AEW And The Future That Refused To Change
We are currently in a long form essays about AEW Future where I get to reference Chrono Trigger while writing about the difficult struggle AEW is currently going through with their own fans.
I already discussed things that were wrong with AEW, and how people are taking things to ridiculous hyperbolic extents. So I went ahead and referenced a game over screen from one of my favourite videogames. I’ll beat you jabrones at this game any day.
I don’t care to be negative or pessimistic for the sake of it. I don’t see it as two sides of fans. In the end, the majority are AEW fans or critics who are just getting hooked on the wrong narratives. This isn’t about too much comedy or the WWEification of All Elite Wrestling. It’s something else. And I want to try to find that something else.
I’m starting to realize an issue that All Elite Wrestling is going through. I’m sure some people will read and say, “This isn’t me” and that’s great. I don’t care.
AEW Future Movement
Between 2019 and 2023, there was a lot of wrestlers coming to AEW who felt like they could be the future of the company. Maxwell Jacob Friedman, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, and Sammy Guevara were the first four really pushed like this and called “The Pillars” for it, a title I still roll my eyes about. You had Hangman Adam Page who felt already slotted in that “soon to be AEW Champion” position, and a position he would obtain at Full Gear 2021. You had Orange Cassidy, Ricky Starks, Wardlow, Powerhouse Hobbs, Private Party, and Hook all coming in. We saw independent wrestlers choose AEW over the WWE Performance Center path like Wheeler Yuta, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty, and Top Flight. A new crop of youth would come in featuring Konosuke Takeshita, Aussie Open, and 18-year-old Nick Wayne. There’s plenty I’ve forgotten, wrestlers still in their 20s or signed in their 20s like The Gunns, Anthony Bowens, Lee Johnson, Bandido, Griff Garrison, Preston Vance, Action Andretti, and others.
This isn’t even getting into the women’s division. I’m only focusing on the men here. Did you know Toni Storm just turned 28? Wild.
There is all this youth, all of these young stars who need television time and development to get to the next level. I mean, I haven’t even got into the guys in their 30s who came to AEW who never got the chance to be a world championship in WWE but deserve it in AEW like Swerve Strickland, Adam Cole, Andrade El Idolo, Miro, and Malakai Black. Or guys who came from Ring of Honor like Rush and Brody King. Or Jay White who came from New Japan Pro Wrestling at age 30.
It feels like I’m just naming guys at this point but there’s a point to this. So many of these guys people wanted to see elevated. Moved up from midcard to the main event. Guys who were stars in other places so they should be stars in AEW. Guys who developed from the ground up in AEW. Guys who didn’t get a chance to be a star in WWE or elsewhere but could be a star in AEW. I’ve named over 35 wrestlers and I could name more but I’ve exhausted the point.
People wanted to see guys elevated. But they also wanted most of the stars at the top to still be at the top.
AEW fans get afraid of the idea of anyone leaving. Cody Rhodes leaving left a big spot in the main event which got quickly filled by CM Punk. And now CM Punk is gone and the spot is filled by Adam Copeland. They were fearful of The Elite leaving but they signed contract extensions. Jon Moxley has signed an extension. Bryan Danielson will finish his full time in ring career in AEW. FTR signed new deals and went back to the top of the AEW Tag Team Division. Chris Jericho is still a prominent part of the company. Christian Cage is on the best run of possibly his entire career. Samoa Joe is doing strong work and staying healthy. Claudio is doing some of his best work. Eddie Kingston is beloved and finally got his big championship win at Grand Slam.
Where do these guys go when you elevate other people?
A lot of the complaints right now about All Elite Wrestling is on guys like MJF and The Acclaimed. Before MJF won the AEW World Championship people were screaming for him to be elevated or else AEW could miss the mark with him and he’d walk in 2024. Well he’s been champion and now people want it back on guys like Moxley, Omega, Page, or on Bryan Danielson or Samoa Joe. Or… someone new like Jay White, Darby Allin, or Swerve Strickland. Everyone has a list of a dozen guys they want to be World Champion. What happens when you get what you want and MJF, a made in AEW talent still only 27-years-old, who is a proven TV draw, proven arena draw, main evented All In in London, England, sells merchandise… what do you do with him?
The Acclaimed, I’ve never been a fan of. I think there’s better tag teams and I didn’t like how much time they got. But going to AEW live in Detroit, Michigan, it was clear they were one of the top babyface acts in the company and fans bought their merchandise. You reward acts like that with championships. With FTR hogging the Tag scene, The Acclaimed moved to the Trios division and beat the House of Black. It was the right move. They might have already overstayed their welcome, and much of it comes down to Max Caster changing his character from a cocky insult rapper to this weird not gay but in love with MJF super fan who says inappropriate stuff and acts like a child? I get why some are tired with them, and I get taking the trios championship off them. But they are still an over act. You have to keep them in some mix. Where do they go next?
I’m a big fan of the program between Swerve Strickland and Hangman Page. It’s not perfect (I don’t care for invasion angles and Hangman should have cut a promo on Swerve by now, or tried to murder him) but it’s the right program for both men. Whoever comes out on top of this should be a lock as the number one contender for the AEW World Championship. What do you do with the loser? Do you just elevate both men? And more importantly, who moves down?
If Adam Copeland and Christian Cage are feuding over the TNT Championship while Orange Cassidy and Jon Moxley is feuding for the International Championship, what is Darby Allin supposed to do in the meantime? Why was Bryan Danielson having random matches on AEW television? What were they building up to? If Jay White loses to MJF for the AEW World Championship, where does he go next? Everyone wants to see these guys still in the mix for championships or TV time but how do you move them up without moving someone down?
Saving Every Era At The Same Time
And herein lies the problem.
AEW has to somehow make the people who want to see who brought them to the show still in prominent positions while also elevating new acts but not at the expense of the acts they still want to see.
A lot of fans see AEW in 2023 and they see Acclaimed in a title position. They see MJF in a title position. Orange Cassidy in a title position. Big Bill and Ricky Starks as tag champs. The only thing familiar to them is Hikaru Shida as Women’s Champion. Chris Jericho isn’t on top like has in 2019. Jon Moxley isn’t on top like he was in 2020. Kenny Omega isn’t on top like he was in 2021. Hangman Page isn’t on top like he was in 2022. CM Punk isn’t in the company anymore. Young Bucks are barely working tag matches. Lucha Brothers are barely working tag matches. The Dark Order are now lower card pretenders. Best Friends just support Orange Cassidy. One of the only constants is Hook still as FTW Champion and people are upset he isn’t doing anything new. Guess you can’t make everyone happy (he should be doing something new, or better yet, be on excursion to Japan and Mexico to become even better.)
They are fine if some guys get pushed to the side (nobody is crying for re-assembled Factory QTV to get a shot) but the stars they want to still be top stars while also moving up new guys. It’s a delicate balance, and anyone who they don’t think fits the balance they will complain about. They also are critical whenever someone doesn’t get over the way the company wanted (Sammy Guevara and Wardlow are examples, Jungle Boy maybe as well) but they also don’t want to see them pushed or tried again. It’s a one and done because if you don’t get over? You’re taking time away from the original stars of All Elite Wrestling.
What Can AEW do?
Hard to say. Very hard to say. Because elevating MJF was the right thing to do. Putting the Trios Championship on Acclaimed was the right move at the time. You can get the titles off of them but you have to find something for them to do. You can’t have Maxwell Jacob Friedman disappearing for very long. He’s still your best young superstar. You have to create a delicate balance between pushing your former top guys and your new top guys. It’s good to have an AEW Trios Championship where you can have Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, and Claudio Castagnoli wrestling for it but it’ll cause people to complain about a lack of singles matches from them. Same issue Kenny Omega has had in working trios matches and tag matches with Chris Jericho. And who knows if Omega even wants to work that many high profile singles matches right now with his health and career?
The best thing you can do is programs like Page vs. Strickland. Programs with two high profile names where one has to come out a winner and deal with the consequences of people disappointed on who was the loser. What’s important is that they are on equal ground. Kenny Omega’s program with Konosuke Takeshita is a good idea in practice in having the established guy elevate the younger talent but people are going to complain about Omega not working the guys on his level like Danielson and Moxley anymore.
It’s good that AEW is increasing their pay per view count so you can have guys work shorter programs but people might complain about the lack of long term programs anymore. Again, you can’t make everyone happy. But a steady cycle of guys in and out is the only way you can hope to create motion that never feels like anyone is losing attention. You’re never going to be perfect. You’re always going to leave someone behind or do the wrong thing with someone. But the wins are what people will eventually count. Nobody goes 82-0.
On Thursday I suggested Jack Perry being The Devil who haunts MJF and eventually beats him for the AEW World Championship. Should that happen, you can put Jack into the fire immediately by having him defend the championship against the likes of Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, Hangman Page, Orange Cassidy, and Darby Allin. All before having MJF return to get his rematch. You don’t have to spend a year doing it. With the five hours of TV time, you can just book big television matches and have Jack build his resume as The New Devil before The Original Devil returns by Revolution or Double or Nothing.
Another thing you can do? International and TNT Championship can’t have long term reigns. These have to be belts that come and go quickly for wrestlers. That way they get their bit of spotlight and then drop it to someone else to get theirs. Keep the rotation going, even if it feels like people are only getting started. If someone truly catches fire on the ratings and drawing you can keep the championship on them. If it’s status quo? Pass it along.
“But… The Future Refused to Change.”
That comes from the 1995 videogame Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo, where if you don’t change the future and stop the world eating Lavos it will tell you that despite being a crew of time traveling teenagers tasked to stop a near unstoppable alien force, the game ends with the world on fire and that text.
All Elite Wrestling has to figure out a way as we leave 2023 and enter 2024, to somehow change their future. They have to find a way to keep the traditional AEW fans in the past happy on the stars that brought them to AEW, while also keeping those same fans who wanted fresh superstars to move up to see that. All Elite Wrestling needs to go back in time, but also go forward, and somehow do it all while serving those masters.
The Future Refusing to Change is the bad ending. Thankfully this isn’t a videogame. Cheer up, kid. Lavos loses.