Ever since Vince McMahon purchased WCW for a song and then sort of fell backward into owning ECW’s name and tape library there has been only one North American pro wrestling company.
Oh sure, Ring of Honor basically rose from the ashes of WCW and ECW, but after all this time they have never risen to be more than a blip on the radar. Despite regularly having some of the best talent in wrestling, post-Attitude Era, ROH has remained mostly an unknown commodity to all but the hardest of hardcore fans.
Impact Wrestling (previously TNA) tried to compete with WWE, but they were undone by bad management. Despite having one of the most loaded rosters imaginable in 2006-2007, the company chose to squander its most popular acts and pushed WWE castoffs, rejects, and never-weres as the faces of its brand.
And…that’s about it. Other companies like Major League Wrestling, a revived NWA, and something called Global Force Wrestling have/had no chance of even getting out of the gates, much less competing for a number-two spot. In the USA, wrestling is WWE and WWE is wrestling (even though they refuse to use that word).
But then Cody Rhodes left after feeling creatively frustrated. The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega declined to take lucrative WWE deals, and with the financial backing of Shahid Khan (seven-billion-dollar man and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars), the group decided to start their own wrestling company.
AEW was formed and though your first—cynical—impression might be to write the company off as another wannabe pretender, there are reasons for optimism that this company might offer legit competition to WWE.
Last year, Cody and the Young Bucks organized the All-In PPV event. It was the largest non-WWE PPV show since the collapse of WCW, and the biggest “independent show” in North American wrestling history. 12,000 people sold out the Sears Centre and witnessed Cody Rhodes win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. It was a feel-good moment but many were quick to write it off as a one-time-only spectacle.
This weekend silenced those critics.
After a flurry of big acquisitions (Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Jim Ross), AEW’s first big show, Double or Nothing, premiered live on PPV. The company asked fans to pay full price ($50) for the show, after five years of only paying $9.99. They needed to deliver.
The show wasn’t perfect and there were several things that they will look back on and see where they can improve, but there was nothing done to give the impression that this was a flawed or ill-fated venture from the outset. There was no “I feel embarrassed for ordering this” feeling that came with those early TNA PPVs. There was no “this looks like it has the budget of a high school musical” feeling that the early ROH shows had.
Double or Nothing is a great beginning for a potentially game-changing company. Let’s talk about it…
WHAT THE SHOW NEEDED
(AND WHAT AEW NEEDS)
A watermark in the corner
It’s a minor thing, but it’s something. The brand has a nice, simple logo, grey and gold. It stands out from the others. It’s not too showy or weird. It looks professional, which is a hallmark of the whole company right now: It feels legit.
Granted, the logo is prominently featured in the center of the ring (a nice throwback to WCW’s heyday) but when the action moved away from the ring to the booth, backstage, the stage, etc, the logo was needed.
If there’s one thing to take from WWE, it’s the company’s insistence on branding. You don’t have to go overboard with it (WWE is impossible to listen to once you tune in to how sloganized and buzz’worded it all is) but a watermark should be a must.
This is a minor complaint as overall the direction of the show was solid. There were some missed moments: Jericho hijacked a handheld camera, filming Kenny and they cut away from the spot when Kenny spit water at him. Also, Bret Hart’s reveal of the World Title never showed a good steady shot of the belt.
That being said, it’s easy to notice those moments because they stood out from the rest. The rest felt like a WWE show from a direction standpoint, except without all the stupid things that a WWE show has. There were no incessant zooms whenever someone was punching a guy on the ground. There was a significant reduction in camera cuts. There were almost no crowd “reaction” shots. Everything mostly moved from hard cam, to handheld A, handheld B, back to hard cam, in a steady, nice flow.
The real problem came with communication between the production truck and the commentators. More than a few times they seemed to have lost the script and didn’t know what was coming next. JR even had to say at one point “I’m not sure what we’ve got going on next…” and you could hear the others in the booth sometimes stop talking midway through and switch gears. There was a great reduction in plugs for future events and other things during the matches, but they did happen and they needed to be shortened and more-quickly delivered.
But again, we’re talking about show number one here. The beginning. The first steps of a newborn.
Here’s something I whipped up during the event, just to keep in mind:
It’ll get better.
Depth Depth Depth
AEW needs more talent to fill a weekly two-hour show. They need talent that can blossom from the midcard into the main-event, which means they need more than just the fun gimmick characters they seem to have in spades. All that is coming with time, of course. At Double or Nothing, however, it seemed like the roster’s lack of depth hurt the undercard matches, particularly the battle royal.
I know AEW’s top guys have said they don’t want their company to be the place where WWE castoffs go; that’s what doomed TNA. That being said, there are some legitimately talented guys and gals in WWE that, like Cody, have more to offer than what Vince will let them showcase. Revival, Gallows and Anderson, maybe Sasha Banks could all be top talents here. The potential is there, the top of the card is already solid. The rest needs to be filled-in.
All three top three matches delivered in spades.
Dustin Rhodes had his best match, maybe ever. Cody definitely had his best match ever. It was bloody, emotional, told an incredible story, had dramatic near-falls, great crowd investment, and a perfect finish and post-match happenings. It was a WrestleMania marquee match, the kind they never could have had in WWE.
The Young Bucks and Lucha Bros. tore the house down with their spot-fest tag match. They showed what kind of division the company will promote: Quick action, fun spots, lots and lots of near-falls. I question the ending with the Young Bucks retaining the AAA Tag Titles, but that might have been a AAA decision. We still haven’t seen the AEW Tag Titles, so maybe the Young Bucks will challenge the Lucha Bros for those in a winner take all match, and finally relinquish the gold. I’m willing to wait to see how the story plays out before criticizing the finish here. That’s the kind of benefit of the doubt WWE’s main roster shows no longer deserve.
Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega showed that starpower, charisma, a sold-out arena, and a heavyweight/main-event-style wrestling contest can be had outside of WWE’s control. The match had everything: Great drama leading up to the fight, fast action, in-ring grappling and out-ring brawling, several near-falls that made everyone shout, and a shocking but believable finish. And, thanks to newest signing Jon Moxley (the former Dean Ambrose), it had a post-match moment to build buzz to the next event.
It had it all.
Page and MJF
Odds are, if you are a WWE regular you probably had a passing knowledge of the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. You probably didn’t know Hangman Page and MJF. They are the two “new” stars that AEW will be building around. They’re not established names like Cody and Jericho and Moxley; they are the ones that, in five or six years, will be looked at as the homegrown talent (despite their making in-roads in other promotions). For a first impression, they both came off great. MJF, in particular, looked like a million bucks interacting with Bret Hart.
The goal of AEW has to be to build up main-event talent that looks comparable to WWE’s main-event talent. No matter who TNA or ROH put in the title picture it always looked like a WWE midcarder was holding their top belt. AEW won’t look like a true WWE competitor until we see MJF standing next to Seth Rollins, or Hangman Page standing next to Roman Reigns, and both looking like they deserve to occupy the same space. If they can get to that point, we’ll have a true “war” once again.
As of now, the sky is the limit.
Setting aside the issues with direction, the PPV looked and felt like a legit, top-dollar wrestling show. JR especially was in classic mode during the final three matches, and Excalibur is a great color commentator. Hearing Justin Roberts announcing also added to the atmosphere. ROH and TNA have always looked and felt second rate. The former never have escaped the “bingo hall” reputation and the latter…well TNA will forever be remembered for its Theme Park crowds sitting on their hands while AJ Styles and Kurt Angle put on classic matches that no one saw.
AEW already looks like WWE’s equal and perception goes a long way when you’re building a company.
This October, TNT will get back into the wrestling business, almost a quarter-century after the debut of WCW Monday Nitro. AEW has four months of groundwork to lay, momentum to maintain, and excitement to generate. If they put on four shows like Double or Nothing in the meantime they will debut as the hottest wrestling ticket in town.
Here’s hoping they do.
WWE has been on top for a very long time and they’ve done very little with their great success. I don’t just want AEW to succeed in order to light a fire under Vince McMahon. Everyone keeps saying that and it just presumes WWE will always be number one. AEW needs to strive to be the new number one. I want them to succeed because I like what they’re doing, I like who is in charge, and I like who they have on the roster.
Here’s to the next big event!