For a while there, it was hard being a wrestling fan, especially if you happened to watch seven hours of WWE content a week. After decades of dominating mainstream professional wrestling, World Wrestling Entertainment has ceased making professional wrestling entertaining. It’s gotten so bad that opting to skip WWE’s output could be considered an act of self-care. Whether it’s due to poorly scripted dialogue during promos or confusing booking decisions that lead to a majority of matches ending in either a disqualification, distraction, or the dreaded roll-up pin finish, WWE is a chore to watch.
Thankfully, All Elite Wrestling has changed the wrestling world for the better.
Since debuting in October 2019, AEW has been a much-needed shot in the arm for professional wrestling. Tony Khan, the president and CEO of AEW, alongside professional wrestlers and executive vice presidents Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, Matt and Nick Jackson, and chief brand officer Brandi Rhodes, have brought the fun and passion back to professional wrestling.
The key to AEW’s success is simply doing everything WWE isn’t doing: putting on innovative weekly matches, working long-term storytelling into programs (with pay-off), and paying attention to what fans want to see.
Wrestling fans who tune in to watch any of AEW’s slate of programs on TNT or YouTube are guaranteed to see athletic feats of professional wrestling and organic, entertaining storylines throughout their shows. Newer wrestlers like Orange Cassidy, Britt Baker, and Jungle Boy have organically gotten over with AEW fans because they have been allowed to explore their characters and display their talents in the ring.
Meanwhile, WWE continues to rest on its laurels. The once-dominant force in pro wrestling has found a space to build up their newer talent through NXT, but whatever long-term booking and prowess that talent displays there is mismanaged almost without fail once they debut on the main roster of WWE.
Instead of pouring its energy into building the talent it has, WWE has focused on bringing its older talent back for a ratings pop, which comes at the cost of underutilizing the fresh talent occupying its roster. AEW, by contrast, has made it a point to only feature wrestling’s older stars as a means to elevate today’s wrestlers. AEW bringing legends like Tully Blanchard, Jake the Snake Roberts, and Sting back to television to manage exciting young stars like FTR, Lance Archer, and Darby Allin, effectively announcing their arrival as talented new wrestlers, has been a masterclass in how older talent can be skillfully utilized.
The meme of WWE wrestlers who have been mismanaged by WWE and consider jumping ship to AEW, popularized by WrestleTalk’s Ollie Davis, has become the reality. Wrestlers who have gotten the “we wish them well on their future endeavours” treatment from WWE via Twitter posts announcing their release, or who have just been unceremoniously let go, have found a new haven in AEW. Former WWE superstars like Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, and Christian Cage have found a new home on AEW and have been flourishing.
AEW has demonstrated that WWE is no longer the premier destination for wrestling talent. Don’t take my word for it: WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley said it himself in a Facebook post in which he voiced why AEW is a problem for WWE.
As further proof of how AEW has changed the world of professional wrestling, CM Punk, arguably one of the most important figures in the wrestling world who fans weren’t sure would ever return after being fired from WWE seven years ago (on his wedding day no less) decided it was time to lace up his boots and get back in the ring with AEW.
Aside from the star-studded talent that currently occupies AEW’s roster, what has made the company even more exciting is how collaborative it has been with other wrestling promotions. John Oliver highlighted the fact that wrestlers are independent contractors, not employees, but for some reason WWE treats them as full-time employees with no health insurance who are restricted from working anywhere else. The insider term for this restriction is “the forbidden door.”
WWE has gone so far as to pretend other promotions do not exist. Meanwhile, AEW’s approach has some fans referring to “the invisible door” because the organization seems to so thoroughly disregard this tendency, which has always been bad for wrestling. By featuring wrestlers from other promotions like Impact, New Japan Pro Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and Tokyo Joshi Pro on their programming, AEW has made wrestling feel like a collaborative space.
Although WWE CEO Vince McMahon has repeatedly gone on record to say WWE does not see AEW as competition, AEW has proven otherwise with its ratings. Vince has even gone so far as to joke about giving wrestlers they release to AEW. Khan, the madlad, almost as if to say “bet” in response, has taken McMahon up on his boast, revealing that former WWE wrestlers Ruby Soho, Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson had joined AEW during the All Out pay-per-view event.
Thanks to AEW, wrestling feels exciting and fresh again. You never know who will show up and what crazy storyline will manifest. At the end of the day, AEW’s success doesn’t diminish the greatness that wrestlers at WWE possess. Wrestling is for everyone, and each promotion has its own style of wrestling for fans to enjoy. There are too many talents still on WWE’s roster who deserve a main-event push. But the truth is that I hope more of those greats are able to make the leap to AEW, because at WWE their talents which should be lighting up wrestling right now are squandered, but at AEW they would be reaffirmed as the faces of an exciting new era for the sport.
AEW’s leadership has demonstrated that they respect their talent and their fans’ time, and hopefully one day WWE will recognize them not just as competition but as inspiration, take a few pages from the AEW playbook, and elevate how it, too, contributes to the wonderful world of professional wrestling.