All Elite Wrestling has fundamentally changed the wrestling world.
That’s a bold statement. I get it.
What’s so revolutionary about AEW? One of their Executive Vice Presidents is ex-WWE midcarder Cody. Their top guy is ex-WWE Champion Chris Jericho.
The AEW Champion is WWE’s former Dean Ambrose, Jon Moxley.
So how exactly has All Elite Wrestling changed pro wrestling as we know it?
By keeping it real. Do please let me explain.
New Guys: The WWE Formula
We won’t dwell too much on how Vinnie Mac does business up north. But the contrast is important to showing how All Elite Wrestling has made the business fresh again.
Let’s look at how WWE introduces new talent that’s wrestled in other promotions.
Take the recently-released EC3. In Impact Wrestling, EC3 was a cutting, arrogant heel. He cut some of the best heel promos in pro wrestling, and he was great at making people completely and utterly hate him.
EC3 showed up in NXT and made something of a splash. He had a rougher edge and was presented as more of a badass. So there was a little extra shine added so WWE can say they’ve made EC3 their own. But they didn’t completely tear him down to rebuild from scratch.
And then came the main roster call-up. For reasons passing understanding, EC3 becomes a literal mute. He starts jobbing to anyone and everyone. When the dust settles, there’s nothing of EC3 left. So WWE has written a self-fulfilling prophecy. EC3 can’t hang, he doesn’t get reactions, and out he goes with annual spring cleaning time.
Meanwhile, in All Elite Wrestling.
MJF, Orange Cassidy, And Keeping It Real
And to this day, he’s still doing exactly that on AEW: Dynamite every week.
When Orange Cassidy came into AEW, he continued his schtick from the indie circuit. The weak kicks, the lazy offense, the half-thumbs-up.
And, to this day, he’s still doing that on AEW: Dynamite every week.
Try, if you will, to imagine Orange Cassidy’s career path in WWE. He’d do mostly the same thing in NXT. They’d probably change his name to Lazy Orange or something stupid, and he might wear slightly darker denim. But he would be mostly the same guy. Then he shows up on Raw, same name, same denim. But now he talks a lot. And he only does the weak kicks in promos. Within weeks, he has the same name, the same gear, but for some reason he’s afraid of snakes now.
Look, I’ve spent time thinking about this. This is exactly what WWE would do.
Point is, AEW understands that if it ain’t broke, then don’t break it. Every indie or near-indie star All Elite Wrestling has scooped up since its inception is playing the same character and doing the same moves that got them hired by AEW in the first place. AEW gets that the fans love these guys for a reason. Why tamper with it?
A Bunch Of Ex-WWE Guys
“Ugh. Every AEW Championship match has been between two WWE guys.”
First of all, you’re wrong. Secondly, shut up.
Yes, it’s true. Outside of the match at All Out between Chris Jericho and ‘Hangman’ Adam Page to crown the first AEW champ, every PPV title match has been between guys who previously worked up north.
At Full Gear, it was Cody vs. Jericho. Then at Revolution (easily the best North American wrestling PPV in years), Not-Dean-Ambrose beat Not-Y2J for the AEW belt. And even this year’s Double Or Nothing saw a Shield vs. Wyatt Family reunion with Moxley vs. Brodie Lee.
But here’s what nobody gets. Or at least what nobody bothers to think about.
Aside from the over-the-top Vinceness of Brodie Lee’s character, all of those wrestlers are playing the characters they’d wanted to play all along.
In his “Vince never made me sign an NDA” post-release podcast run, Moxley told dozens of stories about the stories he wanted to tell and the character he wanted to play. Cody has been saying for years that WWE stifled him with Stardust, and he never got to work the creative or the matches he was capable of.
Argue all you want that All Elite Wrestling gave us something we’d already seen with Moxley vs. Jericho. In name, that’s true. But this wasn’t Dean Ambrose with his red wagon and his potted-plant best friend. And this wasn’t short-tights lite-brite jacket Chris Jericho. This was the Purveyor of Violence vs. Le Champion.
Even when broken down on a match-to-match comparison, they aren’t remotely the same. Is it fair to say that AEW is just slapping a new coat of paint on something we’ve already seen? Maybe. But even looking just a little bit deeper reveals that all AEW did was take the shackles off these guys.
It all ties back to the last two points. When you let wrestlers play their characters and wrestle their kind of matches, you’re going to get the best out of them. And if All Elite Wrestling is getting the best out of its talent, they’re going to get the money out of your wallet.
Okay, so from a creative standpoint. How is All Elite Wrestling changing the game? I mean, this is pro wrestling. How many different ways can you skin that cat?
You know how I said I wasn’t gonna make this all about WWE comparisons? Well, I didn’t intend for it to be a lie at the time, but here we are. I have no regrets.
Before AEW jumped on the scene, the darling of the “wrestling purists'” eyes was NXT. And why is that? Well, NXT did one-hour weekly television. And they only did four or five big PPV-level shows a year in the form of their TakeOver events.
That means more time to plan, more time to build, more time to get fans excited. Three months to wind the road to a long-planned end. Sound familiar?
All Elite Wrestling took the NXT playbook, and now they’re using it to beat them in the Wednesday Night Wars. Each week on AEW: Dynamite, All Elite Wrestling starts us on a journey that we could probably predict if we wanted to. But we’re too busy being entertained to worry about whether it’s predictable or not.
There are no swerves, because in their own way, every AEW story is a swerve. Doesn’t matter if it’s telegraphed or not. If you’re thinking about what the company wants you to think is going to happen, that means you don’t have time to enjoy the product.
When you watch Raw, you can see right through the formula. “Okay, this must be the angle where they’re gonna set up their match at Money In The Bank, and, yup, there it is.”
Watching AEW: Dynamite on the other hand, you’re watching every Moxley vs. Jericho promo thinking, “Oh, man, I can’t wait for them to fight.” You’re not thinking, “Ugh. Ambrose vs. Jericho at Revolution? Seen it.”
And all of it – all of it – is because AEW lets its stars be themselves. For sure, Tony Khan is back there giving them pointers. Suggesting they emphasize this word, not that one. But at the end of the day, All Elite Wrestling is succeeding by letting their talent show off their talent. Not the “talent” of its poor writing staff, just waiting for Vince to come in and rip up the script they’ve been working on for a week.
By doing nothing more complicated than being real, AEW has changed pro wrestling. And it’s changed how we watch it.
All images courtesy of All Elite Wrestling.