With AEW Dynamite gearing up to celebrate its one-year anniversary on October 14th, we thought there was no greater time to reflect on their journey so far. Whether you like AEW or not, you must admit they have changed pro wrestling, which is what many wanted.
The AEW Change Caused By The Fans
Fans have been leaving professional wrestling in droves over the last several years. Many don’t like that WWE went PG and their huge stars left without any suitable replacements. A portion of those fans flocked to the indies to try and find their old love. From the beginning of 2019 to the announcement of their television deal in May 2019, AEW kept telling us they were “our” show. Well, personally, I think they were right, but then again, I’m an admitted AEW mark.
“Wrestling fans have wanted—and needed—something different, authentic and better for far too long,” Tony Khan, president and CEO of AEW, said in a press release. “AEW is answering the call. AEW is about more than wrestling. It’s about a movement fueled by wrestling fans who have been underserved and perhaps even disappointed by what the industry has produced in recent years.”
Other Companies Change
AEW Dynamite sent shockwaves through the industry as soon as their first ever pay-per-view, May 25th’s Double or Nothing, went off the air. Based on the amount of pay-per-view buys and the publicity, TNT announced that AEW Dynamite would start airing on their station on October 2nd, 2019. Still don’t buy that AEW has changed things? Look at everything that has happened since.
WWE moved SmackDown to FOX and promised a sports-centred feel for the show, the same as AEW had for Dynamite. In September 2019, NXT started to air on the USA Network on Wednesday nights to compete with them. In July 2019, Impact Wrestling started their intergender wrestling focus, with Tessa Blanchard chasing the Impact World Championship to give fans something new. They paid this off by having her finally win the title in January 2020. Ring of Honor tried to capitalize on their past tag team division glory by leading with it, then focussing on their history of ‘pure’ wrestling in their post-pandemic restart. You heard more wrestlers talk about being more company oriented and less of it being about ‘me, me, me’. Of course, it also led to many wrestlers wanting to join AEW.
Do you blame other wrestlers? I want to join them. No, not wrestle, but just watch the creative process, arguments, and successes. They make their group sound so different and fun.
Changes This Year
What a first year! They had to deal with everything from schedule changes, WWE NXT counter-programming them, the pandemic, venue changes and canceled European dates. To me, it never seemed like Tony Khan even flinched or got nervous at all. AEW was creative about what they came up with and rolled with the punches. Luckily, Tony Khan’s family own Daily’s Place, an open-air amphitheatre, so they could slowly implement fans safely coming back in pods. They had wrestlers become “fans.”
Did anyone see any of this coming? No way, but I think a lot of AEW haters out there want to blame them for how they handled different things. I can’t imagine if 2020 would have been a “normal” wrestling year. Can you imagine the crowds’ reactions to the debuts of Matt Hardy helping The Elite against Chris Jericho and The Inner Circle, or Mr. Brodie Lee’s arrival as the leader of The Dark Order?
Many companies shut down or couldn’t afford to test. Others were just doing temperature checks and asking questions. After talking to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Tony Khan believed that this wasn’t enough and worked with the clinic to ensure the safest and most effective way to handle it if someone in the company tested positive, not to mention the testing procedures he introduced immediately. Tony Khan showed the fans quickly that he is completely about his wrestlers’ health over money for testing.
Cody in the beginning was the speaker of the group. He tried to explain what the AEW vision was and how they wanted things to be. Cody put it out early and often that he wanted to hear from the fans. He kept saying he wanted to hear what they liked, what they didn’t, what worked, and what they thought didn’t work and why. Cody became overwhelmed on Twitter by the fans. You could tell they were listening by creating a second championship during the pandemic and who they brought in for the TNT Championship open challenge, plus building a relationship with Thunder Rosa.
I know what the fans bring to AEW. We were at their fourth show near the catwalk on October 30th when the tag team championship was won by SCU and the place erupted. I heard the crowd sing “Judas” to Chris Jericho before his contract signing with Cody. Then I heard the reaction as Jake Hager slammed Dustin’s arm into the car door.
But you know, what truly won me over were the wrestlers when the cameras weren’t on. Watching Luchasaurus slowly bend down to a little kid before the show even started and talk to him softly so he wouldn’t be scared, as Jungle Boy high fived him. I got to hear Adam “Hangman” Page get the crowd chanting “Cowboy S**t” after his match during a commercial. Then, after the show, Kenny Omega came out to thank everyone while The Young Bucks tried to shake everyone’s hand. It was a special night, but I’m sure they do it all the time.
Fresh seems to be Cody’s new favorite word. So I think fresh will be what’s coming. A third hour is coming. Not to AEW Dynamite, but a separate show. Both Tony Khan and Cody have said this. They have also said it was NOT going to be AEW Dark. That will be staying on YouTube. Of course, we were supposed to already have it but, with the pandemic, it was pushed back. However, Tony Khan is saying we will be getting it after the first of the year.
As different promotions start opening back up, I believe we’ll see AEW stars will be rotating through them again. We’ve already seen Jon Moxley at Bloodsport and Brian Cage at Warrior Wrestling’s Stadium Series. Remember, many AEW stars have clauses in their contracts that allow them to wrestle for the indies and other promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling. Before the pandemic started, the AEW leadership was already talking about recruiting more wrestlers with a wide range of experience and talent. I see them getting even more wrestlers, so they can keep rotating fresh storylines and wrestlers. They want fans not to get bored, but to stay on the edge of their seats, and to always discover new wrestlers that they enjoy.
Cody has said he wants to continue to push the envelope in wrestling. He wants to bring back old types of matches to new fans, like the dog collar match. He also believes they have to continue to be authentic with unscripted promos, cussing, and even blood. Cody hopes that wrestlers can create their own fan base by doing what they want and being themselves.
AEW’s willingness to go the extra mile to entertain fans while also giving them a reason to feel invested in just about everything they do is why they have made it. They have to continue that vision and that creative spirit to keep fans they have and to expand that fandom. As fans are allowed back, I think you will see them grow in leaps and bounds. Personally, I can’t wait to go on this ride with them.