While everyone is wondering if Gronk is coming to the WWE, we’re over here watching a new wrestling promotion become part of the zeitgeist. This spring, the industry got something it hadn’t seen in nearly two decades — a fresh alternative to WWE. That alternative came in the form of upstart wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Owned by Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC owner Shahid Khan, and founded by son Tony Khan and a group of wrestlers who gained notoriety mainly in Japan and the independent circuits. Those wrestlers, Cody (Rhodes), Matt and Nick Jackson (the Young Bucks), Adam “Hangman” Page, and Kenny Omega makeup the group better known to fans as “The Elite.” In just a few short years, they turned a wrestling faction into a fledgling promotion.
Killing the business
AEW Wrestling was announced on January 1, 2019, by way of “Being the Elite”, the popular YouTube show created by and starring Matt and Nick Jackson and other members of “The Elite.” The show was a platform for promoting characters’ and wrestling angles without the use of over-scripted promos or in-ring segments. Both of which have become a staple of the WWE.
Rallies were held to establish the brand identity and introduce talent. Working partnerships with AAA (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración) in Mexico, OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment) in China, and other indie promotions in the U.S. allowed AEW to further storylines and feuds for their brand within the rings of smaller or international promotions. Through social media, they were able to hype recently signed wrestlers using the hashtag ALLELITE as they worked to build their roster.
And, before their first event took place, they inked a broadcast deal with with WarnerMedia for a weekly live show airing on TNT and Bleacher Report Live starting in Fall 2019.
Going All In
It was their two rallies, the first one in Jacksonville and the second in Las Vegas, that AEW gave fans their first two major reasons to get hyped for the brand. The first rally in Jacksonville revealed the signing of 18 year WWE mainstay Chris Jericho.
“I’m here because I believe in doing something different, I believe in doing something new. It’s what I’ve always done my entire career. I’m a maverick… an outlaw… a pariah. I’m Chris Jericho, baby.”
At the next rally, held one month later in Vegas, they announced the signing of Kenny Omega. Omega was arguably the most talented wrestler in the world and hottest free agent at the time after his contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling was up on January 31. The signing ended weeks of speculation on whether Omega would sign with his “Elite” friends or accept the reportedly “very generous” contract laid before his feet by the WWE.
AEW is for everyone
Was a slogan coined early on. AEW aims to revolutionize the wrestling industry by doing more than just providing a fresh alternative on screen to WWE. One way they are doing that is eliminating the gender pay gap for their men’s and women’s talent. Something WWE doesn’t do.
They are also creating an inclusive environment for their fans and talent. Nyla Rose became the first transgender woman to sign with a major North American promotion when she signed with AEW. Sonny Kiss, one-half of the first openly gay couple in sports entertainment, is also All Elite, as is Bilateral Amputee wrestler Dustin Thomas. AEW donated all proceeds from merchandise sales on World Autism Day to Kulture City and a portion of proceeds from their upcoming show “Fight for the Fallen” will go to victims of gun violence.
The company also aims for a better work-life balance for their performers with less time spent on the road compared to the grueling schedule of WWE. However, the biggest question regarding creating a new and better world for the wrestlers in the industry remains the issue of healthcare. While their current policy is similar to that of WWE’s, it looks as if Khan and founding members hope to get a healthcare plan in place in the future. We’ll have to wait and see if that materializes.
Double or Nothing
We’ve now arrived at AEW’s first event “Double or Nothing” from the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas. A pay-per-view event that may have seen a similar buy rate to May’s WWE “Money in the Bank.” While MITB is a smaller show in comparison to Wrestlemania, SummerSlam or the Royal Rumble, it’s an impressive feat for an upstart company to match those totals or even come close on its first try. Reactions in the days that have followed have been mostly positive.
“Double or Nothing” introduced casual fans to new wrestlers like MJF, Jimmy Havoc, Luchasaurus, and the Best Friends. It introduced everyone to OWE stars The Strong Hearts from China as well as the Joshi women from Japan. Indie fans would enjoy seeing the Young Bucks vs the Lucha Brothers. Old school fans got a treat seeing the WWE Hall of Famer Bret “The Hitman” Hart unveil the AEW Championship belt. Dustin Rhodes FKA Goldust in WWE in a show-stealing match with younger brother Cody. And Chris Jericho taking on Kenny Omega in the Main Event.
The Lunatic is All Elite
The final surprise of the night was the reveal of Jon Moxley FKA Dean Ambrose in WWE. The “Lunatic Fringe” (his WWE moniker) emerged from the crowd planting Chris Jericho and the referee with a DDT. He then did the same to Kenny Omega on the stage to close the show. It was a move that called back to the WCW vs WWE days. When a wrestler would leave one promotion only to debut in the other weeks or even days later. Less than two months ago the then Ambrose requested his release from WWE. That allowed AEW to expertly recreated that type of shock arrival in the new promotion. Announcer Jim Ross was even kept in the dark about it so as to get a more natural reaction.
Change the world
Through grassroots viral marketing and a cult-like following, All Elite Wrestling grew their brand before they even had a ring. After a successful debut and weekly TV show looming, the AEW is striking while the iron is hot. WWE creative has been stale, morale is down, as are buys, and fans are looking for an alternative. AEW isn’t looking to be a direct competitor with WWE right out of the gate. They are, however, using the company’s missteps to their full advantage. Some fans will tune out WWE completely in favor of AEW Wrestling. Others fans will remain loyal to the brand they know and love. Most will hope that AEW will force better WWE creative while offering something a little different and new themselves. One thing is clear however, it’s a very exciting time for the wrestling industry.