What Brian Pillman Jr’s Exit Says About AEW

Second generation star, Brian Pillman Jr. was reportedly spotted at the WWE Performance Center just days after it was announced that his All Elite Wrestling contract expired. The 29-year-old grappler had been a part of the All Elite roster more or less since the inception of the organization, but all things considered, was probably underutilized.

This creates an interesting scenario as many of the original AEW contracts expire, as far as how many of those that were under the radar can be scouted as diamonds in the rough so to speak and be recruited to WWE? More specifically, did AEW show the blue print on how to showcase Pillman, but fail to follow up on it, and now WWE can present it in the right way?

First and most importantly, All Elite Wrestling pieced together its initial roster with a lot of talent that had a following on the independent scene. It goes without saying that some of those wrestlers made the transition to television successfully, while others couldn’t, which isn’t necessarily a knock on them or the company. While it’s great when talent get a chance to land a major contract, some competitors just aren’t on the level of national TV, which isn’t to say they don’t have talent, but rather to point out that not everyone is suited to work on TNT. Marko Stunt, God bless him, just isn’t a guy that had the skills to be on national television. He wasn’t the second coming of Rey Mysterio, and comparisons at the time to justify his appearances on national TV were unfair to him because Rey is such a legendary worker that very few are comparable. There were certainly many that were signed to All Elite contracts that just didn’t have the ability for national television, and as bloated as the roster still is, most of the glaring examples were allowed to remain on the payroll until their contracts expired.

On the flip side, Pillman Jr. was an athlete that seemed to have all the skills to make a name of himself, but was truly never given the chance or the platform to move up the card. Training under the underrated legend Lance Storm in 2017, Pillman broke into the business the following year and similar to many from Storm’s school, looked much more polished than most rookies. Pillman Jr. had a stint in MLW before he inked an AEW contract.

Unfortunately, with a few brief exceptions, Pillman Jr. was regulated to the Youtube shows for the vast majority of his All Elite tenure. He formed a team with Griff Garrison, who was another youngster that looked to have some potential, but just wasn’t quite ready for a national organization yet. Pillman seemed to be somewhat ahead of Griff in terms of in-ring work, but to be fair to Garrison, during their two years as The Varsity Blonds, he rarely got major exposure. The team only had a handful of TV appearances during its entire run. The Blonds had Julia Hart added as a valet, but the team more or less unofficially dissolved when Garrison suffered an injury that required surgery late last year.

Pillman worked less than a dozen AEW matches this year, most of those on a house show loop. Clearly, AEW didn’t have plans for Pillman and it seems like he more or less got lost in the shuffle with so many wrestlers under contract to the organization. In truth, there isn’t much of a reason for him to stay under an AEW deal, particularly if he has the chance to be a main star in the industry. In many ways, similar to many others, Pillman Jr. was more or less spinning his wheels in the company.

The last and really only time that Pillman was truly spotlighted in All Elite Wrestling was nearly two years ago when he worked a short angle with MJF when the promotion held Dynamite tapings in his hometown of Cincinnati. The wonderful Aunt Linda was at ringside, and after the Dark Side of The Ring episode about his father, there was an opportunity for Pillman Jr. to be showcased as more than just a Youtube wrestler. Instead, the company used it as a one-off and after the taping in Cincinnati, there wasn’t really anything else booked for him in terms of a storyline.

This isn’t to say that Brian Pillman Jr. is going to main event Wrestlemania, but he can go in the ring, has the look, and a backstory that can be used to make a star. In many ways, the story writes itself. The youngster follows in his father’s footsteps more than two decades after his dad’s passing to honor the family legacy.

In some respects, All Elite Wrestling gave NXT a blue print for how to make Pillman Jr. a star. Let Aunt Linda have a seat in the front row, allow the state-of-the-art WWE production team put together a video package that tells the story of the Pillman legacy, and then the second generation star can impress with his skills in the ring.

The biggest takeaway from Pillman’s exit from All Elite Wrestling isn’t necessarily that he’s the next Stone Cold, but rather that Tony Khan missed the boat on a young talented athlete that the WWE can capitalize on in the future. For all of the rightfully criticisms of the Vince McMahon booking philosophy, the company knows how to showcase second generation stars. At 29, Pillman is only just about to enter his theoretical prime, and if AEW didn’t see anything else in him beyond dark matches, especially after four years under contract, it makes sense to try to land somewhere else. Too often, even in the WWE system in the past, several talented performers spent a bulk of the prime of their career in a stagnant position.

If Pillman is going to be a star in the industry, at least any time soon, he couldn’t remain just a name on the roster in AEW.

That being said, and this is the bigger story of this example, you have to wonder how many talents that were discovered in All Elite but weren’t fully utilized will eventually be offered WWE deal? The most obvious example is Wardlow, who hasn’t had any type of consistent booking since he finally pinned MJF. The other prospect and the one that I think has the bigger upside is Powerhouse Hobbs. Similar to the way that Wardlow wasn’t truly given the chance to run as TNT champion, the same can be said for Hobbs. Make no mistake about it, Powerhouse Hobbs has all the tools to be a major star. The short association he had with QT Marshal in a comedy stable was a complete waste of time.

Tony Khan undoubtedly has a passion for professional wrestling and his willingness to fund a company allowed for a spark in the industry, but the charts and graphs that he cites in interviews are not the tools of a booker. At best, Tony can be described as a matchmaker, as he puts names on paper against each other, often with unnecessary gimmick matches that only payoff in E-fed booking online. The job of a booker requires much more depth than that, as far as the logic and the goal of storylines. Furthermore, a booker knows how to maximize its talent, something that Paul Heyman did very well in ECW. The bottom line is, if Tony Khan doesn’t do a better job of fully utilizing the roster, even if that involves cutting names from it, Pillman Jr. might not be the only former AEW competitor that has a better run in the WWE.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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