As a wrestling fan I’m always at least somewhat interested when a promotion comes along that promises to give us something new and exciting, and that’s exactly what All Elite Wrestling did in January of 2019. AEW is the brainchild of entrepreneur Tony Kahn and wrestler Cody Rhodes, a new company that immediately set its sights on being a leading competitor to the stranglehold that WWE currently holds on the industry. The promotion promised a return to quality in ring action that highlighted younger and underutilized stars, which is something that has been sorely lacking in the opposition’s current product for quite some time, and I’m talking like the better part of a decade or two.
Within the first few months of its inception, AEW was already putting out solid pay-per-views, along with soon securing itself a weekly primetime television slot on TNT, marking the first time wrestling has appeared on that network since WCW folded in 2001. The promotion will shortly be celebrating its two-year anniversary come January and it currently shows no signs of slowing down in its push to be the best, even in the middle of the current pandemic sweeping the world. And while AEW has a passionate fanbase all its own, it does still have its share of detractors, too, so I thought it might be interesting to discuss what all the praise and complaining were about. If you’re an AEW or wrestling fan read on and see if you agree with my take on the company so far, and if you don’t, then please be gentle and avoid hitting me in the face. It’s how I make my money.
Where AEW Shines
Indy Talent and Overlooked Performers
Ah, indy talent, the up and comers that are hungrier than starving fat cats at 5am demanding their food bowls be replenished. For the most part, AEW has really come through on this and given indy guys and overlooked workers a place to shine, which can often be very difficult for either to do, especially on a mainstream stage. Guys like Brian Pillman Jr. and a handful of others have recently been put on full display on AEW Dark, and Cody’s open challenges on Wednesday nights has put the spotlight of some great prospects. Frustrated workers that have been passed over elsewhere have also been given new lease on their careers, with guys like Jon Moxley, Shawn Spears, and particularly FTR seizing the opportunity they’ve been given, or should I say earned. It all adds up to a strong group with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove, and they’re ready to show everyone what they can do.
Let’s face it, tag team wrestling can swing one of two ways really quick, and that’s completely awesome or absurdly goofy and bad. AEW has fully embraced the legitimacy of a strong tag team division, and its friggin stacked and is probably the strongest facet of their programming right now. The young bucks kicked it off and were quickly joined by outstanding teams like the Lucha Brothers, Private Party, and Jurassic Express, and let’s not forget the aforementioned FTR or the Butcher and the Blade, who both harken back to an old school, hit you in the mouth style. The tag teams are absolutely killing it for the most part, and with completely different flavors from every team, they might be my favorite thing to watch when I tune in on Wednesdays.
By and large, AEW is really a company that has listened to its fan response, as opposed to force feeding them the same played out scenarios that have just been rehashes of things from five years ago. They push and embrace the talent the audience is responding to, and organic growth of a character that people can get behind is never a bad thing in the wrestling business, unless you’re from Connecticut. Their live shows are also a total treat to attend, as the talent makes sure to engage the crowd instead of following a play by play script that totally blows in the first place. I went to one just before the madness shut everything down and it was a three-and-a-half-hour blast, and that was just for an episode of Dynamite. It was the best show I’ve been to in years, and I so want to go to another.
What I like is that AEW always seems to be striving to do better and bring the audience more, and that’s a great jumping on point for new fans and older ones looking for an alternative. But that’s not to say they don’t have their share of problems, though, as there’s always room for improvement in some areas, which I’ll get to right now.
The Weak points
Yes, I said that indy guys are an asset to AEW, but they can also be the worst double-edged sword you’re ever gonna get. Some guys are set for a breakthrough in a big way, while some aren’t, and its painfully obvious when they’re put on camera and their skill set just isn’t there yet. On a recent episode of Dark they featured a guy named Michael Stevens, and honestly, he was just horrible. I found him awkward, sloppy, and unpolished as all hell, and against someone as crisp as Kip Sabian can be, he was just amateurish. And god help me but I so wanted to like Warhorse, as I think the gimmick could be something really good if focused in the right way. But Cody obviously carried him through that match, as his move-set and sense of timing just were there yet. If AEW wants to be taken seriously they have to really re-evaluate who they’re giving TV time to, otherwise it only comes off as a glorified high school gymnasium show, and no one wants that on primetime television.
Oh boy, this has been a big one. I think the talent really needs to back off doing so many highspots and start working more psychology into their matches for a believable pace. They fly, they flip, they diving body press nearly every other move, and then two seconds later, they pop up and repeat it all again. They need to sell the big moves as being truly destructive instead of just spot after spot to set up yet another spot, because otherwise it just comes off as nothing more than a camouflaged choreographed gymnastics routine. I much prefer a match that builds as it progresses rather than starting a mile a minute all the time because then I can get invested in it, rather than watching something with no flow or reason.
I’ll be the first to say that I don’t necessarily hate the women’s but at the same time I don’t really enjoy it either. The matches just come off as meh, which makes them seem like just filler between things that are pushed as being more important. Hikaru Shida as done an admirable enough job as their champion but she desperately needs a badass heel that feels threatening to go up against. This is a tough one because I know the pandemic has shut out a lot of the Japanese talent they were planning on using as the corner stone of the division, so I guess it’s a wait and see thing for now. And no, Tessa Blanchard is not the answer, a locker room that has gelled so well doesn’t need that kind of negativity injected into it.
This is where one of the biggest disappointments in AEW has come from so far, and that’s the way Kenny Omega had been handled. For the most part he’s taken a backseat in a company that he holds a stake in to help elevate newer talent, and that’s fine but the matches he has had have just been lackluster. I long to see the Big Bout Machine that tore ass through New Japan from a couple of years ago, but it seems without Okada to play off of that hasn’t been there yet. This company firmly needs to move toward running through Omega as its top tier draw, as when he wants to be, there’re few who are better. He’s far overdue for a heel turn to make him into an utter badass, and closing out 2020 and moving into 2021, Hangman versus The Cleaner needs to be the top feud that propels both to the heights they deserve.
Well there you have it folks, for its shortcomings I think AEW’s good points really do outweigh the bad. It’s a company handled by a group of people that really have a passion for the wrestling business, rather than a temperamental lunatic who micromanages everything and changes his mind every fifteen minutes. Do they still have a way to go and some growing pains to do? Yes. But after almost two years they are leaps and bounds ahead of where others in their position have been. They have enough talent and positive buzz that any other promotion would kill for, all they really need to do is tighten up the booking and focus on who they want their franchise guy to be. They’re moving in the right direction and I for one can’t wait to see what the future holds, because I have a feeling it’s really going to be good if they’re smart and things keep going the right way for them. Now if only they did more with Hangman Page, cause I love me Hangman Page. Later, gang.