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Opinion

Three Important Things AEW Needs to Get Right in 2022

With 2021 coming to a close, Tommy decides to look ahead and throw out some ideas on AEW’s course of action in 2022.

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As the year winds down and wrestling fans begin to construct their obligatory 2022 Predictions List for Wrestling, All Elite Wrestling will certainly be amongst those ongoing discussions.  AEW has seen many drastic company changes in a short two-year timestamp, and while those changes have substantially improved the quality of the product in various categories (mainstream growth and finances to be specific), there are still a few major particulars that need to be given proper attention in the coming year.  The following list draws attention to some of those issues, although they are not exclusive to this list.

Roster Prioritization & Cutting Deadweight 

One incremental shift that we have seen in the last two years with AEW is their approach to their roster construction.  Whether discussing the accumulation of more household names like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Adam Cole or analyzing the rotation of whom is being featured in more prominent roles, it is hard to argue against the idea that as it stands in 2021, AEW has crafted its most successful and star-studded roster since 2019.  However, along with the accumulation of recognizable and established names, AEW has also immensely increased its roster size since 2019.  And while there are multiple benefits to be had out of the roster growth, AEW has struggled to gain consistent ground with being able to effectively feature a hand-selected number of talents over extended periods of time.  Moreover, it is impossible.

Hence, we have seen them try to make up for this by pairing and grouping talents together in clustered factions in order to give them more “camera time.”  It has proven to be more of a recipe for disaster than actual constructive booking, as it paints them in a corner of having too many people on screen at a given time; the end result is that no one is actually being effectively spotlighted.  And if AEW is going to restrain from adopting a “brand split” between Dynamite and Rampage, the solution really comes down to using an old-school territorial roster booking approach.  In other words, they should ideally select between ten and fifteen wrestlers to primarily feature on their premiere shows in a two or three month timeframe in the lead-ins to TV specials or PPVs; the end goal is to build up several key programs and strictly focus on those important programs with everything and everyone else taking a backseat temporarily.

Meanwhile, they can use AEW Dark and YouTube shows to begin eventual methodical character progression before rotating their roster to new programs.  The other attention to detail within this booking formula is to ensure that they are only allotting TV time to proficient, ready talent and cutting back on the spotlighting of heavily “green,” inexperienced talent.  This is not to say that they can not feature lesser experienced talent, but they should abstain from focusing too much time and attention to them until their ring ability, promo work, and character development are ready for primetime television.

To this day, AEW’s greatest dilemma with their current roster is generating a cohesive talent pool to makeup for their ongoing J.A.G. (Just Another Guy) Syndrome.  The cold, hard truth  is that, given the depth of the current talent pool, it is extraordinarily difficult to assemble a roster of one-hundred plus wrestlers without falling into a pit of having a handful of those J.A.G. names in some capacity.  The issue is that AEW has too many J.A.G.S. at the moment, and until they cutback on the deadweight talent and prioritize on a selected few talent to prominently feature each week, this problematic pattern will continue in 2022.

AEW needs to remember the cliche phrase, “When you try to spotlight everyone, you end up spotlighting no one.”

Market & Brand to Mainstream Audiences

It is evident that AEW’s target appeal is for their primary demographic (males 18-49).  However, if AEW is looking to grow and succeed as a company in the next five to ten years, there needs to be a concerted effort to branch out and reach new viewers and new audiences.  One issue that AEW continues to struggle with is their assumption that everyone that watches their product understands and follows the inner workings of all storylines and angles.  While the “internet, hardcore fan base” may be privy to the intricate details of most AEW stories and characters, it is a poor business model to assume that everyone knows what is going on at all times.  AEW has been extraordinary hit and miss with its consistent presentation of stories and characters to an expansive audience.

For example, hardcore fans that follow New Japan Pro Wrestling may be knowledgable as to whom Tomohiro Ishii is and the significance of his affiliation with Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends.  However, a casual AEW fan who does not follow New Japan may not understand the nooks and crannies of that alliance.  And when AEW coldly throws them out to work a tag match on television with no video pretape or package to provide back-story, it assumes that everyone already understands what is going on.  Regardless of whether or not it seems redundant, it is always better to dumb stories down for the audience by some off-chance that a fan needs context or reason behind a given match or story.

Attention to Formatting

Angles in professional wrestling have been a constant part of the art form since its inception, but something fans forget a lot of the time is that wrestling angles also used to be special and unique.  When you watch an episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling from 1985 on the TBS Superstation, you may get one “angle” on the entire show, whether it was an afterbirth heel beat down or a verbal confrontation at the interview booth.  The point being that, it would standout as something special on the show, while the rest of the program consists of squash matches and brief promos.  While fans like to reminisce about the greatness of the Attitude Era period of wrestling in the late 90s, there is a valid case to be made that the Attitude Era helped to kill the value of professional wrestling angles.

Due to the nature of the business by that point and the ongoing battle between WCW and WWF for fan admiration and viewership, the concept of “Crash TV Angles” became second nature to what fans would come to expect on a given show.  Many matches and segments on Nitro and Raw shows included run-ins, interference, mass brawls and beat downs, and chaotic scenes, sometimes to the detriment of both products.  And while it may have worked for the time, it has also left a stain on the business in years to follow where other companies have tried to adopt that same Crash TV booking approach with the belief that it would carry weight in a much different period of wrestling.  Looking back through modern lens, would it be wrong to assert that it may have been “too much?”

The evolution of the “smart” wrestling fan can find it difficult to settle on matches with multiple run-ins, shenanigans, and angles without feeling overwhelmed and gypped if it does not feel warranted.  For AEW, this is still an area where they struggle to find a balance.  Again, this reverts back to the previous discussion of trying to book and spotlight too many wrestlers on a show at a given time.  Thus, AEW may find it crucial to get these wrestlers involved with interference and afterbirth angles just to “give them something to do.”  However, when AEW has three or four of these kinds of matches booked on a given show, it can be become problematic; the same can be said about booking backstage interviews that end in mass brawls multiple times throughout the show.  The end result is that nothing ever feels like it has any consequence or meaning.  The other dilemma is that it comes off as WWE Lite.

Again, AEW would greatly benefit from modeling the format of their matches and promos from a territorial standpoint.  Instead of implementing Crash TV booking for multiple matches and segments on a given show, they should limit this to one or two at the most.  This way, angles feel special, they have time to breathe, and the announcers can spend more time discussing the significance of said angles without needlessly forgetting about them the minute they end.

Conclusion:

AEW has improved the quality of their product in a lot of areas, but there is always room for improvement.  And while there certainly can be more additives to this list of things AEW need to focus on in 2022, these are some of the more apparent and essential ones.  Thoughts?


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Opinion

King’s Greatest Hits Of Jeff Hardy

As he battles his demons, Chris King looks at some more positive moments in Jeff Hardy’s career!

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Jeff Hardy WWE Smackdown

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the disturbing news that former WWE superstar and recent AEW signee Jeff Hardy, was arrested again for multiple charges including a DUI.  Hardy has had a hard and tragic road of recovery throughout the years in multiple wrestling promotions.

Not too long ago, Hardy walked out on WWE after they were rumored to have offered the former world champion to go to treatment for his substance abuse issues. Hardy refused and said that he was better but, as we saw the demons are still lurking and got the best of him again.

I have seen some nasty comments and even some distasteful memes about the AEW superstar and felt compelled to go against the grain. Instead of kicking a man when he’s down, I’m going to put together a greatest hits for the “Charismatic Enigma.”

Jeff Hardy & The TLC Match

Everyone can say that Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon helped innovate the iconic ladder match and you are right, but Jeff Hardy and his death-defying stunts changed the concept of the match forever. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian and their iconic TLC match should have their wing in the Hall of Fame. The risks all six superstars took for the adoration of the crowd could have ended all of their illustrious careers. In the words of Vince McMahon, It’s such good shit!

Jeff Hardy Earns The Undertaker’s Respect

On the July 1st, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw, Hardy delivered the performance of a lifetime nearly winning the WWE Undisputed Championship from The Undertaker in an incredible ladder match. The young up-and-comer was faced with his greatest task yet, challenging for the most prestigious title in sports entertainment. Hardy showed that without a shadow of a doubt he deserved to be in the main event scene, but came within minutes of defeating Taker. At the time of the match, Hardy was still finding his footing as a singles competitor and earned the respect of the champion and legend.

Swanton Bomb From The Heavens

When I think of the daredevil Jeff Hardy, I can’t help but think of this one crazy-as-hell stunt. At WWE One Night Stand 2008, Hardy faced off against the juggernaut Umaga in a falls count anywhere match. This match was so insane as both superstars fought into the parking lot. Hardy is one of the craziest and bravest superstars, hit a Swanton Bomb off a damn stage truck onto Umaga. It’s one of the wildest things you’ll ever see.

Hardy Wins The WWE Championship 

In 2008, Hardy finally made his way to the main event title picture alongside partner Triple H. HHH was Hardy’s mentor in some sort of way which led to the daredevil achieving his lifelong dream of becoming WWE champion. At the 2008 Armageddon pay-per-view, Hardy would face HHH and longtime rival Edge in a triple-threat match for the title. In what was a great match between all three superstars, Hardy delivered a Swanton Bomb to Edge to win the illustrious championship.

Straight Edge Problems For Hardy

The following year, Hardy found himself in the way of young-up-and-comer CM Punk who is looking to make an example out of him. Punk had won the Money in the Bank briefcase for the second year in a row and took advantage of Hardy to win the world title. What started as mutual respect between both superstars changed drastically, when Punk started throwing jabs at Hardy for his drug and substance abuse real-life issues. Punk would form his infamous stable known as the Straight Edge Society. This is a very underrated feud and you should go back and watch it in its entirety. The promos are gold.

The Hardy Boyz Return To WWE

Both Matt and Jeff Hardy found success in multiple other wrestling promotions including Ring of Honor, and TNA during their time away from WWE. Both brothers were struggling with their vices and made poor life choices but straightened up their act over the years. In 2017, the Hardy Boyz would face longtime rivals The Young Bucks in ROH. The following night the adored tag team would make their incredible return to WWE at WrestleMania 33. Matt and Jeff would be named the final team in the Fatal 4-way ladder match for the Raw Tag Team Championships. The pop these two received was insane and very much deserved. They would go on to win the match and win the titles to capitalize on their momentum.

Jeffery Nero Hardy Makes AEW Debut

From 2017-to 2022 Jeff Hardy would find himself pigeonholed in the mid-card title picture. He would have feuds with a plethora of superstars including Samoa Joe, and Randy Orton. Orton and Hardy had a nasty Hell in a Cell match back in 2018. Earlier this year, Hardy was seen running around after the 24/7 Championship, which was disappointing to see. After being genuinely unhappy in WWE, Hardy would make his AEW debut on the March 9th episode of AEW Dynamite. Hardy would come to the aid of his brother and longtime partner.

This week news broke that Hardy had been arrested for multiple charges including a DUI. While it’s easy to beat a man while he’s down, how about we uplift and try to encourage him to get the help he needs.

As a longtime wrestling fan, I have the utmost respect for Hardy and wish him the best of luck in his battle with addiction.


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Opinion

DeMarco’s Things I Learned From WWE Smackdown On FOX (June 17, 2022)

Greg DeMarco presents what he learned watching WWE Smackdown On FOX for June 17, 2022, featuring Matt Riddle, Vince McMahon, Pat McAfee, and more!

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WWE Smackdown Riddle Reigns

Greg DeMarco presents what he learned watching WWE Smackdown On FOX for June 17, 2022, featuring Matt Riddle, Vince McMahon, Pat McAfee, and more!

WWE presented Smackdown on Friday night, June 17, 2022, from “Moneyapolis” featuring the “big fight feel” main event between Roman Reigns and Matt Riddle, with The Tribal Chief’s Undisputed WWE Universal Championship on the line. We also continued down the road to Money In The Bank in Vegas.

RK-Bro Is Effectively Done

The video package and all of Matt Riddle’s tributes to Randy Orton are just a little bit too much. Riddle does “too much” very well–in fact, it’s his character. But the amount of tribute being played to Randy Orton seems to be a set-up for Orton’s eventual return (whenever that might be) OPPOSITE Riddle. Maybe it’s in the Royal Rumble, maybe after.

Regardless of how it happens (and much of that has to do with his surgery and rehabilitation process), I think we are closer than ever to a heel Randy Orton opposing the babyface Matt Riddle.

Madcap Moss Is Undeniably Over

“Madcap just might be a guy.” – Pat McAfee

Pat McAfee knows what he’s talking about on this one–Madcap is indeed a guy. Riddick Moss always had the tools, just had injury issues. Since making his return to competition as Baron “Happy” Corbin’s sidekick, all Moss has done is prove his worth to WWE. He’s got a good look. He can cut a good promo. He’s vastly a underrated in-ring storyteller. And above all else, he has “it.”

WWE is always looking to add to the main event rotation, but it seems harder to crack that right now. But Madcap Moss has what it takes to do just that.

Montez Ford Is Gonna Be A (Solo) Star

The Street Profits are a fantastic act, and are insanely over. But Montez is a guy–a guy who the company can build around. While I feel bad for Angelo Dawkins, I (along with so many others) see Ford being a solo star.

We’re Getting Baron Corbin vs. Pat McAfee At SummerSlam

It’s the perfect set-up:

  • Baron Corbin is highly regarded within the organization as one of the safest workers around, a point that has been made by Randy Orton himself.
  • Pat McAfee is a big-moment superstar, and SummerSlam is the moment for him.

And for the record, I love it. While I an a big time purveyor of “Baron Corbin Sucks,” I know what he can do in the ring. And him vs. Pat McAfee would have Nashville rocking–and that is what McAfee in the ring is all about.

Vince McMahon Is Literally A Man Of Steel

If you have listened to any of Bruce Prichard’s podcasts, you know Vince McMahon believes you “don’t sell.” Not in the ring, but whenever the world has turned against you in any way–including lawsuits and investigations–you don’t sell it. You hold your head high, and live above it all.

That’s exactly what the boss did when opening up WWE Smackdown On FOX. It’s entirely possible that the plan changed along the way, and we were going to get “Mr. McMahon” at some point–but what happened is trademark Vince. Not the character, but the man. And if we expected anything else, we haven’t been paying attention.

Matt Riddle Is Now A Made Man

Matt Riddle and Roman Reigns delivered a pay per view (or premium live event…pick your poison) quality main event on WWE Smackdown on FOX, on a night where the world was likely watching. Tonight was his moment, and even in a loss, he delivered.

With a singular world champion–and one who likely isn’t losing anytime soon–it’s hard to say when Riddle could become a world champ. But the stipulation added to tonight’s match (which wasn’t discussed enough on air) means that Matt Riddle now cannot challenge Roman Reigns again (that’s how the graphic showed it). That screams a Money In The Bank or Royal Rumble win to me.

It’s also highly possible that a Seth Rollins wins the Money In The Bank briefcase, and his cash in splits the titles back up, opening the door for Riddle come next spring.

Either way–one fact remains true: Matt Riddle is now a made man, and doing it on his own.


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