AEW Fans: You Are No Longer The Underdog
As All Elite Wrestling Dynamite enters its two year anniversary, AEW fans are going to have to recognize just how good the ride has been.
It reminds me of one of CM Punk’s promos before his match with John Cena at WWE Money in the Bank in 2011. In the promo, CM Punk tells Cena that much like his Boston Red Sox, he’s no longer the scrappy underdog. His Red Sox are now a dynasty and have become the New York Yankees. Cena, a Massachusetts native, does the only thing someone from near Boston would do when told this: he punches Punk in the face.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Boston Red Sox fans, who lived their lives under the shadow of the evil empire of the New York Yankees. They were now one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball. They were now a prime destination for free agents. They were always a big market club but now they had to act like it.
For All Elite Wrestling, they started from nothing in 2019. AEW President Tony Khan didn’t purchase an already existing wrestling promotion. Instead, he successfully convinced some of the biggest North American stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling to come to his brand new promotion. He convinced former WWE headliners Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley to come in from the ground floor. He amassed some of the best independent wrestling talent in the world available at the time. And, through media connections, was able to secure a timeslot on TNT for Dynamite, returning pro wrestling to the channel for the first time since World Championship Wrestling was purchased by the WWE in 2001.
AEW was able to survive some early struggles, from being competed against head to head against WWE’s third brand NXT on USA Network, to their EVPs trying so hard to get lesser known talent over that they sacrificed themselves through losses and beatdowns and avoiding being champions. This came to a head in December of 2019 when the Dark Order would beat down Kenny Omega, the Rhodes Brothers, and the Young Bucks in the final segment, in an attempt to establish the Dark Order as the top heels of the promotion. AEW lost the night by viewers and the 18-49 key demo.
Dynamite would return in 2020 with Tony Khan taking control of the final say in segments to ensure his prized acquisitions didn’t sacrifice so much of themselves to get other talent over. What would proceed was some of the strongest television for two months we’ve seen in American wrestling in years, culminating in the Revolution pay per view in late February. Much like the rest of the world, AEW’s next set back would be the pandemic, but the company survived and never missed a night of television.
While new talent debuting here and there, AEW didn’t have a big free agent signing since Moxley on their debut pay per view until the debut of Sting at Winter is Coming on December 12, 2020. After Sting we got the former Big Show in Paul Wight as a commentator. Wight would introduce Christian Cage at Revolution in 2021, just off of the heels of his return to pro wrestling from neck injury at the WWE Royal Rumble. Following Christian is Mark Henry, another former world champion in WWE though taking an outside the ring role. These debuts would be setting the table.
While there were other signings like Ethan Page from Impact Wrestling and often misused former NXT champions Andrade and Malakai Black getting out of their WWE contracts early, the next three signings would change the story for AEW. CM Punk, earlier mentioned getting punched in the face by John Cena in 2011, would leave pro wrestling in 2013. He made his return to a pro wrestling ring on the second episode of AEW Rampage, their second cable network television show, to a sold out crowd in the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. “The First Dance” would air at 10PM EST and bring in 1.126 million viewers with a 0.53 18-49 key demo, all on the rumour he would be there.
With Hangman Page taking a leave of absence, Tony Khan decided to make up for it by having All Out end with two major debuts. The first in former NXT World champion Adam Cole, whose title defence against Finn Balor on NXT back on December 18, 2019 was the night NXT beat AEW in viewers and key demo. The second, bigger acquisition, would be The American Dragon Bryan Danielson, who had main evented WWE Wrestlemania just back in April.
It’s important to detail all of this because AEW Dynamite is now doing strong enough in the key demo to beat WWE Raw, the flagship American wrestling program since the late 90s, which has existed since 1993. While they are not doing the same viewers and beating them won’t likely be consistent in 2021, just the fact AEW Dynamite’s key demo is in the conversation of WWE speaks to the volume which AEW has grown since their television debut in 2019 and how much WWE has fallen since the Monday Night wars that ended in 2001.
All Elite Wrestling is the absolute destination of talent leaving WWE either by choice or from release. It used to be discussions on who would go to TNA. Then it became who would be going to New Japan Pro Wrestling. Now it’s who gets the call from Tony Khan to show up in AEW. All Out featured Ruby Soho going from WWE to AEW and winning the women’s Casino Battle Royale. Tonight on Dynamite’s second anniversary we will see former faction partner of Adam Cole in Bobby Fish face Sammy Guevara for the TNT championship. Rumours continue to swirl about where the former Bray Wyatt will go, where the former Braun Strowman will go, if Buddy Matthews gets the call, and what will happen to New Japan Pro Wrestling foreigners like Jay White and Will Ospreay when their contracts are up.
Even if AEW hasn’t knocked WWE off the pedestal of the top promotion in America, it’s a clear number two. It’s also a promotion with far more momentum and heat with the wrestling media, with WWE fans frustrated that they are not getting the attention they used to. This frustration has led to claims that all of the wrestling media is being bought off by Tony Khan (I find it funny they always go after Dave Meltzer and Sean Ross Sapp and not say Mark Henry who has participated in media scrums after AEW pay per views for Busted Open Radio) and every silly conspiracy theory you can conjure because there’s no way a promotion could just be hotter than WWE. It must be a conspiracy. Even former pro wrestlers are getting stupid about this. Someone must be getting paid off if they are not excited for Seth Rollins to casually walk around Edge’s house with his boots on and toss an apple to the floor.
WWE fans will be WWE fans, but AEW fans really need to consider what this means. AEW isn’t the underdog anymore. It isn’t a small promotion. It’s the new destination. It’s going to be accused of stealing talent from smaller companies. People will criticize it for being too big. Too mainstream. Losing its old magic. The reality is some of these criticisms will be true, and All Elite Wrestling fans will have to accept some of it. More importantly, they have to stop themselves from acting exactly like WWE fans.
WWE fans don’t care about other promotions. They only care about feeding their machine. It doesn’t matter what guys do outside of WWE. What matters is they work for WWE. And they better be happy in WWE. Vince McMahon is giving them an opportunity they can’t get elsewhere. Shut up and be happy. Don’t say the show is bad or WWE fans will get mad at you. Don’t criticize. Shut up and be happy. Did this segment make sense? Wait and see. Give it time. Don’t criticize everything. Why can’t you just enjoy it?
This is the typical WWE fan, and I’m starting to see AEW fans adopt it. From fans attacking Brian Cage and his wife to suggesting every wrestler should go to AEW and screw other promotions since they don’t make the money or get the attention AEW does to everything in between. It’s no longer good enough to just like AEW. You have to love it, and you have to accept every segment, and say every show was good.
Of course I’m generalizing for both sides, but the “AEW Fanatic” needs to realize they don’t have to defend absolutely everything All Elite Wrestling does anymore. Sure, smack away dumb arguments like, “There’s too many WWE guys” or, “AEW is too dangerous” but not all criticism comes from a place of bad faith. AEW doesn’t need to be defended as an entity anymore. It exists, it’s one of the most popular cable television shows at 18-49 on all of cable television, and it’s outdrawing WWE in markets for attendance. AEW is made. The fight is no longer for relevance. It’s now for which super power in professional wrestling is number one.
All Elite Wrestling is no longer the underdog. It’s the defacto number two promotion in North America. To accomplish this in less than three years is unbelievable. It’s no longer a risky dream, and it’s time we start talking about it that way.