Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Swerving History: The Imminent AEW World Championship Reign of Swerve Strickland

A photo of Swerve Strickland at AEW Revolution.

I’m glad I’m not a gambling man. I might have bet my house on Swerve Strickland winning the AEW World Championship at Revolution 2024.

Bad dad jokes aside, on the night, this was the right (house) call. Revolution was about Sting’s retirement. As predicted in my match point for Sting’s final match, hope was met.

Sting had a perfect retirement match. Always, throughout AEW’s history, the World Championship has been treated as the centerpiece of the promotion. When a wrestler ascends and wins the championship, it has been made to feel like a historic moment within the fiction.

So, crowning Strickland in the semi-main event, just before Sting’s final match, would have made this moment secondary. The euphoria and celebration lessened because of the anticipation of what was to come with the man called Sting.

The booking of Samoa Joe’s retention was well executed and predicted by some online. The suspicious tapping out of “Hangman” Adam Page has helped AEW to avoid a mistake made during Page’s championship reign. Prior, Hangman took out not one, but two referees.

Page rather kill Swerve’s hopes than regain the championship himself. It was clever but Swerve Strickland is still the next telegraphed champion. Yet another historical issue instead threatens to dampen this reign before it even begins.

A Quick Note about Predictability  

Predictability does not mean bad or boring. Especially if the journey is emotive, engaging, and with satisfactory story beats and a conclusion. When I was a Marvel fan, I bought a ticket for Avengers: Endgame knowing the good guys would prevail.

Even as a child watching Star Wars, I knew from film 1 (episode 4 now?) Darth Vader would be defeated. Just like Andre the Giant would be toppled at Wrestlemania 3. I’m seeing Dune on the weekend and I’m pretty sure- spoiler- the good guys triumph.

What I, and I assume you, are watching and paying for in your money and time is seeing how, when, and where your expectations are meant or subverted satisfyingly.

Sometimes, however, predictability can be a problem. Especially when AEW is in recovery mode and they have also telegraphed their approach to wrestling is based on the successes of their past.

How AEW Books the World Championships

AEW, for good and for bad, book challengers on long emotive journeys, future world champions especially. The first four AEW champions were foreshadowed in AEW’s first-ever tournament.

For both members of The Elite, Page and Kenny Omega, their losses and subsequent stories of self-reflection, evaluation, and transformation lead to some of the best moments and arguably the best storyline in AEW history so far.

This style of booking helped build trust with the fans. It gave us trust in AEW’s process. It rewarded analytical fans like me for paying close attention. Mine, and maybe your, investment in the characters and lore were rewarded. Like watching a good film, stories are built to a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

It made AEW different from WWE when they were struggling to tell satisfactory stories. It’s ironic then an ex-AEW EVP is waiting to finish his!

This has also helped to keep the world championship as prestigious. Both in the fiction when wrestlers talk about the symbolism and importance to AEW and the wider wrestling industry, but also with fans because those few men who get to win are presented as having “earned it”.

Creating this historical narrative in such a short space of time is an achievement. In many ways, this has helped rising stars, like Hangman Page and now Swerve Strickland, become headliners before they win the championship.

However, in the case of less seasoned AEW World Champions, there have been growing pains and booking mistakes AEW should look to avoid with Swerve.

Transition to Champion

Those who have held world championships before, either due to their experience or booking have been allowed to evolve and grow into unique world champions.

Chris Jericho transformed himself into ‘Le Champion,’ blending his past heel personas with over-the-top theatrics and meme-fodder humor. Yet in the ring put on star-making performances with a range of AEW’s future stars and utilized Jericho’s first-ever faction, The Inner Circle.

Jon Moxley embodied the fighting champion. Bleeding and hurting himself because the championship was that important to his character. This aura both during the Pandemic and then during his two transitional championship reigns lionized Moxley as the heart and soul of AEW.

Kenny Omega returned to form as the best in the world and yet added layers with the help of Don Callis. Becoming ‘The Belt Collector’ and a layer of parody to his presentation, riffing on historic all-time level world champions like Harley Race and Ric Flair again endeared fans to Omega.

In each case, elements were added to each wrestler’s character, story, and presentation. With Adam Page’s championship reign, there were fantastic matches.

Page overcame the odds against Bryan Danielson, Lance Archer, and Adam Cole. What lacked was the development of aspects of his character, story, and presentation were lost that aided Page in becoming the man.

Gone were the obvious story beats linked to the anxious millennial cowboy. Instead, storylines revolved around the cliché of Hangman proving he was a credible champion without the story beats of self-doubt and anxiety. His uniqueness was lost in transition.

Later, with MJF’s championship reign, the character had to pivot 180 degrees due to the turbulent landscape of 2023. Likewise, what impacted some fans’ enjoyment of the character were key aspects of his character changing. A full analysis of this can be found here.    

Learning From Page’s Misstep

Already, Swerve’s character is transitioning. The fact fans fell in love with a wrestler who broke into another man’s house and threatened their baby (a sentence I did not expect to write!) is one thing.

Having Swerve as the world champion means an alignment shift because such actions are not the traditionally the things champions do. Especially champions beloved by the fans.

AEW seems to be trying to find a suitable balance between the ruthless, soulless psychopath and fan-favorite. Unlike MJF who transited during his champion run,

AEW is turning Swerve Strickland now into a face or tweener given the double turn with Page and Hangman’s actions at Revolution. This has added a new layer to their legacy feud with Page and allowed Swerve to evolve. Page is becoming more like Swerve and Swerve is maybe becoming more like Page.

The issue long-term is finding a balance between the old and the new Swerve Strickland. Retaining those killer qualities while humanizing Swerve is going to be difficult. If AEW smooths down those sharp edges too far they risk blunting what makes Swerve unique.

For example, in promos leading to Revolution, Swerve talked of his hunger for the championship. Elsewhere Wardlow and others have used the same verbiage.

If Swerve talks about the championship the same way as other wrestlers, this will dilute his character. Swerve will no longer be as special. Something some fans complained of with MJF’s reign.

There’s also another element of history AEW booking history that Tony Khan needs to think about that might damage Swerve’s championship reign in a way that did not affect previous world champions.

History Repeating

From the start, the AEW world championship lineage was foreshadowed. Jericho, Moxley, Omega, and Hangman (maybe MJF if you consider how things were positioned at the first Double or Nothing against Hangman).

It’s been made clear Swerve is the next man on the throne, but his heir apparent was presented at the same event where Swerve’s future became cemented at Full Gear.

Will Ospreay

Predicted, but still exciting, the reveal that The Assassin would be #AllElite by the end of February had fans thinking ahead to All In in 2024. Will Ospreay should be or at least be challenging for the world championship in his home country?

What does this mean for Swerve? There is the risk that once Swerve Strickland wins the championship, attention moves history being made of AEW crowning their first African American world champion in their AEW’s short history.

Don’t underestimate that as a monumental achievement. Instead, fans might focus instead of where and when Ospreay is going to relieve Strickland of the championship.

Ospreay has made his goals clear. Whatever order he completes them in retiring Billy Gunn or getting a Nando’s sponsorship, the world championship is number one. The risk is that attention reverts to the challenger’s rise compared to the champion’s reign. Again, the risk that Swerve Strickland falls into the pattern of his arch-rival Hangman Page.

Given the possibility that Kazuchika Okada, another wrestler seen in the same league as Omega and Ospreay is rumored to be heading to AEW, it begs the question: will Strickland be pushed out of the conversation?

Anxiety Will Always Be There

This anxiety and worry right now are based on things that have yet to happen. Its concern is based on wanting the best (or in some cases, bad faith, and desire for failure) for a wrestler and a company. Anxiety is always going to be there until the questions are answered. Then different questions will be asked. It’s a cycle.

Faith in AEW has been shaken due to the identity crisis of 2023. There is a reason they are chasing ‘restoring the feeling.’ It’s why the company has moved back to rankings, which has its pros and cons (each I’ve explored on the links).

If AEW is foreshadowing, intended, or just the invention of very analytical fans (like me), the problem with patterns is predictability.

Predictability is not bad. Yet problematically it’s safe and the effect, the feeling it generates can/will become normalized.

When it comes to Swerve, that victory, the confetti falling, the crowd chanting and dancing the Nana, it will feel huge. It will feel earned.

As a champion, I don’t doubt Swerve Strickland will adapt his character and presentation. Yet to make Strickland’s reign distinct, to help prepare Ospreay, Okada, or whoever is next, AEW can afford to move beyond restoring the feeling.

Strickland as a character has pushed the boundaries. Few wrestlers have been as brutal with the infamy of Full Gear Texas Death Match. No other character has crossed the line Swerve did.  Swerve could be the perfect character and champion to push the boundaries.

Take the AEW World Championship in a different direction. Maybe causes some upsets along the way?

Long-term, if Swerve put some doubt in the fans’ heads of whose next. It could move AEW beyond relying on the past for present success. Get us as fans questioning, long-term, whose house?

More From LWOS Pro Wrestling

Header photo – 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 on Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TBS. AEW Rampage airs on TNT at 10 PM EST every Friday night. AEW Collision airs Saturday at 8pm Eastern on TNT. More AEW content available on their YouTube.

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