On Saturday, AEW CEO Tony Khan released the following on Twitter:
The Forbidden Door can be opened for anyone from any wrestling promotion in the world, whether or not it’s a company @AEW is on good terms with, even if it’s someone from a company that’s open for business. They’re also welcome to slam the door in the face of their prior company.
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) February 5, 2022
Naturally, speculation on the internet ran wild. Names dropped ranged from Jeff Hardy to Ring of Honor’s Jonathan Gresham. However, one name that has been dropped by pure conjecture has been Paul “Triple H” Levesque.
Many fans have tried to encrypt the tweet, noting that a free agent necessarily wouldn’t qualify as someone walking through the ‘forbidden door’. While it would be a joy to see Keith Lee, Jeff Hardy, or Athena (Ember Moon) appear on Wednesday’s Dynamite, they are all free agents. There’s no ‘forbidden door’ for them to walk through.
This leads to speculation about names like Ring of Honor’s Jonathan Gresham, but while the company remains on hiatus, their talent is free to work wherever they want. Hardly a ‘forbidden door’ situation.
This has led some to consider the idea of recently released Shane McMahon, or even as one Reddit user speculated: Triple H. Seems ridiculous, right?
It is; but it may actually be in WWE’s best interest to do so. Here’s why:
Under Their Thumb
Whether you love them or hate them, All Elite Wrestling is still the “cool kids in town” in the wrestling world. This is not a TNA Wrestling situation where they tried to compete with a small cast on Spike TV.
McMahon still had a lot of his big names at the height of their popularity in 2005-2010. John Cena, The Undertaker, Triple H, Batista, Chris Jericho, Edge, and Shawn Michaels — just to name a few. Even with Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, there would never be anything TNA could do to realistically compete with the McMahon Monopoly.
It wasn’t long before TNA was re-branded into Impact Wrestling, and they slowly faded from any remotely mild talk of competition. However, fast forward to 2022, and the wrestling landscape looks much different.
McMahon could keep small competition under his thumb, so to speak. From ECW to TNA, there was never a real concern beyond WCW, which had been bought out since 2001.
But it’s not the same with AEW.
Again, love them or hate them, AEW is legitimate competition. They are on a major network, they are eating into important 18-49 demos that WWE has been accustomed to, and more importantly, they have the roster to compete.
A lot of WWE’s major acts have simply moved on. There is no more John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker, Steve Austin, etc. The only real top tier names in WWE that have drawing power are Lesnar, Reigns, Goldberg, and perhaps Orton and Edge.
When you match that with the likes of Kenny Omega, Adam Page, C.M. Punk, Brian Danielson, Jon Moxley and MJF, it’s not a crazy idea to see why AEW has been competition at a high level for 3 years now.
So why would McMahon possibly want his talent appear on an AEW show?
For the Brand
As an AEW fan, I recognize that this would be huge for the industry. However, as someone who wants AEW to one day become bigger than WWE, I wouldn’t personally recommend this move.
But as the sub-headline suggests, this is all about branding.
People still tend to call facial tissue “Kleenex” – even though Kleenex is just the name of a brand of facial tissue. Much in the same, many non-wrestling fans refer to professional wrestling as a whole as ‘WWE’.
If McMahon were to let his talent on an AEW show, it still keeps this guise of name-brand association. The hard truth is that beyond selling the history of their brand in network deals and billions of dollars in blood money with a country that constantly violates human rights — WWE isn’t doing so hot.
The Future May Not be So Bright
Releasing over 80 wrestlers while building almost no new future stars for your product (while touting $1 Billion in profits) doesn’t seem to be a recipe for future success. Keep in mind that 85% of the $1 billion in profits came from network deals (Peacock/Fox) and Saudi Arabia blood money. This has little to do with a notable increase in live event sales (post-lockdown) or ratings.
Ask yourself honestly, when will Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley have to seriously consider taking a break due to their age? (Lesnar is 44, Lashley is 45). When this happens, who steps in?
A.J. Styles? (43) Randy Orton? (42) Edge? (48) The Miz? (42)
Say what you will about AEW, but all of their current champions (with the exception of Luchasaurus) are 31 and under. They’re planting seeds for their young talent to remain in the spotlight; MJF, Jamie Hayter, Darby Allin, Kris Statlander, Dante Martin and Hook — all well under 30.
A WWE fan may point to Bron Breakker, Matt Riddle, Kevin Owens, and a few others as potential future main eventers, but when has McMahon truly pulled the trigger on any young talent in an important spot not named Roman Reigns?
If McMahon was smart, he would become a vampire of sorts to AEW. If Tony Khan was smart, he would arm himself with lots of garlic and wooden stakes.
By appearing in AEW, it gives the illusion that WWE is “helping” the younger brand. It sends the message that WWE is still generously on top, and that they are everywhere, even standing over their “smaller” competition — and “lending” them talent. Even though in reality, AEW is legitimate competition and they are doing just fine.
McMahon would likely never mention on Raw or Smackdown that his talent appeared on AEW television, yet AEW would have to acknowledge that they had a current WWE wrestler on their show.
The larger AEW grows, the less of a chance of a name brand WWE becomes — as to associate pro wrestling as a whole as just ‘WWE’. Eventually, when a person mentions pro wrestling, the response might be “WWE or AEW?”
For someone like McMahon who hates competition, I don’t think he would take kindly to a widely acknowledged name-brand competitor. And this is already happening.
AEW stars are regularly making appearances on major network television, and unlike Dixie Carter, Tony Khan has the deep pockets to keep buying and creating more AEW stars to do so. Lest we forget that the Khan family has more money than the McMahon family.
In conclusion, I really hope the forbidden door stays shut on WWE signed talent. Unless the day comes where WWE loses revenue and network deals and AEW truly becomes the industry’s biggest promotion; McMahon and Co. will only seek to use such a situation to their benefit — and not for the good of professional wrestling as a whole.
And lastly, and most importantly — TK simply doesn’t need any current WWE talent to succeed. AEW already has a stacked roster and there’s plenty of great talent out there not working for a McMahon.
Here’s to hoping that Wednesday’s surprise is Kazuchika Okada or Hiromu Takahashi with an additional side of Athena, or even Impact’s Jordynne Grace.