“A Flower Does Not Think Of Competing With The Flower Next To It. It Just Blooms.” -Zen Shin
Since 2019, All Elite Wrestling has grown from nothing in to a full-fledged garden. Much of it grew from the back of Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, and both Shahid & Tony Khan’s financial backing. The dream of becoming the second biggest promotion in the world wasn’t overly ambitious, but there were many doubters keeping their hopes in check. After all, WWE had dominated the industry for almost two decades, and doing so while making the words “professional wrestling” a term to be scoffed at. They said “Pro Wrestling doesn’t sell”.
Back in 2010, TNA Impact threw their hat into the ring and failed miserably. AEW needed capable gardeners with the right seeds to plant them with trusted tools, a pinch of luck, and a ton of motivation to find the nutrients to thrive. The ingredients had to be right, because TNA had already proven that hiring & dumping a boatload in to the garden doesn’t make it beautiful overnight. Money had to be shifted the right way, but it was about vision, and making the industry believe in them. While The Elite (Cody, Young Bucks, Omega) opened the door for New Japan, Ring of Honor & the independents, they weren’t a big enough asset to make fans believe AEW was for real. They needed a star attraction, like an apple tree, to sit in the middle of the garden and provide the goods every year. AEW needed the fruits of Jericho, junior!
Yes, without Chris Jericho, the company would have got off the ground, but having him there turned a lot of heads. It made some think “whoa… this is a pretty big deal”. After all, Jericho didn’t need to work for WWE or AEW. He had done everything there was to do, and he could’ve lived out the rest of his days touring with Fozzy and writing books. He didn’t need to sign up, but he did, so he became the bridge for anyone who was sick & tired of the same old thing.
Many fans had to look hard to find professional wrestling of any serious quality, like tuning in to New Japan, ROH, Impact, NWA, MLW and others to get their fix. AEW recognized that if it were to succeed as an alternative, it needed to bring these elements to its garden. Variety is the spice of life that gives it all its flavor. The seeds of MJF, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Hikaru Shida, and more sprouted to provide us with that fresh new garden smell.
Up to this point, I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know. If you have been watching AEW from the beginning, you’ll know what came next, and what is going on now. We recently saw the debuts of Miro, Paul Wight, Sting, Christian Cage, Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, CM Punk, Ruby Soho, Adam Cole & Bryan Danielson. That’s a lot of new names! It’s like AEW drove to the nearest garden center and bought up the most expensive flowers to slot in to the middle of what was already an attractive display. Yet, has this new flower bed taken away from the originals? Will visitors overlook them to take pictures of the new crop? This was a major problem in WCW over twenty years ago. They weren’t being team players.
The top stars knew they could get away with taking all the spotlight away from anybody threatening their position. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and others would bend over backwards to ensure they were the brightest attractions, and nobody else would get a foot in the door. Their contracts were so lucrative they would make money from other’s merchandise sales, and have the creative control to stop anybody from making them look weak. While AEW is paying its talents reasonably well, it is not giving them special perks which would otherwise undermine the management team.
Tony Khan isn’t doing what Ted Turner did, by appointing somebody else to represent and spend all the money on how they see fit. The person Tony answers to is his Father Shahid, who is richer than Vince McMahon for a reason. AEW has a billionaire backer who will not allow his son to overspend. They also don’t need to bow down to TNT, unlike WCW, because if they were to be kicked off the network, the Khans have the money to strike up a deal with someone else.
The way they manage AEW far exceeds anything WCW ever had. It most definitely isn’t as popular, but JCP was an already established product, while AEW had to build up from scratch. Just like any product, it takes time for it to be mentioned enough for everyone to hear about it, even if they don’t care about that kind of thing. There are millions of people who have never heard of AEW, while those same millions have heard of WWE, even if wrestling isn’t for them. However, and I know some will think I’m going all “Vince Russo” on this… AEW has heavily catered to wrestling fans and not the casual audience. There’s a reason WWE focused on sports entertainment for so long, and it’s because you don’t box yourself in to a niche audience. No matter how you look at it, a professional wrestling program provides entertainment.
Every TV show in existence provides some type of entertainment. I’m not saying AEW needs to go all “Crash TV”, like a 1998 episode of Monday Night Raw, but it definitely should try to be as entertaining as possible. Yes, you can entertain with wrestling matches, however, you need to make the viewer CARE about who they are watching. If you put two random wrestlers in a ring and watch them fight, people will be like… what the hell am I watching? Now, if you spend a few weeks explaining who these guys are, show their personalities, give us some back story, tell us why they hate each other, and then put them in the ring? Suddenly people are like… I can dig this. I want to see who wins.
Everything needs to be questioned. There needs to be a reason for anything you do on TV. If you can’t explain why something is happening, even if it takes a few weeks to run its course, then it shouldn’t be going ahead. Long-term storytelling is good, but make sure you don’t have to tune in to “Being The Elite” to understand the subtleties. Not everybody is going to know the backstory of a feud if it happened in New Japan five years ago, so explain it to us! Don’t make these types of assumptions.
Time is valuable, and this is where it gets tricky, because you can’t include everyone. With the roster AEW has now, it’s inevitable that some will be lost in the shuffle. Look at how lost Brian Cage is. Jade Cargill looked set to do some serious damage, but now it looks like she will take a backseat. With two hours of Dynamite and one hour of Rampage, everyone needs to be nailing whatever air time they get.
This is healthy, because if you have too much time, then talents can afford to be complacent. However, with too little time, it will frustrate those who are struggling to get on TV. So I believe AEW needs to stop planting. It needs to stop signing new talent and tend to its already blossoming garden. I wouldn’t care if they didn’t sign Bray Wyatt, because he’s a guy who needs regular amounts of decent storytelling time.
He would be a wonderful asset, but unless AEW extends Rampage to two hours, the roster is already at bursting point. If you want to create new stars from the backs of the current, then you need to draw a line in the sand and say “nope sorry, the door is closed”. AEW has rarely fired anybody since it debuted, but it might be time to think about letting some go, especially if they haven’t got the patience to wait their turn.
This has to be a collaborative effort, as AEW looks to reach the next step. There’s no room for descension in the ranks. The pressure is on to deliver every week, while the iron is hot. Also, just like Bryan Danielson said, those who were there since day one need to remain a part of the show. Loyalty should be rewarded, but so should hard work. Merchandise sales are important, but so is building for the future. You will not find your next CM Punk or Bryan Danielson by giving them all the quality air time. There’s no need to repeat the past mistakes of WCW, because we all know how damaging that road is.
Through experimentation, unselfishness, dedication, hard work, and listening to the audience, AEW can bloom in to something magnificent. There will be pitfalls, and you bet there will be critics. You can’t allow “WCW 2.0” comments to get under the skin, because while there are similarities, their philosophies are totally different. Wrestlers hated working for WCW because it was disorganized and toxic. In AEW, it’s less about politics, and more about enjoying the moment, working as a team, and reaping the rewards of something nobody thought possible only a few years ago. Don’t be another WWE. Definitely stay away from being WCW 2.0. All they need to be is AEW, now and forever. A garden of endless possibilities. Thanks for reading!