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The Main Event Vol. 167 - Is AEW Losing Its Identity?

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  • The Main Event Vol. 167 - Is AEW Losing Its Identity?

    Welcome one and all to another edition of The Main Event. "It's been too long (too long), before I left you (left you), gotta give you something step to''. It's good to be back! This month marks my seventh year writing and I'm ready to go! Well, I ain't here to write an essay on how I had the itch to write, so let's just do it and get right to it...


    AEW Is Losing Its Identity

    It was October 2019. A brand new promotion, filled with hope and ambition, debuted in the mainstream for the masses. Up until that point - TNA's short-lived attempt at becoming a genuine alternative notwithstanding - nobody truly became any form of a legitimate threat to WWE's monopoly of the wrestling industry. But the hype around All Elite Wrestling was that of the heir to the throne. After a few weeks of explosive television wrestling matches on Dynamite, the promotion had forged its own identity.

    An identity built upon legitimacy, credibility, prestige and tradition. But yet, it appears that the very identity that popularised AEW is now in the midst of slowly fading away...

    2023 will be a banner year for AEW. All the changes to the company were put in place at the beginning of the year. Tony Khan felt like his company was in need of a shake-up and rightfully so. However, there is an old adage that if something ain't broke, don't fix it. Yes, AEW's ratings haven't exactly set the world alight as of late and that is more than likely what prompted Khan to instil these drastic changes. Yet I don't believe these changes were necessarily justified. What they've gained from this re-invention, so to speak, pales in comparison to what they've lost. And although AEW's aesthetics officially changed at the start of the year, this has been simmering for months.

    Since AEW's inception, there has been talk of 'The Four Pillars Of AEW'. Now, that phrase refers to the original AEW young guns; destined to be an integral part of the promotion's future. With that thought in mind, I always felt that All Elite Wrestling's ideology was built on four core principles. This is what their foundation was built upon. The true 'Four Pillars Of AEW', if you will...


    One of my favourite aspects of AEW is how they've combined the modern wrestling landscape with the traditions of wrestling. It's the finer details that stand out most. It's those very details that provide identity in the first place. WWE has completely forgotten about tradition. Ironically, WWE created many of those traditions they choose to ignore. And yet, although AEW seeped into the modernism of the current wrestling world, they managed to stay true to wrestling tradition as a whole. In fact, I would say they embody every aspect of professional wrestling.

    Admittedly, they've not strayed too far away from that notion, yet a warning shot should be fired to prevent losing that aspect of their product. Subtleties such as the champion coming out last, time limits to matches and their constant nod to what has previously happened in the professional wrestling world - whether that be harking back to the history of WWE, WCW, ECW, NJPW, TNA or the Independent Wrestling Scene. In the world we live in today, tradition has been replaced and viewed as backward thinking. Yet in the wrestling world, tradition is the vital starting point to attain the next three pillars.


    In the cartoonish, mostly unrealistic world that WWE has presented to the mainstream for years, AEW gained legitimacy by presenting itself as a promotion with a certain grittiness to it. A promotion that prides itself in being viewed as a legitimate sporting company. This approach is part of what endeared fans to AEW in its fledgling years. They provided us with all the glitz, glamour and big bright lights that a serious mainstream wrestling promotion should strive for, yet they managed to couple it with the blood, sweat and tears of the Independent Scene.

    The realism that AEW brought forth was refreshing. Yes, they were producing a show where grown men pretend to do battle in pre-determined fights, but that is exactly why legitimism was needed. WWE stole that away from the wrestling world and AEW mostly tried to take it back. Now it feels as if AEW is potentially letting that slip away. Gone are the rankings that were updated weekly, replaced by hollow words in relation to title contention. Also, what has come to the forefront has been silly gimmicks like Orange Cassidy and Danhausen, amongst others. The storylines were not overdramatic and athleticism was their primary focus. This has clearly changed somewhat and it is concerning when your legitimacy is threatened. AEW needs to dance with what brung them in this regard before their legitimacy is swept off the dancefloor.


    An important part of anything in its infancy is being perceived as credible. I feel as though AEW went above and beyond in trying to bring credibility to its promotion in the early stages. They incorporated wrestling tradition - important to the wrestling audience - by harkening to past matches and stories spanning various promotions; and legitimacy - important to the casual fan - by bringing about the ranking system and focusing more on the sporting aspects, like athleticism. On top of that, Cody taking himself out of the AEW Title picture and The Elite not moving themselves to the top of the card immediately also provided credibility to the EVPs, what with the concern being a repeat of what unfolded at WCW.

    However, I do believe that their credibility is waning. The EVPs appear to hash out opportunity after opportunity for themselves, constantly in the title picture or a major feud. The set design has changed to make it more WWE-esq, which is troubling considering AEW is supposed to be the alternative. Tony Khan's bloated roster and inability to book the more popular names prominently has really soured the views of many toward AEW, taking another piece of their credibility. In order for success to be achieved, credibility needs to be attained and then maintained. The latter is where the problem lies.


    This is one of my biggest pet peeves in wrestling. Prestige is something that the WWE has continuously done no justice to in the last decade and even further back - although they are making amends with the WWE, Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships. With AEW being a new company they had all the opportunity to remedy that injustice. They had the opportunity to make their titles hold value above all else. The only way to attain such a level of prestige is to crown worthy champions who receive favourable booking and intriguing stories and opposition. In the first two years that has certainly been the case for AEW, but things are going downhill in that regard.

    The AEW Title was extremely prestigious until Punk got his hands on the belt, resulting in injuries, suspensions and emergency title changes, almost reversing all goodwill brought upon BBB. The Tag Team Division was one of AEW's main selling points when things started out, but things have been deteriorating as of late, and in my opinion, this downward trend in the division all started with FTR losing the gold in less than three months. Since then there have been bright spots but as things currently stand, we have completely undeserving champions, tainting the belt even more. Look at the Tag Title Match coming up at Revolution as proof of that. With prestige, there is always the chance to increase the value of a title, but care needs to be taken, of which AEW is doing none.

    It's extremely difficult to see something you love slowly starting to lose its identity. Our only hope is that All Elite Wrestling's identity doesn't fade away to the point where they become unrecognisable.


    And that does it for this edition of The Main Event. Do you think AEW is losing its identity?Or do you feel evolution is needed? Let me know in the comments below. And on that note...

    This is Don Franc signing out.


  • #2
    I am an AEW fan but I think since the very beginning they've had a bit of an identity problem. On the one hand you had Cody talking about weekly rankings and feeling out this old school approach, then you had the Bucks and Omega flopping around being silly. And I'm not even against silly, since almost day 1 Orange Cassidy has been one of their most popular acts and I love the guy. But with the Elite in charge it was never going to be the serious-minded promotion they halfway hinted at 3 years ago. I think modern wrestling needs some lightheartedness in order to work but there's no doubt we could achieve a better balance.

    I'm not fussed about things like set changes, though I did like the tunnels. But I think AEW has become more uneven in terms of their booking. Some things still hit big with me but others leave me cold. I find myself skimming Rampage and skipping matches on overlong PPVs. They're still my favorite game in town right now but they're less hot than they were. To me the loss of Punk hit hard, I'm not even a superfan but he brought something special to the product and his exit was ugly as hell, though if by some slim change they bring him back in the fold that could light up quite a hot feud. But look no further than the near disappearance of Eddie Kingston from AEW, once one of their hottest acts and now hardly seen. TK has some things to sort out, without a doubt. Any new promotion will need years to fully find their way so here's hoping the evolution we're seeing makes the wrestling world better and stronger in the end.

    Nice column Don, always a pleasure.

    The '92 Rumble! The Brain's Finest Hour!


    • #3
      Interesting column Donny and I appreciate your thoughts.
      2023 is perhaps the most important year AEW has had since it's first year in existence because this year is when they negotiate their next TV contract, a chance to secure the financial wellbeing of the company for years to come if it goes well but also a potentially ruinous moment for the company if it doesn't. Thankfully they are a reliable ratings draw, mostly only beaten on the nights they are on by the NBA and other more limited run series like The Challenge. That gives me confidence they will get a meaty upgrade to their current contract they signed with Warner three months in but I'm still partly worried about what could happen. We won't have a WCW situation of it being shut down completely because TK owns it and he is a wrestling tragic so I'd wager would be willing to float it a little longer if it doesn't necessarily earn the big bucks this year.

      I agree with a number of your points and certainly feel that the promotion has had a flat vibe to it for quite some times but not all your diagnosis as to why that is.

      First of all with The Elite I will concede they have been a mixed bag at times but absolutely disagree with some of Mizzie and your assessments. Some of the best things the company has done are because of The Elite, think the rise of Hangman Page and his story with Omega, the Omega v Mox feud and The Bucks tag team championship reign in 2020-21. I completely disagree that it's a problem that they are often in the spotlight when they are around as they are some of the biggest stars in a promotion literally named after them, they have a huge fan base who were a large chunk of the fan foundation this company was built on, they should be in good positions on the card because they are stars. Having said that you assesment that they are always in the spotlight at the expense of others is a bit much when last year Omega was gone for the majority of it due to injury and suspension and Bucks had a number of low profile months as well as being off TV for an entire ppv cycle due to suspension, even Elite-adjacent Adam Cole missed the majority of the year with injury. In fact I'd go as far to say that part of the problem you have with the tag team division lacking prestige at the moment (which I agree with) stems from the fact the most prominent, highest drawing and best performing tag team historically in the promotion isn't part of the division at the moment but is establishing the trios titles instead. I'm not saying they are beyond criticism (I will shortly provide some) but we've seen what a AEW looks like without The Elite and it is a promotion that is lacking an important part of what makes it special.

      If I'm analysing things from a big picture I'd say there are two big issues with AEW right now that are leaving the fan base feeling somewhat flat even though the quality is still very good.

      1. They have been relying more and more on the crutch of 'great matches' rather than booking compelling stories. This goes back to all the injuries and back stage issues that happened after Double or Nothing last year where the booking plans got derailed over and over again so they just had to work with what they had and find interesting things without having time to properly build them up. However it is a habit they have not shed now they have the majority of their roster back. I'm not saying there isn't story (that is a ridiculous stance taken only by the worst faith trolls) but the focus for quite a while has been on the potential matches rather than overarching narratives and character progression. A good comparison to demonstrate this is the Inner Circle v Mox series at the start of 2020 to get to Mox v Jericho at Revolution and the MJF imposed gauntlet Danielson went through the past two months. The quality of the Daneilson matches was far higher individually but the program itself is not even close to being as compelling because it has mostly been random mercenaries being thrown at Daneilson as a way of getting Danielson to have more and more great matches. It's entertaining but not the kind of thing the company was built on, that a face can use to build momentum and the kind of thing a fan base can get behind. Another example is the current Elite trios reign which I think has fallen flat since the conclusion of the best of seven series. Instead of going straight to a program with HOB which was clearly the direction and doing an actual story beyond one beat down, The Elite wrestled a mini-feud with Top Flight & AR Fox. They were great matches that did tell a fun mini-story but once again sacrificed a grander story arc for those weekly adrenaline rushes.

      2. There is currently no clear top face in a quest for fans to get behind, this is somewhat an extension of the first point. The top of the card is the most important in terms of drawing and fan engagement and historically AEW has been at its best when there is a surging face that is clearly the guy for fans to get behind; think Cody in 2019, Mox in 2020 & Hangman then Punk in 2021 and early 2022. They have either been champ or clearly heading to the title picture as a realistic challenger and it has allowed the fan base to surge and pop every time that guy is on screen. Right now they don't have that because the main event is being built around MJF. He is a great top heel but there is no clear direction for his reign beyond promising 12 months of pain for fans which would be an ok proposition if the guys going up against him had a chance of beating him but so far the three feuds he has had against Ricky, Danielson and Takeshitta have been complete foregone conclusions.

      Ultimately I have come to the view that AEW is a fan's company, it's DNA is a group of fans getting so far behind The Elite that they were able to build a wrestling show and then a promotion, it has a fan base that wants to cheer it's top guys, they will boo a top heel if there is someone to properly oppose them as they did Jericho and Omega but right now it isn't clear who that guy will be with MJF. I'm hoping that post Revolution that we will start to get more realistic challengers and rectify this issue. They did have to establish MJF at the top before starting to undercut him but I think the fanbase is at its most vibrant when they are swelling behind someone and I think showing a little who that someone might be will help a lot with the overall arc for the most important part of the company, the top of the card.

      Anyway fun column to read Donny, I appreciate your thoughts and you posting it up here.


      • #4
        I never got bought in to AEW, despite giving it a couple of goes. For everything good it did, there was more that I didn't like.

        Now, all the reports I see about it tell me I'm going to be less interested than I ever was. I've seen the booking style compared to Russo at his worst, with nonsensical storylines being rushed through with no logic - if a storyline even exists. From what I gather the majority of matches happen for no apparent reason, usually with an unnecessary hardcore stipulation which I always hate and apparently with far too much blading going on to the extent that some reports are now claiming they promote self-harm.

        As much as I want a promotion to succeed and become a definitive alternative to WWE, I just don't see AEW making that happen any more than they already have. And despite the money that subsidises them, no matter how much of a fanboy Tony Khan is, sooner or later he's going to see he's just throwing money away on an unprofitable enterprise, especially if the next set of TV deals aren't in the same league as the current ones.

        To me, it seems they're trying to hard to play to a niche audience. That's never going to be a viable long term business strategy.
        New Column: Unfinished Business


        • #5
          Originally posted by DynamiteBillington View Post
          I've seen the booking style compared to Russo at his worst, with nonsensical storylines being rushed through with no logic - if a storyline even exists. From what I gather the majority of matches happen for no apparent reason, usually with an unnecessary hardcore stipulation which I always hate and apparently with far too much blading going on to the extent that some reports are now claiming they promote self-harm.
          I'm curious where you're getting these 'reports' from Dyno?

          As I said in my bit I certainly don't think they are at their peak when it comes to creating compelling stories but saying it is Russo at its peak is a bit much. For the most part it is pragmatic and dry whereas I kinda want to get behind someone on a quest. Certainly not non-existent though, every match will have some sort of narrative reason and to me anyone saying they have no stories is an immediate flag they either don't watch or are being willfully ignorant (especially if they say they report on wrestling). I'm not saying you are that because I know you don't watch I'd just suggest those that have that take may not be the most objective or reliable reviewers/critics.

          I think given your taste you'd probably find the usage of gimmick matches a bit much particularly on ppv which is fair enough because that is your taste.

          Where did you hear that self-harm thing from though? First time I've heard it and it's genuinely one of the more bizarre things I've heard said about AEW (once again not saying it's your opinion, just what you've read).
          Last edited by SirSam; 03-09-2023, 07:13 AM.


          • #6
            It's mostly comments from real-life friends who watch it. They're losing interest quite rapidly and have been throwing the self harm theory out for several weeks now.

            The only credible source would be the PWInsider website. In their Q&A particularly, they're quite vocal about how bad it is at times - they do still give credit when credit is due, but that seems to be becoming less frequent in recent weeks/months. I only recall them mentioning the self-harm issue in the past few days, but they have consistently criticised the over-use of blading for at least a year.
            New Column: Unfinished Business