Since my vacation, or really, since All Out 2021, I’ve been coming back to draft posts in all sorts of angles to discuss the audience reach and growth of All Elite Wrestling, or AEW.
The thing is, it’s hard to not gush or give a 10-paragraph history lesson about the Monday Night Wars of the 90s, the subdued parallels of the current WWE vs. AEW showdown to that period, or just the way that AEW was founded and formed – all of which are fascinating and posts that could stand on their own in the future. Today, instead, with the biggest-ever edition of AEW’s weekly Dynamite show scheduled to air, I thought I’d talk about the company at bird’s eye and then discuss why this show specifically has such a high amount of buzz.
AEW is gaining in popularity and mainstream buzz for a few reasons. Firstly – it’s different than WWE, in that a lot of the particular flaws of WWE are alleviated on the AEW side of things. Everyone on the show has a storyline and some sort of progression happening, the roster rotates through a lot so the weekly show has a few cornerstone performers but features a lot of people, and the presentation is much more thoughtful and respectful of the audience’s intelligence. Mostly, though – AEW is just fun. Shows look like raucous parties because they are, full of life and energy, and the fans are brought along for the show with adjustments made based on fan feedback to keep the show appealing to its viewership. For the first time since the Monday Night Wars, WWE Raw has been beaten in the key advertising demographic of 18-49 year olds by AEW, although there are more total people watching WWE and there is some debate as to the ability to compare numbers from two different nights in the week with different viewing habits.
Over the last month, AEW has made shockwaves through the wrestling landscape through a series of major acquisitions – first CM Punk, who returned to wrestling after a seven-plus year hiatus after his WWE tenure soured him on the industry as a whole, and then at All Out 2021 in early September with three big debuts – Ruby Soho, who was a strong independent wrestler before a few do-little years in WWE because they weren’t sure how to promote her, Adam Cole, who rejoined his real-life friends the Young Bucks after a solid tenure in WWE’s developmental brand NXT, and perhaps the biggest signing, Bryan Danielson, the former Daniel Bryan of WWE, who was in the Wrestlemania main event this year. Both Danielson and Cole had fruitful careers in WWE and had the opportunity to take big money contracts to stay, and in Danielson’s case, WWE was even willing to do the unprecedented step of negotiating a partnership with NJPW to allow Danielson to work in Japan away from WWE to fulfill career goals. Both men allowed their contracts to expire and left WWE for AEW, stating in interviews that they had no issues with their WWE experience but that AEW was fresh, new, and exciting to them and would allow them to do more with their careers.
All of this leads to today, which is the normal air day for AEW’s flagship weekly television show, Dynamite. This edition is so special and hyped for a few reasons. Firstly, because AEW only has 4 pay-per-view supercards per year, they often will pick episodes of Dynamite to promote big matchups and have a PPV feel episode, and this one is the right setting. Why? Well, it is AEW’s first stadium show, away from the basketball and hockey arenas they’ve been running and into something larger and with far more fans. Arthur Ashe Stadium is a tennis stadium, so not quite that NFL-level 65,000+ fans, but a solid 20,000 for a promotion that has mostly been selling out arenas in the 7,000-11,000 seat range. Arthur Ashe is also in Queens, one of the boroughs of New York City, which, while not WWE’s actual homebase, is their spiritual home, with much of that promotion’s storied history happening in Madison Square Garden. This represents the wrestling equivalent of a turf war, with AEW stepping into the city for the first time. If tonight’s show sells out all remaining tickets, which is quite possible, the show will break 20,000 attendance, which will make it the biggest non-WWE wrestling event in North America since 1999, and even if not, it will still hold that record and also be the company’s largest attendance since its formation in 2019.
Thus, AEW is capitalizing on it with a huge card full of marquee matches, both for tonight’s Dynamite and the taped episode of AEW Rampage, their new Friday night show, which will be a two-hour special this week with matches taped tonight in front of their biggest-ever crowd. What are the highlights? Well, there are a lot, so let’s break them down.
Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega
Two wrestlers held in high esteem as the greatest working today, who’ve had one prior match in the independent scene over a decade ago – this match, while non-title (Omega is the reigning AEW World Champion) is a big fucking deal. It is a dream match to many, to see what the development since their last match will bring to the table, to see two of the finest pro wrestlers today practice their craft together in front of a huge excited crowd, and to see what the storyline implications are coming out of the match. Omega has a few viable storylines on the table now and the result of this match may push him more towards a title feud with Danielson over the current ideal for fans, which is to lose the title to Hangman Page in the culmination of that wrestler’s 2+ year storyline about his own personal growth. Cherry on top – this is Danielson’s first non-WWE match in over a decade, and his style on the indies was decidedly more fast-paced, violent (his preferred indie chant was “You’re gonna get your fucking head kicked in!”), and athletic than what the WWE house style allowed for. This one will for sure be a banger.
Dr. Britt Baker DMD vs Ruby Soho for the AEW Women’s World Championship
This match will certainly be good, and the two wrestlers involved have had absolutely great promos with each other to build the match up. Baker has been a great champion and her character has improved so much from AEW’s founding through to today, while Soho was not very well used at WWE and is capable of a lot more than most mainstream audiences have been able to see. I don’t expect a title change but the match should be neck-and-neck throughout and how they end the match should define the next bit of character building for both performers.
Cody Rhodes vs Malakai Black
This match is sort of a funny one. Cody Rhodes, despite being an EVP of AEW and part of its foundation, is sometimes a guy that hardcore fans love to hate, largely because his feuds often involve his friends and family and his character tends towards bland promos (he loves to cut boomer-adjacent promos about how the American Dream is a real thing you can achieve and his last major feud was AEW’s first instance of “Good American vs. Evil Foreigner” so yeah) and the most WWE-styled booking and production, which is often…not great! That being said, he’s a great wrestler all-around and I think he gets unfair flak at times. Malakai Black is a tremendous performer who was underutilized in WWE as Aleister Black – he can cut exceptional promos, he has a strong creative vision over his character and what he presents on-screen and in-ring, and he has a presence that is hard to describe, but captivating. Their first match was Black mostly kicking Cody’s head off and owning him, which was very cathartic, and while I expect tonight to be competitive more than that first meeting, it is hard to say who would win, which is great.
Adam Cole and The Young Bucks vs Christian Cage and Jurassic Express
Adam Cole’s second AEW match is alongside his old friends the Young Bucks against Christian Cage and Jurassic Express, who’ve frequently opposed the current Elite faction and been beaten down for it. All of the performers in this one are solid and there’s a good set of converging storylines tying it all together, which is when wrestling is at its best! This one won’t be on TV until Friday, along with the next entries on this list.
Lights Out Match: Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley vs Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Lance Archer)
Lights out is AEW’s gimmick for a no rules match, basically to say it’s unsanctioned by AEW (which is obviously a storyline construct, but you know, suspension of disbelief!). Eddie Kingston has been a joy in AEW, as he is a master of his craft and cuts incredible promos (on the backstage vlog Being the Elite, there was a few week stint where he would have to cut promos on inanimate objects, and he sold a blood feud with a chocolate chip cookie in a way that made me want to see that match!), and since he is a Queens native, it is also a homecoming for him. Jon Moxley, the former Dean Ambrose of WWE, has been a foundational performer for AEW from the outset, and does his best in this deathmatch style environment. Minoru Suzuki is a legendary Japanese wrestler who looks like he could murder you with his bare hands but then also owns a clothing store in Harajuku, posts his sock fits to Instagram, and is such a big fan of One Piece that there’s a character based on him in it. Lance Archer is a great big man and has history with Moxley both in AEW and in Japan, and Suzuki and Moxley have had bangers on both sides of the Pacific as well. This one should be fun.
Powerhouse Hobbs vs CM Punk
This last entry is anticipated for a few reasons. Powerhouse Hobbs is a great young wrestler with a solid character and grasp on how to present himself coupled with great in-ring athleticism. CM Punk is a legend on the mic and pretty great in the ring, which his comeback match at All Out showed. This will be CM Punk’s first TV match in over 7 years, which is a minor distinction (PPV is also TV in my eyes, but I get the distinction they’re going for here) but it is also one worth hyping to get more eyeballs on the show. Before joining AEW, Punk had identified Hobbs as a talent he saw a lot of potential in, and so I have to imagine that both men are going to work this match to make Hobbs a star, even if he loses.
Overall, as a wrestling fan who returned to actually watching wrestling with AEW’s founding, I’m very excited for tonight and Friday, and as someone who wants to share that with people, I’m glad to have an alternative that is rapidly becoming viable competition for WWE.