Welcome to the debut edition of “The Grevas Report”, my wrestling column here on Sports Obsessive. In this column, I’ll cover a variety of wrestling topics and you can guarantee that I’ll be opinionated as always. In this first edition of “The Grevas Report”, we’re going to be talking about Tony Khan and the gang at AEW.
It’s an exciting time to be an AEW fan. It seems all but confirmed that both CM Punk & Daniel Bryan, previously known as “The American Dragon”, Bryan Danielson, are AEW bound. It seems pretty likely that Ric Flair is AEW bound. Adam Cole is set to be a free agent before this month is over and Bray Wyatt will be available to sign wherever he wants in less than 90 days. This isn’t even including all of the talented names on the free agent market who can literally sign with whomever they want, whenever they want. WWE’s talent purge has the potential to shake up the landscape and AEW can be the ones to change the game.
Make no mistake about it, AEW is doing great business right now. They’re selling out massive arenas; moving into new markets; TV ratings are some of the best on cable & they’re producing an exciting product. Sure, there will always be detractors, but you can’t please everyone. They’ve created a product that appeals to long time wrestling fans who have been alienated by WWE’s repetitive and, oftentimes, insulting-to-its-viewers product. It’s part sport, part sports entertainment, part throwback wrestling. WWE is much more lukewarm and there’s rampant speculation as to why they’re releasing so much talent. Ratings are moving in the wrong direction. Talents aren’t being used well. AEW has the momentum and now is the time to strike.
Let’s imagine for one moment what the industry reaction would be like if CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole debuted together in AEW; if the 3 of them walked out and cut a promo, saying that they have each been the Best in the World over the last however many years and now they’re together, in AEW, to show what they can do in an unrestricted environment. Imagine if, in that same show, Ric Flair approaches Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard backstage and they each flash four fingers. Then throw in one more surprise, such as the former Ruby Riott or the former Billie Kay and Peyton Royce showing up. What you’ve created is a moment that will catch the attention of mainstream media, long-lapsed old school wrestling fans and WWE fans who may or may not be looking for an alternative and want to see the stars they love again who now work for someone else. Now imagine what the ratings for Dynamite the next week will be like.
Now is the time for Tony Khan to show some killer instinct. If you want to take the fight to WWE, then become what everyone is talking about. Vince claims to not be taking AEW seriously as competition and he very well may not be. That can change in an instant though if ESPN and late-night talk shows are showing clips of CM Punk returning and hitting Kenny Omega with a GTS. That can change if AEW starts consistently beating Raw in the ratings and USA and Fox become unhappy. Vince will view them as serious competition if AEW starts eating into his profits, potentially messing up whatever it is he’s planning to do next. Punk and Bryan assisting Adam Cole in winning the AEW championship, for example, starting a feud between The Elite and the Best in the World, could easily kick things off in a direction Vince won’t like one bit.
Let’s be clear about the fact that AEW is still a company in its infancy. There’s a lot the promotion is still learning to do. They will make mistakes, they will stumble and they might even fall from time to time. It’s all part of the learning curve. There’s so much this company has done well already, though, that will absolutely continue to contribute to its long term success. Developing relationships with so many other companies is vital. AEW will need to be able to send talent to other promotions to freshen up and bring in new talents to shake up their product from time to time. People scoffed at the signings of Mark Henry, Paul Wight, Christian Cage, Sting and more but those guys are doing invaluable work off-screen. For a company as young as AEW, you need the veterans of the industry who can not just work with younger talents, but also teach the AEW management team about all of the other things that Vince and company do off-screen to build and maintain their empire. The charities, the relationships, the connections—if you want to compete with a brand like WWE, the battle is fought on and off TV, and these signings will continue to play a crucial role in building the AEW brand.
Wrestling fans have wanted a true alternative to WWE for 20 years now, ever since WCW and ECW went out of business. Nobody has come close until now and AEW is taking the ball and running far with it. There will be those that will complain about the company signing a bunch of former WWE talent, but whose fault is it that WWE never saw what they had in CM Punk? Or Malaki Black? Miro? Bryan Danielson, possibly Adam Cole, possibly The Fiend and more? AEW is simply capitalizing on WWE dropping the ball with talents and then letting so many talents go all in the name of saving a dime. The “signing a bunch of former WWE wrestlers” argument is stupid and uninspired, especially when you consider how many talented people WWE had locked under contract over the past several years. What will matter is if AEW can use these talents better.
WWE isn’t gaining new fans. They’ve got a very large number of fans that support them and they can bring back lapsed fans with names like The Rock from time to time, but they’re essentially holding onto fans, not making new ones. And the potential to lose some of the fans is strong. If the casual WWE fan that doesn’t watch any other wrestling hears that CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Adam Cole all showed up in AEW, that is going to get some loyal WWE fans curious. What are they doing? Is Bryan wrestling? How does Punk look? Who is Cole having matches with? Then those same fans see that Chris Jericho, the former Dean Ambrose and the former Allister Black are there. “Hey, those guys are great! Wait, isn’t that The Revival? And Russev?” And if AEW is putting on a high-quality show, those curious fans just might come back next week. If AEW puts on a killer show, those fans might realize that WWE isn’t for them. The same can be said for fans that aren’t watching any wrestling right now but find a CM Punk return is enough for them to turn on the TV.
Now’s the time for AEW to strike. They’re doing great business, as I said earlier, but you don’t get many chances to get the entire industry talking. If CM Punk and Bryan Danielson haven’t signed yet, offer them whatever they want. Don’t let Adam Cole re-sign with Vince. Get your big names and once you get them on your show, use that wealth of wrestling knowledge you have backstage to book the best possible shows to take all of those new eyes that will be watching your product and keep them.