Toni Storm arrived in All Elite Wrestling last night, but as the late, great George Carlin might say, it could just be considered a “rain event” instead.
Don’t get me wrong, as I wrote when Toni left WWE amid frustrations with the lack of direction with her career, she’s an extremely talented performer that absolutely has the potential to be a big star and she would add depth to the All Elite roster if she inked a deal there. The same can be said right now, Toni is a very good competitor that can go in the ring and has a unique level of charisma.
However, it’s not just the pieces of the puzzle, but where they are placed.
I don’t want this to sound too negative because most of the All Elite product has rejuvenated the dynamics of the industry to a level that hasn’t been seen for over two decades. AEW isn’t the place where former WWE stars show up when Vince McMahon’s writing team didn’t have anything for them, which was ultimately the role for TNA for a large portion of its existence, but rather a destination for a possible better path in their careers. It speaks volumes about the potential for All Elite as a whole that names like Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, and CM Punk opted to continue their careers under the Tony Khan-owned banner. Quite simply, CM Punk returned to professional wrestling because All Elite got off the group to become a major league option, and the results of that are the stellar dog collar match on pay-perv-view earlier this month and the recent wrestling clinic he had with Dax Harwood on Dynamite.
Still, the common criticism, which has become common because it’s persistent, is does Tony Khan book these stars in the most effective way possible?
With the debut of Toni Storm, it’s a big pop from the crowd for one night, but where does it go beyond that? Ruby Soho arguably has a bigger upside as far as a potential major star for the organization and she had that same big pop for a brief time before she got lost in the shuffle of the bloated roster. The most concerning aspect of all of this is that while Tony Khan enjoys promoting a “big surprise” for television, it has happened so often recently that isn’t of being stand alone moments on Dynamite, everything blends together to become just a laundry list of signings, which by nature dilutes the individual impact of any particular talent.
One of the few major criticisms that I have toward All Elite is that too often it looks like there’s no long-term planning on how to effectively use someone in the organization. Sure, some of the diehard AEW fan base might claim that you have to let the story develop, but a few examples show a pattern of the short-term pop being the priority ahead of how someone can be used effectively or if there’s a realistic role for them in the company.
Just because a talent is on the market, that doesn’t mean that they should automatically be offered a contract, which isn’t a jab against their ability either. It’s more of a scenario where you have to take into account how they can fit into the landscape of the promotion. Obviously, it goes without saying that someone with the level of star power like the previously mentioned Danielson, Cole, or Punk have a role because of their in-ring ability, as well as the exposure they can bring to the brand. Jeff Hardy is clearly in the latter stage of his career and probably shouldn’t be taking ladder bumps at this point, but his contract is basically an investment into brand awareness, which is key. Again, that doesn’t mean that some performers that don’t get offered a deal aren’t talented enough, but rather that maybe their spot could be with another organization. Keep in mind, the variety of the modern era is one of the most compelling aspects of the industry.
This isn’t meant as a personal jab against some of these talented wrestlers, but did Keith Lee, Swerve Scott, Tony Nese etc. make a measurable difference for All Elite? The fact that such an accomplished veteran like Jay Lethal was more or less in the witness protection program until two weeks ago and hasn’t won a match on TV in his AEW career is an example of someone that isn’t be featured to their full potential. Considering the 36-year-old Lethal is one of the best of his generation in the ring and still has at least a few more years left in the prime of his career, the argument could actually be made that the opportunity to showcase Lethal was wasted so far in AEW. Some will cite wins on Youtube for Lethal, but if wrestling on Youtube made a difference then the TBS deal wouldn’t be such an important part of the All Elite presentation. Without national television, a promotion is more or less just another independent group. Matches on Youtube are good for younger talent to get experience working for the camera, not a place to properly showcase an accomplished veteran.
Speaking of Lethal, he had a recent match with Adam Cole, who despite a debut with a lot of momentum and a recent title shot on pay-per-view, is rather lukewarm in his AEW stint. As I’ve said before, I think Cole has the ability to be a Wrestlemania main eventer and the WWE completely missed the boat on him, but he has floundered in AEW. The random street fight loss to Orange Cassidy and the attempted comedy segments with The Young Bucks didn’t do anything to push him as a major talent. Along the same lines, I think the argument could be made that pairing Bryan Danielson with Jon Moxley for a tag team when American Dragon was doing some of the best heel work in the business might’ve been fumble by Tony Khan.
This is why I’m not sure that Toni Storm will automatically get a chance to shine in AEW because the hot-shot booking for one signing to the next is by nature a short-term boost to the company. There are a lot of recently released talents such as Mia Yim and Ember Moon on the market, and with the upcoming Owen Hart tournament, it’s possible that more debuts could happen on an almost weekly basis in the women’s division in the next month or two, but where would that put Toni Storm? Again, it would be very easy for her to become just another name in the list of signings for the company. Depending on the week, Dynamite hovers around a million viewers, which is fine, particularly if TBS is happy with the number because the TV contract is what makes AEW profitable, but that’s obviously not where the company wants to plateau either. The addition of Punk, Cole, Danielson, Jeff Hardy, and a slew of other free agents still hasn’t drastically moved the needle because consistent and compelling television is the way to build the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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