AEW has been touted to have one of, if not the best, rosters of all time. It’s hard to disagree when you see a list of names that resembles an all-star team of the 21st century indies, Japan, WWE, and TNA. It hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning, while the roster was still strong, AEW was full of faces that were new to national television, with just enough recognizable names at the top to catch some eyeballs for the upstart company. They had no choice but to use their few stars who had already made their name to try and elevate those who were underexposed to the majority of American wrestling fans.

In the years since, AEW has legitimized itself and added dozens of top-tier wrestlers to its ranks. AEW’s current roster construction leaves them with a balancing act between getting the most they can out of their older, established wrestlers and building the next generation. Has AEW tilted the scale too far in one direction? Is AEW at risk of the clock striking midnight on their older talents before the next generation is ready?

One of AEW’s strengths has been embracing wrestling history. That respect for wrestling history has led to excelling at making some of the greatest of all time feel special. Look at this list of names: Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, The Young Bucks, Jon Moxley, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Samoa Joe. In this group, there are three Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Famers and 78 Wrestling Observer Awards. There are 49 major championships even if you don’t count AEW championships. These were all made men when they walked through the door in AEW. Earlier, I referenced the balancing act between maximizing your established talent and making new stars. AEW has done a great job of the former. There are 13 pay-per-view matches where two of these talents were on opposing sides, seven of those matches being main events. These men are linked by their roles in making AEW’s three most successful homegrown stars.

Hangman Page was elevated by The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and Bryan Danielson. Darby Allin was elevated by Samoa Joe, Cody Rhodes, and Sting. MJF was elevated by Jericho, Punk, Moxley, Danielson, and now Omega. For just four years in business, three main eventers is an impressive number, but the clock is ticking. While they’re all still working at a high level, the most daunting number that binds the men in this list is the average age of the active members: 41.

In the current wrestling landscape, 41 isn’t as old as it used to be, but it could be risky to bank on five more years for everyone. Omega, Danielson, and Joe all have a history of injuries that have caused them to miss ring time. AEW has historically been conservative in their booking, and it has caused them to miss out on several big matches with the departures of Cody Rhodes and CM Punk, granted one of those is an extreme circumstance. This isn’t to say that the problem lies with these men and how they’ve been booked.

In fact, AEW has been very good about giving people big wins over their stars. Daniel Garcia beat Bryan Danielson. Konosuke Takeshita beat Kenny Omega. Chris Jericho loses to just about everybody. The problem is a lack of follow-through.

Over a year later, Daniel Garcia is, at best, in the same position that he was before beating Danielson.

Takeshita has barely been able to make it on screen since beating Omega.

Jungle Boy got a win over Christian, and they had no choice but to turn him heel less than four months later.

Let’s look at the successful examples from earlier.

Hangman Page was the first big project for AEW, his story was plotted out from the start of the company with one clear person for him to beat. After overcoming Kenny Omega, it was straight into a Danielson feud to really drive the point home.

From 2020-2022, MJF was always in a program with a lot of TV time. Here’s a list of MJF’s major programs in order until his first pay-per-view as champion. Cody, Jungle Boy, Mox, Jericho, Darby Allin, CM Punk, Wardlow, Mox again, Bryan Danielson. For someone as talented as Max, it would be hard not to get over with a list of opponents like that.

Darby Allin got his win over Cody Rhodes on Full Gear 2020 and was elevated by constantly being on Dynamite and defending the TNT Championship. Even after losing the championship, a pairing with Sting kept him afloat and on-screen until the Samoa Joe feud early this year brought him back to the upper midcard, culminating in a main event match on WrestleDream.

All three of these pushes required consistent television time and, in MJF and Hangman’s cases, a long-term plan.

Is this incarnation of AEW capable of that anymore?

Orange Cassidy is the most encouraging sign that AEW still has its fastball. His title defenses were a priority on television, leading to one of the best title reigns in recent memory. Swerve Strickland has been one of AEW’s most successful pushes this year, and he’s 12-11, and that’s because he gets consistent TV time. Right now, TV time is at more of a premium in AEW than a high winning percentage, and more of that time is being dedicated to the older portion of their roster than ever.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand most of the signings AEW has made since Dynamite began.

Sting has been the perfect pairing for Darby Allin. Christian Cage’s feud with Jungle Boy is the best that Jungle Boy has been used. In isolation, most of these signings have been good, but when you add them all up, the company feels a lot older than it did in early 2021.

The balance between homegrown AEW wrestlers and more exposed television talent will continue to be difficult if WWE adopts the UFC strategy of letting people walk if they don’t meet a certain level of star power.

Is it worth it to sign more talent who are so closely associated with a company that’s not AEW? Is AEW willing to risk losing young talent over it?

AEW will have to answer these questions in the future, but one thing is certain: signing stars instead of building stars is not sustainable.

The good news for AEW is that they have all the talent they need to build the next generation of AEW, and for now they have time, but the clock is ticking.

Powered by RedCircle