What A Difference A Year Makes

All-Elite Wrestling. Some love it and others hate it but one thing you can count on is that everyone is talking about it. They were in 2019 and even more so in 2020. The question is what side of the fence are you on? I have yet to meet a single fan or anyone connected to the business who has said that AEW is just ‘not bad’. No, no, no….they either think its the greatest wrestling promotion in the modern day landscape or its an unrelenting disrespect on the legacy of the industry and its very foundations. There usually is no in-between from the inception of its inaugural episode of Dynamite on TNT to the one year anniversary which just passed.

Hello, I am Phil Gordon, the voice of MCW and in this edition of The Grand Slam I will lay out the reasons why I think the case is neither with AEW. It is just a promotion that became and stayed relevant and has had its share of ups and downs. They have had a few triumphs and many growing pains like any promotions tend to do when starting out. Right now I am going to point out the pros and cons of the promotion and where they can go from here. Also, in the end I will dish out my own criticism of the excessive lovers and haters of the hot upstart promotion….let’s get this car started and roll on down the highway…

Pro: The Right Veterans

Like any pro-sports team in a rebuilding phase the future depends on young superstars. However those very said superstars need veteran leadership to develop and learn. Look at what Mario Lemieux did for Sidney Crosby when he extended his NHL career to take the phenom under his wing (you’re welcome Martin!!) and would eventually win multiple Stanley Cups.

AEW is mortgaging its future on newer national stars but the vets like Jericho, Dustin, Daniels, Kazarian, Hager, Pac and Matt Hardy are the glue that holds it all together. Even bringing in great promo men and classic minds like Jake, Arn, Tully and even Taz in a heel manager role can only make the roster better. Having long-hardened warriors like Billy Gunn, Dean Malenko & Jerry Lynn helping out mostly behind the sins is also a win for sure

Con: Overkill
Readers can go back and examine my Grand Slam on the Matt Hardy / Sammy Guevara incident from a while back but I will say again a lot of the in-ring is too much, too fast. The bar is set too high and the stunts are becoming too dangerous. I feel TNA had the same problem back in its heyday as these people are amazing athletes but are trying too hard to get the cheap pop and sacrifice long-term storytelling. With the brilliant minds of some of these aforementioned vets they still have a long way to go in terms of slowing down the action and taking a ‘less-is-more’ philosophy that would benefit them long term.

Pro: The American Nightmare
I left Cody out of the veterans list because I truly think he deserves his own category. He wears this promotion on his sleeve and takes it very seriously and it shows in his work. Outside of a few select encounters I never fully got behind him during his WWE tenure. Yes, I do realize he has an upper management position with stake in the company. He has a smoke-show wife who arguably shouldn’t be performing on TV and yes he has a title. All that aside I feel his work in AEW has been spectacular and his promos have taken him to a new level. It is super-rare for the modern fan to get behind a babyface that is genuine but Cody has found a way to break through. He may not reach the stratosphere of Father Dream but he has the fanbase eating out of his hand and whenever he turns heel it will really mean something and break some hearts. I still get a rush thinking about his All Out 2019 match against brother Dustin and put it amongst one of the most engaging blowoff matches I’ve seen in years. I also find it ironic that his awesome theme is from a band who has done other songs for WWE….yet this one was unused and cleared for Cody…great move!

Pro: JR & Tony
You can’t go wrong with Jim Ross on commentary…no matter what age the man is. He still has it and amazing his counterpart Tony Schiavone has returned to his late 80’s form (when I feel he was best) and is rejuvenated to be in the business again. These two play nicely off of each other and should just be left alone.

Con: Three’s A Crowd
This may seem petty but as an announcer trying to hone and improve his craft can we just do away with three + people in the commentary booth? It’s done…it’s over…I miss the days of Gorilla & Bobby, Vince & Jesse, JR & The King, Styles & Cyrus, Russell & Brown…you get the idea. The best announce teams of all time have been between the interplay of two people….a third is only acceptable in the booth if its a wrestler getting heat on a storyline…there is zero value added when Excalibur screams ‘woah!!’ or ‘Ahh!’ or repeating what the other two announcers said already. Even when Jericho gave a masterclass on heel commentary during this year there still shouldn’t have been three men in the booth. Stop following in WWE’s flawed logic with this one and return to the two broadcaster setup…it works.

Pro: Dr. Britt Baker
AEW had something very unique on their hands as for the very first time a licensed dental practitioner wrestled for a major wrestling promotion. It wasn’t a gimmick….before the pandemic Britt had an office in Florida where she did dental work during the week. It became more impressive listening to her journey on an episode of Talk Is Jericho however, as a babyface with a one-dimensional gimmick she floundered. Then she turned heel and had unexpectedly weird chemistry with Tony Schiavone and took off into stardom. Being the obnoxious and self-righteous role-model has been a perfect role for her and made her the crown jewel of the women’s division.

Con: Too Many Women
On a related note AEW can arguably be guilty of making their roster ‘too inclusive’….don’t get me wrong I believe anybody from any background deserves a shot….that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed a shot and take the place of more talented workers to virtue signal. I believe AEW is guilty of this at times and their women’s division is a little overcrowded. Don’t get me wrong again…I love women’s wrestling and its surge in popularity but like a lot of critics would say a lot of these ladies aren’t ready for primetime. This is an indication where I think a ‘less is more’ approach would help the division and not pandering to the SJWs in the audience and the media.

Pro: Knowing Their Audience
I have to admit that this promotion does a pretty good job catering to the younger audience. Some will cry fowl as they don’t think the modern fan has the proper respect for the business. This is arguably true but in terms of image, marketing and attitude I feel its a perfect fit for that primarily Male 18-24 that is mostly watching this on a weekly basis. It is obvious to compare it to late 90’s WCW for obvious reasons but it has a similar look and feel…albeit more constant energy. I also marvel at their uses of social media and filming AEW Dark for Youtube.

Con: They Pander To That Audience Too Much
I may be contradictory on this one but I feel that when wrestling companies identify their target audience they can get trapped in trying to please them once too often. I do feel at times that AEW is the immature little brother trying to mimic his older and cooler sibling. A lot of the comedy is not for me and I feel it comes out to get cheap pops for that said audience and hurts the product. Also when they bring in other wrestlers with indy background they need to invest more time in telling their backstory. I’ve seen some new faces come in and get their names announced by saying ‘That’s____’ and because he has a name on the Internet I’m supposed to know how they are without any further explanation. Not everybody is in the know about the indie stars…please expand past that Internet audience mentality. Also speaking of the Internet, AEW really needs to reformat their website…the navigation is awful.

Pro: Talking Smack
This one will drive some people crazy (Nicky Martin I’m looking in your direction) as count me in as a lover of all the ‘pot-shots’ that get taken at WWE on their television show. My reasoning for this is because the smaller dog in the fight is going to make the most noise and yes one can argue they have no business doing this but I love the mox(le)y of it all. If you have the money and resources to get this thing off the ground you want to be confident. You may not be the big dog on the block but you want your presence known and most fans and members of the industry have been longing for legit competition. I have no issue with former WWE employees putting kerosene on the fire to raise a few eyebrows. This doesn’t mean AEW is going to topple the McMahon empire or anything crazy like that but I have more intrigue than disdain for the harsh words uttered by Cody, Hager, Miro, Moxley and Brodie Lee. Its no different than when people like Steve Austin migrated from WCW to ECW and weren’t too happy about it….to quote Heyman ‘you have a grievance….I have a television show’…keep it coming

Con: Omega & The Young Bucks
I enjoy watching Kenny Omega bell to bell. It’s also cool that he has a Winnipeg connection and accomplished a lot in Japan, however I find him completely devoid of charisma. I can’t get emotionally invested in the things he does. Same can be said about the Bucks. They are amazing athletes that work hard but their matches drive me nuts because they don’t sell anything and look completely indestructible. I also don’t find them charismatic or even that likeable. It seems like this social media troupe known as ‘The Elite” think their all that and then some but have yet to prove to me as a fan that they are legit draws and contenders for the future.

Pro: MJF
Unlike ‘The Elite’ has a ton of charisma with a tremendous future and upside. Even the most hardened critics of AEW have a lot of good things to say about MJF. A true heel which is so rare in this area and is progressing at just the right speed. His heather known as Wardlow has also been a key ingredient in his success. The sky is the limit for MJF.

Con: Overall promo work
Outside of a few select individuals on this roster the overall promo class of AEW leaves a lot to be desired. With vets like Arn, Tully and Jake around you would think some of the interviews would be better than average. Not quite the case and while at least some of their promo segments don’t go quite as long as WWE like to do the verbiage is still rough around the edges and needs work.

Pro: Leadership from Management
Call me crazy but I think Tony Khan has handled some difficult situations quite well. Has he been perfect? No….and he is constantly under fire for the direction of the promotion and for being a ‘fan-boy’ mark but here are a couple of things I’ve liked about his tenure so far. The cold hard truth is AEW has handled protocols way better for the pandemic than WWE did. They were swift, ahead of the curve and they were rewarded by first allowing fans into their venue and therefore giving their television a more lively atmosphere. Also I admired the firing of Jimmy Havoc and suspension of Sammy Guevara. I thought the punishment fit the crime in both instances and gave the locker room some accountability. It also helps that their venue is technically outdoors and is attached to the stadium of the NFL team Father Khan owns…still….not a bad job for a guy who allegedly does nothing but ‘play wrestling promoter with Daddy’s money’

Con: General Lack Of Focus
I briefly touched on this before but the promotion overall is still overly focused on the pop for the moment and not as much on the long term burn. This doesn’t mean that they haven’t done this at all. I like the fact that they can sometimes promote big television matches 2-3 weeks in advance but there still seems to be a lack in terms of planning the main event of your big annual show and working backwards. That is how promotions should focus and while I’m on the subject with the list of veterans the ring psychology is still very messed up in a lot of matches. Realign that focus and amazing things will happen with this promotion

In Conclusion:
This is my insight as a loosely termed ‘broadcast journalist’…whether you agree with this or not I feel that I’ve given an objective view of what’s great about AEW and what seriously needs work…find me on Twitter or DM the MCW Facebook page for additional thoughts / questions….in closing though I have a personal message for the lovers and haters who won’t look at the growth of this promotion objectively:

The Lovers
Please take off your rose-coloured glasses. I get it, as a fan you’re excited and you should be. However that doesn’t mean that AEW is the only ‘wrestling that matters’ or that everything they do is genius…it’s not. It’s a work in progress and I won’t tolerate the blindness of fans who won’t appreciate good wrestling from other promotions because they feel that AEW can do ‘no wrong’. The best promotions in history have always made mistakes and I expect you as intelligent fans to own up to them and see things as they really are when they are not working.

The Haters
I agree with quite a few things you say however you are starting to drive me crazy! You don’t like AEW to the point where you won’t give any of it a chance…fair enough…you have your own forum and opinion and the right to express it anyway you like….but I do have an issue when I hear the same complaints over and over and over and over and over again about the same things. It’s even worse when those stale and tired complaints aren’t followed up with any positive reinforcement….please stop!! Using this promotion as a punching bag has taken its course…if you feel its a slap in the face of the industry….that’s fine…that’s your opinion but just tune out and let the people who want to enjoy it, do so in peace. If it doesn’t measure up to the wrestling of yesteryear you used to enjoy….then watch old wrestling….and celebrate it….or even better pass along some of that knowledge to those who work there and could use it if need be. Wishing hurtful things to AEW to the extent of ‘hoping’ it goes belly up hurts the entire business, whether that coincides with your own personal agenda or not.

I’m Phil Gordon and I hope you found this edition of The Grand Slam informative and balanced. Big announcements coming out of the MCW camp in the neat future…stay tuned as I know you’ll be excited!!

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