The date is January 1st, 2019. Four men would be standing outside of the Tokyo Dome in Japan, all members of the wrestling group called The Elite, spawned from the infamous stable the Bullet Club, days ahead of New Japan Professional Wrestling’s upcoming pay-per-view, Wrestle Kingdom 13. These men were: Cody Rhodes, Nick and Matt Jackson (The Young Bucks), and “Hangman” Adam Page, and they were filming for their YouTube channel, titled “Being the Elite”, when a notification hit all of their phones. For Rhodes and the Bucks, it was a logo, bearing the words: “Double or Nothing”. As for Page, his phone read “AEW: All Elite Wrestling”. After this video’s release, the wrestling world was set ablaze with the fires of curiosity.
Because we didn’t need time to process such a big announcement, these men and their fellow Elite member Kenny Omega would put on what would be their final matches for NJPW. The most prominent of which was Kenny’s match against Hiroshi Tanahashi, in what felt remarkably like a goodbye of sorts, though Kenny had not signed anywhere else yet as his contract still had a bit of time left.
Where would he go? Many had pondered this, as the advent of AEW was on the horizon, yet WWE’s Royal Rumble was also approaching, and there were rumors of The Best Bout Machine being approached by the massive company.
While the wrestling world would have to wait on this white-hot free agent, his friends in the Elite delivered more information regarding what to expect of All Elite Wrestling. Confirmed signings were the likes of Maxwell Jacob Friedman and Britt Baker, as well as big names in SCU, PAC, and Chris Jericho. All of this was to be the love child of The Elite and Tony Khan, whose father owns the United States football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. About as rich as Vince McMahon, Khan took the opportunity to take some of the industry’s talented performers and sign them, to give the world an alternative to WWE.
At the second press release, however, the question of Kenny Omega’s future would be answered, as he made an appearance and signed with the company, confirming he had signed with the company. Not only that, but the reason this article was written too found its future stars that would provide representation to many viewers hungry for something different. Sonny Kiss was one of these people, as his race and identity would attract in the black community and in LGBT+ communities. The Lucha Bros were another addition, and with the Hispanic representation they brought, those of the similar heritage and culture followed.
Soon, more signees would bring more eyes. Nyla Rose, an absolute powerhouse, Chuck Taylor and Trent Beretta of the Best Friends tag team, and various members of Joshi wrestlers, would sign, as would more talent that would pile on to make a stacked roster and in turn drawing in stacked audiences.
By the time AEW’s inaugural pay-per-view Double or Nothing ushered in this promotion, it would serve as no lip-service – AEW is here and it’s here to make a difference, hot off of the announcement of a television deal with TNT. In many of the matches on the card, wrestling fans would find themselves introduced to the likes of Sammy Guevara, Kip Sabian, Luchasaurus, Jungle Boy, and Orange Cassidy and as of now, it feels surreal to see how these people started and where they are now.
Double or Nothing served as a view of what was to come, with women kicking ass, emotional long-term storytelling with Cody and Dustin Rhodes, fast-paced tag team action featuring The Young Bucks and the Lucha Bros, and surprising moments in main events, as Jericho’s victory over Kenny Omega for a title shot in AEW’s later event, All Out, was interrupted by a familiar face. WWE’s Dean Ambrose was here, but it was only when he was bathed in the sea of people that he swam through and emerge into the ring that he became Jon Moxley, becoming a totally different person, and so began a paradigm shift the moment he attacked Jericho, Omega, and the unlucky referee.
Suddenly, AEW wasn’t just for lapsed and jaded fans used to WWE or those looking for fresh, different, easily accessible wrestling. It wasn’t just for wrestlers seeking a bigger scene or legends returning for a new crowd. It was also in this moment for the people who could find solace and home in a new place.
This would prove to be the case of many others, who would make the jump. Jack Swagger became Jake Hager on the debut episode of AEW Dynamite, becoming the muscle for Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle. Matt Hardy and his many versions fleshed out other wrestlers, FTR had their own revival into a classic style of tag team aura, and the late Jon Huber transformed Luke Harper into the Exalted One, Brodie Lee, and in doing so, turned his disciples in the Dark Order to stars with heart and personality, and made them family, all after their departures from WWE.
Though AEW had let outside talent and would let their own wrestlers work in other promotions, it was the collaborative relationship AEW had formed with AAA and NWA that would cause fans from each promotion to keep a watch on both products. Doors were beginning to open in the industry.
But on the Winter is Coming episode of AEW Dynamite, as Don Callis aided Kenny Omega in defeating Jon Moxley and they left the AEW arena for Don Callis’s Impact Wrestling, it was evident that the industry was about to expand in ways that harken back to the territorial days of old, before any Monday Night Wars, before the rise of independent promotions – this was something different.
Doors in the wrestling industry were still on notice, however. On the February 3, 2021 episode of Dynamite, as Jon Moxley, PAC, and Rey Fenix battled Kenny Omega and the Good Brothers tag team of Impact Wrestling, when KENTA of NJPW’s Bullet Club had removed the hinges of what many called “The Forbidden Door”, long thought having closed since The Elite left the company back in 2019. Full circle. This was quite the rollercoaster ride Tony Khan decided to take us on, and what a ride we’ve been strapped in on.
Even I have found moments and wrestlers that cemented AEW as a place for me. As someone who has had people try to convince me that I have a voice, that I’m meant for more than small-town America where I felt like a nobody, I saw myself in Cody Rhodes, as he, through grit and passion, detailed his journey from “being undesirable to un-goddamn-deniable.” I saw myself in proving that I am destined for bigger and better.
I saw myself in “Hangman” Adam Page as his big losses early in AEW’s lifespan dragged him into a dark spiral, of letting down his friends and being manipulated by those he thought he could trust. He, as of writing this, has been faced with the harsh reality that he is going to always lose people close to him, and that not everybody is going to have the same heart as him. I saw myself in Page, regarding that finding yourself – even in your late twenties – is daunting, yet doable and that there ARE people rooting for you.
I even see myself in Orange Cassidy, who was seen as this aloof, lazy dummy, before displaying before the whole world at AEW Revolution in his match against PAC that he was every bit a spectacular wrestler as anyone else on the roster, even despite his loss. Being someone who everyone underestimates, it gave me sheer catharsis to see the disbelief on their faces when they saw my skills, talents, and accomplishments. Like the Orange one, I’m more than meets the eye, and just like Cassidy I have aligned myself with my own Best Friends on my journey.
In the advent of All Elite Wrestling, I personally thought it was a long overdue attempt to bring competition to the WWE, reminiscent of when the company went head-to-head with WCW on Monday Nights. But it’s not – it’s so much more. It has brought back fans that had given up on wrestling, fans that watch independent or foreign promotions, and fans that love WWE. It includes many types of professional wrestlers and it’s not afraid to make money with other promotions. For me, and many others, AEW brings a bigger sense of community, the same I get with WWE, and the same I get when I watch other promotions.
Could AEW be any more elite?