After an exciting year that saw the introduction of AEW and it's debut on TV, it is time to review it's beginnings and think about how to move forward. AEW is a great new wrestling brand that has achieved so very much in a short space of time but there are definite issues that must be addressed.
Here are the 5 positives and 5 next steps for AEW as we end 2019.
Positive #1 - Chris Jericho
In the words of Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho is a bonafide wrestling legend. Therefore, crowning him as the first champion of a wrestling company that claimed to be ushering in a new era of professional wrestling was always going to invite snarky comments from detractors.
However, Chris Jericho has performed far better than anyone could have dreamed. His matches with Kenny Omega, Cody and Darby Allin have been compelling. Despite his advancing age, he has been able to weave story and showmanship into matches that is so very valuable to AEW. Yet this is not his most valuable skill to AEW.
'Le Champion's' ability to captivate an audience and hold them in the palm of his hand is a skill that WWE always capitalised on but never fully unleashed. In AEW, he is a man at the peak of his craft. Spitting out memes wherever he turns is invaluable for a company in this age of fast-paced social media.
Yet, it may be his skill in elevating every entity around him that proves his biggest attribute of value to AEW. He has made the brand new AEW Championship seem precious and prestigious already. He has built a blockbuster story with Cody to headline the first post-TV debut PPV. He has elevated talents such as Darby Allin, Scorpio Sky and Jungle Boy by making them feel almost as much of a threat as AEW super-power, Cody.
Jericho, may be coming to the end of his in-ring career but this may be the most influential run of his career. Thank you, Jericho!
Positive #2 - Cody and the Crowd
Like with so many of the decisions they have made within the genesis of their company, AEW came into question when the main event of their first Post TV-debut PPV was a match between two ex-WWE guys of which one of was an EVP of the company.
How wrong they were. They feud between Cody and Jericho was electric. There were great moments such as the sky-box brawl, Cody's promo and Jericho's satirical video package, however it was Cody's connection with the crowd that propelled this feud forward.
Nobody in wrestling currently has the connection with their fans that Cody has. Oli Davis of Wrestletalk articulates it very well well he states that he doesn't just support him but he feels like he loves him!
There's an argument that Cody has surpassed one of the most iconic voices in professional wrestling in CM Punk. Punk claimed to be the voice of the disenfranchised wrestling fan, however Cody has been the embodiment of this alongside Omega and the Bucks. The difference between these men is that Cody has ended up being the figurehead of the AEW movement.
Positive #3 - AEW Dark
AEW Dark is a fairly simple concept. In order to sweeten the pot for live fans, companies will put on dark matches that are not televised that don't always inform storylines. These matches can be used to keep performers sharp or to try out concepts. However, AEW have decided to use this in a cost-effective way.
By filming this, performers can put on a show for their fans more regularly and can hone their in-ring skills. For a company such as AEW that is new and does not have a developmental system, this is gold-dust.
Dark has straight up wrestling matches adjacent to TV storylines. They often inform and the numbers count towards storylines however the focus is very much on the wrestlers and the wrestling.
Additionally, these matches are some of the better matches that AEW has produced as part of it's weekly content. Kenny Omega often wrestles on Dark in high quality singles matches. We've also seen a lot of really great tag team wrestling on Dark. Dark also gives you wrestlers that may not have a regular slot on Dynamite.
Positive #4 - Promo Packages
These have been incredible. The 'Road to' series helped fill the TV-gap admirably pre-Dynamite and there has been a range of excellent video packages since.
The cream of the crop is perhaps the now legendary Chris Jericho bubbly quest in mocking of Cody's title quest video. However there have been many more; Britt Baker's ripping into Bea Priestly, the Dark Order's recruitment drive and the heart-felt background on Big Swole.
These are an excellent part of AEW that must continue. No other com[any is currently producing such high end content to back up it's in-ring product. This is an area Kenny Omega could have more input into. His Undertale entrance and Wrestle Kingdom 13 video are examples of artistic creativity that we need to see more of.
Positive #5 - Fan Investment
The fans want AEW to succeed. Like really really want them to succeed! The Elite have build a connection to their audience like perhaps no other act in the history of professional wrestling. They seem like real and decent people and the fans gravitate towards them.
This goes back the Nick Jackson and the inception of Being The Elite. Having a vlog was by no means revolutionary, but the way Matt, Nick and Kenny have let the fans get to know them and entertained them with their quirky sense of humour is special. They are international superstars how manage to seem normal. An admirable feat.
After such a long time of frustration and disenchantment with WWE, die-hard wrestling fans are desperate to see a major Western-style wrestling company succeed.
AEW is the embodiment of this. No other wrestling company would achieve the feat of having most of their audience stay back after the show to here what the wrestlers have to say. Some companies can't even get their fans to stay to the end of the show, period...
Hot crowds are such a vital part of wrestling presentation, see Hogan-Rock, and AEW has this in spades. The investment of the crowd in that Jericho-Cody match was a thing to see and something that the WWE simply cannot replicate.
Cody Rhodes' entrance is perhaps the greatest illustration of the fans connection with AEW talent.
Next Step #1 - 'Wrestling League'
AEW Dynamite is advertised as a 'New Wrestling League'. This is a great idea. They have promised a sports-centric product and many sports are based around leagues. However, sports have rules and structures.
If AEW wants to differentiate it's self from WWE and treat it's viewer as if they have intelligence they need to clearly define themselves as different. Yes, AEW are a tremendous alternative to WWE, however, they have made lofty claims and that therefore created lofty expectations.
The rankings have not mirrored a league system. They have been manipulated to give easy lead ins to matches the company wants to book, most notably in the booking of Statlander vs Baker even though Shida was ahead in the rankings and had beat Baker.
Additionally, still using this example, Shida was number one but did not get a title match. When does a number one ranked wrestler get a title opportunity? When management decided? Not very sports-orientated...
Who wrestlers are scheduled to compete against, how many matches they have had and when title matches take place should be factored by rankings and set out in rules.
Wrestlers who are high in the rankings should not be so by defeating jobbers or low-ranking talent. This is a flawed and non-sporting system.
Title opportunities should be planned for. The wrestler at the top of the rankings after a set number of matches or time should get the opportunity. Rather than when an unseen and unexplained entity decides.
Next Step #2 - Match Length
AEW has more or less put it's self forward as the antithesis of the WWE. Less sports entertainment, more pro wrestling. However, matches seem to be short in order to fit in lots of stories on Dynamite.
In fact, no wrestling match has lasted longer than 16 minutes on AEW Dynamite. The longer matches have been on AEW Dark, free on Youtube rather than the flagship TV program.
They continuously book stacked cards of their TV show to draw viewers but under deliver on match quality. The week of Omega/Page, MJF/Page and Sky/Jericho ended up being underwhelming as not of the matches lived up to their billing.
The recent AEW Tag Championship match between the Young Bucks and SCU was cut short for an angle to close out AEW in 2019 and this is the issue. AEW has not provided the high-calibre of wrestling that fans have been expecting.
Surely, one match a week could be a 20+ minutes high calibre wrestling match? Understandable a weekly show can't expect to retain viewers with a slew of such matches but the main event should be a showcase of what the company is ultimately about, Good wrestling.
Next Step #3 - Women's Wrestling
Yeah... You knew it was coming... AEW's Women's division. It's not good.
That's, of course, an over-simplification. It is good, the wrestlers are very good and engaging. However, AEW has not presented the division appropriately or with parity to the other two divisions.
Let's start with the title. It's ridiculous. I'm sorry but it is. It does not look like a prestigious wrestling title. Both the AEW World Championship and the AEW Tag Championships benefit from looking like really valuable prizes. The AEW Women's Championship, designed for it's champions or not, does not look prestigious. It looks of lesser value or a youth belt. Not a good start.
Then there's the champion. I've loved Riho, or i did until Full Gear, but she's been absent forr most of the last month. WWE gets slammed for their absentee champions. This has really hurt the division especially when the champions of the other brands are so prominent within the company and on television.
That brings us to the booking of the division. The way Emi Sakura was propelled into the title picture as almost a last minute thought was strange. The booking of number one contenders matches without logical use of the rankings has made the whole division seem less legitimate. That's all without mentioning the lack of actual matches on TV or Youtube in comparison to the other divisions.
None of these are difficult to fix. More competitors need to build up momentum and screen time and if Riho is unable to be present it seems necessary to have a title change. Oh and that title has got to go.
Next Step #4 - Priorities
This was touched on earlier but AEW's priorities and overall strategy can seem muddled at times. Wins and losses will matter was the over-rider moniker as we got closer to the inception of Dynamite. However, there has been a significant sports entertainment feel to the weekly show in recent weeks.
With contrived booking and focus put on unrealistic characters/storylines, one could be forgiven for thinking AEW was starting to tread on WWE's territory. Short matches and many storylines taking away from the actual wrestling makes a viewer wonder how AEW are perceiving the ratings turnaround to NXT.
When a wrestling company seems to be saying we will focus on the wrestling unlike that other company then you get the Nightmare Collective as a prominent women's act and the
Dark Order cutting main events short you do start to waiver.
It comes down to this, SCU vs Young Bucks started off with so much promise. The pace was electric and fans were so invested. Then at what felt like two thirds of the way in it just ended. Flat. Followed by THAT angle.
AEW ended 2019 with a convoluted sports entertainment storyline rather than a sports-centric focus on the wrestling.
Next Step #5 - Push The Elite
It's All Elite Wrestling. Not because the men from that group are big headed or self-important but because they are the brand. This company was started because of what they build as part of the Bullet Club, through BTE and on Twitter.
The fans came to this company through them, we fell in love with them and a lot of us watched NJPW, ROH and All In because of Cody, Matt, Nick and Kenny. Therefore, the fan base will not call 'Jeff Jarrett' as long as any pushing of the Elite is not over-gratuitous.
More to the point, these men are the biggest talents in the company. The Best Bout Machine, the best tag team in the world and quite possibly the best showman in all of wrestling, in Cody. They have nobly stepped to the side to benefit others however this may be a mistake.
Ultimately everyone benefits from the success of AEW. At this moment in time, AEW's success would benefit from the most popular wrestlers pushing themselves to the front.