According to the latest Fightful Select Reports, Jonathan Gresham of Ring of Honor requested his AEW/ROH release almost immediately after losing the ROH World Championship to Claudio Castagnoli at the Death Before Dishonor PPV. This came after a lot of reported dissatisfaction that Gresham had with his “creative direction” under Tony Khan’s employment. Jonathan Gresham was obviously a mainstay in ROH near the end of its tenure under Sinclair, featured as the figurehead of “The Foundation”, a stable consisting of him, Jay Lethal, Rhett Titus, and Tracy Williams, who has held multiple championships including the World Championship multiple times. He’s a valuable asset to any TV wrestling company, bringing a European-influenced style of wrestling that not many in the states can do as well as him.
Jon Gresham is not at all the first person to leave AEW due to being unhappy with his role and treatment in the company. Joey Janela, Big Swole, and Marko Stunt are 3 others who share similar feelings. It’s indicative of a larger, persistent problem that has been affecting the company since it became popular; the problem of delegation, or lack thereof.
AEW’s Delegation Problem
Identifying the Pattern
Marko Stunt said in an interview with NBC Sports Boston, that there was no communication at all surrounding his release, with him literally not knowing if he was getting re-signed or released from his contract despite attempting to reach out to Tony Khan multiple times via phone and email.
Big Swole would say in an interview of her own that she felt a distinct lack of any feedback when making complaints about the severe lack of diversity on AEW television, a problem that still persists in the company to this day. Her comment was met with scorn and a rather inflammatory tweet from Tony Khan, claiming he released Big Swole from her contract because “her wrestling wasn’t very good”, before promoting his own television show that was on the same night.
The reason this all requires mentioning is that they indicate a pattern of behavior. Someone has displeasure in the product or their involvement in it, is ignored repeatedly when trying to voice it, and then leaves disgruntled. While Joey Janela, Big Swole, and Marko Stunt were all somewhat bit players in their roles, Jon Gresham was the World Champion and a top star for Ring of Honor. Regardless of what anyone thinks of his skill or size, losing him because he is unhappy with his treatment is a big deal.
Its Effect on the Women’s Division
The problem exhibits itself in other areas of the company as well. For example, the women’s division in AEW has been the target of much scrutiny for a couple of years now, most of it stemming from a lack of TV time for women, leading to only a select few of the same women being featured every week in short segments where they can’t really get over. This has led to a women’s division full of talented workers and wrestlers where only a select handful are actually over, or even known to the audience. This can also be attributed to the fact that, as one man, Tony Khan cannot be expected to competently handle an entire second division of stories, characters, and championships.
As has classically been the case in wrestling and business in general, delegation is key. The women’s division of AEW is choc-full of talent, but is a ship without a direction because its captain is trying to sail 2 other ships at the same time. The women’s division of AEW would benefit greatly from a figurehead to oversee its stories, characters, matches etc. (preferably a woman for obvious reasons) It could then get the proper attention and focus it deserves, and maybe could be taken a tad bit more seriously than it currently is.
Maria Kanellis and Mickie James are both overqualified to do such a job, the former of whom has even shown interest in such a role. But even so, there are other options out there to choose from as well.
Its Effect on Ring of Honor
While the purchase of Ring of Honor was only earlier this year, and they’ve only had 2 show’s under Tony Khan’s run, the aesthetic of the company feels very much like an AEW-lite product. While this isn’t surprising, it is a little disappointing. Ring of Honor at its best and its worst was never produced anything like AEW. There’s nothing wrong with the way AEW is produced, at least no more than is wrong with any other wrestling show. But if one wants to watch an AEW-produced show, then there’s no shortage of those for them to watch.
The hard camera is in the same place as AEW shows. The ring sounds the same. The set-up is all too similar to feel like its own brand. Again, this can be chalked up to it being run by the same person. Of course two shows that are produced and directed by the same person are going to look the same.
Ring of Honor, just like the women’s division, would not be hurt by the inclusion of someone other than Tony Khan to run it. This is an easy solution, as much of the AEW staff and roster is made up of ex-ROH alumni, who also have experience with running wrestling shows. Bryan Danielson for example, is one of Ring of Honor’s best and most well-known alumnus, and has helped in the production of wrestling shows as recently as last year, helping run SmackDown during the early part of 2021. He is one of many who would be a logical choice for someone to run Ring of Honor separately, with AEW acting more as a parent company than anything else. This doesn’t mean the 2 can’t crossover, just that they should each feel like separate entities.
Learning from History
Wrestling history shows quite clearly what can happen when one micromanages things too much. The most obvious example would be Vince McMahon, who ran his company for 40 years having the one vote that could shoot down or approve any idea. Over the years, the more content he had to produce and write, the lower the quality of the content. This isn’t a coincidence. One person can only focus on so many different projects at once before things start to slip away from them. Years worth of writers, executives, producers, and even his own family and friends, but in the end it was all about Vince’s vision. (until quite recently of course, but that’s a different story)
What that’s led to is WWE in its late years, being an unfocused creative mess, with the one person at the helm of it all unable to even remember matches he’d booked three weeks ago. While Vince McMahon is also a 77-year-old man, he wasn’t always. At one point he was a young visionary, albeit a ruthless and horrible one. His problem over the years – besides the litany of obvious moral issues – was that he wasn’t willing to relinquish his power even a little bit; he was never willing to truly delegate. While no one is saying Tony Khan is at all like Vince McMahon, as he’s surely not, it is still a slippery slope to becoming out of touch with your own product, one that Tony must be wary of if his business continues to grow at the pace it is.
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 TBS 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.