If AEW was to be defined by one thing, it’d be balance. Meaning: the blend between character and in-ring ability of its roster. It’s likely this quality that contributes most to AEW’s consistency.
Though that doesn’t mean they’re a perfect ten, of course -Shawn Spears left that gimmick years ago -but out of all current, major promotions, AEW are likely doing the best at striking this balance.
The latest episode of AEW Dynamite -April 29th, 2021- showcased AEW at both their best and their worst in this regard. So let’s have a look at why.
The Two Extremes
Before we get into AEW, let’s first go into the two extremes. On one side of it, we have promotions that focus more on character than putting on the best matches. You’ve probably already guessed by now, this is referring to WWE. That’s not saying that they don’t have the ability to put on quality matches of course. They have, potentially, the best collection of wrestlers in the world. It’s just that five-star matches aren’t their priority. While that can be a shame to see such talent unable to showcase their craft to their fullest, pro-wrestling isn’t just about work rate and WWE have put on some of wrestling’s all-time great stories over the years -not that you’d believe that watching Raw lately.
On the other side of things, you have work rate-first promotions. For those in the UK and The States, it can be hard to see the character work going on in non-English-speaking promotions. So this may not be the case if you’re well versed in the language and culture, but from the outside, the likes of NJPW seem to have a proclivity towards the in-ring work over stories and gimmicks.
While some of you may prefer one of these extremes over the other, the chances are that the majority would ideally like a blend of the two; and that seems to be what AEW are going for.
When It Doesn’t Work
There’s one tag team that inspired what you’re reading now. The main part of AEW that stands out, skewing the balance. That team is The Young Bucks.
Whether it’s intentional or not The Young Bucks are thoroughly dislikable, absolutely incredible in the ring, but unlikable nevertheless. The problem is, it’s not that they’re irritating in an effective way -having legitimate heat for their character work like MJF does- it’s more that they just rub you the wrong way and it makes getting invested in their matches difficult.
Speaking of MJF, it’s very tricky to elucidate why exactly he works as an effective heel when The Bucks don’t. They’re both cocky and let you know that they’re better than you. The only difference seems to be that you look at MJF and believe that he’s portraying a larger-than-life gimmick, while The Bucks just come off as actually believing that they are that way. This may be different for those in the US, but from the British perspective that this is coming from, the idea of someone flaunting their wealth isn’t endearing in the slightest.
It’s not just The Bucks though. Fan reaction for the likes of Cody and Kenny Omega seem to be turning a corner. Maybe The Elite may need to go away for a while. You’ve also got to look at Shida too. Not in the sense that she’s unbearable, far from it -Shida seems like a delight. Though the fact that she doesn’t have much of a character appears to be why her title reign hasn’t been much more than fine. It’s not like you can blame a language barrier either, just look at Asuka in WWE.
When It Does Work
The way AEW blends character work and quality, varied wrestling is near unmatched. We at Goomba Stomp have already looked at how AEW excels at promos, but it can’t be understated how good their matches often are. It’s varied too. From quick-tag, work rate bouts to outright hardcore wrestling, they cover everything and do it well too. They may not be the best promotion in the world at it, but they don’t have to be.
As we’ve been looking more specifically at this recent episode of Dynamite, there’s no better match to show how well AEW balances both wrestling and character work than Orange Cassidy vs Pénta. Both guys are fan favourites, both are capable of putting on great matches, and both have very defined characters that are easy to get behind. In the match, they managed to showcase both aspects incredibly well, and, as a result, the bout was one of the best Dynamite singles matches of the year so far.
The fact that The Bucks especially stand out so much for their character in a roster so stacked with balanced talent is more of a testament to AEW’s quality than a slight on The Young Bucks themselves. One negative in a sea of positives stands out more than a single positive ever could.