures, a children’s book, an upcoming biography, and more t-shirts than you could imagine. “I don’t think we have ever said no to something,” says Nick, who has turned this seemingly open faucet of branding into a skit on Being The Elite. “Merchfreak,” a take on Chris Angel’s Mindfreak, sees Nick mimic the magician before rolling out a new product bearing the Bucks’ likeness. “We say yes to everything,” adds Matt with a laugh. “If it makes money, let’s do it.”
“I think we would have to say no to something like cigarettes or alcohol,” says Nick, disappointing anyone hoping for a Young Bucks-branded lager. “But we had shot glasses in [Ring Of Honor] at one point, and it didn’t even make sense,” says Matt. Nick and Matt have been described as “straight-edge sons of a minister,” and they have not shied away from their faith or temperance.
However, one of the biggest branding moments in AEW’s history came when Chris Jericho, upon winning the AEW World Heavyweight title, said he would celebrate the win with “a little bit of the bubbly.” The way that Jericho said those words went viral, resulting in him partnering with Nocking Point Wines to create his own Ultra-Premium American Sparkling Wine. The Bucks laugh when asked if they would want their own bubby. “Nonalcoholic bubbly,” says Matt. “Not sure how good that would be. A cider would be good.”
The Bucks had reason to pop corks on the (nonalcoholic) champagne. AEW recently celebrated its first anniversary. With COVID-19 preventing the company from touring or performing shows to large crowds, AEW celebrated its first anniversary in an empty Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Florida. Still, the significance of running a thriving wrestling promotion for a full year wasn’t lost on the Bucks.’
“Oh man, it feels just like yesterday that we were in DC, and the whole world was buzzing on what this whole show was going to look like and feel like,” says Matt. “Now, we are in a different world, but back then, when we were performing in front of at least 12,000 people, I don’t think I ever felt so nervous in my entire life.” Though Matt and Nick had more than 15 years of in-ring experience under their belts when AEW Dynamite first aired, being in charge of live TV was something completely new to them.
“Nick and I never really had experience with running a live television show or being on a live television show,” says Matt. “I mean, we had our run at Impact Wrestling about ten years ago and did a couple live television shows, but nothing like this. Nothing with this magnitude and with the entire world watching us. I think right out of the gate, when we did our first show and got it done, I felt so good. Once we got the first one in, now I was ready for it. And it is crazy that it has been a year, and now that we are in a different world.”
“We would have never imagined a year later that we would be in a global pandemic, and there would no longer be 12,000 people,” he continues, “but there would be 12 in the audience. It is really strange and not what I would have imagined. But, we have done as good as we possibly can and under these circumstances. We have kept a really great wrestling show, a great episodic show every week with great interesting storylines.”
When AEW first began, Matt said that he and his brother wanted to craft the “best tag team division in the world.” Often, singles competitors and their championships take the bulk of the spotlight, with tag teams getting little to none of the fanfare. It’s hard to argue a better division than AEW’s. With teams like The Lucha Bros., FTR, Private Party, Jurassic Express, The Butcher and The Blade, Hybrid2, and The Dark Order, tag team wrestling is alive and well in AEW.
“We have now displayed, for a year now on TV, what tag team wrestling could look like,” says Matt. “I think tag team wrestling is one of the main things that AEW has, and that is in a large part of the amazing talented wrestlers that we have. I am just really happy. I am sure that things could be better — I think everyone could say that with the way things — but I am happy what we have made of the situation.”
“I would say, for our young talent, it is actually helping them get better in the ring,” says Nick, when asked if there’s been a silver lining to these empty stadium episodes of Dynamite. “The nerves aren’t there as much. If there is a sold-out crowd of six to ten thousand people, these younger wrestlers get scared and nervous, and naturally so. But in front of relatively no one, it feels like training, it feels like they are back at wrestling school. They have been able to try different things, new things, and get comfortable in the ring. So that has been the biggest positive in what is going on right now.”
Matt pointed out that some of AEW’s highlights of 2020 have been in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. “You got to remember that without this pandemic, there may have never been a Stadium Stampede match,” he says. “There may have never been that crazy tag team brawl match that we had with Butcher and The Blade. We really have had to think outside the box.”
— Young Bucks® (@youngbucks) February 24, 2020
“One big thing that was said, if we are going to do this in front of nobody, let’s do things we have always wanted to do but wouldn’t have worked as well if there were people out there,” continues Matt. The COVID-19 has given rise to the modern “cinematic match.” Pre-taped matches and segments existed long before 2020. Fans will remember 1999’s “Halftime Heat” between Mick “Mankind” Foley and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and TNA’s “Final Deletion,” Matt Hardy’s genre-bending opus that saw him take on brother Jeff Hardy in 2016. The WWE revisited the “cinematic match” during its WrestleMania weekend, putting Bray Wyatt in a metaphysical (and purely meta) “Firefly Funhouse” match, while The Undertaker faced AJ Styles in a horror-themed “Boneyard Match.”
While these matches allow for wrestlers to play around with cinematic elements, they don’t always make for a good live experience. It usually results in those “six to ten thousand fans,” watching a giant screen for ten to twenty minutes, detracting from the live wrestling experience. However, with no audience allowed for their tapings, the Bucks decided to improvise – and capitalize.’
“We always wanted to do this weird stuff,” says Matt. “So, we went home and shot this match called BTE 200, almost like a pilot to show Tony [Khan, president, founder and CEO of AEW] to say, ‘Hey, this is our vision of what we can do in a cinematic match.’ Once he saw that, we pitched the Stadium Stampede match. [BTE 200] helped the cause, got the ball rolling, and convinced him for us to do it. You just have to think outside the box and do things differently and without fans.” However, Matt also admits – with a laugh — that he thinks they “really stretched that as far as we can.”
Had the COVID-19 pandemic not gone down, would AEW look any different than how it does today? “Man, it is tough to say because a lot of that we have planned for the future is what we are currently doing,” says Nick. “Somethings did change. Obviously, the Blood And Guts steel cage match never happened. And we spent a lot of money building that structure. [laughs] But the good thing about it is that at least we now have it. So, we can pull the trigger on that at any time.”
“I feel like we are saving that for fans,” continues Nick. “I think that is the biggest reason we haven’t done it. That is the biggest thing that changed, not having that match. Because if you look at it, the buildup to it was so strong, our ratings were going up, and it was looking we were going to above a million [viewers] for that show. We probably would have, but we can’t control what is going on around the world. I think that was probably the biggest change, not doing that cage match.”
The AEW Anniversary show averaged 826,000 viewers during its two-hour broadcast on TNT, per Cageside Seats. AEW has broken the one-million mark once over the past year and has kept viewer numbers in the 750-900k range over the past few months. As Dynamite continues in its second year, what could new fans expect when tuning in to TNT at 8pm EST every Wednesday?
“If I was a first-time viewer and I saw the Lucha Bros. come out, I would go, ‘Oh my God, who are these guys?’” says Matt. “ ’Are these guys superheroes?’ Or if I saw Orange Cassidy and him doing his act and being different, I would at least be curious. There are so many interesting people on our roster that are captivating and interesting. It would be hard to imagine with a fresh set of eyes what would capture my attention, but when I was a kid watching [WCW] Monday Nitro and watching Rey Mysterio flying around the ring really captivated me. So maybe Rey Fenix would be it for me where my mind would be blown.”
“I would add guys like Darby Allin as well,” adds Nick. “All the young guys we have are so talented, and it is crazy to think how much of a loaded roster we have here.”
AEW Dynamite airs on TNT on Wednesdays at 8pm EST.