“To be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali
Hello! Today, I am bringing you my thoughts on the next generation of AEW. The company has changed so much in a few years, with the previous being the busiest in terms of signings. Many of those who jumped from WWE may not be active in 10-15 years, so we’re looking to find who has the age, and the skills, to do business when they are gone. I’m doing my best to look at wrestlers aged 25 and under, but there may be an odd exception. With that explained, let’s begin with the men’s division.
AEW has signed an unbelievable amount of talent in the past year. This has left many of its young and/or more loyal wrestlers fighting for spots, which is good because it makes the environment more competitive. However, it also has the adverse effect of lessening opportunities for the unestablished. After all, why would you stick a 22-year-old in a segment when you could have CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Claudio Castagnoli?
One day, these guys are going to lose their spots through winding down or retirement. And perhaps, if the following have made names for themselves, they will take over the reins. While Jungle Boy is 25 years old, I don’t see the point of including him because he has more wins than anyone in AEW history.
Brock Anderson – 25 years / Career Record: 14-11
We rarely see him on Dynamite, but Arn Anderson’s son continues to develop. He often teams up with Lee Johnson, although he has joined Dustin Rhodes, Brian Pillman, Griff Garrison, and others in 6-man tags. The last singles match we saw him in (on Dynamite) was against Malakai Black. Yeah, he didn’t win, but he got his face in the spotlight for a bit.
Second-generation stars don’t always make it, but from what I’ve seen of Brock, I don’t see any reason he couldn’t be developed into a major star. He has many of the best minds in the business to learn from, and the Anderson name holds weight. I like how Brock has quietly gone about his business and he may shock a few people when AEW lets him loose.
Daniel Garcia – 23 years / Career Record: 24-17
With young lions, it’s obvious that AEW management has plenty of faith in Daniel Garcia being a draw someday. He’s miles ahead of the game for his age and I’m sure it would shock some fans to learn he’s only 23. I’ve seen wrestlers in their thirties who could learn from Garcia, but it’s not just his wrestling skills that are impressive.
He can talk too, and as a member of the Jericho Appreciation Society, he’s in one of the best “learning tree” stables in all of wrestling. Who better to pick the brain of than Chris Jericho? He knows what works, and unlike some who were part of the Inner Circle, I think Garcia will come out of the JAS, a more well-rounded performer. The only thing he lacks is size, but that could change as he gets older. But even if he stays how he is, I think there’s plenty of potential.
Dante & Darius Martin (Top Flight) – 21 & 22 years
The two brothers of the Top Flight tag team have had an extraordinary mix of fortune. Dante has fought some of the best AEW has to offer, while Darius has spent much of his time on the injured list. However, when Top Flight was rocking, I saw them as one of the best teams in AEW. And they are still so young that Darius’ setback won’t matter much.
The important thing is that AEW builds up Dante so that when Top Flight takes off again, the fans won’t feel any turbulence. I still don’t see Dante as a singles star, but that’s fine, he has all the time in the world to prove otherwise. They are both incredibly athletic, and their chemistry as brothers should worry the tag team division when they finally return to the skies.
Griff Garrison – 24 years / Career Record: 39-32
I haven’t overlooked the often forgotten partner of Brian Pillman Jr. The Varsity Blondes are in a state of flux, so their status is forever changing. One month, it looks like AEW is pushing them, but then they disappear in the next. The stop-start nature of their exposure on AEW’s major shows makes them inconsistent. And it isn’t cool that not only did they lose Julia Hart to the House of Black, but they got no semblance of revenge.
I know that Brian Pillman gets all the spotlight, but I admire Garrison for pulling his weight. But just because I’ve included him here, doesn’t mean that I think he’s wrestling’s next big thing. No, far from it. He’s in a promising position where he could one day become something more, but it’s all on him to stand out from the crowd. Garrison needs to find another layer to his presentation, which makes us look at him on an even playing field and not just the guy Pillman partners with. Being jokingly compared to Jungle Boy is not helping him break through.
Hook – 23 years / Career Record: 10-0
When anyone talks about the rising stars of AEW, Hook springs to mind. He has learned so much from Taz, his father, not just in the way he works, but in how he presents himself. Taz always walked to the ring with a dangerous aura. He told you by his demeanor that someone was about to get hurt. Hook is the same, but the fans didn’t know what to make of him in the beginning. For many months, Hook simply hung around with Team Taz. He’d help the heel faction, but he wouldn’t wrestle. From the outside, he just looked like a scrawny kid that Taz coerced Tony Khan into giving a contract to because nepotism gets you far in wrestling.
When Hook got in the ring and showed us what he could do… man, it was special. He blew audiences away because he doesn’t look like a dangerous guy from the outset. Yet, it’s his overall package, before, during, and after a match, that is something to behold. He rarely talks, which adds to his mystique, but I don’t know if I’m a fan of seeing him in backstage segments too often. It’s obvious that what he does in the ring makes him great, and he should do more of that.
Even if his matches last a few minutes against jobbers, Hook wins a lot of fans over that way. When was the last time wrestling fans enjoyed watching someone squash jobbers? I can’t recall. You’d have to go back as far as Goldberg for that. Not that I’m saying Hook is the next Goldberg because he is unique. Fingers crossed, he carves out a legacy that isn’t one mirroring Taz, Goldberg, or anyone else, but of his own. That is, if everything works out for the best. There are no guarantees in wrestling.
Lee Johnson – 24 years / Career Record: 28-46
He hasn’t got the best career record, but Lee Johnson is a reliable hand. As a member of the Nightmare Family, he has Arn Anderson’s mentorship, and often teams with his son Brock on Dark. He’s had a few matches with bigger names, including working as a tag team with Cody Rhodes, and singles matches against Malakai Black and Miro.
He has good wrestling skills and athleticism, but I’m not sure about his character. AEW has done nothing with that on Dynamite & Rampage, and I do not know about Dark. So for now, we don’t know who Lee Johnson is. He’s a blank page, but one that AEW can begin scribbling ideas on if they need it. It’s about time AEW makes Johnson more than just a guy who wrestles well, but you could say that about several others.
Wheeler Yuta – 25 years / Career Record: 25-19
I was not a fan of Wheeler Yuta when he was with the Best Friends. Yes, he had ring skills, but I wasn’t getting what AEW saw in him. When William Regal recruited him into the Blackpool Combat Club, I was still unsure. He won the ROH Pure Championship, and I thought, man… they love this guy. What’s the deal? But then, I feel like Wheeler Yuta came into his own. He & AEW finally gave me the proof that I needed to say he’s deserving.
You might have guessed, but for those who didn’t, it was Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley’s matches. You can’t have a killer match if one side carries it because, as they say, it takes two to tango. Yuta danced with his Blackpool Combat Club stablemates very well. I think being given the confidence to take his performances to another level is what he needed. While I still don’t see any kind of character there, I now know he’s someone who can tear the house down. You need more guys like that in AEW because that’s what fans want from their professional wrestling.
Konosuke Takeshita – 27 years
He’s an exception on this list because I wanted to highlight his performances. AEW hasn’t officially signed him to a contract yet. Takeshita is on loan from DDT Pro-Wrestling, a Japanese promotion that is often called a parody of WWE. It uses a sports-entertainment style with a mix of puroresu flair and Lucha libre. Since 1997, it has grown to become one of the biggest independent promotions on the Japanese circuit. Takeshita has been there since 2011, which means he’s been wrestling for DDT since he was 16.
Having worked in wrestling for eleven years, we can’t say he’s anywhere near being a rookie. Takeshita knows what he’s doing, and many fans and critics have noticed this. There has been a ton of praise for his matches, and I sure hope they continue. Aside from New Japan crossovers, AEW has got no Japanese male stars to call their own. While I’m sure DDT will want to keep Takeshita (even more so now he’s had exposure), I wouldn’t be surprised if, not just AEW, but WWE, New Japan, and others take interest. Takeshita just “gets it”, and when you’re proving that repeatedly, you quickly become a valuable asset to anyone you work for.
The women’s division is drastically different because there aren’t many young women breaking through. Although Riho is 25 and Toni Storm is 26, I’m not including them because they have had, or are likely to get plenty of opportunities. AEW has done well to fill out its division, but it’s not developing talent from a young age like WWE is with NXT 2.0.
For example, WWE has a few women as young as 19 and 20 appearing and wrestling on TV. They aren’t in prominent positions, but they are gaining valuable experience. AEW is using their youngest women infrequently for different reasons, and you may understand why. AEW isn’t equipped to create something like the Performance Center, so that works against them. I’d like to see them get some young lionesses, but you can’t just get anybody.
Anna Jay (24) & Leyla Hirsch (25)
It’s tough for Leyla Hirsch because it looked like she was gaining traction, but then she picked up a knee injury. She has a tough persona, which makes her stand out, and that’s half the battle.
As for Anna Jay, she’s beautiful, but has she got what it takes in the ring? I know that whenever I see her; she struggles with the flow. She needs someone to carry her through things, and even then botches occur. I mean, wrestling isn’t easy, but it’s clear that when you’ve done this enough, you no longer overthink and the matches flow better. Anna still looks like she’s having to think things through too much, and that’s fine. I’m not being overly critical here. I just think that she has some way to go before we can consider her championship material. It would be great to see, though.
Julia Hart (20)
When she was with The Varsity Blondes, it didn’t look like she did much at all. Now she’s with the House of Black, I love what she adds to their presentation. We still don’t know who she is. I mean, could you hand her the mic and let her talk for five minutes? Has Julia got what it takes to serve in a managerial role for them? Or is she only there to be conflicting with how pretty and dark she is?
Being in this position at such a young age would daunt most people. You’re on a major TV show in a unique group, and it would be easy to feel the pressure. What can AEW do with Julia Hart to get her over to where we couldn’t imagine the House of Black without her? That should be the endgame. When people think back on this group, they need to be bringing up her contributions.
Someday, when Julia breaks free from this gig, she can return to wrestling and people will know who she is. She isn’t part of the legendary Hart family, but we may get another Hart winning a title someday.
I remember when CM Punk was just a Ring of Honor guy. The Miz mentored Danielson, and Claudio Castagnoli worked with Chris Hero in a tag team. Career progression is fluid, and you can never know how it will turn out, but you hope for the best. There are many rising stars in the wrestling business, and not everyone will reach the top, but it’s fun to see who will.
Time makes way for the young, and when we look at those coming through, you know they are in expert hands because the business has a rich history. There are so many brains to pick from. Some of the advice is great, and others not so much, but so long as a wrestler finds what they excel at. If they can become something they are proud of, then it will shine through for the fans to get behind it. Much like the quote, young wrestlers need to carry themselves like champions, even when they aren’t.
Nobody on this list is guaranteed superstardom, but I think it’s a good example of who could be. I’d like to know who you think will reach the top. Or perhaps you think none of them are worthy and AEW should look elsewhere? If so, please share names from other promotions if you think they are more worthy of being a young lion or lioness in AEW. Also, do you think the promotion is doing a good enough job with its young talent? Please let me know in the comments section. And this is where I wrap things up, so thank you very much for reading! See you again soon.