AEW Originals Instinct To Survive Is More Crucial Than Ever Before

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Hi folks! I’m back with another AEW article. This time, it’s about who MJF dubbed the “AEW Originals”. Last week, during his epic worked shoot promo, MJF brought up Tony Khan hiring every Tom, Dick, and Harry (that’s not a direct quote) who walked away or were let go from the other company.

This can be a touchy subject for some AEW fans. They stated early in the promotion’s life that they wouldn’t just sign anybody who became available. They were going to be picky. You may find that other promotions like Impact Wrestling picked up just as much, if not more, of those seeking work after Nick Khan’s rampage. Still, because of the sheer volume of talent looking for work, Tony Khan and AEW management may have felt some sympathy, while also seeing it as an opportunity to evaluate.

Although many have crossed over and worked some matches, AEW did not sign every talent to a deal. Many were given a few dates, allowed to work some matches, and then we rarely saw them again. Tony Khan will say this happened so management could work with them personally and find out their strengths and weaknesses. From that point on, they could be called upon if AEW needed them, but they weren’t “elite” because they hadn’t signed full-time contracts. This practice, along with the signing of former superstars, buying Ring of Honor, and cross-promoting with Impact and New Japan Pro Wrestling, meant that AEW’s booking choices have been vast.

AEW has had much of the professional wrestling business at its fingertips. In the early days, the company signed who they could find, and many are still employed. For sure, some are reserved for YouTube shows, but there are others who were once some of its biggest stars who are struggling. This is because AEW’s roster size is a problem, and it does not have the air time to accommodate for its ever-expanding pool of talent.


AEW has become survival of the fittest. Those getting rare opportunities have to seize the day and do what MJF does (by knocking it out of the park) every time he gets a microphone. Many AEW Originals need to prove that they are not only deserving of being on TV over the more popular names, but they should make as much money as them, too. The company relied on them in its infancy, but it doesn’t need them anymore, so it’s now on the originals to show why they should prosper.


Also Read: Hangman Adam Page – Has His World Title Reign Been Lackluster?


Here’s a list of 10 individuals and groups (in no specific order) who have struggled to varying degrees in recent times:


#1. Angelico

When the tag team of The Hybrid 2 formed early in AEW’s life, you could see a tag team title reign in their future. They were athletic, had chemistry, and you could make them work as babyfaces or heels. However, Jack Evans, Angelico’s tag team partner, recently admitted to getting complacent and putting on weight. He wasn’t as fit as he should be, and this affected Angelico to where the company stopped using the team and split them up. Jack Evans kept on being used in Matt Hardy’s Family Office stable, but Angelico was nowhere to be found, despite initially joining the group.


He had one match on Dynamite this year, in a losing effort with The Butcher & Blade to the Blackpool Combat Club. Other than that, you can find him on Dark, although not as often as you’d think. According to AEW rankings, he has worked only 5 matches this year, and there are no injuries to speak of. Last month, he began selling a shirt under the title “Reboot”, symbolizing his need to reinvent himself in the current landscape.

Although Angelico was always the fittest of the Hybrid 2, he didn’t get the same opportunities as Jack Evans. With recent additions to the roster, he could quietly leave the company tomorrow and few would notice. Considering that the Hybrid 2 was once a viable contender for the AEW World Tag Team Championship, that’s a pretty deep hole for Angelico to climb out of.

#2. The Dark Order

As sad as it is to say, the last time The Dark Order was a force to be reckoned with was when Brodie Lee lead the way. They had some fanfare in the aftermath of his passing, but since forming an alliance with Hangman Page, the group has been fractured and rarely highlighted. John Silver and Anna Jay are getting air time, but it’s nothing to do with the stable, as it’s more about them being over in their own right. AEW released Stu Grayson the other month, and it leaves Evil Uno without a full-time tag partner. Meanwhile, the alliance with Hangman Page is so loosely mentioned that it’s hard to say if it still exists.

#10 Preston Vance looked like he was getting a considerable push, but that fizzled out in the past year. Alex Reynolds is supposed to be John Silver’s tag team partner, but you rarely see them pairing up anymore on AEW’s major shows. #5 Alan Angels and Colt Cabana have done nothing significant since joining the company. It’s pretty bad when you have a full stable of wrestlers with no designated leader, and the only two who get any spotlight are regular members like John Silver & Anna Jay who really don’t need to be associated with it. The Dark Order struggled before Brodie Lee got to AEW. It boomed with him as leader, and it has since returned to its pointless state. Even more so when there’s far more interesting groups on the roster. It would not surprise me if The Dark Order’s days are numbered.


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#3. QT Marshall & The Factory

Cody Rhodes and QT Marshall promised young, fresh talent through its Nightmare Factory wrestling school. We’ve seen potential stars in Aaron Solo, Anthony Ogogo, Brock Anderson, Lee Johnson, Lee Moriarty, Nick Comoroto, and more. AEW pushed this to the forefront by turning QT Marshall heel, and having Cody Rhodes feud with Anthony Ogogo, but we know this became a spectacular fail. Since then, and even more so after Cody’s departure, QT Marshall & The Factory are seldom seen or heard, which puts it in a similar position to The Dark Order.

These guys are supposed to be the next generation of AEW, but there’s no time for it. There’s definite potential, but how do you develop them when there’s no time on major shows? They can’t get over if they only work episodes of Dark. I’m not saying QT Marshall should be anything more than he is. The reaction to his turn was understandable, but it shouldn’t hurt the young guys. Arn Anderson could take it over with QT Marshall’s help. Even with that, there would remain a glass ceiling which even a Hall of Famer couldn’t help The Factory break through.



#4. Best Friends

While we see the Best Friends more often than the previously mentioned, it’s hard to deny how much they have lost in the past year. The last time Trent Beretta & Chuck Taylor had an exciting match together, it was the parking lot brawl against Santana & Ortiz. I know Orange Cassidy is injured, but as we saw in AEW’s early days, he didn’t need to wrestle to play an integral part of the show. Cameos were enough to satisfy those missing their weekly glass of freshly squeezed. For the time being, it feels like Danhausen is trying to fill the role which Cassidy had made his own.

When we think back to the early days of AEW, the Best Friends stable was pretty popular. They always got loud receptions, whether by hugging it out, or Cassidy laying in his devastating kicks. There’s always something to love about them. Best Friends recently showed allegiance to New Japan’s Chaos stable. In doing so, it reunited Rocky Romero with Trent Beretta to reform Roppongi Vice. And while it was a popular team with enormous success, longtime AEW fans are more connected to Best Friends than the history of Roppongi Vice or Chaos.


It’s crazy to think how over they got, yet they won no championships and rarely got tag title shots. Orange Cassidy beat Chris Jericho and other big names many times over. Yet, for whatever reason, this comical band of buddies has had to sit back and watch opportunities slip them by. The tag team scene is so rich that it often forgets about them. Oh! And whatever happened to Orange Cassidy & Kris Statlander? Nobody explained the split. It’s sad to see how far the Best Friends have fallen, but they can’t be counted out. There’s still room for them, but we may have to be patient.

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#5. Darby Allin

If there’s anyone I want you to take away from this list, it’s Darby Allin. You may ask questions like…

“How the hell is Darby Allin on this list? When he always gets air time and even has an alliance with Sting? He was CM Punk’s first match and is one of AEW’s pillars?!”

I’m not denying that Darby Allin has had an exceptional career. He has done some amazing things and put his body on the line for AEW, probably more so than anyone. His alliance with Sting was a passing of the torch because they worked together as equals. Before his injury, Sting was there not only to mentor him, but to be grateful for working with a genuine star of this generation. But think back to the early days of AEW… how damn over was Darby Allin?? He got monster pops. And yes, he still gets pops, but his booking has considerably hurt his momentum. They have since shuffled him in to the pack.

Whenever he faced MJF or Miro, he would lose. Moxley? A loss most of the time. How about getting revenge on Kyle O’Reilly for injuring Sting? Again, lose. He’s young and has many years ahead, but all the losses add up. We knew Darby would never beat CM Punk. Although it was cool that he was his first opponent, it did him no favors in the long run. Challenging for singles titles? Forget about it, he’s not even in the All-Atlantic championship tournament. In the early days, many would have accepted Darby Allin beating Chris Jericho for the World Championship. These days, he would be lucky to win the TNT or FTW title.

Much like MJF, Allin is still around, but he’s not getting opportunities. Do you think he makes money like Sting, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Jeff Hardy? Despite putting his body on the line like he does? Hell no. If anyone should be frustrated with their status, it would be Darby. MJF would have a solid argument to form a new stable with him. They could show everyone the originals rule over anyone Tony Khan signed after they built this place.

By 2022, Darby Allin could have been one of AEW’s biggest homegrown stars. But yet, he now finds himself in a place where he struggles to get anywhere on his own. You could say that Wardlow and Jade Cargill got the pushes he deserved without half the effort. We can talk about pillars all day long, but it’s obvious that those originals (except Britt Baker?) no longer have foundations to stand on. I know wrestling goes in cycles. You can’t always push everyone to the top all the time. But if there’s one person who shouldn’t be struggling in mid-card hell… it’s this guy.


#6. Private Party

Another casualty of the expanding roster, who for a while seemed like they might get somewhere. After teaming up with Matt Hardy, he sold them as the next big thing, but it went nowhere. Their trip to Impact Wrestling amounted to nothing. Now that Matt Hardy is back with his brother, and Andrade El Idolo has split up the Family Office (perhaps?), it leaves the Private Party wallowing around in limbo.

You could say the same about other teams like The Butcher & The Blade, although that’s more down to The Butcher’s repeated injuries than anything else.There are so many viable tag teams in the business now. Private Party had a great first impression. Their popularity was rising, but it’s hard to see them getting time over FTR, The Young Bucks, The Lucha Brothers, and so many others. AEW could have been about pushing fresh faces over the old, but for now, it seems content with the past & present.

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#7. Sonny Kiss

It’s funny because I didn’t need to include Sonny Kiss, but a recent comment from Jade Cargill made me think otherwise. Aside from the early days of AEW, and for a short time with Joey Janela, Sonny Kiss has rarely been showcased on major shows since AEW opened its doors. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I always thought she (Sonny prefers “she” but is fluid with pronouns, so him or her… whatever makes you comfortable) has potential.

With some guidance, I think she’d have worked great against men or women, but I wouldn’t have pushed Kiss just to check a mark in the inclusive box. Sonny has athleticism and unique charisma, which is a selling point I feel would bring color to whatever AEW needed Kiss to be involved in. It was recently stated in an interview that Sonny Kiss knows she is struggling to get opportunities, but is enjoying herself because she gets to spend it with The Baddies and others.

Kiss would love to join the stable, and the stable would like to have her, but Cargill said (during the Double or Nothing media scrum) that they already “have too many”. With Stokely Hathaway, Red Velvet, and Kiera Hogan, they wouldn’t want to add another person because they are already struggling to spotlight those they have. So it’s nothing personal, and it’s more of a business decision. If they had more time, they probably would have included Kiss. Again, this shows that the expanded roster is making it difficult for AEW originals like Sonny to get opportunities. Is she deserving of any? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. I’m not saying she is, but perhaps Sonny Kiss was never given a proper chance? So when will she ever?


#8-10. Hikaru Shida, Nyla Rose, The Bunny & Penelope Ford

The women’s division is often labelled the weak link of AEW’s roster. Despite this, it developed new stars in Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker, and Nyla Rose. It couldn’t rely on former WWE talent, so many of the women were starting from scratch. It was a tough road to walk down. When COVID hit the world, Hikaru Shida got the title and carried the division through much of it. Nyla Rose was always reliable as a threatening heel. Others, like The Bunny and Penelope Ford, played their parts to fill out the roster.

However, since the additions of Ruby Soho, Toni Storm, Athena, Serena Deeb, and Tay Conti, it has become increasingly difficult for these women to get a look in. Now, AEW has done very well to push fresh talent like Britt Baker, Thunder Rosa, and Jade Cargill, which is proof that they want to make new stars in this division. The former WWE talents have had time, but haven’t been given title reigns out of the gate, and will have to earn their way to those spots. AEW needed to fill out the women’s division, and it has done well with that, but it’s understandably frustrating for those who helped build it from nothing.

Hikaru Shida’s recent form has been sorely disappointing. She was one of the most dominant wrestlers in the company, regardless of gender. And while Nyla Rose had mixed reactions for obvious reasons, she was consistently useful in the powerhouse role. Cargill has since replaced her, and others have come in to replace the rest. Again, it can be debated whether you think they deserve time over a Toni Storm, or a Ruby Soho. For now, many of those who carried the women’s division early on have been outright replaced. And I don’t know how I feel about that, because I love most of the signings, but I wish we could see originals like Riho and Hikaru Shida to be more of a threat.

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Conclusion

Much like nature, or the wild west, the strongest always wins. Some have the perks of already being known. Relying on former superstars or sports athletes like Paige VanZant, I’m sure is an argument many would love to debate. After all, this is a business. Sometimes you have no choice but to say… yeah, sorry, but we don’t have time for you. There’s a plethora of talent right now, and everyone’s fighting for spots, even the brief ones. You don’t want to be out of the game too long, in fear that fans will forget you. Being buried to the point of risking your employment is certainly not what anyone has in mind.

AEW is a dream scenario for many of today’s wrestlers because of the creative freedom. You can make a name for yourself how you want. In a way which you’re not only comfortable with, but by having fun too. You’re not told what to say, or having every little thing micromanaged in to oblivion. If you can get regular time and connect with the fans, AEW is a sweet gig to have. But when you’ve already connected with fans, and others come in and take your spot? That’s a tough pill to swallow. You become frustrated, bitter, and maybe even jealous. You paved the way for that person to have that job. Now you have to sit backstage and watch them do what you believe you should be doing.

This piece isn’t about saying who should or shouldn’t be on TV. I’m sure you’ve already decided who deserves it or not. What this is really about, is how those AEW Originals who paved the way for former superstars, other companies talent, athletes crossing over from sports, or celebrities (who probably have no right being there other than a cheap plug), are likely feeling similar to what MJF portrayed in his latest promo. What is this company really about? Does loyalty go unrewarded? And does history even matter? Is AEW becoming another WCW? Where the biggest names thrive and hold back those potentials who, if given the right care, would lead us in to the next generation?

Think about your Chris Jericho’s, Eddie Guerrero’s, and Rey Mysterio’s. How badly were they held down for the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Lex Luger, and others? When do you stop relying on those who drew ratings and heat ten to twenty years ago? When is it time to focus on the future? Because if AEW continues to recruit at the pace it has, without adding more TV time (don’t say ROH or New Japan will bring the same exposure Dynamite does), then we’re in for a talent crash soon. Roster morale will decline and we’ll see actual walkouts.

And no, not those which end up worked like MJF’s, but wrestlers who legitimately take their ball and go home. Some of those won’t be who we want to see going, but the structure will have forced them to. It’s tough to think about that possibility. Yes, we want AEW to succeed. We want competition in the business. But just how far will Tony Khan and management push it? They need to settle on its roster soon and focus on building what it has. You know, instead of forever focusing on the latest shiny star they nabbed from elsewhere.

So what is the point? I think AEW desperately needs to stop and be happy with what it has. Don’t forget about those who got you this far. I’m sure the fans would appreciate taking care of those who made it so you could be here three years later. With that said, there’s little more I can say. I hope this makes you think about how AEW uses its talent. Please let me know what you think about AEW’s status. Should it be about quality over quantity? Thanks for reading!

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