“Wrestling fans have wanted — and needed — something different, authentic and better for far too long” – Tony Khan, in a 2019 statement before the official launch of AEW.

It’s amazing how much things can change in such a short period of time.

In 2019, leading up to the first AEW Double or Nothing, Tony Khan was gungho about how his promotion would be different from what the market leader was producing. AEW would avoid the many things that had run wrestling fans off from WWE over the years. We had reason to believe him, given his background as a wrestling fan. This was a billionaire who grew up reading the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, a billionaire who attended shows at the ECW Arena as a teenager, sparking his life-long passion for wrestling. We called him Mid-South Tony. He was a wrestling nerd, one who cared about the sport of pro wrestling, the history of pro wrestling, and an individual with both the money, the desire, and the access to the talent needed to create a truly different alternative.

He was one of us. And to Khan’s credit, he did create that alternative.

AEW has had its pitfalls, and no one has enjoyed everything they have done. Many stories, angles, and wrestlers in AEW have received varying levels of justified criticism over the years. At its core, however, AEW was the promotion that many of us had dreamed about. It was a promotion that respected its audience. It was a promotion that had logical stories and was worth analyzing on a deeper level. It was a promotion that had incredible matches weekly on television with some of the most exciting talent the wrestling world had to offer. Most importantly, it avoided the many pitfalls that caused fans to become disenfranchised with WWE and wrestling in general in the years before AEW’s launch. Finally, a promotion had come along for us. You may notice my use of the past tense.

That is because AEW is no longer that promotion.

Frankly, I’m not sure what AEW is anymore, or when the turning point was. I want to preface the arguments I’m about to make by saying that AEW can still do great things. I enjoy most of their PPVs, and by my assessment, they still have the best roster in professional wrestling. At year-end, the odds are high that AEW will have my match of the year and the highest amount of matches to hit my personal notebook. Unfortunately, great matches can’t save uninspired, lazy booking with a terrible champion, a champion whose atrocious instincts are seeping down the rest of the card. Months ago, I wrote an article on this site about the rise of melodrama in pro wrestling storytelling, and how MJF was the catalyst for AEW becoming overridden by it. Since the publication of my article, the problem has only gotten worse. MJF is still involved in some of the worst segments and skits in company history on a near-weekly basis, segments that, at times, are at the level of what I’d expect to see if I turned on NXT on Tuesday nights.

There is an increasing amount of characters in AEW who are one-note with zero subtlety whatsoever.

Daniel Garcia used to be a man who grappled with whether he was a sports entertainer or a wrestler. Now, he is a man who does a funny dance.

Prince Nana did a funny dance during Swerve’s entrance once. Now, it is all he does.

Toni Storm is one of the most talented women’s wrestlers on the roster, stuck doing an incredibly strange, off-putting old-timey movie star gimmick with segments that also wouldn’t be out of place on the worst WWE programming.

The issue is only getting worse, with new, terrible acts seemingly popping up every week, with more and more of the roster getting sucked into the vortex.

The storytelling and booking is getting significantly worse as well. This issue started earlier in the year with the build to AEW Double or Nothing 2023, with the choppy build to the four-way title match. After Double or Nothing, we had Forbidden Door, which had an incredible build and tricked many people, including myself, into thinking AEW was back. Unfortunately, that was a facade, as post-Forbidden Door, we launched into the ALL IN build, once AEW remembered that the show existed. The build to that show was stage one of the Brochacho epidemic, an epidemic that has now infected the company as a whole. Ever since, the booking has continued on its downward spiral. It isn’t worth analyzing AEW booking anymore, because the effort isn’t being put into the booking like it used to.

AEW used to be different from WWE, booking long-term storylines that made sense, leaving nuggets along the way for the hardcores to pick up on and enhance their enjoyment while still being palatable to the casual audience. Nowadays, it feels like the show is booked in a vacuum on a month-to-month basis. Take MJF vs. Kenny Omega, a match happening on October 28th on Collision. It is a match that should be a big deal, as outlined by Rich in his fantastic piece on FlagshipPatreon.com about how there is no justification for this match happening on three days’ notice. In the old days of AEW, this match would be teased for months leading up to it happening. It’s a match that likely wasn’t even in the cards a month ago, as I have no reason to assume that AEW even remembered MJF was close to breaking the record for longest reign until just weeks ago. In AEW booking, nothing makes sense anymore. For years, we’ve always talked about WWE booking and how it is a waste of time to analyze and think deeper about it, as the company themselves weren’t. It feels as if we are now at that point with AEW as well, which is a shame.

There are so many other little things with AEW that I could point out, such as the increasingly awful production, the bloat of the roster, and how nothing feels important, but it’s ultimately futile. There have been many pieces written on this site about the decline of AEW, and ultimately, I have zero reason to believe that the promotion is going to become what it once was. Once again, we wrestling fans have lost the war, yet another wrestling promoter is more interested in serving the fans who don’t actually like wrestling instead of the fans who got AEW to where it is today. Those fans are leaving AEW, burnt out by it becoming WWE-lite, or AEWWE if you prefer how that sounds. One can make all the excuses for AEW’s poor ticket sales that they want, but the fact is that AEW used to have no issues selling tickets. Nowadays, they have to resort to comps, reduced prices, and ticket offers to come close to what they put in the same building the last time they were there. Television ratings and PPV buys are static, showing little signs of the growth you’d want to see from a healthy, thriving business.

For those reasons, it baffles me why AEW has gone down this path, and who is to blame for it. My opinions on MJF are well-known, as I think his instincts for wrestling are terrible, and everything he’s touched in the last six months has been varying levels of dreadful.

However, he can’t be the only one blamed.

Tony Khan is the one with the bravado four years ago about how AEW would be different. To his credit, AEW was different. In 2021, AEW was the most I’ve enjoyed following a wrestling promotion in real-time. It was a hot product filled with incredible matches, great storylines, and must-see television. I don’t even watch Dynamite live most weeks anymore, resorting to fast-forwarding through much of it on DVR the next day or skipping it entirely. For all intents and purposes, this is a different promotion. The promotion isn’t for us anymore; it isn’t for the people who visit this website regularly.

The AEW we loved is dead and gone, and the sooner we come to accept that, the less time we will waste, hoping that AEW will go back to what it once was.

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