Digital feuds are dull embarrassments. Save one. One feud, which has unfolded almost entirely in the space of 280-character posts and podcast rants, stands above every half-hearted diss tweeted between performers that carpool together. That’s the perpetual alleyway knife-fight between Jim Cornette and Joey Ryan.
A quick summary, for those of you that spend more time on matches than message boards: Jim Cornette is a booker, manager, and historian of the medium, primarily known for managing the Midnight Express and the virtuoso use of profanity. Joey Ryan is an independent wrestling star, body oil-slick alumni of the dearly departed Lucha Underground, trailblazer of scatological wrestling comedy, and the first Google result for “d*ck flip.” The former views the latter as an affront to wrestling’s dignity and prospects for popular success. The latter views the former as a reactionary dinosaur.
Like many great feuds, the Ryan/Cornette war has layers. On the higher register, there’s a legitimate debate on the balance between verisimilitude and creative absurdity. The dispute has shades of the gamist/simulationist argument that’s defined tabletop game design since I was a teenager. There are moments when Jim Cornette’s calls for performers and promoters to maintain high standards resonate with me. At the same time, Joey Ryan’s Penis Party is some of the most fun I’ve had at a live wrestling event.
On the lower register, there’s the sheer variety of insults and approaches the two have tapped into. Joey Ryan’s called Cornette a homophobe, joyfully reproduced footage of Cornette exposing himself, and stapled Cornette’s photo to Joey Janella’s forehead. Jim Cornette’s called Ryan every possible variant of “outlaw mudshow wrestler” (alongside other unprintable insults), needled Ryan across innumerable podcasts and tweets, and publicly celebrated Ryan’s loss of potential business connections. From where I’m sitting, it’s strange that no one’s gotten punched yet.
Forget, for the moment, who you intuitively agree with. Right or wrong, both men are in one of the longest running and most visible feuds in pro wrestling today. That tension’s exploitable in any format, particularly one in which the lines between reality and performance trend between thin and nonexistent. Which makes every month without a match between them a waste. For all the benefits Twitter offers promotions, it’s usually hard to attain real engagement with a feud. Which makes the dedicated audience drawn to the Cornette/Ryan outbursts a unique opportunity. Why not let the story reach its natural conclusion?
There are a few natural questions. The most obvious being: what gives me the right to give anyone involved advice? I’m part of a long tradition of self-importance. Backseat driving is one of the few surviving privileges afforded to writers. While people still read novels, or at least use them as colorful decorations, our main contemporary role is telling people with real influence how to live their lives. I think there’s a chance to entertain the masses, bury an old hatchet, and profit. While both parties have shown some resistance to making peace (Cornette has a wonderful Garth Ennis-tier quote about forgiving Kenny Omega when he “drops dead” or “blows [him]”), they’ve also demonstrated comfort with making large sums of money.
Then there’s the question of Cornette’s age and limited in-ring experience. I’m not calling for a twenty-five minute spotfest, especially given Jim Cornette’s public disdain for that species of match. The ideal Cornette/Ryan match is closer to the prop-heavy and plot-driven spectacle that Okada and Gedo provided at Korakuen Hall in 2018, during NJPW’s Road to Tokyo Dome. Said match exploited the tension between Okada and his former manager by having Gedo pull out every non-wrestling trick in the Southern heel playbook. An energy that Jim Cornette, given his background and strain of charisma, is more than capable of channeling.
Where to do it? I say dealer’s choice. Cornette has more than enough sway at MLW to get them to commit to a one-off. Alternatively, Joey Ryan could have a built-in main event for the next Penis Party. It comes down to who wants the free boost to ticket sales more.
Finally: why, beyond money, should they do it? For Jim Cornette, I’d suggest spite. If there’s one human being he hates more than Joey Ryan, it’s Vince Russo. Staying fit to pee on someone’s grave is a few steps beyond Twitter chatter. Vince Russo prided himself on building stories with worked shoots. Jim could, in one match, outclass Russo’s entire back catalog in less than fifteen minutes.
To Joey Ryan, I’ll make a simpler pitch: This is a chance to show the critic that’s needled him since Impact that he can go. Live proof his strain of humor can get over and stay over. That’s the kind of creative vindication that normally comes with a golden statuette. Give it some thought.