Jamin Pugh, better known to wrestling fans as Jay Briscoe, tragically passed away at 38 this past week. Pugh, along with his brother Mark, became one of wrestling’s most identifiable and impactful tag teams of the 21st century, The Briscoes.
After Pugh’s passing, however, controversy rose. All Elite Wrestling planned to run a tribute show for Briscoe on Dynamite, the pro wrestling company’s flagship show. But according to Dave Meltzer, WBD blocked the tribute show idea.
Meltzer, on his Wrestling Observer Live show, said (via Inside the Ropes) “There was a graphic at the start of the show (Dynamite) and at the very end of the show there was a mention by Excalibur. A lot of the guys had armbands, a lot of them, but there was not any kind of big tribute because they were not allowed by WarnerMedia (Warner Bros. Discovery) to do one.”
A tribute show for Pugh was put together after the taping of Wednesday’s AEW Dynamite. AEW President Tony Khan announced the show would be made available through Ring of Honor streaming service Honor Club and the ROH YouTube page.
Free for everyone means free, it will be free (not behind a paywall) on Honor Club, + we'll post the tribute show in entirety on ROH YouTube as well, also free to everyone, as tonight this crew will come together to shoot a special ROH event in honor of the late great Jay Briscoe
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) January 19, 2023
A decade ago or so, Pugh made woeful homophobic comments that followed him for the rest of his life. Several of those close to Pugh have noted he reformed.
It’s of course important to note: It’s not everyone’s apology to accept. At least not so matter-of-factly. Pugh’s comments were hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community and they, ultimately, are the voices everyone needs to listen to. WBD reportedly did not want the Briscoes on their programming due to those comments. WBD is certainly within its rights to withhold anyone they don’t want on its networks for its own reasons.
But several problems still remain, however. In speaking to a few in the wrestling business, those problems seemed apparent to them too.
“I was disappointed to hear that a tribute show in honor of Jay Briscoe had been denied,” said Gregory Hyde. Hyde, better known to his fans as ‘Stat Guy Greg,’ resides on ESPN’s Cheap Heat podcast series. “In wrestling,” Hyde continued, “there are certain time-honored traditions and a tribute show is standard. Regardless of his past comments, his death was a tragedy and he deserved a proper sendoff as someone who was clearly well-respected in the industry.”
“I honestly thought in the wake of this tragedy, that stance would soften,” Fightful.com’s Sean Ross Sapp said. Sapp, managing editor for Fightful and operator of the Fightful Select subscription service, reported last year that WBD “didn’t want the Briscoes on the air on their programming.” But prior to the idea getting binned, Sapp believed they’d soften their stance, “especially considering the outpouring of support he and the family received.”
Sapp also mentioned that he “asked WBD officially if the rumors of them rejecting ‘more’ were true,” but said he hadn’t heard back.
It’s important to circle back to Pugh’s contrition. Despite him reportedly righting wrongs and trying to change, WBD still blocked the Briscoes from any appearances. But Dana White, the UFC president, was captured on video putting his hands on his wife. Despite that, WBD has proceeded with Power Slap, a slap-fight league run by White. Seemingly, they have not inched off its coverage despite bombing in the ratings. Those hypocrisies didn’t go unnoticed.
“There’s an incredible amount of hypocrisy!” Sapp said. “I was pleasantly surprised that Power Slap didn’t do well because it’s a stupid idea to start with. Beyond that, the effective mascot of it was caught on film slapping his own wife weeks before. Considering the heartfelt apology and explanation Jay Briscoe had made a few years earlier, compared to how things were handled with and by Dana White, I couldn’t believe it.”
Sapp added he thinks the show will get canceled, but WBD will have “an egg on their face and come out looking doubly bad.”
Hyde agreed that there were hypocrisies with how the situations were handled. “Dana White’s Power Slap should not be on the air,” Hyde said. “Especially after the incident involving his wife on New Year’s Eve. I do think it’s hypocritical of WBD to quash a Jay Briscoe tribute show while also promoting the show while Dana White continues to face zero consequences for his actions.”
It doesn’t end there though with The Briscoes or Dana White. Pro wrestling author Bill Hanstock chided WBD for their hypocritical practices, both in and out of the world of wrestling.
“Jay has expressed continual regret and contrition for many years about his past comments,” Hanstock said. “You only have to do half a lap around LGBT wrestling Twitter to see that anyone who has worked with him the past several years will attest he has put in the work to become a better person and ally. It’s a shame that WBD has chosen to ignore this while still taking sponsorship money from companies like Chick-Fil-A, whose owner is helping bankroll anti-gay and anti-trans legislation, and airing Dana White’s Power Slap with Dana White front and center, following he and his wife striking each other on camera.”
Those issues, as Hanstock entailed, involve several already-contracted wrestlers in the company that have insidious marks of their own. He continued off those points.
“And any other number of issues, including being fine with AEW hiring wrestlers who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment. Just some semblance of consistency would make this Briscoe situation a little less insulting to fans, wrestlers, and Jamin Pugh’s family,” Hanstock said.
There are public allegations of such misbehavior from the wrestling community against wrestlers including Darby Allin, who is prominently featured often and is a multi-time champion. And Jay Lethal, brought in from Ring of Honor, was placed on television with no such brushback.
AEW’s decision to not go against the grain is something of a compromise. But it’s also much more an indication that they will have to keep doing as WBD says. The company is due a new TV rights deal soon amid constant changes at WBD. And right now securing a smart, satisfying deal is a huge priority.
“If WBD gives a hard no on something, it’s just the cost of doing business that AEW will have to acquiesce,” Hanstock said.
“I think as AEW proves its worth and its willingness to work with WBD, the latter should trust the judgment of AEW in certain circumstances,” Sapp suggested. However, as Sapp noted, the company had a couple of infamous slipups “where AEW got away with more slack than anyone expected — specifically the Nick Gage pizza cutter spot.” Gage used a pizza cutter during a match on Dynamite during a picture-in-picture ad for Domino’s, which got pushback from advertisers.
Hyde was a little less optimistic. “In the short time that they’ve been around, I don’t think they’ve done enough to increase their value,” Hyde said. “And WBD has been so ruthless in the last few months that it really feels as if bending over backwards to appease WBD’s bosses will do nothing to guarantee AEW’s safety.”
In all, WBD remains well within its rights to green light or withhold its entities however they choose. AEW’s decision to not bite the hand that feeds them is probably the right call. But for WBD, it’s yet another reminder that hypocrisies and selective punishment still remain everywhere.
Update: On Tuesday, Khan announced this week’s AEW Dynamite will feature a Jay Lethal-Mark Briscoe match paying tribute to Jay Briscoe:
Live on TBS
8pm ET/7pm CT
Wednesday Night #AEWDynamite
Mark Briscoe vs Jay Lethal
Requested by both men to celebrate the life + legacy of the late great
Jay Briscoe on his 39th birthday,
his longtime friend/rival Jay Lethal vs his brother Mark Briscoe pic.twitter.com/uzeQ0L4t5h
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) January 24, 2023