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After A Successful Debut from AEW, Should WWE Be Worried? – by Mike Sanchez

This week saw the debut on television of the newest wrestling kid on the block, All Elite Wrestling, and their first PPV has been hailed a success by many fans and wrestling commentators across the globe. I saw some of the show with my young son, but we didn’t watch the Rhodes brothers match as I think the blood was a little too much for a six-year-old. I caught up with it later, once he’d gone to bed. Perhaps that should have been the first indication to me that this wasn’t wrestling specifically targeted at a young audience – and I’m fine with that. The show wasn’t on mid-afternoon, but at night when young children aren’t awake, so their target audience is clear.

The show itself, Double or Nothing, was very good, and although I won’t go as far as to call it the best PPV ever, as some people have, the talent more than held their own and they delivered on production, matches and excitement. There were no bad matches and everyone looked like they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. This should come as no real surprise as, since its infancy, AEW has steadily added talent that can contribute much more than just in-ring action. Just to name a few, Bret Hart was a great surprise, Dean Malenko is a trainer/producer and has a wealth of experience in booking matches. Good old JR, Jim Ross, will be a key player going forward such is his influence between the office and the locker room. Then there’s Chris Jericho who has the Midas touch when it comes to wrestling. Cody Rhodes himself has been a steadfast figurehead for the fledgling federation and though never given the opportunity to be a ‘top guy’ in WWE, he certainly revels in the responsibility put on his shoulders now.

After the PPV was over, Jon Moxley (formerly known as Dean Ambrose) appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast and the pair took the odd pot-shot at their former employers, WWE, namely the booking more than anything. The pair weren’t alone in this as other former WWE employees have also gone public with outright or thinly-veiled criticism of WWE’s current product. Cody Rhodes took a sledgehammer to a throne that wasn’t too dissimilar to one Triple H would’ve sat upon for a Wrestlemania entrance.

In fairness, WWE has made it easy for them. Brock Lesnar’s recent win at Money in the Bank only served to give ammo to many wrestling commentators and some in AEW added fuel to the fire by tearing into WWE’s booking, echoing what many fans were already saying.

With AEW gaining momentum, how does WWE respond, or should they respond? I think WWE has found themselves in a Catch-22 situation here; ignore AEW and their goading and fans will see WWE as an organisation that views itself not on the level of their competitors. This may be true in some regard, but AEW will only push more and more, knowing that even though WWE isn’t responding publicly, they’ll try to take out their retaliation another way. We all know WWE can be extremely petty when they want to be and whether you believe recent examples of that or not, (firing CM Punk on his wedding day, for instance) they will be seething at this young federation attempting to usurp their dominance.

The other possibility is that WWE can fully acknowledge AEW and trade blows with them as they did during the Monday Night Wars with WCW. The issue with this, from WWE’s perspective anyway, is that any mention of AEW or their talent would only give their competitors oxygen and naturally draw fans away from WWE to see what all the fuss was about.

Vince McMahon is notorious for making examples of people who threaten his company or undermine it in any way, and AEW has clearly unsettled him in recent months if the rumours of contract extensions to most of the talent are true. He doesn’t want his stars drawn away and going to any competition. That being said, there’s a big dilemma for WWE when it comes to losing their ‘stars’. The very nature of stars in WWE is purely subjective in that it is who WWE perceives to be as a ‘star’ that makes this complicated. WWE has a huge pool of talent and those that are underused or forced into cutting terrible promos can quickly become disillusioned and want to leave.

WWE likely considers the following talent as their biggest stars: Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan and perhaps a couple more. They will be the ones WWE will try their hardest to keep. Dean Ambrose had his moment in the sun, but even after the chance to return from injury and make a big impact, WWE still managed to screw it up, leaving him unhappy and wanting to leave. His impact when arriving in AEW has people talking and goes to show that those who WWE may consider being lower down the card on Monday Night Raw, can be major players in another federation. Plus, the wrestlers know that AEW has a good TV deal in the US with TNT and ITV in the UK, so if a wrestler goes to AEW, they will still get plenty of exposure.

This should be worrying for WWE as they have many employees, some very happy about their position in the company and making great money, but likely others who are seeing the Cody Rhodes’ and Jon Moxley’s of the world getting huge reactions and being let off the leash to really showcase what they can do and say when given the chance.

Couple this with the flexibility AEW is giving talent in their contracts to do other things as well as opening the door to cross-brand shows – something which harks back to the old territory days and could be a game changer, and WWE should be concerned. The option of cross-brand shows is massive and draws in multiple sets of fans and can show some dream matches. WWE simply cannot offer this at present and is relying on their tried and tested formula to keep succeeding. WWE has done a lot right in the last few years since WCW’s demise, but perhaps their biggest flaw was to rest on their laurels and believe that there would never be serious competition for them again. Can you imagine if AEW managed to lure away some more WWE talent who felt underused, or even if they could bring CM Punk out of retirement, or put those two things together and add in a cross-promotion with NJPW? I believe that would be some very serious competition.

What do you think? Does WWE now have some real competition or is it too soon to tell? The success of any federation is good, so are WWE doing their best by ignoring them or should they react? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.