After five episodes of Dynamite, AEW has made a dominant statement as a force in wrestling. Their command over the 18-49 demographic in viewership has been incredibly impressive and a big part of that success is thanks to the execution of The Inner Circle. A true heel faction that is able to remain heel without garnering cheers is difficult to execute in the modern era: see The Undisputed Era in NXT. With the leadership of Chris Jericho, the resume and physical presence of Jake Hager, the ruthlessness of LAX, and the smarmy charm and athletic ability of Sammy Guevara, The Inner Circle is giving life AEW Dynamite while helping to get over new babyface characters in the process. Here are five reasons why The Inner Circle Is Excelling in AEW. In the comments below, share what you want to see from The Inner Circle and your thoughts on the first five weeks of AEW Dynamite.
1. Defined Roles For Each Member
When we look at the Inner Circle, we get a clear picture: Chris Jericho is the veteran leader, Jake Hager is the muscle, LAX is the tag team who will do the dirty work, and Sammy Guevara is the future. When Jericho announced the formation of the Inner Circle on episode 2 of Dynamite, he took the time to outline each member's purpose and role in the group. Jericho & Guevara teamed up later that evening to defeat Dustin Rhodes & Hangman Page with the help of Hager's muscle on the outside on the finish.
The next week on Dynamite episode 3, Jericho served as the mouthpiece for LAX when he challenged The Young Bucks on their behalf to a match at Full Gear. Hager helped Jericho again in his title defense against Darby Allin. Jericho tied Allin's hands behind his back but still couldn't defeat him until Hager clubbed Allin with his right hand before Le Champion locked in The Walls Of Jericho for the victory. The rest of the Inner Circle joined the two men after the match, bubbly in hand, to celebrate the tainted victory.
These defined roles for each element of The Inner Circle can be used to build them up and eventually tear the team apart. Defined roles create strengths and weaknesses that the audience can track. Hager's strength and size could lead him to take over the group or could lead him to become jealous of everyone else and tear the group apart. Jericho's admiration for Guevara could eventually lead to jealousy of his youth, good looks, and athletic ability. LAX's ruthlessness could lead to them betraying the Inner Circle at any time making the group's dynamic so much more compelling than just about any faction in wrestling right now.
2. Chris Jericho
After becoming the first-ever Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion in wrestling in 2001, Chris Jericho could have coasted for the rest of his career. Instead, Jericho started fronting a heavy metal band, took acting classes, trained in sketch comedy performance with The Groundlings in LA, competed in "Dancing With The Stars", contributed to "Best Week Ever" on VH1, wrote a book, created a podcast, created multiple web series, acted in multiple films & TV shows, gotten in better shape (with DDP Yoga), and created his own Rock 'N Wrestling cruise. This constant drive coupled with the sum of all of these experiences has turned Chris Jericho into a live performance monster. Jericho is uniquely mentally present in every live performance situation. Time moves slower for Jericho than it does for everyone else when performing live. He's able to listen with his entire body and discover his environment around him while still performing whether it be through his words, his wrestling, or his musical performances. This unique ability allows for Jericho to not need a writer's help to create memorable catchphrases or promos. Audiences can feel when a performer is acting instead of naturally reacting to the people and environment around them: Chris Jericho reacts.
Jericho's unique ability to react recently created the viral catchphrase, "A little bit of the bubbly." Jericho has doubled down on the catchphrase by making sure he's seen with bubbly as often as possible. In his first promo introducing the Inner Circle and its members, Jericho was able to sum up each member's role in the group in a sentence or two while still having the presence of mind to guide the audience's reaction when they started to fall into the old "We The People" chant for Jake Hager. When Jericho is on, the audience has a palpable sense that Jericho is in total control and they will go on that ride with him. He's evolved so many times over the years and since 2016 is arguably putting out the best work of his career in wrestling, in promos, and musically.
Jericho's character in AEW is perfect as leader of The Inner Circle. He's able to serve as a mouthpiece for the other members when needed, his starpower shines a light on each member, he's still incredibly athletic and can go in the ring, and Jericho can help each member develop as a performer in and out of the ring as well. His character's insecurities also set him up to be vulnerable for when the group eventually disbands as well. Jericho will make sure that everyone in The Inner Circle is better off than they were before they were associated with him.
3. Simplicity In Storytelling
AEW has done right by the Inner Circle by keeping their story simple: The Inner Circle is a counter balance to The Elite. This simple struggle can fuel at least one year of storytelling before it needs to change. With Jericho as AEW Champion, it gives immediate status to The Inner Circle while giving The Elite a prize to chase after. Also, SCU having the tag team championship belts gives The Inner Circle a prize to chase after. This story will get darker for The Elite before it gets brighter.
AEW set up a classic wrestling trope to help get LAX over as heels: have them beat up Robert Gibson & Ricky Morton. Although The Rock 'N Roll Express is in their 60s, wrestling fans still will go crazy if someone attacks them due to their unique ability to get sympathy from the audience. AEW has positioned Jericho as the cowardly veteran who schemes to hold onto his power (the AEW Championship) for as long as he can. This dynamic worked for Ric Flair for years as well as Hollywood Hogan's run with the WCW title in 1996. Jake Hager has been unable to wrestle due to his contract with Bellator, but AEW has positioned him as the muscle for The Inner Circle so that he can have one moment of physicality in each appearance to establish his power while adhering to the limits of his contract. When Hager finally does wrestle, it will mean something. Sammy Guevara keeps getting put in situations where he's been able to look strong in losses by showing flashes of his tremendous athletic ability. He's positioned next to Chris Jericho as often as possible in promos to indicate that he being groomed to be a future top star for the group and AEW as a whole.
4. Wrestling Ability
Every single guy in The Inner Circle can wrestle and do it well. LAX have held tag team championship gold in five other companies before coming to AEW and can deliver athletically in the ring without crossing into babyface territory with their moveset. Jake Hager's wrestling ability is outstanding: NCAA All-American Wrestler, multiple championships in WWE, Lucha Underground Champion, and a 2-0-1 record in Bellator. Sammy Guevara has shown his athletic ability and has come off as a true heel in losses to Kip Sabian, Cody, & (most recently) Adam Page. Chris Jericho's resume in wrestling is longer than just about anyone not named Funk or Flair. Jericho has evolved his wrestling style throughout his career by constantly seeking different opponents and rising to the level of competition in any company whether it be ECW, WCW, WWE, NJPW, or AEW.
Aside from each man's athletic ability in the ring, their ability to convey their character and tell a story to help get over babyface talent in AEW is fantastic. Guevara's jump from the top rope into a face-slap on Adam Page was a perfect example of a simple gesture that incensed the crowd while garnering sympathy for Page. Jericho's ruthlessness against Darby Allin in their title match garnered tremendous sympathy and crowd support for the skateboarding hardcore upstart. LAX's attacks on The Young Bucks have set up one of the most exciting tag team storylines not centered around a championship title in years. Wrestling ability is more than just athleticism and The Inner Circle gets it.
5. Transmedia Verisimilitude
In the three weeks since The Inner Circle has been established, they have been able to blur the lines of fiction and reality by keeping kayfabe through multiple platforms of entertainment: AEW Dynamite, social media, accompanying Hager to his Bellator match, and live interviews with media. The Inner Circle has kept a clear character and message throughout their appearances and have not dropped their schtick in the slightest. This commitment to character and story draws in hardcore fans and curious fans new to the product because it feels real. Too often, wrestlers will display a different character in social media or in interviews outside of the ring. This lack of commitment to character and story kills the verisimilitude of the world that they're trying to build on TV. Wrestling, as an entertainment medium, allows for the blurring of fiction of reality in a way that traditional TV, films, and video games cannot. This uniqueness is part of what makes wrestling a special medium and this uniqueness should be exploited as much as possible. The emphasis on competition in wrestling is high right now, but the biggest competition for AEW isn't WWE, it's every other entertainment choice that a consumer can make. When The Inner Circle brawled with Cody and company around the arena on episode 4 of Dynamite, AEW was able to incorporate footage from a fan's phone of the brawl into their production because everyone in The Inner Circle was working in that brawl. This created a feeling that anything can happen when The Inner Circle is around and that organic feeling of excitement is when wrestling is at its best.