Two years into the promotion that is All Elite Wrestling, there’s no doubt: AEW has been a game-changer for the US wrestling scene.
From the day WCW closed, there was a real question as to whether or not there would be another company that could challenge WWE. TNA/Impact tried to compete in the early 2010s, but despite their best effort, couldn’t make a real dent into WWE’s stranglehold on the market.
Come 2019 however, there was a sense that people wanted change.
WWE was declining in both ratings and quality and more fans than ever before were tuning into the biggest promotion outside of the US: New Japan Pro Wrestling. When some of their biggest stars split off and formed AEW, it was a very exciting time to be a wrestling fan. There was actual hope to have a major league company outside of WWE.
Fast forward to May 25, 2019. That was the day that the wrestling world truly changed with the inaugural show Double or Nothing headlined by Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho and the surprise debut of Jon Moxley.
Two years after that home run show, we have learned quite a bit about the promotion, both positive and negative. While there are obviously more than just five examples, I believe these are the five that stand out above the rest.
Easy To Follow Stories With Added Depth
One of the narratives that have been floating around Twitter over the last few months is that AEW is hard to follow. The rationale behind this narrative is it’s hard to follow with so many factions and stories going on at the same time. In all honesty, this narrative is one laced with either anti-AEW bias or WWE brainwashing. The stories that AEW has told over the last two years have been both simple and deep. With today’s business being content-driven, AEW has capitalized with the growth of their YouTube page, utilizing Dark, Dark Elevation, and Being The Elite to add more depth to the stories that they are telling.
What is awesome about adding these elements is that the fan that only watches Dynamite isn’t missing anything. The story itself is not incomplete in just watching dynamite, but you get added depth if you watch all of their content. Lastly, nothing that they do makes you feel stupid. They don’t beat you over the head with the wrestlers’ life story every single episode.
Along with their easy-to-tell stories, AEW has done an excellent job building up their main events. The nearly 18-month build for the Kenny Omega/Jon Moxley was excellent. Moxley won their first match, which led to his world title win. Kenny Omega was in the tag team ranks for about a year before his world title win in December. What followed at their exploding barbed wire deathmatch is what has haunted AEW in their short existence: underwhelming finishes.
Not only did they have a tremendous build and were attempting to do a match that was made legendary in Japan, but the bell to bell absolutely delivered. They had a great match while integrating violence, weapons, and blood. What was really disheartening was the post-match. An exploding barbed wire deathmatch is supposed to have a large explosion. Makes sense right? The only problem was the explosion looked like a few sparklers with a spinning tank gimmick your dad bought in the grocery store parking lot right before the 4th of July.
It would be nice if this was a one-time incident, but alas, there are more.
Blood and Guts is the match that AEW wanted to make feel big, just like its inspiration WCW’s War Games. The build with The Pinnacle and The Inner Circle was personal, deep, and easy to understand. The match itself, outside of a few minor moments, was excellent in execution and storyline. The babyface group The Inner Circle giving up to prevent their leader Chris Jericho from getting thrown off the top of the cage was great storytelling, but what followed aligned with the aforementioned exploding barbed wire deathmatch: an underwhelming post-match. MJF threw Jericho off the top of the cage anyways and Jericho landed on a crash pad. This is a complicated issue. I don’t think anyone wants a 50-year-old Chris Jericho to take a flat back bump onto concrete. However, taking a bump that is supposed to look like death but in reality, looks like a stunt is an awful look. I am all for taking care of the wrestlers, but if you are going to do a bump like that, it has to look good. In a vacuum, it’s fine as a one-off. What makes things difficult is that it’s the second instance in as many months of an underwhelming culmination to a feud. To really take that next step as a company, they will have to figure out a way to have the finish live up to the hype of the match.
Willingness To Adapt And Evolve
A company less than a year into its existence having to deal with a worldwide pandemic would more than likely be a death blow. What AEW was able to do throughout the first few months of the pandemic was nothing short of astounding. Once they were forced to take Dynamite off the road, they adjusted very well. With the peak of the pandemic in full swing, AEW not only didn’t force anyone to work when they weren’t comfortable, but they adjusted their recording schedule and location on the fly. Along with that, they turned their training ground AEW Dark into a method to both give independent wrestlers some work but also a tryout. From that evolution along with Cody Rhodes’ open challenge, AEW found some roster mainstays in Ricky Starks, Eddie Kingston, and Powerhouse Hobbs. Because of their quick ability to adapt and evolve, they not only survived but grew in both experience and talent. That growth helped them defeat NXT in the Wednesday Night War and earn themselves an extra hour of programming Friday nights on TNT.
Matches Overstay Their Welcome
The introduction of AEW to the mainstream wrestling landscape was more than welcomed amongst the majority of fans. What they tried to do was, not only be themselves but also give the fans what they haven’t had in American TV wrestling in so long. Focusing on wrestling shouldn’t be a foreign concept to a wrestling show, but it has been mostly an afterthought on RAW and SmackDown for years. In the process of doing just that, AEW went a little too far in the other direction.
While wresting is the sole focus, the match length has been an issue. Matches that need the time to tell the story have been given that and then some. The unfortunate circumstance that has come about because of that is a lot of matches have gone on too long. Too often have there been squash matches that have got 8-12 minutes. It’s okay to have a match go just a couple of minutes if that’s all the time that the story needs to be told. If AEW can clean that up moving forward, they will be much better off.
Everything Means Something
Within the context of the wrestling world, there are too many times that the past gets ignored. A wrestler will have a feud with another and just a few months later, it would be ignored and they would end up as tag team partners on a random show. One of the things that Dragongate has done really well is that nothing is ever forgotten. If two wrestlers hate each other, even if they aren’t directly feuding at the moment, they will constantly side-eye each other whenever they cross paths. AEW has taken this and ran with it. No matter what has happened throughout their short history, this has held true, most notably with Darby Allin and Ricky Starks.
AEW has done a tremendous job evolving throughout its short lifespan. From their debut pay-per-view to surviving a pandemic with a 6-month-old show and getting a second new television deal, they have been a massive success. Their success, however, isn’t without their own flaws. As they continue to grow and learn from their own mistakes, we will see AEW become a stronger and more diverse company in regards to fixing their issues. With the talented wrestling minds that they have in the room, they are set up for success long-term and I am excited to see how they grow.