AEW hasn’t delivered on its promise of a revolution, but it has already reshaped wrestling landscape

AEW is nowhere near to challenging the hegemony of the WWE, it can take credit for changing the landscape of professional wrestling for both fans and athletes.

Deven Kanal October 20, 2020 11:52:43 IST
AEW hasn’t delivered on its promise of a revolution, but it has already reshaped wrestling landscape

Representational Image. AFP

A little over a year ago, AEW: Dynamite made its debut on TNT.

The premiere of professional wrestling in October 2019 on TNT, which played host to WCW Monday Nitro and sparked the fabled Monday Night War, was for wrestling fans, one of those ‘where were you when it happened’ moments?

All Elite Wrestling, the brainchild of some of wrestling’s hottest talent – Matt and Nick Jackson, Adam Page and former WWE star Cody Rhodes – and backed by billionaire Shahid Khan and his son Tony (the company president) immediately piqued fans’ interest and raised the company profile by announcing it had signed WWE legend Chris Jericho.

Big names such as Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley and hot indie stars like Orange Cassidy would quickly follow, further drawing eyeballs to the product.

The company then shocked observers and critics by doing the unthinkable: selling tens of thousands of tickets in arena after arena and doing around 100,000 buys in its inaugural PPV event.

That’s the highest ever for a wrestling promotion not named WWE. Which was followed by a string of critically-acclaimed shows.

And all this before it aired a single episode of Dynamite.

But since that first airing in 2019, AEW has already reshaped the landscape of professional wrestling. Let’s examine how:

Fans find alternative

For years, wrestling fans have been begging for a true alternative to WWE.

Since the death of World Championship Wrestling in March 2001, Vince McMahon has been pretty much the only game in town.

The past decade has seen a marked decline in McMahon’s ability to create stars and weave stories. This, even as the WWE has become immensely profitable.

And while Wall Street may be just starting to catch on to this paradox, fans have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the WWE product for years by abandoning it in droves.

Over the past few years and particularly over the past year, Vince McMahon has put on some of the worst programming since the dying days of WCW.

 Still, when AEW launched in January 2019, many in the upper echelons of WWE and in the industry at large were skeptical of its chances of success or even survival.

And for good reason.

Companies like TNA and Ring of Honor took their shot at trying to provide mainstream fans ‘an alternative’ brand of wrestling. They came at the King and missed.

TNA, for its part, was a redux of World Championship Wrestling: A company that lost millions of dollars and saw some of the worst creative ever put on television. It was for many years a joke and is now an afterthought.

ROH’s (Ring Of Honor) fans, the most hardcore of the most hardcore, revolted against the company’s efforts to “go mainstream”. The company has been in marked decline in 2019, when it saw an outflux of talent.

But AEW, thus far, has proven to be something entirely different.

The seemingly off-the-cuff promos by Moxley and Rhodes, among many others, stand in stark contrast to the stilted, scripted and often ludicrous verbiage espoused by the WWE and its superstars (often written by teams of writers and rewritten by McMahon himself, sometimes hours or even minutes before the show goes on air).

The AEW talent, largely left to their own devices, have created some of the most dynamic and different matches (The Young Bucks against Omega and Page and The Elite vs The Inner Circle’s Stadium Stampede) and intriguing and entertaining storylines (the Jericho-Moxley rivalry and Jericho’s love-hate relationship with MJF) in years.

While the AEW creative has been far from perfect, their women’s championship is a mess and the less said about the Dark Order the better, it has been miles ahead of the competition.

WWE, meanwhile, with the rare exception of a bright spot or two, is best summed these days by F4W’s Bryan Alvarez as “Vince’s creatively sinking ship”.

Wednesday Night War

While WWE claimed it was taking no notice of the new kid on the block, its actions spoke differently.

Just weeks ahead of AEW Dynamite’s debut on TNT, WWE moved its NXT brand, which like AEW, is beloved by critics and hardcore wrestling fans alike, from airing exclusively on the WWE network onto the USA Network.

On Wednesday night. In direct competition with AEW.  That was all but a declaration of war.

Fans, still enthralled by the ‘glory period’ of the late 90s, have been blessed with incredible competition and match-ups every Wednesday night, with both companies constantly putting quality match-ups on television.

And while WWE insiders were confident to the point of arrogance that the company’s third brand would make mincemeat out of AEW’s flagship, that hasn’t happened.

In fact, AEW has, barring a handful of occasions, dominated NXT both in overall viewers and more importantly, in the key demographics coveted by advertisers. Which helped it achieve the holy grail of the wrestling business: A big money TV deal, which was recently extended for four years (till 2023)  at $175 million.

Thanks to that TV deal, AEW is already the second biggest company in the world, revenue wise.

More impressively, according to its president Tony Khan, it is already profitable.

That achievement cannot be understated.

For a wrestling company, often a money pit in its first few years of existence, to be turning a profit in the second year is simply unimaginable.

To compare notes, WCW turned a profit for only a handful of years in its long existence and TNA lost tens of millions of dollars over many years.

A lesser noted side-effect of AEW’s existence, backed by a billionaire with many more billions than McMahon, has been big money deals for talent.

Big money for talent

AEW kicked things off in 2019 by signing Jericho to reportedly the most lucrative contract in his decades-long career.

In hindsight, signing Jericho was perhaps AEW’s most brilliant gambit. His name and reputation gave the company instant credibility and visibility.

It put the company on the map. McMahon, who declined to match AEW’s offer, might live to regret it.

Jericho’s big money deal, large enough to send shockwaves through the WWE locker room, gave talent whose contracts were coming due to the upper hand.

Some like Randy Orton, teased a move to AEW, before resigning long-term deals with the promotion.

Others, despite not being in prominent positions, were offered big bucks simply to keep them out of AEW’s hands.

And while the WWE has recently been cleaning house by cutting staff and wrestlers in a bid to shore up profitability, one can be sure that the big names will continue to receive big paydays.

So, has AEW lived up to its promise of delivering “a revolution” and a sports-based presentation?

Not quite.

And while it is nowhere near to challenging the hegemony of the WWE, it can take credit for changing the landscape of professional wrestling for both fans and athletes.

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