“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #059: How AEW has the WWE in a Rest Hold

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, my adoring public. But rest assured, I’ve been knee deep in content saturation; trying to find a specific hook to yammer on about on my little home on the interwebs. Well, since it’s been long enough since my last wrestling run-down, I felt it was time to return to the squared circle and once again wax poetic on the virtues of Cody Rhodes and company. Let’s do the thing:

The win/loss record makes inconsequential matches actually matter

When AEW gets into their mid-card, their simple system of tracking wins and losses (and soft resetting at year end) means every match has a purpose. By telling us presently-not-on-the-top-five Jungle Boy is facing off with 5th ranked Superbad Kip Sabian, even without a lengthy backstory, the match suddenly matters. A win over Sabian might mean Jungle Boy gets on the ranking board. But if Kip nips Jungle Boy in the bud, he’ll hold more wins than #4 on the chart, and suddenly his stock is skyrocketing. This makes every match have ramifications. It forces us, the viewers, to think of the predetermined contests as holding a narrative built around the sport between the ropes. This suspension of belief is what pro-wrestling used to be rooted in.

Meanwhile in the WWE, mid-card stories are born and die week to week without warning. Take Erik Rowan (please). The ginger giant broke off from Daniel Bryan, and cut a promo about his superiority. The next week? He was carrying around a small animal cage, covered in burlap. Jobber after jobber would find some way to look under the cover, only to be mauled by Rowan for the attempt. Where is all this going? It’s been weeks, and we still have no clue. Add in any number of similarly random storylines that get forgotten midway (Mojo Rawley’s serious run with the 24/7 Championship, Apollo Crews serious desire to stop smiling, Dolph Ziggler having literally any point to his character…) and you wind up with two rosters worth of wastes of time and energy.

The storylines prove less Is more.

Cody Rhodes versus Maxwell Jacob Friedman is a complete throwback of a concept. MJF — known real life friend of babyface Cody Rhodes — is asked to be Rhodes’ cornerman when Cody had a chance to win the AEW Heavyweight Championship. Because MJF is a dickbag, he throws in the towel stopping the championship match (and admittedly, Cody was beaten). The friends stood together, Cody with tears in his eyes begging to know why the white flag was flown. MJF, through tears of his own defends his choice… all before dropping the theatrics, and dropping Rhodes with a thunderous trip to dick-kick-city.

Cody, for obvious reasons, wants revenge. But the 23-year-old old-school heel won’t acquiesce easily. He laid out a series of obstacles to accepting his comeuppance, and ever since, we’ve been enjoying the passion of the Cody — including restraining orders and lashings, with a cage match with MJF’s heavy still forthcoming. We, as the audience, know where the story is headed, but the journey to get there is as good as any storyline presented by the WWE, without the need for heavily over-produced segments, bad acting, and repeating confrontation half a dozen times before the inevitable 3 pay-per-view series. This leads me the next point perfectly.

Never the same match twice, without change.

I’ll actually start with the WWE gripe first on this one. The writer’s room of Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment complex have the inability to put two wrestlers in a feud without forcing them to fight two dozen times before calling it a day. Every permutation of an angle are exhausted week to week, and we, the paying public, are forced to consume the same spots, the same story beats, and the same resolutions multiple times before things change. To date, I’ve seen Rusev fight Bobby Lashley no fewer than seventeen times, and in spite of them both holding multiple wins over one another — with Rusev actually holding the final one —Lashley is being given more screen time and advancement. Pair this to the four month long feud between Baron Corbin and Roman Reigns over… I kid you not… dog food, and you have WWE in a nutshell.

Meanwhile, AEW employs the antithesis to this booking strategy. Rivals face out week one, and may not see one another for over a month, to pick up the storyline. This allows those involved to develop. Perhaps they go on a losing streak, and suddenly they find themselves opposite the ring from that coveted opponent. Instant story to tell in the ring! Changing dance partners week-to-week keeps the stew spicy. It allows us to see the depth of each performer as they adapt to new styles, and spots. While it makes for some sloppy matches from time to time, I’d happily watch a match with a blown spot or two, versus the literal 8th repeat of the same-damn-performance.