All together now ‘a traffic jam, when you’re already late, a no smoking sign, on your cigarette break’. Okay I’m back after a hiatus getting my world in check, and unsurprisingly a lot has happened in the world of pro wrestling. A fiend now holds the blue brand title in WWE, AEW Dynamite has launched, and Brock Lesnar is corpsing all over R-Truth. The cog keeps turning.
But the focus of this piece is not what I’ve missed, but what I’ve picked up on. All-Elite Wrestling premiered in October to just over 1.4 million people, and today continues to reach around 950,000 homes which is decent given that NXT goes head to head. But it appears to be the established stars that are getting the most out of their TV time on TNT on Wednesday nights.
The first thing I noticed whilst watching Dynamite in its first few weeks is that the standout feuds were Cody vs Chris Jericho, which was built tremendously, and Jon Moxley who carried his feud with Kenny Omega. I find the latter most interesting because of how each participant in said feud was being presented. Moxley was presented as the unhinged version of what could have been his WWE persona, a character that was supposedly unpredictable and crazed. Kenny Omega on the other hand was presented as…well Kenny Omega. His in-ring work, the thing that go him so over in New Japan Pro Wrestling is stellar. I’m not so much a fan of the pointing and such but that’s a nuance that you’ll have to take up with Jim Cornette.
Omega has had very little exposure on TV in north America to the ‘casual audience’ and he is finding out that a character is detrimental to the success of a talent. Cody, for instance has completely repackaged himself. He comes across as a star because he believes he is one. He wears the suits, is comfortable in his presentation, and wouldn’t you know it, got much of this exposure and understanding working for the WWE. In no way am I saying the WWE made him what he is today, he did that himself. But they gave him the foundations of understanding how to get over in the American market.
By contrast, look at The Lucha Brothers. Again, they have exposure in the United States, but not on weekly television for a promotion that reaches as wide as AEW (obviously Impact, but that didn’t have the reach). Pentagon Jr is the muscle and has a good gimmick but continuing the ‘Cero Miedo’ thing four or five times a show every week is going to wear out even the most die hard fan. Fenix on the other side is the innovator and a truly incredible talent. But it feels like he needs to find something that makes his character stand out as much as his in-ring work does.
I won’t even get into the Dark Order. Those punches…oh those punches.
The exception to the rule seems to be MJF. At the age of 23, this young man simply ‘gets it’ when it comes to professional wrestling. He talks, makes people want to see him get beat up and he makes them wait until they pay for it on Pay Per View. He is a true shining beacon on the roster and a certain future world champion.
The biggest issue I think is the women’s division. The direction at the beginning seemed quite straight forward. The ‘Native Beast’ Nyla Rose seemed like a great monster heel that could rule the division, and Britt Baker DMD seemed like the perfect foil for this monster. The Riho happened. Absolutely nothing against the athleticism of Riho, but she suffers from the same issue Marko Stunt suffers from, a distinct lack of believability. But while Stunt has hitched his wagon to the Jurassic Express, who are getting over, Riho is simply a small ‘Joshi’ wrestler from Japan who doesn’t have much of a character and has simply been presented as an underdog on television. The problem started when she beat Nyla Rose for the AEW women’s title. Britt Baker was then beaten regularly (once against Riho), and since then we’ve had random tag matches, whilst fantastic female talent such as Kris Statlander, Sadie Gibbs and Big Swole. It feels like the division has no direction. The division needs character, and whilst the Joshi wrestlers on the roster are incredible athletes, their work rate isn’t getting them over in the marketplace because wrestling fans need a reason to care about a wrestler.
One of the many ways that AEW could have worked through this is with vignettes. Well produced vignettes like they have done for the Dark Order. Kenny Omega is a prime example of someone who could benefit from having pre taped vignettes to get over his character and why people should be investing in him instead of this ‘best wrestler in the world’ thing he has come in with. The likes of the Young Bucks and Omega walked through the door with big expectation on their shoulders. All great performers, but if they want to grow their audience, casual fans of the product need to know why to care about them. The tag team and women’s division need stories. not just random thrown together tag matches that mean nothing. There’s a reason Chris Jericho’s segments are the highest rated and most anticipated.
That reason my friends is because he’s not wrestling. He’s talking. Isn’t that ironic?
All photos and videos courtesy of All-Elite Wrestling (Facebook and YouTube channels)