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Analyzing Some Of AEW’s Biggest Additions In 2021 and Looking At Where They Are Now

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The year 2021 was a big one for professional wrestling because the fans came back to shows after a rocky 2020. It was a rollercoaster of a year for All Elite Wrestling.

Tony Khan’s promotion started the year off a little slow before picking up momentum once they started touring again last summer. The surprise additions of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole gave them a shock of adrenaline for a few months after their debuts. However, I think AEW has a bit of a talent relations problem. I know what you’re saying. “Look at all the talent! How can they have a problem?!” Well, that’s the thing. It’s not the talent that’s the problem. It’s how much talent they’re accumulating that’s the problem.

They have two hours every Wednesday for Dynamite and one hour every Friday for Rampage. If you’re a talent in AEW, you want to be on Dynamite. Just like every WWE superstar wants to be on Raw or Smackdown (even those that love NXT). I know AEW has Dark and Elevation, but that’s YouTube. You can’t be a star wrestling on YouTube. Yes, they’ve had big names like Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, and even Kenny Omega wrestle on Dark. You also had the main roster WWE guys like Cesaro, CM Punk, The Shield, and even John Cena appear in the early days of NXT. That does not change the fact that NXT was a developmental brand.

I enjoy AEW. It is a very easy watch every week. Sure, they have some flaws in their programming, but that is to be expected. They have assembled an All-Star roster. AEW has always been great at debuting new talents in unique ways or ways in which to gather the most buzz. Yet, as great as they are at debuting new talent, they are equally as bad at following up on those debuts in a meaningful manner. In 2021 alone, they signed over 30 new talents. People always want to analyze whether a certain talent is better off now than where they were at. I’m only using stats since All Out 2021 because that was essentially a reset for the company booking-wise. I’m also leaving off 2022 signings since there’s not really much to go off of since it’s only April. That means no Swerve, Keith Lee, or Jeff Hardy here. Let’s look at some of the biggest signings of 2021.

 

CHRISTIAN CAGE

This one was kind of snakebit from day one. Tony Khan had hyped it up as a huge Hall of Fame worthy signing which got a lot of fans fantasy booking possible debuts. It ended up being Christian Cage, complete with his old TNA theme, at Revolution 2021. Now, don’t get me wrong. Christian IS Hall of Fame worthy in my opinion. This probably should’ve been left as a surprise instead of a tease because it fell completely flat seeing as Christian hadn’t competed regularly in years until his surprise return at WWE’s 2021 Royal Rumble.

Christian’s first week in AEW was met with a confrontation with AEW World Champion Kenny Omega. Fans were excited that Christian was coming in as a top guy. Unfortunately, it would be six months after this exchange before they met inside an AEW ring. Christian would spend the next several months in a random feud with Hardy Family Office. All due respect to those involved, but HFO hasn’t been taken seriously ever. It was a feud to keep Christian busy. Christian eventually entered into a World Title feud with Kenny Omega that saw him win the Impact World Title from Omega. After Christian’s loss to Omega at All Out 2021, he was paired up with Jurassic Express as something as a veteran adviser or coach. That partnership hasn’t really led anywhere although Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus are Tag Team Champions. They were popular before Christian and would have got the titles most likely anyway.

Since All Out in September, Christian has wrestled a total of five matches on television in seven months. They haven’t really teased a split with Jungle Boy so it is hard to get excited. It’s hard for me to say he’s not better off because he was retired before he signed with AEW. However, his run thus far has left a lot to be desired.

 

ETHAN PAGE

Ethan Page debuted with AEW at the same Revolution event that Christian Cage started at. He came up short in the Face of the Revolution ladder match, but they spent the next few months slowly building him up. Eventually, he formed a tag team with Scorpio Sky called Men of the Year. It’s not as good of a tag team as he had with Josh Alexander in Impact Wrestling, but it is growing.

They competed in, and lost, a feud with Darby Allin over the TNT Title before forming an alliance with Dan Lambert and American Top Team. ATT and Men of the Year engaged in a feud with Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle faction. It wasn’t that interesting and led to them losing to the Inner Circle at Full Gear. ATT and Men of the Year entered a brief rivalry with Cody and Brandi Rhodes that was cut short when Cody left to return to WWE. The feud with Sammy has been alright, but it has mostly focused on Sky. I would like to see Page utilized more. I like his tag team with Sky, but he needs big wins of his own and he hasn’t really had any since joining AEW.

 

ANDRADE EL IDOLO

Andrade El Idolo is another name that came in with a lot of hype after leaving WWE. Since joining AEW, he hasn’t really done much. He was in a decent feud with PAC and he went through three different managers. I think he deserves better. Now he is aligned with Andrade Family Office after they turned on Matt Hardy. It doesn’t change the fact they still haven’t been taken seriously.

Andrade has wrestled on television nine times since All Out 2021, losing two title matches to Sammy Guevara with a Full Gear loss to Cody Rhodes and PAC in there as well. Do I think he’s better off than when he was in WWE? It’s a tough call. In WWE he was off television for six months before he asked for his release. Yet, his booking in AEW could be so much better. I like the presentation. I just think he needs to move away from AFO and focus his attention back on the TNT Title. Andrade has the talent to be at the top of the company. He just needs the direction.

 

MALAKAI BLACK

Malakai Black is an interesting case as he joined AEW 30 days after his release from WWE due to a contractual error. Black came in on fire, taking out Cody Rhodes and Arn Anderson. He essentially squashed Cody in his first big match. He then entered into a feud with PAC that ended in a loss to Cody and PAC at Full Gear.

Black was eventually joined by Brody King and Buddy Matthews to form House of Black, but is now entered into a feud with perennial loser and Dark regular, Fuego Del Sol. This is a microcosm of the issues. HOB is easily one of the best things in AEW and they’ve done nothing with them. Black went from feuding with Cody, an EVP of AEW, to Fuego in nine months. That’s trending down not up. He’s wrestled twelve times on television since All Out 2021. That means out of 28 possible television events, he’s wrestled at 12. That’s a decent ratio. Unfortunately, it’s how he is being used that is the issue. He was released by WWE so I guess you can say he’s better in AEW, but the booking hasn’t shown it and he is one of the best things on the show.

 

CM PUNK

This was the crown jewel of 2021 signings for AEW. CM Punk had been absent from pro wrestling for seven years before returning at the United Center Rampage in August. It was a goosebump moment and probably the moment of 2021 for AEW and maybe wrestling in general.

Punk went on to defeat Darby Allin at All Out in Chicago and since then, has been hot and cold. The first few months of his run were filled with random matches that didn’t really mean anything. He faced Eddie Kingston at Full Gear. That match was pretty good, but suffered from the fact it only had a two-week build and one intense face off. Punk entered into his zone when his feud with MJF kicked off. It brought out a side of Punk we hadn’t seen since he left WWE.

Punk suffered his first loss in AEW to MJF in controversial fashion (he has yet to lose clean in AEW), but got his win back a few weeks later at Revolution. The main issue with Punk has been his character. The “happy to be here, I love AEW” Punk is fine and serviceable. However, he has yet to tap into that ruthless heel persona that made him a star in ROH and WWE before AEW. That, in my opinion, is where the money is. Punk has no doubt made AEW a lot of money so, in that respect, it is a win for them. However, his run hasn’t been without its faults. Hopefully, the rest of 2022 reminds everyone just who CM Punk really is.

 

RUBY SOHO

Ruby Soho debuted at All Out 2021 as the Joker in the Women’s Casino Battle royal. She got a great reaction as she should. Soho won the battle royal to earn her a shot at Britt Baker’s Women’s Title at the Grand Slam event. That match main evented the show over Bryan Danielson and Kenny Omega. It was huge even in defeat. She seemed on her way. After that though, her booking took a dive.

Ruby was entered and made the finals of the TBS Title Tournament. She lost to Jade Cargill as she should. From that Grand Slam event until now, she has competed on television eight times. From January 5, 2022, until February 2, 2022, she did not wrestle on television. From February 2, 2022, until April 15, she also did not compete on television. That means, of those eight matches, only three of those have been in the first four months of 2022. That is unacceptable considering how over she was when they brought her in. It’s an easy fix and her booking can be put back on track. It just requires AEW to put some thought into the Women’s division.

 

ADAM COLE

Adam Cole enters ring

Adam Cole joined AEW at All Out 2021 at the end of the show. It was expected the moment he left NXT, but it was still a cool visual. He immediately aligned with The Young Bucks and went on a winning streak. Cole and the Bucks lost to Jurassic Express and Christian at Full Gear before entering into a feud with Best Friends. During all of this, Cole was joined by his former Undisputed Era partners Bobby Fish and Kyle O Reilly, which could be setting up an eventual feud with The Bucks and Kenny Omega when he returns.

Cole’s first loss came at the hands of Orange Cassidy. However, it didn’t count as it was a Lights Out Match, but we all saw it on television, so a loss is a loss. Cole was then immediately moved into a feud with AEW World Champion Adam Page, making his loss to Cassidy make less sense. Cole would lose both of his World Title opportunities to Page.

Even with those losses, I think it’s fair to say that Adam Cole is better off in AEW. He gets to travel with his girlfriend Britt Baker. He is one of the best-booked guys on the show. He’s also aligned with O’Reilly and Fish and destined for a six-man feud when Omega returns. Cole was booked nearly flawlessly in NXT, but there were questions of whether that would continue on the main roster in WWE. Looking back, I think joining AEW was the right decision.

 

BRYAN DANIELSON

Danielson was the third and final surprise of All Out 2021 when he joined and helped Jurassic Express take out The Elite. Danielson immediately got his dream match with Kenny Omega at Grand Slam in a non-title match. It was a great match that ended in a draw. Bryan eventually decided he wanted the AEW World Title and was entered into the Number One Contendership Eliminator. He won the finals at Full Gear 2021, defeating Miro. Bryan then responded by turning heel for his feud with “Hangman” Adam Page. The feud included Bryan taking out various members of The Dark Order in their hometowns before wrestling “Hangman” Adam Page to another draw on the December 15 AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming special. They ran it back on the January 5 debut episode of Dynamite on TBS, a win for Adam Page.

Since moving out of the AEW World Title picture, Bryan entered into a feud with the returning Jon Moxley that resulted in another Bryan loss at Revolution. Now they have formed The Blackpool Combat Club along with William Regal and Wheeler Yuta. That has the makings of the most promising thing in AEW. Bryan was booked pretty well during his WWE run, so I can’t say he’s definitely better off. However, he has wrestled a style and done some things he probably wouldn’t have been able to do in WWE. So, in that sense, I think choosing to sign with AEW has paid off. He seems to be having fun and he’s consistently booked. Hopefully, 2022 sees him pick up some bigger wins. In addition to the awesome matches with Omega and Hangman, he also had dream matches for the hardcore fans like his match with Minoru Suzuki. Let’s see him rack up some big wins to maybe get that AEW World Title some day.

 

IN CLOSING

That does it for 2021 as far as the major signings and debuts. There’s only so much television time to go around and there are plenty of great talents not getting enough of it as it is.

I know Tony Khan likes surprises. We all do. I know Tony is a fan first with all these guys but at some point, you also have to be a businessman first and think: “Is signing this guy going to help move AEW’s business forward?” If the answer is no, then don’t sign them. Or you’ll get a lot more instances like Adam Page being frustrated at not wrestling more as World Champion or Brian Cage disappearing off the face of the earth until his appearance in ROH.

The year 2021 was a pretty good year for AEW. They’ve started off 2022 with a string of good shows, so let’s make the last eight months where AEW really moves the company forward before the important business year of 2023.

Thanks for reading. Check out my TJRWrestling writing archive here. I’m on Twitter @GiftedMoney talking about wrestling among other things, so feel free to message me on there with any thoughts or comments.