Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Elevating: The Risks and Rewards of AEW Pushing Will Ospreay to the Sky

A photo of AEW superstar Will Ospreay.

Right now, Will Ospreay could be more than “the feeling” AEW needs to regain stability. If AEW continues to elevate one of the best wrestlers in the world, without addressing wider, foreboding issues, there is a serious risk of AEW doing more harm than good. But if they turn one of the best wrestlers into one of the best characters in wrestling today, could the sky be the limit?

A Confession to Make

For years I purposefully avoided watching Will Ospreay matches. I know. What a terrible sin.

But New Japan Pro Wrestling, even then at its peak, with its epic main events and varied action across divisions was not fully for me. Mechanically excellent and emotional when the bell rang. Afterwards, I usually left exhausted and astonished. Yet emotionally I moved on quickly. Characters and storylines were there, but the balance felt so focused on the in-ring action, that the in-ring work overshadowed storyline and character development.

This is one reason for so long I avoided Will Ospreay matches in the 2010s. Will was and still is innovative, but I didn’t think he was as unique as he is now. Ospreay was doing amazing moves and manoeuvres in the ring, but so were lots of other names in the US Indies.

I was wowed when I saw Ospreay vs. Ricochet fight in an innovative classic match for Defiant Wrestling in 2018. There was a story at play. A battle between two of the best aerial wrestlers of the time, trying to prove who was the best in a World Cup-style tournament. A battle to prove who’s the best.

The issue I had then and still have was besides amazing aerial moves that grab my eyes, what’s grabbing my heart? On the mental and emotional level, besides excellent wrestlers who are they as individuals? Why should I care beyond this great display of wrestling that was becoming the norm beyond WWE?

Spaces Between Moves 

By the mid to late 2010s, I had seen other wrestlers in the indies, who were similarly move-oriented, develop into more. I love defined characters. Not plumbers, repo men or other rejected occupational gimmicks the Village People rejected. Not stock characters like tough guys, arrogant heels, or white meat babyfaces. Individuals with personalities, reasonings and motivations that feel distinct from other wrestlers. Characters that embody aspects of real life or qualities I can identify with or stand opposed to on a human level.

Don’t get me wrong. Match quality is significant to all our enjoyment of wrestling. Stories exist beyond WWE and their mono-mythical narrative that they are the only promotion capable of doing them well is spin. Although even Ospreay and Kenny Omega have made it clear they both feel like the divisive five-star Dave Meltzer rating system, which both have broken, is subjective. Both put over their admirable for Kurt Angle as a better wrestler than them.

I would go as far as to argue, that Angle’s success and legacy are not just because of his athletic abilities. His aptitude to merge personality and character work into his presentation, his character and the spaces between moves made him the best.

Kurt Angle across his career changed significantly as a character despite at his core being a great technical wrestler. From obnoxious and insincere “American Hero”, Kurt could be dorky and funny. At other times could be a “wrestling machine”, lethal and sociopathic. His performance in interviews and backstage segments was as consistent as his work in the ring.

There was character growth and the ability to be flexible that some but not all high-performing indy darlings have been able to achieve.


I love watching when wrestlers evolve and become characters. I cheered for Pac on the old UK Wrestling Channel. However, when the renamed Neville became stuck in WWE’s 205 Live and became a prototype of “the Bastard” he is today, I loved the wrestler even more. When The Young Bucks grew into being both arrogant and meta, leaning into their killing the business reputation, I invested my money and time into watching them. I wanted to know what the character would do next both in the ring and how it would further their story.

I’d watch Ricochet under the mask of Prince Puma was more watchable, not just because Lucha Underground was episodic. Now Richochet had a clearer character and backstory creating a clearer narrative compared to just watching an entertaining match that has become the norm.

Wrongly, because of continual hype and praise for Ospreay’s in-ring ability and work in NJPW, I kept my distance. Partially, I was victim to the distrust and bias I discussed when analysing how some fans’ could resent NJPW due to Meltzer’s “five stars in the Tokyo Dome” preferences.

Even when Paul Heyman, my favourite flawed wrestling genius, offered Ospreay an Evolve contract during his speaking tour in 2016, I was cautious. Partly because it seemed like WWE speaks. First, we see you as a developmental prospect. Secondly, we want to break and remake you in our image. Either way, I interpreted the pattern to my bias and held off.

Then I saw Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy at Forbidden Door. I realised I was wrong. I had perhaps been missing out.

Lad on Tour 

Cassidy vs. Ospreay was a revelation. The story of the slacker almost Orange punching one of the best in the world from his pedestal proved to me more than Cassidy being both a credible wrestler as well as a wrestler. Ospreay’s persona hit me like the Hidden Blade. The arrogant and mannerisms; this bantering and wide-faced young man from Essex could have been any of the male athletes I had been to university with.

Being a Brit, I could see how Will had taken the male British idea of being a “lad” into wrestling. I thought it was genius and surprised no one else had done this before. Also, I need to acknowledge being a countryman of Will’s, it makes it more damning that it took me to invest time in him!

Being a lad was a British sub-culture in the 1990s and 2000s where groups of men stereotypically took part in boyish male activities. Drinking lots of alcohol and obsessed with banter, sports, sex and having a good time. Usually taking everything to the point of excess. A British version perhaps of American Frat culture that stretched onto the streets where there were pubs and clubs and everyday life.

What I saw Ospreay doing was taking a more modern strain of lad culture, and with finesse, exaggerating its most frustrating aspects. Banter, frustratingly over-the-top excitement and exceptionalism.

What I saw with Ospreay, I’d seen at university and on nights out drinking where some young men talked, walked, and acted as if they were invincible. God’s gift to conversation. As if anything they said was harmless fun despite it being at someone else’s expense. Consequences are for others. Ospreay had taken this on tour. Being such an incredible wrestler, the character fits. It’s made Ospreay exceptional.

Beyond Five Stars 

Something critics of AEW and wrestling beyond the WWE bubble focus on is Meltzer’s five-star ratings and what this means realistically to a promotion. Often stating it doesn’t reflect business or profit. While they may forget this system is one man’s opinion, it does highlight an inherent issue in modern wrestling. Particularly because there is a disconnect between character work and storylines and match quality itself. For some critics, this has perhaps allowed them to take lazy shots at The Elite and Will Ospreay.

Looking back at All In 2023, an event I attended that inspired me to start writing about wrestling, the star ratings don’t reflect the PPV’s build. They also don’t reflect how I, or other fans, felt that night. The highest-rated matches were The Young Bucks vs. FTR III, joined by Ospreay vs. Chris Jericho with 4.75 stars.

The former was technically excellent, but like many matches during The Elite’s “putrid” 2023, they were excellent displays of action, when extracted from a lack of satisfying or consistent creative.

Ospreay and Jericho overdelivered. I lost myself in a way I could not have imagined with Will Ospreay’s presentation, energy, and performance. Like the Always Sunny meme with Danny DeVito, I had an “I get it now” moment.

Before this Ospreay had overcome two obstacles to deliver a literal paradigm shift to my perception of his abilities. First, making an increasingly wanning Jericho a credible threat. This is an issue that’s worsened since I wrote about how Chris Jericho could be re-GOATed in November. Second, Ospreay cut through the mental gymnastics of the storyline of Jericho vs. The Don Callis Family. Ospreay’s contract signing promo was intense and fiery and it redirected the story to being about Ospreay’s homecoming and proving himself. Star ratings can’t reflect this.

Week to Week 

Signing with AEW at Full Gear, was bittersweet. The announcement that Ospreay was All Elite was both expected and affirming. Yet also frustrating because fans would have to wait. It was promotional and headline-grabbing. Something AEW’s critics suggest they do not do. Announcing Ospreay’s signing built excitement for next year. It was also likely a ploy to help sell tickets for All In 2024.

There was also a bigger question to be answered. Again ties into criticism often levelled at NJPW stars and those who hit the 5-star ceiling. Ospreay could perform and make innovative/new classic matches under the NJPW style of wrestling on tours. How would that translate to becoming a week-to-week wrestling character?

Exceptionally has been the answer for both. Kazuchika Okada’s return to the heel version of The Rainmaker proves Japanese stars can become weekly TV characters. In the ring, Ospreay has been phenomenal. But when you are an elite wrestler, that’s the constant expectation. Yet somehow, already it feels like Ospreay’s style is such an elevating that the high ceiling of AEW is being raised. Long-term this could be both help and hindrance to the company’s growth. On the microphone, Ospreay is comfortable and growing by the week. There is a top babyface that may be emerging.

A cheeky, down-to-earth happy chappy whose love for wrestling is wielded onto his extremely expressive face. At times, his promo work can be strange, with tones of WWE old-dated humour or references (Kermit the Frog on leg day), but it hits. It connects and feels genuine. Ospreay is not just happy to be All Elite, he is trying to embody All Elite. And this, long-term could be an issue.

So Elevated- Who Else Can Reach? 

Ospreay has been such a fresh breeze in AEW in 2024 that he may be the one to bring back the fabled “feeling”. The risk is that Ospreay is so good, so on another level, that there is the risk that if other wrestlers can’t push themselves to his height, the rest of the All Elite roster by comparison look and become less than Elite.

The issue of revolutionising and changing the style, changing the zeitgeist is that what worked before becomes old and pastiche, if care is not taken. AEW has set such a high standard in the ring that when a match fails to deliver, arguably the criticism and disappointment hit harder than in WWE where entertainment is an equal partner to sports presentation.

Already, Ospreay seems foreshadowed to be the next world champion. There is a real danger that Swerve Strickland’s imminent championship victory becomes overshadowed and transitional. Swerve has gained weight, continues to change up his in-ring work and adapts himself on the microphone from a heel to a tweener in preparation for his ascendency. Yet Ospreay’s progression and highlight reel nature are already stealing attention from the world championship scene.

Matches against Konosuke Takeshita, Kyle Fletcher, Powerhouse Hobbs, and Claudio Cesaro have been standout. However, in victory and storyline, Ospreay is shown to be above these elite wrestlers. Long-term, opponents need to be built up to be threats rather than bodies to vanquish. Long-term, if opponents cannot compete at Ospreay’s level, or smoke and mirrors cannot hide Ospreay’s ability to carry those opponents, AEW risks booking itself into a hurricane. The promotion could risk becoming a one-man show and into a position where like NJPW, the standard of in-ring work becomes unrealistic and unsustainable.

Best Wrestler in the World Isn’t Enough 

Controversial, but AEW marketing itself as the company’s “best wrestle” runs a risk of over-relying on one aspect of a great wrestling product. When I broke down AEW’s 2023 in various articles, I stated that wrestling was nirvana. The road there in the storyline could be hellish. I’ve already pointed this out with the Jericho/Ospreay All In build. It was an issue that plagued The Elite last year proving good graps always deliver. Especially on PPV, AEW is stellar.

As fans, we know AEW is more than a PPV company. It is more than a dream-match factory. If it remains that many would be happy, but we know the company is capable of being more than that. What is required is a simplification of the characters’ storylines and dynamics to do so.

Contrast the confusion and muddled Elite saga of 2023 to the new grounding-breaking rise of Hangman Adam Page to the world championship. It was a testament to not only excellent storytelling but transcended to showcase modern masculinity. It’s night and day despite the wrestling being superb.

Will Ospreay is the goat amongst goats. Seriously, AEW arguably has three others in Kenny Omega, Bryan Danielson and Chris Jericho (at one point). WWE has CM Punk again who says he is the best also. Like each of those men, Ospreay has his unique personality and character separate from those in-ring skills. As great as Kenny Omega was as a world champion, his almost meta-pseudo imitation of what a “real” old-school world champion looked like made his reign even funnier and memorable.

There is a great character there developing. Not just with Ospreay but with many wrestlers on the AEW roster who could over time be future main eventers, like stablemate Konosuke Takeshita.

The Grey Area

Ospreay has arrived as an organic babyface, and yet some would say he appears like a more stereotypical mid-2010s WWE dumb babyface because he is aligned with a group of heels. The storyline that seems to be emerging is that Ospreay will eventually see that he doesn’t need The Don Callis Family.

If this is the case, rather than my head cannon, it’s only become slightly clearer at this past week’s Dynamite. Ospreay at present, like many of the top wrestlers in AEW exists in a tweener shades of grey role, as WhatCulture’s Michael Sedgwick pointed out on X. I disagree that wrestling always needs clear good guys and bad guys. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became a babyface because he attacked his boss, something folks want to do but morally and legally is hardly right.

What’s needed is distinctive characters who feel unique.

Ospreay is a member of a heel faction and is likely the next world champion. Swerve has been transforming sadistic heel to a tweener to avoid the mistakes of Hangman’s championship reign where once he had the belt his anxiety evaporated. Samoa Joe as world champion is too slick and too much of a badass to be a heel.

Differently, at the time of writing about Swerve’s imminent reign, his conversion to a tweener was its early transition. Currently, as I write this, the day before Dynasty, Swerve’s had moments of character brilliant. The contract signing in blood (“run the fade on that, b#tch”). Flattening security guards and landing on his feet like a superhero. Conversely, at points his verbiage has been decorated with generic clichés about destiny, deserving, grinding to be the champion. It all sounds normalised and WWE-lite.

Will Ospreay Could Be More Than the Feeling 

The more I learn about Will Ospreay, the more I wonder if he could be AEW’s Cody Rhodes. A new breed of 21st-century company-carrying babyface. If with time aspects of Ospreay the man and character developed to make him a three-dimensional character beyond the Brit lad persona and Billy GOAT.

Before my impression of Ospreay was that he was immature and verbally reckless. The accusation during the Speaking Out Movement of allegedly influencing the blacklisting of a female wrestler furthered my disinterest and distrust. Yet in recent years, I’ve listened to his promos, and interviews and learned more about how the man. Osprey seems to be trying to grow as a person. Learning to be a better person and admitting mistakes.

Ospreay went for low-hanging fruit with Triple H’s “grind” comment. Instead, Ospreay put over how AEW’s accommodation of his desire to stay in the UK and put his family’s needs and happiness first, added further babyface shine to Ospreay and AEW. This kind of modern supporting attitude towards talent is something WWE could learn from.

The revelation on Hey! (EW) that Ospreay has succeeded despite having three distinct learning difficulties (dyslexia, ADHD and autism) makes him a role model for others. Similarly, a video/images shared on X of Ospreay at London Pride have brought up discussion of Ospreay’s bisexuality.

AEW does not and should not use Will’s sexuality and neurodivergence in place of a character or a gimmick. Yet, if Ospreay’s comfortable with bringing elements of these into his presentation, it helps make Ospreay more of a positive role model and figure for fans who can identify with Ospreay’s experiences. Or highlight other aspects of the man.

Ospreay could be more than the return of the feeling. They could elevate him higher.

Subverting Expectations 

Following Dynasty, Swerve is now the AEW World Champion and Ospreay seems like he’s beginning to split away from The Don Callis Family, the expectation is Swerve will take the championship at All In, but he did it much earlier. AEW has rightly been praised for foreshadowing and building champions and reigns. But there are issues.

First, Swerve becomes a transitional champion. Two, are opponents going to be perceived at Ospreay’s level as a threat? Wrestling over character and storyline isn’t going to restore the feeling. To address this, they could subvert expectations.

AEW likes traditions. Including giving the hometown wrestler their win in front of their crowd. At Wembley Stadium, All In 2024, I’m going to controversially state that in losing, my fellow Brit, Will Ospreay has more to gain.

At some point, AEW needs to break the pattern. In the past, when they have done so it has led to huge moments. Think Brodie Lee squashing Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship. Even as recent as Sting going on in victory at Revolution. With the right planning, execution and most importantly follow-up, everyone could be elevated. So elevated.

If Ospreay had his own, longer pursuit of the championship (maybe a real “grind” to get the world title), AEW could achieve several goals at once. The money is in the chase, right? Allow Swerve’s reign to become more than transitional. Give time to elevate the roster. Elevate Ospreay as a character as part of the course of achieving AEW’s high standard of storytelling. Elevate the company.

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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