SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Yesterday, I wrote a Keller’s Take commentary with a list of ten announcements I hoped Tony Khan would make tonight instead of just one. I asked readers to submit their wish lists because, well, not everyone has the same hopes for AEW or approaches to trying to improve it. Here are a select few reader lists. You can submit yours to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan of Hoover Ala. writes…
You nailed it with your Ten Tony Khan Announcements column. AEW has drifted so far from what was initially advertised. I wonder if they even realize it and would love to see someone ask Tony about this at one of the media calls.
My additions would be:
(1) For battle royals, count out wrestlers who don’t enter the ring (although I’m good with your idea of not having them).
(2) I’d eliminate the replay screen. Everything should take place in front of the crowd so you don’t need it. Or at least lock the video controls up with your light guy, so wrestlers can’t randomly cut in when they want.
Keller’s Analysis: I wouldn’t eliminate the replay screen as I think video packages before matches are key to setting the stage for the TV viewers and even some ticket-buying fans. I wouldn’t want to exclude fans in the arena from seeing video packages. That said, the idea that wrestlers just pop up magically on the screen to respond to wrestlers in the ring doesn’t have to be a thing anymore. It just doesn’t really make a lot of sense that someone directing the show is in cohoots with the wrestler in that way. As for battle royals, yes to your suggestion! It just makes no sense a wrestler can stay outside the ring to avoid being eliminated and then pop in at the end. If that’s a thing, can my Minnesota pro sports teams just no-show the playoffs and then show up for the Super Bowl, World Series, or Finals?
PWTorch reader Robert Gray writes…
(1) The officiating of matches will be revamped and people who routinely interfere in matches with no consequences will now be barred from ringside. In other words, 90 percent of AEW matches will no longer feature some kind of interference or ref distraction spot.
Keller’s Analysis: One of the core elements of much of what I think is stunting AEW’s growth and turning away fans is the lawlessness of the execution of the product. It’s not that lawlessness cannot be fun in a certain context, and pro wrestling should have that element for sure, but for it to be most effective, it has to have a sense of “getting away with something” by overriding a governing body of sorts that seems competent and well-intended.
The idea of setting up a ring and pointing a camera at it and surrounding it by fans so wrestlers can settle their differences and fight to win titles makes sense. When the rules are so loose, or referees are so incompetent, or heels are so brazen with their interference and never face logical consequences, then matches feel like farces and outcomes mean less. As it now stands, babyfaces look like fools for not fighting fire with fire and bringing all their friends to ringside to also create distractions and interfere while referees haplessly wave their arms and shout idle threats.
So yes, having referees who have the competence and authority to exercise their power to enforce rules, and having an actual governing body (commissioner, G.M., whatever) punish those who disrupt matches in egregious ways would be a great improvement for the product. Ultimately, it’d help the heels get heat because when they cheat now, it feels as if the AEW power structure tacitly approves of it. Jay White’s still running around with stolen property, after all.
PWTorch reader Tony Howell writes…
Just stop watching AEW. You obviously don’t like it or get it. Stick with WWE, the cookie-cutter Walmart of wrestling. All your ideas of how TK can improve AEW sound ridiculous.
Keller’s Analysis: Thanks for your feedback, Tony. Feel free to elaborate on what you think is the ridiculousness of each point.
PWTorch reader Dustin D. writes…
Thanks for your 10 Announcements list. Some great ideas. I have some, less great:
(1) Tony Khan decides whether he wants to be the manager of AEW, of Fulham, or of the Jaguars. He picks one. He can be the owner and fan no. 1 of two or three, not manager of all of them. Even a manager with the staff I’ll mention in the following points, will have an absolutely full time job. No multitasking.
(2) Tony Khan hires two head bookers. One for the men, one for the women. I was thinking Dutch Mantell, but he’s really too old and MAGA and I doubt he’d travel. Kevin Nash is smart and would have respect, but he paychecked two companies and I wouldn’t give him a chance again. Scott Hall probably wouldn’t have been able to handle the stress; rest in peace. Maybe Christian? He should have respect in the locker room and he certainly loves the business.
As for the women, I’m thinking Gail Kim and Mickie James both seem to have great instincts and are veterans who don’t take nonsense.
Oh, and wrestlers cannot go to Tony to overrule the bookers. The only thing Tony does for creative is lay out the schedule, choose the world champion, and make suggestions as well as hiring wrestlers and negotiating renewals. The bookers get to fire people.
Pity C.M. Punk has burnt his bridges with AEW because he was beginning to show in Collision that he can run a disciplined show. Exactly what Tony needs.
(3) Tony Khan hires Raven as a skit and promo consultant to help the bookers. All skits get run by Raven. Raven is the smartest man in wrestling IQ-wise and by now knows what crosses the line as a habitual line-stepper. And the indy darlings should respect Raven even if they don’t respect the booker. I don’t know if you’ve seen Raven’s Wrestling Rescue; he shows how good he is with some truly terrible gimmicks and ideas. Raven can help wrestlers improve their promos and their characters.
(4) Tony Khan gets a professional hustler to run merchandise online and at events. Stops outsourcing to an indy t-shirt company.
(5) Tony Khan hires Kenny Bolin as the on-screen manager if he can handle the travel and health allows him. Kenny also won’t take crap in the back outside of kayfabe and he can act as the executioner if the booker doesn’t want to fire people personally – though they should be able to.
(6) Social media lockout for Tony Khan. He can’t handle it and the inputs he gets are distracting and flawed.
(7) ROH remains, but only as an off-TV traveling show and developmental group. Make it the super indy show with talents from within and without the company dropping in and out. Maybe make it online only with a static hard cam recording shows.
(8) Fire the Young Bucks and Kenny. They’re dead wood. They don’t put significant butts in seats as Omega vs. MJF showed. They refuse to develop and progress. The Bucks and Kenny are in check-collecting mode and pop-the-boys-mode, like Nash and Hall in late WCW and TNA, except the Terrible Trio put in less effort than even the Outsiders. They won’t work well with a booker and their relationship with Tony would be a threat to booker authority. They may be putting on great matches for Dave Meltzer, but that’s not an unique skill. Also, firing them would signal a new beginning in AEW.
I’m not going to put in 9 and 10 because I think these are the most important points.
Keller’s Analysis: I’m not ready to give up on Tony Khan being the head booker overseeing things. I think – but I’m a little less sure than I used to be – that he has a vision for pro wrestling that is distinct from the style that WWE very successfully is presenting now. The key for AEW is to have an identity that is distinctly different from both what WWE does poorly but also what WWE does well, and then create a presentation that shines a light on what they do differently and amplifies those differences in a productive, major-league, consistent way.
Right now, they’re too similar to WWE with their comedy skits and distraction finishes and not showcasing their strengths that differentiate them in part because the product is spread so thin and the shows too often feel like first-drafts without polish or coherence. You can tell from AEW’s passionate fanbase who are attending shows, there are things they are doing many fans absolutely love, but to increase viewership and attendance, they need to a better job identifying and accentuating and featuring those strengths, and subtract the “WWE-lite” aspects of the product.
To be clear, for instance I think what Toni Storm is doing is a good kind of viral type of gimmick because what she does feels grounded enough in reality (as silly as that sounds on the surface, given her gimmick) because I can buy a delusional woman trying to become a star in the AEW ecosystem the way she is acting (it’s, in effect, a smart subversive parody of some of the shoddy attempts to get online viral buzz her colleagues are engaging in). But there’s too much on TV that feels like its goal is to get a bunch of traction on social media at the expense of fitting into a coherent strategy as a wrestler on a pro wrestling TV show. I’m not against comedy or irreverence or off-beat characters. I just want them to enhance rather than undercut the wrestler’s role on the TV show as a competitive athlete striving to be a champion. There’s room for a few sidebar acts like Danhausen, who I get a kick out of, but wrestlers with higher ceilings shouldn’t crowd that slice of the product presentation.
As for ROH, I don’t mind your idea at all. I don’t think it ROH is helping AEW as an on-air product during a time of decreasing viewership and attendance. It doesn’t really have a stated reason to exist other than TK’s nostalgia for it at this point. It adds to the glut of titles and storylines and backstories that are reliant on the small fraction of AEW fans who are familiar with ROH’s recent and distant past.
I wouldn’t fire Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks. They have real value. In fact, I’d like to see them more involved in the product as part of the core group who are consistently pushed on TV each week. They are underutlized and would benefit from working with someone behind the scenes who can help add layers and depth to their characters and help them improve their promos.
Raven is smart. There are a lot of smart veterans out there. I do think TK would benefit from hiring people who could coherently explain to him what they think TK’s vision is for AEW and then specify clearly how they think they could help accentuate those strengths. What TK doesn’t need right now is someone who hasn’t been watching AEW’s TV and PPV events start-to-finish for years presented over-simplified, dated ideas of what pro wrestling should be that they want blindly applied to any product that doesn’t fit their vision. The key is getting new ideas and smart editors to help enhance the amplification of what it is that AEW’s core fanbase loves about the current product.
You are encouraged to submit your ideas to improve AEW or push back on my ideas here: email@example.com.
PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling since 1987. He has been a guest on the Steve Austin Show as an analyst of current events and pro wrestling history 40 times, making more appearances than any other guest. He currently hosts the “Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast” and “Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Post-show” along with several PWTorch VIP-exclusive podcasts every week. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for “Excellence in Writing on Professional Wrestling” in 2015. He hosted “The Ultimate Insiders” DVD series in the 2000s including long-from studio interviews in Los Angeles, Calif. with Matt & Jeff Hardy and Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara. He has interviewed more big name wrestlers and promoters in long-form insider interviews over the last 35 years for the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, usually in the “Torch Talk” transcribed Q&A format, than any pro wrestling reporter. The list of those he has interviewed include Steve Austin, The Rock, Vince McMahon, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Hulk Hogan, Goldberg, Eric Bischoff, Verne Gagne, Lou Thesz, Jesse Ventura, Drew McIntyre, Brian Gewirtz, Paul Heyman, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, Jon Moxley, and dozens of other top stars and influential promoters and bookers/creative team members.