- All Elite Wrestling, a new wrestling promotion led by the former WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes, put on its first official show, “Double or Nothing,” over Memorial Day weekend.
- The show was enthralling and received rave reviews from fans in attendance and those watching at home, and it gave clear examples of the differences between the new company and WWE.
- Between the wide range of wrestling skills on display, the access given by the performers, and the return of a bit of blood, there are plenty of reasons for wrestling fans to be excited about the future of AEW.
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On Saturday, over the Memorial Day weekend, a new chapter in the world of professional wrestling began.
All Elite Wrestling’s debut pay-per-view “Double or Nothing” aired live from Las Vegas, earning rave reviews from fans in attendance and those watching at home.
All Elite Wrestling, or AEW, presents the first true stateside alternative to WWE in two decades. The brand is helmed by the former WWE performer Cody Rhodes, who along with the indie superstar tag team The Young Bucks and the New Japan legend Kenny Omega will serve as both performers and executives for the new promotion.
Funding the project is Shad Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC, with his son, Tony, a lifelong wrestling fan, serving as president and CEO of the company.
Between its ever-growing roster of talent and its announced television deal with TNT, AEW was already positioned as a draw for wrestling fans before any action in the ring. But on Saturday, the promotion took things to another level with “Double or Nothing.”
The show was enthralling and proved not only that AEW can draw a crowd and put on some classic matches, but that the differences between the upstart company and Vince McMahon’s Goliath may play to its advantage.
In the show itself and the interviews given to reporters after the final bell, it’s easy to see just how new a product AEW is setting out to be compared with WWE.
AEW might not want to say it’s in direct competition with WWE, but its actions tell a different story.
There is no established company line when it comes to how AEW performers compare the brand with WWE, and some have been hesitant to position the new company as a competitor to WWE, given its young and still unproven status.
“We all just want to do the best shows,” Tony Khan said after AEW’s inaugural show.
He added of WWE: “I’m not really thinking about their shows, and I hope their shows are great, because at the best times in wrestling, honestly, everybody was doing great stuff.”
Inside the ring, AEW appeared to tell a different story, with Rhodes using a sledgehammer – the weapon of choice of his WWE executive/performer counterpart, Triple H – to destroy a throne designed with skulls and an iron cross, a reference to Triple H’s famous WrestleMania entrances.
“I want to play ball,” Rhodes said of the meaning behind his destruction of the throne. “I know we don’t say ‘competition,’ but it stands for itself.”
Rhodes has emphasised that he wants the wrestling to be the focus of AEW, with stories told in the ring, so don’t expect such overt jabs at WWE regularly. That said, if the opportunity arises to throw such a punch in service of the story being told, it’s clear that AEW isn’t afraid to take a shot.
There’s diversity in performers, styles, and matches.
WWE has made major strides when it comes to diversity in wrestling in recent years. At WrestleMania, a women’s match headlined the show for the first time in history, and Kofi Kingston became the first black superstar to win the world title.
But at AEW, diversity is a founding principle in not only the performers but the types of matches it puts on and the wrestling backgrounds and styles it presents to its audience. The card at “Double or Nothing” featured both men’s and women’s matches, with athletes from all across the world, in styles traditionally found in the WWE and those native to China and Japan.
After the show, Rhodes said diversity was a part of the plan for the company.
“The old territory system of ‘just one’ – and a lot of folks may remember that – that’s out,” Rhodes told reporters. “The best wrestlers are going to field the game, and that’s a very diverse profile. And I’m really proud of it. But I know we’re going to make that – we’re going to promote them as wrestlers. That’s all the elements of diversity. We’re not going to make it a PR element for us. And that I’m really proud of, because it’s about the wrestling.”
There will be blood.
One of the most jarring examples of what AEW can offer wrestling fans compared with WWE came during Rhodes’ match against his brother, Dustin.
Early in the match, Dustin began to bleed, letting copious amounts of blood spill over his face and onto the mat. By the end of the match, Cody’s bleach-blond hair was smattered with streaks of red.
Blood was an essential part of wrestling in the past and still a fairly common feature of matches outside WWE, but McMahon’s company has steered away from bloody matches over the past few decades in favour of keeping shows family-friendly, using it sparingly.
The Rhodes brothers’ match was immediate evidence that if the story called for it, AEW was willing to show some colour.
When asked whether the blood was an indicator of things to come from the brand, Cody Rhodes said, “Our pay-per-views will take it a step up.”
“Wrestling – and Tony has been really good about this – it’s sports-centric,” he said. “And the other wrestling company, they almost run a TV-G show with how protected it is. And I get that; it’s servicing the child audience. But there’s a huge part of the audience that still wants sports, still wants violence.”
He added: “I’m not trying to spoil it, but we even talked about a pay-per-view itself that’s another step up. Wrestling is violent. It’s part of this combat sports. And we’ve got a lot of guys with legit backgrounds. So I don’t mind using that word.”
With the death-match specialist Jimmy Havoc on the roster, as well as Jon Moxley apparently ready to return to his hardcore roots, the brand has the potential to put on some stellar – if vicious – matches in the future.
AEW isn’t a WWE alternative just for fans, but for talent.
AEW’s emergence is not only a promising sign for fans looking for something in wrestling that WWE isn’t offering, but a massive opportunity for performers looking to make the most of their primes, who might be disillusioned with the lack of character control afforded to them by WWE.
While McMahon still has the final say in virtually every creative decision made by his company, Rhodes has indicated that AEW will give its performers more agency over their characters.
With former WWE performers such as Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho already in the fold, and more superstars looking to exit their WWE contracts to potentially join with AEW, it appears the strategy is working so far.
Having a second prominent wrestling company in America means more competition to retain talent, which could lead to better contracts for performers at both companies. With WWE still facing criticism for its treatment of wrestlers as independent contractors, any leverage the performers can gain in negotiations can be considered progress in the right direction.
AEW is ready to talk.
Outside of the show, the most striking difference between WWE and AEW was found after the matches concluded, when Rhodes took questions from reporters for more than 10 minutes.
At WWE, media is a tightly controlled environment, with most interviews – especially those regarding the in-ring action – closely curated or done entirely in-house. Rhodes’ Q&A session felt like something out of the NBA postseason.
While this might have been just a bit of extra promotion for a company still in its young stages, Rhodes has said before that he wants to ground the company in the world of sports, so don’t be surprised if such post-match interviews continue in some form.
Further, AEW doesn’t appear afraid to address wider issues and is already reaping the benefits of such a stance.
While speaking about the diversity of the company, Rhodes told a story about how he once told his wife, Brandi, who’s black, that he “doesn’t see colour,” and that she replied, “Well, then you don’t see my experience.” He explained how the interaction widened his perspective and understanding.
A clip of Rhodes’ comment went viral beyond the wrestling world and was even retweeted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called the exchange “a promising peek into what growth looks like in our national discourse on race.”
Rather than shying away from what might be a difficult topic, AEW seems comfortable speaking about it when asked.
AEW won’t put WWE out of business, but it has put it on notice.
WWE, a billion-dollar behemoth, isn’t going to be threatened by the arrival of AEW on weekly television this fall – there’s a reason the brand uses the slogan “Then. Now. Forever.”
But while AEW won’t be the ultimate downfall of WWE, it could present some real competition in the landscape of the wrestling world for the first time in a long time. AEW has promised viewers something different, and at “Double or Nothing” it met those promises and then some. For fans tiring of the product that WWE puts out, or for those just looking to add some new styles of wrestling to their weekly consumption, the appeal of AEW could not be clearer.
As Rhodes and Khan both said numerous times, AEW wants to put wrestling first. We’re only one show into its run, but so far the strategy seems to be working out well, and depending on whether the weekly show on TNT takes off in the fall, we could be looking at the beginning of the next chapter of professional wrestling.
We don’t know how it will end up, but for now, it’s a thrilling time to be a wrestling fan.
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