AEW is the next great wrestling empire
When people think about professional wrestling (rarely as that may be) three letters usually come to mind: WWE.
World Wrestling Entertainment has long been the only major wrestling promotion in North America — and largely the rest of the world.
This has been the case for decades but recently, a rival promotion has risen that now threatens WWE’s domination of the wrestling industry. Their name is AEW, and they are here to stay.
First, a bit of history. By the late seventies, wrestling was still largely territorial. The company that would later be renamed WWE was just another territory largely based in New York and Massachusetts.
Vince McMahon would buy the company from his father in the early 1980s, and following his father’s death, would expand the territory across the United States, swallowing up smaller territories in the process. This would lead to several major eras in WWE history.
First, there was the 1980s boom period with the creation of Wrestlemania and several big stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, among others. The hype died down in the early 1990s as there were fewer marketable stars and less general interest from the public.
One of the few territories Vince didn’t conquer, WCW, began putting up higher ratings than WWE every week. It was the first real competition WWE faced since the territorial days.
For a brief period from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, pro-wrestling was one of the hottest things in pop culture. During this time WCW put some big stars on display like Goldberg, Sting and Hulk Hogan (this time as a bad guy) while the WWE countered with big names like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H and The Rock.
This became wrestling’s most popular period, known as the attitude era for all of the strongly defined, often wacky characters that inhabited it. WWE eventually forced WCW out of business, which would be the beginning of the end of the attitude era.
It’s easy to see all these successes and think that WWE is a flawless company, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There have been large-scale screw-ups by the company, like the steroid scandal of the early 1990s, the grizzly Chris Benoit tragedy, even their recent partnership with the Saudi Arabian monarchy has been widely scrutinized.
The televised product has also been widely criticized. From the attitude era until the mid-2010s, female wrestlers essentially functioned as sex appeal. Many talented female wrestlers were held down or barely featured, a practice that has only begun to change in WWE over the last five or so years.
Many wrestling fans believe that WWE’s storytelling abilities have been getting worse. Several fan favorites haven’t been given ample opportunity or they’ve been fired altogether. With all of this, it’s no wonder that some wrestling fans have been seeking an alternative.
Enter AEW, founded by Tony Khan at the beginning of 2019, the show has been running hot ever since. Their roster is a combination of young, independent talent and wrestling vets who have already spent time wrestling in other independent promotions or had been fired or quit WWE.
AEW has been committed to giving wrestlers more creative freedom with their characters and giving their talent a more manageable workload — something WWE has notoriously resisted doing.
This has led to some very memorable on-screen performances, the villains are more villainous, the comedic wrestlers are funnier and the matches seem more legitimate.
Over the last month alone, its ratings have increased again with the huge signing of CM Punk, a wrestler who essentially swore off wrestling for nearly a decade due to how WWE treated him and his fellow wrestlers.
Most expected he would never wrestle again but unlike WWE, AEW has been making all the right decisions.
Aside from the reasons I mentioned above, one big factor that contributed to CM Punk’s return was how AEW memorialized Brodie Lee, a wrestler for the company who died unexpectedly late last year.
The company handled this tragic loss with grace, dedicating several shows to him and offering his adolescent son a managerial contract.
The point is this: AEW has been competing with WWE ever since its inception, and with every passing week they seem to grow a larger and larger fanbase.
Alarmingly, more and more WWE big-name wrestlers have been leaving in favor of AEW. Notably, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, and Ruby Soho.
If WWE wants to keep up they’ll have to start listening to their fans and their stars.
I think it’s unlikely AEW runs WWE out of business the same way WWE did to WCW, however, AEW represents everything that WWE could be but fails to achieve.
Soon enough, there may be two major wrestling promotions to dominate North America, and I for one believe that the day can’t come soon enough.