It’s been a long time since a start-up wrestling promotion has created the kind of buzz that All Elite Wrestling has. And that’s for good reason.
With the massive fan following of The Young Bucks and other top indy stars, the wrestling mind and legacy of Cody Rhodes, and the financial backing of the billionaire Khan family, there’s no telling how far the new company can go.
This is all to say: Expect to come across the “AEW” initials quite a bit in the future, including in the pages of this magazine. We kick it off our coverage with this Q&A-style primer on wrestling’s newest major player.
Who will be a part of AEW?
As an outgrowth of their successful All In event in September, AEW will be anchored by several of the key members of the uber popular wrestling faction known as “The Elite.” Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks—Matt and Nick Jackson—will play prominent roles on air and behind the scenes. “Hangman” Adam Page, SoCal Uncensored, and Pac (the former Neville) have also committed to AEW. And Kenny Omega was expected to join his pals once his NJPW contract lapsed in February. The biggest name to sign on with AEW is Chris Jericho, who surprised fans by pledging his allegiance to the startup fed at a January rally in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to those prominent acquisitions, AEW has also recruited well-respected independent talent, including Maxwell Jacob Friedman, Joey Janela, and Penelope Ford. AEW is also scouting talent from international promotions, including Mexico’s AAA and China’s Oriental Wrestling Entertainment. Fans can also expect AEW to make a play for WWE stars coming off of their contracts.
What will AEW wrestling look like?
For an indication of what to expect from AEW, fans should check out All In, which was similarly conceived by Rhodes and the Bucks, and helped seal the deal with the Khan family. Although Tony Khan will officially be in charge of AEW’s creative direction, Rhodes, who doubles as Executive Vice President, has said the company will not have any writers and that wrestlers will, by and large, be entrusted to come up with their own material. Rhodes has also said the company will present a sports-based product, where wins and losses are valued. He even referenced Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s rankings system as a possible model. “Everything we’d like to do is an effort to engage the audience,” Rhodes told SEScoops. “They want something they can sink their teeth into. I can’t confirm, but we’re definitely looking at records and standings. It’s a very strong possibility.” That’s not to say that AEW won’t have its share of comic relief. After all, these are the same people who brought you Joey Ryan’s entrance at All In.
Where will we be able to watch AEW on TV?
As of press time, AEW officials had not inked a television deal, but have said they have been in negotiations with various potential networks. It’s likely that AEW announces a television distributor sometime this year, if it hasn’t already by the time you’re reading this. Among the networks rumored to be interested in airing AEW are WGN, which drew nearly 200,000 viewers for its airing of the All In pre-show last year. AXS, which currently airs New Japan wrestling in the U.S., might also be a good fit. The Paramount Network, which was formerly known as Spike, also has a long history with combat sports, including Bellator, UFC, TNA, and WWE. One of the more intriguing options is Turner Networks, which hosted NWA and WCW programming for decades, including Monday Nitro on TNT. Perhaps signaling their intentions, AEW has already trademarked the name “Tuesday Night Dynamite.”
How about streaming?
It’s unclear what, if any, presence AEW will have on so-called over-the-top video providers, but that’s certainly the trend. WWE, Impact Wrestling, NJPW, and ROH have all increasingly relied on the subscription-based streaming model in recent years, as have other sports. And Cody and the Bucks are well aware of the importance of streaming services following the success of All In on the FITE app and ROH’s Honor Club. One emerging player in the combat sports streaming universe is DAZN, which has invested big money in acquiring mixed martial arts and boxing promotions on its platform. Expanding the DAZN brand to include pro wrestling would make sense.
How often will they run shows?
At the moment, AEW has only announced one show: a sequel to All In that has been dubbed “Double Or Nothing.” The event will be held over Memorial Day weekend at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. At least two other shows are expected in 2019, including one in Jacksonville, this summer that will benefit victims of gun violence and possibly a return to Chicago in September on the first anniversary of All In. AEW’s schedule will likely ramp up upon the finalization of a television deal.
Will AEW seek to be a competitor to WWE?
While AEW’s organizers have been largely diplomatic on the topic of WWE, it’s clear that they intend to provide an alternative to Vince McMahon’s wrestling monolith, both for fans and for wrestlers. In fact, AEW is already very much competing with WWE over the signing of talent. Free agents, like The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho, opted to try their luck with the upstart company rather than sign with WWE. And, with AEW as a potential landing pad, some WWE stars have been increasingly vocal about their frustrations in the company and their desire to leave. Rather than punish them for being malcontents, WWE has instead sought to appease them with stronger pushes, as The Revival, Sasha Banks, and Andrade all experienced in January. AEW has promised equal pay and opportunities for women, health benefits for some employees, and a favorable schedule. That said, it will likely be a long time before AEW will be able to truly compete with WWE over dollar-paying fans, both in arenas and watching on TV. Paul “Triple H” Levesque acknowledged in a media conference call in January that AEW is “clearly something that we'll keep an eye on.”
How will other promotions react to AEW?
Like WWE, other major promotions, like Ring of Honor and NJPW, are racing to lock in existing talent to new contracts and also acquire free agents. ROH recently signed Mexican stars Rush and Bandido, who were very much on AEW’s radar. But, unlike WWE, other wrestling promotions are likely eager to partner with AEW on talent-sharing deals. AEW officials have suggested they’d be open to such arrangements, as evidenced by Jericho’s deal, which allows him to continue wrestling for NJPW. Omega was rumored to be working on a similar deal. That could cause some stress in the relationship between NJPW and its longtime U.S. partner ROH. For now, NJPW has indicated it will stick with ROH, with whom it sold out Madison Square Garden over WrestleMania weekend.
Will the Kahn family invest the type of money necessary to attract major talent?
It sure seems that way. As one of the richest families in the world, the Khans’ pockets are far deeper than the McMahons’, and they’ve already proved they are willing to pony up big bucks to make AEW a success. Chris Jericho has said, at 48 years old, his AEW contract is the most lucrative of his nearly-30 year career. It would likely also need to offer seven-figure salaries to attract the likes of Kenny Omega and Dean Ambrose, who was expected to part ways with WWE in April. Rhodes told ESPN that, for the company to be successful, it must “up the price point. You've got to pay your wrestlers more.”