Talking Wrasslin’: All Elite Wrestling – Year One In Review

It’s been just over a year since All Elite Wrestling officially formed and close to a year since their first show, 2019’s Double or Nothing. We’re also several months into their weekly nationally broadcast show, Dynamite. So I figured I’d look at the first year of AEW and provide my thoughts, good and bad, as well as what I hope the future brings for those of us looking for a mainstream alternative to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Initially, my excitement was at an all time high after the success of the indie wrestling mega event All In, back in September of 2018. When I got wind that something bigger was happening beyond that, my excitement overflowed and I was “all in” on what this met for the future of the wrestling business.

However, right off the bat, there were decisions being made that made me question the newborn promotion’s direction and leadership.

First off, executive roles were given to wrestling talent that hadn’t proven themselves in that realm. While I was okay with Cody Rhodes being the public face of the company, due to who his father was and because he had flourished independently after leaving WWE, I was concerned as to whether or not he could effectively co-manage a brand new wrestling promotion with a lot of money pushed into it.

Additionally, when his wife and buddies were also given executive roles, I found that even more perplexing. Not because I’m hating on them but because none of them have had any experience in these sort of positions within a wrestling promotion.

Understanding that AEW wants to give more power and creative control to the on-air talent seems like a good idea in some regard but as history has shown, when active wrestlers become management, it typically leads to a shitty product and if I’m being frank, it’s not too dissimilar from some of their criticisms of other major league wrestling promotions, past and present. So even if they’ve got the best of intentions and are going to run their company differently, it still paints them into a corner. I’ll explain what I mean by that as this article rolls on.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the Young Bucks but I liked a lot of Kenny Omega’s work in Japan and especially liked his matches with Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and Chris Jericho. However, there are distinct stylistic differences between Western and Eastern professional wrestling. That being said, Omega has primarily wrestled in Japan for years but he and the Bucks have been given three of the highest ranking jobs in the company. As far as I know, based off of information that’s been discussed by many over the last year, these guys have their hands deep into the creative side of the women’s and tag team divisions. I’ll also get more into this, further into the article.

The first mistake that these guys made is that they started hiring all their other buddies. This also isn’t too dissimilar to what other wrestlers given power in promotions have done in the past. And while I’m not saying that the talent they’ve hired isn’t good or bad, it feels as if they don’t care either way and they’re trying to hook all their buddies up with gigs because they either didn’t make it big in WWE or because WWE doesn’t want them. From the outside it looks like, “Hey, buds… we’re your saviors! Come on in and let’s party!”

Plus, most of the guys they’ve hired wrestle similar styles to the Bucks and Omega where everything is highspot after highspot to the point that highspots become way too commonplace and lose their meaning and their effect on the psyche of the audience. I’ll also delve into this more.

Additionally, almost all of these guys are small by wrestling standards and even if the game is changing, a roster full of guys that don’t convincingly look tough is detrimental to a product that is supposed to be about kicking ass and being badass. No one is afraid of the hipster asshole that runs the register at Chipotle.

Furthermore, typical Western audiences don’t want to watch two hours of just high-flying shenanigans that are done so much that we’re seeing a record number of spot botches on national television. Anyone can Google “AEW botch” and see a slew of videos and GIFs that make my point for me.

Now there are a lot of good things about AEW too. I generally like the product, for the most part, and it is a decent alternative to WWE. While it’s got its issues, so does the juggernaut WWE, which is why AEW got massive support to begin with.

I think that the writing that’s been on the wall for well over a decade is that Western wrestling fans want to try a new flavor other than vanilla. AEW has answered that challenge but it’s like they took vanilla and added some hot sauce to it. Point being, you’ve got to have a palate in order to be a good chef. It’s like AEW has the palate of a six year-old kid left home alone with a full fridge.

Now I don’t say that to be insulting but the product they’re putting out is just recycling the standard mainstream wrestling formula but trying to overpower it with lightning fast matches, countless highspots, more colorful language and a pretty high emphasis on comedy wrestling. While all of that stuff has its place, doing everything with the volume turned up to 11 is pretty fucking tiresome to experience.

I feel like AEW is just throwing a lot of shit on the wall to see what sticks and what doesn’t. Maybe they’re in a little over their head due to how fast they got off and running and because of the lack of experience running a wrestling promotion. It feels like there is a lack of understanding in regards to the fundamentals of what works on this hemisphere. While Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks were big in Japan, it doesn’t mean that what worked for them there is going to work for them here. I’m personally a big fan of Japanese wrestling, always have been since I was a tape trader in the ’90s, but I also know that my love of it isn’t something that most mainstream normal wrestling fans have on this continent.

It’s like they’re trying to appeal to a niche audience. The problem with that is a niche audience will always be niche and not mainstream. If you’re “in it to win it”, you’ve got to think bigger and you’ve got to produce a product that is enjoyed by the largest audience possible.

That comes down to one simple fact: you’ve got to know your audience. Right now, I don’t know if AEW does. At least not fully and not this early. That doesn’t mean that they won’t figure it out, re-work some things and fix some of these issues going forward. I certainly hope they do because more wrestling is good for everyone.

Diversity between promotions is a good thing that helps build brand identity and uniqueness. However, there can also be too much diversity and I think AEW suffers from that in trying to encompass many things, all at once. But I really hope this is just growing pains.

My point with this is that you can’t try to cover all bases by trying to appeal to every little niche simultaneously. You have to find the balance between them while, again, appealing to the widest audience possible. I think that the solution is to be something between WWE and what AEW currently is.

The best example I can give is the Attitude Era of WWE. No, not because it was edgy with a Jerry Springer atmosphere but because it allowed talent to be themselves, have some creative control and it took chances and had diversity within the content of its segments. At its height, it found a way to take the best elements of the mainstream WWE formula, mixed that with an ECW influence and also adopted some of the better elements of what was working in WCW, at the time.

WCW succeeded for awhile too because it was doing the same thing. Even though they had their own style that slightly differed from WWE, both promotions were just different sides of the same coin.

So since I’ve brought up WCW, I want to go back to my thoughts on wrestling talent being in charge, as that was ultimately a major factor in WCW’s downfall.

Back in the ’90s, when WCW was buying up WWE talent like Beanie Babies, they gave their heavy hitters too much control of their characters and too much power in booking the shows. This led to these guys only putting themselves and their buddies over while younger talent got the shaft and ultimately, jumped ship to WWE, which helped that company recover and win the war.

I know that the guys running AEW know this, as does anyone that loves wrestling and has been paying attention to the business for several years. But just because they probably don’t want to make the same mistakes doesn’t mean that they won’t. Power is one of those things that can change a person and while I assume that Cody, Omega and the Bucks have the best of intentions, who is to say what this will mean over time.

Having now watched AEW for about a year, I can actually say that it looks like they are actually trying to deliberately do the stark opposite of what the WCW stars did. Maybe that sounds good but it isn’t. So let me explain.

First, there needs to be a balance, just like with all things. All four of these execs are four of the absolute best wrestlers in this new promotion. However, they seem to be putting everyone over except themselves. I’m not sure if they are just afraid of being accused of what guys like Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan were accused of twenty years ago or because they think that they’re building up the rest of the roster at their expense. But that’s just it, it’s at their expense.

You can’t objectively look at what has happened over the last year and tell me that Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks’ stock hasn’t dropped. Omega has lost his luster and the Young Bucks should be reigning tag team champions. Instead, Omega has been booked to look like a goof and the Bucks resemble the New Rockers more than the real Rockers.

In regards to Omega, he sucks as a babyface and he was at his best with The Cleaner gimmick. But the guy is sort of awkward and can’t cut good promos, at least not from what I’ve seen. And I thought of the guy as a superstar over the last few years that he was in New Japan. But now that I think about it, I watched his top matches and never really saw him talk all that much outside of press conferences. Also, the style of cutting a promo in Japan is different.

The Young Bucks just do three million superkicks per match and take two million dives to the outside. This reflects a problem I have with modern wrestling where devastating moves that should be finishers (or setups to finishers) are used so frequently that they’ve lost their luster and their impact. It’s like when someone uses a stunner or a cutter in a match and the opponent recovers like it was a simple neckbreaker. It shows a complete lack of understanding of ring psychology and in-ring storytelling. It’s like they’re just playing WWE2K and put in a cheat code to always have finishers active.

While some refer to this as a reflection of the times, I say that modern times suck because no one has time to have a real conversation without looking at their phone every five seconds while only having the attention span to absorb information the size of a tweet. But these people are what this style of “wrestling” appeals to. This is also probably why AEW considers an Ironman Match to be just 30 minutes. That’s more like an Aluminum-Man Match.

In regards to Cody, he’s at least had a main event spotlight on him but they booked him so that he can’t ever compete for the AEW World Championship again. I think that’s a massive mistake and hopefully it is rectified through a storyline because Cody, as well as Omega, should be World Championship chasers when the time is right. In fact, Cody should be the guy to take the belt off of Chris Jericho when that time comes. But I’d keep the belt on Jericho for well over a year because the title needs to build prestige and not be used as just a prop, which has been WWE’s problem for a few decades now.

I also have major issues with how the women’s and tag divisions have been booked. I don’t care how it looks on paper but the Young Bucks, despite my opinion on them, should have been the inaugural tag champs. They were the most famous team in the promotion and they came into AEW super hot after leaving Japan and Ring of Honor. I guess since they run the division, they didn’t want to crown themselves as the kings. That was a mistake and, as I’ve already said, their stock has fallen in the last year.

Now that’s not to say that the Young Bucks can’t recover but they’ve booked themselves into a corner and frankly, I don’t give a shit about them or the division anymore. Hopefully, management finds a way to right the ship.

Looking at the women’s division, despite her in-ring ability, Riho is not believable as the champion. They put the belt on Nyla Rose, who is massive by comparison, and that’s a much better fit. However, having Nyla lose to Riho when they crowned the first women’s champ was a major mistake that hurt the division immensely. People have talked up the quality of their last match but I can’t suspend disbelief enough for it to have physically made sense in my brain. Especially, when Riho’s neckline is below the top rope and she’s skinnier than a stop sign pole.

Beyond just that, the women’s division in general has been booked atrociously with just about everyone looking weak. They’ve ruined Britt Baker, their first female signed to a contract, and they brought in Kris Stadtlander and got her over immediately, only for her to get knocked out of the picture in a matter of weeks.

In a perfect scenario, Awesome Kong should have been the inaugural champion and she should’ve run through the division until management settled on who the top young star should be. Then, only after climbing the ladder to the top, should the new champion have been crowned.

Moving on, AEW also suffers from a lack of creative. Most of the storylines aren’t interesting and the show is carried by just two rivalries. Those are the Jon Moxley v. Chris Jericho (and The Inner Circle) feud, as well as the superb work being done by MJF and Cody Rhodes in their emotional conflict.

Outside of that, nothing interests me. I’m half interested in the Pac v. Kenny Omega Aluminum-Man Match coming up but that’s just because of the physicality of what the match should be and not the actual storyline that’s been booked like a fucking afterthought.

I don’t give a crap about The Dark Order bullshit and they’ve got enough Ministry/evil goth faction ripoffs between The Dark Order, The Nightmare Collective and The Butcher, The Blade & The Bunny.

Granted, The Nightmare Collective have been abruptly cancelled but that also is another problem with creative. You don’t just cancel an angle in the middle of it and say, “Oh, we weren’t feeling that, so whatevs!” No, you find a way to creatively end it within a storyline. How am I supposed to buy into what you’re selling when you can just pull the plug on it at any second? How do I build trust with your brand and the universe you’re building?

I’m not going to really get into my issues with the comedy stuff other than to say that I don’t hate Orange Cassidy like many old school purists do. I find the schtick to be somewhat enjoyable and it has got him really over with the crowd. But this will only work for so long and the character has to adapt and evolve if he’s going to have longevity and not go down as another joke lost to the sands of time. He needs to have something push him into actually getting physical in a non-comedy way. He can still fuck around and be funny but something has to make him actually pull his fist back and haymaker the fuck out of someone. You have to show him break through the character if you ever want him to emotionally connect with the audience beyond just being the doofus sidekick in a stoner comedy.

Granted, I don’t know what he’s actually capable of beyond his limiting gimmick and I don’t have the faith in AEW creative to capitalize on him and strike while the iron is hot. The thing is, you can only tell the same joke so many times before people start scrolling their Twitter feed.

The last thing I’m going to harp on is AEW’s insistence of having win-loss records. This is another thing that paints them into a corner, creatively speaking. No one really cares about wins and losses, they just care about seeing great matches and having the best guys get over. But to truly get the good guys over, you have to have them overcome the bad guys. Usually, this comes with losses and misfortune, only to have them eventually get the upper hand and win the rivalry. But with also including a weekly rankings system, keeping track of wins and losses is detrimental to that, especially when you compare them to the rankings and they don’t make sense. They need to get rid of this shit fast and just focus on stories and booking proper programs and feuds. They said, early on, that AEW was going to be treated like a real sport. Well, they’ve failed in that regard and seeing a guy ranked at No. 5 with a 3-1 record behind a guy ranked No. 4 with a 0-0 record is asinine.

I know it seems like I’m taking a big shit on All Elite Wrestling but hey, I’m still watching it every week and hoping for the best. Right now, I just have to focus on the things I love about the product. Those things are mainly Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, MJF, Cody Rhodes, Pac and Hangman Page, who could be the next massive superstar in the wrestling business. All six of these guys are the absolute highpoints of every show. I’m also really excited to see what Jake Hager can do in this environment, once he gets in the ring.

Furthermore, there are probably some new faces coming in. I’m most excited for what Brodie Lee (WWE’s Luke Harper), Lance Archer, Matt Hardy and The Revival can bring to the table if they sign with AEW.

The Revival are really what the tag division needs, as they can slow the matches down and add a new flavor to the proceedings, as their in-ring style is in great contrast to teams like The Young Bucks.

As far as Lee and Archer go, they would add some real size to the roster, which is definitely needed.

Keeping up with all the behind the scenes stuff, Tony Khan, the real guy in charge, has stated that he’s had some buyer’s remorse with certain wrestlers and that AEW, at least for the moment, are primarily looking for bigger, athletic guys. That shows me that he’s aware of the criticisms and that he’s trying to plug some holes and get the promotion on track.

Also, the commentary team is solid between legends Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone. I also like the recent addition of Taz. I’m still not sold on Excalibur, though. He needs to calm down a bit and focus on the action, as opposed to yelling out the name of every move just to prove he’s a human wrestling Wikipedia.

I feel like I’ve stated enough, even though I could go into greater detail on a lot of these points. The thing is, I like AEW and I want it to succeed because real competition benefits all parties involved. I want AEW to flourish and give me something to get excited about. I also want WWE to feel the heat and to start making their product better because they’ve become really fucking complacent at the top for two decades.

I hope that 2020 is the year where All Elite Wrestling finds its groove, works out a lot of its kinks and gives the fans a wrestling show that they don’t want to miss. I’d love for the Wednesday Night War to become as big of a phenomenon as the Monday Night War. The wrestling industry needs its fans to feel the passion that existed during that time. Hell, if you’re a fan and you don’t want to feel that passion again, why are you still watching?

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