Strange as it may seem, if there’s an obstacle to AEW having immediate success, it’s their talent roster.
The young promotion has a lot going for it. They have a high-profile TV deal, the owner and CEO is a billionaire, and they have a solid fan base hungry for a new product.
To the right group of fans, their roster is a huge asset. But the American TV audience that tunes in to Monday Night Raw each week is used to the WWE product. They have a built-in perception of what a wrestling show is.
And they know the wrestlers that they’ve seen every week for decades. It’s like getting to know any new TV show – it looks like something you’d probably like, but you don’t recognize any of the actors.
With a week to go until AEW’s first pay-per-view, Double Or Nothing, let’s get to know some of the biggest potential game-changers from a promotion that seems poised to take on the world.
If you read wrestling news on the internet, even just occasionally, you know Kenny Omega’s name.
The most apt comparison to Omega I can think of, at least in terms of perception, is CM Punk. During the painful years between WWE’s Attitude and PG Eras, Punk’s is a name that you would hear about a lot. There were stories about this indie guy that you had to see who was tearing down arena after arena.
Omega has much the same perception, but he’s far from just “some indie guy.” And, frankly, to call him a game-changer is an understatement.
He’s the best professional wrestler on the planet, and his signing was a huge coup for AEW.
He made his biggest impact working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he held the prestigious IWGP United States Championship as well as the world title. It was also with New Japan that Omega won back-to-back Match of the Year awards from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 2017 and 2018 for his mat classics with Kazuchika Okada.
But Omega is more than just a mat guy. He’s what an addle-minded 73 year-old-man whose name rhymes with Vince McMahon might call a “sports-entertainer.” On top of his immense skills in the ring, Omega has a knack for over-the-top showmanship, and he’s great on the mic. A total package.
Omega is the likely headliner for Double Or Nothing, where he will face Chris Jericho in a rematch from their bout at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 12.
“Hangman” Adam Page
Hangman Page has only been wrestling full-time for three years. Prior to 2016, Page juggled wrestling on the weekends with teaching high school journalism and graphic design.
But a tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling (I’m sensing a pattern here) put him on the map, and when he aligned with the Bullet Club, wrestling’s premier revolving-door stable, he became full-on legit.
Page’s style in the ring is pretty unique. He has a bottomless pit of a moveset, and he can work any type of match under the sun. He is, for all intents and purposes, the AEW answer to Seth Rollins. Page can do high-flying and any finesse move you can name, but when it’s time to brawl, he can lay in those stiff working punches and make a match seem like the grittiest street fight you’ve ever seen.
But he has a strong, personality that fits any role, babyface or heel.
He had a confrontation with Pac (you might remember him from such roles as Neville in WWE: Why Do I Work Here?) at the AEW launch event in January. Both wrestlers claimed they had what it took to be the first AEW World Champion.
Page and Pac had been booked to face one another at Double Or Nothing, but that match was scrapped from the card. SEScoops reports that Pac will no longer be wrestling at Double Or Nothing due to “creative differences.”
But regardless of who Page faces at the maiden AEW pay-per-view, he’s sure to be a prominent figure with the company during its early growing stages and beyond.
We mentioned earlier that to call Omega “that indie guy” wasn’t quite appropriate.
Jimmy Havoc is this generation’s “that indie guy.”
Havoc has worked a little bit of everywhere. He’s wrestled with Progress Wrestling, MLW, Insane Championship Wrestling, and International Pro Wrestling: United Kingdom.
He was a contemporary of WWE’s Finn Balor when the two broke into the business in the mid 2000s, but while Balor has become a solid hand in technical, high-flying affairs, Havoc has gone a … well, let’s say he’s gone a different route.
Remember ECW? No, the real ECW, the one from the 90s. Where Paul Heyman paid guys six or seven rubles to use cheese graters on one another? Yeah, Jimmy Havoc is cut from that cloth.
He’s become a more developed worker the further he’s gotten from the smaller, dingier indie shows, but he still has a lot of credibility when it comes to wanton violence. A little bit of an edge will carry you a long way, and Jimmy Havoc exemplifies that. And if the mission of AEW is truly to do anything and everything that WWE isn’t, Havoc is the perfect guy to appeal to a more hardcore audience.
Dr. Britt Baker
No, seriously, Britt Baker is a doctor. Actually, she’s a practicing dentist in Orlando.
Despite only having been in the pro wrestling business since 2015, Baker was one of the earliest and most highly-touted women to sign with AEW. She only has two major televised appearances. She jobbed to Nia Jax on a 2016 episode of WWE Monday Night Raw, and she wrestled one of the standout matches of All In — the massive 2018 pay per view that made the launch of AEW a possibility.
Baker wrestled in a four-corners match with three far more experienced women, including Tessa Blanchard, and despite losing, she definitely emerged as the breakout star of the match.
What she lacks in name value, she more than makes up for in raw talent. Look for her to be a prominent member of the AEW roster during its formative years.
At Double Or Nothing, Baker will face Nyla Rose and Kylie Rae in a triple threat match. Speaking of that match …
“Smiley” Kylie Rae
Think Bayley, but take away the hugs and the tassels and replace them with a Pikachu top, and you have Kylie Rae.
It’s something every wrestling promotion on the planet has right now: the super happy, always-positive babyface. But it seems a little out of left field for a promotion like AEW.
The roster is built on “serious” wrestlers. The kind of talents that remind Dave Meltzer of insert-late-80s-NWA-match-here. So how exactly does somebody like “Smiley” Kylie Rae (no, really, that’s her ring name – isn’t it awesome?!) fit in?
And that’s the beauty: She doesn’t.
In the midst of a talent roster seemingly built from the ground up to keep the Internet Wrestling Community happy, Kylie Rae is a wrestler who will definitely stand out and give the new fan who’s only known Vince McMahon’s brand of pro wrestling a totem to latch onto.
The success of Double Or Nothing will hinge on the masterful job AEW has done of hyping this one show. But for long-term success, a wrestling promotion needs characters that can connect with an audience. And just based on this very small sample of the promotion’s roster, AEW should have a pretty bright future when it hits the airwaves this fall.
All images courtesy of AEW’s Facebook page.