This is part two of my op-ed about the state of All Elite Wrestling right now. While Tony Khan and his team strive to placate a loud but extreme minority of fans of the federation, a lot has happened over the past few months, mostly thanks to the game we’ll call the Pandemic Storyline Scramble, and a lot of casual fans are losing interest in the show, myself included.
It’s been almost a month since the first half of this article, and all of it is meant to be constructive criticism. To Tony Khan, and the writers and bookers at All Elite Wrestling, know that I love the federation, and want it to succeed. But right now, long-term success seems like it’s slipping away to many devoted fans, and I want to tell you why we feel this way.
- AEW was supposed to be DIFFERENT. Now, it’s anything BUT.
When All Elite Wrestling started operations, the idea was to provide wrestling entertainment that was an alternative to what was being offered by the dominant force in the industry, World Wrestling Entertainment. And they got off to a good start. AEW hired anchors who were experienced, some had WWE runs behind them, none had been used well, and they bookended those people with two bonafide superstars, Chris Jericho and Jon “Dean Ambrose” Moxley.
The problem is, that’s where they should have shut the barn door.
Don’t get me wrong – if a wrestler or wrestlers have had bad, even absymal runs in WWE, then giving them a chance to showcase what they were truly capable of in AEW was fine – this line of thinking includes FTR first and foremost, but also includes both AEW founders Dustin and Cody Rhodes as well, and also the late Brodie Lee.
But to grab name stars just to grab them – that’s another matter entirely. Paul Wight might work because he’s primarily going to be an on-air commentary talent. But – I’m sorry, loyal hardcore fans – Matt Hardy hasn’t worked in AEW from DAY ONE. He’s bounced through FOUR different personas in just EIGHT MONTHS. He’s worse than someone suffering from Disassociative Personality Disorder. And even worse, he’s UNWATCHABLE. Did you see the reaction from the online pundits when Hardy and Page main-evented this week’s Dynamite, over the two hyped-out-the -wazoo matches, Shaq/Cody and Jurassic Express/FTR -Tully Blanchard? They had a field day – the main event positioning made absolutely NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. And positioning it such may have caused the best currently running feud ANYWHERE in wrestling to tank prematurely, but that’s no surprise, since as I noted in part one, AEW has been botching the Jurassic Express/FTR-Tully feud almost from DAY ONE. And screwing them over Wednesday night earned the company the venom of the online pundits and sheet writers because as lame as it turned out to be, it was STILL BETTER than Hardy/Quen vs Page/Silver.
Since Wednesday night, all the talk has been about the “hall of fame worthy” talent that is scheduled to make their debut at the AEW Revolution PPV this weekend. And it’s overshadowing EVERYTHING about the event, so much so that people aren’t talking about ANY of the matches. Is THAT the way to promote a huge PPV event?
People wanted to see AEW build up and coming talent into its own strong wrestling stable. And at first, that’s what happened. But as more and more former WWE names have come in, the homegrown talent has been pushed to the back burner. With one or two exceptions – Darby Allin and possibly Orange Cassidy come to mind – the emphasis stopped being on the indie talent selected to be a part of AEW to make their first big splash about August of 2020. Yes, I know people like Eddie Kingston and Lance Archer hadn’t had a large national audience, but they were KNOWN to more than just the hardcore fans when they arrived, thanks to the people who are rabid Ring Of Honor or Combat Zone Wrestling fans. But what about the younger guys whom AEW was depending on when it first started? They always end up on the shorter end of the stick, playing patsy for the more established stars who have come in. That was the same pattern of use of big name players that cost Total Nonstop Action its core audience about four years into their original run. Pretty soon, it was all about the big name stars (or has beens) that showed up over there and the guys who helped build TNA from the ground up, with the sole exception of AJ Styles, were shoved aside.
WWE legend CM Punk summed things up perfectly in a tweet to a fan asking if he was the big surprise coming this Sunday: “AEW should focus on the talent they already have.” It’s time to heed that message, and make sure it sticks. Because if my guess is correct about who Tony Khan has secured to an AEW deal that is being announced this weekend, the loudest sound won’t be the cheers for the signing…it will be the lingering clicking of people turning the channel…permanently. If my guess is correct – I will be one of those people, and so will 95% of the people I know as well…
2. The Impact Crossover
The decision to have Impact Wrestling cross over with AEW had some really well thought out intentions, and if executed correctly, it could have shaken the very foundation of today’s major federations to its core.
Instead, it has landed with a resounding “THUD”. Why? For one HUGE reason – Impact isn’t willing to let it’s major stars show up on AEW, and AEW isn’t about to let its major stars show up on Impact. And trust me, The Good Brothers are not anyone’s idea of MAJOR stars – they’re upper B Level at best. And Matt Hardy and Private Party? Well as I said above, Matt’s AEW run has been absolutely abysmal, and Private Party has taken the biggest dive of ANY of the “homegrown” talent since the pandemic hit.
NO. ONE. CARES.
For this cross over to succeed, you need to do the daring thing. Send Jon Moxley to take the Impact title off of champion Moose. Send the team of Chris Sabin and James Storm over to AEW to challenge for the tag team titles. There needs to be NAME involvement. The Good Brothers, while they ARE Impact’s tag champions, are part of the big overall problem, because most of the casual audience sees them as AJ Styles’ flunkies from his WWE run. Not fair, maybe. But still, true nonetheless. And one more thing – AEW has also brought in the biggest reason why “ECW on TNN” bombed so badly in the early 2000’s – Don Callis. While I have heard nothing but good things about the man from workers, and I realize that he’s a very nice man and a true lover of wrestling on the back end, his onscreen persona has always grated on most fans where he appears. Kenny Omega can help make this crossover work – but it needs to be WITHOUT Callis at his side. If ever there was a non-wrestler who generates “X-Pac/Baron Corbin”-style, “Boo, we hate you, DIE!” heat, it’s Callis.
And right now, the crossover seems to be at a standstill. But it can be saved. But it means a COMPLETE overhaul of the way both Impact and AEW runs their shows.
If you’re serious about making this work, Mr. Khan, then do the right thing, make the sacrifice, and BUY Impact Wrestling. It’s ready made, filled with a boatload of great talent that hasn’t been seen by about 70-80 percent of AEW’s audience, and can be used to infuse AEW with new life, new storylines, and more terrific talent. Purchase Impact Wrestling, move it to TNT and rechristen it AEW Saturday Night IMPACT, treat it like an equal to Dynamite as WWE currently does with Raw and Smackdown. Represent both shows on all AEW pay per views. Switch out talent between the two shows every now and then to keep things fresh.
And for GOD SAKES, bring back the six-sided ring. That ring, unique to mainstream US-based wrestling, was what gave TNA/Impact it’s identity, gave it it’s unique perspective on US wrestling. It was that show’s very heart and soul, and when it was gutted, the show plummeted and has NEVER been able to regain it’s toehold, let alone a foothold, on the market. But it could again…as an official and equal part of All Elite Wrestling. One day soon, i’d like to hear an announcer say, “It’s Saturday Night…you know what that means – it’s time for AEW Saturday Night Impact!“
That’s enough for now, I’ll have part three later this week. After I take a look at “Revolution” and how they pull things together (or blow things apart), I’m sure I’ll have a few more things to say…