Before I get the to the column I wanted to quickly plug The Pond Invitational, a writing tournament being put on by the lads from The Right Side of the Pond podcast that is currently open for entrees in the LOP Columns Forum. For those who don’t know The Columns Forum is like our version of NXT, it’s where new writers can get a start and get feedback from veteran writers who want to help them improve. Tournaments are a great chance to get started and test yourself against some of the best going around. If you’ve ever thought you would like to try writing about wrestling why not start now? I guarantee you that you will enjoy it. If you’re interested sin signing up you can find it in the Forms section of the site or click the pic below.
Before we get to the main topic today I thought I might start with some notes on this week’s Dynamite. I generally have so much fun watching it but don’t get a chance to really express my immediate thoughts outside of Twitter so wanted to give it a try at the start of my regular column. If you like that idea let me know in the comments.
Firstly the Jake Roberts promo that kicked off the show was a great way to start thing. He brings a dark menace that few others can convey, putting him as a manager for Lance Archer was a master stroke. His continued threats towards Cody are very compelling and I hope it sets up an Archer v Cody final for their TNT Championship tournament.
Hikari Shida v Britt Baker was absolutely fantastic, one of the best female matches the company has done so far. Shida continues to be the standout in the women’s division and Baker has come along on leaps and bounds this year. The way they incorporated Baker’s accidental busted nose into the match was very well done, particularly as Baker tried to apply her submission. Shida winning was the right choice, she is easily the most consistent performer in the division and has a good deal of charisma about her. I’m really looking forward to her finally getting a championship match against Nyla Rose, she probably won’t win it but I get big Bret Hart v Diesel vibes from their pairing.
Finally Chris Jericho is a treat on commentary, his style and flair added a real sense of excitement to every match. He also managed to put every single performer over while maintaining his character and having the audience in stitches. Somehow in his first ever full show as a commentator he is already one of the best colour commentators in the world.
How Many Ex-WWE Wrestlers Should AEW Sign?
When All Elite Wrestling launched in January 2019, in the shadow of a Smackdown taping, they promised a revolution in pro wrestling. Cody Rhodes took the mic and said AEW was going to be different, he said they were going to bring back pro wrestling fans had been missing for years to prime time TV. While he didn’t name drop WWE directly, there was no question exactly who they were pitting themselves up against with those comments. However with the recent debuts of Matt Hardy, the former Luke Harper, Brodie Lee and likely signing of The Revival now they have been released, it has brought into sharp focus how AEW has filled a significant potion of their active roster with ex WWE superstars, wrestlers who have been used up and some spat out by the very WWE machine AEW said they wanted to differentiate themselves from. For me it brings up the question, how many ex-WWE performers should AEW sign?
Looking at the two biggest names AEW have signed from the WWE, Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho, it is clear that the answer is not zero. Only the most cynical of WWE defenders or indie loyalists would look at what those two have brought to the company in terms of name value, creativity and star power and say they shouldn’t be there. It must also be noted that both have clearly excelled away from the WWE in ways they were previously not given the chance to and more than justified their positions against the very top talent from outside the WWE. Because of the time he has spent since leaving it is easy to forget that the beating heart of the company Cody Rhodes cut his teeth in the WWE, however no one looking at this at all critically would say his position in the company is built on his time wrestling for Vince McMahon.
Things get a little murkier when you look further down the card though. Dustin Rhodes, Sean Spears and Jake Hager have hardly been clogging up the midcard with their presence and their few contributions have been broadly positive so I’m happy to say they get a pass. PAC had over a year between his final performance with WWE and singing with AEW and in that time showed exactly why he deserves the kind of position he has in All Elite Wrestling. However when it comes to the recent signees Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy, we find ourselves in a much more dubious place. Remember that every minute they are on screen is a minute that another wrestler on the promotion isn’t on screen and AEW is a promotion full of wrestlers who may not have quite the name value but do have the talent to fill the positions both these men have been thrust into.
One wrestler I keep thinking of is Jimmy Havoc, he was a mainstay of the British indy scene where he was involved in some legendary programs, particularly in PROGRESS. He is a guy who has paid his dues and proved he can create a character and story an audience will get invested in, however since his early involvement in the Cracker Barrel Challenge at ALL OUT he has largely been sidelined with only the odd appearance on DARK or one-off match on Dynamite. Havoc is only one wrestler of course but he has become a casualty of the hard truth that there is only so many wrestlers you can feature at any given time and AEW has decided its priorities lie elsewhere, with wrestlers like Matt Hardy or Brodie Lee.
Now I’m inclined to be far more charitable towards Brodie Lee as he always stuck out as someone whose talents were vastly underused in the WWE however it should be noted he debuted in AEW in a very high profile position without a single match outside of WWE. As I said I am willing to give him a chance based on his WWE work but he needs to make a good impression fast to justify how he has leap frogged the rest of the roster.
Matt Hardy on the other hand has absolutely no business as a wrestler in any kind of prominent position in 2020. His fans claim he is some sort of a creative genius and while I will give him credit for the innovations he made in cinematic wrestling, his BROKEN, sorry WOKEN, sorry DAMASCUS character reads more like the hackiest of c-grade sci-fi than good wrestling writing. Anyone can say they are “three THOUsand years OLD” and are inhabited by a “trans dimENTIONal eternal Spiirrrriiitttt!” Doing so is not actually creative, it is making up random, barely plausible concepts and trying to get away with doing whatever you want. True creativity in character creation is being able to construct a compelling character that actually fits within the existing fictional universe it is meant to inhabit and his character absolutely does not fit into AEW’s grounded and gritty singles scene. To me his antics feel like Dracula turning up in Die Hard or Harry Potter in The Bourne Identity, completely jarring and absurd in the context he has appeared in. Chris Jericho is doing the best he can against Hardy but even in career best form Le Champion couldn’t create a compelling segment opposite such a mish-mash of absurd ideas.
I’m barely even a Jimmy Havoc fan but imagine if he had been given that shot opposite Jericho: a veteran of the indy scene willing to go to any lengths to prove himself against a legend. It immediately makes far more sense and stays far more true to the promise AEW made in those opening press conferences. Sure Matt Hardy may draw a handful of viewers across but when you have to betray the very thing the company said they stood for to do that, is the cost really worth it?
As I said at the start the answer to the question I posed is not that AEW should not recruit any former WWE wrestlers. For what it is worth I am quite excited about the potential signing of The Revival, who have an established feud with The Young Bucks and fit the tag team scene like a glove; I would probably also mark out like a madman if Mustafa Ali or Chad Gable made the switch to the AEW midcard. However the wholesale acquisition of former WWE wrestlers, particularly those well past their use by date and who don’t fit the tone AEW has set for itself is something that needs to be strongly avoided. In business, growth is nearly always best when it is built on a strong foundation, a well thought out vision and when it comes in a gradual, sustained way. That may not be as sexy as the company signing every WWE wrestler they can gather a handful of viewers with but if AEW wants to be successful on a long term basis they should focus on the consistent quality of their product, not the short term spikes that ultimately undermine the broader vision of what they have set out to achieve.
That wraps it up for this week, how do you think AEW should treat Ex-WWE wrestlers? Let me know in the comments below. You can also chat to me further on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or in the AEW section on the LOP Forums.
Missed my last AEW column? Check it out here.
What Six Months of the Wednesday Night Ratings War Have Taught Us