There’s a new wrestling company in town and, as good ol’ JR used to say, business just picked up. All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is the brainchild of famed wrestler Cody Rhodes and tag team The Young Bucks, comprised of brothers Matt and Nick Jackson. AEW already has the love of indie wrestling fans and the financial backing of the Khan family, owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Things are still in the beginning stages. AEW’s roster is still pretty small. They have no TV deal that has been officially announced. And yet, the question remains: how will this affect the leading wrestling company, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment?
WWE’s product has been stale as of late. Hampered by a TV-PG rating and characters that appeal more to children than adults, ratings for the company’s biggest show, Raw, have been down. The McMahons themselves have addressed the issues on the air and sworn to fix the problems. Promises to give the fans more of what they want have rung hollow, though. Even with the rise of Becky Lynch and new blood from NXT waiting in the wings, WWE still provides unnecessary repeat matches (how many times can we watch The Usos take on The Bar?), a slavering obsession with the sex appeal of female performers (I’m looking right at you, Mandy Rose), and characters bordering on silly caricature (The B-Team, for example). Actual wrestling on a WWE show is a rare commodity, usually saved for opening matches and main events. This leaves a lot of room for filler on a three-hour long show like Raw.
Right now, AEW has no weekly television show. What they do have is ALL IN, which was the largest independent wrestling show in the USA to date. It sold out in minutes, was available as a pay-per-view, and it delivered. Even if you had not been keeping up with the storylines of the performers in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling, the video packages explained everything. It didn’t hurt that those performers could go, and they were allowed to do so. Nothing held them back. Even the surreal appearance of Joey Ryan’ penis druids seemed to fit within the grander context of the show. AEW doesn’t seem like they’re preparing a product ready for toy sales. There are no bright green t-shirts proclaiming the school-friendly message of hustle, loyalty, and respect.
The first official AEW wrestling event will be ALL IN 2: Double or Nothing, which will take place in Las Vegas this coming May. While AEW may eventually adopt the one pay-per-view every month model of their competitors, it hasn’t happened yet. The space between big shows adds an air of importance to these shows. There’s time for build-up and a sense of anticipation that WWE simply doesn’t have.
AEW is also making waves when it comes to filling out their roster. Legend Chris Jericho signed with the company, bringing years of experience and a mind for the business to a relative young group of leaders. They’ve also signed PAC, known in WWE as Neville, a high-flyer with a vicious streak. PAC has resonated with audiences around the world, and he’s a great addition to the fledgling line-up. Britt Baker is the first female signed to AEW, with the promise of more to come. A women’s division is in the company’s future, according to Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes, as are both equal pay for male and female performers and health care insurance. This is a far cry from the days of the territories, and even WWE up until a few years ago.
In order to keep up, WWE is going to have to do, well, absolutely nothing. With a $3 billion dollar deal with Fox Sports and SmackDown Live moving to Friday, the juggernaut Vince built has the capital to keep chugging along with no bother. The main thing WWE has found is a formula. Viewers know how the good guys and the bad guys are. Even when there’s a shocking turn, like when Dean Ambrose beat the dripping snot out of Seth Rollins to become a heel, fans are often clued in beforehand. They can always say they saw it coming. Curse these wrestlers and their inevitable betrayals!
The prevalent belief that AEW is going to rise up and wipe out the WWE is a pipe dream. It won’t happen. Even when performers begin to defect from companies around the world to join AEW’s wrestling utopia, WWE will still stand strong. It’s fair to see AEW as real competition for WWE. It’s logical to consider Cody, Matt, and Nick as providing a strong, more adult-oriented option for fans. There’s room for both, just as there was room for ECW back in the day.
We know what happened to ECW.
AEW may not exist in fifteen years. We may be glued to our screens, watching The Young Bucks take on The Usos and The Bar for a chance to earn an opportunity to participate in a sports entertainment contest against The New Day at WWE Fastlane, presented by Snickers. Right now, it’s lots of fun to wonder what AEW is going to do, who they’re going to sign, and what kind of product they will deliver. WWE will react to this new threat the way they always do. They’ll ignore it publicly while throwing money at it secretly. It won’t surprise me to see Cody in the main event of WrestleMania in a few years, his proper last name reinstated by Titan Entertainment, and WWE will reign supreme now, then, and forever.