Collective Thoughts on The State of AEW by Lance Augustine

Welcome back for some more Collective Thoughts on what is sure to be a polarizing subject, All Elite Wrestling. It has been a while since I have written a column and have mainly been focusing on WCW reviews, but after watching AEW: Blood and Guts this week, I feel like I have something to say. There is something Good, Bad, and Ugly about the company and I am going to try and outline all of it here.

Let me start things off by stating some of the positives that I have seen with AEW since its inception. First off, I think they have provided a product that is at times very different from WWE, which is what fans of wrestling for many years have been clamoring for. Maybe not in terms of storylines overall, but the use of blood, language, and even chair shots to the head, which I think should be outlawed forever, just feels very different than what we have become accustomed to. I believe their emphasis on the Tag Team division and their ability to have matches keener to those of The Attitude Era, is something sorely missing from the mainstream wrestling scene. I like the fact they have a real, gritty feel to everything that may feel indie at times, but overall, I think they do a nice job with the presentation of their characters.

I will talk about the in-ring work a little later. The new crop of home-grown talent like MJF, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Sammy Guevara, etc., has been refreshing, and while they are still learning on the job, I think they are adapting well seeing how they have never been on national television before this. I know they have had some slight exposure, but nothing on this scale. I am not as much of a critic of Tony Khan’s promoting as some other people are, and if nothing else, he knows how to convert fans from TNT to buy their PPVs at a solid rate every time. I also appreciate the fact that they stick to their guns and have 4 big PPV’s a year, and are resisting the urge to have more. It is a good way to keep them feeling special. Even bringing in veterans like Chris Jericho, Paul Wight, Christian Cage, and a few others gives them the ability to mentor the younger talent and help get them over. Now, whether or not they actually do that is another story.

All in all, AEW has a lot of positive momentum moving forward. They heavily promoted the Blood and Guts match, which is just War Games with a different name, and pulled down a respectable number that was #1 on cable for the night, which is awesome. Wrestling companies that are run by people other than Vince McMahon and are pulling numbers like that should be ecstatic. I want to keep the positivity train going because like a lot of my colleagues, I want to see AEW succeed. If it gains enough traction, maybe it will force WWE into another version of The Attitude Era. Well, after thinking about it, never mind.

With every positive thought, there are always other sides to the story. I mentioned that the company felt different from WWE. Saying different comes with a big caveat, however, because as different as they seem at times, other times it seems like Vince McMahon is writing their shows. From the weird gimmick matches to some of the outlandish things they try to accomplish to grab a rating, it’s all oddly familiar. Let‘s just take a step back and look at the grand scheme of things.

One glaringly obvious hole in their game right now is the officiating. The sad part is, it isn’t even the referee’s fault a lot of the time. They were instructed to not have DQ finishes, which is absolutely ludicrous, and blatantly ignore the tag team rules that have been in existence since, I don’t know, forever. This makes every single match that is intended to be a little off the rails feel less substantial because every match you know is going to have an outcome other than the no DQ stipulation. I know DQ finishes are the worst and we hate seeing them when they do happen, but when they are used correctly, they can be a useful tool to advance storylines. The tag team rules being disregarded is infuriating, but that could be an entire column onto itself.

As far as the gimmick matches go, this is where AEW feels the most indie out of anything else they do. I was an outspoken critic of having an Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match. That kind of match is so niche and only appeals to the smallest group of wrestling fans. Obviously, I saw it, and to say I was disappointed would be a sentiment I am sure that many wrestling fans share. I have never in my life thought, “man, watching dudes beat each other senseless and throw each other into sharp objects would really perk my day up.” It’s a work, man. We were promised a “sports-based” presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a stuntman. We also had a match with video games surrounding the ring, which just reeks of something Vince Russo would book, and of course, Blood and Guts this past week.

Blood and Guts were just War Games, let’s not sugar coat it. The match is close to Cody’s heart because his father, the late, great Dusty Rhodes, was one of the originators of it, and feels like it is a great way to settle a feud. And it is. The problem is that this match was scheduled for last May, but since the pandemic hit, they pushed it off until now. I want to be upfront and say that I have no problem at all with War Games or any match that shares its qualities. My problem is, especially in this case, is when it is being used. Above all else, including everything I have outlined so far, my biggest gripe with AEW is their infatuation with grabbing a spectacle every single time they can. What do I mean by that? You didn’t have to have this match as the first match of a feud that is clearly what they have penciled in for their main event for the next few months. Chris Jericho came out and said, “it’ll be the first match in a longer feud.” What!? You want this to be the opening match to a feud, and not the climatic end of going back and forth and the only way to settle it inside of the cage. It’s little stuff like this that really separates people that have been booking wrestling for years vs. people who have been doing it a whole lot less. I didn’t have a problem with the match as a whole because I think there was a lot of good that took place and I don’t even think my problem is with the match, but with how it was shoehorned into this spot.

I agree that MJF is a top heel and should immediately be put into meaningful feuds at the top of the card. I actually thought he should have beaten Jon Moxley for the AEW World Title when they had a match a few months back. There are different ways to handle it, though. The way guys used to get over is a long process that takes years of guys busting their ass and getting to where they need to be. Now, granted MJF is a special talent that from day one, you knew he was going to be one of the top guys in the industry for a long time. I just don’t know how I felt about the way they have been going about it.

This brings us to the ugly of the entire company, which is the production. I don’t think anything makes them look more low rent than when you openly shoot people when you shouldn’t be and the camera picks up on it. It’s not the performer’s fault, it’s whoever is in the truck. It completely takes you out of the match and reminds you that these guys don’t hate each other. I feel like that has been the one thing that has been holding AEW back. Some weeks the ring has a loud mic one week and the next week it doesnt. You can hear the house mic clear as day one week and the next week you hear crowd noise over it. It’s the little things that are going to help grow an audience. Imagine if a first-time viewer was watching and saw that. I know I, for one, would laugh, and be done with the product. I am a jaded wrestling fan though, so here we are.

The worst example of this was the Blood and Guts match, though. They kept a camera on Jericho while talking to guys and could see them openly blading. The finish would have been a lot better suited shooting the back of MJF, rather than shooting Jericho laying in what is clearly a crash pad. Of course, the argument of Jericho’s age has come up and his willingness to take a risk being a little bit older. To that I say, don’t take the bump then. Jim Cornette is an old-school guy that lives in 1945 somewhere, but when he says makes bumps count and save it for matches people are going to remember, I completely agree with him. Is anyone going to remember Blood and Guts? I am not talking about the fans that will be there no matter what, but as a casual fan, was it something that makes you want to watch week in and week out? Time will tell.

I don’t want this to sound like someone saying “get off my lawn”. I like the new style of wrestling at times. It’s fast-paced, non-stop action is suited for people with attention spans like myself. With that thought, it seems like wrestling has sort of lost its identity along the way. The whole point of a wrestling match is having a babyface and a heel and having one of them triumph leading to more matches down the line. We don’t have that anymore with companies, like AEW, openly admitting they don’t follow that same line of thinking. That’s fine, but what’s the point then? With that logic, you are just having two guys go in there, flip around, and collect a paycheck. I could watch guys in a backyard do that. I expect something more out of mainstream wrestling. Storylines that draw me in. Wrestling matches that make sense and make me feel something for either one of the guys in it. Why do you think matches like Austin vs. Hart at Mania 13 hold up so well today? It’s because it was two guys that went out there, knew what they were doing, told a story, and Austin became the biggest draw in wrestling because of it. They didn’t need explosions, barbed wire, or anything else to get the point across. I don’t need to see guys taking outrageous bumps and be confined to a wheelchair later on in life. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. The whole point is trying to make people love or hate you, come to the arena, and giving them their money’s worth. It’s not being on Twitter updating your bio every week to establish yourselves as heels (like the Young Bucks). Imagine The Road Warriors being on Twitter doing that. It would be wild stuff.

I am just a wrestling fan that wants quality programming. Stuff that isn’t meant to be exclusively for children and stuff that doesn’t have two guys mutilating each other. There has to be a happy medium somewhere in there. We have seen it before. I am a big AEW fan and wish nothing but success for the company. To keep people like me around though, they might want to start looking at a bigger picture.

Now that they got all the gimmick matches out of their systems, hopefully, they will be used more effectively moving forward. Wrestling is not the same as it was when we were kids. The quicker we come to that conclusion, the better off we are going to be. I guess we all have to get used to the way things are now and stop living in the past so much.

What are your thoughts on AEW thus far? Loved it? Hated it? Think I am an ass? Either way, let me know over @collectiveheel on Twitter. Take care of yourselves, and each other. I will be back soon enough with some more Collective Thoughts.