I was working on an entirely different column this week, and was about 2,500 words deep into that column, but this topic kept popping up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Folks, we need to talk about AEW.
Specifically, we need to talk about all of this “controversy” about AEW bringing in “unknown” wrestlers and expecting everyone in attendance and watching at home to simply know who these wrestlers are. Some of you already know what I’m referring to here, but for those who are unaware…
AEW will often have someone that isn’t on their roster make appearances on Dynamite or Rampage. We’ve seen names from Ring Of Honor, New Japan, DDT-Pro, and numerous North American independent promotions. At face value, that’s a great thing for everyone involved. It allows for some fresh matches, provides wrestlers with major television time that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise, and makes AEW’s product more attractive because you never know who is going to show up at any given time.
The “controversy” comes in when AEW brings those wrestlers in and doesn’t do anything about introducing them, telling viewers about them, explaining why viewers should care about them, and so on. It’s usually just “IT’S INSERT-NAME-HERE!” and that’s it. There’s a percentage of fans out there who are upset about it because AEW is as close to “independent” as their viewership gets. Those fans don’t know who people from independent promotions are, even if those wrestlers are champions or are viewed as big deals where they wrestle regularly.
There are two sides to this debate, so let’s tackle both of them, starting with the side that feels AEW is in the wrong for doing it.
I get it. Really, I do. I see it in a lot of television shows and movies that started off as books. You’ll watch the show, and a character that was important in the books will be introduced. However, because you didn’t read the books, you have no idea who this person is. Others are watching and losing their mind, but you’re just shrugging your shoulders and wondering what the big deal is. That’s what it’s like for many fans when they watch AEW. The company will just trot people like they did with Mance Warner, and that’s it. You’ll have the more “in-the-know” fans who know all about Mance Warner, where he usually wrestles, what style he uses, if he’s any good, what type of underwear he prefers, what he had for breakfast this morning, and everything else there is to know about the guy. More often than not, though, you have fans who have never heard of the guy before.
We’ve seen variations of this happen in AEW time and time and time again. The Dark Order. Satnam Singh. The Butcher & The Blade. Luther. Lance Archer. The list goes on and on. Obviously, not every debut is going to come with several weeks worth of vignettes, video packages, and segments, especially when it’s a one-off appearance. I get that. That isn’t the problem, nor is it the expectation, at least from logical fans. While nobody is expecting everything, it’s a far cry from receiving nothing.
When you look at the viewership numbers for Dynamite, they haven’t really changed a ton from the early days of the show until now. The numbers aren’t really going down, mind you. They’re just in the same pocket that they’ve been at, year in and year out. They have a very loyal fan base, but why aren’t they able to grow the audience? Why aren’t they averaging 1.5 million viewers every week by now? What about 2 million viewers? Could it be because there’s too much catering to those loyal, hardcore fans, and little-to-no catering to more casual fans? You know… the fans who don’t know who Mance Warner is. Have you ever been somewhere… work, school, a family gathering, or whatever… and you move your way into a conversation that a few people are having, and you try to participate, but the discussion is mainly inside jokes that you don’t understand? You’d be trying to find the first opportunity to walk away from it. That’s what watching AEW programming is like for a lot… A… LOT… of fans. You hear good things, so you’re eager to participate and give things a shot, but it’s inside joke after personal conversation after inside joke. Then you don’t really feel like participating anymore.
There’s a lot of truth to that, whether you want to admit it or not.
How about the other side of the argument?
I’ve seen all sorts of complaints when it comes to this stuff, going back to all of those aforementioned debuts. Tweets, other social media posts, YouTube videos, columns… you name it. People from all corners of the world, upset about AEW throwing people out there on live television and expecting everyone to know who they are. I have one problem with that. In the time it took those people to complain about what AEW was doing, couldn’t they have just… looked up who those wrestlers are? Even if you don’t have hands and need to type with the tip of your fucking nose, how long does it take to type “Mance Warner” or “Satnam Singh” on Google or YouTube? You don’t need to know their life stories. Just check out a match or two. Maybe a promo or two if you don’t have that much time. An article or two if you have even less time.
How difficult is that?
Pretty difficult, apparently.
It’s easier said than done for some people. Some of you fine folks love learning. You’re the people who will find themselves down a YouTube or Wikipedia rabbit hole, going to do one thing and then ending up in an entirely different corner of Amber Midthunder’s internet, looking at articles and videos that are completely unrelated to what you were initially looking at. You are also the people who will watch a TV show or movie, see an actor that you recognize, and them immediately pause what you’re watching so that you can go to find that actor’s IMDB page and see where you know them from. Those are the people that don’t mind stopping to do a little research on Wrestler A so that they can catch up a bit. Not everyone is like that, though. That’s cool. You don’t have to be.
No matter which side of this debate you’re on, there’s one very important thing to remember…
This isn’t just an AEW issue.
WWE has done it a million times. Every promotion that brings in new talent does it. We just happen to be in the middle of this tribalistic bullshit “war” between WWE and AEW fans, so when people perceive AEW as doing something “wrong” like this, they’re quick to attack.
To be fair, when WWE does it, it is slightly different. For example, let’s say an NXT talent makes their debut on Raw without any vignettes or anything along those lines. Take a look at the viewership numbers. Last week, Monday Night Raw averaged 2.23 million viewers, while NXT saw 649,000 viewers. You don’t need to be a math wizard to see that those numbers point out the fact that there are a ton of people who are watching Raw that aren’t watching NXT. However, there’s still a good amount of people watching NXT. On the other hand, using Konosuke Takeshita for an example, how many people in America do you think are keeping up with DDT-Pro in Japan so that they’ve even heard of Konosuke Takeshita, let alone know his work and his abilities? I’d bet you whatever amount of money you wanted that the number is considerably lower than 649,000 people. I’m well aware that this is an oversimplification of the whole thing, but it’s different when 649,000 of your viewers initially know who Dexter Lumis is than when much, much, much less people initially know who Konosuke Takeshita is.
Note… I didn’t say it’s better. I just said it’s different. WWE is a big enough company that they have some built-in “wiggle room” when it comes to things like this. It’s not like WWE is finding a true-blue independent wrestler and letting them bypass NXT altogether so that they can debut on the main roster.
Personally, I’m of the thinking that AEW definitely needs to change their presentation up a bit. If you’ve read my columns, you know my feelings on the cokehead presentation with AEW programming, where they feel the need to try and pack five hours worth of things into a two-hour show. You don’t get a chance to know anything about Mance Warner, Konosuke Takeshita, The Butcher & The Blade, or any other company debuts because there’s no fucking time to get to know anything about them. We’re moving, rapid fire, from one segment to the next to the next to the next, so you’ll just have to watch this match and, hopefully, you like what you see. If they would just slow down a bit, maybe they could find time to let more people know about the new names that are set to make their debut.
Is it a game-changing thing that is going to make me stop watching AEW? No. However, I’m also not the fan that is affected by this. I watch a ton of wrestling. That means I know who these people are, or have at least heard stuff about them. I know where I need to turn, or who I need to turn to, if I need to get caught up. I’m also one of the aforementioned people that loves researching things, so even if there was a wild situation where I had NO IDEA who someone was, I would relish the opportunity to look them up and figure it out for myself.
So… it’s your turn, ReaderLand. What side of this debate are you on? Are you someone who feels AEW should be giving their fans a lot more information about debuting wrestlers? Or… are you someone who feels AEW shouldn’t have to spoon feed people and that they can figure things out for themselves? 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
- Claudio Castagnoli vs Konosuke Takeshita: Takeshita picked up his first televised win for AEW, and even though there wasn’t a soul alive who thought he was winning this, it was still an intriguing matchup. It ended up being well worth the hype. Well, not so much hype, because things move too quickly in AEW, but you get the point. Takeshita continues to be an electric must-watch. Claudio, on the other hand, is Claudio. He is always one of the best in the world, and he put in work to help make Takeshita look like an even bigger deal. There were several near falls here that, even for a split second, made me think that there was an actual possibility that we were going to see Takeshita win the RoH World Title. Great, pay-per-view quality stuff here.
- Bobby Lashley vs Ciampa: Even though he didn’t win the United States Title, Ciampa planted his flag in the ground here, showing the WWE Universe that he’s going to be a major player on the main roster while Triple H is handling creative duties. He really took Lashley to the limit here, and he came out looking fantastic, even in a loss. I know some people think this hurt Lashley for having someone so much smaller than him, both in stature and perceived place on the card, push him so hard. That’s not someone I agree with. Yes, Ciampa is smaller, but unless you’re living in the past, that shit doesn’t matter much anymore. If Wrestler A is faster, smarter, more technically savvy, tougher, a better aerial artist, and so on, they can topple a giant if any of those boxes can be checked. This was more about building the United States Title up, and the match did just that. Two guys busting their ass to make the title look like something that they really wanted to hold.
- Apollo Crews vs Roderick Strong: So much fun. Apollo is really wrestling with a chip on his shoulder and seems to be extra motivated. Sending him to NXT was a great idea, even if it’s just a temporary move. He’s working his way up the NXT roster, and when the time comes, an eventual NXT Title match between him and Bron Breakker could be tremendous.
- Wheeler Yuta vs Chris Jericho: I’ve been hard on a lot of what we’ve seen from Chris Jericho recently, but he really stepped up here. One of my favorite matches he’s had in a long time.
- Rey Mysterio vs Finn Balor: The match was good. Both men delivered entertaining performances. That’s fine and all, but I think I’m ready for this Judgment Day stuff to move on now. I’m also ready for this story with Rey and Dominik to move on. Something. Anything. We’ve seen opportunities for Dom to turn heel on his father 48 times now, and nothing ever happens.
- Keith Lee & Swerve Strickland vs Josh Woods & Tony Nese: Josh Woods really got a well-deserved opportunity to shine here. I could really see him being something big in the future of Ring Of Honor, or even AEW is Tony Khan feels the need to bring him there. Lots of fun stuff between Woods and Keith Lee in this one.
- Karrion Kross & Scarlett: I know, I know… I’ve already seen and heard all the groans, eye rolls, and complaints about Kross returning to WWE. I’m certainly not someone that enjoyed his time on the main roster. Vince McMahon fucking BURIED him, and I hate it when people use that word in wrestling, because 94.2% of the time, it is used incorrectly. Vince did him zero favors, though. Triple H, on the other hand, helped to make Kross look like a monster in NXT. For a while, at least. If anyone is going to be able to salvage Karrion Kross in WWE, it would be Triple H. I’m in full “wait and see” mode with this one.
- AJ Styles vs The Miz: It feels like AJ Styles should be doing a lot more, doesn’t it? At 45 years old, he’s not getting any younger, so it feels like a huge waste to just have him kind of floating around with nothing for him to really sink his teeth into. It’s almost crazy to think that he hasn’t had the chance to face Roman Reigns during Roman’s epic title reign yet. Hell, the last time AJ faced Roman in a singles match was Extreme Rules 2016. It might be time to revisit their feud. I’m just saying.
- Jon Moxley vs Mance Warner: The latest chapter in Jon Moxley’s quest to have a bloody match with every wrestler on the planet. If you dig this style of match, you definitely enjoyed this one. Unfortunately, so many of you were completely unable to figure out what was going on because you didn’t know who Ol’ Mancer was.
- Undisputed Elite: Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, and Bobby Fish attacking The Young Bucks really came out of nowhere. Well… not nowhere, because many of us knew it would happen eventually. We just weren’t expecting it here. The turn was well done, and with “Hangman” Adam Page coming to the Bucks’ rescue, as well as the apparently imminent return of Kenny Omega, the upcoming Trios Title Tournament is already off to a hot start. That doesn’t even count the fact that there are SEVERAL loaded squads that AEW could put in the tournament. Nor does it count the fact that AEW has excelled, from day one, at putting on six-man tag matches. Buckle up.
- Orange Cassidy vs Jay Lethal: I’ve said this before, but I think Orange Cassidy is someone that could really be positioned as a bigger star for AEW. It might not be as a singles star, either. If you put Best Friends in the Trios tourney, they appear ready to make a lot of noise. That could be fun.
- Ricochet vs Happy Corbin: Ricochet was another one of Triple H’s favorites in NXT, and it sure seems like that love affair is set to continue on the main roster. Good.
- Kevin Owens: Broken record time. Kevin Owens was another one of Triple H’s favorites in NXT, and it sure seems like that love affair is set to continue on the main roster. Good.
- Wes Lee vs Trick Williams: For a lot of wrestling fans, adding too many rules or stipulations to a match is a bit of a buzzkill. I’ve heard it about things like RoH’s Pure Championship division, as well as NXT UK’s Heritage Cup matches. I don’t know if it was just a one-off thing, or if it was a test run, of sorts, for bringing the Heritage Cup to NXT 2.0, but we got HC rules for this match. It wasn’t perfect, but both Lee and Williams made it work. The rules made things seem unique and fresh enough that you didn’t view them as a chore. Bringing that type of thing to NXT on a regular basis might be pushing it, though. Wrestling fans in the United Kingdom are juuuuust a bit different than wrestling fans in America. We’ll see, I guess.
- Thunder Rosa & Toni Storm vs Dr. Britt Baker, DMD & Jamie Hayter: Thunder Rosa is a good wrestler. Crowds really dig her. There just isn’t a lot of spark when it comes to her AEW Women’s Title reign, though. Maybe it’s time to move on to something different. Hear me out… if her broken nose isn’t something that takes her out of action for too long, maybe it’s time for Jamie Hayter to get her turn to step up as champion. She has done such a good job in her time with the company. I think she’s ready.
- Angelo Dawkins vs Seth Rollins: Will we see The Street Profits split up? Who knows? What we do know is that both Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins are getting chances to look good in singles matches. That adds some intrigue to the expected “Ford becomes a star and Dawkins fades away if they split” take that people have been expecting.
- Dexter Lumis: That was quite the unique way to bring Lumis back, wasn’t it? It certainly got everyone talking. Now, we sit back and wait to see where that commotion at the end of Raw goes.
- Shayna Baszler: The broken record is back. Shayna Baszler was another one of Triple H’s favorites in NXT, and it sure seems like that love affair is set to continue on the main roster. Good.
- Thea Hail: 18 years old. She is 18 years old. Fresh out of high school, and she’s already wrestling on television. That’s insane to me. What’s even more insane is that you can already see the world of potential she has, and why WWE would pursue her the way they have. I’m not saying she’s weeks away from being the NXT Women’s Champion or anything, but the foundation is there for her to be very, very special in the future if she continues improving.
- Sammy Guevara & Tay Conti: Say whatever you want about their on-screen characters, how they got together, or whatever other opinions you have about them. They still get congratulated for doing the damn thing and getting married. Best of luck to the happy couple. You have to assume this will make them even more obnoxious on television.
This Week’s Playlist: “New Money” by Calvin Harris & 21 Savage… “Potion” by Calvin Harris, Dua Lipa & Young Thug… “Obsessed” by Calvin Harris, Charlie Puth & Shenseea… “Stay With Me” by Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake, Halsey & Pharrell Williams… “Somebody Else” by Calvin Harris, Jorja Smith & Lil Durk… “Nothing More To Say” by Calvin Harris, 6LACK & Donae’o… “Day One” by Calvin Harris, Pusha T & Pharrell Williams… “boy” by The Killers… “LORD FORGIVE ME” by Tobe Nwigwe, Pharrell Williams, EARTHGANG & Fat Nwigwe… “life waster” by CORPSE… “Silver Tongue” by Alter Bridge… “Yen” by Slipknot… “What Have I Done” by Lost Society… “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock Of Seagulls… “Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran… “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston… “Your Love” by The Outfield… “Back In Black” by AC/DC… “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” by Journey… “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler… “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco… “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon… “Two Tickets To Paradise” by Eddie Money… “I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen… “The Final Countdown” by Europe