Take a look back at Part 1 “What Works in AEW”
As AEW was forming as a promotion they made many promises to the wrestling community on what type of product they would be delivering. They promised creative freedom, not to be scripted, that records would matter, that they would listen to the audience, that it would be more sport centric and that it would focus on women’s and tag team wrestling better than any promotion in the world. One could argue that MOST of these promises have been delivered on. Some of those promises though we are still waiting to see come to fruition.
What does not work in AEW
Rules need to be established and enforced
If one of the goals of AEW was to be more ‘sport centric’ than you would think more attention would be given to one of the main aspects that defines most sports….RULES. Every sport is defined and created based on a specific set of rules. Unfortunately, AEW has never clearly established what their various rules are. A smart fan would not need these rules specifically spelled out for them, they would be able to decipher them based on what they see in the ring day in and day out. Again though, unfortunately even that would be hard to decipher since the rules seem to be completely inconsistent or even non-existent many times.
The most blatant instances of this ambiguity are evident in the Tag Team matches. Whether it be traditional tag matches, 6-man or even 8-man tag matches, it is anyone’s guess what is technically supposed to be allowed or not allowed.
If AEW genuinely wanted to create more of a realistic sport feel to their product, I would suggest the following adjustments. Establish who is and who is not allowed in the ring during a tag match and why and for how long. If a team is violating these rules, allow the referee to disqualify them. It would become instantly clear that there are firm and established rules for when you can enter the ring. When it becomes a free for all where anyone can enter the ring at anytime based on a whim, the audience loses the ability to keep track of the action. In football, can random players on the sideline run in and interfere with plays that are going on? I am not saying that they HAVE to go down this route. However, do not aspire to be more ‘sport like’ if you are not going to establish and live by a set of rules.
Also, using a foreign object in sight of a referee during a match that is not a “No-DQ” stipulated match should equate to an instant disqualification. If you can use foreign objects whenever you want, they lose their effectiveness and become much less impactful. Also, No DQ matches lose all value.
Another way to make the action seem more sport-like is to employ more submission style wrestlers or moves. The art of the submission is inherently athletic and strategic and can immediately make your matches feel more like an actual athletic contest.
Lastly, one thing you want to avoid at all costs, would be to make your action seem staged or unbelievable. The announcers have pointed this out numerous times, but having 2-6 wrestlers standing outside of the ring , in a position that allows them to catch with outstretched arms a wrestler that is flying at them from the nearest turnbuckle or through the ropes, is not only cringeworthy but takes away any semblance of reality from your performance. No person in a fight would stand stationary waiting for their adversary to jump off the ropes at them. This brings me to another thing AEW could improve on…
Overuse of moves
AEW is chalk full of ridiculously talented athletes that are capable of incredible feats. These feats lose some of their magic though when we seen them EVERY OTHER MATCH. The tope suicida has now been featured 796 times in the 365 days since AEW debuted on TNT. The move has been killed now. Not to mention that it is a ridiculous move anyways since 50% of the time it is used on competitors that had more then plenty of time to move out of the way. There are some great moves featured on AEW television however it seems that there are about a half dozen of them that have become favorites by the roster in general. If they are not careful, they will kill some of those moves as well.
This is compounded by the fact that the roster although truly diverse in many senses, does not seem to be as diverse as it could be when it comes to actual wrestling styles. One thing that worked so well in WCW’s hey day was the fact that any given match could have consisted of high flying luchadores such as Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera, UK style wrestling from the likes of Lord Steven Regal, Hardcore grind out matches from Raven’s flock, cruiserweight marathons from Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, Heavyweight battles from Giant or Goldberg, or smashmouth wrestling from Arn Anderson and company. In AEW however, it seems that every competitor or Tag Team outside of FTR is aspiring to be the most athletic and the most high-flying wrestlers that they could be. Diversity of style could go a long way here.
Speaking of moves, one thing that has been missing from wrestling for decades now has been the respect and importance of the finishing move. Finishing moves are one of the things the fans look forward to more than anything else when they tune in to watch their favorite wrestlers. When I was a kid and pretending to be a wrestler with my neighborhood friends, we did not practice arm drags, suplexes, hip tosses or any other normal wrestling move. No, we were doing Sharpshooters, Flying elbow drops, the Razor’s Edge, or the Tombstone. We were attracted to finishing moves and often selected our favorite wrestler very much based on how much we liked their finisher.
Two things instantly kill finishing moves in a promotion. First, is allowing OTHER wrestlers to use someone else’s finisher. Second, is allowing someone to kick out of someone’s finisher. A finisher should be the sole property of one specific wrestler, and it should live up to its name of FINISHING the match. Effective finishing moves add so much to the presentation. It gives an inherent tension to the match as you see a wrestler trying to prepare for or find an opening for their specific finisher. You know, if they can pull it off, they are going to win so we have anticipation and anxiousness as any near finishes are performed. I am not saying that finishing moves do not exist in AEW, just that too many of them have been used by other wrestlers or kicked out of multiple times. This needs to stop.
Too many Quick Angles/Immediate Signings
Another thing that has driven me nuts over this first year of AEW is how quickly certain matches are ‘signed’ or ‘announced’. Far too often the following scenario has played out: Wrestler A is headed from the ring to the back, Wrestler A has a brief altercation with Wrestler B either at the guard rail or the entrance ramp, 10 seconds later a graphic is shown on the screen as the announcers inform us that “this in, Tony Khan has just signed a match between Wrestler A and Wrestler B next week on dynamite!”
First, it should take more than one brush up to lead to an actual match. Let it play out for a couple different segments at the minimum, or even better, over several weeks. Your audience will buy into the actual match more that way. Second, you lose ALL semblance of reality if a graphic is already screen ready within seconds of the initial dust-up. This comes across so staged that it really makes it hard to buy into the supposed tension or heat between the two wrestlers. Instead of letting the broadcast booth announce these match signings from Tony Khan, stick with the actual wrestlers calling each other out or challenging each other.
The Women’s Division
I have defended AEW to many critics or wrestling fans when it comes to many aspects of the promotion. The hardest one to defend however, is the quality of the women’s division. It is unfortunate because back in August of 2019 at All Out we saw a women’s Casino Battle Royale that had me extremely excited about the potential of the women’s division. This match consisted of the likes of Priscilla Kelly, Sadie Gibbs, Big Swole, Penelope Ford, Tenille Dashwood, Ivelisse, Nicole Savoy, Teal Piper, and Mercedes Martinez.
Unfortunately, only two of those women were featured in the months that came after that event (Ford and Swole) and only one additional member of that group in recent months (Ivelisse). If you do not count the vary brief (to this point) appearances of Lil Swole (Nicole Savoy). Sadie Gibbs was ushered out before even getting a chance to establish herself and many of the others were not signed by AEW (yet) for various reasons.
They could have survived the limited roster in the first 4-6 months had it not been for the ridiculous booking when it came to the first Women’s champion. Giving that honor to Riho, who after only about 3-4 title defenses, lost the title and disappeared off the face of the Earth. Do not get me wrong, Hikaru Shida has been a bright spot and a decent champion but outside of Nyla Rose and the recent match with Thunder Rosa, there have not been very many threats to her reign. Injuries to the likes of Kris Statlander, Britt Baker and others have not helped but the Women’s division really needs an injection of energy and excitement (and talent).
Use of managers
Although, the inclusion of managers has been a great idea overall in my opinion, you cannot help but notice that at times the Managers have not been utilized in the most effective manner. Arn Anderson and Vicki Guerrero have not added much to Nyla Rose or Cody Rhodes up to this point. I still think they can be effective, but something needs to click with them, or we lose the ability to rationalize why they are there. Jake Roberts, Tazz and Tully Blanchard have been utilized much more effectively though to be fair.
Treatment of surprises
I don’t have a major gripe with this next one, but I do think at times that the company could reveal their ‘surprises’ especially when it comes to new talent announcements in a much more effective way. Granted, for a good portion of the year there have not been fans to help make these moments ‘pop’ but just having them randomly appear in a Dynamite segment versus having them a surprise match entrant or a PPV run-in doesn’t help make their debut ring special.
Lack of direction
I genuinely believe that one of, if not THE biggest thing missing so far from AEW is a general sense of direction. There are many ways to effectively add direction to a wrestling promotion and I am not necessarily advocating any one of them in particular. I do NOT want them simply to go down the route of trying to install a heel ‘owner/president’ like we saw with Eric Bischoff in WCW or Vince McMahon in WWE. I also would not want them to go through the ‘commissioner of the month’ cycles like we have seen in the WWE. Perhaps a long-standing voice of law and order in the style of Jack Tunney, someone who ONLY appeared when major decisions were needing to be made though could really help steer the promotion and give it more direction overall.
One of the most compelling aspects of the original ‘Big 4’ pay per views in WWE was the fact that they all had their distinct personalities. WrestleMania was the super bowl of the promotion. Royal Rumble had the most anticipated match of the year (the Royal Rumble) which also determined the main event of WrestleMania. Survivor Series was headlined by the elimination style team matchups.
Up to this point, and I know it is early, the AEW PPV’s do not yet have personalities or specific match types/traits. I think there is potential with All-Out and All-In that could still be achieved. Full Gear, Fyter Fest, Fight for the Fallen and Revolution might as well be random “In Your House” pay-per views up to this point though. They need to come up with each event’s signature match or personality. It is what builds anticipation each year for that particular event to come along.
Those are my biggest gripes based on the first year of AEW’s existence on TNT. They are still a young promotion and have plenty of time to correct course on many of these items. Next time I’ll take a look at some things I would suggest to Tony Khan if I was his right hand man.