McGuire’s Mondays: Sure, AEW is good for pro wrestling… but how good?


By Colin McGuire, Staffer

What is All Elite Wrestling?

Really. Take the 40,000-foot view. Don’t immediately get defensive. Don’t immediately think this is an exercise in cruelty towards the company. Forget the outrage over the All In footage that aired on last week’s Dynamite. Forget the apologists. Forget the critics. Digest the flaws. Process the positives. At this point, what is All Elite Wrestling?

You won’t find an answer to that question here because I don’t know what that answer is. But after all the hoopla surrounding last week – the CM Punk/Jack Perry footage, the Will Ospreay response to Triple H, and all of that coming only seven days after Adam Copeland advocated for everyone everywhere getting along all at once – it’s become almost impossible to draw a reasonable, level-headed conclusion.

Why? Because objectivity has morphed into something it was never supposed to be all while this world has become more reactionary than it’s ever been. The amount of instant responses to last week’s Dynamite was wild. To many, it was the dumbest thing AEW could do and has done in quite some time, if not ever. To others, it was another reason to somehow pull from the “CM Punk is a cancer” box. Defenders were reaching for arguments; detractors added to the growing pile of reasons AEW is on a losing streak. There is never any discussion about The Show anymore; rather, fans anoint every booking move as brilliant while haters find more and more reason to not trust Tony Khan.

So, what is it? What is AEW? Is it TNA? No. Khan has a ton of flaws, but no matter the dips in his company, AEW has never felt like TNA, which, for a very long time, simply felt lesser than. The production. The use of wrestlers who were far past their prime. TNA – before it flipped to Impact, only to return to TNA – eventually started to feel like an extension of later-years, bad WCW with perhaps a dash of whatever it was WWE tried to dress up as ECW. Lots of not very good. AEW is a cut above that. Maybe even two cuts above that, based on the company’s talent level alone. The once-inherent cheesiness of TNA is not AEW.

So, is AEW a “challenger brand,” which is the fancy label Khan has given his company that has been both mocked and celebrated by pundits far and wide? Not really. And that’s not meant with any disrespect; it’s just to say that WWE is so untouchable right now and that company’s rise in popularity over the last two years alone makes it light-years above its competition. Pepsi challenges Coke. AEW, by almost every metric, is RC Cola. They aren’t close to WWE in houses, gates, those hallowed television ratings, the list goes on. Yes, AEW can tout All In for the rest of time, and yes, AEW eclipsed NXT, and yes, AEW’s pay-per-views do pretty well, all things considered. But WWE is simply on another playing field these days. That’s not insulting; that’s just a fact.

Which leads us to the most oblique question: Is AEW good for pro wrestling?

The short answer (and probably the right answer) is yes. Even the company’s loudest detractors acknowledge that competition is good and having a place where more wrestlers can get paid well, hop on TV from time to time and hold down a steady job is ultimately a win for anyone who wants to be in the pro wrestling business for a living.

Consider: Blood is back in mainstream pro wrestling because of AEW. The term “pro wrestling” is back in mainstream pro wrestling because of AEW. International pro wrestling is being showcased on a weekly basis on American TV in mainstream pro wrestling because of AEW. CM Punk is back in mainstream pro wrestling because of AEW (and even if you hate him, you can’t deny his ability to get people talking). Those are all good things. AEW has done a lot of positives for the business as a whole. That can’t be ignored.

On top of that, when the company’s wrestlers speak out about how grateful they are for AEW, I believe them (mostly). When Toni Storm said this …

“I mean, thank god for AEW honestly, because you know, there was a time where I wasn’t happy where I was and if it weren’t for All Elite Wrestling, Tony Khan, I don’t know what I would have been doing. I’m not sure of the trajectory of my life, where it would have gone, had I not had the option to come to All Elite Wrestling so I’m very thankful for it. My heart is here.”

… Last week on the Going Ringside podcast, I 100 percent believed her. When Dax Harwood goes on and on and on and on about how thankful he is that AEW exists, I believe him, too. Sometimes, the instant rebuttals that those working for the company issue as soon as something goes sideways feel a bit … let’s go with “forced” … but for the most part, when people like Bryan Danielson, Will Ospreay, Storm and Harwood talk like that, I tend to take their words to heart. They aren’t wrong in what they say, and it’s awfully hard to argue the basis of the argument.

But beyond that. Beyond those practical, obvious things. Beyond the undeniable somewhat lazy arguments that start and end conversations with, “Yeah, but look at all the good they do.” Beyond the company spirit and the ability for a good portion of the people who work there to band together whenever times get tough. Take all that away for just one second. Take a step back. Look in from afar. Ask that question: Is AEW good for pro wrestling?

I ask because I can’t figure out how tiny the circle goes within the infrastructure of the company, and these days, it feels like that circle is getting tinier by the Tweet. I don’t care what anybody says, nobody can convince me that everyone in AEW thought it was a great idea for the company to air that All In footage last Wednesday. Hook, for one, seemed to love it so much that it took 48 hours before stories about him potentially eventually heading to WWE started to trickle out. Then there’s Tony Schiavone, who created the best Disappointed Dad meme pro wrestling has ever given the internet right as the All In segment was about to unfold.

Sure, some AEW booking minds found a way to tie it into the FTR/Young Bucks match coming up at this weekend’s Dynasty, but that’s so much of a stretch, it’s almost embarrassing. The company’s braintrust, however you want to map that out, probably didn’t like what Punk had to say the week before, and this was the “No, we’ll get the final word on this!” moment. Fine. But to what end? Was this to please Khan, the Bucks, Jack Perry, Hangman Page or anyone else who has sway in these kinds of decisions? Is that all it was for? To feel like they had to let everyone know they wouldn’t be clowned in the way Punk tried to clown them?

If that’s the case, I’m not so sure it worked out. And, more importantly, if that’s the case, it’s an indictment on how the main players view the company as a whole. Think of those who jumped to WWE. Cody Rhodes was there at the beginning, but left because of the mysterious “personal issue.” Jade Cargill clearly felt there was nothing left for her to do in the company, even though she had only been in the business for a couple years by the time she left. CM Punk … we all know how that ended.

And so it must be asked: Has AEW become a company rooted in the whims of Tony Khan? Has the inner circle of the machinations of the company dwindled down to just one guy who has earned the trust and loyalty of his employees because of how kind he’s been to them? And does that loyalty and trust enable him to make silly decisions that are questionable at best, and sometimes irresponsible at worst? And as a result, does all of that combine to ensure us that AEW really is good for the current state of pro wrestling, when, anymore, the current state of pro wrestling is as divided as it’s ever been when it comes to fans?

It seems hard to just like pro wrestling anymore. The communal nature of it is all but gone for anyone in a large section of the fanbase. People from all sides want to insist that it’s OK to like what you like … but then they feed into the divisiveness by fueling argumentative fire by forgetting to adhere to any sense of objectivity. It’s either too nice or too mean. It’s all over until one company takes a vague shot at another and the other feels the need to take a vague shot back. I agree that this was what made wrestling fun in WCW/WWE days of the mid-90s … but the Internet was barely even a dial tone back then. These days, everyone has a microphone just to remind everyone else that what they think, feel or enjoy is wrong or uncool or flawed in some way.

How big of that toxic pie was baked by AEW? Not all of it, of course – nobody does petty better than WWE, especially under Vince McMahon, when that was still a thing – but maybe more of it has been cooked up by AEW than AEW wants to admit. Is it Khan’s fault? Is it a small group of influencers’ fault? Bigger yet, is anyone in that company considering the long-term effect it might have on the pro wrestling business? Has the way we consume the product changed forever, or can there be a course-correct that can make being a fan of pro wrestling feel more accepted by those who claim to be fans of pro wrestling?

Within the first few months of AEW’s beginning, I was at a bar. Across the bar, two guys were talking about pro wrestling and how much they liked it. They were older(ish). I eavesdropped to hear Guy No. 1 ask Guy No. 2 if he had heard of AEW yet. Guy No. 2 said he had, but he hadn’t watched it. Guy No. 1 told Guy No. 2 he didn’t like it because of “all that blood and stuff,” that AEW was doing on its programming. About six months later, I saw the same two guys and listened in again. Guy No. 2 had started to watch it and liked parts of AEW. Guy No. 1 was still against giving the company another shot. They drank their beers and talked about how excited they were for the next WWE pay-per-view.

That’s all it was. Two middle-aged guys talking wrestling, sometimes agreeing and sometimes not.

I think back to those overheard conversations sometimes. I’m pretty sure those guys aren’t perpetually online. Whatever judgments they have, they save for their bar conversations and it’s OK. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s what being a fan of pro wrestling should be.

Tony Khan, as legend has it, got into this, because he says he was a fan. These days, it might not be a bad idea for him to think back to a time when he didn’t have the luxury of owning a pro wrestling company himself. Would fan Tony Khan be repeating “challenger brand” over and over again? Would he compare AEW to WCW, TNA, ECW or any other organization he liked? Would he see things to fix? Ways to improve?

Or would he insist that the one guy left making all the decisions has yet to make a wrong one?

Like I said, I don’t have these answers.


Readers Comments (3)

  1. Good article.

    It IS ok to like what you like. When AEW started I was personally eager for a change of pace. The promise of sports based, wins and losses, and a lot of people I was unfamiliar with was exciting

    But what I immediately didn’t like was 1) the constant no-selling 2) signing a bunch of ex WWE guys I was already a little tired of 3) constantly comparing themselves to (and criticizing) WWE.

    Over time #3 got worse and (to the guy at the bar) the hardcore shit was just too much for me (ECW was amazing, but that was also about 30 years ago).

    IF AEW got its act together (which probably means Tony handing off the creative-which probably isn’t happening) and IF they cut back on the no-selling and IF they scaled back the roster so you would see the same people at least every other week, I think the product would be much more attractive to a wider audience

    But let’s say you are a WWE fan. Raw is 3 hours NXT 2 and SDL too. Also that’s 3 nights out of your week. Adding 5 more hours (and another couple of nights if you watch live) is a lot of wrestling to commit to. Even if you watch the condensed on-line recaps…it’s just a LOT.

    All promotions ebb and flow. Right now WWE is at a peak and AEW is at a valley. It could change again. In the meantime, it’s ok to like what you like

  2. This morning my girlfriend and I watched some Terry Funk matches on the tube.
    I have trained in Ontario, Canada. I love pro wrestling. I’m also a film nerd.
    The highspots of late just annoy me. They’re neat, but what the hell do ya do next?
    Treat it like a Pokémon game, I guess, but I like a good story told thru “violent theater”.

    I’m just not sure if it’s the fans or the wrestlers that expect more and more.

    Great article. Always looking forward to the next match.

  3. People have been vocal about helping AEW improve for years now. Some kindly, some rudely, some fans, some veterans, but all essentially amounting to the same handful of suggestions.

    Yes, AEW is good for professional wrestling, but Tony Khan is the only one making the decisions if AEW is good for itself.

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