January 1, 2019
All Elite Wrestling Forms
Almost exactly one year after the company was officially announced, All Elite Wrestling has had a bigger impact on pro wrestling in that one year than almost every other promotion had this decade. Whether or not you are a fan of the promotion, there is no denying that the formation of the promotion was one of the key moments in wrestling of the decade, and will likely play a major role in the industry during the 2020s.
A few key trends that took place during the decade led to the creation of AEW; the first being the increasing popularity and economic viability of non-WWE promotions in the US marketplace. As Ring of Honor began drawing bigger audiences, as well as NJPW gaining a solid foothold in the US, promotions outside of WWE grew enough to attract the attention of potential investors. As WWE began losing fans, other promotions were growing, making competition more of a reality. WWE still looms large over the wrestling industry, but other promotions have proven to be successful business enterprises while working in its shadow.
The other key trend was the escalating television revenue WWE was seeing. With WWE set to make more than $2 billion dollars through their TV deals over the next five years, there was reason to believe that a wrestling company could make good money on television; even if they were not drawing as big as WWE. Sure, they wouldn't make $2 billion, but it's reasonable to believe they could one day ink a contract for several hundred million dollars.
Those two trends led to the creation of AEW, featuring many of the same wrestlers who helped make NJPW and ROH legitimate drawing promotions in the US, and a weekly show on a major cable outlet in TNT. The deal with TNT, while not particularly lucrative outside of paying for the production costs and splitting some of the ad revenue, was the major game changer for the promotion. If AEW can prove to be a viable weekly show on a top cable station, it will open itself up to finding a lucrative cable TV contract, one that could sustain a major league promotion for years to come.
A lot can (and has) been said about AEW, and I'm not going to really dive into an overall quality assessment of the promotion. Instead, let's look a the major changes the promotion has had on the wrestling industry.
*Created a financially strong competitor for WWE to compete with when it comes acquiring talent. Even if AEW closes down tomorrow, the company has already made a major impact in wrestling by getting higher salaries for talent who are set to become free agents. Many WWE mid-card wrestlers have AEW to thank for their new salaries, in some cases double or even triple of what that talent was making before.
*Created a legitimate alternative to WWE programming that was accessible through weekly cable television. While promotions like ROH and NJPW were available via streaming services, or on smaller cable networks, a weekly show on TNT is accessible to any wrestling fans who watches or used to watch RAW and SmackDown. Not since TNA was booted off of Spike has another wrestling promotion been so easy to watch for fans looking to sample the product.
*Became a home for talent that was disillusioned by WWE, such as Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley and of course Cody Rhodes. The leap that Moxley made in particular, a major WWE star in his prime leaving the company to join AEW, may prove to be highly influential over the next several years as other big stars in WWE consider their career options.
*Legitimized NXT as a legitimate third brand for WWE by "forcing" WWE to put the brand on USA and halting or reducing any future call-ups to the main roster, since WWE needed all the star power in NXT to stay there while fighting AEW on Wednesday nights.
*Promoted an aggressive, modern style of professional wrestling to a national audience. Whether it was more over-the-top death matches, contemporary lucha libre, or Japanese strong style, AEW offers a wide variety of wrestling styles, some of whom have never been seen on major American television.
To be fair, we don't know how AEW will fare in the next decade, and its inclusion is largely based on the idea that it will continue to have a profound impact on the wrestling industry over the next ten years. Without any real hindsight, it is hard to assess exactly what AEW has meant to the professional wrestling industry at this point in time, other than offering expensive contracts to talent, and providing an outlet for different types of wrestling on a major cable network. It is possible that the company never gains a consistent foothold and it will fade away over the next several years, or it will gain that strong TV contract and become a even bigger competitor to WWE; almost anything is possible at this point in time.
Something that does need to be brought up when it comes to AEW, and perhaps in the long run this won't be a major contribution from the promotion, is that its very existence created a noticeably more toxic attitude among some wrestling fans, particularly online or on social media. By having a "war" unfold in the social media age, some wrestling fans have felt the need to choose a side and to dig in their heels to support their preferred brand of professional wrestling, and that has created a toxic atmosphere around the product.
Pre-AEW, wrestling fans still complained all the time about various aspects of the business; that is kind of the way it goes with any institution of pop culture. However, the formation of AEW created an obvious dividing line that was previously non-existent; either fans were supporters of WWE and hated AEW, or vice-versa. Now that may be a small, very passionate portion of the overall fanbase, but it has been a very vocal minority and the fact is that when I think of the Wednesday Night Wars, the first thing I think about is how it changed wrestling fans.
While the internet and social media can be used as an educational tool and a way to understand different perspectives, it can also be used as a way to construct a carefully manicured narrative that supports any individual's particular ideals. If you wanted to build a Twitter timeline filled with people telling you AEW is the worst thing in the world, it can easily be done. The same can be said if you wanted a timeline full of people telling you WWE was the worst thing in the world.
This phenomena isn't exclusive to wrestling, broad dividing lines define our society in politics, economics, music, comic book preference and a million other things. There have always been people who loved WWE and people who hated WWE, but the formation of AEW as the flagship brand of WWE's competition created both a new company that the anti-WWE crowd could latch onto, as well as a target for the pro-WWE crowd to attack if they felt threatened.
Perhaps all of this will fade over time, but right now I think it has had a significant effect when it comes to critiquing or discussing the professional wrestling industry. AEW has been a fascinating company to follow over this first year, and whether or not it goes onto bigger and better things in the 2020s, it will have left some definite marks in the industry during its first year of operation.
This article is the final entry in a series of articles discussing the most significant moments in wrestling over the past ten years. See the links posted below for the the previous entries.
Top Moments of the 2010s