In March 2001, the North American wrestling scene was reeling with the subtraction of two national outfits and the prospect of one dominant promotion lapping the also-rans. While WCW was preparing to take down its ring one final time, the Jackson family was assembling theirs in a backyard for the first.
The Kids Backyard Wrestling Association (later the Backyard Wrestling Association) was the closest the two aspiring pro wrestlers had to Little League: assembling kids from around the area in Rancho Cucamonga, California; taking inspiration from the larger-than-life characters they’d see on TV and transforming themselves into the likes of “Mr. BYWA” and “Slick Nick”.
The story of the Jacksons and their ascent within the industry reads like fiction because of the many improbable circumstances that brought the two to national television. However, Killing the Business: From Backyards to the Big Leagues is a very honest and revealing look at a not-so-glamorous life the two led as they climbed the ladder of pro wrestling status.
The book – written by the two on their iPhones – chronicles an era of pro wrestling that set the scene for today’s structure: the existence of a viable number two promotion in North America, a thriving (pre-pandemic) independent scene, and a New Japan Pro Wrestling that has taken several steps back in their U.S. expansion.
It has always been my belief that the best professional wrestlers are the ones who are motivated by a never-ending quest to prove doubters wrong. It was evident with Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, CM Punk, and others who at some point felt passed over in their careers. But when one succeeds with that burden, a confidence develops, enforcing a belief in their own ability that demonstrates they were right about themselves.
The Bucks are prime examples of two people who were struggling to earn a living while playing by the norms that preceded them. Only when a breaking point was hit did the two decide to throw out the rules and instead, embrace and exaggerate every criticism made of them. Instead of fighting the tide, they dove at it headfirst with the risk of either being swept up and drowning or riding the wave.
Though it remains a taboo in the industry to disclose what you earn, the Bucks do not shy away from painting a picture of near-poverty struggle as they disclose the payoffs and contracts they received while performing for major wrestling promotions in their past. At a moment in the business where the talk of unionization, collective bargaining, and the veracity of independent contractor labels are being raised, it has been the structure of the industry’s deep code of silence among such disclosures that has persevered this impenetrable force of keeping the outside world from its inner dealings.
The first major break of their careers came from being booked by PWG in 2007, which subsequently opened the international doors to Dragon Gate through contact with CIMA and Satoshi Oji. Born out of the remnants of Toryumon, the influence and path forged by this group cannot be understated. Without Dragon Gate, one questions how the Bucks would have evolved and if that experience could have been replicated elsewhere.
While the status of international touring with steady U.S. work may represent success to some, the two were merely earning $100 per match in Japan for five weeks on their inaugural tour in 2008. A year later, a bidding battle for the Bucks between Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA was decided over a difference of $25 in match pay, with ROH presenting the stronger offer in the form of (wait for it) $100 per match with travel expenses covered.
Although Ring of Honor had U.S. television on HDNet, a pivot to TNA provided greater national television exposure on Spike TV and the chance to share a locker room with industry pillars of the past decade. Though the move renewed hopes that the Bucks would finally be able to shed their “starving artist” title, TNA’s going rate of $300 per appearance for three years, with no travel or hotel accommodations covered, and no guarantees attached to the number of dates they could bank on, quickly dampened those dreams.
The Bucks made their first TNA appearance in January 2010 on an episode of Xplosion, the day after its infamous three-hour Monday night experiment centered around Hulk Hogan’s arrival. As the promotion entered its own transitional phase, the re-branded Max and Jeremy Buck (“Generation Me”) were immediately lost in the shuffle.
In the aftermath of their TNA run, a set of comments by Rob Van Dam and Booker T catapulted The Young Bucks’ reputation as a team that didn’t show proper respect for industry veterans. Though they denied this as the case, the team suddenly realized that the rumour sparked a charge from the audience. Rather than put out the fire, they opted to fan the flames as a last-ditch effort to carve out their place in the sandbox of professional wrestling.
This was the start of Young Bucks 2.0, a team who no longer apologized or asked for approval; a team who understood that wrestling’s success stories are found in those that treat them philosophically, rather than strict formulas.
Traction for the change became evident as the audience saw the two hustling around the country with a thriving merchandise business that began to open the doors for creative ways to supplement their income. In the book, there is a story about how they launched their online merchandise store with a financial boost from former ROH owner Cary Silkin that illustrated why Silkin is held in such esteem by those that worked for him.
If there is a “parting of the seas” moment for the two, it would be October 2013 and their entry into New Japan Pro Wrestling and The Bullet Club. Through a connection with a Young Lion on excursion to TNA, a bond had been formed between the duo of Matt & Nick and the man that would be the centerpiece of New Japan for the decade ahead in Kazuchika Okada.
With the surge in popularity for the Bullet Club brand, The Young Bucks were now armed with influence and leverage as the glue of New Japan’s junior heavyweight tag division. More importantly, they held the keys to its U.S. expansion.
Through a working deal with ROH, the Bucks would share their time between the two companies while continuing to make good money in merchandising, demonstrating an unprecedented understanding of the economics of independent wrestling and the fan experiences they provided.
A turning point occurred in January 2016 as Bullet Club members A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows departed NJPW for WWE with native star Shinsuke Nakamura. With Styles out, Kenny Omega assumed the throne as the heavyweight kingpin of the group, setting into motion the dawn of The Elite. This was a pivotal era for the team as they ascended from independent sensations to industry influencers.
While the Bucks were continuing their regular trips to Japan, it was in the U.S. where their impact was most felt. Burgeoning marketing concepts, flooding their audience with new merchandise, the launch of a breaking-the-fourth-wall online series Being the Elite, and the possession of an anti-establishment tone against WWE led to the needle moving upward for their U.S. home in Ring of Honor. It was the currency required to dictate their terms with the ability to rest on numbers and statistics that backed up their claims.
During WrestleMania weekend in 2017, the brothers helped ROH attract 3,500 fans for its Supercard of Honor event as The Young Bucks faced The Hardys in a dream ladder match on the eve of the latter’s return to WWE. One year later, the strength of the group proved effective once again as Being the Elite served as the prime promotional vehicle for a heavily hyped showdown between Kenny Omega and Cody that set a new attendance record for ROH in 2018.
While the iron was hot, the group mobilized their fan base for one of the most unique shows in modern history, booking the Sears Centre in Illinois and selling it out instantly for All In in September 2018. Quietly assisted by the help of Ring of Honor (who held U.S. contractual rights for several of the key players), the show was the blueprint for the yet-to-be-announced All Elite Wrestling.
The show’s success coincided with the timing of several notable wrestlers’ contracts coming due: The Young Bucks, Cody, Hangman Page, Kenny Omega in New Japan, and SCU, combined with free agent Chris Jericho continuing his role as a change agent in the industry following a successful foray into NJPW.
In the book, the Bucks are candid about their dealings with ROH and WWE during this period. From a monetary standpoint, WWE provided an obvious choice with continually escalating offers that even included an out clause if they were unhappy after three months of employment. With ROH, the renewal offers were described as “modest” but lacking in the creative control that the pair felt 2018 was a successful audition for, given their ability to draw fans through their video series.
The story of an out-of-left-field offer from the son of a billionaire is well documented. Laying the foundation prior to All In, Tony Khan’s promises of a fantasy work environment seemed too good to be true, yet The Bucks listened.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve as the wrestling world was presented with its own version of The Decision. At midnight Pacific Time, the creation of All Elite Wrestling was announced along with the promise of a follow-up PPV to All In with Double or Nothing in May 2019.
It was fitting that the video announcement featured the Tokyo Dome in its backdrop, as the lingering shadow of New Japan continues to persist one year removed from AEW’s launch. Bitter feelings from the separation were compounded when New Japan removed The Elite from New Year Dash the night after Wrestle Kingdom 13. Kenny Omega, who had time left on his deal, never wrestled another match for the promotion after losing the IWGP heavyweight title to Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Dome.
The release of Killing the Business comes at a unique time when the legacy of The Young Bucks continues to be written. At 35 and 31 respectively, Matt and Nick’s long-term impact on the business will be proven in the next several years. As we stand in 2020, the title of the book may be its only misnomer. In many ways, the decisions The Young Bucks have made, the risks they’ve taken, their scope of talent recruitment, and their ability to adjust preconceived notions of the industry have only contributed to the revitalization of the business, not its death.
Killing the Business: From Backyards to the Big Leagues is available now where books are sold through Dey Street Books.