By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 4, 2019)
After finally sitting down and watching the All Elite Wrestling All Out Pay Per View event last night, I came away with a few takeaways. Before we get to those, let’s be real and let’s be direct. This is the closest thing we’ve seen to true North American competition for Vince McMahon since the death of World Championship Wrestling in 2001. With all due respect to TNA/Impact or Ring of Honor, neither of them have ever even approached being any level of threat.
But, with Tony Khan’s money and two hours on primetime cable TV on a major station, TNT, this is different. Also, from its outset, AEW’s braintrust has gone out of its way to make it clear that WWE is in the crosshairs. Whether it was Cody Rhodes smashing a throne with a sledgehammer to make a statement to the audience that Triple H is the enemy or the “shoot” promos that have poked fun at various WWE creative decisions, this is a WAR in the wrestling context, the first of its kind since the late 1990s.
However, although AEW might have a bit of a “cool” factor to some, the show left me with the same questions and concerns I’ve had since day one. The first thought I had was it’s time for this Wednesday Night Dynamite product to debut. I know Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and Cody can put together a great spot show. I know those guys can do the YouTube series, but I couldn’t care less whether you or anybody else could book a perfect one night show. If I asked any fan with a brain to book WrestleMania, that individual could put together a great card. But, the build to those matches might not be very good, and then comes the kicker…
…cool show, so what would you do every week for the next decade, and what would you do for the next half dozen super shows?
AEW has put forth some great bouts thus far in its year of existence (including the original All In show when the promotion still had no name) but as someone that doesn’t watch Being the Elite or follow the internet angles all that closely, what I lack is any reason to care about what’s happening. Cody’s matches have been the exception, but outside of his personal issues with Nick Aldis, with his own brother, and with Shawn Spears, AEW is a collection of spot shows. I need stories to give a crap. Right now, they’re lacking, because there’s no TV. The events thus far have all been at least “good,” a few have been “great,” but I’ve watched so many matches in my life that the wrestling itself doesn’t often blow me away anymore.
Also, there are so many great wrestling matches between New Japan Pro Wrestling, PWG, Revolution Pro, Progress, MLW, AAA, NXT, occasionally WWE, and certainly AEW, it takes a LOT to stand out. For example, on Saturday AEW gave us a little bit of everything, including some things I have utterly no interest in. Darby Allin, Joey Janela, and Jimmy Havoc used staple guns, papercuts, thumb tacks, skateboards, and everything else under the sun, and all I thought of was the absolute worst of the former ECW, the stuff that doesn’t hold up unless you never grew up. This was so implausible and borderline embarrassing, because in 2019, the game is up. Add in the idea that there were no stakes here at all, and I’m wondering why these three men are attempting to murder each other on a pro wrestling show.
AEW has been a success thus far, without any question. The sellouts and the rabid crowds (although Saturday’s group was more selective) and the dream matches and the intensity are undeniable and they’re good for the industry. The announcing has been average at best. I love Jim Ross to death, but he often feels out of place, and there’s little flow or chemistry between he, Excalibur (of PWG fame), and Golden Boy. Mistakes will be made and remedied, people will move around as they fit into roles, but there are some production issues and some camera cutaways that need to cease immediately.
All Out was fun and it was filled with hard work and largely good wrestling, but it was five hours with the pre-show and there was so much variety that wasn’t paced or placed with any cohesion. Pac and Omega should have been later in the night, the women’s match died in front of the crowd, the Dark Order/Best Friends bout left the audience quiet and disinterested, and anything Cody does turns out to be a highlight because it has a story! His stuff looks major league and could have played in any era, but his is basically the ONLY stuff that can at this stage.
The first AEW World Champion is Chris Jericho, as it should be. He’s the biggest star in the promotion relative to the public at large, not the internet fans that are already “all in,” to borrow a phrase. He defeated Adam Page, who the promotion wants to craft into its top babyface, but the fans aren’t buying it, nor am I. I like Page, he’s young and he can work and he can talk, but you can’t just will something into existence without setting it up properly in advance. Here, Page won a battle royal to earn his way into the match, then wasn’t handled well on subsequent shows, came into All Out cold…the fans weren’t into him, and although the bout was very good (Jericho was better than he’s been in quite some time), no one took Hangman’s challenge seriously.
WWE has so many problems, but Vince has done weekly TV for decades. AEW is entering uncharted waters, and although the wrestling minds are there to keep the momentum going, including legends like Arn Anderson and longtime, respected veterans like Dean Malenko, the question is what All Elite Wrestling is once they’re doing two hours of television a week and that “cool” factor isn’t as prevalent? Every AEW show feels like history right now, something you want to be a part of, and it’s a credit to Cody and the Bucks and Kenny for generating the interest and fervor.
Eventually, that new car scene will fade, and then it will be the quality of the storytelling that wins and loses this war. AEW has a lot of greyish shades in its babyfaces and heels. They aren’t doing good guy vs. bad guy yet, and reportedly, that’s more their plan. If it is, they’re in trouble, because it’s the personal brawls and the battle of hero vs. villain that draws money. You can see great wrestling almost anywhere. As good as that Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros ladder match was, I’ve seen a lot of ladder matches. I need to read the rest of that book to see if I’m going to be in line for volume 2.
So far, so good for AEW. Not perfect, but a good start. But, the check is about to come due. TV is such a different animal. This fall, as AEW and NXT go head to head on TNT and USA every Wednesday night, we have the stage for the most fascinating back-and-forth in 20 years.
It might just be us.