Months after it was announced that AEW had signed a new deal with Warner Media that extended their contract and gave them an extra hour of content on TNT, we are set to see the debut of AEW Rampage on August 13th, 2021. There’s a lot of speculation on what form the show is going to take when it finally arrives on Friday nights, and speculation just so happens to be my bread and butter. So settle in and enjoy as I ponder 5 directions AEW could take AEW Rampage.
1. (Worst Case Scenario) AEW Dark: Rampage
It’s safe to assume that if AEW officials are putting Rampage on TNT, that they are planning to put out a higher level of content than they do on their twin Youtube shows. And with the hype of the debut episode, as well as all the buzz surrounding the “First Dance” edition the week after teasing the return of CM Punk of all people, it seems like AEW have full intention of making Rampage a must-see program.
Later in this article, my illustrious guest writer Sam B. will highlight the many pitfalls AEW could encounter when adding additional content to their schedule, but I want this entry to highlight a pitfall they’ve already fallen into twice.
On October 8th 2019, AEW debuted their second official show, AEW Dark on their Youtube channel. The show was meant to air the Dark matches that were taped in the arena before Dynamite started properly. The first few episodes had genuinely hot match-ups that would feel at home on any Dynamite. But after a few weeks and especially after the start of the pandemic the show devolved to squash matches with enhancement talents.
A year and a half later on March 15th 2021, AEW introduced a third show called AEW Dark: Elevation—slated to be similar to Dark, but focused more on individual talent and giving them a platform to get over their characters. It was supposed to be Dark, but better—going as far as having Kenny Omega be the focal point of the first episode. It soon became Dark, just with Big Show on commentary and a few highlight packages.
So that’s twice that AEW have introduced new shows that have been reduced to jobber matches and win farming. The fact that these air on Youtube mean that there’s no real harm in that, and since AEW Rampage isn’t under the Dark banner, it’s unlikely that it will follow the same pattern. But there’s always a chance, and if it does, it would certainly be the worst-case-scenario for the promising program.
2. More Women, Please!
It’s come to a point where the fanbase has started to sound like a broken record week after week, crying out for something to come along and set AEW’s women’s division on the right track. Every week on Dynamite we get women’s matches with very little story behind them, or flat out squash matches to fill the obligation of having one women’s match per show. But fans are quickly becoming dissatisfied with the lack of direction in the division, and a new show is a perfect opportunity to give more time to the many talented women on the roster.
Those in the fanbase who follow the Dark shows regularly will know that the women are given plenty of opportunity to hone their skills. Between Dark and Dark: Elevation. The women typically have 7 or 8 matches a week. The problem is that those matches never truly have a storyline reason for happening, combined with the limited time they get on Dynamite. AEW hasn’t given fans much of a reason to care about their women’s division. Giving the women more time on a program with similar importance to Dynamite will give them more time to develop and further the storyline’s they’re currently lacking.
It also gives me hope that the first episode is being set up around the AEW Women’s World Champion Britt Baker’s match against Red Velvet. Yes, the show takes place in the Champion's hometown of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, but still all the marketing for the debut episode of Rampage has centered around the Women’s Champion. Unless they book a bigger match on Dynamite this week, this title match will likely be the main event. If that’s the case I could see them booking a show closing angle setting up Baker’s next major challenger and hopefully an actual storyline for the women going forward.
3. Brand Split?
And it’s time again for my favorite entry. The “this definitely won’t happen, but a man can dream” portion of the article, where I spend too much time musing about a scenario that is highly unlikely, but would be really cool. This week’s entry is the idea of an AEW brand split.
I’ll preface this by saying that I think it’s far too early for an brand split in AEW. I don’t think the roster is bloated to the point where one is necessary. WWE didn’t decide they needed a second second show until 6 years after the debut of Monday Night Raw, and it didn’t become it’s own brand until 3 years after an influx of talent after the Invasion in 2001. AEW hasn’t reached the point of needing a second brand, but if they chose to split the roster, I think they could do some cool things with it.
One key benefit of a brand split is the ability to represent multiple booking ideologies. When WWE split RAW and Smackdown officially, (and actually stuck to the separation of brands,) the difference between the two were clear. Smackdown has historically been the “work-horse” brand, consistently pumping out the best matches with the company’s best workers. And RAW has always been seen as the “sports entertainment” brand, representing the larger-than-life side of wrestling. With all the creative minds in AEW, it’s not hard to imagine two rosters with completely different booking philosophies. Even on Dynamite you can tell the difference between a Cody Rhodes led storyline and an Elite led storyline, and I can only imagine what either could do when left in charge of entire brands.
Another benefit of separate brands is the ability to push more wrestlers. While I don’t think the roster is big enough to necessitate a split, I do think it could help. There’s a lot of high level talent in the AEW roster, and a good amount of them are stuck in the mid-card. A second brand with its own dedicated roster would need its own set of main eventers, opening up a spot for someone like PAC. He’s been a mainstay on the AEW roster, constantly treated like a main eventer, but always falling short because someone is always ahead in the queue. WWE’s brand-split made room for the Smackdown 6. Six main-event talent that likely would have been lost in the shuffle if it weren’t for a second brand. AEW has more than enough talent to have their own Rampage 6 if the need (or want) arises.
4. Too Many Hours Spoil the Broth (Contributed by Sam B)
Call me a pessimist if you like but historically speaking, wrestling companies with weekly episodic TV shows have nearly always ended up diluting their product when they expanded their televised hours. Be it WCW adding a third hour to Nitro and creating Thunder, WWE extending Raw to three hours, creating Smackdown or pushing NXT to two hours it has always ended up with a long-term deterioration in the company's output.
It always starts with the best of intentions; 'they will have more time to showcase up and coming talent' or 'it will let different divisions shine'. All of those positive sentiments are great in theory, however the creative reality is that the two hour limit has often helped to properly focus the creative minds behind the show into putting out a tightly produced, streamlined product.
The decline doesn't happen overnight, there will always be a Smackdown-Six honeymoon period, but a year or two down the line that extra time becomes something that overstretches the minds behind the show and the audience is left fast forwarding through yet another NWO split, ten minute JBL promo, or DQ finish so there can be a rematch next week.
Right now Dynamite is hitting in such a fantastic way, the stories are hot, the matches are nearly always good if not great, everything feels important and vital to the show and I don't want to see that compromised. There are, of course, some notable shortcomings and an extra hour may seem like a way to solve them, but historically adding time has never been the magic bullet it seems to be.
If anyone can overcome this hurdle it is AEW, particularly given that they let the wrestlers drive large parts of their own presentation and I truly hope they do make it work. However, when it comes to wrestling I will always pick quality to win over quantity.
5. Dynamite… But an Hour
This is normally where I’d put the big punctuating point of this article, but the truth of the matter is, we already know what Rampage is going to be. It’s going to be a miniature version of AEW Dynamite on a Friday night. From the time of it’s announcement, it’s been described as a third hour of Dynamite. It may have a different set and a different song, but the matches and booking will largely be the same. And while I’m holding out hope for more female representation, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to do much to set itself apart from Dynamite. And that may end up being a good thing.
Viewing Rampage as an extension of Dynamite makes the program more about the booking, and less about the branding. Rampage doesn’t need to be anything more than another good wrestling show. The only risk they run, as Sam pointed out, is juggling so much content that quality starts to fall by the wayside.
AEW actually had a trial run of Rampage not too long ago. On September 22nd, 2020, AEW Late Night Dynamite aired on TNT on a Saturday. It was an hour long three match card featuring names like Scorpio Sky, Shawn Spears, and Matt Sydal. It also had an angle from the Nightmare Family/Dark Order storyline running at the time in the match between Anna Jay and Brandi Rhodes. The show was treated like a miniature episode of Dynamite, and having an angle from an important feud helped put that over.
That episode of Late Night Dynamite saw an average rating of 585k viewers. At the time that was a high percentage of Dynamite's average viewer base and was seen as a success. If Rampage consistently reaches 500k viewers or above, it’ll probably be seen as a success. That was true for Dynamite when it started, I have no doubt it’s true for Rampage. But if AEW wants Rampage to be the official third hour for Dynamite, they’ll want to pop the biggest ratings possible. If the rumors are to be believed and AEW is planning on having CM Punk debut on Rampage and not Dynamite, that will accomplish two things: Get Rampage a high rating by it’s second episode, and solidify it as having equal importance to Dynamite.
This article was a bit different from my normal 5 Directions articles. Normally I’d be analyzing a story, but with all the hype surrounding Rampage, I felt it appropriate to do an article on the possibilities of what it could look like. And although the reality of the matter is that it’s probably going to be more of the same, it doesn’t mean that there isn't anything to get excited about. A whole new show for AEW means more than just more content. It represents growth. I highlighted earlier that WWE started a second show 6 years after RAW began running weekly. We’re barely in AEW’s third year, and they’re already getting more air time. So whether it becomes it’s own brand, or an absolute booking nightmare, the mere existence of AEW Rampage is insane to think about.
A huge thanks to Sam B (@Sir_Samuel on Twitter) for providing a section to this article. He provided a very realistic look at what Rampage could become. Do yourself a favor and follow him on Twitter.