AEW: Pretender or Contender?

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That’s what you wanted to hear, right? Or was that just Jericho? Either way, I’ll happily say it. More than once. Let me take a short trip down memory lane first, though. When I first heard that Cody Rhodes had started the process to begin his own wrestling promotion, I had the same reaction that I think most wrestling fans had: “Aw. That’s cute.”

Sure, he comes from a Pedigree family, but – really? Nothing remotely ever hinted at Cody being a business man, or interested in that aspect, and certainly not one to come out swinging the way they did. Then when I heard it was he and his pals doing it? I suddenly started replaying all those NWO/WCW horror stories in my head again, and thought “Meh. This isn’t going to last.” – but then a windfall of ocurrences took place that will make me do something here I don’t do often:

Admit I was wrong.

Chris Jericho joins AEW? A marquee name around the World; top tier talent from other Countries, not just trying to pilfer cut talent from the ‘E; and an even focus on every division of the roster. Names like DDP, Billy Gunn and the like, didn’t hurt. They provided experienced familiar names and support that an upstart company would need. Jim Ross on commentary? With Shahid and Tony Khan backing the brand financially? It got very interesting, very quickly. I became fascinated by the business strategy being implemented, while having luke-warm interest in the product on its way.

Then “AEW Dynamite” premiered, and right out of the gate? It was the best two hours of wrestling programming that we’ve received in ages. The number of matches; the quality of story-telling; the outstanding level of talent – it blew my mind. I intentionally waited until after a month of content, because I wanted to give them a fair chance to find their footing, which is why I’ve waited until now to put my thoughts down in this op-ed.

The second episode of “Dynamite” remains the best, so far, but that’s not to detract from anything else they’ve put out the past month. The Young Bucks/Private Party match was incredible; the introduction of The Inner Circle (THANK YOU for bringing back proper stables), by a fire Jericho on the mic. It was just incredible.

Even AEW Dark (airing the matches not shown on cable) is better than any other wrestling being put out right now. I wont name any companies, but they know who they are, and they should be ashamed that dark matches are out-classing their weekly content. A mix of familiar, recognizable faces; global talent/”mark” darlings; young upstarts being given a chance to do what they showed up to do. I simply don’t know what more we could ask for.

Will AEW create a new “wrestling war”? Doubtful. And here’s why: AEW’s content is vastly superior. Perfect? No. Some of the camera work, and technical aspects, need attention. Some of the entrance songs are a little too “royalty free”. And we need a mid-tier Title on the show ASAP. Having the main Title on Jericho, and having it defended frequently between recognized talent, and upstarts, already has it viewed as “legitimate”. But as storylines develop, that Title will become even more prestigious, and even more exclusive, thus leaving us with at least a dozen guys on the roster who deserve something to pursue.

But at this point? I feel those aspects are just nitpicking. It’s like complaining that the Rookie steps up to the plate, and hits a home run his first at bat – but it was an away game. I equate it to that sort of petty complaining. Because what AEW has done, in a very short amount of time, is mind-boggling. Both as a business man, and a wrestling fan. I am humbled; impressed; and appreciative.

So not only will I admit I was wrong to doubt the intention, and ability, to get this company off the ground, but I will say what Chris Jericho demands to hear: THANK YOU.

THANK YOU to Cody, Dustin, Brandi, Nick, Matt, and Omega for bringing your collective talents together, and spear-heading this company. And Pharaoh, for being the goodest boi in professional wrestling. (Don’t judge me, I love dogs. You should too.)

THANK YOU to Shahid and Tony Khan for seeing that there was potential here.

THANK YOU to Chris Jericho, DDP, Billy Gunn, Tully Blanchard, Jim Ross, Earl Hebner, Tony Schiavone, Dean Malenko, and any other Veterans/Legends I missed, for seeing the potential in what was being put together here.

THANK YOU to TNT for giving proper professional wrestling a home again.

THANK YOU for some of the best mainstream wrestling we’ve gotten the past ten years. And for giving young talent like MJF (a personal favorite), Private Party, Britt Baker, Darby Allin, and so many others, a quality chance to shine. In doing so, there are no less than a dozen names in their 20’s who could conceivably lead the company forward for the next thirty years. And for bringing in global talent that only improves the overall product.

THANK YOU for quality, over quantity. Your main focus isn’t ad revenue, or what Countries might line your pockets to put on a spectacle not everyone is welcome to, but putting on quality content that both life-long fans, and new wrestling fans, could appreciate.

And a very special THANK YOU, I believe, is warranted for the Rhodes patriarch who is no longer with us. Cody has the impossible task of forging his own path here, while avoiding the inference that he’s leaning on his father’s legacy. He has achieved that in spades, and in doing so, I’m certain that wherever he is, Dusty looks down on his sons, beaming ear-to-ear, at what they’ve created from what he instilled. The American Dream is proud of you, and we as fans of your craft, are grateful for the continued effort.

Hard work, dedication, passion, ambition, creativity – that’s what I see every single time I tune in. And that’s what will lead to your ongoing success. Whether or not AEW is a contender? Remains to be seen. But they damn sure have more than a puncher’s chance.

There. There’s your “Thank you”, Chris.

Check out “AEW Dynamite” on TNT every Wednesday night at 8 P.M. Eastern!

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