Is AEW Becoming “WWE Lite”?

Malakai Black AEW Dynamite

One of the problems with professional wrestling is the constant tribalism. Whether it be WWE, AEW, New Japan, or any other promotion, fans will always want to see the opposition fail. This goes for all kinds of entertainment. Marvel and DC Comics are just a key examples of this. In times like these, it is key to remember the well-known phrase…a rising tide raises all ships. The more professional wrestling that exists, the more professional wrestling we get as fans. Good and bad.

In recent months however, the conversation has turned to AEW. After acquiring numerous former WWE talents like Christian Cage, Paul Wight, Mark Henry, and Andrade El Idolo. These stars all featured prominently on WWE TV at some point in their career. Similarly, it has been revealed that AEW is planning to bring in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, two former WWE Champions. This has led to a few outspoken fans comparing AEW to the TNA of old, and unfairly label the company as just “WWE Lite.” How does this view hold up?

AEW’s Acquisition Of Talent

Embed from Getty Images

Going back to the original inception of AEW, the only key player who made the transition from WWE was Cody Rhodes. Rhodes had been working the independent scene for a long time after his release from Vince McMahon’s empire and looked for pastures new. He found a home with The Elite and Tony Khan, forming what we now know as All Elite Wrestling.

Following the signing of Rhodes, wrestling legend Chris Jericho made the jump to AEW following his bouts in New Japan Pro Wrestling. This was easily the biggest signing the company could have made at the time and Jericho has since proved he is a ratings draw for AEW. Le Champion found a footing in the company and was immediately crowned as the first AEW World Champion.

Following this, Jericho put over new stars. Jungle Boy, MJF, and Orange Cassidy just to name a few. He showed that he had a lot to give and used his time in WWE to put over the fresh, young talent.

WWE’s Carelessness

2020 was not a great year for WWE. The company trudged through the pandemic with lackluster TV and meaningless feuds. However, the mass release of talent on April 15th was crushing for the public image of WWE. Releasing wrestlers at a time when there are no wrestling shows just looks abhorrent.

However, due to the mass cuts, AEW was able to capitalize and bring in a handful of those talents to bolster their roster. Miro, The Good Brothers have become key players on AEW Dynamite, with Lio Rush and Matt Cardona also making one-off appearances. Even more releases were made on April 15 2021, a year after the last bunch. Then, on June 2, WWE released another round of superstars including the newly signed Malakai Black.

This is where the “WWE Lite” argument begins to form. A large amount of AEW’s talent has been through the WWE system, so is AEW simply becoming a smaller version of WWE. The answer to that question is…No.

AEW/WWE’s Roster Comparison’s

While AEW does have a lot of former WWE talent under their umbrella, they are not being used in the same way. Take Brodie Lee for example. His performance as Mr. Brodie Lee was drastically different from his days as Luke Harper in The Wyatt Family. Similarly, Andrade El Idolo has surrounded himself with an entourage and is carrying himself differently to when he was accompanied by Zelina Vega.

Embed from Getty Images

At the end of the day, these are performers hired to play characters, similarly to Hollywood actors. When Chris Hemsworth did Men In Black: International with Tessa Thompson, there wasn’t an outcry saying that Sony was becoming “Disney Lite” because both of them star in MCU films. Yet when a wrestler makes the jump to another company, they are automatically held up to their prior work.

AEW’s Throwback Angle’s

The one place it feels like AEW is struggling in the debate is with its use of Attitude Era throwback angles. While there aren’t that many, they stick out like a sore thumb. The “Bubbly Bath” segment was simply a lesser version of the Steve Austin angle from 1999. This was egregious and really shouldn’t have been put on Dynamite. AEW has done some terrific individual segments and doesn’t need to be throwing back to Attitude Era content for their shows.

Sure, a wink and a nod can be a good bit of fan service but there is no need to completely redo a segment. The Labours Of Jericho, and Kenny Omega and Adam Page’s confrontation are great original concepts that don’t rely on nostalgia. This is something AEW should focus on going forward.

Ending The Debate

From the earliest days of professional wrestling, talent has been exchanged between promotions. Whether this is for training purposes or for storyline reasons. Either way, AEW using talent that worked for another wrestling company is nothing new. Maybe AEW should stop with the Attitude Era pandering and focus on the younger fanbase they have garnered, but that is a minor issue.

On the whole, AEW is riding a wave of momentum that will carry them through the next few years. Tony Khan has crafted a well-built wrestling promotion and for that, he should be commended.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.