On October 14th this year, All Elite Wrestling hosted its ‘first year’ anniversary show, during which it took a moment to look back over all the highs and lows over its first year in business. In truth, the date of the event was a little misleading. October 14th was one year on from the first-ever episode of “AEW Dynamite,” the company’s Wednesday night show on TNT.
The formation of the company was announced on January 1st, 2019. If you want to go off matches or events, the first show to be held under the AEW banner was the “Double or Nothing” pay-per-view on May 25th, 2019. AEW has been around for at least a year and a half however you want to measure it, but there’s rarely such a thing as a bad excuse for a party. “Dynamite” completing one full year on television was a bigger achievement than many people expected, and so that alone was worth celebrating.
With this first year of television under the company’s belt, and the rating war against WWE’s third brand NXT being won every week apart from one, AEW has much to be proud of. It’s found an audience who’ve proven that they’ll follow it around when the timing (and sometimes the day) of their program is moved. They’ve already had their TV contract extended with a hike in pay and a third hour of programming ordered.
Their roster of pro wrestling stars is increasingly deep and talented, and the ethics of the company are spoken of highly by everybody who works for. Tony Khan, the company’s president, often comes in for individual praise from the people who work for him. In terms of almost every statistic available, AEW has been a success.
Going further, the company deserves special praise for the way it’s handled the global pandemic situation. Nobody could have seen the crisis coming, and most sports companies within their first year of trading would have folded immediately. Even Vince McMahon, with all the hundreds of millions of dollars he’d sunk into it, folded the XFL barely a month into the sports shutdown.
Tony Khan was determined not to do the same with AEW. He moved the company to Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Florida, and kept going with live TV broadcasts every week. It was AEW, not WWE, that was the first major pro wrestling company to find a way to bring fans back into arenas safely.
Even with the temporary loss of half of the company’s roster of international stars (most notably Pac), AEW has found ways to change and adapt. Lance Archer was forced to pull out of a match with reigning AEW World Champion Jon Moxley just a few weeks ago at short notice. AEW responded by somehow turning that misfortune into the start of a hot angle between Moxley and his old friend Eddie Kingston. While WWE laid off over 300 people, AEW has carried on paying all of its staff and performers for as long as possible. There’s a marked difference between the way the two companies do business.
Some of this is because WWE has a responsibility to shareholders, whereas AEW is privately owned. If Tony Khan wants to sink every cent he owns into the company, he’s free to do so. Vince McMahon has to make sure the shareholders get paid. That means cost-cutting and questionable business practices.
Nobody batted an eyelid when WWE agreed a deal to create a series of character-focused online slots games based on its best-known superstars, but plenty of eyebrows are raised when the company took a big-money deal to go to Saudi Arabia repeatedly. AEW has a video game on the way, and it’s conceivable that they might also agree to a partnership with an online slots website if the terms on offer were agreeable, but it’s totally inconceivable that they would take Saudi money in the current climate.
Somehow, in this hypothetical situation, money casino aren’t the biggest gamble when it comes to the company’s standing in the view of fans.
This isn’t all about direct comparisons to WWE, though. It’s also (and perhaps more importantly) about what’s gone on in the ring. When AEW launched, it was marketed as a more ‘sports orientated’ product than WWE, with a focus on serious action in the ring. We were told that wins and losses would matter and that rankings would dictate who got title shots. That hasn’t held out over the course of the past twelve months. Cody Rhodes has recently admitted that he regrets making those comments in the first place.
This past week, AEW got about as far from ‘sports orientated’ as it’s possible to get when Chris Jericho and MJF broke off from a ‘steak dinner meeting’ and broke into the song ‘Me And My Shadow,’ complete with backing dancers. It was spectacular and silly, and got mainstream press attention in the way that very few happenings in wrestling do in 2020. AEW might have ventured some distance from the blueprint that was drawn up for it, but that’s evolution.
There arguably hasn’t been enough change in wrestling in the past two decades. Even if it might not be to everybody’s tastes, AEW at least deserves credit for trying.
There are still issues that need working on. Like WCW and TNA before it, AEW has a habit of bringing in midcard WWE guys and pushing them as bigger deals than their own stars. The five-match run of Matt “Zack Ryder” Cardona didn’t achieve anything either for Cardona or the company.
The idea of making Chris Jericho the company’s first-ever world champion was understandable, but perhaps questionable in terms of how it made the company look. Miro, the former Rusev, has so far been booked as an unstoppable monster after spending the past two or three years as a midcard worker in WWE. At the time of writing, Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) is AEW Champion.
Cody Rhodes is TNT champion, having won the title back from Brodie Lee (Luke Harper). FTR, formerly known as the Revival, are the tag team champions. All of those wrestlers are former WWE stars. Hikaru Shida, the women’s champion, is the only titleholder in the company who isn’t better known for their work elsewhere.
Logic sometimes falls by the wayside, too. When the Butcher and the Blade debuted, they were accompanied by Allie as “The Bunny.” Allie then left the Butcher and the Blade to unite with QT Marshall and the “Nightmare Family,” without explanation or acknowledgment.
She’s now back with the Butcher and the Blade, and her reasons for moving between the two still haven’t been explained. Brandi Rhodes flips from heel to face on a seemingly monthly basis, and whatever she was doing with Awesome Kong before Kong took time off might never be explained at all.
Nobody seems to be entirely sure what the Dark Order is supposed to be. There appears to be a belief within the company that the majority of their viewers also watch “AEW Dark” and “Being The Elite” on YouTube, and that isn’t the case. More effort – especially by the announcers – needs to be made to ensure that the audience knows what’s happening and why.
That’s a minor concern, though. For the main part, this has been an exceptional first year for All Elite Wrestling, and long may the company’s success continue.