AEW: pros and cons after three PPVs – Cult of Whatever

AEW: pros and cons after three PPVs

AEW has had a busy summer as the upstart wrestling company approaches their weekly television debut. All roads are leading to Chicago and to the ALL OUT super-show, which promises to crown the company’s first world champion. In the meantime there have been three build-up PPVs: DOUBLE OR NOTHING came first, kicking off AEW with a bang. FYTER FEST came last month, with a solid card and good action throughout. This month we had FIGHT FOR THE FALLEN, a show which succeeded as a charity event for victims of gun violence but which was lacking as pro wrestling event, especially compared to the previous two shows.

With those three events in the books, there’s nothing left to do but wait for August 31st, the ALL OUT PPV and the subsequent TNT launch of (presumably-titled) WEDNESDAY NIGHT DYNAMITE. In the meantime, let’s evaluate where the still very young company stands at the moment, during this calm before the storm. Looking back on their last three shows there is one big pro, con, and push (a mix) that stands out to me…

PRO – LUCHASAURUS AND MJF

MJF reminds me so much of Kurt Angle, circa 2000, in that he has total command over his character, a smooth delivery, and a seemingly effortless way of getting under the skin of audiences. Of course, he’s not Kurt Angle in the ring, but in that respect he reminds me of The Miz, a talent so good at working his character that his in-ring skills don’t need to be top notch. Being a technician or high-flyer wouldn’t suit his character anyway. MJF is a natural and if he’s not AEW World Champ within a year of the TV debut, something is wrong.

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On the other side of the coin is Luchasaurus. The comparisons to Kane have already been made, but it’s telling that he is “only” 6’5. I suppose that’s a reflection of WWE spending a generation training fans to see a 6’5 wrestler as “average.” I don’t think AEW has a seven-footer (or even someone close they can lie about) the way WWE has had Kane, Undertaker, Big Show, and Braun Strowman over the years. For crying out loud Baron Corbin is taller than Luchasaurus! Nevertheless, he’s got a long and lean body and carries himself like he’s a giant. He was also the most popular character on the Fight for the Fallen PPV and if AEW books him right, he can be a slow-rising star for the next several years. Imagine him spending a year or two in a tag team, then getting a midcard run, then a Cinderella world title chase. He’s a gimmick and isn’t going to be the face of the company, but as Undertaker and Kane have shown, a gimmick wrestler can be a company anchor.

Both of those talents represent the future of the company. Hopefully, AEW uses them well.

CON – LOWER CARD SPARK

On the negative side, the bottom of the roster needs serious work. It’s not just the Librarian gimmick(s) that suck; it’s everything about the lower card that feels amateur hour. In fact, if your only experience with AEW is with their free “buy-in” pre-shows then you probably think the company is just an over-hyped minor league outfit. The characters featured are the worst kind of “indie,” with gimmicks that have no charm or appeal and only seem capable of getting heat by being annoying, or getting pops for being ironically funny.

It will take time to iron this wrinkle out since the company’s priority is going to be on the main-event, tag team, and women’s divisions. Nevertheless, the long-term success of the company is going to depend on their ability to scout for new talent and build them up from the bottom.

Once upon a time, everyone from Becky Lynch to Xavier Woods to Jeff Hardy were jobbers. Xavier flourished by being himself. Jeff moved from midcard to main-event because the company knew better than to ask him to cut long promos that would kill his quiet and cool personality. Becky overcame an embarrassing “Irish dancing lass” gimmick in her early NXT run, but she overcame it by dropping it because it wasn’t working. Here’s hoping AEW has a similar willingness to fix what’s broken, feed what works, and let their talent experiment to find success. Right now they seem committed to sticking with gimmicks that are dead on arrival.

PUSH – PRODUCTION/COMMENTARY

There’s probably no aspect of the entire “presentation” of the show (either in person or on TV) that has peaks so high and valleys so low. On the one hand, the set-designs are great, the stage lighting looks professional, and hype videos are all stellar. Those are three aspects that companies like ROH and TNA have never been able to achieve. Before AEW, every non-WWE company that tried to make a name for themselves in North America has looked bush league. AEW can say all day long that they’re not “competing” against WWE, but what they really mean is they’re not going “head to head” with them. They’re still trying to grab the same marketplace of fans, lapsed or no. To that end, having a “look” that doesn’t feel second rate is of tremendous importance. AEW has it out of the gate.

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On the other hand, commentary is still a mess and some of that is what’s in the booth, and some of that is direction. In the booth, JR and Excalibur make a good team. JR, Excalibur, and Goldenboy were great at Fyter Fest, but Alex Marvez is a blackhole of enthusiasm. He might eventually get more knowledgable, but you can’t teach the “it” factor of seeming to genuinely love watching the pseudo-sport. Look at Michael Cole: After twenty years of doing this, he’s got it down to a science, but he still sounds fake. In pro graps, the only thing that should be 100% real is the commentary’s enthusiasm. Mauro Ranallo has it. JR has it (less so these days, but it’s there). Goldenboy and Excalibur have it. Marvez does not. Whatever they think he adds as a “legit” sports guy, he is a net-loss in every other area.

It’s not all the fault of the booth, however. Too often the team has seemed unaware of what was up next on the show. Sometimes they’d cue up a video or throw it to the announcer and would only receive dead air in reply. When Jim Ross—a veteran with almost fifty years experience—has to say “I’m not sure what’s up next” not once but multiple times over the course of three shows, something needs to be fixed behind the curtain. As good as the production values are, everything else needs to be addressed.

That being said, the rest of the production is really well-done. If they can iron out the kinks by the fall, they will be ready to roll.

Fight for the Fallen was easily the weakest of the three shows AEW has run this year. But before the naysayers say their nays and argue that “if Fight for the Fallen was a WWE show the fans would be irate!” consider this: WWE has lost all of their good will and benefit of the doubt with fans. AEW still has it, and especially in this build-up period before the TNT debut their fans are willing to let them have growing pains and make mistakes. That’s how you learn. Crawl before you walk and all that.

I believe in the company and I think it can be a reasonable success, much more so than anyone in North America (not named WWE) has been in twenty years.

We’ll have more AEW coverage in the coming months.

Stay tuned!

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