When AEW: Wednesday Night Dynamite debuted in October 2019 it was must see television for our household, and for many wrestling fans around the world as well.
The “must see” nature has now worn off a bit, mostly thanks to the pandemic, but also thanks to the utterly abysmal writing for most of the past eight months. For proof of that, you need only to look at how the company handled the criticism surrounding the badly botched end of their recent Revolution PPV; instead of doing the right thing – owning up to it and issuing an apology to the fans – they decided to treat it – and the fans outrage – like a joke. OK, wow…
Now, AEW, which already has one YouTube series, “AEW:Dark” (get it? Sigh…), is debuting a new series, “AEW: Dark:Elevation” tonight. So what’s the difference between the two shows?
I queried AEW on that very question this past weekend…and never got an answer.
The easy answer is this – as I have been led by the press releases to understand this, “Dark” features only AEW-signed wrestlers, while “Dark:Elevation” will also feature some indie wrestlers who are not yet signed to the company, apparently meaning that they get “elevated” to a national spotlight. What that actually means for already signed talent conscripted to launch this show is beyond me.
That, plus “Dark” is anchored by Excalibur and Taz, and “Elevation” will be anchored by Tony Schiavone and Paul Wight.
Other than that, there really seems to be no major difference between the two shows. They are still primarily “squash” shows, where the enhancement talent (on “Dark”, it’s signed players; on “Elevation” I would assume that means mostly the non-signed indie wrestlers) takes a loss to help push the AEW talent further up the ladder.
I’m going to get yelled at for this for “timeline” issues, like I did when I brought this up on Twitter a couple weeks ago, but this show is nothing more than “WWE Superstars” was in the 80s and 90s, other than the fact that they’re squishing contracted players (some of whom are in the mid level card area) in favor of making bigger stars out of the others. Is that so bad? Well, yes, it is. The difference is this – rarely if EVER did “Superstars” feature what we’ll call the “cannibal” factor – sacrificing their own signed mid-card or even upper-card talents for other signed talent. “Superstars” featured the top players of the day taking out a few contracted players or other “farm team” wrestlers (the local boys from the city where that week’s episode was taped) that were there for that purpose – there IS a reason the term “enhancement talent” exists, you know. You could see Lex Luger taking out Barry Horowitz, or Owen Hart taking out the Brooklyn Brawler, or Razor Ramon taking out a local guy (in the Boston area, it was usually the awesome Tony Roy – or Antoine Roi, depending on whether he was face or heel in the match). But you would NEVER see Luger taking on Hart, or Razor Ramon taking out another name, say maybe 1-2-3 Kid – those matches were saved for the show’s flagship at the time, WWF Monday Night Raw. You did NOT do the name vs name matches on the syndicated show. It just wasn’t done.
Now, mind you, AEW is playing on a completely different playing field, I will grant you that much. When “Superstars” was on every week back in the day, it was on syndicated television, and streaming didn’t even exist in the minds of those who ended up creating it. Now, streaming TV is a norm, YouTube is the biggest place to be for it outside of a major streamer (like, hmmmm, let’s say…hmmm…Peacock? And YES, that IS a slam), and AEW has the funding and the operations that makes sure they can form their own “in-house” farm team. So in that, AEW is pretty unique, and no one really comes off looking that bad…except, of course, they DO.
Kudos to the acts on “Dark” who have apparently graduated from the YouTube show and onto major cable network television – “Pretty” Peter Avalon, Varsity Blonds Brian Pillman Jr and Griff Garrison, and one or two other acts. But what of “Elevation“? What is this going to actually entail? And how badly is this show (and “Dark”) going to continue to affect honest to goodness, hard working, talented mid-card wrestlers?
Let’s take a look at tonight’s episode listing – here’s the matches scheduled for the premiere of AEW:Dark:Elevation (too damn many colons, people! and…HERE’S ANOTHER ONE):
Riho vs. Maki Itoh (name vs name)
Jungle Boy vs Danny Limelight (name vs enhancement)
Dante Martin vs. Max Caster (name vs name)
Tay Conti vs. Ashley Vox (name vs enhancement)
Brandon Cutler vs. Will Hobbs (name vs name)
Mike & Matt Sydal vs. Joel Nelson and Royce Isaacs (name team vs enhancement team)
Miro and Kip Sabian (with Penelope Ford) vs. Baron Black and Vary Morales (name team vs enhancement team)
Abadon vs. Ray Lyn (name vs enhancement)
QT Marshall vs Marko Stunt (name vs name)
Diamante vs. Leila Grey (name vs enhancement)
The Butcher & The Blade and Private Party vs. Dean Alexander & Carlie Bravo & Brick Aldridge & David Ali (name clusterfork vs enhancement clusterfork)
Of the eleven matches (!) scheduled for the debut of the show, four of them pit name talent against name talent – Riho vs Maki Itoh, Dante Martin of Top Flight vs Max Caster of The Acclaimed, Brandon Cutler vs Will Hobbs, and QT Marshall vs Marko Stunt. So what happens to the four “name” stars that have to do the job to the other four? How is this elevating ANYONE? Does that mean that if Itoh manages a win over Riho, the former women’s champion is banished to the enhancement talent ward for the foreseeable future? If Martin does the job to Caster (who continues to be pushed out the wazoo, too soon in my opinion because the guy is incredibly sloppy in the ring – take a close look at one of his more recent matches as a singles wrestler), does that mean Top Flight is not going to be featured on “Dynamite” for months on end? Hobbs beating Cutler wouldn’t be a surprise, as the latter is one of the few names who seems to be stuck in the mix as permanent enhancement talent anyway, even though Hobbs has NOWHERE NEAR Cutler’s experience in the ring. And Marko Stunt…wow, Mr. Fun Size just can’t catch a break in AEW lately; after a clusterfork of incompetence that utterly destroyed what was the best feud the company had running, pitting Jurassic Express against FTR, until it’s complete and utter trashing with an inexplicable and utterly mystifying apparent finale two weeks ago, he’s now, win or lose, the sacrificial lamb for QT Marshall’s continuing heel turn. So where will that leave him now? NOT where most of his fans want him to be, that’s for damn sure. So again I ask, who’s being elevated by this match? No one, that’s who. So it seems to me that name vs name matches on “Elevation” means purgatory for some of the name talent, at the very least.
Also, why are both “Dark” and, given the overly long list of matches for tonight’s premiere, “Elevation” running so DAMN LONG? At best, they should be no more than an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. For Pete’s sake, one of the recent “Dark” episodes came in at two hours and thirteen minutes – longer than an episode of “AEW Dynamite”, and WITHOUT COMMERCIALS – what the hell? But…that’s an entirely different topic for another time.
So, I’ll be checking out the premiere of “Dark:Elevation” tonight, as a lot of AEW fans will be doing. I really Really REALLY want this to be a great show, the premiere show the company has been promoting it to be. But… I’m not expecting to be wowed – I guess we’ll wait and see what happens. It could be my assumptions about the latest AEW streaming show are off base. Given the general downhill trend of AEW’s writing over the past eight or so months, however, I’m not gonna hold my breath…