AEW Needs Stars, ASAP (This is not an “AEW is in the mud” piece)

Let me start by saying that this is not an “AEW is in the mud” or an “AEW is circling the drain” piece. Those statements are idiotic and out of touch with reality. If they were really on their way out of business, then they wouldn’t have gotten a third television show last summer, they wouldn’t be adding more PPVs, and they wouldn’t be getting their hands on some of the hottest free agents in the business right now. Their revenue is increasing every year, and they are on the verge of signing a new TV rights deal that will see them get a huge raise from WBD. However, their live attendance has been on the decline over the last year and their ratings have stagnated despite the quality of their actual wrestling getting rave reviews. It is my opinion that AEW does not have star attractions that are getting people to buy tickets and put on the tv shows on a weekly basis.

Let’s look at the resurgence of WWE over the last couple of years. WWE’s attendance and tv ratings have done well because they have built a stable of legitimate attractions that people WANT TO SEE. For years and years, they struggled to do this because of Vince McMahon’s piss poor booking. They built the whole company around John Cena and struggled to find his heir once he moved on to a part-time schedule until Roman Reigns became the Tribal Chief. Now he’s a legit top star attraction. In the meantime, others have been pushed to the top like Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, Gunther, Drew McIntyre, Becky Lynch, Rhea Ripley, and LA Knight. Throw in returning stars in The Rock and CM Punk, and WWE has real attractions. The booking of these stars has backed them up as well. People that need strong booking have gotten strong booking to boost their status.

AEW had this at their red-hot peak in 2021. Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Inner Circle Chris Jericho, MJF, CM Punk, and Britt Baker were real attractions for AEW. They were presented as top stars, pushed like top stars, and the fans bought in to them being top stars. In this period, their attendance and ratings were strong, and at various times BEAT WWE. Over the last couple of years, the booking of their top stars has been inconsistent and there has been more of a revolving door on who’s getting the focus of AEW’s creative led by Tony Khan. Looking back at any period of peak success for the top promotions, they’ve had a crop of stars that drew interest. AEW has the opportunity right now to cultivate such a group.

Will Ospreay needs to be Tony Khan’s John Cena. He’s 30, he’s one of the best performers in the world, he has the look, and he has the charisma to be that guy. If I’m Tony Khan, he’s getting the rocket attached to him, he’s winning the world title at All In this August, and he’s having the show built around him. Kazuchika Okada needs similar treatment. So far, it’s very early, but I like his presentation with the Elite. He looks and feels like a big deal. Tony Khan needs to keep that going. Swerve Strickland’s momentum needs to keep going as a top babyface. When Kenny Omega returns, he needs to be treated like the star he was in 2021. He needs to be in major programs, compete for championships, and WIN. Once Mercedes Mone debuts and Britt Baker returns, they need to be the focus of the women’s division. Mercedes needs to win the title at the next PPV and dominate the division leading to a mega match with Britt Baker at All In. If/when MJF returns, he needs to continue being pushed as a mega babyface. Once Adam Cole is healthy, he needs to be a top heel and pushed like one. If Tony Khan wants to take AEW to the next level, then he needs to treat his top stars like top stars.

Wrestling is in a boom right now not only because the quality of the respective products has been good, but because there are real stars being created that people want to see. For AEW to recapture it’s peak, it needs to cultivate attractions that people want to see. They had some in 2021 and they have the chance in 2024 to do it again. I will say that the product does feel a lot more focused since World’s End at the end of last year. Getting away from the devil storyline did them a lot of favors. Now Tony Khan must build on it by building its stars, pushing them to the top, and keeping them there.