On a recent episode of the AEW Unrestricted podcast, Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler of FTR came on and discussed their goals and passions for tag team wrestling. They noted that there was some apprehension to them being in AEW due to the idea of them coming in and changing the culture of AEW. Harwood explained why that is not the case and that their only goal is to establish the rules and produce creativity in matches.
“A lot of the guys that we’re working with now, I think there’s some of them that still have a little bit of apprehension towards us because I think that they think, ‘oh, here’s these old WWE guys coming in. They’re gonna try to change the culture,’ and that’s not the case at all,” Harwood said. “The gimmick is FTR follows the rules, and it is part of our gimmick. But in real life, we believe that.
“We really do believe that because a lot of guys think it’s creative to get four guys in the ring, or six guys in the ring, or eight guys in the ring and do a whole bunch of stuff, and they think that’s the creative part. But to us, the creative part is having boundaries, and having rules, and working within those rules so the fans can follow it.
“If LeBron James steps out of bounds, the whistle blew because he stepped out of bounds. Same thing with us. If we didn’t hold the tag rope and make a tag, Aubrey Edwards steps in and says, ‘no’. And people can say, ‘oh, that’s because of this’. It’s just part of the storytelling aspect for us.”
Wheeler continued saying that it’s up to everyone to play their rules. He said it’s not just about them and that everyone has a job to play, and if someone isn’t playing their role, then no one is successful.
“We need everybody to play their role. People think it’s creative to get four guys involved without it making sense, but it’s not,” Wheeler agreed. “The creativity is making it make sense or finding ways around the rules with the distraction with the referee. It’s not just about us and it’s not just about us getting our stuff in; we have a whole group of people out there that have a job to do, and it’s our job and our responsibility to make sure that they can do theirs effectively. We got to give you (Aubrey Edwards) authority.
“We’ve got to make sure people respect to the referee, because if it’s UFC, if you touch a referee or you disrespect the referee, then you pay for it. We have Tony who has to tell our story for us, and if we’re making his job impossible to do, then it’s not going to come across well and nobody’s gonna be able to follow it. So we have to do our part, so you can do your part, so he can do his part. It’s a group effort, and if we’re just for ourselves, then nobody wins.”
Harwood acknowledged that fans are savvy to pro wrestling today, and he understands that fans will never hate them for being heels. However, he said that their goal is try to make fans care about the babyfaces they’re going up against so that fans get lost in a match.
“The fans today, they are smart. They’re never gonna hate us as heels, but we can make them feel a certain way and get lost in the movie, get lost in the portrait we’re trying to paint, and make them care so much about these babyfaces, feel a certain way about these babyfaces. And they want to see these babyfaces beat us,” Harwood explained. “That’s where the money is – the babyfaces beating us.
“If we can get the fans to say, ‘why did they have to do that? Or, ‘they don’t have to do that’, and they care so much, and even subconsciously, care so much about these babyfaces. And they want to see them beat us because they care about it.”
Harwood explained that their job as heels is to break the rules without the ref seeing it. He points out that if the ref sees them cheat, then there is no heel heat on them and the attention of the match is lost.
“If we cheat in front of the referee, if Aubrey sees us cheat, the heat’s not on us. The heat’s on the referee,” Wheeler pointed out. “They’re not doing a good job. It’s all null and void. We don’t get the heat that we should be getting for breaking the rules. The referee gets heat for not doing their jobs correctly and the babyfaces get nothing out of it. The attention is drawn away from them now, and everything is directed to the referee. So if you’re going to do it, do it right so everybody comes out looking better than before.”
Harwood recalled learning about ring psychology just from watching wrestling and writing in a notebook he carried. He said that Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog at SummerSlam was the match that helped him learn about in-ring psychology.
“I would watch things, and sometimes, I had this notebook and I’d write things down, because in North Carolina, even in 2010, we would get made fun of by Ricky Morton, or by Bobby Eaton, or Dennis Condrey, or George South. We’d get made fun of if they saw us calling our match in the back,” Harwood recalled. “So, I always had a notebook, and I would watch [Ric] Flair and [Ricky] Steamboat.
“They would tackle, drop-down, leap frog, baseball slide, take off, body slam, kick off, arm drag, and I would write that spot down and I would think to myself, ‘how can I call that in a match in the ring?’ And then I would look through them, and I’d say– I think it was honestly the first time I got psychology and understood what it was.
“I was watching Bret vs. Bulldog from SummerSlam ’92 for the 100th time, and the first time Bulldog gave Brett a crucifix pin, one, two, kick out, and then gave him and arm drag and a hold, then through the heat, he started to come up a little bit. He took off. Brett went for the clothesline. Bulldog crooked him for the crucifix again, and Brett dropped him with a Samoan drop. The light went off in my head, and I was like, ‘that’s the simple form. That’s wrestling psychology,’ and that’s kind of where I got it.”
Wheeler gave a theory as to why wrestling is different today compared to now, explaining that there were no guaranteed contracts back then. He said that wrestlers had to attract a crowd to shows in order to make money, which is why they focused so heavily on in-ring psychology.
“I figured one of the things that made it so different then as opposed to now is that there were no guaranteed contracts,” Wheeler noted. “So if you weren’t doing your job correctly, and the fans weren’t buying into what you were selling, and there weren’t butts in seats, then you didn’t get paid. You got paid off the house, and if you guys were doing something right and the story was hot, fans were paying to come see you.
“And if you were doing something piss-poor, the fans weren’t going to come by, and that was affecting your bottom dollar. So, I think these guys figured out how to make the fans care about the babyfaces, hate the heels, respect the authorities, and that was what made the business what it was at that time.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit AEW Unrestricted with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.