Thursday, April 18, 2024
Editorial15 AEW Talents Who May Well Define The Next Generation

15 AEW Talents Who May Well Define The Next Generation

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Hello! Today, we look at a subjective list of the next generation of stars in AEW (All Elite Wrestling). With an aging roster at the top level, I find it right to look ahead to see who can step up to fill the shoes of those whose days are numbered.

Before we begin, allow me to say that I know AEW’s booking hasn’t been so smooth lately. I remain a huge AEW fan, and I hope some of the recent criticisms inspire them. There’s a lot of hungry, young talent with unlimited potential on the roster, and we should be happy they have the platform to succeed.

With that said, I have included a couple of older names in this list, but only because I believe they should have already received a push. Finally, I ordered the list in alphabetical order, and this is my first editorial in two months, so please forgive me for any rustiness.

#1. Anthony Bowens (33)

When I think about The Acclaimed, I remember the exceptional run the group has had. But then, I see what they are doing with the Bang Bang Scissor Gang, and while I know it is early days for the alliance… nothing about it feels natural. Perhaps that is the intention? We need to wait to see where it goes.

Every member of The Acclaimed has played their part, but to me, Anthony Bowens is the standout. Max Caster has his rap gimmick, and that’s cool (when it lands), but Bowens is doing the heavy lifting. He has clearly learned a lot from Billy Gunn, so he will benefit from his lessons if he ever goes off on his own.

I know this group remains very popular, so they will stay together for a while, but I know Bowens will eventually make it as a singles star. He’s good enough to make anything work. It feels like The Acclaimed may have another year, perhaps two, before the act gets truly stale. And that is sad, but there’s only so much scissoring one can do.

AEW

#2. Brody King (36)

I am completely baffled that Brody King has not had a major push yet. He is so clearly over, and AEW could do with a new big guy in the main event scene. AEW has a few other “meaty” men on the roster, but nobody gets the same love that Brody King does.

While he is the oldest talent on the list, he could be wrestling for another ten years. Having him in the House Of Black feels wasteful at this point. Pull the trigger, Tony.

#3. Daniel Garcia (25)

Daniel Garcia was hitting his stride with the whole “professional wrestler vs. sports entertainer” angle. He still has part of that in his game, although it is not as obvious. Aside from MJF, Garcia may have done more in AEW than any other male twenty-something, and he has proven himself on the microphone and the ring.

However, I feel he lacks in presentation. Bret Hart admits that while he lacked in this department, looks will always play a pivotal part in a wrestler’s overall package. Not only that, but last week, Garcia admitted to having a lack of confidence. He clearly has what it takes to be a top player in AEW, but presentation and confidence will be the keys to unlocking his potential. I’m looking forward to seeing if he can.

AEW

#4. Darby Allin (31)

Provided he isn’t crippled by the age of 35, Darby Allin has and will continue to define AEW. After Sting retires, it will be his time to step up, and the only place he has not fully stepped up to is the World Championship scene. That has eluded Allin’s AEW career so far, and while he is small, he has the fight to beat anyone.

I don’t believe Darby has ever had a problem standing on his own, but he needs to learn a few things from Sting about connecting with the audience. All he needs is to stay healthy, connect more, and keep putting in the work. The World Championship needs to be his focus.

#5. Hook (24)

While on the surface, pitting Hook against Samoa Joe for the World Championship may have seemed like a good idea, it highlighted how much further he has to go. I’d say the issue with his career thus far is not having an equal rival who can push him to the limit night in, night out. He either squashes jobbers, or is getting beaten up by veterans.

Hook needs an extended program with someone he has great chemistry with, so they can elevate each other. Make it so either can win on any show. But also, we need to see more of Hook’s personality. Who is he really? He’s the quiet type, but what happens when someone pushes his buttons? What will Hook do when it gets personal? This will go a long way to connect him with the audience.

AEW

#6. Jamie Hayter (28)

Jamie Hayter has already reached the top of her division, but a serious injury sidelined her for a very long time. She missed out on being showered with love by her home country at AEW All In 2023, and there have been whispers of her finally returning soon.

However, AEW’s women’s division has moved on since then. There’s a lot more competition for the top spot. Toni Storm’s unique character has had more effort than most, and while I am a huge Jamie Hayter fan, she doesn’t have much character. When she returns, she will need to find another level to her game to be seen as an equal to Toni Storm. But also, we have to wonder if Britt Baker will return to act like Hayter’s friend before a betrayal takes them down a long, loathsome road.

The good thing about Jamie Hayter, though, is that she didn’t need to go overboard (like a Toni Storm) to get over with the fans. She naturally got over with her performances, so there’s a chance that by adding more to her game, she will reach another level of stardom in 2024 and beyond.

#7. Juice Robinson (34)

I couldn’t stand Juice Robinson. There was no upside to him at all. And then, I didn’t see him for a while, because I don’t religiously watch New Japan. When I next saw him, I heard him cutting some wicked promos, and I was like… wait, what? Is this the same guy? His mic work blew me away. And then I saw him in the ring, and I was even more impressed.

Watching talent for as long as I have, you can see when they are finally understanding what they need to do. I never thought it would happen, but Juice finally found the switch to turn on his light bulb. I know Jay White is an outstanding wrestler, but I prefer watching Juice. Sure, if I want the best match, Jay White will deliver that… but Juice makes me laugh, and that goes a long way. It makes me wonder if he can get even more entertaining. If it’s possible, then Juice will definitely get over.

AEW

#8 & 9. Julia Hart (22) & Skye Blue (24)

We don’t need half the titles under the AEW/ROH umbrella, but having a set of women’s tag team titles would go a long way toward strengthening the division. In their short time in AEW, Julia Hart & Skye Blue have been through a transformation to a darker side. And while they could explore this further, I believe in the meantime, they should focus more so on their chemistry.

Skye Blue’s sex appeal is something we can’t ignore, especially when she keeps posting sultry photoshoots. She continues to “break the internet”, but is that a bad thing? Does it hurt her career? I know we’re in more of a progressive era for women’s wrestling, but does it cheapen the legacies of the greats who made use of their sex appeal to get over? I don’t think Skye Blue needs to feel pressured, but if she is actively willing to go this route, should it be seen as negative? It might feel cheap to some, but I don’t think so.

Whatever they decide to do, I believe Julia Hart & Skye Blue should be praised for doing as much as they have before turning 25. The next decade will be fruitful for them. It will take something catastrophic, or signing with another promotion, for them not to become focal points of AEW’s women’s division. They just need to keep learning.

#10. Mariah May (25)

She hasn’t been around for long, but I am super impressed by Mariah May. There has to be a lot of trust to throw a recent signing in with Toni Storm right off the bat, and she is absolutely nailing it. So, let’s make a list of what she can do.

Can she talk? Check. Can she wrestle? Check. Does she have a good look? Check. So, is she missing anything? All she needs is to be seen more. And at 25, she will only get better at everything she is already good at. However, she may be someone that WWE looks to sign in a year or two, once they figure out how good she is.

AEW

#11. Nick Wayne (18)

I was close to putting Kyle Fletcher in this, but Nick Wayne is 7 years younger and under Christian Cage’s learning tree. He’s also learning from Adam Copeland and Killswitch, along with many other experienced hands. I could not see much in him at first, but his heel turn was solid, and I trust veterans like Christian Cage when he sells him as “The Prodigy”.

Think how good he could be in two years. In 5 years, he will only be 23. AEW needs to mold young guys like Nick Wayne, because they will probably remain loyal, and can learn so much before hitting their primes. Also, I believe the company should think about setting up some kind of developmental system, so young guys like Nick Wayne won’t feel as tempted to sign with NXT and its amazing Performance Center.

#12. Powerhouse Hobbs (33)

Powerhouse Hobbs is a freak, and I say that in the nicest way possible. When he wrecked Chris Jericho, I applauded the booking, because anything else would not make sense. Sticking a World Championship on his huge shoulder would be fitting, but AEW is weird with its big guys. They get shoved in to “meaty” matches and not treated anything like they would have thirty years ago. I’ve never had a problem with big guys winning most of their matches if they are good at what they do, and Powerhouse Hobbs certainly is.

For me, he is second only to Brody King. If it were up to me, they would both be in the main event scene with Hangman Page and Swerve Strickland. And I say that as one of the biggest Samoa Joe fans. He 100% deserves to have a run with the title, but AEW has younger, hungrier guys who are chomping to step in to his role. However, I will admit that AEW’s meaty men lack mic skills, of which Samoa Joe has an abundance. If Hobbs can have enough confidence to ditch Don Callis and be more entertaining on the mic, there is nothing he can’t do.

AEW

#13. Swerve Strickland (33)

He’s on the cliff. Swerve Strickland is inches away from taking off in a big way, but the problem is finding those defining moments. His match with Hangman Page helped, but most rising stars have a point in time they can call back to and say that was when everything changed. I want Swerve Strickland to reach the top, because I have seen how hard he has worked to earn everything he has. He could have tried to get back with WWE after being released with the rest of Hit Row, but he went elsewhere to prove they made a mistake.

This isn’t about being the first African-American World Champion. Yes, that would be a bonus, but it doesn’t matter the race, religion, or being a rapper on top of being a pro wrestler. This is about Swerve Strickland getting in to the business as a nobody in 2011, and reaching the top of the mountain thirteen years later. The wrestling industry needs fresh faces who can become household names. Swerve has the tools to do it, but it’s a matter of execution. I hope he and Tony Khan figure out how to do it the right way.

#14. Wardlow (36)

Wardlow is a head scratcher. There was a point that MJF got him borderline over, but then he disappeared and we still don’t know why. His absence killed the momentum, and he returned recently with a clear hunger to reach the top before his window closes.

As the second oldest on this list, it is understandable that he feels a ton of pressure to deliver on his potential. AEW has a weird thing going on with its bigger wrestlers, which they will present at Revolution when Wardlow, Hobbs, and Lance Archer are randomly thrown in to a gimmick-y meat match. I’d be all for it if they had wrestled and built up some heat in the buildup, but it feels like someone said… “Hey! We have three big dudes doing nothing, so why not?”

This isn’t how you build Wardlow. If you want him a monster heel, have him do some truly despicable things. Having him defeat two other big guys accomplishes very little. Sure, it makes him look like the alpha big guy among them, but he isn’t the alpha of AEW. At least, not until he beats Samoa Joe. It does hardly anything to push Wardlow, while hurting Hobbs and Archer.

AEW will eventually figure out what to do with Wardlow, and when they finally do, his star will rise. Until then, we have to endure him squashing jobbers for no good reason. Only when the booking is meaningful will Wardlow be suited to become the World Champion.

AEW

#15. Willow Nightingale (30)

Ending this with someone who is so naturally likable, Willow Nightingale needs to continue being a role model to a younger audience. It would be so easy to turn her heel and ruin her image. She would do well as the “Rey Mysterio” of AEW’s Women’s division for years to come. Incorruptible, and full of honor, Nightingale oozes the type of charisma we need to see more of. She’s bubbly without being annoying or overbearing.

However, she also needs to be tested. You can’t have a lovable babyface without a wicked heel, so I hope that is something AEW considers. It has been smooth sailing so far, for the smiling Willow, and I hope she may one day show how brutal she is when the occasion calls for it.

To conclude this list, I’d like to say that I could have listed more, but 15 felt sufficient. I want the future of AEW to be bright. And while it struggles creatively, I hope this dip translates to them making more changes to ensure the younger talent has what they need to prosper. I’m interested in finding out who rises to the top. Please let me know who you think will be the faces of the next generation in All Elite Wrestling. Thanks for reading!

Also Read: AEW Dynamite Results (2/21/2024)

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