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The Rise Of All Elite Wrestling Is Good For Wrestling Fans, Even If They Don’t Like AEW

The Rise Of All Elite Wrestling Is Good For Wrestling Fans, Even If They Don’t Like AEW

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AEW changed the way we look at modern wrestling, offering something that isn’t just a “WWE clone.”

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Professional wrestling is an art form that millions of people from all over the world enjoy almost daily. It’s both scripted storytelling and theatrical athleticism, carving out a unique space for itself in the entertainment world. It’s like going to Medieval Times, but with much higher quality production, and featuring people lifting each other over their heads. For years, WWE held a monopoly on televised wrestling. It didn’t leave wrestling fans with a lot of choice. That was until 2019, when All Elite Wrestling (AEW) became a viable and successful televised product offering something unique compared to WWE.

After leaving WWE for the indie circuit, Cody Rhodes became a star while fighting all over the world in big arenas, small auditoriums, and wherever else he could make a name for himself. He eventually teamed up with other indie darlings Matt and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks, to kick off their own indie-spirited wrestling event, All In. It was an event brought about by Wrestling Observer’s polarizing commentator Dave Meltzer, who said that a Ring of Honor (ROH) show couldn’t sell 10,000 tickets. Rhodes took him up on that bet, seeing it as a challenge. Over 11,000 fans would eventually attend the huge event on September 1, 2018. All In featured wrestlers from ROH, NJPW, TNA, and other indies. Even Rey Mysterio–who wasn’t contracted by WWE at the time– wrestled in the main event.

On the back of the successful PPV, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega founded All Elite Wrestling in 2019, with leadership and funding from Tony Khan, the son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan. Four years later, AEW has three weekly shows, the Ring of Honor show on streaming platforms (Khan bought that company too), and a host of pay-per-view events each year.

WWE hasn’t historically shared the pie, eating up wrestling promotions that couldn’t compete financially or too closely resembled it. However, AEW’s new brand of wrestling has pockets seemingly just as deep as WWE and caters to a different audience. As a competitor, AEW is attempting to present a much different product than WWE, with a focus on “dream matches,” featuring widely-acclaimed wrestlers from around the world joining its roster, with the most notable yearly event being the Forbidden Door PPV where NJPW and AEW wrestlers face each other in a variety of matches–exactly the sort of booking WWE was openly hostile toward for decades under Vince McMahon. Additionally, AEW allows its talent to compete within other promotions like indies around the US and major international brands.

WWE, meanwhile, is a well-oiled machine and full of high production value and polish. That’s the plus side, but WWE has its fair share of setbacks, whether it be the exclusivity contracts not allowing wrestlers to appear on other shows–even though talent is categorized as contractors, not full-time employees–or the ongoing litigations involving former WWE owner Vince McMahon and his alleged actions in the workplace. However, there’s a reason WWE has been the number one professional wrestling company on the planet for decades: WWE and its armada of talent are very good at what they do, which is appealing to as many different types of viewers as possible. It’s a variety show in which you may open with a 20-minute promo, continue with a comedy bit filmed backstage, and end the night with an awesome table match. For better or worse, you get a little of everything from WWE programming.

AEW is a different beast. It speaks to hardcore wrestling fans that love the in-ring action most of all, along with wrestling fans looking for something new or simply want more wrestling in their life in general. AEW features talent that’s often familiar to WWE fans, which comes by way of former WWE talent looking for a change or new experience in their own careers. Beyond former WWE mainstays, AEW features talent from around the world, including many that would be considered indie darlings. The company is a blender of what many wrestling fans want to see. Whereas WWE tends to exist in a vacuum as the mainstream product for fans that may not really care what happens outside of WWE, AEW has been marketed and accepted as the alternative for the wrestling connoisseur–the International Wrestling Community, as it calls itself online.

It also has that production value wrestling fans are looking for, which is something others who have attempted to compete with WWE have fallen far short of. It’s not on the same level as WWE, but AEW’s production is great and consistently improving. However, the style AEW programming–compared to WWE–is vastly different. Both have wrestlers involved in storylines, but AEW’s focus isn’t primarily on the drama so many of us love to watch unfold. Instead, AEW puts the spotlight more on the actual wrestling than anything else. You’ll see incredible matches from people all over the world, performing moves that you’ve not seen anywhere else. Does AEW get a little over-the-top with so many moves looking utterly devastating, only for them to wind up being as impactful as a punch? Yeah, but it’s still fun. It’s a different offering for fans. It may not have the same pulling power WWE currently has for non-wrestling fans, but it’s hard to expect it to. WWE is able to rely on celebrities like renowned musicians and wrestlers who became movie stars. Even Logan Paul is a WWE regular and reigning United States Champion.

Meanwhile, the biggest celebrity AEW has featured is retired NBA legend Shaquille O’Neil in a match and Rosario Dawson at ringside once to promote a show. This early in its run, AEW hasn’t really entered the mainstream. Can it get there? The jury is still out, but the in-ring action isn’t going to be why it would fall short.

However, with the creation of a new promotion, there’s been a rise in tribalism on both sides. Fans have quickly divulged into which product is better, but it’s all subjective and not worth your time or breath to get into. Could I sit here and talk about my love for the comedy of DDT Pro and the over-the-top telenovela-style of storytelling from Lucha Underground? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s better than AEW or WWE. They’re all different ways to offer the core component to all of these: wrestling. Can you have a civilized conversation about why you appreciate AEW or WWE? Yes. Does that typically happen online? Not really.

Whether you’re waving the flag of WWE or AEW, your stance on which is better doesn’t matter. Arguing match ratings and yelling about which company has the best roster doesn’t matter as much as your enjoyment of the product. It’s wrestling. It’s supposed to be fun entertainment.

And even if you find yourself solely in the camp of WWE, you know who benefits most from AEW’s rise? Wrestlers. For years, if you were “future endeavored” (fired/laid off) by WWE, that was it. A newly jobless wrestler could probably head to Japan or get a spot on indie shows, but the spotlight wasn’t as bright and the pay was likely a downgrade. During a contract negotiation, both WWE and AEW now have to worry about each other, as the talent they want to re-sign has a lucrative alternative to consider. And that’s before you consider how the indies have also grown and evolved in recent years.

Now, there’s somewhere else to go where they can wrestle and even redefine who that character and their style is. Just look at Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho, Adam Copeland (Edge), Adam Cole, Saraya (Paige), Ruby Soho (Ruby Riot), and so many more who have reached new audiences and heights in AEW, after their time in WWE came to an end. Adding those journeymen and women to a roster of younger, indie talent, can only make wrestling better with evolving the art. Since the fall of WCW, WWE superstars have had nowhere to jump to that would pay similarly to WWE. Now they do, and considering they put their health on the line every time they step in the ring, it’s only a good thing that they can now at least negotiate for deals that pay like it.

Besides, it’s not like AEW is going anywhere any time soon. Tony Khan is a huge wrestling fan, and he’s obviously got the money to spend. As long as he sees it as a viable option, there’s no reason for it to go out of business. That’s great news for wrestlers. That’s great news for fans. There’s more than WWE on cable TV or streaming services. You can watch one or the other or both, even if what you’re really interested in is watching the NWA on The CW’s website. What’s important is that wrestling no longer feels like it’s being controlled by one company with a bottleneck of wrestlers and interesting ideas waiting to get in.

Mat Elfring on Google+

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