Around the Loop: Three Things AEW Can Do to Save “Rampage”

Television ratings for All Elite Wrestling’s Friday show, Rampage, are in decline. On Friday, December 2, 2022, Rampage finished beneath the top 50 shows on cable, pulling in an average of 361,000 viewers. That number represents the lowest rating in the show’s history. While the show went up against professional football, a hockey game, and some PAC-12 ball, that’s an alarmingly low pull for an AEW program.

In the cutthroat world of television, where series are yanked from the air after one episode, can Rampage be saved? Is keeping Rampage alive worth the effort?

There is nowhere else to place the blame for Rampage‘s floundering performance than at the feet of AEW founder and president Tony Khan. Khan, who is the head of creative for both AEW and the Ring of Honor promotion, addressed the situation on a media call preceding the ROH pay-per-view, Final Battle, on Wednesday.

“I definitely am looking to put strong matches on Rampage,” Khan said. “I think we’ll have a big card this week and, you know, with depth of the roster, I think now, it’s time for me to really put all hands on deck to put the strongest shows I can on Friday.”

Khan immediately made good on that comment, booking a Rampage match between Jon Moxley, who is arguably the face of the company, against fan favorite Konosuke Takeshita. That match shrieks with visions of beautiful wrestling violence, but it’s only for one episode. That’s not enough.

In order to remain alive and relevant, Rampage needs three things: a star, a story, and a swerve.

The Star

“You know,” Khan said Wednesday about Rampage, “there’s people that have drawn in those spots and we’ll look at the people that haven’t necessarily drawn that much in those spots and what can I do to help those people. On the other hand, probably, what can I do to put the show in the best position utilizing people that have a history of drawing well on that show.”

CM Punk’s arrival in AEW happened on the Rampage that aired August 21, 2021. That show was the highest-rated Rampage to date, with approximately 1,129,000 viewers tuning in. Wrestling fans had been dreaming about Punk’s return since his ignominious departure from WWE some years earlier. Recent events have practically ensured that Punk is out of the AEW equation.

AEW’s roster is nothing short of ginormous. With a plethora of workers and only so many quarter-hours to go around, it’s no wonder some fan favorites aren’t featured every week on AEW’s flagship show, Dynamite. Ideally, Rampage should be a place for those wrestlers to perform in front of a wider audience. But there must be an anchor, someone fans love who can only be seen on Rampage.

Current All-Atlantic Champion Orange Cassidy is the logical choice for that responsibility. With his laconic gimmick and ever-present sunglasses, Cassidy is a star, capable of carrying a show on his shoulders. The same can be said for the evil trio, House of Black. Their compelling appearance and quiet demands for fan fealty could hold Rampage viewers rapt with surprise entrances and arcane promos. As far as the women’s division, Kris Statlander would be an excellent addition to a full-time Rampage roster when she returns from the disabled list. Her in-ring work was becoming both smoother and more aggressive before she got injured.

Those performers, as well as some others loved by fans that we haven’t seen in a while (Hey, Miro, how you doin’?) should be Rampage-exclusive performers. Fans will follow their favorites, even over to Friday nights.

The Story

One of the things that pulls wrestling viewers in and keeps them glued to the screen is a good story. Unfortunately, most Rampage matches are low-stakes affairs, seemingly thrown together at the last minute. There was a stretch where Hook showed up to quietly squash an opponent, but that hasn’t happened for a while. While Hikaru Shida defends her Regina di Wave championship on the show, American audiences have a difficult time comprehending the importance of that belt. No complaints about the quality of the matches, mind you, but why doesn’t Rampage have continuing storylines?

Khan understands the importance of a good story, even if many of his booking plans had to be swiftly changed in 2022 due to injury or misbehavior. AEW’s YouTube shows, Dark and Elevation, are featuring more story through-lines. Ethan Page’s diabolical financial manipulation of Matt Hardy and Private Party have been a large part of that programming as of late.

Rampage needs at least one solid story, something viewers can grab onto as the thing that keeps them coming back. Center the show around a heated rivalry between two Rampage stars. Keep it going and escalate it, build it to a pay-per-view match. That’s how weekly professional wrestling works. That’s what happens on Dynamite. It can work on Rampage as well.

The Swerve

“I always try to listen to the feedback from the fans so going forward,” Khan said. “I’m going to try to put things on the Friday show that I think will have the best chance to bring in that audience.”

I’m neither a statistician nor an analyst, but I know when my wrestling social media feeds light up. Heel turns. Surprise debuts. Even something as obviously staged as Chris Jericho’s attempt to attack Ring of Honor commentator Ian Riccaboni got massive traction on my Twitter. Those shocking moments, those swerves, get people talking and, more importantly, watching.

AEW is known for surprising its devotees. Saraya’s return to the ring was a shocking and beautiful thing to see. I remember literally screaming “He’s here!” when Tommy End arrived in an AEW ring as the insidious Malakai Black. Tony Khan does listen to his fans. He knows what they want, which workers are getting over and who they think deserves a title run. Again, it works on Dynamite. It works on pay-per-views. It can work on Rampage.

If it sounds like I’m advocating a brand split, you’re correct. Rampage would benefit from having performers exclusive to the show. Let that roster develop its own feuds and alliances, organic storylines growing from on-screen and in-ring conflict. With time and focus on clever booking, Rampage could be the same kind of must-watch television that Dynamite has become.

Right now, AEW has a fantastic two-hour show in Dynamite. Then there’s Rampage, which often feels like an afterthought, AEW’s junk drawer, the last place you look for random batteries or a twist-tie for hasty cable maintenance. Rampage can be better. Not only do fans want that, they deserve it.

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