Does AEW Have a Diversity Problem? Here’s What They Need to Fix in 2022

Essays

Since its founding in 2019, All Elite Wrestling has become the true home of professional wrestling. After years of watching the WWE infuriatingly waste the talent of their performers solely because they couldn’t cut an effective promo, AEW came along and created an avenue where wrestlers could get over with fans simply through their in-ring proficiency alone.

The ability to entertain on a microphone is an integral aspect of engaging the audience, but professional wrestling is, after all, an artform that is based on telling stories through physical, choreographed actions and movement, not unlike dance. Performers like Darby Allin and Jungle Boy Jack Perry are so good between the ropes that no amount words would make the audience look at them with more awe than they currently do.

AEW gave a home to performers and fans alike who felt the WWE way of doing things was getting stale and betrayed the very basis of what makes it such an enduring form of entertainment. However, for all of the positive changes that AEW brings to televised North American wrestling, it is by no means perfect and beyond criticism. Here are three things I’d like to see be given more focus in the company in 2022.

More Diversity at the Top of the Card

Recently, former AEW talent Big Swole talked about her time with the promotion and lamented what she saw as problematic issues with their creative direction. Namely, the dearth of Black represenation at the top of the card. President and CEO, Tony Khan, responded to this criticism by fitting nearly all of AEW’s black wrestlers in one tweet, which was not the flex he seemed to think it was. In defense of Tony, he’s not wrong in pointing out the diversity of his roster. They just crowned a black woman, Jade Cargill, as their inagural TBS Champion, and one of their former Women’s Champions, Nyla Rose, is both transgender and half African American. 

You can definitely find Black representation within the roster, that’s not the issue here. It’s that, througuhout the short history of AEW, the top of the men’s singles card has been and still remains remarkably white. Hangman Adam Page was recently crowned the fourth AEW World Champion at last year’s “Full Gear” PPV. He is white, the challengers to his belt have been white, and current wisdom suggests that his successor (my money is on MJF) will also be white.

One could argue that we’re just waiting for a Black wrestler to work their way up through the ranks that crowds can get behind, but professional wrestling is a scripted sport. AEW can push whoever they want. Give a performer some TV time, give them an intriguing angle, and crowds will respond. If there’s no one on the current roster who can fill that role effectively, then Tony Khan should look to sign talent who can. A wrestler I previously pegged as a ready-made potential Champion was recently released from WWE, Keith Lee. With his non-compete clause coming to an end soon, he’d be a shock debut that would make headlines and make crowds go wild. 

More Creative Focus in the Mid-Card

Every wrestling promotion has ups and downs with their booking. Creatively, WWE was dominant in the 90’s “Attitude Era”, Lucha Underground had a couple of years in the mid-2010s where they were the most refreshing wrestling product around, and NJPW was undoubtedly the world’s premier destination for wrestling talent when Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada were putting on arguably the greatest series of matches ever starting in 2017.

Similarly, AEW has been in a creative boon since it’s founding. The booking at the top of the men’s card has never missed and clearly receives the most careful consideration from Tony Khan. This comes, however, at the expense of the mid-card which has been feeling lackluster for a couple of months now. 

The lower and mid-card segments make up the majority of any wrestling show. It’s not enough to have a fire main event if the other 3/4ths of your show is boring and unengaging. This is why fans and critics have been asking if AEW is in trouble. Feuds between wrestlers have felt forced and inorganic. We’re starting to see repeat matches between babyfaces and heels who should be moving on to new storylines that advance their on-screen characters. Instead, we’re seeing back stage interview interruptions and match interferences as a lazy way of building conflict.

WWE has run these tired tropes into the ground for years, no one wants to see AEW follow the same patterns. This feeling of malaise around anything that’s not a Championship feud is fairly new, however, there’s plenty of time to fix it. Tony Khan and his creative team just have to readjust their focus and give an equal amount of care to every aspect of their booking up and down the card.

More TV Time and Significant Booking for the Women’s Division

As with the mid-card, the entire Women’s Division has seen similar issues of concern. Throughout the entirety of AEW’s run, the women have seen dramatically less TV time, and that’s even controlling for the differences in roster size. In all fairness, the women’s roster didn’t see many big name signees in the company at first.

They were essentially building the division from scratch with a lot of green talents. Although now, 3 years later, we’re starting to see those performers come into their own, with four of them recently competing in very well-recieved tag team street fight. Thunder Rosa, Ruby Soho, and the most recent signee, Mercedes Martinez, add veteran experience to the roster and Britt Baker as Women’s Champion has quickly become the face of the division that AEW has been missing. In 2022, Tony Khan should commit to featuring more than one women’s angle/match per televised show.

The best way to develop talent and build crowd support is by simply giving your performers time in the ring. Not every match or angle will resonate with fans, but that’s never stopped any promotion from continuing to book male wrestlers. AEW’s Women’s Divison is also still relatively small, they should look to sign more big name talent from the independent scene as well as former WWE talents like Ember Moon to continue rounding out their roster. 

This is by no means a complete list, and for any flaws it may have, AEW is still the most must-see wrestling brand in the world right now. Writing and booking for two episodic wrestling shows per week is most definitely an arduous, never-ending task. I can’t blame anyone for falling back on well-worn tropes every now and then. Hell, I can’t even get the creative juices flowing enough to write an article for this publication every week. But throughout the short tenure of the company, Tony Khan and AEW have written some of the most compelling pro-wrestling drama in decades. We know they have it in them, now they just need to get back to work.