May 15th, 2019.
On that day, WarnerMedia and AEW announced a deal that would see the upstart wrestling promotion get a live, weekly show in prime-time airing on TNT. For new wrestling fans, it signaled televised competition for WWE, and for older fans, it was a bit of nostalgia, with TNT being the home of WCW’s Monday Nitro during the “Monday Night War.”
May 25th, 2019.
That was the date of AEW’s very first pay-per-view event, Double Or Nothing, airing from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada. The event was a smash hit on all accounts, with tickets selling out in minutes, pay-per-view buys being considerably stronger than anyone anticipated, and multiple Match Of The Year candidates pushing the show to Best Of The Year status for numerous sites and publications.
With last weekend’s Double Or Nothing event wrapped up, we are officially into AEW’s third year as a promotion. That’s a huge accomplishment, whether you’re a fan of the company or not. Like just about any company, they’ve been a bit of a mixed bag through their first two years. They’ve done some things almost perfectly, other things decently, and they’ve flopped on some other things.
What about Year Three, though? You can look at what AEW has done to get to this point, but what about the things that need to be done by the time next year’s Double Or Nothing event comes to an end?
Above all else, I think they need to build their viewership back up for Dynamite. This is where the sensitive mouth-breathers get ready to fire up a “BUT THEY GET MORE VIEWERS THAN NXT” response, of course. God forbid someone say something about a company that isn’t praising them as the greatest thing ever created. Yes, all promotions have fans like that, and yes, all of those fans are fucking dorks. Me saying that AEW needs to get their numbers up isn’t me saying their numbers suck, or that I’m comparing them to anything else. Dynamite has seen some impressive numbers, especially after NXT jumped from Wednesdays to Tuesdays. They topped or approached the one million viewers mark for the first few weeks, and I think that needs to be the target again. Last week’s episode, in a 10pm on Friday night timeslot because of the NBA Playoffs, pulled in around 510,000 viewers. Things like that hurt, but again, when the show isn’t being pushed around because of other sporting events, they do very well. When Dynamite is moved from TNT to TBS in January, there’s no real reason why the show shouldn’t see one million viewers as a bit of a disappointment.
Do not get me wrong here, folks. Could Dynamite one day bring in two, three, four, or five-plus million viewers on a weekly basis? It absolutely could, but it just won’t happen that quickly, barring some sort of unforeseen miracle. I just think the focus should be on one million, then one-and-a-quarter, then one-and-a-half, and so forth.
Another important move for the future is right there at the top of the card. AEW has had three World Champions in their existence. Chris Jericho was the perfect choice for the company’s first champion. He had the star power, and was still a hot act after working with New Japan. Dean Ambrose was the perfect choice for their second champion, as he had one of the more memorable debuts in recent history and was putting in some of the best work in all of wrestling. Kenny Omega was the perfect choice for their next champion. He had spent a lot of time as the “Best Wrestler In The World” in the eyes of a lot of people when AEW was formed, but had yet to really be much more than a tag team worker for the start of the company’s run. Finally moving up the card as a singles player, it was wise for the company to pull the trigger on putting him at the top. What about the fourth champion, whenever that person is crowned?
If you ask me, which you did, AEW needs to push someone “new” and “fresh” to the top. Jungle Boy just won the Casino Battle Royale at Double Or Nothing, and he’ll get a shot at Kenny Omega and the AEW World Title on Dynamite in two weeks. I would be stunned if a title change happens, but I do think it’s somewhat of a “test” for Jungle Boy. As I’ve said in the past, he’s going to be a World Champion in the future. His match against Omega will be an important one, even if he loses, as it will allow AEW management to see how he handles the spotlight of being in the biggest match of his career.
There’s also someone like Darby Allin, who has been built wonderfully by AEW. He has gone from the lower levels of the roster to becoming a midcard champion, and now being involved in a high-profile pairing with Sting. This is a man that is over like rover with AEW fans, and would get a huge pop if he were to become the new AEW World Champion. Orange Cassidy has defied all odds to become one of the most popular wrestlers in AEW, and he has proven that he can “hang” in the main event scene with no problems whatsoever.
However, I think one man is the easy choice for the person to take the title from Kenny Omega, and that man is none other than “Hangman” Adam Page. He’s still about two months away from his 30th birthday, is a “homegrown” AEW talent, is one of the most popular performers with live crowds, and has been, arguably, the most consistently great in-ring performer the company has had since its inception. I really think everybody benefits with an Adam Page World Title victory, given the proper build. Jon Moxley’s 277-day reign is the longest of the AEW World Title reigns thus far. Omega only needs to go 96 more days (as of the day this column gets posted) to pass that mark. Conveniently enough, AEW’s next pay-per-view, All Out, is 95 days away from the day this column is posted. Other people have talked about how long Omega’s reign should be. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me if he passes Moxley’s mark or not. I just think it’s time to take the next step.
The next step is an easy one. Building a viewership takes a ton of work, and putting a rocket on someone’s back to push them to the top needs a bunch of things to fall in place. However, continuing to build the women’s division is easy, because AEW wouldn’t have to do anything differently than they already are. I’m not breaking any news here, but there was a point in time when the women’s division was the worst part of AEW by a country mile. You barely saw women on AEW television, and when you did, it was usually a short match that featured people who weren’t exactly ready for primetime, as the saying goes. Britt Baker has gone on record basically saying the same thing, talking about how most of the women in the early days of the promotion had little-to-no experience on television. They were all learning on the fly, and more often than not, it showed. Fast forward to now, and you could make the argument that the women of AEW are one of the key selling points of the product.
Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker, Serena Deeb, Thunder Rosa, Jade Cargill, Kris Statlander, Riho, Tay Conti… the future is very bright for the division. That isn’t even mentioning Anna Jay, currently out with a shoulder injury, who I feel can go down as the best of them all one day. It also isn’t mentioning women not currently on the roster that can be brought in for permanent or temporary spots. If AEW keeps playing their cards right with the women they sign and feature, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.
So far, I’ve talked about things AEW needs to do. How about we switch things up and talk about things AEW should stop doing? Dynamite, Dark, Dark: Elevation, and now… Rampage. For the love of God, stop adding shows. WWE has had quite the bloated roster for a long time, and it’s easy to say that even they have too much programming. Raw, Smackdown, NXT, NXT: UK, Main Event, 205 Live… and that’s not counting pay-per-views and other syndicated shows from around the world. AEW, with less of a roster and less of a history, are going to have four shows going at the same time come August when Rampage debuts. That’s too much. I will say this… the YouTube shows are in a bit of a different world of their own, featuring workers from the independent scene getting chances to showcase their work to, in many instances, the most eyeballs they’ve ever performed in front of. That’s fine, but it’s still a lot. A LOT. Just look at the amount of weekly hours you need to spend watching wrestling just to stay up-to-date. It’s a stupid amount only made worse if you throw in Impact, Ring Of Honor, New Japan, or any of the other 88 gazillion companies that are putting out content.
What scares me about the added content is that it isn’t the end. Tony Khan has already said that the AEW roster is going to grow and expand in the coming year, and he mentioned quarterly “supercards” to air on TNT, which probably ends up being their version of WCW’s Clash Of The Champions events. Is it only a matter of time until AEW goes from four pay-per-views a year to six? To eight? Monthly pay-per-views? It’s a very slippery slope to be on. If you’re a diehard fan of the company, you’re probably thrilled. “Good! I want more AEW!” I’m just saying… be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
Since I brought up bloated rosters, that brings me to my next point of discussion. Earlier today, Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp broke the news of some more WWE talent releases. Braun Strowman, Aleister Black, Lana, Ruby Riott, Murphy, and Santana Garrett were all let go. All six of those names bring something valuable and unique to the table. AEW, as a company, needs to find the fine line between making your roster more talented and holding back the talent you already have. I’ve already seen tweets and social media posts from people making pleas for AEW to sign each of the released workers. As I said, they all bring something to the table, but does it really benefit AEW to sign them? Aleister Black is an insanely talented in-ring performer, but does bringing him in hurt the pushes of the aforementioned people like Adam Page, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, and Orange Cassidy? Braun Strowman has been one of the biggest (literally and figuratively) wrestling stars of the last few years, but what’s his “fit” in AEW? Putting Lana back with Miro makes sense at face value, but how much does she really add to this new version of Miro that we’ve been getting recently? Again, with an already promised roster expansion coming down the road, AEW is going to have to add to their contracted talent. They have to find that line that prevents them from just snatching up any and everybody who has ever been on WWE or NXT television, hoarding talent that they’ll never truly use properly, and hurting the momentum of what they’ve done for their own wrestlers.
If it were up to me, Ruby Riott/Heidi Lovelace is someone I’d already be on the phone with about coming in whenever her no-compete clause is done. She would be a great acquisition, and would only add to the growth of the women’s division. She is one of the top women in the business, and WWE, in their infinite wisdom, never allowed her to show that off. Aleister Black/Tommy End and Murphy would also be talents I’d trip all over myself to try and sign. In the end, I think we’ll get Ruby and Aleister in AEW, while I think Murphy ends up with Impact. I don’t think the other three are necessary, at least in the short-term.
If you’re anywhere even remotely near my age, it’s not a stretch to say that Jim Ross is one of the biggest voices of your childhood, teenage, and formative years. Many of the biggest matches and moments in the history of professional wrestling have Jim Ross’ voice playing front and center. Last I checked, though, it’s 2021 now. It’s not 1998 anymore. Folks, Jim Ross gotta go. Life has seemingly beaten him down to the point that he just comes across as bitter and miserable these days. There have been numerous occasions where he would take shots at the company or at the action taking place in the ring, usually of the modern-day “flip, flop, and fly” variety. There’s no passion in his voice. No excitement. Excalibur and Tony Schiavone are more than good enough to handle commentary duties on Dynamite and pay-per-views. Throw in the likes of Taz, Don Callis, Paul Wight, Mark Henry, and a yet-to-be-revealed member of the roster that Tony Khan says will be handling commentary duty for Rampage, and you have plenty of options to mix and match for the various shows. WWE seems to be releasing commentators left and right these days, so that only adds to the options for AEW. Any of them would be better than Jim Ross. Except for Adnan Virk. Hard pass.
I love what AEW has been able to accomplish in the last two years. They truly are a viable alternative to WWE right now. A year from now, at this time, I’d love to be able to do a “what to do in year four” column about the company, where they’re looking to get past 1.5 million weekly viewers for their shows. I would love to be able to see newer, younger talent at the top of the roster. This is a company that is building something very special, with great minds and great bank accounts coming together for the greater good.
What about you, ReaderLand? Other than what I’ve mentioned here, what are some of the things you’d like to see from AEW in their third year? It can be something huge or even something smaller, like signing a certain free agent or having a pay-per-view in a certain city. As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
- The Daily’s Place Crowd: Words simply cannot express how great it was to see a major wrestling event taking place in front of a full house of loud, rabid fans. Minus some hiccups here and there, and with Cody Rhodes trying to suck all the heat out of the venue, they were insane for the entire show. I really missed seeing how much fans added to the product, and I look forward to both AEW and WWE going back on the road next month.
- Kenny Omega vs Orange Cassidy vs Pac: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this match. It was pretty haphazardly thrown together, and the outcome was never really in doubt. What I got was a phenomenal match. As I said in my Running Diary of Double Or Nothing, it largely stayed away from the usual Triple Threat trope where one wrestler is taken out of the match for multiple minutes, allowing the other two to fight until one of them is taken out for multiple minutes, which allows the first guy to return, etc. Nobody thought Omega was going to drop the AEW World Title, but both Pac and Cassidy got VERY believable near falls, really drawing everyone into what was going on. The right man won, but the loss doesn’t hurt Cassidy or Pac in any way.
- Britt Baker: I don’t know why it took so long to get the AEW Women’s Title on her, but it finally happened. She is on fire with her in-ring work and her character work, and she gets to be rewarded for it. This can be something very special for AEW. She’s a smart, well-spoken, beautiful woman with a tremendous story involving her “day job” outside of the ring. Every piece is there for her to be a face of the company that they can get behind for what could be years and years to come.
- The Young Bucks vs Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston: Sorry, AJ Styles, but this was a major styles clash. We all knew that. What we also knew was that the match would deliver, and it did just that. I was surprised to see how many people were predicting a title change here. The work and chemistry that Moxley and Kingston are putting in is impressive, but the Bucks are really starting to hit their stride with this new heel work. They’re about to hit the seven-month mark of their title reign, and they only seem to be getting stronger.
- The Street Profits vs The Usos: It was mentioned in the pre-match promo battle, but this is something of a generational “dream match” featuring two of the best and most exciting tag teams that WWE has put out in the last decade. A fast-paced, exciting, “spotfest” of a match. I want to see more of these teams facing each other.
- Jungle Boy: I’ve already said it, but I think he’s being given a bit of a test run as a main event player right now. His in-ring work has improved a ton in the last year or two, and he has earned a push. For now, we can celebrate him winning the Casino Battle Royale and talk about how awesome it was to have the entire crowd at Daily’s Place “singing” his entrance music.
- Serena Deeb vs Riho: One of the better pre-show matches you’re going to see. Great work from both women in a physical, hard-hitting bout.
- Drew McIntyre vs Kofi Kingston: Back-to-back weeks with good matches between these two. However, I think the wrong man won. I like Drew McIntyre, but we’ve seen enough of him and Bobby Lashley for a while. I was looking forward to a pay-per-view main event between Lashley and Kingston, but hey… at least we know Lashley vs McIntyre will be fun.
- Jimmy Smith’s WWE Commentary Debut: Admittedly, the bar set by Adnan Virk was so low that it was almost underground, but Jimmy Smith did a great job in his first week on commentary for Raw. He sounded natural, actually seemed like he knows the product, and still showed room for growth as he gets more comfortable with WWE’s demands for their commentators.
- “Hangman” Adam Page vs Brian Cage: A good choice to open Double Or Nothing. The match itself was good, but having Hangman open the show allowed for the crowd to immediately rev themselves up. Tension within Team Taz is going to be an interesting story to follow. Are we going to see a face turn for Brian Cage soon? The DON crowd sure popped for him when he refused the help of Ricky Starks. We’ll see.
- Stadium Stampede: I said pretty much all I needed to say about this match in my Running Diary. The action was plenty good, but I just hate the format and the layout of the match. The “cinematic” style is something that needs to go away, but I worry that Stadium Stampede might be here to stay, based on the popularity of the two matches.
- Kyle O’Reilly vs Pete Dunne vs Johnny Gargano: The NXT Title scene is really cramped right now, but holy hell, the level of talent involved is through the roof. Throw in the returning Adam Cole (Bay-Bay), and you have quite the clusterfuck. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. This is one of those times.
- Kushida vs Carmelo Hayes: The artist-formerly-known-as Christian Casanova made his NXT debut, and it was an impressive performance. NXT might have themselves a future star on their hands.
- Nikki Cross: It might be leading to a push, or it might be leading nowhere, but Nikki technically holds victories over Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair now, so hooray!
- Becky Lynch Looking To Be In Ring Shape: If you haven’t seen the photo that Seth Rollins posted, Becky Lynch was shown in a workout picture with a ripped set of abs, and also looks like she may have toned and slimmed down a bit overall. She gave birth six months ago, but she looks like she could step back into a WWE ring tomorrow if she wanted to.
This Week’s Playlist: “Lightning Crashes” by Live… “I Alone” by Live… “All Over You” by Live… “Shine” by Collective Soul… “The World I Know” by Collective Soul… “If You Could Only See” by Tonic… “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum… “Hey Jealousy” by Gin Blossoms… “Follow You Down” by Gin Blossoms… “Til I Hear It From You” by Gin Blossoms… “All I Want” by Toad The Wet Sprocket… “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers… “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” by Fuel… “Big Me” by Foo Fighters… “Monkey Wrench” by Foo Fighters… “My Hero” by Foo Fighters… “Everlong” by Foo Fighters… “Hunger Strike” by Temple Of The Dog… “Epic” by Faith No More… “Silent Lucidity” by Queensrÿche… “The Best Is Yet To Come Undone” by Lit… “Superman” by Goldfinger… “The Way” by Fastball… “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe… “Two Princes” by Spin Doctors