DAR Wrestling: The First Year-Plus of AEW

By Speed on the Beat

Over the past year-plus, wrestling fans have been treated to something akin to the classic Monday Night Wars. Kind of, at least. Between NXT and AEW running on the same night, we've seen some classic matches and moments come out of the "rivalry." The following post is a retrospective of sorts about AEW's first year-plus as a "rival" to WWE. I'm using quotes simply because there is no real rivalry, as wrestling fans win out regardless of who "wins" between NXT and Dynamite. The following observations are not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything good--or bad--about AEW, just some things that stick out the most.

AEW's experienced some growing pains over the existence of Dynamite and their YouTube show AEW Dark. They're still trying to figure out who/what works. It's somewhat hard to gauge everyone when you've got three hours a week and a roster that seemingly grows by the week. With that in mind, you'd have to be silly to say there haven't been improvements over that time.

For example, Marko Stunt was prominently featured early on but fans started to tune out. Now Jungle Express is mainly Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy, which makes the team--while comedic still--more formidable. Stunt still gets his shine, but it's less about him wrestling outright and more about him being the small dude who gets the shit kicked out of him, a la Rey Mysterio getting hurdled into a trailer by Kevin Nash. When he's in a match on Dark, he's there but he's not doing all of the heavy lifting. Thank God for that because the brother's shorter and smaller than me. I don't want to see him actually die, just kayfabe get the shit beat out of him because he bumps like HBK on hard drugs.

Another example of figuring out what works through trial and error is the path of Nyla Rose. Rose made history as being the first trans woman champion in American wrestling history. That was a cool moment. However, when she began her AEW tenure, she was green as hell. It was like watching Nia Jax but having Jax as your champion. 

Since that initial title reign, Rose has been on a back-and-forth in terms of her development. 

She's gotten a mouthpiece in Vickie Guerrero. Her matches have gotten better--mainly because she's developed better chemistry with her opponent(s). That said, there's only so many times you can see her and a smaller wrestler go at it before it loses its luster completely. I get it. Rose is supposed to be the Goliath to Hiraku Shida's David. We root for the underdog. Et cetera. However, squash matches lose their intended purpose if that's all a wrestler gets to do. People began tuning out from, say, Ryback when all he did was say "feed me more" and beat three guys at once. Rose is now mainly on Dark, squashing opponents. That's what she's good at and that may be all she's good for. Only time will tell. 

While we're on the women, the women's division is a topic that can be explored in an entire article by itself. I'll just say this. They need more wrestlers in the division and more wrestlers need to be established as more than another face (or heel, for that matter). WWE can get away with using the Four Horsewomen ad nauseum because they're all great talents that have been established through WWE. AEW hasn't exactly made any of its women wrestlers must-see, even if many of them can go in the ring. Hopefully, 2021 will bring some adjustments there.

For all the "meh" within the women's division, AEW's been great about using legends. They use them, but don't overuse them. Arn Anderson and the Rock n' Roll Express have their moments in the spotlight, but they're not featured every episode. You don't have 60-year-olds winning major titles--or matches for that matter. With that in mind, we'll just have to see how they work with Sting in the coming months and years. I anticipate something similar with The Stinger--even if he laces up his boots a few more times. I don't see them going full WCW and having him beat Kenny Omega for the AEW Championship, even if it'd be a quick pop.

Speaking of Omega, the "I'm better than you" Omega is better than the "I'm here goofing off with the Young Bucks on our YouTube show" Omega. Between his classic(s) with Jon Moxley and his appearances on Impact, Kenny Omega has cemented himself (again) as one of the major players in American wrestling. The man draws, whether you want to accept it or not.

Overall, AEW has done a lot of things right--thought they could do some things better. Thus is the catch-22 of starting a wrestling company. You want to try everything under the sun, but you also want to establish the most-viable stars for the future. You want to lean on the folks who have the names behind them (Cody, Omega, Moxley, etc.) but you want to make new stars as well. Overall, though, I've enjoyed what I've seen so far. Even if it's not the greatest wrestling company ever right out the gate, they try to give an alternative take on wrestling and sports entertainment. And I, for one, have been thoroughly sports entertained since that first Dynamite show in D.C.


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