A while back — long enough that I no longer feel guilty for writing too much wrestling content — I’d written up some thoughts about the potential that Cody Rhodes’ All Elite Wrestling had to disrupt the professional wrestling landscape.
Well, a few months into their debut, I’m ready to say this much: if they continue to listen and learn? AEW will change that landscape enough Vince McMahon should invest in new trousers.
If I can clarify upfront though: the WWE may suffer in their ratings, ticket sales, and merchandise movement as AEW continues to gradually cement their base in the industry… but it will remain the leader in profit, size, and scope due to it’s sheer volume of talent and foothold in the zeitgeist.
What AEW has done better than any other lesser company in the space (NWA, TNA / Impact Wrestling, New Japan, etc.) is to clearly present itself as an alternative to specifically counter the programming of the McMahon empire — and doing so similar in scope. This means in essence they are attempting to zig wherever Stamford zags. They’re targeting medium sized arenas, and being judicious in their talent’s schedules. The company is being run behind the scenes by working talent, and as such, it more apt to make decisions with said talent in mind. See also: NXT under the WWE umbrella — as run (for the most part) by Paul Leveque (aka the WWE’s Triple H). But put a pin in that.
Since debuting with their Dynamite television show on TNT, back on October 2nd, 2019, AEW has expertly translated the independent feeling of professional wrestling, backed by big money. To draw comparison, it is the equivalent of Get Out, or Paranormal Activity; where an independent voice is making all the creative decisions, but a larger entity’s resources allow for the end-product to reach the maximum number of potential customers. It’s a brilliant move that other companies have failed at — wholly because those in charge of the creative continued to subscribe to old school ideas without any humility to book more millennial talent and create storylines that appeal to the younger base that is moving away from the WWE’s continuously stagnating product.
But enough sweeping mansplaining, let’s get into the nitty gritty.
What makes AEW so exciting to follow at present, is the undercurrent of the new that is permeating the product from stem to stern. Dynamite as a weekly show is still finding it’s legs (which I’ll unpack momentarily), but the in-ring product feels fresh and new. The WWE’s stale style is being countered with each worked punch. The wrestlers are working to build individual stories in the ring — mixing crowd-heavy call-and-response highspots with amazing moves that McMahon’s talent are literally barred from executing. The matches feel different, and are wrestled by non-household names (unless your household is well-appointed in indie wrestling knowledge). What this creates instantly, is a curiosity. Because names like Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks — who do come with some recognizability — are being presented alongside Darby Allen, Private Party, and MJF… AEW is engaging a hungry base that is bored beyond belief at the WWE’s continual push of Brock Lesnar and the like.
AEW’s Le Champion Chris Jericho (who himself amazingly has maintained his original IP nom de plume) has reinvented himself again, and with this perhaps his final form, is at the top of his game. Knowing that from bell-to-bell, he isn’t the young Lionheart he used to be, he’s presenting his wisdom in wild ways. As the company’s first champion, he’s presenting old ideas (smarmy heel tactics, put-down comedy, building a stable of heaters to distract and fill holes) in new ways. Take for example, his recent post-match press conference (in and of itself a novel callback being represented perfectly) in which he took aim at his former employer. Jericho inundated that AEW is specifically listening to their fans and organically building their talent out from it. If the crowd is eating up a particular performer, Rhodes and company are taking that to the back to figure out how to play into it, subvert it, and profit from it. When they’ve done it right? It’s played in spades: with the liberated Jon Moxley (nay Dean Ambrose of WWE fame) one of the most talked-about wrestlers out of the mouths of all wrestling fans right now. Would he be in the same position back at Titan Towers? Hardly! He’d likely be feuding with Bobby Lashley for rights on who Lana gets to cheat with to a disapproving Rusev. But I digress.
All Elite isn’t perfect. Their women’s division is weak by comparison to their Stamford rivals. They continue to use YouTube to build storylines, but never transpose that content to their weekly TV show, leaving a large portion of the audience (me included) often not as engaged as we feel we might be if we got a bit more meat on the bones with budding rivalries. The rankings themselves are great in theory, but I’ve not personally seen specifically how they are being employed; leaving me often feeling like I’m still on the outside of a few inside jokes. And, if I’m being wholly honest? The amazing Kenny Omega has yet to personally woo me — save only for the Halloween episode where he dressed like an Anime character. And as much as I personally find Freshly Squeezed Orange Cassady to be hilarious… he, like about half a dozen others, hasn’t really been given a chance to shine in any angles, in spite of being over-like-rover.
I’d like to denote though: I could go on for another 10,000 words, easily, breaking down what little we’ve been presented across 2-3 special events and 6-7 weekly two-hour shows. That I’d be that engaged to do so is a testament to how special AEW is right now. I liken it to the progressive movement in politics; it’s opposing the industry at a systematic level, and winning by way of common-sense tactics built on top of truly amazing talent. In opposition to this, WWE’s NXT can’t compete; it’s literally performed weekly for 500 or less fans in a small studio area in Florida. And while Triple H’s league has better writing and characterization within the confines of the WWE Performance Center environment… he does not have the full weight of the books Cody Rhodes and the Jackson brothers currently command. As my personal favorite wrestler once said:
“Your arms are too short to box with God,” WWE. AEW is sitting on a powder keg of promise… and they control the dynamite now.