By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
All Elite Wrestling debuted on TBS last night and, despite a recent influx of major talent, a lack of wrestling competition, and an absolute classic opening match, they appeared to be a cold promotion lacking in direction.
This has happened before in AEW and normally Tony Khan and his associates course correct quickly. This is not a moment for doomsday predictions for AEW, but a moment for reflection. Let’s look at what isn’t working and why.
First of all, production is a major issue for AEW. The set they’ve used since their inception is growing stale and the look of AEW’s shows has not significantly changed since 2019. On a new network, I was hoping for an updated production approach and was disappointed. On top of this, there are little production touches that were off last night. Replays had audio but not visuals onscreen in the opening match. They quickly cut to the back and didn’t give us the cathartic celebration of Adam Page when he retained the AEW World Championship. The show rushed into big matches, but spent time to set up Malakai Black in a squash match.
The production approach of AEW does not match the priorities of AEW and it is confusing as a viewer. The opening match needed the major main event video package. It needed a segment with Hangman Page celebrating after. Page vs. Danielson deserved more of a buildup and followup than Malakai Black vs. Brian Pillman Jr.
The Lucha Bros vs. Jurassic Express was good, but it did not feel like the promotion was building towards a tag title change. Fenix and Penta are two of my favorite wrestlers to watch, but their tag title reign has not meant what it should. They’ve taken a backseat in AEW and now they’ve lost the titles. I’m happy to see Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus get a big moment, but again, this didn’t quite feel right.
What adds to the feel of a cold promotion is treading water in feuds. AEW has established and re-established the CM Punk and MJF story, so why did we see a straight out of WWE Raw style disqualification on this show just to set up another promo between them? This was some good promo work in a bad segment. AEW has constantly told us they’re better than this.
Was this a bad episode of Dynamite? I can’t call any wrestling show with Danielson and Page having a modern classic bad. It was a wrestling show giving us the highest of highs in AEW, along with some troubling signals about the future. AEW has acts cooling off at the wrong time as they try to attract fans to their new home on TBS. A course-correction is needed for the promotion, along with making sure all of their priorities are aligned.
AEW continues to produce the best wrestling television right now and hopefully they can maintain that momentum.
And now for some random thoughts:
– “Hangman” Adam Page vs. Bryan Danielson was a fantastic follow-up to their sixty minute draw. Page pushing the pace from the start while Danielson begged off was fantastic. This match was better than the draw with the appropriate jumps in intensity and excitement. AEW gave us a classic on this show and we’ll remember it for years.
– The chemistry Page and Danielson have has been amazing to see. I expected them to have good matches together, but they’ve overachieved beyond any expectation I had.
– The end of the TBS Championship tournament was another production miss for me. Jade Cargill and Ruby Soho had a good match with some sloppy moments. The presentation of the title and the tournament preceding it needed more storytelling emphasis. Why not produce a short video about the journey of the tournament? Why not roll promos from Cargill and Soho prior to their match. It’s these little touches that take a match from routine to major in the eyes of viewers and AEW misses them too often.
– I like the choice of Jade Cargill as the first TBS Champion. She has her work cut out for her if her matches are to be broadcast live, but she is constantly improving. Cargill can be a dominant heel champion building to a major babyface win.
– Speaking of dominant heel champions, where has Britt Baker been? She’s taken a backseat in AEW for over a month while the TBS Championship tournament happens. AEW sticks to a “one women’s match per show” rules that is not only sexist, but misguided. Baker felt like a major star months ago, but has not received the attention she should. Hopefully after Saturday, she will be a focal point on TV again.
– Following the MJF and CM Punk promo battle with 2point0 and Chris Jericho was too much talking back to back for me. I know Jericho is a major star, but his AEW appearances feel increasingly desperate to hang on to relevance. I still haven’t recovered from the misogyny and lack of creativity in the Dan Lambert feud, so I am still tired of Jericho.
– Speaking of too many back-to-back talking segments, I would complain more about the Adam Cole promo if Kyle O’Reilly’s “Cut it Landon” didn’t make air. That was gold.
– Wardlow is progressing well, but next week will be an interesting challenge for him. Does the “Powerbomb Symphony” continue to get over when its being done on CM Punk? Does Punk beating him take anything away from Wardlow?
– Brian Pillman Jr. and the Varsity Blonds as a whole getting so much TV time puzzles me. This is a company loaded with top level talent. Pillman feels more like a NXT 2.0 prospect on TV than a star. I don’t mind the Blondes as an occasional tag team, but their story with Malakai Black should have been over in one night.
– Speaking of Malakai Black, moving 10 feet while the lights are off is not impressive. Please stop.
– Serena Deeb is a gem. I am so glad she has the platform she does with AEW.
– AEW is making progress when it comes to multiple stories in their women’s division. On this show we saw Britt Baker’s title program with Riho, the first TBS Champion get crowned, highlights of Leyla Hisch’s feud with Kris Statlander, and Serena Deeb vs. Hikaru Shida all featured. Now if they can push past the self-imposed one match per show for women rule, AEW might have a fantastic women’s division on their hands.
– I truly hope Fenix is okay after his arm injury in the main event.
– The closing of the show felt unfocused. We saw a number of wrestlers watching the main event, but we were not told why. We saw a bunch of tag teams look at the new tag team champions, but it felt disorganized. Overall, I see what AEW was going for, but feel they lacked the production support for the story and the story support on commentary.
Overall, this was an uneven wrestling show, despite having an all time classic match. Danielson vs. Page was absolutely fantastic. The rest of the show left me with serious concerns about AEW in 2022.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.