In just two years, All Elite Wrestling has completely upended the notion of a pro wrestling monopoly that has been held by WWE for the past twenty years. In the time since WCW folded and ECW was cancelled, there have been several attempts to start up a new pro wrestling venture to compete with the dominant Vince McMahon empire. However, none have come close. ROH has failed to secure proper funding. TNA has flamed out, died, and been reborn, like a phoenix mixed with a cockroach, more times than I can count. Even smaller groups like MLW are just glorified bingo hall promotions, and the most important three letters in the history of the industry—N.W.A.—are nothing more than three letters. Jeff Jarrett, bless his heart, tried not once but twice, starting TNA, and then, in one of the company’s many short-lived deaths, he started up something called a GFW.
Jeff Jarrett is like Michael Scott coming up with Paper Companies; he has no shortage of names. Nevertheless, each of these endeavors failed to challenge WWE and the biggest reason of all is because any major talent they had that might’ve grown their brand was soon offered more money than the entire payroll of that small potatoes company and left to slum it in the WWE mid-card.
For years it seemed as though no one could challenge WWE’s empire.
In fact, I’ll refer you to an article I wrote way back in 2015, during one of TNA’s many presumed deaths…
Read this if you haven’t; it’s a hoot how confident I was that this was finally going to be it for TNA. In the words of the top comment on that article:
26 years on, this guy looks a total idiot for writing this
Yes. Yes, I do.
Anyway, in the article above I said this:
MARCH 23, 2001
Vince buys WCW, growing his empire to the size of the sun. Fly too close—try to take them on head-to-head—and you get burned, ala Icarus. Best you can hope for is to be a happy number 2. The day Vince bought WCW he effectively made the WWE the wrestling promotion, with no equal or near-competitor. The circumstances that allowed WCW to even come close to putting Vince out of business are likely never to be repeated. It was a once in a lifetime shot: Ted Turner’s money and Eric Bischoff’s bloodlust had the best chance and they couldn’t do it. If they couldn’t, TNA never stood a chance.
So right there I listed the challenges needed to compete with WWE: You need (A) money, and lots of it, like a stupid amount, enough that you don’t even notice you’re blowing millions because you’re worth multiple billions. You also need (B) an insatiable desire not to settle for second place.
Funded by a guy worth multiple billions, and founded by a group of guys with enough temerity to believe they can reshape the North American wrestling landscape, this little company has captured the hearts of disgruntled WWE fans everywhere. How many disgruntled fans are we talking? Well, let’s consider WWE RAW’s three-hour ratings in 2014 to the present day. In 2014 the ratings were: Hour one: 4.25 million, Hour two: 4.52 million, Hour three: 4.52 million, and as of this summer, RAW’s ratings are something like 1.6 million, 1.5 million, 1.5 million. In other words, the company has lost almost 70% of its viewing audience since 2014.
Meanwhile, AEW is signing CM Punk and running must-watch TV every week, pulling around a million in the ratings. That might not seem like much but it’s only 500k away from matching RAW. As it turned out, there weren’t two things needed to beat WWE, there were three: You need money, desire, and patience to wait for WWE’s ratings to crater until they simply fall to your level (and, potentially, below). They had three million more viewers than they do today. Can AEW get just 500k of those lapsed fans to watch? I think so.
As the company approaches the second anniversary of Dynamite, let’s take a moment to consider some of the MVPs of the brand’s success…
THE BIG NAMES
The first names to sign with AEW were Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and Adam Page. Critical pieces, certainly, but hardly needle-movers at the time. The first big get was Kenny Omega, but it was CHRIS JERICHO‘s signing that brought mainstream prestige to the company. The quarter-century vet has won every championship imaginable, had more classic matches than some performers will ever watch, let alone participate in, and brings the versatility of being able to work as a face or a heel, cut a promo or sit in on commentary, engage in a hardcore blood and guts fight or a fast-paced tag match. He’s no longer at his peak, but he doesn’t have to be: He’s a living legend and was rightly the first man to carry the AEW Championship, bringing instant credibility to the belt and the company.
After Jericho, the most important signing the company made was JON MOXLEY. The former Dean Ambrose in WWE was always that guy fans wanted to see pushed the most out of the Shield trio. After years of being disgruntled with WWE’s booking, Moxley let his contract expire and jumped ship. His debut at Double or Nothing was the biggest move of that kind since AJ Styles debuted at the Royal Rumble, and the biggest one to go against the WWE, arguably since Kevin Nash and Scott Hall jumped to WCW.
AEW is going to succeed (it already has, but will continue to do so) because they are committed to avoiding the mistakes made by WCW. For one thing, they’re not riding all their hopes on the stars of the past. There’s a place for talents like Sting, Taz, Jericho, and CM Punk, but a company will only grow if they develop their own talent. To that end, AEW has made a variety of great moves, not only bringing in underdeveloped mid-carders that never got off the ground in WWE (the way Chris Jericho went from a nobody mid-carder in WCW to one of the biggest names in the WWF), but also developing talent that otherwise was never heard of to mainstream audiences. DARBY ALLIN is easily the biggest “new” name on the list and is best described as Mick Foley in Jeff Hardy’s body. SAMMY GUEVARA is another young stud that’s shooting up the ladder, and the rub he’s getting from working so much with Chris Jericho will pay off in spades down the line. The same is true of MJF, arguably the biggest name in MLW before moving to AEW. The guy is far too young to be this good on the mic. He makes heeling look effortless and will be a main-event player for the next decade.
The list could go on, with names like JURASSIC EXPRESS and THE DARK ORDER and, to a lesser extent ADAM PAGE (“lesser” because he was already part of The Elite in NJPW, but has gone from also-ran to, possibly, the purest and beloved babyface on the roster). Last but not least there’s BRITT BAKER, perhaps the most popular female wrestler working full-time today.
AEW is an embarrassment of riches right now, with more talent than you might think they could fit on a single two-hour Dynamite and one-hour Rampage every week. And yet, that’s exactly how the company likes it: The match-ups remain fresh, the wrestlers get time to heal, and the fans are never bored. The brand is thriving and the best is yet to come. Brian Danielson is the next big name that might be on his way. Who knows what the future holds? What we do know is the foundation was laid two years ago with some critical MVP performers, all of whom are reaping the rewards of their labors today.