All Elite Wrestling: An Introduction


Fair warning: This article will be a lot of build-up and introduction for this company before I get to actually analyzing how the company is today, but I think I need to get all of this out of the way so you understand my background with professional wrestling and the climate All Elite Wrestling came into, especially since I haven't spoken at length about any of this on the C&CC podcast before. I write this article for those who may be lapsed fans of professional wrestling, or those who've only stuck with WWE and want a change. Maybe I even write it for the person who's never watched pro wrestling before and wants to know what it's all about, or the skeptic who thinks pro wrestling is a bunch of musclebound weirdos wearing tight pants, doing fake fighting, and smacking each other with chairs, and y'know, sometimes it is exactly that, but it usually ends up being so much more. Just in case you want to skip ahead past all of the introductory stuff, scroll down to where you see bold, underlined letters like this. If you've been listening to the C&CC Podcast and have caught an episode I've been on, you know I'm a huge fan of professional wrestling (The wrestling episode is still coming, one of these days). I've been watching since I was 13 years-old in 2006 when I stumbled onto World Wrestling Entertainment while channel surfing, plus having a best friend who was already watching. I've gone back and watched a lot of older wrestling from the World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, and other companies (Thank you, WWE Network and YouTube) and have watched and enjoyed many different companies and styles of wrestling over the years, from deathmatches, to lucha libre, to King's Road puroresu, and beyond (Those words mean nothing to most of you, and that's okay.).


And yes, before anyone says it, I know it's fake. So is almost every show on TV. "Pre-determined" is a better word, because these men and women are truly hurting themselves on a weekly basis for our entertainment. Don't ever look at pro wrestling as a legitimate sport. If you want people really trying to hurt each other, there's boxing, the UFC, and other forms of combat sports. Look at professional wrestling as a performance or an art form. It's mixing aspects of theater, gymnastics, strong man competitions, reality TV, magic acts, and more into a painful, colorful mishmash unlike anything else, and it's a thrill to watch. Maybe I'll delve more into this topic in a future article...

Despite having so many different outlets to get my pro wrestling fix, WWE was always the company I stuck with for over a decade as the main show I watched. Be it Raw, Smackdown, NXT, or the myriad of other shows that have come and gone since I started watching in 2006 (Remember when ECW was revived as the third brand? No? Fair enough.). The shows have fluctuated in quality over time, but all it took is one good match or segment, and I'd soldier on through uninspired monotony and even some downright horrible television to hopefully get to more good stuff. It's akin to watching an entire season of a show, liking one or two episodes, and thinking the season as a whole was great. Madness, right? So why did I do it? Why continue watching a show week in and week out for fleeting grasps at enjoyment?


In my opinion, nothing in any form of media matches the excitement and delivers pure surges of endorphins to the brain like good professional wrestling. At one point, a lot of the world agreed with me, as millions of fans tuned in every Monday night to the WWF and WCW's programming in the late 1990's and early 2000's. The nonstop action provided by stars like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, and more drew record viewers to their TV screens to watch WWF Monday Night Raw, while even more tuned in to WCW Monday Nitro to see Sting, Ric Flair, Goldberg, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan and the New World Order, and others tear it up in the ring. Pro wrestling dominated water cooler talk and playground chatter as everyone recapped the events of that week's show or predicted what would happen next. How would Stone Cold get one over on the villainous Mr. McMahon next week? Would Sting finally get his hands on Hollywood Hogan on Nitro? Even the NFL was losing in the ratings to these shows on Monday nights! The WWF ran ads during the Super Bowl in 1999 and put on a world championship match during halftime! For a few years, pro wrestling was a cultural phenomenon, but all good things must come to an end...

In 2001, World Championship Wrestling went out of business amid poor creative direction, dwindling revenue, and their new parent company not liking wrestling (WCW was owned by Turner/Time Warner, which merged with AOL at the time). The World Wrestling Federation, which soon became World Wrestling Entertainment, bought the rights to their former competition, and soon they were the only big name in the industry. It stayed like this for nearly two decades, with companies like Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and others coming and going on national television, but never reaching the heights of the WWE or being considered "competition" to them. That is, until 2018...


Three professional wrestlers from various organizations who had procured many accolades and wealth began to discuss forming their own promotion: Cody Rhodes, son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes and former WWE superstar, and the Young Bucks, brothers Nick and Matt Jackson who were hailed as the greatest tag team WWE had never signed and marketing wizards. The three of them put on a show alongside the Ring of Honor promotion called "All In" on September 1, 2018, putting over 10,000 fans into an arena for the show, which was no small feat for a company in the United States other than WWE. The success of the show made the three men's ambitions grow, and they caught the eye of many potential backers and the TV industry. Kenny Omega, considered one of the best wrestlers alive today and a top star in New Japan Pro Wrestling, joined Rhodes and the Bucks in their endeavor. On January 1, 2019, All Elite Wrestling was officially formed, with the quartet of wrestlers being among the first to sign to the company as wrestlers and being given the titles of executive vice-presidents. Tony Khan, co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team and lifelong wrestling fan, became the main investor and president of the company. On May 25th, 2019, AEW produced their first Pay-Per-View, "Double or Nothing", introducing the world to their style of wrestling. On October 2nd, 2019, AEW launched their weekly program, Wednesday Night Dynamite, on the TNT channel (these day it's airing on TBS) and they've been rolling ever since.

Now we get to AEW today...


All Elite Wrestling is, in my humble opinion, the alternative to WWE that the wrestling world has needed for over a decade. I like to sell AEW to older fans by describing it as "If WCW were still in business" (It's how I sold this site's head honcho on it!). Now of course, it's not a one-to-one comparison, but on a surface level, it works: AEW is a corporate-level wrestling promotion with big money backing it, people with experience and knowledge of how to make a wrestling company function, and their finger on the pulse of what fans want... mostly. I'll get to that.


One of the first things I get asked by any wrestling fan I'm introducing to AEW is always "Will I know anyone on here?" If you have been a fan of professional wrestling within the last decade or two, there are some familiar faces in this company. As mentioned earlier, former WWE star Cody Rhodes is one of the co-executive vice presidents of the company and one of the most pushed wrestlers on the brand. He's a wrestler, he's a company big wig, he's a judge on a talent show (Go Big Show), and he has his own reality show (Rhodes To The Top). Former WCW and WWE Champion Chris Jericho was the inaugural AEW World Champion and has led his own group of wrestlers called "The Inner Circle" since Dynamite's inception. Many former WWE stars have jumped ship to AEW in its two years of existence, with even huge names like Bryan Danielson (formerly Daniel Bryan) and CM Punk (who hadn't wrestled in seven years after a dramatic, nasty exit from WWE in 2014) coming over in the past few months. WWE has released over 100 wrestlers since the COVID-19 pandemic began (a whole other can of worms I'm not opening here), and their loss has been AEW's gain. AEW has signed such names as Sting, Matt Hardy, Paul Wight (formerly The Big Show), Mark Henry, Christian Cage (formerly just Christian), Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose), Adam Cole, and as of this week, Keith Lee, among a giant laundry list of other talent. The best part is that many of these names have had new life breathed into them with the creative freedoms AEW is giving them compared to WWE's strict scripting. Jon Moxley looks and acts like he's having the time of his life as he swaggers through the crowd to the ring to a cover of "Wild Thing" before beating his opponents within an inch of their life. CM Punk smiles as he drives into the crowds while making his entrance, just happy to be back enjoying wrestling again. Many wrestling companies will take WWE talent and present them just as WWE did; it's easy to promote and strikes a chord with those fan who remember their name, but AEW allows these men and women to enjoy the profession they are passionate about again, and it shows.

It's not all old names and former WWE employees here. All Elite Wrestling scoured the wrestling world for the best wrestlers today and the brightest stars of the future, and they shine just as intensely as the names you know. Stars from the independent wrestling promotions of the world, such as Orange Cassidy, MJF, and Darby Allin, have gotten their first big breaks on national television with AEW, while other wrestlers such as the aforementioned Kenny Omega, the Lucha Bros, and Lance Archer were stars in larger promotions with television deals like New Japan Pro Wrestling, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and more before making the jump. Dr. Britt Baker, and actual dentist when she's not ruling the women's division, grabbed the spotlight for herself early on in Dynamite's run and made herself one of the best acts on the show. Eddie Kingston, a veteran of dozens of smaller promotions for over roughly two decades, finally has a nationally televised outlet to be show he is one of the baddest dude's on the mic and in the ring there is. Of course, then there's my favorite, the current reigning AEW World Champion himself, "Hangman" Adam Page, who has finally made good on the promise he made at the launch of AEW in 2019 after two years of compelling drama and intense matches to capture the belt. His rise, fall, and rise again have been one of the driving narratives in the company since its inception, and his current title reign has maintained the high standard set by the champions before him.

Talent can only get you so far. It's how they're used that matters the most. WWE has hundreds of wrestlers under contract, but has steadily been losing viewers for nearly two decades due to a stagnating product where wrestlers aren't allowed to become big stars for fear of them leaving for greener pastures in Hollywood or elsewhere (Yes, that's WWE big fear with making the next John Cena or The Rock and considered why they won't). Meanwhile, AEW has constantly tried to make sure their product is eye-catching and keeps your attention, and they often succeed. Weekly shows are often supposed to build to the Pay-Per-Views, but with AEw only running four Pay-Per-Views a year, compared to WWE running at least one a month these days, AEW will often put huge matches with lots of hype behind them on free TV. They understand that that's how you build a fanbase: give the fans what they want, and they'll buy the PPVs because they want even more. Just this past Wednesday on Dynamite (2/9/2022), Hangman Adam Page retained his AEW World Title in a hellacious Texas Death Match against Lance Archer, CM Punk and Jon Moxley had an awesome tag team match with Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler of FTR, and Keith Lee made his much-hyped debut to uproarious praise. All of this is stuff you'd think you'd have to wait and shell out cash for a Pay-Per-View, but it was free! So if that's what they give away for free, think of what they're saving for the PPV!

Alas, AEW is not perfect. There are still things that need to be worked on. The women's division, despite being packed with talent and now sporting two championships to fight over, is often severely underutilized on the weekly product and under-represented on the big shows. Some of the decisions for what is put on TV is absolutely maddening and leads to eye-rolling, awful segments (Looking at you, Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes, and Dan Lambert. I'll get to them one day.) The roster has become bloated with so much talent, it's getting difficult to feature them all and give individuals the spotlight they deserve, with many relegated to AEW's two free YouTube shows: Dark and Dark Elevation, which are used to get wrestlers exposed through easy matches with no-name wrestlers and put wins behind their names for potential future storylines. Dark and Dark Elevation are not bad shows, per say, but many wrestlers have found themselves relegated to them, rarely getting to show what they can do on national television. I think I've rambled on long enough. If you've made it this far, thank you for reading this rambling diatribe of an opinion piece. All Elite Wrestling can be viewed multiple ways: Dynamite is live Wednesdays on TBS at 8pm EST, or on Fite TV if you're outside of the United States. Rampage, their newest show, airs Fridays on TNT at 10pm EST, or again, Fite TV if you're outside of the United States. Both can also be watched through various sources after airing live, like Hulu TV. Dark and Dark Elevation can be found on AEW's Youtube page for free, with new episodes posted every Tuesday and Monday, respectively. If you feel compelled to watch All Elite Wrestling because of this article, please let me know on Twitter (@HitmanCFR), even if you didn't like the show. And if Tony Khan happens to be reading this and like it, I could use a job...

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