I’m back again and this time, it’s all about AEW. While yes, the matches may be longer and in some cases, better, they still have a lot of work they can do. They’ve only been around for two years, a stat I’m constantly reminded of by AEW diehards, but some stuff should have been fine-tuned by now. Now I don’t have a major problem with AEW. I love the product for the most part and their talent roster is stacked. However, a main issue comes from the fan base. I’ve gotten threats at the mere insinuation that something might be wrong with the product. I am as objective as it gets so, while their product is generally easy to watch, I do have some glaring issues that I think need to be fixed that may not pose a problem in the short term but will help the long term viability of the company.
There are seven items here as opposed to five for WWE. That doesn’t mean I think WWE is in a better position or AEW is a worse product. It is just that WWE’s issues are broader and can be grouped into those five items. AEW’s are more systematic. They’re not broad issues that need to be fixed tomorrow (like a lot of WWE’s), but they’re issues that need to be fixed over time to avoid their product becoming stale and having a sameness to it.
Make Rules Mean Something
I’m not saying have four or five DQ finishes a show, but stop making these referees look like idiots. Aubrey Edwards seems to be the only referee with a backbone because the rest of them just let the performers do anything and everything. Tony Khan’s reaction to Bully Ray’s line of questioning on Busted Open recently was a telling sign. Imagine if Vince McMahon acted like that publicly? I know Tony has a lot on his plate, but he really needs to hire a PR representative to coach him on how to answer these type of questions because that wasn’t it. This isn’t football, Tony. The wrestling fanbase is a lot less forgiving and a lot more rabid than the Jacksonville Jaguars fanbase. Having guys come in the ring for as long as they want during tag matches, blatant outside interference while the referee is looking (Hey, Rick Knox). If you’re going to do that then just make every tag match tornado rules and every singles match a No DQ or Street Fight because that’s basically what they are. I cut them some slack in the beginning because I figured they were trying to find their footing but two years in and listening to Tony on Busted Open, it’s clear that this is going to be more of a long-term issue. Of course, fans aren’t going to pay attention right now. Will that be the case in year 4 or year 5? I’m not so sure.
Stop The Faction Brawls
Look, I get it. You have a bloated roster so your solution to getting as many on the card as possible is just putting them in factions. It works for NJPW I guess, but this isn’t NJPW. Stop having brawls after every match. I swear to god I watched one of the recent Dynamites and the first THREE matches on the show all had a brawl after the match. Why? Do the producers or coaches or agents or whatever they’re calling them not talk to each other? Why am I watching eight matches on Dynamite with four faction brawls? Why is there a show-closing brawl seemingly at least once a month? For a company that prides itself on being unpredictable, they’re becoming pretty predictable. You have some amazing talent. Let them be that instead of having every match have a brawl at the end. TNA used to do it. WCW used to it. It never worked either time. You can easily cover for it on commentary by saying each faction has been barred from ringside by Tony Khan. Tony’s tired of the anarchy so he is banning these groups from ringside or be suspended. It’s an easy fix.
You Don’t Have to Sign Everybody
I get it. Tommy End (Malakai Black) and Andrade are can’t miss talents. I’m not sure how you can pass up signing them if they’re available. Was Paul Wight? Are you telling me Taz or Chris Jericho couldn’t cover commentary for Elevation? What about Christian Cage? Yeah, he’s one of the most underrated talents, but what honestly has he done? You put him with Jungle Boy for a couple of weeks until he lost. What about Matt Sydal? What does he actually bring that others don’t? Jake Hager has been one of the most disappointing signings they’ve had. He’s been there since the first Dynamite. In the 100 or so Dynamites and 8 PPVs so far, he’s had 24 matches and most have been tag team matches. FTR wanted out of their contracts to come to AEW. They haven’t had a two on two tag match on Dynamite since February and are mostly there just to back up MJF. If you don’t have a concrete plan for people, don’t sign them. That’s the mistake WWE made two years ago and we see where it got them. I hope Andrade and Malakai Black are different but based on Andrade’s debut match and the fact Black’s first feud is with Cody Rhodes, I’m not too optimistic, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They handled debuts like Jon Moxley, Brodie Lee and Sting well so we’ll see, but you have a roster of about 90 talents. Even with that extra hour, you can’t use all of them. Why are you signing more? Save your money, Tony.
Do a Better Job with the Women’s Division
If the WWE needs to fix its tag division, AEW needs to fix its women’s division. Britt Baker is a star. Jade Cargill can be a star. That’s about it. Don’t get me wrong. They have talent. Kris Statlander, Penelope Ford, Tay Conti, Allie, Red Velvet, Jade Cargill, Britt Baker, Swole, Nyla, Deeb, Rosa. The problem is, other than Baker and what little they’re doing with Jade, they’re not giving anybody a reason to care about ANY of them. Shida was Women’s Champion for a solid year. Whether the reign was memorable or not is up for debate, but then she lost the title and what? Now she’s appearing on their YouTube shows. The running joke used to be that you’re guaranteed to get one women’s match a show, at 9:30, and it would go 7 minutes with no follow up in a cold as ice match. I thought Baker and Rosa in the Lights out Match was going to change that, but there was no follow-up to that and the women are back to working Dark and Elevation. Britt is going to be cheered heavily with live crowds. The best bet is to turn her face and let her run the division, but you have to make people care about the women besides Britt Baker. Baker and Cargill is the money feud I would build for the next few months until Full Gear. They have 11 (maybe more that I’m forgetting) women on the roster and you’re using maybe two of them on your flagship show. I know Rampage is coming, but that is only an hour and they have more underused talent they need to feature.
Stop Assuming Everyone Watches the YouTube Shows
BTE, Dark, Elevation, Sammy’s Vlog, whatever else they put up there, if you add them all together, they barely average a million views in a week and a lot of those are likely the same people going back and watching it again. Stop assuming everybody knows what’s going on by watching those shows. Using Dark and Elevation to pad somebody’s win total in squash matches and then suddenly they’re in line for a title shot. Why? Quality of wins should matter not wins themselves. If you want to make it sports-based then take a note from college football. Quality of wins should matter just as much as the wins themselves. Matt Sydal was recently number 5 in the rankings. Number 5. I’ve watched every Dynamite and couldn’t tell you how many times he has actually been on it. Hangman Page leaving The Elite should have been treated as a big deal. It wasn’t. Why? Because a majority of it took place on BTE. The Dark Order is THE highlight of BTE most weeks . On Dynamite, they’re portrayed as nothing more than Hangman’s buddies who happen to be his wrestling support group. Take some of those critical segments and do them on Dynamite. Not every show has to be matches from beginning to end. Eric Bischoff said it best. Wrestling is like a buffet. You have to have something for everybody. Right now you just have something for your core audience that was going to watch anyway.
Build Matches Better
I know people reading are like: “Huh? What about Omega and Hangman!” You’re right. The build up to that has been great. The Pinnacle and Inner Circle has dragged on too long just to get to another Jericho/MJF match. You have four PPVs a year for the simple reason that it gives you more time to build stories. Meanwhile, the AEW World Title match at Double or Nothing between Kenny Omega, Pac, and Orange Cassidy was built up two weeks before. Miro and Lance Archer was built up two weeks before when they hot-shotted the TNT Title on Miro so Darby could team with Sting again. There were 10 matches on the Double or Nothing card. At least five of them had less than a month build. This is an issue in WWE too but at least there, you have a pay-per-view every month so obviously some feuds aren’t going to be built up properly. They just need fewer PPVs, but when you have three months between pay per views, there is no reason why five of your matches, including the one for the AEW World Title, should have less than a month’s worth of build up. You only have four pay per views for that reason, take advantage of it.
You Have the Best Tag Team Division In the World – Stop Putting Random Teams Together
I know. Everybody reading is calling me an idiot for criticizing the tag division, but hear me out. The Young Bucks are good heels who produce good matches. Why is it that their two pay-per-view title defenses were both against make-shift tag teams? Why are they feuding with Penta and Eddie Kingston and not Lucha Brothers? (Right now Fenix is out with a groin injury.) If you go back further, why did PAC and Fenix get a shot instead of Lucha Brothers? If one wasn’t available in either scenario then you shouldn’t have done the match. You had plenty of other teams. The Lucha Brothers haven’t teamed together since September 2020. FTR hasn’t had a two on two tag match on Dynamite since February, but somehow Chris Jericho and MJF won a title match at Revolution by winning a battle royal that consisted of already established tag teams. I hate when WWE tries to further a story by putting two singles guys together to go for the tag titles and AEW has done it twice with Omega/Hangman and Jericho/MJF. Neither story needed tag title matches to further it along. You have established teams like Private Party, The Acclaimed, Dark Order, Lucha Bros, Varsity Blondes and more. Have this be an actual tag division and not “let’s just put our biggest names who we don’t have anything for in a tag title match.” I know Moxley wanted a tag run. Give it to him after he returns. Not just a short program with Eddie Kingston that he lost before Eddie moved on to another make-shift temporary tag team.
That’s it for my two-part column. AEW has issues that need to be addressed no matter how much Tony Khan tries to pretend they don’t. AEW can’t hit a million viewers consistently. It can’t be excused for competition. Every show has a competition. The honeymoon period is officially over. It is time now to address what needs to be done and do it. I have faith that they will.
(Note from John Canton: Thanks to Joel for writing this two-part debut column. He has another one coming up about AEW this week and hopefully be contributing news posts as well. If you have any interest in contributing to TJRWrestling, we are always looking for people. There’s more information on this post right here if you’re interested.)