The Battle Between AEW and WWE
In case you’re not a fan and haven’t been keeping up, WWE has effectively held a monopoly in North American wrestling ever since Vince McMahon bought the WCW in the early 2000s. Predictably, this caused Vince and the WWE to get somewhat complacent in their position and morph into a kind of commercialized content factory instead of a traditional wrestling promotion. That is absolutely not to say that the WWE has not been brilliant at times. The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels matches at Wrestlemania 25 and 26 alone can be in the conversation for greatest ever and they built arguably the greatest Women’s division in modern wrestling starting back in 2015.
That being said, the vast majority of their storytelling in recent years has been complete and total trash. They frequently take performers who are already over with fans and somehow ruin them with dumb gimmicks and nonsensical booking. So bad is it at times that they drive their own performers and fans into the arms of other promotions around the world. My own expansion of wrestling taste was driven by the exhaustion I felt consuming week after week of the WWE dribble in the late aughts. Worldwide promotions like AAA in Mexico and NJPW in Japan helped refuel and rekindle my passion for the artform.
Enter North American wrestling promotion AEW
Then came the formation of All Elite Wrestling. Founded by a group of American wrestlers under contract in NJPW, Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks, along with a millionaire backer in the form of Tony Khan, they sought to do something no independent promotion had been able to do in North America in decades. They promoted and held a wrestling event called “All In” in September of 2018, and tickets sold out within thirty minutes.
The 11,263 person strong audience was the largest in attendance for a professional wrestling show not affiliated with the WWE or WCW since 1993. The creation of All Elite Wrestling was officially announced in January of the next year and by March they had signed a television contract with TNT. Notably, this was the home network of the WCW during the height of the Monday Night Wars.
Since then, AEW has slowly but steadily become the true home of professional wrestling. They’re the promotion fans turn to when the WWE books their favorite champion to drop the belt to Bill Goldberg just for the sake of having a shitty match in Saudi Arabia. Despite occasionally beating WWE in the coveted 18-49 demographic, AEW has until recently been no more than a mere thorn in their side.
Then there was a shot across the bow. In a short span, AEW scored a series of major signings of former WWE talent. This included Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, and CM Punk. It’s impossible to overstate how much of a game changer this is. Adam Cole was a performer who could have carried the WWE into the future and Bryan Danielson is one the most popular and beloved performers of this or any generation.
Then there’s CM Punk, who quit WWE and retired from the world of wrestling seven years ago. His infamous “Pipe Bomb Promo,” whether it was a work or not, really channeled the frustrations that many fans felt with how WWE was, and is to this day, utilizing the breadth of talent that they sign to contracts just to have them sit backstage and never get showcased.
Punk’s return to the ring was speculated on for years, yet he never gave any indication or desire to return at all. When rumors started spreading of his talks with WWE, the hype grew to insane levels. His decision to sign with AEW instead was the biggest shot to the WWE in recent memory.
Some say the re-igniting of the North American promotion wars began with the very formation of AEW, but I would argue that they needed time to establish themselves within the wrestling community first. After two years of bringing in a wide variety of talent, building up credibility, and establishing a hardcore fanbase, all the pieces were in place. The week of 10/11/2021 brought a confluence of events that suggested the WWE knew they were in a fight where their previous M.O. was to act oblivious to anything outside their doors.
All Elite Wrestling’s weekly flagship show “Dynamite” was moved to Saturday night from their normal slot on Wednesday night in order to avoid a scheduling conflict with TNT’s coverage of the start of the 2021-2022 NHL season. Meanwhile, Vince McMahon, maybe just to fuck with Tony Khan (CEO and co-owner of AEW), decided to extend WWE’s Friday night “Smackdown!” show an extra half hour to overlap with AEW’s own Friday night show “Rampage”.
In response, Tony Khan scheduled an hour-long pre-show for “Rampage” that aired for free on Youtube, cutting even more into WWE’s timeslot. McMahon then announced that the company’s current top star, Roman Reigns, would make an appearance on their show. But Tony Khan moved for the checkmate when he announced a scheduled match for the pre-show between Bryan Danielson and Japanese star Minoru Suzuki. The match starts at 31 minutes in and I highly recommend you watch for the experience alone.
For wrestling nerds such as myself, this was a mouth-watering prospect. Two modern day legends known throughout the industry for being exceptional workers as well as straight up hard bastards. This was the kind of prospect that Bryan Danielson came to AEW for, as this kind of inter-promotion cooperation would never happen under the WWE banner. Both Danielson and Punk, who spent many years with WWE, and despite leaving, are poised to go on the highest runs of their careers with AEW.
This is the real reinvigoration of competition, the “Monday Night Wars” for a new generation. The continued success of AEW will reignite the fire within Vince McMahon and the WWE, kicking them out of the lethargy they’ve been living in, and we will all benefit. It is truly a great time to be a wrestling fan again.