What good does it do for a promotion to name its “pillars” — to go out of its way to publicly acknowledge those promising talents selected to build the company around? Perhaps, for one, in naming them, we are compelled to find out what makes each wrestler different; ‘One of these is the prodigy of Lucha libre, or tag team, or hardcore, or scientific wrestling,’ we might settle to say. But we also have to wonder whether or not such benefits outweigh the harm it poses for MJF (and CM Punk) to have acknowledged on Dynamite what many fans online had dubbed AEW’s “pillars.”
Way before he said a word on AEW television, and way before the debut of the catchy hit entrance song by Baltimora, Jungle Boy was putting on fun, exciting matches; and, along with his partners in the Jurassic Express, Luchasaurus, and Marko Stunt, the young wrestler’s popularity was clear as day. Jungle Boy’s rise to prominence was promising and organic—until one day, maybe not so much. I’d argue that that day came when, on the September 29, 2021, episode of Dynamite, MJF acknowledged the company’s “pillars,” citing himself and Jungle Boy as being in that category. More than anything, this “pillar” talk, once recognized by AEW, momentarily halted Jungle Boy’s steady upward momentum.
Jurassic Express was featured frequently on pre-Dynamite AEW in 2019, always to great fanfare. Even against a fellow crowd-favorite team like SCU, the trio had their fair share of the audience pulling for them with their exciting combos and high-energy match pace. When they weren’t represented in tag matches, Jungle Boy would be featured in a four-way match at Fyter Fest, which involved then-number 1 contender to the World Championship, “Hangman” Adam Page; and in the first-ever Casino Battle Royale at Double or Nothing, alongside his stablemates. In the pandemic era the following year, Jungle Boy would prove to be a company workhorse, being the first male wrestler to score 50 wins in AEW. This would culminate in him winning the 2021 Casino Battle Royale and proceeding to have the stellar World Championship match on Dynamite the following month against then-champion Kenny Omega.
Then in August and September 2021, an influx of megastars, CM Punk, “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole, would make their way to AEW, bringing legions of new eyes to the promotion. Soon after, in November, MJF would capitalize on the company’s monumental growth and bring up “the pillars” on television if for no other reason than to boast and declare himself better than all of them that he had already beaten. This tactic was an endorsement for more fans to pay attention to Jungle Boy, but it may have also strengthened and encouraged the idea that in being a company “pillar,” more should be happening with him at all times. These warped expectations might read like, ‘He should be like MJF getting big build-up segments and matches every pay-per-view,’ or ‘How come he’s never in any title matches like the others?’ And despite winning the World Tag Team Championships with Luchasaurus less than 4 months later, defending the titles regularly across Dynamite, Rampage, and pay-per-views, the sentiment would remain that, when compared to his peers and the wave of new roster members, maybe there should be “more” for Jungle Boy.
However, a close second reason for the halting of Jungle Boy’s ascent to the top, right behind this “pillar” talk, is simply the problem of AEW’s tag team division; which is that, for a company that aimed to put the focus on tag team wrestling, there have been few great tag team rivalries produced in their short history that do not include the Young Bucks. Much of AEW’s stacked tag division is rapidly developing before our eyes, including Jurassic Express (with Christian Cage now taking Stunt’s place in the trio); and as a result, not many teams feel like larger, consistent threats to the World Championships, especially when new and debuting tag teams like reDRagon and the team of Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland receive pay-per-view title matches far quicker than their counterparts chasing the singles World title.
But do these perceived hurdles outweigh all the emotional investment and positive pressure afforded the chosen “pillars” of a great company? Perhaps in the future, as we play the long game, we will come to realize that these labels would, in fact, do more to elevate the careers of Jungle Boy and all those entrusted with carrying pro wrestling for years to come. But for now, is it any wonder that the “pillar” we seem to talk about the most is the one that brought it all up in the first place, just to position himself that much higher than the rest? Atop a row of pillars, the master architect built a ceiling.