aew, two years in: part 2 (the good)

The complete 180 of Britt Baker

I’ve said this a couple of times already, but when AEW began, I saw nothing in Britt Baker. Her happy-go-lucky babyface character felt incredibly fake and disingenuous. And on top of that, she wasn’t exactly the best wrestler, either. She looked like someone who was on her way to the WWE Performance Center, and got lost along the way.

Then, in response to Riho never showing up to defend the women’s title on Dynamite, Britt turned heel. During this turn, Britt Baker proceeded to cut what it probably one of the absolute worst promos I have heard in years. If I may make an indulgent wrestling reference, she made “Sufferin’ Succotash” sound like “Cane Dewey.” It was so bad, AEW literally went to a commercial right in the middle of it, probably one of the only times AEW not showcasing a woman was actually a good thing. Thankfully she wasn’t actually at the Performance Center, because that one performance would have killed her career; you think Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn are going to let a woman live down having a bad night?

For a long time, Britt Baker had “go away” heat. I did not want to see her on my TV, and I questioned AEW management’s decision to put her there.

A funny thing started to happen pretty quick: she got good. Like, really good. “I might actually buy an AEW t-shirt” good. Her promos got better. Her wrestling got better. Her whole character of “unintentionally racist, entitled Karen” was pretty dang entertaining, even when she couldn’t actually wrestle due to injury. Her whole, “I hate everyone in AEW except for Tony Schiavone and maybe Rebel (not Reba)” trait is a surprising breath of fresh air; even heels have friends! When was the last time anyone in wrestling had an on-screen friend? Well okay, The New Day. But is there anyone else?

The Lights Out match between Britt and Thunder Rosa (also really awesome) is in the running for my favorite match of the year, and I imagine that it’s going to end up clinching that dubious honor. I watched two extremely talented women beat the fuck out of each other in the main event of an AEW show, the first time that has ever happened. I watched them do ridiculous, violent, hardcore wrestling that even most male wrestlers would shy away from. I watched them bleed. This was a match that showed 1) how fucking good the women of AEW actually are, 2) that Thunder Rosa rules, and 3) that Britt Baker is going to be a main event player for years to come. It also showed something that’s been missing from the wrestling landscape for way too fucking long: losing does not mean that you are done, and you’ll never make it back up the card. Britt Baker lost that Lights Out match, and look what that did for her. It looks like her next feud is with Nyla Rose, and while I will always be in Nyla’s corner, I’m certain Britt will be more than entertaining in this rivalry.


Using the veterans well

For the sake of clarity, when I say “veteran,” I don’t mean someone who’s been in the business for ten years, but is still young and in their athletic prime. I mean guys that I grew up watching. So like Sting, Chris Jericho, Matt Hardy, Christian Cage, etc.

There’s a tradition, for lack of a better term, in wrestling: popular older wrestler who can still get ratings and pay per view buys, but is beyond his best years athletically, and becomes world champion anyways. Hell, I’m sure Bill Goldberg and/or Brock Lesnar are on their way to dismantling whatever promising young talent is currently holding the WWE title again.

Of all the names I brought up, the only one to ever hold the AEW title is Jericho. This makes sense, as he was the biggest name in the company while AEW and its roster were still establishing their identity. Jericho eventually lost the belt, and (editorial aside, thankfully) has not been anywhere near the title picture since.

Sting is here to establish Darby Allin as a major star, something that I feel he has done well. Sting may as well come to the ring with a blinking neon sign that says HELLO OLDER FANS WHO REMEMBER ME. HI, I AM STING. I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THAT I SUPPORT AND ENDORSE THIS GUY, THIS GUY RIGHT HERE: DARBY ALLIN. PLEASE WATCH DARBY ALLIN WRESTLE AND DO COOL STUFF OFF THE TOP ROPE. I was a bit worried that he would only ever be a Cinematic match kind of guy, but his showing at Double or Nothing last week fucking rules. For a moment, I thought I was looking at the old Sting, and not the Old Sting.

Christian is still fairly new to the company, and hasn’t done much of note (aside from have excellent matches). This is mostly due to his planned feud with Ricky Starks being put on the backburner after Starks got a neck injury via Mortal Kombat X-Ray Move. But at least in his short time, he’s made Jungle Boy look like an absolute rock star.

Matt Hardy has mostly been okay in his role. Not through any fault of his own, but it does feel like the other members of his Hardy Family Operations stable are in the background. I’m chalking this up to Private Party and The Butcher and The Blade not being on TV as much lately, and some inconsistent booking; are Jack Evans and Angelico even part of the group anymore or what? That being said, Matt Hardy did get Adam Page over in their short feud.

Older wrestlers stepping aside and letting the younger generation look good is something that has also been sorely lacking in wrestling for a long time. It’s hard to create new stars if they look like shit compared to the current stars, or the old stars.


The redemption of Tony Schiavone

Remember all that stuff I said about Jim Ross in the last post? You know, how he was once the greatest voice in wrestling, and has since gone on to be absolute shit from a dog’s ass since then? Take all that, and apply the exact opposite to Tony Schiavone. The dying days of WCW, Tony could not have been more checked out. His post-wrestling reputation was that of a bitter old dickhead, and his repeated use of “the greatest night in the history of our sport” became a meme.

Then, after a brief stint with Major League Wrestling, he’s back to full-time wrestling commentary with AEW. What I love about Tony is that 1) he’s actually really good at commentary again, and 2) it is very obvious from watching the show that he is having the time of his life. It’s as if he traveled back in time to the 80’s, and he’s sitting next to Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A all over again. Tony Schiavone is like the Dad of wrestling, just a guy who loves wrestling, and loves playing Uncharted on his PS4. Now keep in mind, I haven’t looked at his Twitter or listened to his show with Conrad Thompson, as I do not want to risk seeing or hearing something that shatters my illusion of Tony Schiavone being fucking awesome. Let me have this, please.

Anyways. In a strange twist of time and fate, Jim Ross is the bitter has-been that needs to hit the bricks, while Tony and Excalibur handle the announcing duties. Tony rules.


Creating new stars

Jungle Boy. Darby Allin. Maxwell Jacob Friedman. “Hangman” Adam Page. Rey Fenix. Sammy Guevara. The Acclaimed (Max Castor has since gotten a lot better than rapping about Twitter Trends). Private Party. Only some of the names of guys that in only a couple of years, went from “who the fuck is that?” to, “holy shit, that dude rules!” Guys who are young, relatively young, or mostly unknown, being able to showcase themselves in front of a much larger audience. Adam Page is legitimately one of my favorite wrestlers at the moment, and I’m glad he was rescued from the purgatory that is being Yet Another White Guy In The Bullet Club. I only knew Sammy Guevara from that time he botched his Wrestling With Wregret promo, now I know he’s fucking awesome and needs to break away from The Inner Circle right fucking now and do his own thing.

Darby Allin? Well, he’s come a long way from the “I Like Turtles” video.

yeah i stole this joke from osw review. bite me.

It could have been so easy for Cody, the Bucks, and Omega to use AEW as a playground to only get themselves over. And instead, there’s a whole bunch of new/new-ish guys that I think are really great. Okay, admittedly, Anthony Ogogo definitely got his shit derailed at Double or Nothing, but there’s still a good chance that he’ll rebound; he’s immensely talented.


Brodie Lee Tribute Show

The day after last Christmas, Brodie Lee tragically passed away from an unknown medical condition. This was especially tragic as Brodie was making great strides in proving just how overlooked he had been in WWE, and proving that he had what it took to be a main eventer.

Naturally, AEW held a tribute show in his honor. A show that was not only probably the best episode of Dynamite ever from an in-ring standpoint, but definitely the best tribute show in the history of wrestling. As a long-time fan, there have way too fucking many tribute shows to fallen wrestlers, and they have always, without fail, felt cynical. This one didn’t. Probably because, unlike other tribute shows, Brodie Lee wasn’t literally killed by the company that he worked for. This was two hours of wrestlers giving their all in a heartfelt showing of love to a friend they lost.

And fuck me if the end of that show wasn’t the most gut-wrenching thing. Seeing Brodie’s wrestling boots get metaphorically hung-up by his son is a moment that, even to a non-wrestling fan, is a powerful image.

As great as this was, I really do hope that this is the one and only tribute show AEW ever does.


Maintaining goodwill

The most important thing to know about AEW is that it is a Wrestling company that Wrestling fans watch because they want to see Wrestlers Wrestle. They are not WWE, in that they are not ashamed of what they are. AEW does not insult my intelligence. It does not insult me, period. Are they a perfect company? Well, no. I mean, I literally just wrote an entire post about how they weren’t. But the thing is, when AEW does fuck up, it feels as though is comes from an attempt to actually try, and it failed in execution. Tony Khan’s not exactly saying, “you will like what I tell you to like,” as Vince McMahon has long before I was even born.

Think about all those times you watched WWE programming. All those great wrestlers you wanted to see at the top. Now think about how many times they got fucked over in the end. You want Daniel Bryan? No, you want Sheamus. You want CM Punk? No, you want Kevin Nash. You want Bray Wyatt? No, you want Bill Goldberg. You want Kofi Kingston? No, you want Brock Lesnar.

AEW has been really good about not shoving the wrong guy down our throats. Like, yes, there’s Cody Rhodes. And there was that time I wanted Nyla Rose, and they gave me Riho, but I think I may literally be in the minority for that one. But the rest of the time? Pretty cool to see people you like actually be on the show, rather than feuding in the catering room.

This carries over to the actual shows. Remember that fucked up finish at the end of Revolution? That would almost certainly killed a lesser company, or at least damned it to obscurity for twenty years like Impact Wrestling was. But I know that myself, and a lot of other fans, are still giving AEW a chance because, holy fuck, it’s a wrestling show! We will still get to see great wrestling and storylines that mostly make sense and are actually good and have long-term planning behind them. There has never been an episode of Dynamite where there was no wrestling for an entire hour, you know? Outside of one segment, there’s never been time taken away for dance contests, terrible backstage segments featuring extremely wooden acting with one-liners done by the team behind one of Chuck Lorre’s shitty shows, or having to listen to Michael Cole try to rap. AEW is essentially Tony Khan using his vast fortune to play his own real life Fire Pro Wrestling sim, but at least he’s pretty good at it.

These are my thoughts on this nice little wrestling promotion that has reignited my love of the game. I honestly always thought that I would only ever watch wrestling out of life-long obligation, and not because I actually really fucking like it. And even if AEW sucked, its existence is still a really good thing, as actual competition in the business makes everyone better.

Really, all I would like is for my complaints to be fixed, and for Luther to be a world champ in 2022.

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