Considering the bleak outlook for 2022, I wanted to attempt to bring something positive to the start of the year, particularly with a more optimistic outlook for the future. It goes without saying that All Elite Wrestling with its status as an upstart company that has been in existence as far as a television product for less than three years, must build toward the future because it doesn’t have years of cache to rely on, which the WWE has done in recent years when the current roster didn’t bring enough sizzle to a show. That’s not necessarily a knock against the McMahon empire either, one of the perks of surviving the industry downturns and the wrestling wars is the ability to use that history to draw money when it becomes nostalgic for the audience.
By definition, All Elite Wrestling looks to create those moments that will hopefully be seen as nostalgic a decade from now, but again, the company had to use a more progressive formula if it wanted to be more than a short-lived project that fizzled out. Clearly, the rights fees from TNT and TBS made the organization a profitable venture so it’s safe to say that AEW is a legitimately player in the industry and its existence will shape the narrative of the industry in 2022. While the past few years have seemed like a few decades because of the pandemic that turned the entire world upside down, since AEW must look toward the future, who are some of the potential stars in the background that Tony Khan should look to spotlight this year?
Obviously, one of the reasons that All Elite had success was because it had roster depth and potential for many of those under contract, but for the purposes of this column, I will limit it to five draft picks of those that could breakout as AEW homegrown talent in 2022.
When Ethan Page made his All Elite debut on pay-per-view, the reaction was rather lukewarm, mostly based on the fact that he was booked for some rather goofy segments on Impact before he surfaced in AEW. While I understand Page’s association with Dan Lambert, who does some of the best mic work in the business, I really think Tony Khan hasn’t scratched the surface on what Page could do as a heel. We’ve seen glimpses of it when he gets the chance to cut meaningful promos, mostly notable during the brief feud with Darby and Sting, that Page knows how to get legitimate heat on the mic. In an era and more specifically often in a promotion when heels don’t necessarily try to get or generate actual hostility from the crowd, Page is one of the few that can do it. At the same time, in an organization that puts a priority on work rate, he can go bell-to-bell, which adds another layer to matches. Rightfully so, MJF gets a lot of praise and propriety in AEW, and while I’m not sure Page could reach a major level as a heel until MJF gets a main event run so the two aren’t too similar at the same time, I think there’s definitely an argument to be made for Ethan Page to be one of the featured heels in the company this year. That’s not to say that Dan Lambert can’t have a role in this either, but rather to point out that the focus of his promos would have to shift from being the leader of American Top Team to a spot as Page’s manager. Again, I understand why Page had a secondary role when the MMA fighters were involved, but if he’s going to be presented as a major player in the company then he can’t be lost in the shuffle of Dan Lambert’s stable.
When Jade Cargill started on television, her inexperience was very apparent, and in retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good idea to put her in front of the camera that early, particularly because it can be difficult to rebound from a misstep during a debut, but thankfully, Jade has developed as a performer exponentially. You can see that she looks much more comfortable in the ring and can assert her presence as a very unique athlete. She’s tall, very strong, and the silver hair makes her look like a real-life super hero. Her athletic background transitioned well to the squared circle, and she still has to continue to make improvements with more experience in the ring, but all things considered, she has done very well for someone with less than a year as a wrestler. Jade might won the TBS championship, and I would say that it was a very wise decision because taking everything into account, Cargill has all the qualities to be a major star for the organization, it seems to be just a matter of time to polish her skills to be a more well-rounded performer in the future. The bottom line is, Jade is money, and at 29, she has her prime ahead of her as a star that could be a major asset for the organization.
Brian Pillman Jr. had notoriety when he entered the industry because of his last name, but he landed an AEW contract because of the potential for a big upside as a second generation talent. Trained by the underrated legend Lance Storm, Pillman started further along than most aspiring hopefuls that break into the business on their particular local scene. The look, the charisma, and the promo ability are all points of potential for Brian Jr. Not to discount Griff Garrison in any way, and I think the Varsity Blondes should be given more to do as a team team first, but hopefully, Pillman isn’t typecast as a tag team wrestler either. This is where such a jammed roster can unintentionally create some hurdles for lesser known talent because while Brian Jr. has major potential, outside of the very recent angle with Malakai Black, he had very limited television exposure. I really think more should’ve been done with the MJF feud and it could’ve been used to propel him further up the ladder instead of being to relegated back to the Youtube shows. Since the Black feud hasn’t materialized too far yet, I’d say it’s still a toss up if Pillman gets moved up the card, but he should be in the mix for the TNT title this year.
I know some of the initial buzz was probably meant in an ironic context, but Hook is not only competent in the ring, he has a poise that could allow for him to achieve big things with the younger demographic, particularly if AEW as an organization can continue to expand its reach. Granted, there’s a small sample size of Hook’s in-ring work, and it remains to be seen if he will develop into a major draw after he gets more experience, but it must be said that the pieces of the puzzle are there for him to make a name for himself this year.
Finally, in my opinion, the guy that has the biggest upside as a “can’t miss” baby face is Jungle Boy because he has all the skills to be a top star for AEW. He personifies the style of the company, but has enough of the old school presentation as a fiery baby face to connect with the causal fans. As we saw he won the tag titles with Luchasaurus, which is a good start to 2022, but as far as the main event scene, while I think MJF should be the one to eventually dethrone Adam Page, Jungle Boy should be the grappler to eventually beat MJF for the championship.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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