What’s the status of AEW?

As 2019 nears its conclusion, it’s standard to review the past year of the wrestling industry, especially considering that much of the landscape changed with not only the announcement of the launch of All Elite Wrestling at the start of the year, but also the Double or Nothing pay-per-view in May and their debut on TNT in October. While the product isn’t perfect, there are many bright spots for the company to build on in the future, and of course some flaws to fix.

One of the overwhelming positives that AEW brought to the sports entertainment industry as a whole is the buzz that came along with the announcement of the organization. It truly had the vibe of a new era for the industry, something that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of WCW. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle for All Elite, regardless of if it was an initial make or break aspect to the launch or not, was the signing of Chris Jericho, who brings a name value to fans that might not know anything else about the AEW brand. At 49, Jericho could’ve easily inked another WWE deal to collect a hefty pay check and coast to retirement or he had the option to assume AEW would be a mega payday and mail in his performances, but he took the opportunity to create a fresh chapter in his career. It was said many times, but Jericho’s ability to remain relevant as the industry evolves is truly remarkable and in some aspects, it puts him in a league of his own.

More specifically, the past two years of his career with the surprise appearances in New Japan and his work in AEW, there are very few that have a resume that can compare to Jericho’s accomplishments. As mentioned, he could’ve used AEW as more or less a paid vacation from WWE, which is something countless performers did with TNA, but he maximized his ability to work outside of the WWE bubble. Obviously, the Inner Circle was formed to add to his presence as champion, but at the same time, you can tell that he’s using the platform to help establish the younger talent in the group, which is the smart move because it can theoretically give more longevity to the AEW project. Make no mistake about it, when the novelty of something new wears off, there must be substance if the company is truly going to get off the ground, and Jericho knows how important that is for an upstart group. If All Elite becomes a long-term competitor in the industry, a lot of that credit would go to Jericho, an aspect that adds another layer to his legacy.

With Jericho as such a stellar heel, the argument could be made that Cody was possibly the best baby face of 2019, especially after the incredible promo he cut prior to the title match against Jericho at Full Gear last month. In fact, the “undeniable”promo might be remembered as one of the most emotional and all-time best promos in history, very similar to Dusty’s “hard times” interview. I’ve written about it several times, but this segment is a prime example of why pro wrestling is most successful when it’s based on the organic and spontaneous emotional investment from the crowd. The audience could identify with Cody and wanted to see him with the championship. That emotional investment is ultimately what sells tickets and draws money in the wrestling business. The only potential downside of the Full Gear bout is, did management rush the match with Jericho simply to make sure there was a main event with enough star power on the show? The stipulation was that Cody can’t challenge for the title again, and considering that he’s still the most over baby face in the company, it might lead to a letdown if there isn’t eventually a way for him to win the championship.

Much the same way that the association with Jericho put a spotlight on talented athletes that just need the change to get noticed so that their talent can shine through with the Inner Circle, Cody has used most of his run on TNT to feature younger talent. MJF’s potential has been touted for the past few years and All Elite is a national platform for him so it provides a stage for him to become a star to an audience other than the diehard wrestling fans that follow the independent scene. MJF unquestionably has the in-ring ability and on the mic skills, but he obviously needs a baby face to work with to make the most of the TNT platform. Cody’s role within AEW makes MJF a well-suited antagonist for him so it makes sense for their feud to be a major angle within the organization. One of the main reasons MJF is such an effective heel is that he does what most heels in 2019 don’t, he actually acts like a heel. He doesn’t sacrifice his credibility for social media and he’s one of the few current heels in the industry that can get legitimate heat from the crowd.

Another bright spot for the group is the tag team division, which is probably the strongest aspect of the product. The Young Bucks and the Lucha Brothers are money. I’ve talked about Pentagon’s potential to be a major star before and hopefully next year will see him get a chance to work in the world title picture. Fenix is an amazing athlete and he could also have more to accomplish outside of the tag division. On the flip side, The Young Bucks are corner stones of the division and they fit so naturally as a tag team, they wouldn’t necessarily have to wrestle outside of the division to remain fresh. The series of stellar tag matches from most of the teams on the roster have been highlights of the Dynamite show. One of the few negatives about the AEW tag team format is the lack of actual tags and as a result, many of the matches can seem formulaic and repetitive.

There are very few wrestling shows that are flawless and Dynamite has its share of mishaps as well. Usually, it’s nothing too terrible, but considering that the company is still in the phase where some fans are just discovering it, it’s important to make a solid first impression to the audience. A major hurdle for any upstart group is the ability to introduce or establish new talent. Unfortunately, there’s still a portion of the roster that are lost in the shuffle of the rest of the show. Even though AEW Dark on Youtube gives members of the roster some type of exposure, it’s definitely not a substitute for actual TV time because the fans that watch the extra hour of AEW Dark are the diehard fans that are already familiar with the roster. The ability to introduce new competitors to a main stream audience on TNT is a completely different situation. Sometimes certain segments or matches on Dynamite seem somewhat flat because there are wrestlers that haven’t been booked on television too often in the three-month tenure of the show. Along with that, the argument could be made that there are actually too many wrestlers on the roster and it could dilute the process of establishing them on TV. It’s nothing against them as wrestlers, but why exactly are The Butcher and The Blade signed to AEW? The generic names don’t help them, and The Dark Order already has a similar type of presentation so what exactly do they bring to the table that another team already on the roster couldn’t be used for in the storyline?

Speaking of The Dark Order and confusing gimmicks, it’s somewhat disappointing that they floundered for the majority of AEW’s first year in existence because up until recently, nothing about them was explained. The recruitment angle and the vignettes have worked well in the past few weeks, but it took months for them to became a part of the gimmick. Again, the first impression matters and it remains to be seen if those earlier mishaps will prevent the team from getting over in the future. Another confusing gimmick and something that almost copies the Dark Order gimmick is Awesome Kong’s storyline with Brandi Rhodes. It’s a somewhat conflicting angle because it’s well-known that she’s married to Cody, one of the most popular baby faces in the company and there wasn’t anything specific that happened that seemingly had her turn heel on the rest of the women’s division. She basically just introduced Kong and became a heel from it. At 42, Kong is probably at the latter stage of her career so you have to wonder, does it make sense to use her for an angle that will have her run through most of the division.?The hair cut angle must have opponents for her to add to the collection, but there’s almost a cult aspect to it, which appears to be a copy of the Dark Order gimmick.

The women’s division itself has been a problem for AEW and it might be the weakest part of the show. I don’t know if it’s the booking or a lack of overall experience from most on the roster, but outside of Rhio and Hikaru Shida, most of the AEW women’s division has been subpar. Brit Baker has potential, but her inexperience shows through so the quality of her matches often depends on her opponent. Kris Statlander has done well, but is still new to the audience so time will tell if she becomes more established on the AEW. Penelope Ford, Leva Bates, and a few others aren’t really anywhere near the same level as the previously mentioned Riho or Shida in terms of in-ring skills so the division lacks depth. With the head-to-head competition of NXT, there will be a natural comparison of each show and the NXT women’s roster is one of the best aspects of the brand. Io Shirai is one of the best wrestlers in the business on any roster. Candice LeRae, Shayna Baszler, and
Rhea Ripley are solid staples of the division.

All that being said, any “fans” that are somewhat hoping for the AEW project to flop are extremely misguided. If All Elite doesn’t get off the ground then the industry hits another plateau without options for the competitors or the fans. It’s ironic that the same “fans” that hope for an AEW shut down are the same fans that complain about every WWE pay-per-view on social media. The competition from AEW has already pushed NXT to a different level and if they continue to establish the brand it would be beneficial for the industry.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta