The sense of anticipation and excitement floating through the AEW ether right now is so palpable it almost feels as if you could hold it in your hands. Social media is buzzing about the company again–this time for good reasons and not because of controversy. It’s hard to imagine that such positivity could emerge after the unceremonious departure of CM Punk and the surrounding drama attached to it, not to mention the overwhelmingly popular MJF not only losing his world title, but also going on hiatus because of injury… but here we are.
This time last year, the company was just entering into one of the more difficult periods of its five-year existence. MJF was still solidly in his heel persona and trying to find his feet as the AEW World Champion. Jamie Hayter was red hot as the Women’s World Champion, but injury would soon derail all her momentum and relegate her off of television for a majority of the year. As a result, a promising program between the Outcasts and homegrown AEW talent was never truly able to materialize.
The TNT championship would be hot-potatoed between Samoa Joe, Darby Allin, Wardlow, and Powerhouse Hobbs before Luchasaurus and Christian Cage finally stabilized it, which is perhaps one of the few bright spots of 2023 for the company. But the tag team titles were hardly defended and outside of the Death Triangle/Young Bucks series, the Trios titles were relegated to a veritable afterthought.
The company took its share of bumps last year, but given this start to 2024, hopes are high among the AEW faithful. That said, let’s take a look at the things that are working well in All Elite Wrestling so far this year and also what needs to happen for the excitement to continue.
Swerve Strickland is hotter than love right now, so give him the proverbial ball and let him run with it. Mostly impressively, he’s done it without really changing his character much. Crowds are eager to cheer for him, but he’s not leaning into a babyface persona. This is vitally important as his character continues to develop and gain momentum. Fans don’t want to see a watered down version of the Mogul Embassy leader. His feud with “Hangman” Adam Page in 2023 was another one of the few bright spots in the past year, and AEW has a golden opportunity to build off of that momentum and create a brand new megastar–something the promotion has been criticized for not being able to do. If this is going to be a banner year for the company, Swerve needs to be at the center of what’s happening.
The Young Bucks must deeply lean into their heel EVP personas. Nicholas and Matthew Jackson seem to rightly be realizing that, justified or not, they have a divisive reputation and given all that’s happened recently, it’s going to be hard to gain consensus approval among the fanbase. They appear to have correctly ascertained that it’s better to have 100% of the fanbase booing them than constantly coming out to mixed crowd reactions. If they can continue toeing the line and playing into negative expectations, they have the potential to be the straw that stirs the drink in the tag team scene this year.
Samoa Joe looks like he’s going to be a fighting AEW champion, and the company desperately needs him to be. If there’s one criticism to make about MJF’s run with the Triple B, it’s that he didn’t actually defend the title all that often. Obviously he was dealing with some pretty serious injuries by the end of his reign. But at the beginning of his reign, he was leaning so far into the heel persona that he rarely defended the belt, which in some aspects took a little luster off of it–especially when Orange Cassidy was defending the International Championship every week. Now I’m not saying Joe needs to be defending the big belt on the weekly, but his title match with Hook shows that fans want to see this belt defended more, and featuring it more often allows for more compelling storytelling, in my opinion.
Speaking of Orange Cassidy, it’s time for him to move on from the International Championship. He’s been an amazing champion and has brought a lot of prestige to the title, but at least from where I’m sitting, his defenses have become a bit formulaic and predictable. That’s not to say that predictability is always a bad thing, but when you can start setting your watch to when Orange will make his comeback after getting beat up the whole match, it might be time to start thinking about a change. Orange has solidified himself as a top end talent in the company. It’s time to put him in feuds and storylines with other top end talent and let someone else run with the International belt for a while. Is Roderick Strong the one to take it off him? Personally, I’d love to see it.
The women’s division is absolutely loaded and should be featured more prominently. There’s an entire hour of programming on Friday night that’s really suffering right now from lack of interest and predictable match outcomes. Why not devote more of Rampage to featuring the amazing crop of women’s talent in the locker room? Women’s wrestling is on the cusp of a major breakthrough and AEW could be the one leading the charge with talents like Toni Storm, Deonna Purrazzo, Kris Statlander, Serena Deeb, Willow Nightingale, Hikaru Shida, a returning Jamie Hayter with Britt Baker, and perhaps the arrival of Mercedes Moné as well–not to mention up-and-coming talents like Julia Hart and Skye Blue. The company has said that it’s mission is to be the alternative. What better way to live up to that mission statement than to lean further into the women’s side of things than any other major promotion seems to be willing to go?
AEW has some real momentum right now. Will it translate into their best year ever? It’s hard to say right now, but they are certainly off to a good start.