As much as I enjoy the current version of AEW, I really have very little memory of the promotion’s first show. Just over two years ago, a rabid crowd entered the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a range of possibilities on their mind. Don’t get me wrong, the card was announced but in the grand scheme of things, this was a clean slate. Not just that, it was a major league clean slate, selling tickets out of the gate, arriving to anticipation. Upstart promotions come and go monthly, but clearly, this was something different.
This was no longer just an idea, nor was it a mere toe in the wrestling water. Instead, this was a project of serious scale, one with bold, broad ambitious. For me personally, it was hopeless. That probably sounds silly now and rightly so, but it’s true. I was pretty out of the game at that juncture, not enthralled by the industry’s trends and bored by my bread and butter of RAW and SmackDown. For whatever reason, I’d slowly but surely been dropping my alternatives of choice, uninterested in the scene itself.
To me, AEW was too good to be true, and all shaped by a movement that I wasn’t a part of anyway. I hadn’t watched Being The Elite and I wasn’t watching them at all by their end of their stints elsewhere. That wasn’t my thing, I liked those promotions beforehand but they now felt increasingly one-dimensional. Reliant on this single act, this one wrestling superpower that was taking over, regardless of my personal preference. It just didn’t seem sustainable in my view, building a promotion around such unknown commodities.
From the outside looking in, the online metrics weren’t particularly encouraging either. Being The Elite was performing impressively for a wrestling vlog series, but as the base for a whole company? Doubtful. Indeed, I was that wrong! I mean, we all are sometimes, but this was impressively off. I remember thinking that Dynamite would hover around 300k viewers each week, so please try your best to ignore me when I’m pondering the industry’s landscape. Either way, I was watching Double or Nothing, cynicism and all.
This was still a special moment, the birth of a brand new promotion. That’s worth embracing, even if only for the moment itself. You never know, this could be important one day, maybe the wrestling world will look back at this as the start of something magical. Well, the buy-in battle royal could’ve fooled me in that case, as I pessimistically rolled my eyes for sixteen minutes. Wasn’t really impressed in general to be honest, you won’t be if you’re watching through the lens of “prove me wrong, dorks!”
If I rewatched now, I’d probably enjoy myself much more but again, 2019 was a different time in my fandom. Anyway, I did have one match to truly anticipate: the battle between Cody and Dustin Rhodes. This one intrigued me for a range of reasons, some sincere, others slightly underhanded. Firstly, I’m a Dustin Rhodes fan, always have been, and always will be. In that sense, it was great to see him in a major PPV match, especially one that had effectively eluded him in WWE.
It must be said though, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Dustin’s performances the year prior, eventually vanishing from television as he had surgeries on both knees. Without a match since last June, a now 50-year old Rhodes would try to share a classic with his brother who while capable, wasn’t exactly known for those either. I was genuinely intrigued as to what they’d manage, especially on a show so inevitably stacked with physical thrills and excitement. My instincts were that Cody and Dustin wouldn’t belong.
If you’re reading this, you’ll probably know just how wrong I was. Natural indeed, the Rhodes brothers combined for one of the most moving matches that I can recall, an immediate personal favourite of mine. It was an emotional, passionate affair, drenched in blood and drama. They didn’t pander to the perceived product of this brand-new promotion, they just had their perfect match, a true tribute to their name’s legacy. On a show that didn’t fit in my constantly shrinking lane of likes, this match had almost brought me to tears.
Now over two years later, I’m happy to say that I’ve loosened up some, and realised that not all wrestling can or should be just one thing. I may have a certain flavour of choice but that doesn’t mean that I should resent the alternatives. Some variety is necessary and I can enjoy a range while still cherishing my favourite most. This match opened my mind in that sense regarding AEW, the idea that this could be a true variety show, allowing each performer to operate within their own expertise.
In that world, there’d almost always be something for me, as it’s a genuine buffet. It took me awhile to get fully onboard with the AEW product, but that match and the later Moxley moment sent a message my way. In my heart, I knew that this was different and one day, could be something special. My cynicism wasn’t erasing overnight but Cody and Dustin had forced it to fade, showing that though I’d grown tired of their building blocks, that didn’t mean they couldn’t build something worth seeing.
Since then, AEW has reiterated my initial conclusion each and every week. Dynamite is a collection of opposing genres, all under one banner and each striving to maximise their individual potential. It’s not a disconnected world, it’s just one rich with range, allowing the talent to do what brought them to the dance. More than that though, AEW has shown just how desperate the wrestling fan was for a major league alternative. In truth, I was as hungry as anyone, just too proud to sit down and eat.
I didn’t accept The Elite as the answer, I didn’t want them as the answer but looking back, I sure am thankful that they had the answers. Through ups and downs, AEW has breathed life into the wrestling world and best of all, they’re only just getting started.