On May 25th, 2022, on the go-home Dynamite before the Double or Nothing PPV, AEW will officially celebrate three years of existence. It has been a wild three years for AEW, as it has cornered its own piece of the wrestling market. This has reinvigoration many lapsed fans and has given a shot in the arm to the wrestling business. All of which germinated from the first All In PPV in 2018. There has been a lot of good that AEW has brought into this wrestling world in three years.
Some of that good include; finding and building new stars that might not have had the same chance in WWE. Making wrestling feel like counterculture again. Lastly, and most importantly, the creation of AEW has given the wrestlers a leverage and bargaining tool they haven’t had since WWE bought out WCW.
With the good, unfortunately, does come the bad. With the meteoric rise in popularity and a viable alternative for wrestlers, the roster has become a bit crowded and to the detriment of some of the original AEW signees. Secondly, with the foresight AEW had to build a formidable women’s division, it has not yet come to fruition, even if they now have the talent to do so. Lastly, and perhaps most sadly, is the vitriol that has been created since AEW’s birth. There is a strict anti-WWE and anti-AEW contingent online, which has created some nasty discourse online.
Let’s break down the good, bad, and future of AEW after its first three years of existence.
AEW has done a good job of creating wrestling stars that have found their way with the fan base. Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Eddie Kingston, Thunder Rosa Hangman Page, Britt Baker, MJF, and current Tony Khan pet project, Jade Cargill. Specifically, when talking about Darby Allin and Jungle Boy, those two wrestlers have made an impact on the young fans of AEW. NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller gave his approval during a live NBA broadcast;
That’s a massive plug from a massive platform.
Darby Allin is this generation’s, Jeff Hardy. Hangman Page’s story of a rising star that falls and rises from the ashes to finally win the title was something that endeared him to the AEW fans. Thunder Rosa has built a story that kids of immigrants can be proud of. Jade Cargill is giving voice to all of the “Baddies” across the country. The ability of the talent at AEW to express themselves in a way that makes them stick out, and seem more authentic, makes them more relatable to fans. This has been something that has benefited AEW and their continued expansion until the mainstream.
AEW is DIY
The DIY attitude is something that has been a pillar in the punk community (which is something that is very counterculture). AEW elicits a feeling of a counterculture revolution that has spun so many WWE diehards to detest the All Elite promotion. The idea that a group of wrestler friends, along with the help of a billionaire fan, could create a viable wrestling promotion feels punk rock as hell. This sort of DIY attitude has inspired other wrestlers and famous wrestling fans to also try and create their own wrestling promotion.
Reports have circulated that Freddie Prince Jr., yes, that Freddie Prince Jr., has enough funding for three years for his wrestling promotion. Control Your Narrative— regardless of your opinion on the promotion– has been able to attract wrestlers to their company. The newly announced Wrestling Entertainment Series, WES, run by the formerly known Authors of Pain, have just announced thier very first show in England on June 4th.
This is great for the world of wrestling, as there is something for everyone. If you fell out of love with WWE, you have AEW, a revamped Impact! wrestling, NWA CYN, WES, GCWor, anything else. This is a sign of a healthy and thriving wrestling industry. As the saying goes, the more, the merrier!
A New Bargaining Chip for the Wrestlers
But perhaps most importantly, wrestlers now have a legitimate advantage as a negotiating tool when contracts come to an end. WWE talent can threaten a move to AEW and vice versa. When WWE was the only game in town, talent had to go by the “my way or the highway ” negotiating tactic. That’s changed dramatically as wrestlers now have options for movement and greener pastures.
This is good news for fans as well. Contrary to popular belief, movement between the two promotions can, and will, make things more exciting for the viewers. How awesome was Cody Rhode’s WrestleMania 38 appearance? How about Jon Moxley’s, Daniel Bryanson’s, or Adam Cole’s first appearance in AEW? Fantastic is the answer! There is no reason to think that the next big AEW star isn’t going to follow Cody’s footsteps into WWE, and that is exciting.
There is a valid criticism that the AEW roster is bloated and overcrowded. When it initially started, AEW was filled with indie darlings and the EVP talent. Many felt as though the underground had gone mainstream. This felt like a fresh company and an escape from the Sports Entertainment world. Now, however, AEW is filled to the brim with talent, which isn’t a bad thing, but many wrestlers get lost in the shuffle. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy when a wrestler who did not get a shot in other companies will also now not get their shot with AEW.
This will probably not last, as many of these wrestlers will have to move on from their initial contracts, and many former WWE stars will either return to WWE or go elsewhere. It is in AEW’S best interest to make sure departures are treated with respect. As to not gain WWE’s reputation of callous releases. With a revolving forbidden door, however, this isn’t entirely a bad idea. Talent can move on to other promotions but come back and wrestler in a one-off for AEW in the future.
The Failed Potential of the Women’s Division
The women’s division is perhaps the biggest misstep the young promotion has stumbled over in its first three years. AEW had the foresight to try and create a game-changing revolutionary women’s division when the company first came into existence. Although most of the talent that was originally signed were green, after three years now, the company has signed some of the premier women wrestlers in the world. While there have been some highlights in the women’s division– Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker’s epic lights-out match and cage match and Jade Cargill’s rise– there still seems to be a lot left on the table with the roster. This gives the perception of indifference towards the women’s division, even if that is not the case. Hopefully, after the Owen tournament, we can see a new direction for the women’s division and see it reach its potential.
The Online wrestling Civil War
An unexpected but not surprising side-effect of AEW taking a piece of the wrestling pie is the amount of vitriol some die-hard WWE fans have levied against the All Elite faithful. While some are valid criticisms, others have been nasty, unwarranted attacks toward the fans and AEW wrestlers. Some fans in AEW circles have decided to strike back on social media, which continues the tradition of tribalism on the internet. There is, unfortunately, no end in sight to this wrestling civil war, which is a shame because as mentioned above, wrestling is in a very healthy place right now.
All-in-all, AEW has been a net positive for the wrestling industry, and honestly, it’s not even close. The good outweighs the bad by a ton. AEW has given a second breath to a lot of fans who might have been burned out from the WWE product and turned many lapsed fans into full-fledged wrestling fans again. These positives have come with their negatives, but if AEW can capitalize on the momentum they have built thus far, and with the backing of Warner Brothers/Discovery, AEW can become a household name in professional wrestling. The future is bright for AEW, especially if they can capitalize on their wins and fix their missteps.