Running a wrestling promotion is hard work. Just ask Cody Rhodes. All Elite Wrestling was brainstormed last fall among executive vice president Rhodes, his wife and chief brand officer Brandi, co-EVPs the Young Bucks, and billionaire businessman and Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan. (Kenny Omega would eventually become the fourth EVP of record.) On New Year’s Day, they officially announced their formation. Their first-ever televised event, the PPV blowout Double or Nothing, was immediately scheduled for May 25, with two more broadcasts—Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen, both of which streamed free via B/R Live—queued up for June and July, respectively. And all this before their weekly prime-time show on TNT, set to debut this October, even rolled film.
That’s a heavy lift for any company, let alone one that was ideated during the most recent football season. That’s also precisely why wrestling’s notoriously restless fan base allowed AEW a tacit grace period to muscle through its growing pains in real time. But just over half a year into this well-funded experiment in industry subversion, the time has come for AEW to flex its creative might and step into the light. To that end, we thought some pointed feedback—and well-earned flattery—might help put the inaugural six-months-and-change in perspective and offer a road map of how to stick the landing ahead of August 31’s All Out PPV and their aforementioned cable coming out. So, without further delay, here is The Ringer’s Six(ish)-Month AEW Performance Review, with categories evaluated on a highly scientific scale of “Not Great” to “Great.”
Event Promotion: Not Great
Elder Young Buck Matt Jackson has said he initially wanted to get ducks in a row and unveil AEW in May. Hindsight suggests they might have heeded his instinct. Double or Nothing was playing with house money, but still went above and beyond to satisfy the expectations of viewers plunking down more than one-third the cost of an annual WWE Network subscription for a single event from a fledgling promotion. The only problem was that AEW issued press releases for Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen in mid-April, several weeks before getting its feet wet with Double or Nothing, not to mention before sealing their partnership with B/R Live and making clear (sort of) that Fest and Fallen would be available for free via the streaming platform. By that point, some fans had presumed they’d need to shell out another $100 to catch both shows and decided to wait to spend their dough until at least All Out (which, confusingly, wasn’t made official until a teaser during Double or Nothing). And among those who did get the memo, a fair share tuned into Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen anticipating a production that rivaled Double or Nothing in bell-to-bell quality and significance. Fest was very good, and Fallen overcame some timing quirks and more than satisfied the threshold for a better-than-good gratis affair (not to mention raised more than $150,000 for victims of gun violence, its real raison d’être). Still, some folks misconstrued that the sum total of Fest and Fallen would be more story oriented and less of a win-win scrimmage, and that’s due less to a failure of imagination than disciplined disseminating of information. On the one hand, that’s the kind of thing that will be easy to message with a weekly TV show. On the other hand, well, AEW still needs to get its ducks in a row.