For All Elite Wrestling, 2021 has been a truly remarkable year. So many of the biggest moments of the year happened in the company; the debut of Friday Night Rampage, “Hangman” Adam Page‘s championship coronation, the debut’s of both Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole, and of course the return of CM Punk. As we find ourselves at the end of 2021, only a few days away from the big “Winter is Coming” show on Wednesday, this seems as good a time as any to look back at the year and determine the current state of AEW going into 2022. What they can keep doing, things they can improve, and things they can change to make 2022 even bigger for AEW.
AEW 2022: What Can Be Different
The Roster – Diverse Yet Top Heavy
2021 has seen a massive influx of crew members to Tony Khan’s ship. This is, to be sure, not a bad thing. It carries much baggage with it, not all of it good. But it’s never a bad thing when talent is actively leaving your competition to join you. Especially if that talent is a generational great such as Bryan Danielson. However, too much talent in the main event scene has left AEW feeling somewhat top-heavy and has led to talents like Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, and Adam Cole all feeling somewhat lost in the shuffle. While understandable, this is still an issue and one that needs resolving rapidly as we enter the new year.
The reason I say this is that, with ROH just doing Final Battle and going on an indefinite hiatus and WWE’s ditching of the independent style, the influx is not going to stop. In fact, I’d bet that 2022 is going to bring even more wrestlers to AEW. Wrestlers that are going to be very hard to say no to. Not all wrestlers who leave WWE or ROH inherently need to go to AEW, but when guys like Jonathan Gresham, Johnny Gargano, Kyle O’Reilly, etc. show up are they really supposed to turn them away? Of course not. These are world-class talents with incredibly name-value and would benefit any promotion they stepped foot in. Instead of turning them away, AEW needs to do a better job of spreading out not only its talent but its stories and big angles.
Rampage – Great Wrestling, but No Stakes
Since its inception earlier this year, Rampage has been widely agreed upon as the best hour-long wrestling show on TV. In the weeks before the show’s pilot episode, Tony Khan and Co. made it clear that it is not a B-level show. It is simply AEW’s second A-show, almost like an extension of DyInamite. For the first two weeks of the show, this seemed to be true, with the first episode airing a major title change between Kenny Omega and Christian Cage, and the second week obviously being the legendary return of CM Punk in his hometown of Chicago. After this though, it seemed Rampage began to taper off week after week. Not wrestling-wise, as it boasts some of the company’s greatest matches of the year, such as Danielson vs Suzuki, but one couldn’t shake the feeling that the show was becoming less must-see every week.
This issue is easily solvable. Rampage needs more importance. Having great matches every week is wonderful and is certainly the first and most important step, but will only carry you so far. The show needs to have an air of unpredictability to it. The reason Dynamite is so good, even when the wrestling is somewhat weak, is that there’s this feeling that anything could happen while you’re watching it. Good wrestling happens on Rampage, but important stories begin and develop on Dynamite. Remember, must-see is just another way of saying can’t-miss. Start mixing what happens on both shows. Instead of repeating big angles or just doing certain angles on Rampage, truly treat Rampage as the third hour of Dynamite. The recent debut of Hook was a great example of this; something that had been built up for give-or-take a year. Big, important, must-see stuff.
The Women’s Division – Great Bones, No Soul
Every wrestling company, no matter how big or small, is going to have its weaknesses. For AEW, it’s most certainly their women’s division. Right from the get-go, something has felt incredibly off about the on-screen treatment; or more accurately the off-screen treatment of the roster, because the majority of the roster finds themselves missing during episodes of Dynamite and Rampage. There is absolutely no excuse for there to only be 2-3 women’s division matches/segments on a 2-hour show, with such a loaded and diverse roster to choose from. Speaking of the roster, there is a large talent disparity in the women that are featured on the shows. Talents such as Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, Serena Deeb, and more find themselves missing from most episodes of Dynamite, episodes that usually feature The Bunny and Penelope Ford to some extent.
While they aren’t terrible wrestlers, Bunny and Ford are nowhere near the caliber of talent of, say, Leyla Hirsch, who has found herself absent from TV for a number of weeks now. And for what? There’s room on a 2-hour show for Bunny and Penelope Ford to have the same match with the same tired finish every week, but no room for Ryo Mizunami? Or Kris Statlander? It’s the same argument from RAW 6 years ago; women getting very little opportunities on TV, and the women who do get opportunities are questionable choices at best. In the next year, AEW would do well to overhaul the Women’s Division a bit. They’re already off to a good start with the TBS Title, a mid-card title for female competitors, but it’ll take more than that. The women either need more TV time or their own weekly show, otherwise, they’ll never grow.
The Elephant in the Room
There’s not going to be an easy way to phrase this, but if we’re going to surmise the state of the company before the year ends then this will need to be addressed, so here it goes; AEW has a growing PR issue due to some of its talent having known allegations against them. Don Callis, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, Justin Roberts, and possibly more (apologies if I missed any big ones as there are a lot) were all named in the #SpeakingOut movement and the time that followed. Very little, if anything, has happened in the way of addressing said allegations. As a matter of fact, Jay Lethal was a very recent hire from the closing of Ring of Honor, debuting at Full Gear despite having allegations stemming from long before Speaking Out, which wasn’t even brought up during the press junket after the show.
While in no way incriminating, it left a bad taste in some fans’ mouths, as it came off as a very blatant attempt to sweep a serious allegation under the rug. There may not be a conclusive answer to whether Lethal was guilty, but there is certainly something offputting about how it was ignored. It, naturally, makes people feel very uneasy. Needless to say, this will make it very difficult to convince people to watch him. Simply put, AEW has only two choices when it comes to this unless they want things to get worse. They can either do their best to avoid the wrestler(s) accused, or take responsibility and do their best to address the allegations head-on. Do shady things for long enough, and people will only ever see you as just that, shady.
AEW Headed Into 2022 In Conclusion
AEW had a very, very good year in 2021, no doubt their best so far. But it is still only their junior year. Next year is their senior and will be their true test as a wrestling promotion. Can they carry the momentum over into the new year? Or was 2021 just a flash in the pan, a combination of several different things going right for the company? Only time will tell, but regardless of which direction it goes, 2022 will definitely be an interesting year for AEW.
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. You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TNT and AEW Dark: Elevation (Monday nights) and AEW: Dark (Tuesday nights) at 7 PM ET on YouTube. AEW Rampage airs on TNT at 10 PM EST every Friday night.