SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
This Saturday, AEW will be at a crossroads, and which path they take will define how their company is seen for years to come. On the one hand, they can choose to have MJF win the AEW World Heavyweight Championship cleanly and, in that way, develop their breakout star as a character, or they can choose to have MJF cheat and, in that way, reassure their audience that nothing they see happen on AEW Dynamite every Wednesday night matters.
For three years, MJF’s character has been weighed down by steel-plated, highly-polished, top-of-the-line plot armor. In fact, many of AEW’s characters have suffered from this. In film and television, the term “plot armor” refers to the phenomenon in fiction whereby characters are protected from significant or drastic changes to preserve the status quo. In action films, we see this happen every time a hero takes out a dozen goons but never the “big-bad.” In horror, we see this every time the final girl survives insane odds that not even a Navy Seal could live through. In sitcoms, we see this every time the situational comedy’s situation resets so it can seamlessly run in syndication without worrying about in what order the episodes are broadcast.
And lastly, in professional wrestling, we see this every time a major change is teased but not delivered on. Remember when Dante Martin was getting pushed to the moon? Remember that time Eddie Kingston wrote a magazine article and people started chanting for him? Remember Hook-a-mania? Well, maybe Pepperidge Farm remembers, but Tony Khan does not. Tony Khan is excellent at capturing lightning in a bottle and horrible at finding corks. Time and time again, it feels like AEW’s hierarchy and character development resets at the end of each show, and nothing ever moves forward. AEW’s wrestlers are being weighed down by their own unique version of plot armor.
For example, just recently, Daniel Garcia was carefully and painstakingly handed character development that, if used correctly, would have made him a three-dimensional breakout star. Garcia’s newfound constitution sparked weeks of online debate and buzz, only for AEW’s plot armor to come moseying along in the form of a “swerve” and “bull” its way through Tony Khan’s “china shop.” That poorly thought-through decision turned Garcia’s breakout moment into a breakdown disaster, and now he’s on Dark Elevation, massaging the shoulders of AEW’s shoulder content.
The ”swerve” in wrestling has played itself out, and in fact, it was never all that popular to begin with. One of the earliest wrestling memes to permeate the Internet was the regurgitated line: “It was me, Austin! It was me all along!” However, that meme wasn’t a complimentary one. That moment was and is remembered more for the disappointment it caused than whatever match it led to. That moment was a Russo-esque swerve for the sake of a swerve, and most fans were unimpressed. Swerves are not acts of genius; I can get random swerves on amusement park rides, and they’re usually just as meaningful.
Swerves are to wrestling what jump scares are to horror movies. Nobody likes them, but everyone uses them. Please, Tony Khan, don’t use a swerve this Saturday. Do the right thing. Give fans a payoff that will satisfy them, and give yourself a breakout star that will make you money. Cork that bottle full of lightning because, if you don’t, you may find your company electrocuted.
Right now, AEW has worn down the patience of its fanbase, and it is slowly losing the trust of its fans — fans who want to see good storytelling. If AEW isn’t careful, they’ll eventually find themselves performing in front of 3,000 fans more often than 8,000. As much as I admire Tony Khan’s passion and intelligence, it is exhausting rooting for a man to catch lighting in a bottle when his bottle is so clearly a sieve.
If AEW loses this lighting-in-a-bottle moment with MJF at the PPV Saturday — if they choose to “swerve” us with another poorly thought-out M. Night Shyamalan-level plot twist — people are going to start treating AEW PPVs the same way they treat M. Night Shyamalan movies… they’ll stop showing up.
I personally have faith in AEW doing the right thing here. I personally think they are setting up the appearance of an obvious swerve but will choose to swerve us by not swerving us. I personally think they are self-aware enough not to do the one thing that could ruin MJF’s character and future.
Maybe I’m right; maybe I’m wrong; maybe that faith is founded more on my desire to see Tony Khan succeed than on a realistic prognostication of what will actually happen this weekend. Maybe I’m Fox Mulder on “The X-Files” standing beneath an “I Want To Believe” poster, but dammit, I want to believe. I want to believe because if they fail to go through with MJF’s character change this Saturday, the joke will be on them, not us. A swerve would not put heat on MJF; it would put heat on the company, and the company would deserve it.
Frankly, at this point, when the fans are so clearly not in the mood to be “swerved,” a swerve would be such a massive miscalculation that I cannot contemplate the magnitude of stupid such a blunder would require.
So, this Saturday, AEW will be at a crossroads, and which path they take will define how their company is seen for years to come. At Full Gear, AEW fans will find out how clever or foolish Tony Khan really is, and I hope what we find is the former. This weekend, AEW is going to have to choose between two era-defining options, and those options won’t be whether or not MJF wins or loses; they will be how MJF wins or loses.
When it comes to wins and losses this weekend, I hope AEW chooses to win.
(David Bryant’s totally normal amount of selfies can be found on his Instagram account @IamDavidBryant, and his many, many Wordle scores can be found on his Twitter account, which is also @IamDavidBryant because David Bryant is not good at naming things. He previously covered AEW Dark for PWTorch.)