Monday, April 15, 2024
EditorialAEW in 2023: Biggest Blunders of the Year

AEW in 2023: Biggest Blunders of the Year

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With 2023 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months for both the good and the bad in AEW and WWE. Welcome to the annual 4 part Biggest Blunders and Greatest Wonders of the Year lists!

To eventually find the full lineup of articles, click on the following links:

Biggest Blunders of AEWGreatest Wonders of AEWBiggest Blunders of WWEGreatest Wonders of WWE

This post in particular (as the headline states) will be kicking things off with the worst of All Elite Wrestling this year with the Biggest Blunders list.

There were certainly a fair share of trials and tribulations in AEW this year; so much so that I think it was one of the roughest the company’s gone through. Some of the problems were minor, but others are going to reverberate for years to come.

So before we get into the good things, let’s start off with the bad news by recapping some of the mistakes, unfortunate circumstances, and problems that came up under Tony Khan’s watch in 2023.

Keep in mind that this list is in no particular order and is quite obviously opinion-based, so I invite everyone to chime in with their own ideas of what should be on this list in the comments below.

Without further ado, let’s get started…

The CM Punk and Jack Perry Fiasco

2022 already had a huge black mark on AEW with the Brawl Out incident. Everything surrounding that was a mess. But hey, once he’s back from his injury, there’s a chance the fences can be mended and everything can be fixed, right?

Right?

Well, instead, he comes back in June on the debut of Collision (his own show dedicated to keeping him away from The Elite—way more of a hassle than should be done for someone causing problems behind the scenes), calls himself the Real World Champion, and within no time at all (just a few weeks), we get the Jack Perry problem.

Granted, I’m on Punk’s side for part of this. I don’t see why you would use real glass for a spot when you can use a much safer alternative that will look just as good. Why put people in harm when it isn’t necessary?

But then, All In London goes down, and Punk gets into an altercation backstage with Perry right before his title defense against Samoa Joe. And whether or not you agree with Punk on the glass issue, a disagreement between colleagues is no reason to get physical. The whole idea of “I’m upset with you in some way, so I’m going to punch you” is caveman logic, as you’re not contributing to your side of the argument in any way. Devolving into brute aggression accomplishes nothing.

We still haven’t seen Perry as a result of this, and Punk was fired. But here’s the worst part of it for AEW: the Chicago crowd is the immediate follow-up, so Tony Khan has no time to react to it in a better fashion other than to get booed out of a building just prior to hurting All Out, which looks bad for the second year in a row. And then, a few months later, Punk goes to WWE and is celebrated in doing so, making the whole thing feel like AEW took a hit only for WWE’s gain.

Granted, I wasn’t loving Punk’s stuff in AEW, and I’m more excited about what we can get out of his WWE run, but I’m skeptical how that will go down, too. In any fashion, this was certainly one of the worst things to happen in AEW this year.

Constant Injuries

A running trend that seems to plague AEW each passing year is the long list of injuries that completely disrupt the flow.

Some of these are unavoidable—total mistakes that are just dumb luck. Others are a byproduct of people wrestling a harder style, where it doesn’t matter if they’re in the ring less overall matches per year if they’re destroying their bodies each time they perform. Even then, the argument could be made that not wrestling as often means they’re not as warmed up.

  • Kenny Omega had a few issues this year and is currently out with diverticulitis, ruining this Golden Jets angle.
  • Bryan Danielson had how many injuries this year? He’s still competing while not fully healed from his broken orbital bone, for one, and the injury he suffered at Forbidden Door was brutal.
  • Adam Cole had spent so much time on the shelf, finally returned, and a few months later, goes down with a leg injury and we still don’t know when he’ll be back, but everything with the MJF storyline has had to shift around or be outright cancelled.
  • MJF, by the way, is injured, too, possibly as a byproduct of wrestling so much more often.
  • There was that awful situation with Jon Moxley and Rey Fenix fighting for the International Championship, only for both to be injured and Orange Cassidy to have to step back in and basically hit the reset button.
  • Jamie Hayter’s been out since May, I believe? Missing All In (like Danielson) was a huge disappointment.
  • Sammy Guevara’s concussion derailing his push with The Don Callis Family

I could keep listing more of them, but you get the point.

The Women’s Division (in general)

Yikes, the women’s division in AEW was rough this year. Granted, it seems like it’s never quite sorted itself out and had a particularly great year, ever, but this may have been the overall worst—even more so than when it was just starting out and there were just a few matches within the span of a couple events spread out over a year.

The ENTIRE year was basically just The Outcasts (Toni Storm, Saraya and Ruby Soho) against Britt Baker, Hikaru Shida, Jamie Hayter for the first half, and that’s about it. The amount of times they repeated the same tag team matches or singles matches with those few women became so annoying to watch that I started to just outright skip the segments entirely.

Yes, there was a bright spot here and there. For instance, Kris Statlander returning to dethrone Jade Cargill for the TBS Championship. But then, AEW lost Jade Cargill to WWE! Arguably the biggest investment in this whole side of the roster up and left!

For every advancement to someone like Julia Hart or Willow Nightingale, we got 8-12 weeks worth of do-nothing matches that were instantly forgettable. I mean, can you tell me anything Kiera Hogan did this year? Or

People love them some Athena in ROH, but let’s talk about that…

Ring of Honor (in general)

This year had the potential to be when Ring of Honor broke out of its shell and became a must-watch promotion. Instead, it turned into an afterthought.

Taping in advance is likely a necessity for budget and time concerns, but it hurts the product considerably. People like myself who can’t get invested in it can just read the spoilers and be caught up to date in a general sense, without tuning in to a single minute.

But a bigger problem is that the promotion just does not present itself as an entertaining product to anyone but the most hardcore fans of specifically in-ring wrestling and the independent circuit. If you’re not someone who finds the indies appealing, that charm of “Random Guy You Might Not Have Heard Of, But Let’s See If He’s Anything Worthwhile” against “Totally The Best Wrestler Out There, Cause I Like Things That Aren’t Mainstream” is entirely lost on you.

No, I don’t want to invest my Thursday time on watching The Infantry beat The Spanish Announce Project. You know why? Because if Shawn Dean, Carlie Bravo, Angelico and Serpentico were super OMG amazing talents, they’d be featured on Dynamite/Collision or would have been picked up by WWE, most likely. I’ve seen enough of them to know that they’re not going to wow me enough. The same for Rachael Ellering, or Blake Christian, or The WorkHorsemen. And those are the stars of this show. Everyone else is some no-name. MAYBE those people will eventually become bigger stars, but if and when that happens, then I’ll watch their stuff. Until then, this gives me more NXT Level Up vibes than it does NXT…and no, I don’t watch Level Up, either.

There was overall more buzz to ROH when it was up for sale than where it’s at now, and the only real positives that I can see from at least my viewer’s perspective were bright spots featured more on Dynamite than on Ring of Honor itself.

Now, keep in mind, this is my opinion and you’re free to disagree. In your mind, this might’ve been the best year of ROH ever, where you loved every episode and it speaks exactly to what you want from your fandom. If that happened, I love that for you. I just didn’t have the same experience, and judging by the lack of care the overall internet seems to feel from what I could see with Final Battle’s void of engagement, I’d venture a guess that the casual wrestling fans have no idea this even exists (and wouldn’t care otherwise), the more dedicated fans largely write it off like we all write off WWE Main Event, and it’s only a very small group of people that actually love ROH these days.

Honestly, ROH probably has about the same amount of supporters as something like NWA, when it should be up there on par with NXT if done properly.

Tony Khan Has a Special Announcement!

At first, AEW seemed to be a promotion where Tony Khan had learned lessons from the failures of Vince McMahon and others, and actively avoided falling into those same pitfalls. So tell me how he completely missed out on the Dixie Carter lesson about not doing this “big special announcement” every week gimmick?

When you have something legitimately surprising or interesting to talk about, by all means, hype it up. But the more that you say this, only for it to be a disappointing reveal, it becomes a Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario.

Yes, tease a big announcement and then, unveil a new championship. Or hype up a mystery signing and have it be a big star like Will Ospreay. But you need to hold yourself back from trying to use this as a desperate marketing tactic to drum up some ratings if you don’t have something worthwhile to put out there.

The most egregious of these was when the big special announcement #42 or so was “Tickets for All In 2024 go on sale in a month.” Really?! That’s it?! Your BIG, special announcement, was to say that in a few weeks, you can buy tickets for a show that will happen next year that had already been announced?

Truly, step aside from your AEW/Khan fandom for a moment and think about the same situation if WWE had done this. Imagine WWE putting up a graphic for Monday Night Raw saying “Triple H game-changing announcement” and instead of it being the draft or the new title belts or any of that, he had said “Payback is going to be in Pittsburgh.” You’d feel like you were hoodwinked into building up excitement for nothing, right?

I would hope Khan is going to step back from this, but his use of hyperbole—which he either thinks is a super slick marketing strategy nobody can see through, or he legitimately is just SO hyped for every little thing that he unknowingly thinks it’s all going to be considered as cool/interesting/monumental as he thinks it is—I fully expect this problem to continue, if not get worse, in 2024, and for all of the media calls to just be a series of reports about the numbers and metrics of how successful everything is when you look at it from the angle of his spreadsheets.

Tony Khan’s Title Tuesday Twitter Tantrum

Speaking of Khan stepping on his own toes, another one of the moments in 2023 where he looked bad and made the company look bad as a result was the Title Tuesday backlash.

Dynamite was shifted to Tuesday night, as Major League Baseball takes priority and needed the typical Wednesday slot. That meant AEW was going to be going head-to-head with NXT, which had previously moved away from Wednesdays to avoid the competition, where it was struggling for ratings against AEW’s flagship program.

The debate’s been around for a long time, but it ultimately does boil down to one idea: Dynamite is AEW’s Raw, and NXT is the developmental brand, so the wins and losses are handicapped in that way. And this time around, Dynamite being on Tuesday meant it would assuredly get less viewers than normal, as some people would inherently not know it was on a different night, while others would choose to watch NXT live instead. Conversely, NXT would have less viewers than normal, as it now had direct wrestling competition that would take away from it.

So what do both companies do? They, justifiably, try to add some enticing promotional material to get people to watch their shows and not lose out on the ratings.

When AEW brands themselves “Title Tuesday”, puts Adam Copeland’s first match on there along with three title matches, that’s supposed to be okay, but when WWE puts some main roster names on the show to compensate, they’re being too ruthless and desperate? I think that’s just playing the game.

Well, Tony Khan didn’t think so. In fact, so much so, that he then decided to start attacking WWE for this decision, pulling out gimmicks like adding another title match to a pre-show, copying the commercial free idea, extending the show even longer, etc. And then, after bombarding Twitter to try to add more to the marketing machine, he resorted to name calling, insulting Triple H and Shawn Michaels for being bald, bringing up Vince McMahon’s sexual misconduct allegations (which, mind you, those are awful, but in this context, it’s a bit out of context and doesn’t help make people want to watch AEW more).

We watched a meltdown take place. Or, as some would call it, a temper tantrum response to panic mode.

And of course, NXT won the ratings skirmish. Now, some people look at this and their takeaway is that AEW got a “moral victory” for “not doing worse” against people like Becky Lynch. Others look at this and say “a handful of main roster talent guest starring on the developmental show beat your best possible flagship A-show that you invested even more effort into? Yikes.” and write up articles about how NXT destroyed AEW.

Not only did AEW lose, but it lost by putting its best foot forward, against WWE’s C show getting a slight leg up into C+ territory, or B- at most. And to flip out about it in the way Tony Khan did, just magnified that loss. It makes you wonder if AEW had won in the ratings if the celebration would have been equally as poor in victory as the reaction was to the defeat.

The Jericho Appreciation Society Dissolves with a Dud

Remember how it was so blatantly obvious that Daniel Garcia would turn on Chris Jericho, align himself as a “pro wrestler” instead of a “sports entertainer” and become a huge breakout star justifying The Jericho Appreciation Society’s entire gimmick and purpose?

Well, that didn’t happen. And then, eventually, the group just sort of fizzled out, rather than ending on any other alternative angle.

People got frustrated with Jericho, said they were disappointed with him for a few weeks, forgave him, left him, forgave him, left him, and then, splintered. Some fractured into completely unrelated parts of the roster. Others had a tentative continuing alliance with each other, just no longer with any association to Jericho. And then, a guy like Jake Hager just disappeared.

All for what? The Don Callis angle could have been that group against The JAS in a different way and broken up the unit as a result of it, instead of running alongside it. That would have made more sense with Sammy Guevara’s turn, too. And then, that could have led into a more natural alliance between Jericho and Omega, which in and of itself also means The Elite just sort of stopped teaming together, too, like the JAS.

I’d love to know what the angle was going to be months before it all nosedived. Maybe there were some good ideas that had to be shelved due to injuries. Then again, maybe there was no plan and Jericho in particular just got tired of the faction and figured it’d be better to end with a whimper than to try to do something more worthwhile, and they’d all just bounce back or not, but he was more interested in moving on than to salvage what he could for all the others.

In a way, it’s almost ironically perfect: a group meant to prop up Jericho and Jericho alone ended up dying by just Jericho moving on and nobody else being made much better by proxy. It’s like naming your movie “Steve Dies at the Start of Act 3” and then, killing off Steve, and having the remaining third of the film be side characters just going about their day with no plot. Yes, you called it in advance, but is that a good thing to be disappointed?

Everything with the TNT Championship (and Wardlow) Prior to Christian Cage

For quite a while, Wardlow was on an upward swing, looking like a future world champion who was nigh-invincible. Then, 2023 came around and humbled him dramatically.

In particular, I absolutely hated the booking of his TNT Championship storyline, and it affected not only him, but a few others, as well as the title itself.

I questioned him losing to Samoa Joe in the first place in 2022 and having a double champion “King of Television” idea, but I love Joe, and he’s far from a jobber, so I was willing to let this play out. An injury is understandable to book around. But surely, when he would return, it would all work itself out…

Then, Joe lost the title to Darby Allin on January 4th. Lame. Oh, he won it back less than a month later? Weird. And then, a month after that, Joe drops it to Wardlow on March 5th. Why couldn’t they just wait and have Joe hold it until losing it to Wardlow?

Wait a minute, March 8th comes around and Wardlow loses the belt to Powerhouse Hobbs?!? What??? Why didn’t Hobbs just win it from Joe, then?!

Because Wardlow has to win it back on April 19th??? That just renders Hobbs to look like a weak champion now, too!

May comes and goes, but soon into June, Wardlow loses the title to Luchasaurus on the first episode of Collision. I don’t know if that was Tony Khan feeling the pressure to have a title change on the premiere episode and just not feeling this Wardlow title reign (clearly), or feeling like that was a waste and just wanting to transition to the Christian/Luchasaurus story and opting to put this TNT title out of its misery or what, but all of that was terrible.

Thankfully, the pseudo title reign that Luchasaurus had, transitioning into Christian himself holding the title, ended up making for some quality entertainment. It just took half a year, destroying Wardlow’s credibility and purpose, a pointless detour with Hobbs, an even more pointless detour with Darby, and completely giving up on the King of Television idea that went nowhere.

Now, Wardlow is back to just being an angry brute looking for a purpose, but hanging off MJF. It’s almost as if they’ve gone back to square one, instead of successfully setting him up where 2023 could have been his year to ascend the throne.

AEW Fight Forever

I can’t personally attest to this, as I haven’t played the game, nor am I an aficionado of wrestling games. However, from what others have spoken about it, this seems to have been a mess.

The reviews range from “meh” to bad. IGN has it as a 6/10, audience reviews on a quick Google search put it at 3/5 as well. Overall, it seems the consensus is “unrealized potential” that is fun for the first few sessions, but quickly grows tiresome and has zero to no replay value.

After years of hyping this up as some return to form that would be an instant classic, most reviews I see tend to dance around wanting to say it kind of sucks. Phrases like “it isn’t necessarily a bad game, but there’s room for improvement” rather than “it’s a good game”, or “it’s not without its headaches” instead of raving about…well..anything.

Again, I don’t know what it plays like personally, but I would be a bad judge of that anyway, as I tend not to like wrestling games in general. But the friends and fans of mine that do have a better grasp of this haven’t said any glowing remarks. Most have told me that they regretting buying it or that they were disappointed in some fashion.

The more AEW continues to promote the game and the less attention it gets, the sadder this state of affairs turns into. I don’t blame them for trying to milk out some DLC money, but I do imagine when they were working on this that someone had to know it wasn’t as good as they had wanted it to be, and I hope that they actually learned some lessons from this instead of just turning on their blinders and acting like everyone else is wrong for thinking their product is seemingly mid at best.

Having Trouble Finding a Faction? Try and Try Again!

AEW has a problem with putting people into factions without seeing if any of that chemistry is there, then bouncing them around and just trying all sorts of combinations to see if anything works.

This has been a long-running problem, and this year was no exception. Just look at how we started the year with whatever the Andrade-Hardy Family Office nonsense was, and how many different sub-groups and offshoots with multiple names and a variety of combinations of wrestlers spawned out of that. Everything with The Hardy Boyz this year, including just them on their own as a tag team or in singles action, but also their shtick with Private Party and others, was just terrible.

Even something that works right now, by and large, like The Mogul Embassy, isn’t fully realized. The Embassy always came off strange to me, The Mogul Affiliates was absolute trash with Trench and whatnot, and then, they just sort of merged. What’s the connection between them, other than Prince Nana works as Swerve’s sidekick and just happens to be the manager of The Embassy? I don’t really think Strickland has any solid ties to The Gates of Agony or Brian Cage, do you?

The only factions that came out of this year unscathed, by and large, were Blackpool Combat Club, The Acclaimed, Bullet Club Gold, The Patriarchy, and The House of Black. Pretty much every other unit was malleable and still didn’t manage to fit into the right groove.

Honorable Mentions

  • Last-minute announcements for PPV matches. ROH Final Battle was the worst at this. All Out being crammed right after All In was a problem, too. Take time to build matches, announce them in advance, and have them mean something. Don’t just put out an event and at the last minute, toss 15 matches on it and tell people that’s good enough.
  • Lack of direction for talent like Miro, Ricky Starks, Andrade and so many others. Even, in theory, the whole purpose of Collision.
  • Driving things into the ground like the “Adam!!!” catch phrase. Too many things go too quickly from funny or great to tiresome and old within the span of a short time frame.
  • No transition to HBO Max. That could have been a big boost for AEW.
  • Ric Flair has arguably caused way more harm to Sting’s retirement than he’s offered any positives.
  • AR Fox…dude…why didn’t you just tell them you couldn’t travel to the United Kingdom?
  • That Golden Jets promo opposite Big Bill and Ricky Starks was so bad that it has to make people question Jericho’s longevity in his current spot.
  • QTV. Enough said.

What do you think were the biggest mistakes and worst things to happen from AEW this year? Drop your list in the comments below!

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