Hi folks. Today I’d like to talk about the influence All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is having on the wrestling business on the road to their first show Double or Nothing, scheduled to air from Las Vegas on May 25th.
With WWE airing shows for five brands (Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, NXT, NXT UK), it’s had to sign umpteen amounts of talent to sustain them. The latest being Kushida to NXT, one of the hottest free agents following his departure from New Japan. WWE must continue to show interest, as its NXT brands have proven successful in developing promising talent for the main roster’s future.
In the 2000’s, OVW & FCW proved their worth as well. Home growing helped WWE find new stars like John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar. Yet overtime, other promotions enjoyed the fruits WWE overlooked. Eventually, officials clocked on and realized home growing wasn’t producing the goods. They began looking elsewhere, like ROH, New Japan, (TNA) Impact, and others to entice their biggest stars away.
When we look at the present rosters, there’s several who enjoyed great bodies of work. Many of whom, could pack up and sign with another company any time due to their previous relationships. I’d like to list them, along with a few producers/commentators:
AJ Styles, Aleister Black, Andrade, Bobby Lashley, Bobby Roode, Cedric Alexander, Drew McIntyre, EC3, Eric Young, The Viking Experience, Lio Rush, Rey Mysterio, Ricochet, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Ruby Riott, Zelina Vega, Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, Harper, The Hardys, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson
Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka, Mickie James, Mike & Maria Kanellis, Drake Maverick, The Undisputed Era (Cole, Fish, O’Reilly, Strong), Dominik Dijakovic, Johnny Gargano, Keith Lee, Tommaso Ciampa, Candice LeRae, Io Shirai, Kassius Ohno, Walter.
Chris Parks (Abyss), Gregory Helms, Jeff Jarrett, Jeremy Borash, Nigel McGuinness, Sarah Stock (Sarita), Sonjay Dutt & Steve Corino all played key roles for Impact Wrestling or Ring of Honor.
Semantics. Yes, some of the above made names for themselves in WWE first (eg: Lashley). Andrade was big in Mexico before signing to NXT. Asuka, Kairi Sane & Io Shirai were three of the biggest names in Joshi promotions. Others like Harper, Keith Lee, and Walter, made WWE take notice due to their quality work in the indies. But it’s not only active wrestlers we should consider, as WWE poached key backstage staff like Jeremy Borash (Impact) and Steve Corino (ROH) too. Their signings validate WWE being so impressed, they couldn’t afford seeing them work elsewhere. And for sure, it definitely had an effect on the companies they left.
Even without The Revival or Sasha Banks threatening to leave, WWE knows disgruntled workers will threaten to leave if they aren’t motivated. Not an easy decision, but Harper confirmed it by requesting his release this week. And it’s not just about those with history of working elsewhere, because options equals opportunities. Any former WWE superstar has an advantage in negotiations, due to the exposure they gained during their time.
Despite airing over 8 hours of content (minus PPVs) per week, WWE’s rosters are so bloated it’s impossible to please everyone. It’s difficult when someone returns from injury. It makes them anxious .. because, unless you’re valuable like Roman Reigns, getting injured can be a career killer. You can see it on their faces sometimes, when they assume the worst. They’re more upset about losing momentum than the injury itself. Granted, sometimes it’s a blessing (overexposure), but it’s game over for someone like Harper.
WWE is going through a tough time, because they’re having to manage frustrations internally. Stories get leaked (whether true or false), and the bigger the rosters grow, the more likely we’ll see reports of unhappy workers wanting out. And no, it’s not always about money. Some may feel frustrated creatively due to WWE’s limits, double standards (like Vince doing things on TV others would get fired for), or because “creative has nothing for you”.
Losing Its Share
Six or seven years ago, Impact could claim to be the #2 promotion in America. There was always an argument between them and Ring of Honor, but their talent (AJ Styles, Sting, Kurt Angle etc) combined with the worldwide exposure, meant they had something over the rest. Following many reports, Dixie Carter finally sold up to Anthem Sports. It confirmed a deep-rooted issue in the profitability of the company, and she was not helping the situation. Deep in debt, Anthem paid it off and made drastic changes to assure it could turn a profit again.
They moved the company to Canada. Not only that, but cutting long-time employees (like Earl Hebner) for cheaper, unknown staff needed to be done. It also affected talent, as they could no longer afford the contracts of big sellers like The Hardys. Matt & Jeff were vocal about the way Anthem handled their contract negotiations, because they knew .. and the company knew, something had to change if they were to keep Impact afloat.
The Hardys were upset because they put so much in to making Impact something worthwhile; but the demands for more money and creative freedom was not sustainable in the long-term. They lost AJ, Sting, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, James Storm, Abyss, Sonjay Dutt, The Hardys, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, EC3, Mike Bennett (Kanellis), Eric Young, Mickie James, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Rockstar Spud (Drake Maverick) and Jeremy Borash in the space of a few years.
As much as they wanted to, they couldn’t afford to match others offers. And with ROH/NJPW working together, it proved more difficult to encourage anyone anyway during the rebuilding process. Luckily they reached out for cross-promotion, otherwise I’m positive they wouldn’t have lasted another year. Suddenly they’re booking talent from AAA, Pro Wrestling Noah, Wrestle-1, Lucha Underground, and many more.
Don Callis coming in was massive, as he had ties to New Japan, and guys like Chris Jericho (helped them to get invited to the cruise). In recent times, they have done everything to make new stars (LAX, Rosemary, Tessa Blanchard etc), as well as showcasing hot teams like The Lucha Brothers, Pentagon Jr and Fenix. However, it’s not been smooth sailing (like Bound for Glory, when Austin Aries walked out), and they’re struggling, or simply can’t afford .. to book decent venues.
How has AEW affected Impact? Already, they have signed Pentagon Jr, Fenix and Allie to their roster (Lucha Bros are not exclusive). And how many more will they take? Is Killer Kross safe? Or Brian Cage? Rosemary? What about Tessa? Could LAX jump ship? Impact could easily find themselves losing what they’ve built due to the splashing of the cash. AEW has dipped its toes in to Impact’s pool, and there is nothing Anthem can do about it. Other than showing they can match any offer .. which they won’t.
Not a regular viewer, but I was pleased after this years Wrestle Kingdom and the G1 Supercard from Madison Square Garden. Happy with how they played out, but there was some underlying issues which seemed apparent. Firstly, at Wrestle Kingdom .. literally every title changed hands because those who were leaving had to be cut out of the action. It didn’t ruin things, but I believe it wasn’t as enjoyable to previous years due to the underlying tension between those who remained loyal, and those who didn’t.
And the G1 Supercard .. wow. Such an awesome feeling seeing so many wrestling fans gathered in a grand venue like Madison Square Garden. It showed how valuable the partnership has become between Ring of Honor and New Japan. I firmly believe neither would have made it this far without the other. Yet again, something didn’t sit right. ROH’s matches didn’t live up to New Japan’s, so it was almost like watching a show of two halves. With WWE and AEW signing so many guys they would’ve used, ROH has been trying to make new stars with the remaining; like Matt Taven.
Watching the build for New Japan’s main event was odd, especially from Okada’s view. It was like .. he was the NJPW spokesman lavishing themselves in praise for producing the best wrestling anywhere in the world. Felt like a dig at AEW to me. The Japanese are all about honour and respect, so to take foreigners in and make them stars? Only to be pushed to the curb for the new American deal? Sour grapes. Although, we may feel there’s no blame on The Elite for taking on this promising venture, as they felt New Japan would never reach the heights they were after.
Not because New Japan can’t afford to, but because they’re not willing to change how they do things to cater to a casual, mainstream global audience. NJPW happily remains in the niche, while focusing all their efforts in remaining #1 of Japan. And there’s got to be some underlying tension between them and their partners, because ROH is not pulling its weight. NJPW needs ROH to be delivering the goods, as we head in to a competitive new era.
The Future Of All Elite
Cody Rhodes may have gone on record saying they don’t see themselves as competition to WWE, but he knows the fans & wrestlers have wanted it for 18 years. With big money promises, WWE has a threat they must consider when negotiating. The monopoly they have enjoyed was killing the business, and talent had to accept their terms or go home. WWE had the business by the balls, but AEW may have slightly loosened its grip.
Part of the reason the Attitude Era was so successful was because talents had leverage. D-Generation X couldn’t be fired for going over the top (Triple H referenced this in his HOF speech), because Vince knew they’d end up with his direct competition. Vince knew he had to keep guys like The Undertaker, Steve Austin and The Rock sweet, otherwise they’d follow in the steps of Hogan, Savage, Nash, Hall, and Bret Hart. It’s a great time for any wrestler who wants to start fresh, as no one is favoured (politics) in a new company. You can get in there, claim your spot, and be set for life earning big bucks with management who will do everything to keep you.
While there are some similarities being AEW and WCW, the company is being run by talent who are passionate about the business. Cody (& co.) are not going to repeat WCW’s mistakes. Luckily, they don’t have a figurehead like Ted Turner who can be forced out. The only way The Khan’s will pull the plug, is if AEW starts burning holes in their pockets. So long as they can turn a profit, The Khan’s are willing to pull out the check book for big acquisitions.
AEW has all the ingredients to take it to WWE, but the first thing it must do is establish itself as #2. It must strive to eat in to others shares, or propose strong cross-promotional ties so they have something WWE cannot offer. Of course, their reported TV deal was the first hurdle, and it’s undeniably crucial for the future. In an ideal world? I’d make AEW the new NWA. Allow them to be the platform for pro wrestling, like back in the day. The end game would be a power struggle between sports-entertainment and pro wrestling. And at some point, the fans will divide too. Much like in the old days, when you was either a WWF fan, a WCW fan, an ECW fan, or someone who casually flicked between them.
The worst thing we can do is blow this up and expect AEW to come out swinging with punches reminiscent of a Rocky movie. The ingredients are there for something special, but ingredients don’t make a dish by themselves. AEW needs the right cook, or team of cooks .. to put them together and make dishes so exquisite, it gets them to the right places. What will be interesting though, is to see how they sell merchandise.
Everyone knows about the t-shirt outlet, but is that it? And what about the audience? Do they cater to adults? Do they make it family friendly? WWE’s balanced it well for decades .. they tick as many demographic boxes as the times allow. Although this philosophy often hurts the TV product, it works from a marketing standpoint.
What’s that old saying? Rome wasn’t built in a day? Regardless, other empires are already taking measures to protect their coastlines from attack. WWE’s spread itself too thin. Impact’s a shadow of what it was. ROH/NJPW are afraid their recent expansion will be lost before they get started. And to think .. with a mind like Jim Ross working for AEW? He knows talent. JR knows what they need. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it unfolds.
There’s a feeling of uncertainty in the business, but it’s the good kind. The 2020’s could go down in history as the second coming of professional wrestling .. or not? Only time will tell. What do you think AEW needs to be? To grow and be successful in the world today? Are there any talents you would recommend? Will WWE ever loosen its grip? Can other promotions see the bigger picture by coming together? Please let me know your views. Thanks for reading.