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EDITOR’S NOTE: Joel Dehnel, previously the Lucha Underground TV reporter for PWTorch.com, now will present his weekly AEW Hits & Misses column following their weekly “Dynamite” TV show on TNT. This week he presents an evaluation of the lead-up to their premiere on TNT. Follow him on Twitter @JoelDehnel.
Comedy – MISS: While the “Being The Elite” meta-comedy has helped grow The Elite’s brand and garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers, the same comedy on AEW shows has not been met with the same praise. The Librarian gimmick fell flat with fans when it was pushed over-the-top at Double or Nothing. AEW has continued to push Leva Bates and Peter Avalon on their pre-shows despite getting small reactions from the crowd. Some of their backstage segments have also gone too far into the zany cheesiness, particularly the opening of Double or Nothing where Nick Jackson super kicked a security guard. They have multiple comedy acts on the undercard with Orange Cassidy, Michael Nakazawa, and Peter Avalon, all of whom are talented at what they do, but they may want to be careful about how they are used.
Big Matches – HIT: Fans know going into any AEW show that they are going to get great matches. By minimizing the control over wrestlers and allowing them to do what is going to best tell their story has already done wonders. Every big match thus far has delivered in the ring despite some audience fatigue. The crowd at the Sears Centre for All Out was excited for the main event championship match between Chris Jericho and Hangman Page, but because the show ran long and the crowd had seen so much action already this match took a bit of a hit. Other than that, their big matches have met expectations and over delivered in some cases.
Match Gimmicks – MISS: AEW has been trying to incorporate some of their own gimmicks such as the Casino Battle Royale. While I think there is still room for gimmick matches outside of WWE, it may not be the best move to do when they’re trying to differentiate themselves. The concept itself has been somewhat of a production debacle with music being queued late and the countdown clock having errors. For now, AEW may be best equipped to keep doing what they have been which is putting on the best matches they can instead of mucking it up with gimmickry.
Women’s Division – HIT: There is a big need for talented female wrestlers in North American promotions. AEW has been able to dig deep and find young prospects like Nyla Rose. Rose was an unknown name before joining AEW, but has the potential to be a breakout star with her unique look and background. Kenny Omega’s influence in Japan has allowed for AEW to bring in several joshi wrestlers who could all be a valuable addition to the roster. Hikaru Shida is name to look out for who could be their big Japanese star. While the first women’s championship match between Nyla Rose and Riho feel undercooked, the program between Britt Baker and Bea Preistley is heating up. Baker is already getting the biggest crowd reactions out of all the women and Priestley plays the perfect foil. It feels like that should be the first women’s championship match, but appears to also be getting the slow build approach despite fan reactions.
Lead up to special events – HIT: AEW has made their major shows feel like can’t miss events. The instant sellouts and historic buyrates speak for themselves. AEW has primarily used the YouTube series Being The Elite and Road To… to promote their events. Both shows have received critical acclaim, but are wildly different in tone. Being The Elite is much more comedic and meta in its presentation while Road To… treats wrestling as a shoot sport. Both have done wonders for promoting their shows, but they have led to a lot of skepticism as to what the weekly television show on TNT will look like. Full Gear in Baltimore is their first major event that did not sell out on the first day of ticket sales. One would hope that with the addition of television that over time they will gain new fans and keep the momentum going for future sellouts.
Lead up to TNT premiere – MISS: A lot can change in a matter of two weeks. While I believe AEW will be a success out of the gate, there seems to be a lack of mainstream promotion outside of wrestling. Within the wrestling world, fans cannot wait for the debut of the series, but outside of that there has been little buzz. The Elite have made appearances at Warner Media events to meet with industry partners and media outlets, but the Turner family is a power house in television with a long list of promotional tools. They’ve had a special on the series that has screened in cinemas prior to movie showtimes, but where has the cross-promotion been? Turner has Conan and MLB which would be great ways to get more exposure and sell potential fans on something different from WWE. Who knows if they have a few tricks up their sleeve before all is said and done before Oct. 2.
(Joel Dehnel, previously the Lucha Underground TV reporter for PWTorch.com, now will present his weekly AEW Hits & Misses column following their weekly “Dynamite” TV show on TNT. Follow him on Twitter @JoelDehnel.)
COMING UP NEXT: Hits & Misses on how their top stars have done so far under the AEW banner. Check back later this week.