When AEW first arrived in 2019, the company came into professional wrestling extremely hot. This was when indie wrestling was on the rise and WWE was on a massive decline due to the quality of their product. With names like Chris Jericho, Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks starting out in the company from day one, Tony Khan had the good graces of fans.
Khan made big promises from the beginning: having the best women’s division in North America, no scripted promos, and wins and losses being important were some of the most notable. AEW seemed primed to become the No. 1 wrestling promotion at the rate they were going. Granted, WWE’s massive brand deals and longevity ensured that AEW wouldn’t reach that spot for ten years, but the brand was on a massive decline and there weren’t any signs that it was going to get better any time soon.
A New Era Began For WWE
Then Mr. McMahon “retired”. A new era began when Triple H officially took over creative and “The Game” had a strong track record. Though AEW destroyed NXT weekly during their Wednesday Night wars in the ratings, the black-and-gold era of NXT always remains highly regarded to fans who watched the rise of talents like Johnny Garagno, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens.
Triple H came and the changes he made to the product were immediately noticeable: The stories were consistent, the wrestling was top notch, and the character progression made sense more often than not. Triple H is not perfect, but WWE was finally stepping their game up. What shot the company over the top was Roman Reigns and The Bloodline saga. This is easily the best story that the company has told in decades. Fans were engrossed in the drama and television and ticket sales grew from there.
As WWE rose back to prominence, AEW started to slip. The honeymoon period was over, and though Dynamite provides an excellent match every episode, that just isn’t enough. AEW’s focus has mainly been on the wrestling aspect, though stories like the Cody Rhodes vs. Chris Jericho or CM Punk vs. MJF helped keep the chatter of the new promotion going. Still, the company seems to be regressing because it’s making some of the critical mistakes that hampered WWE.
Can AEW Overtake WWE?
Less than five years in, AEW is getting weekly articles and pictures of nearly depleted buildings as they travel from state to state. That was a far cry from the constant sellouts the company had during 2019 - 2020. Sure, they sold out at Wembley Stadium, but there’s no denying that AEW is not the hot product that it used to be.
The company has yet to surpass the 1.2 million viewers that it accumulated during its premiere. In fact, AEW’s ratings continue to go on a downward spiral as Dynamite barely reaches over 1.0 million consistently. NXT is back in the good graces of fans, it’s possible that the developmental brand could go back to Wednesday nights and dominate Dynamite.
The ratings for Collision aren’t any better, though playing on a Saturday night is never a good idea. Rampage is just a glorified WWE Main Event. AEW was on track to get to the same level as RAW or Smackdown in 2019, but the company is simply cold right now. AEW is firmly in the No. 2 position, and that isn’t changing any time soon. There was a point where it would’ve been possible for AEW to take over as the No. 1 company given the early trajectory but it would’ve meant that the company had to be consistently top-notch for possibly ten years.
WWE is a global brand, so the rookie company wasn’t going to grab that spot within a five time span, but now, within ten years seems to be a reach as well.
The Issues Preventing AEW From Reaching Top Level Again
The ingredients for a quality product are there. The Adam Cole/MJF program was a hot commodity for a minute. Christian Cage continues to deliver the best work of his career. Orange Cassidy made people believe that the International Title was the main event worthy. The match quality remains top-notch. But in terms of up-and-down the card, the quality just isn’t there.
The Trios titles feel there for “reasons”. Though Daddy Ass and The Acclaimed had a solid story going into their big title match, there just has been much meat in their reign following their huge win in Wembley. It’s matches, matches, matches. You can pretty much say that for most titles in AEW. The company isn’t completely devoid of stories, but their over-reliance on tournaments, battle royals, and number contender’s matches has exposed their inability to properly build feuds without the use of these wrestling crutches. It’s as annoying as when WWE would give non-stop rematches once a champion lost his/her belt.
Currently, none of the stories are hot. The women’s division continues to receive the bare minimum (if we’re lucky). Toni Storm is turning into a star, but Tony Khan can only build women per month. Kris Statlander is just having matches without any meaningful feuds. She should be on a high after beating Jade Cargill. Yet, she’s the coldest champion on the roster, and that isn’t her fault. The promises AEW made weren’t particularly kept. Now this doesn’t mean that the company is downright awful. It isn’t, and for the most part, AEW is more enjoyable than not.
But stories and characters are what truly draw in crowds. Say what you will about The Bloodline saga now, but it was able to weave multiple stories that got fans invested. AEW needs strong stories, but not just for the main event scene. The mid-card scene needs some love too. So does the women’s division. Tony Khan needs to look at his business and figure out why his brand is no longer growing. AEW can overtake WWE, but they need to improve their product or they’ll firmly be in the No. 2 spot unless some other wrestling promotion gets the mainstream love that AEW had in 2019.