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Grappling with Mike Tyson’s role in AEW’s ‘Double or Nothing’

Mike Tyson’s past is difficult to reconcile.

There is an extremely hard and frustrating moral dilemma found all throughout our modern capitalist society. It happens when a company, writer, publisher, director, or actor has certain morals, says something, or does something that goes against our values. For example, the video game publisher Rockstar is often riddled with problems involving pushing their employees to work 60 hour weeks near a release date. There was the huge backlash against Blizzard for censoring someone calling for freedom for Hong Kong against the Chinese government.

Wrestling is no stranger to this. In fact, it seems to come up more in wrestling than a lot of other businesses. It can be hard to know how to respond to such issues and to what degree you respond. The king of all of wrestling, WWE, is by far the guiltiest.

The most infamous of WWE’s moral failings is their continued contract with Saudi Arabia. Taking millions of dollars from a brutal and repressive government in order to serve as propaganda is a huge issue. Other issues have also come up with the WWE from their continued association with Hulk Hogan, to releasing employees during a pandemic, to lack of medical help for the wrestlers.

WWE Crown Jewel
WWE Crown Jewel, aka ‘The Blood Money PPV’

However there was a non-WWE related issue which came up last week. On Saturday, AEW announced they are going to have Mike Tyson present the new TNT Championship belt at Double or Nothing.

AEW obviously needs to draw outsider attention. Tyson is a name that will do that. But, the truth is Tyson is not a good person to highlight and associate with your company. I don’t want to dwell too much on Tyson’s past as those excusing him will excuse him no matter what, but Tyson has a history of violence toward women such as rape, assaulting sex workers, and making EXTREMELY horrific comments.

AEW having Tyson appear is problematic. Inviting someone to your PPV in the capacity which AEW has is to put someone on a pedestal, it is to say “here is somebody worthy of respect.” And while Tyson has since recognized a few of his wrongs (which is commendable), he still ignores and/or denies a lot of his previous issues in life (such as his rape conviction).

I’ve been debating skipping this PPV. Putting forth a convicted rapist who refuses to admit he did anything wrong is honestly disgusting. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed most things AEW has done so far. There have been issues with the women’s division and some other iffy things choices with plot beats. Yet they have also worked to help unknown wrestlers break into the spotlight, they have worked to help people with sensory issues and autistic people enjoy their shows (a cause close to my heart), given a trans woman a key role in their promotion, and honestly, they have just put on good shows.

And perhaps that’s why this feels more frustrating than when WWE does something.

Grappling with Mike Tyson's role in AEW's 'Double or Nothing'
Is it just me or does he look a bit like Jeff Bezos? Or is it just because he’s another old rich guy?

WWE is a company that’s so big, such a juggernaut, it’s to the point of being cartoonishly evil (they are taking literally hundreds of millions of dollars from literal fascists). It feels like our current relationship with Jeff Bezos — despite how terrible Amazon is, our life revolves around it at this point. It’s hard to not use it. For wrestling fans, WWE is similar: it’s the biggest promotion out there, it’s hard to avoid it and other than simply quitting wrestling entirely, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

That’s not to say WWE gets a pass, simply that I perceive it as just a much larger systemic problem that I can have no impact on at all. The saying “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic” comes to mind here. It’s hard to perceive all of the faults of WWE and the faults of AEW as things that can be compared, even though it seems like they should be. AEW enlisting someone who assaults women for their PPV seems like a genuine blow to a product I like. WWE accepting millions from an oppressive regime that kills its political enemies seems like just another thing to throw on the pile.

And while I understand Tony Khan is a billionaire as well, AEW doesn’t really reach that same hopeless, unstoppable inertia of inevitability WWE does. AEW feels like they actually care about the fans and fan input. Sure, they might not be perfect (looking at you, women’s division) but it doesn’t feel like it is only a vehicle for making money and nothing else. AEW still feels like a promotion where everyone involved, including the ones in charge, still love wrestling.

AEW Double or Nothing feat. Mike Tyson
AEW Double or Nothing

So what should you do? Should you skip AEW’s Double or Nothing because of the Tyson appearance? I don’t know. I don’t know what I will do, honestly. I have to admit, I’m leaning toward watching it. I don’t want to support Tyson, and I don’t want to support AEW’s decision to bring Tyson on, but I don’t want to ignore what AEW has done that’s different from WWE and I especially don’t want to ignore those wrestlers I love (as well as those who help put it together) who rely on AEW during this time. And finally, as a wrestling fan I also want to, you know, watch wrestling. 

My call to action to everyone who is frustrated with the Tyson appearance, whatever you choose to do (whether you watch it or not), is simply write a firm but polite and respectful tweet, Facebook comment, or some other social media post to AEW. Let your voice be heard, even if you are still planning on watching the event on Saturday. It probably won’t change anything that will happen Saturday, but with enough people, it may at least be something they remember in the future.

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