As All Elite Wrestling approaches the 1-year anniversary of their very first telecast of Dynamite on TNT, it is the perfect time to look back and offer a personal evaluation of the company. I have been wanting to do this from day one but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to let some time pass by for me to fully form my opinions and feelings. Think of it as a relationship where most of the time you cannot tell if you are going to marry the person or make a lifelong commitment to them based on a first date. However, a year into producing television they have now had a chance to gain their footing and to figure out what works and what does not work for them. Let us see how well that translates to what works and what does not work for me.
What works for AEW
Perhaps, one of their strongest assets overall is the company’s approach to promo work. For years other companies have stifled the creativity of their entertainers. ‘Mic work’ cannot be underestimated as it carries a major load in the storytelling that drives the action, we tune in each week to see. When it feels scripted and over-rehearsed it falls flat with the viewers and loses its effectiveness.
AEW allows their talent to not only be creative but to instill new energy into what has seemingly been a lost art over the past few decades. That is not to say all the promos we have seen on the shows have been great. With a lot of young talent and in a brand-new company you can naturally expect there to be some road bumps and a learning curve. Those moments can easily be forgiven however as the pure number of fantastic promos we have seen and heard make up for it in spades. There have been countless promos that my wrestling circle and I have discussed as the best in decades. Jake Roberts, Tully Blanchard, Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, MJF among others, have all had moments like that in this first year.
Social Media Presence:
AEW also has done a fantastic job of being ‘in touch’ with social media and with their ability to relate to younger generations. One way they have done that is through their Twitter accounts. Not only are there interactions with themselves and with the fans hilarious and entertaining but they also come across as a company who actually cares and listens to their fans. Granted, that can be a very slippery slope and if they started listening or caring so much that they let the fans dictate the storylines and angles 100% of the time we would lose the fun of not knowing what was coming next and the product would become overly predictable. So far, they have balanced this very well though. They also have used Twitter to promote hashtags during the show and to keep people entertained during their commercial breaks.
Perhaps one of my personal favorite things to look out for each week on their Twitter account is the posting of the weekly rankings as well as the promo images of matches for that weeks Dark or Dynamite shows.
Another thing that they have knocked out of the park, that pre-dates the debut of dynamite, is their use of their You-Tube channel. They have used this in multiple ways to help build momentum (especially pre-dynamite), to further storylines, to feature new and young talent and to just generally entertain us. They have done this early on through videos on the “Nightmare Family” channel in which they helped build up the hype in general for the entire company and their pay per view events.
They have since transitioned most of the ‘hype’ videos over to the official AEW YouTube Channel. That channel also features “AEW Dark” (Such a great name by the way) to help showcase young talent and to help build on storylines and to introduce us to new roster members.
They also have produced content for “Being the Elite” or “BTE” videos on YouTube which has some of the most hilarious and entertaining moments in the whole company. If anything, I wish that a few of these BTE moments would be featured on Dynamite so that a wider audience could be exposed to them.
Those fools out there that think that everything must be one company versus another company in wrestling are quick to try to take digs at AEW as consisting solely of “WWE” castaways. We should not be surprised; they did the same thing with WCW and TNA. If you examine the actual roster though there are a lot of things to like about it.
First off, let us address the “WWE Argument”. The AEW currently consists of roughly 80 wrestlers (granted it is changing every week so that number is very fluid). Of those 80 wrestlers, there are about 31 of them that have appeared on WWE in some way shape or form. However, that is a misleading number as around 12 of those had VERY brief stints that sometimes only consisted of a couple weeks or even a single match. After you eliminate those 12, you also have to take into consideration those that did have at least a ‘run’ in WWE that were already famous prior to that or who became more famous after that in another company. For example, WWE does not get to take sole credit for someone like Dustin Rhodes or Chris Jericho who both had extensive runs in companies prior to their arrival in WWE. Christopher Daniels spent less than 3 of his 27-year career in WWE, so we do not get to count him either. Colt Cabana and Awesome Kong similarly only spent 2 of their 18 years in WWE. So, after all that we are left with 14 “WWE Talent” on the 80-man (and woman) roster for AEW.
There are 18 individuals on the roster who spent time in Ring of Honor, 18-19 that spent time in TNA, around 9 who spent time in Lucha Underground or AAA, 10 that spent time in Japan and 1 that spent some time in NWA.
What is great about AEW though so far is the amount of exposure they have given to young talent who have no ties to a major wrestling company or organization. There is over THIRTY of those individuals and that is not even counting the wrestlers who appear on a regular basis on AEW Dark that are not officially listed on the roster yet. Just look at these names that were not well known to the common fan That’s impressive!
What is most impressive about that is how well AEW has mixed the veterans and the young talent as well as blending stars from so many other former promotions. I cannot think of any other company that has done this more extensively. So, hats off to them on the diversity of their talent pool. If there was one complaint about the talent roster it would probably be that the women’s section of the roster could actually stand to have a few MORE former WWE (or another major promotion) members in order to get over some of the younger talent much like the men’s side has done.
Another thing that AEW has done to near perfection is their inclusion or even creation of a solid Tag Team roster. The Young Bucks, The Lucha Brothers, Jurassic Express, FTR, Butcher and Blade, Best Friends, Private Party, SCU, Page and Omega (while it lasted), The Dark Order, etc. has made it a very entertaining division with a lot of promise for the future.
The roster also does not just consist of diversity when it comes to experience. It also is truly diverse when it comes to body size. The roster is chuck full of great ‘cruiserweight’ sized individuals. Just think what a cruiserweight division could look like with the likes of Jungle Boy, Rey Fenix, Kip Sabian, Sammy Guevara, Darby Allin, Orange Cassidy, Ricky Starks, Sonny Kiss and more. At the same time the number of monsters among men that the roster consists of makes you clamor for a super heavyweight royal rumble style match that would consist of the likes of Brian Cage, Jake Hager, Lance Archer, Luchasaurus, Brodie Lee, Wardlow, Billy Gunn, Dustin Rhodes.
The roster also does not suffer for not having enough quality heels. MJF harkens back to the days where we had heels the quality of the Million Dollar Man or Jake the Snake. The Inner Circle, the Dark Order and the group led currently by Eddie Kingston as well as Tully Blanchard’s crew of FTR and Sean Spears, and Jake the Snake’s Lance Archer give us a seemingly unlimited well or potential great heel opponents for our baby faces.
The Announce Team:
Although in the early days the announce team rightfully was heavily criticized, I really like the groove they have found themselves in currently. The best thing they ever could have done was the signing of Tony Schiavone. Schiavone has been underrated/undervalued for decades and he is truly one of the best the business has ever seen. Even better, he is allowing his comedic side to show more than he ever has before. Although Jim Ross may not be in his prime, he is still gold and funnier now than he ever has been before as well. Excalibur gets better every day although half of me wonders if Mike Tenay would have been a better fit in that role. They have also done some playing around with having wrestlers stand in at the announce table. Some of those have been train wrecks but one of those has been pure magic, and that is of course, Chris Jericho. When they mention that he is going to join the announce team for an event, you cannot help but smile and get excited for what you are about to hear. Jericho and Tazz have finally added an element that was sorely missing for most of AEW’s first year and that is the presence of a heel announcer.
Just as they brought back the value of a Tag Team division, AEW has also brought back to life the idea of wrestling Managers. We have seen Tully Blanchard, Jake Roberts, Arn Anderson, Tazz, Vicki Guerreo and others in to serve as managers for the talent. Granted some of them may not have been utilized fully up to this point, with a little direction I think there eventually will be many payoffs for the amount of quality managers they have signed over this first year and I look forward to seeing even more in the second year.
For some reason I have enjoyed the ring set-up of AEW from day one. I like the unique look of the ramp leading right into the ring and the fact that you cannot run around the entire ring over and over. Granted, I’m sure ring set-ups will be somewhat dependent of the venue and with the pandemic we have seen mostly the same venue for all of 2020, I still enjoy that the ring doesn’t look like every other ring I’ve ever seen.
My favorite part of the ring, however, is that the announce table is usually positioned by the entrance ramp. Why, you may ask? Because it generally means that we will not see ANNOUNCE TABLE SHOTS!!! I cannot stand how some promotions use an announce table shot seemingly once per episode.
Perhaps the most fun and entertaining aspect of watching AEW is the crowd interaction that we see (obviously, not counting the episodes that were not allowed to have fans). First, we saw a company that embraced the inclusion of crowd signs!! Crowd signs have always been an entertaining aspect of watching wrestling. It simply gives you another thing to look at and be entertained by. Also, it has always been a bit ‘big brother’ to me when promotions try to self-censor their shows.
We have also seen many wrestlers find ways to interact with the crowd or even some spontaneous traditions emerge. Hearing the crowd finish singing Jericho’s song during his entrance is always AMAZING, Hangman Adam Page drinking people’s beers (although I’m sure that won’t be allowed anymore) and the signs that fans started writing in response to that, the crowd reactions to the Best Friends Hug (along with the camerawork) or the Zero Fear hand motions by the Lucha Brothers are just some of the things you can look forward to during an episode of Dynamite.
As you can see, AEW has done a lot of things right here in their first year since debuting on TNT. They also have planted a lot of very promising seeds that I am looking forward to seeing bloom in their second year on TV. As with any new promotion, however, there’s always speed bumps along the road.
NEXT WEEK I WILL BRING YOU PART 2 OF THIS ARTICLE WITH “WHAT DOES NOT WORK IN AEW”