By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
The best part of the first several weeks of All Elite Wrestling television was the lack of cynicism.
It was refreshing for a promotion to have no history of disappointing its fans, no wrestlers who were rejected by the audience, no main-event matches characterized as flops and panned by critics.
Just by existing, AEW earned trust and goodwill that has been missing from WWE for years. Now, in week 10 of AEW Dynamite on TNT, some of the good vibes are withering. AEW’s audience has dropped by more than half since its debut of 1.4 million viewers, and the reasons for that are easy to spot.
Before those criticisms, some disclosure. I’ve watched every Dynamite show in its entirety except for the Nov. 27 episode, which dropped to 663,000 viewers on the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve seen and enjoyed both pay-per-view events and became a fan of wrestlers I wasn’t previously familiar with, especially Santana and Ortiz (and particularly Santana). I am hoping for AEW to succeed in whatever way it defines success.
But week 10 of Dynamite on Wednesday highlighted some of the problems that have kept AEW’s audience from growing, both in the buildings it broadcasts from and on TV. Audio issues have persisted during the last several weeks and distracted from important matches and segments. And while I know it’s dangerous territory to critique the Young Bucks on the internet, their matches are becoming forgettable.
Wednesday’s six-man tag in which the Bucks teamed with Dustin Rhodes – the star of the match – against Santana and Ortiz and fellow Inner Circle member Sammy Guevara was not the kind of match the masses want to see. If they did, the masses would be showing up every Wednesday night.
There is no questioning the Bucks’ talent, athleticism, charisma and connection with the crowd. But their frenetic style, especially in matches that are supposed to be based upon deeply personal rivalries, is not fitting for fans who are accustomed to more psychological, emotionally based ring work. If every moment in a match is designed to be can’t-miss, it ultimately feels like it can be missed.
Maybe it was the start to Wednesday’s show putting me in a less accepting mood, but I wasn’t enamored of Cody’s promo, either. Giving all of his prized possessions to MJF, an enemy who said he wouldn’t wrestle you only three days prior, doesn’t seem like the best way for Cody to entice someone into a fight. It also felt like several steps were skipped on the way to Cody handing over $50,000 to a rival.
But that’s a small-picture grievance and not a deal-breaker. The more pressing Cody problem is that he can never wrestle for the AEW Championship, a stipulation he and the company insist is unbreakable. That means all of Cody’s feuds must be personal and fueled by hate, and that’s not always easy to achieve. It’s working with MJF, but who knows if or how the crowd will accept the next heel put in Cody’s way?
At least there are heels for Cody to avenge. In many matches, I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Few performers get meaningful promo time to establish who they are and what they want. And now many of the bad guys – and girls – have taken on dark, brooding personalities that are reminiscent of bad comic-book villains.
Though it may not seem like it, my complaints with AEW are minimal and they come from a good place. I am not close to giving up on the company and I trust Cody and his group of fellow executive vice presidents to figure out what fans want. In many ways, widespread criticism means AEW has finally arrived. Wrestling fans are difficult to please by nature, and fielding complaints is a rite of passage for any worthwhile company.
AEW is worthwhile, entertaining, and living up to its promise as an alternative to WWE. I don’t expect these complaints or any others to become lasting. If the lack of cynicism was the best part of AEW’s initial weeks, maybe immersing itself in the land of cynical fans and critics means AEW is on its way to cementing its legitimacy.