All Elite Progress

After scanning the usual wrestling news, which has a slew of reports about the two pay-per-views upcoming this weekend, I stumbled across a video clip on Twitter (you can follow me @PWManiaJim) of Wrestling Observer Live with Bryan Alvarez so I went to the The Observer’s Youtube page to listen to the full discussion about the topic, where are the stars of All Elite Wrestling five years into the project? Alvarez, who I think is one of the better journalists that covers the sports, and his co-host mostly discussed the overall lack of progress with many of the talents on the roster, particularly in terms of their star power.

Both wrestling pals expressed a level of frustration, but nothing that was mentioned was ground-breaking, and it really shouldn’t have been, as the problems with AEW are apparent to most viewers. However, the discussion made me consider another way to look at the question, how far has All Elite Wrestling progressed within the past five years?

As we know, nothing is perfect so by nature, there will be a mixed bag for any wrestling venture. As thrilling as Stone Cold’s run was against Vince McMahon, the Attitude era had its share of drek too. Anyone remember Beaver Cleavage? World Championship Wrestling was the highest-rating show on cable before it fell off a cliff. ECW changed the business, but the same philosophy that made that impact was also a major reason why the company folded.

For All Elite Wrestling, when they first started on pay-per-view, tickets sold out in minutes, and while some of that was because of the buzz of a new product, it had just as much to do with the dissatisfaction that the audience had with the WWE at the time. Fans wanted an alternative to be successful and were more than willing to do their part to make it happen, and to a considerable extent in its formative stages, they did that for All Elite Wrestling. But, similar to anything else, you can’t maintain that level of demand, particularly because of the amount of outside factors that can affect ticket sales for major events. Similar to how much of the novelty of a new product worn off and All Elite has to stand or fall on its substance, the most diehard fans that are willing to travel to pay-per-views have already done it in the past. Sometimes, it’s as simple as it’s not financially possible for someone to spend that type of cash every year to travel to Las Vegas. On the other hand, if some fans have already had the trip to the MGM Grand to see the event before, they might not view this year’s particular card as worth the expense to watch it at the arena.

According to Alvarez, Double or Nothing have sold 6,400 tickets so far with a set up of just over 7,000 tickets available to the public. So, the company sold the majority of the tickets for the set up, but as we know from the sell outs of the past, the venue could be set up for more than 12,000 tickets so there’s a noticeable drop in interest for the event. Again, there will be some natural diminishing of returns with anything, even if the drastic decline might be an indication of a lack of enthusiasm about the product.

When the novelty of AEW worn off, there was a definite decline in the buzz the promotion had, and the more that the company had to stand on its own merits, the more dissension and amateur presentation surfaced. That doesn’t mean the company is doomed, but rather that two years of backstage drama didn’t give the audience a sense of confidence in the organization that they invested their dollars into for it to get off the ground. Sure, they are a group of diehard All Elite fans that will continue to tout the status of the promotion, but that’s mostly because some fans will always be contrarian to WWE more than anything else.

However, it goes without saying that the infamous press conference, the numerous backstage fights, the petty social media posts, and the CM Punk/Jack Perry debacle negatively impacted the perception of All Elite Wrestling.

The slapstick booking approach, and the “dream matches” promoted with talent that most of the TBS audience doesn’t know hasn’t yielded success in terms of the expansion of the product, the numbers prove that.

Still, a look at the talent roster, and specifically, where key talent are over the course of the five years of AEW is a way to analyze the progress of the organization, as well as an indication of that status in the future.

As far as bigger stars, MJF is a guy that started in AEW as someone with the potential of a world champion, and while his promos, resorting to suicide references and CTE to attempt to get cheap heat, often jumped the shark, he was branded an AEW guy. His dog collar match with CM Punk is one of the best matches in the history of the organization. That said, much of what was established with him as a main event talent was diluted with the silly ROH tag title reign and ultimately the underwhelming reveal of the Adam Cole under the mask. So, he’s a bigger star for the company than he was five years ago, but not nearly as big of a star as he could be. His status is still up in the air, as he was dealing with injuries last year and has been out of action for almost six months. I haven’t seen any recent reports about his contract status, but I don’t think he goes anywhere outside of AEW. MJF, rightfully so, is about the cash, and Tony Khan will overpay him to keep him in All Elite Wrestling so it’s not a stretch that he will take the better money to work a limited schedule for Tony Khan than the bigger stage of WWE. It’s a smart business move because making the most money possible is the entire point of the business, but at the same time, it allows him to be a big fish in a relatively smaller pond. I don’t think MJF would necessarily flop in WWE, but when he doesn’t have the cheap “shock” tactics to use on the mic, he might not be nearly as effective as a heel.

For all of his critics, and some of them have a valid point, Jon Molxey is a true MVP of AEW. He stepped in whenever the company needed it and if nothing else, he gives a main event effort when he’s put in those situations. Keep in mind, Moxley showed up at the original Double or Nothing, and it’s safe to say that it was definitely the right move for him. He was being used in lame segments in the WWE and was more or less typecast as someone the company wasn’t going to push to the main event scene again, but he was too much of a star to be used just to put others over so he was stuck in a mid-card role. Again, despite the critics, Moxley is too talented and too much of a star to waste the prime of his career in the mid-card. If his status would be different under Triple H is a different matter. He’s the current IWGP Heavyweight champion and while that has minimal impact for AEW, it says a lot about Moxley’s status as a global star.

On the other end of the spectrum, Adam Page has fallen considerably short of his expectations as the future of the company. Keep in mind, Page was in the main event to determine the first champion of AEW at the original Double or Nothing. At the time, there was an argument to be made that his Hangman persona was popular enough to potentially be the first AEW champion. When he finally won the belt, the booking did him no absolutely no favors, as he went to a draw with Bryan Danielson in his first title defense, but the whiny promos didn’t help either. In fact, there was too much of a clash between the promo style and the on-screen character. Why would the fans want to rally behind the baby face that whines when it’s supposed to be a blue collar character? Between that and the bizarre promo with CM Punk, a heel turn might be the only direction for Page when he returns to television. His mic work and character are just too cringe worthy for him to continue to be presented as a baby face on the show.

Speaking of Adam Page, when he flopped as a baby face in the feud with Swerve a few months ago, Strickland organically became very popular. I’m still not sure what his character is supposed to be, but he’s one of the most over performers in the entire company. That said, nothing about how his title reign has been positioned so far says that the company wants to make him anything more than a transitional champion. On Dynamite, The Elite usually get the main event segment, and the champion is scheduled for somewhere in the middle of the show. Christian is one of the best of his generation and a true pro so in theory, it makes sense to have him work with Swerve to put the new champion over strong, but the circumstances of the angle take away from that concept. Christian is one of the best heels on the roster, but he lost his most recent match against Adam Copeland and didn’t have any wins to push him as a threat to the world championship before the pay-per-view match was announced so the Swerve/Christian feud just doesn’t have a lot of momentum before the event. As talented as Swerve is, does the AEW world title match really have enough hype to be the main event of the pay-per-view? If it’s not, it definitely makes a statement about the booking of the champion.

We discussed that Adam Page was in the main event of the first Double or Nothing event, and it was Chris Jericho that beat him to claim the title. It was a wise decision at the time because of the star power that Jericho brought to the table, and overall the former WWE champion has done a lot for the perception of All Elite Wrestling. As I’ve said many times, in a lot of ways, Jericho is in a league of his own with how he stayed ahead of the curve throughout his legendary career, but it might be time for him to consider a retirement tour. I understand that the “learning tree” character is trying to lean into the notion that he’s a veteran that just wants to try to remain relevant, but it’s more cringe worthy than anything else. It’s not really getting heat, it’s just a tedious portion of the program. I don’t think this angle with Hook will be productive because for whatever reason, and it might not be Jericho’s fault, most of the talent that he worked with recently haven’t been more established after the storyline. Is anyone that was in the Jericho Appreciation Society really a bigger star?

So, a lot of All Elite Wrestling remains a mixed bag. The biggest criticism that I think applies, at least in the more general terms, is that the same mistakes continue to be made on a regular basis, which is an indication of either a lack of flexibility or total ineptitude. One of the main examples is the compete lack of consistent exposure for talent, as some wrestlers disappear for weeks or months without explanation. You can’t expect the audience to invest or connect with the characters if they aren’t featured on a regular basis. Along with that, the overall slapstick approach to the structure of the show doesn’t lend itself to a logical presentation or a way to build the audience. Too often, you get the impression that Tony wrote down a few names that he decided will be a good match without any reason for why the wrestlers were booked for it. For example, Will Ospreay, one of the high-priced free agents that Tony signed a few months ago, is scheduled to wrestle Roderick Strong at the pay-per-view. They worked a tag match on Dynamite, but other than that, their interaction has been minimal. Sure, they will have a really good match, they are both very solid performers, but does anyone care about the match before the bell rings at Double or Nothing? Shouldn’t Ospreay be positioned in a more high-profile spot at a signature pay-per-view than a mid-card bout for a secondary title?

There’s a reason that the ratings for Dynamite have dropped 20% and sometimes 30% from where they were two years ago when CM Punk was signed to the company. Obviously, some will attempt to spin the narrative, but the bottom line is, less fans are watching the product and less fans are will to spend money on the product, which was proven from the lack of ticket sales. That’s not to say the company is going to fold, AEW will continue to exist as long as Tony’s family wants to fund the project, but it definitely makes a statement that changes should be made with the direction of the company. However, there probably won’t be a shift in direction because All Elite Wrestling doesn’t necessarily exist to be profitable since it doesn’t have to be in order to continue to produce events. Reportedly, All Elite Wrestling lost $34 million last year, but Shad Khan’s net worth increased by a few billion dollars so the tab for AEW is easily covered. All Elite Wrestling was launched so that Tony Khan could be a pro wrestling promoter, and if the project isn’t profitable, there’s very little difference so the progress or lack thereof is almost moot in this situation.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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