All Elite Wrestling has made their mark on the sports world, signifying that there could be a change in the shift of power in the wrestling industry.
For almost half a century, WWE has been the cream of the crop in the pro wrestling world. Since WWE chairman Vince McMahon “bought his competition,” WCW, in 2001 and TNA faded into obscurity, no company has come close to knocking WWE off its throne.
But there may be a chance, some thought, on one fateful day on Jan. 1, 2019.
Following the critically-acclaimed independent wrestling show All In, wrestlers Cody [Rhodes] and tag-team The Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson, would announce the creation of All Elite Wrestling via their YouTube series, Being The Elite. Alongside Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan and co-owner Tony Khan as lead investors, Cody, Matt, and Nick were now looking to prove they could create a top-notch wrestling promotion.
AEW held their inaugural event Double or Nothing on May 25, 2019, at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. After a rousing success, AEW announced another event, All Out, for Chicago on Aug. 31, 2019 and their weekly television show Dynamite was to debut on October 2nd.
Over two years removed from its inception, All Elite Wrestling held one of their biggest pay-per-view events All Out at the Now Arena in Chicago, Illinois on Sept. 5, 2021.
Following the show, inaugural AEW World Champion and wrestling legend Chris Jericho tweeted, “Tonight the game changed….. @aew”. Jericho may be right.
2021’s All Out event contained moments and matches that will go down in wrestling history, with a widespread majority of the show meeting the large expectations AEW was building up to that point. Memorable matches from the show include Miro defeating Eddie Kingston to retain his AEW TNT Championship, Dr. Britt Baker retaining her Women’s World Championship over Kris Statlander, and Penta El Zero and Rey Fenix of the Lucha Brothers winning the World Tag Team Championships over the Young Bucks in a stellar steel cage match.
Some of the best moments came towards the end of the show, starting when former WWE champion and popular wrestler CM Punk made his in-ring return to wrestling after a seven year absence, defeating Darby Allin. The night ended with the main event, where AEW World Champion Kenny Omega defeated Christian Cage to retain his title. Following the match, Omega and the Elite (the Young Bucks and the Good Brothers) attacked Cage and his allies, Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus. Omega then got on the mic and proclaimed that nobody could defeat him.
After Omega said this, the lights went out, and former WWE and Ring of Honor wrestler Adam Cole made his AEW debut. While it looked like he was going to call out Omega, he delivered a superkick to Jungle Boy and aligned himself with the Elite, a call back to his days with Omega and the Bucks in their former stable, “The Bullet Club” from New Japan Pro Wrestling.
While Omega got back on the mic and prepared to end the show, AEW pulled off another surprise with the debut of Bryan Danielson, who is a former world champion for WWE under the name Daniel Bryan. Danielson, along with Cage, Jungle Boy, and Luchasaurus, fought off the Elite and the show closed to thunderous cheers from the Chicago crowd.
It was no wonder why fans and critics were proclaiming this as one of the greatest wrestling events of all time.
So with AEW on a collision course with WWE in the form of ratings and viewership, how did both companies get to this point. What did AEW do right and what did WWE do wrong, and vice versa?
The most glaring issues with WWE have been their lack of stars and mishandling of their third brand NXT and its rising stars.
The lack of stars is mostly linked with their mismanagement of NXT. NXT was their developmental brand for a long time, but it grew popular as a third brand to Raw and SmackDown from around 2015 to early 2020. During that time, NXT paved the way for some of WWE’s most popular wrestlers, including Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Aleister Black, Andrade, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, and the aforementioned Cole.
The biggest problem with all these stars is that WWE either disregarded them or failed to capitalize on their popularity and build up their fan interest. The only guy out of the gate in NXT that got a push to the top of the company was Finn Balor in 2016, but an unfortunately-timed shoulder injury forced him to relinquished his newly won world title. It took a 2019 return to NXT for him to get back on track after a couple of lackluster years on the main roster.
The same can’t be said for the others mentioned.
Apart from Owens, Zayn, and Balor, the rest of those wrestlers have either never broke the mold of NXT or flopped when they got to the main roster of WWE. A few of those wrestlers aren’t even signed to the company, as Cole, Andrade, (now known as Andrade El Idolo), and Aleister Black (now known as Malakai Black), are all a part of AEW.
It is worth noting that the men’s roster for WWE is not bad by any means. In fact, it is one of the best in the world, if not the best, with older names such as John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Bobby Lashley, Edge, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, among others. Some of the biggest newer names in the business have been new WWE Champion Big E, Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and Damian Priest.
Looking back on how stacked both divisions were in recent years, it’s crazy to think they are the weakest points of the product. With the women’s division, they lack any true superstars other than the stars they’ve been running with for years instead of building up new stars. The same can’t be said for its tag team division, which has been wallowing for over a year as they barely have any established tag teams.
Mr. Paul Baltzer, a history teacher at Prep, has been a wrestling fan for a long time and believes both companies hold significant differences
“The main differences between AEW and WWE is that the WWE product is very polished.” he said. “The production is very good, the camera shots, the pyrotechnics, the music; all that stuff is really, really good. Also, on the surface, the sets are significantly better in WWE. What’s been lacking the past ten years and what AEW has been really doing much better is telling better stories, booking better matches, and creating a more exciting experience. The best example would be from the Minoru Suzuki incident, that goes all over Twitter. WWE would ignore it, whereas with AEW they would support it and book it. That’s the major difference.”
The thing that AEW’s roster does best is that they have been able to balance their roster, so that the men’s, women’s, and tag team divisions are all an integral part of the product.
Without a lot to work with in the women’s division, they have been able to make well-known stars out of performers on the independent scene, such as Women’s World Champion Dr. Britt Baker, Kris Statlander, Nyla Rose, Hikaru Shida, Thunder Rosa, Penelope Ford, and Red Velvet. AEW has also put emphasis on improving their women’s roster, which was long regarded as their company’s weakest division. Former WWE superstars Ruby Soho and Tay Conti have helped that issue.
The tag team division is as advertised: the best in the world. The Young Bucks, FTR, Best Friends, Jurassic Express, Santana & Ortiz, Private Party, Varsity Blonds, the Acclaimed, and of course, the world champions, the Lucha Brothers. This division is built for the past, present, and future of this company.
Speaking of the past, present, and future, that would be the focal point of AEW’s men’s roster. They have older veterans such as CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Christian Cage, Cody Rhodes, Jon Moxley, and Bryan Danielson to create balance in their roster and help build up younger talent. Unlike WWE, they do not force them into the world title picture to steal the spotlight off of new, up-and-coming talent.
They have prepared for the present with their current slew of stars, starting at the forefront with World Champion Kenny Omega. With names such as Adam Cole, Brian Cage, PAC, Scorpio Sky, Ethan Page, Lance Archer, Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, and current TNT Champion Miro, a majority of those wrestlers are in their primes and have the ability to put on some of the best work of their careers.
However, it’s the future of AEW that shines brightest.
At the top is “Hangman” Adam Page, who many believe will become the next face of the company when he possibly dethrones Omega and becomes AEW World Champion. An incredible wrestler and phenomenal storyteller, Page has the potential to be a megastar in the wrestling industry. However, his popularity takes nothing away from the incredible amount of young talent on that roster.
Alongside Page, there is Darby Allin, who is a former TNT champion who has become very popular due to his quick style of wrestling. Allin is never afraid of danger and can fly all over the ring; he can win a match against wrestlers twice his size.
Another big name who is soon to be a dominant star for AEW is Maxwell Jacob Friedman. Known mostly by his initials, MJF, he is one of the best heels, or bad guys, in wrestling today. MJF has the uncanny ability to make everyone hate him with his snarky demeanor and cheap tactics. Not to mention that he’s also a fantastic in-ring performer.
Outside of the biggest future stars in AEW’s future, other young, talented wrestlers include names such as Jungle Boy, Orange Cassidy, Ricky Starks, Sammy Guevara, and Powerhouse Hobbs.
Even in a short amount of time, Prep English and journalism teacher Mr. Matthew Hubert has seen the potential in AEW’s grasp.
“Quite honestly, I’ve just started getting into AEW,” he said, “It’s been around for a couple of years now, and I’ve only kind of tuned in here and there until the past month or two. CM Punk is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, so when he said he was going to be in AEW, that was really the moment of ‘OK, I have to watch this now.’
Between AEW and WWE/NXT, there is more wrestling on TV than ever before. Mr. Hubert is among those trying to figure out how to prioritize what is worth watching.
“I knew AEW was doing good stuff and putting on good matches, but my schedule’s busy,” he said. “I got three kids, so trying to find time to watch wrestling more than two nights a week is very challenging. I’ve been watching WWE since I was three years old, the pay-per-views such as the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Survivor Series, SummerSlam, are events that I look forward to every year, whereas in AEW, they’re still kind of establishing the traditions of ‘Which event is the biggest event?,’ and ‘What is the must-see moment?’ AEW’s thing is that it’s the new kid on the block and that it’s the new fresh and hot thing.”
The biggest question this past month since Punk’s all-time return to wrestling has been clear: can AEW surpass the king in WWE? Both Mr. Hubert and Mr. Baltzer have differing opinions.
Mr. Hubert believes that WWE will still be on top for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t think they’ll overtake WWE in the near future,” he said, “WWE is a goliath, a multibillion-dollar, worldwide industry. Their range of fan interest is so much broader. AEW’s targeting a very specific type of fan, which is the more ‘mark’ of fan; people that grew up with wrestling like me, that really care about the wrestling and the product, but they’re not going for the casual fan. They’re not going for the ‘I’ll watch it every once in a while’ kind of person right now. So it will take a long time to get to that level, but I think a short time they’ve gotten to a level that nobody has been at since WCW ended 2001 where they are legitimately something that WWE has to be aware of. In the past 20 years, WWE has been operating at a level way up at the top and no one else near them. So is AEW going to pass WWE? No, but they are at least in the discussion now.”
When asked about that possibility, Baltzer said, “I think it’s going to happen in the next year. The storytelling, they’re treating the wrestlers better; you’re hearing everything about the morale in WWE being bad and with AEW being significantly better. So I think that within the next year, we might see AEW surpass Raw, which would mean over two million fans on a weekly basis for a Wednesday show.”
With all the momentum in the world from All Out leading into their November show Full Gear, AEW has shown that they aren’t here to mess around anymore. They want to take over the wrestling world and become the go-to wrestling show for years to come.