At this point, it has become impossible to ignore the recent success of WWE.

As a person who can best be described as a “mostly lapsed” fan of theirs, Cody Rhodes aside, I have been curious about the source of their success and what AEW might be able to steal and adapt. 

Many are pointing to The Bloodline because it obviously stands out in terms of style and presentation. But that is not the whole story. RAW has had excellent ratings lately, pushing the narrative of AEW closing in on them in the 18-49 male demo into distant memory. NXT has taken an injection of RAW talents Seth Rollins, Dom Mysterio, and Rhea Ripley and ridden it to new highs. 

Naturally, I decided that RAW needed to be re-evaluated with fresh eyes, and I decided to check out more of RAW than just the weekly Cody Rhodes segment over the last few months, and something has stuck out to me. The WWE audience is all in on their babyfaces, and it’s not anything new or revolutionary. WWE is giving their top babyfaces, Cody Rhodes, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Seth Rollins, strong, sustained pushes. They win all or most of their matches. They rarely look bad on television.

Let’s take Cody as an example.

Despite many of his fans worrying that WWE would quickly botch his roll-out, they treated him as a massive star from the beginning, capitalizing on the buzz over his jump to create a real star. His presentation was much like it was in AEW, but bigger. They had a Cody Clock to tell the audience when to expect him. And since the start of the feud with Brock Lesnar, Cody has been on the show every single week advancing it. There is no 50/50 week-to-week booking—Cody has won all but two matches, even tags, and trios, since his return. Brock sometimes gets the better of Cody, but Cody always looks like a proper babyface. He isn’t afraid. He fought Brock valiantly with one arm at Night of Champions. And as the feud has gone on, Cody has increasingly gotten the better of Brock, able to chase off Lesnar on the July 3, 2023, episode of RAW. When the pair took a cycle off, Cody had a feud with “Dirty Dom” Mysterio, who was presented as below his level and who Cody beat easily, as he should have. His reactions are as strong as ever and have been a reliable ratings draw as RAW has been surging. You can find similar consistency in these other acts. Seth Rollins has yet to lose a televised singles match since January 2. Zayn and Owens are newer to their pushes, and Zayn’s loss to Dirty Dom on the July 24 RAW was his first for the pair since Wrestlemania and was in the service of a more significant angle with the Judgement Day. 

These crowds are all SOLIDLY behind these acts. Since his return, Drew McIntyre has gotten the beginnings of a solid push and might join them. All of them, save for Drew, are locked into long-term, easy-to-identify character directions. The audience doesn’t need to go on a treasure hunt to find the angles. It is easy. Shut your brain off and enjoy stuff lately.

This booking of RAW harkens back to WWE’s roots. Bruno Sammartino. Pedro Morales. Bob Backlund. Hulk Hogan. Steve Austin. John Cena. It has always been, philosophically, the WWE way to just book strong babyfaces and run them til the wheels come off. They won the wrestling wars for many reasons, but having good, strong, protected babyface acts at the center of their promotion has always been their great strength artistically. Every other promotion has heel reigns of doom as the norm, arguably to their detriment, with examples like Jeff Jarrett in TNA, Hollywood Hogan in WCW, and even AEW right now is doing their take on one with MJF, which was struggling until he teased going babyface. Right now, with RAW and SmackDown, they are getting to have their cake and eat it, too, with Roman Reigns’ interminable reign of doom doing well too.

At the time, many of us thought WWE’s decision to have Reigns defeat Cody and Sami, and Drew so cleanly would permanently destroy their auras. That hasn’t happened, even for Drew. Cody immediately went into a hot, if nonsensical, feud with Brock Lesnar. Owens and Zayn won the tag titles and have featured prominently all over the card. We laughed when they trotted out the new “bronze medal” World Heavyweight title for Seth Rollins, but the audience is fully bought in on him as a champion now too. 

To be clear, RAW is a rough watch in many respects. There is very little wrestling and almost no good wrestling outside their PLEs, which have been good to great all year aside from Money in the Bank. There are far too many talk shows and skits. The over-the-top antics of Rollins does not appeal to me in any way, and I cringe at the Judgement Day. But it’s very easy to see why this all is working. The angles all flow A to B to C to D, they have begun taking these angles that would have once been short-term programs and evolving them into long-term angles to create investment in these wrestlers. You know every week you will see Cody, Sami, and Seth and what the next step in their journey will be. 

The good news for AEW fans is that these are easy lessons to learn and copy. 

You don’t need to go full Freakin’ or Bloodline to get some sustained momentum. All AEW needs is to grab some top babyfaces and give them sustained pushes with logical and clear A to B to C booking, and the rest will take care of itself. 

And it should be easy for AEW to do this too. In fact, AEW used to be excellent at this. Famously, Tony Khan had said he knew who his first four world champions would be when he started the promotion and built long-term programs to get there, culminating in Hangman Page’s reign as AEW champion in 2021. Tony Khan does have something good cooking now with Adam Cole and MJF, possibly leading Orange Cassidy has enjoyed a sustained push and might ride working with Jon Moxley into the main event. They have a lot of free space on the card for fresh babyfaces to get going, and I fully believe they will. If AEW can follow through, it could be them riding the wave of momentum this time next year. 

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