Roundtable: 18 Months Of AEW – What Have Been Their Biggest Successes?

The Inner Circle
Photo Credit: AEW

Two weeks ago we asked the Hooked On Wrestling team to highlight what, in their opinion, were the biggest self-inflicted issues that AEW need to rectify to help them continue their impressive growth. You can read that here.

It is important to stress that it is clear that AEW’s successes have far outweighed their failures in the last 18 months and we wanted to ensure that we put a spotlight on some of those successes. Not in terms of individual wrestlers or feuds. Instead, we wanted to shout about the strategies and philosophies that have allowed the company to stand apart from their competition and previous ‘challenger brands’ to establish themselves as a true force in the wrestling world.

This is what our team came up with…

Paul Benson: I really enjoyed writing about the biggest mistakes AEW are making two weeks ago. Not because I dislike the company and wanted to give them a kicking. Quite the opposite. I like to think that I am a pretty balanced person overall. Nothing in life is perfect and frankly, any time someone cheerleads for something without being willing or able to also be critical in at least some small way, I discount their opinion. Nothing in life is above criticism. With that in mind, my critiques of AEW come from a place of love. They do far more right than they do wrong and I desperately want them to get past their major flaws and reach their enormous potential.

With that in mind, it was genuinely tough to pick one single thing they have done well. There are so many to choose from. I don’t want to list loads of them to take away the impact from what my colleagues right so I will focus on one in particular.

I’m going to nominate AEW’s brilliance in marketing, branding and promoting individual matches. With two hours of network television to fill as well as two sprawling YouTube shows and Pay Per View level events, there is a lot of content to churn out each month and the easy route is to rely on the brand itself as well as main events. This is how it has typically been done in wrestling.

Not so in AEW. They have had an almost genius level ability to get me excited in midcard matches that mean little in the grand scheme of things.

The best example of this I can think of is the match at Revolution between Hangman Page and Matt Hardy. Whilst I am a big fan of Page, I haven’t really had any interest in Matt Hardy for a decade or more. Their match screamed midcard, even more so with the hackneyed ‘Winner takes the loser’s 2021 earnings’ gimmick. But somehow, through a combination of branding (The Big Money Match) and giving the match its own specific spotlight, they made it special.

Really, it isn’t rocket science. They told me it was important, they made it feel important and therefore as a viewer, that translates. It felt important when frankly, it really wasn’t. At all. That, dear readers, is the difference between good promotion and great promotion.

Arcade Anarchy Miro Kip Sabian Chuck Taylor Orange Cassidy Penelope Ford
Credit: AEW

The examples are numerous. The Arcade Anarchy match that takes place next week as I write this, Stadium Stampede, The Face Of The Revolution Ladder match…They’ve managed to turn individual matches into little branded products of their own and I love them for it. The marketer in me says that this is their greatest triumph in a business sense. It allows them the ability to focus on individual matches as part of a greater narrative and gives them all increased importance and also allows those same matches to be recalled by fans for years to come as the branding sticks easily in their minds. Just fantastic stuff.

Liam Happe: The thing AEW has done best that it absolutely must continue to do going forward is… wait for it… exist. Yep, it’s as simple as that.

Wrestling has historically shown that there is plenty of room for two mainstream outlets at any one time. The alternative not only drives up WWEs efforts but ensures wrestlers are paid a little more fairly, too. Can you imagine the Twitch saga, for instance, with nowhere to earn a meaningful income in wrestling other than Stamford? In order to carry out this seemingly simple but deceptively difficult task, AEW must avoid the pitfalls of WCW and TNA. Among the key pitfalls were: taking needless potshots at the opposition, trying to hire too many wrestlers, allowing narcissists into creative and paying too much attention to solitary but loud dissenting voices whose sole aim is to boost their own traffic with the dissent.

So, please, AEW, just keep doing what has been impressing most fans and the TNT execs, and don’t lose your head!

Gary Tait: Last time round I stated AEW needed to stop the constant jabs at WWE. I stand by that, however, whilst it is easy to bash them, it’s also just as easy to give them some praise.

The thing I have enjoyed about AEW over the last 18 months is how they’ve made their titles important. Their world title specifically has been worn by 3 men only. Jericho, Moxley and now Omega.

When that title changes, it feels important. We can argue over feuds, who deserved x, y and z, but the fact remains, when the world title is on the line, the match has a big match feel.

Credit: AEW

They have also done a really good job in the main with the TNT title and tag belts. They have made the TNT title a big deal in rather a short period of time. I do think it needs to be defended more and have more of a feud for the title, but for the most part, it’s been made to feel important.  

The same with the tag titles. Whilst it was inevitable The Young Bucks would win them, they didn’t do it straight off the bat and their feuds for the title and defending them since, have been well done.

I believe titles should be important and AEW have done a damn fine job of making their titles feel that way.

Dean Ayass: I do like the win/loss records and the little comments you get on the on-screen graphics. Just makes wins and losses mean a little more than elsewhere, plus then that leads into rankings and more logical title match opportunities.

Making managers mean something, by using experienced pros like Jake Roberts, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson as managers/coaches. They must also be a great help backstage too.

Chris Hatch: I’ve sung his praises in various other articles, but I really do feel that having Chris Jericho in the company to spread the wealth has been a key factor as something AEW have done right.

That’s not just to do with the wealth of knowledge he has been spreading to other talent, especially working with those who haven’t had much (or in some cases any) experience appearing on a high-profile weekly television show. 

It’s also to do with maximising the company’s fanbase from the off. Even with the names they’ve brought in since, with the exception of Sting who’s only one cinematic match in ‘The Demo-God’ is a man who could turn heads and grab viewership from WWE fans.

It’s the same as the shock when he first appeared at NJPW – whilst many of us will like to credit ourselves as having a depth of wrestling knowledge beyond one company, Jericho’s appearance at Wrestle Kingdom made many just that little more interested in NJPW. The rest, who may never have watched Japanese wrestling before, would turn on to see him.

Photo Credit: AEW

AEW have kept Jericho in reasonably strong positions within the company, and whilst his early win-loss record was going to be tricky to work round he still managed to make everyone he stepped in the ring with come out either a better wrestler or with a stronger direction of where they’re heading. Yes, a lot of the credit for this has to go to Jericho himself. But AEW have been strategic in the way they’ve positioned him, and have leveraged his name value in multiple ways around the company since they started which has clearly been an intentional and successful move.