AEW creative has been pretty much spot-on since the company began.
For the most part, AEW: Dynamite and the company’s pay-per-views have been booked pretty well. There haven’t been many storylines where a talent is lost or completely buried. And, most important, there aren’t many examples of a wrestler with nothing to do.
All Elite Wrestling, as we’ve said many times, is head-and-shoulders above WWE when it comes to creative.
But as we’ve also said, AEW isn’t perfect.
Here are five stars that AEW creative should be working extra hard to course-correct.
5. Nyla Rose
Nyla Rose’s signing was a genuine coup for AEW. The company was determined to hit a progressive note, and Nyla Rose helps them do just that.
And it doesn’t hurt that she’s a legit beast in the ring. So why is it so difficult for AEW creative to make her seem like a big deal?
Consistency and balance.
One week, Nyla Rose is an absolute monster. Tearing through jobbers as though they were tissue paper. And the next week, she’s struggling against a Kris Statlander or a Hikaru Shida. Don’t get me wrong, Nyla Rose shouldn’t just go out and murder EVERYBODY.
But AEW needs to find that delicate balance. Otherwise, it seems like the only reason that the bigger stars in the women’s division – Statlander, Shida, Baker, etc. – are leagues better than Rose.
The Native Beast should have a tougher time beating the women’s division’s A-listers. But every time out, they tell the same story – Rose doesn’t take her opponents seriously. Considering AEW creative’s stated stance of treating the “sports” aspect of wrestling more seriously, Rose should have all of her opponents – as Jim Ross might say – well-scouted.
4. Jake Hager
Jake Hager is big. He’s Chris Jericho’s muscle. And he and his wife are big jerks.
Other than that, AEW creative hasn’t told us a lot about why we should care about Hager.
He got a title shot at Moxley on AEW: Dynamite just by asking for it, and Mox defeated him handily. Since then, he’s been drifting aimlessly. AEW had an opportunity to position Hager as their own Brock Lesnar. In fact, at Revolution, it seemed that was exactly the route they were traveling.
AEW creative should be building to his big matches, such as his TNT Championship match at Fyter Fest: Night One, with smaller matches. They can still have his opponents get over – not every match has to be a Brian Cage-level squash. There’s plenty of name guys Hager can get in there with. Billy (Gunn) comes to mind, as do guys like Kip Sabian or Colt Cabana. AEW’s undercard is stronger than that of the competition. But Hager should be having hard-fought matches with these guys before putting them to sleep clean with the standing arm-triangle. Or the ankle lock.
Play up that MMA background.
Okay. The Riho experiment with the AEW Women’s Championship just absolutely did – not – work. It is an absolute failure for AEW creative.
Obviously, the pandemic makes her availability extremely limited. As in, she’s probably not available to them at all at this point.
And that’s a shame, because Riho has some legit in-ring talent. She has those high-flying dive moves that have been setting WWE’s women’s division on fire for the last five years or so. But she wasn’t suited to be the company’s first women’s champion.
It’s not because she’s too small. David-and-Goliath stories are tried-and-true successes in the pro wrestling business. The problem is that AEW creative wanted to launch its women’s division strong out of the gate, and they didn’t bother to familiarize us with the talent.
Granted, Chris Jericho became the AEW Champion before the launch of AEW: Dynamite and before AEW had true national exposure. But Chris Jericho was already a known commodity. AEW’s women’s division was full of wrestlers the general public had never heard of.
In this case, maybe it’s not fair to single out Riho herself. But she is emblematic of the AEW women’s division’s difficulty in connecting with the audience.
AEW creative has made strides toward fixing that perception of late. But it’s going to be a big uphill battle, and the choice to crown Riho the inaugural champion is a big reason why.
2. Shawn Spears
I’m never gonna shut up about this one.
Shawn Spears was done a great disservice by AEW creative. He entered with a bang, hitting Cody after the American Nightmare’s time-limit draw with Darby Allin at Fyter Fest 2019. Then he got a big PPV match against Cody.
And it was all in service of debuting Arn Anderson. As Cody’s manager.
Think back to August of 2019. All of AEW’s “Road To” YouTube shows were centered around Cody vs. Spears. How could Spears have been so cold? And how dangerous will he be with the legendary Tully Blanchard coaching him?
It turns out, not very. The only purpose of the match was to debut a non-wrestler.
Spears is an incredible talent, and AEW creative is doing wrong by both him and the fans by not doing more with such a valuable asset.
I don’t get it. It makes no sense to me how AEW creative can’t nail down what to do with Cody.
On one hand, they’re in a predicament. I get that. The guy is an EVP for the company. They can’t make him too big a deal, because then they’re proving all the “He’s just like Triple H” haters correct. But on the other, by not doing enough with him, they turn him into just another guy.
The debut of the TNT Championship should have been a means of tempering that. It’s somewhere in the middle.
Unfortunately, Cody is too big a star to feel like he’s somewhere in the middle. Whether smart fans love him or hate him for it, Cody is one of the biggest stars AEW has.
If it’s me? Play into the perception of Cody as a self-promoter. Build it slowly, but make the rest of the Elite start confronting him about “going into business for himself.” We already know AEW creative isn’t afraid to bring up the fact that not everybody in wrestling was in love with Dusty Rhodes.
Have the boys in the back complain about Cody putting himself on top. A Cody heel turn might be the only thing that’ll make the American Nightmare feel special again.
It’s time for AEW creative to – well – get creative with Cody.
Feature image provided by AEW.