Hello again! Thanks for doing what so many AEW fans do these days and tuning in for the next part of a wonderful story.
This is part 2 of a look at five things that AEW Dynamite has taught WWE in it’s first year of existence, so before you get too excited make sure you take the time to go and read Part 1 which is available at https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/?p=3379
And then off we go again with the final three things that AEW have managed to do where their more illustrious and, frankly, villainous counterparts have failed.
Comedy In Wrestling Can Actually Be Funny
The old adage about WWE is that the writers are writing for an audience of one. And that ‘one’ is a rampant Republican geriatric who basically thinks that farts are the funniest things in the world. Sadly, this is borne out in the ‘comedic’ content that WWE often unleashes upon an unsuspecting world.
In recent years we have had Drake Maverick wetting himself, Bobby Lashley’s ‘sisters’, jokes about Chad Gable being short, and a frankly tedious five week run of vignettes with the Street Profits and the Viking Raiders in which the main ‘joke’ appeared to be that Erik was an unlikely recipient of female attention. Yes….pretty good stuff isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of times that watching or reading about WWE has had me in stitches. Only recently, the antics of Retribution as they furiously attacked a bin and then had a member called ‘Slapjack’ had me rolling on the floor, and Raw Underground has been a non-stop hoot. But in terms of something that I’m supposed to find funny? Not so much.
AEW on the other hand understands comedy. This is largely because in the build up to creating Dynamite, Being The Elite allowed many of the roster to stretch their comedic hamstrings leaving them well prepared for the move to television. In part though it goes back to the above point that the wrestlers are allowed to express their own character, and natural comedy is always more entertaining than scripted jokes about bodily fluids.
The crown prince of the AEW comedy world is probably Chris Jericho. Earlier this year he shot a superbly hilarious promo with a drone (RIP Vanguard 1) and his one-liners in the ring and superbly delivered self-promotion when on commentary have made him one of the most ‘must-see’ wrestlers today, even as he reaches 30 years in the industry.
But Jericho is not alone in bringing the chuckles. Orange Cassidy has brought a physical comedy not-seen outside the independent scene for decades. MJF’s acerbic wit together with his straight man Wardlow has been a delight to watch. Britt Baker (sorry again….DOCTOR Britt Baker) has been putting on comedy master-classes whilst out injured, and the recent emergence of the Dark Order (and in particular John Silver) as a comedy juggernaut has been, quite frankly, astonishing.
What is clever though is that these comedic elements never entirely define a wrestler or overshadow a storyline. Jericho was amusing whilst also being a brilliant world champion. Cassidy’s move from comedy sloth to a denim-clad wrestling machine is always well timed. And whilst the Dark Order are funny, the comedy elements serve to highlight the terrifying dominance of their exalted leader Mister Brodie Lee.
Perhaps the best example of the gulf in comedy success between AEW and WWE has been in their work during the lockdown era, particularly in the cinematic matches that have been forced upon all concerned.
AEW’s Stadium Stampede was a magnificent romp through a number of brilliant comedic tropes. The Inner Circle dressed in football gear, Adam Page arriving on horseback, the lake of reincarnation antics of Matt Hardy and of course Jericho delivering a Judas Effect to a giant Jaguar. All of these moments were knitted together with crucial storyline developments, most notably again in the Hangman and Kenny angle, and also included call-backs, in-jokes and references for anyone who cared to pay attention. In short it was a brilliant example of how to use comedy in wrestling.
WWE’s ‘Money in the Bank’ cinematic offering was absolutely none of these things. The ‘call-backs’ were simply people wandering around (Brother Love and something that I think was supposed to be Doink) and the in-jokes were….well they weren’t there at all. At one point the ‘comedy’ was literally that Dana Brooke kept falling over, and on top of this lack of creativity, none of it served to further any sort of storylines.
It was limp, sloppy and lacked creativity. And it quite simply wasn’t funny at all. Yet again, score one for AEW.
Wins And Losses Matter
We all know that wrestling is ‘sports entertainment’. Nobody lives in exquisite denial of the fact that matches are pre-determined and that decisions on who holds the belts are made backstage rather than in the ring.
But the whole conceit of wrestling is that it is based around a presumed sporting contest which both people are desperate to win. Often the root of that need to win will be personal, but equally it may be driven by a desire to show that you are the best at what you do and to retrieve the championship belt that demonstrates just that.
It should therefore follow that those who challenge for the titles are those that have gained the most victories. It really is such a simple conclusion that it is genuinely baffling that WWE have such a massive blind-spot when it comes to the ‘sports’ part of sports entertainment. The facts of how WWE is presented are thus….winning and losing doesn’t really matter.
If you lose 8 weeks running that is fine as long as you interrupt the right person at the right time on the show. Have you already lost 5 times to the current champion? Best have another match just to make sure. On the receiving end of a defeat for a mid-card title? That seems like a great reason to promote you to the main championship scene. Genuinely this is the logic that WWE use week-in, week-out and it is a massive insult to the intelligence of its audience. Do you need a case in point to prove all of the above? I have two words for you….Dolph Ziggler.
AEW on the other hand have made a huge point about ensuring wins and losses matter. To start with, they have very very few matches that end in a DQ finish or in a complete no-contest, two finishes that WWE have made the norm in the last decade. AEW understand that their fans want to see an outcome, and ducking out of making a decision simply isn’t an option.
To further underline their commitment to the ‘wins and losses matter’ mantra, AEW have used a rankings system that has proven to be fairly controversial in their first year. Much of the criticism of the AEW rankings however seems to come from an entirely bad faith desire to pick as many holes as possible. The more dogmatic of WWE fans will try and pick apart the rankings to question every single booking decision, saying that any deviation from the strict use of the rankings is a betrayal of the entire concept.
This is of course not true at all. AEW have never set the rankings as the only way of getting a title shot, and indeed if they did do that it would probably become fairly dull fairly quickly. Instead the rankings are there as a guideline to show who should be there and thereabouts when it comes to challenging for belts and more often than not they have been faithful to this approach.
AEW have even effectively set up an entire show to feed the wins and losses statistics, so for anyone to question their commitment to this mantra is pretty bizarre. But the rankings do not prevent a surprise challenger, whether that is through a contenders match or tournament, a battle royal, or even in the case of Luke Harper the more WWE-approach of simply attacking the champion. In that instance, the champion was Jon Moxley, and his status as a fighting champion meant that he wanted that match, giving an explanation for this rare deviation from the rankings.
It’s also a concept that we see in ‘real’ combat sports such as UFC and boxing. Is it always the number one ranked challenger who gets the opportunity? Absolutely not, so to use this against AEW again feels like a bit of a stretch.
Either way you look at the rankings though, it is clear that winning matches matters in AEW. And this will continue to inform storylines for those who lose matches as well. Darby Allin is a prime example of this, with many significant losses on his AEW resume. To get back to challenging for the title, he will therefore need to be built up yet again, and that in itself will be a significant part of his character development.
It really isn’t a lesson that WWE should have to learn, but it has genuinely been enjoyable to watch AEW show Vince and Triple H that in a form of entertainment that revolves around wrestling matches, who wins those matches is actually quite important.
Long Term Storytelling Can Still Be Done
Presumably under the instruction of Big Daddy Vince, there has recently been a spate of WWE wrestlers coming out and saying that WWE cannot do long-term storytelling because the fans simply don’t have the patience.
Quite apart from being yet another example of the contempt in which McMahon holds his audience, it’s also been proved by AEW to be palpably not true. Yes we do live in a world that demands immediate gratification, and there certainly are fans who would rather see 12 1-week stories than one 12 week opus. But that does not mean that there isn’t room for a bit of longer-term thinking, particularly when it is delivered in a creative and compelling way.
The aforementioned Kenny Omega and Hangman Page story is AEW’s Magnum Opus of long-term storytelling, so much so that we are almost a year into it and there is still no sign of a conclusion. And I say that in a good way. This is not a story where nothing happens week-to-week. It’s a story where little things have happened and built upon each other and informed what the characters are doing, which in turn has informed the matches they’ve been involved in. It lead to the best match so far in AEW (in my humble opinion) between Hangman and Omega and the Bucks, and will likely lead to a hugely anticipated blood feud between Hangman and Kenny further down the line.
Long term storytelling though doesn’t just mean telling a story over a number of weeks. It means trusting your audience not to forget what has happened previously on your show and again this is something that AEW clearly keenly understand. When a feud ‘ends’ it doesn’t mean that the wrestlers suddenly become best friends. When you are in a feud with one person it doesn’t mean you can’t also be in a feud with another person. Each wrestler inhabits the AEW universe rather than just their own little world and as with many of the other points above, this allows the audience to invest that much more in everything that is going on.
As an example of this, there are a number of match results from the earlier days of Dynamite which will inform future storylines rather than simply be forgotten. Jungle Boy has a draw against Chris Jericho on his record that will undoubtedly be brought up when they face off again. Similarly MJF and Jungle Boy have had encounters which will inform what is likely to be a lifelong feud between the two youngsters. Darby Allin has history with Cody and with Moxley, and neither of these points will be forgotten.
We are seeing it now with what appears to be a confrontation building between MJF and Chris Jericho. The two had an in-ring back-and-forth back when the Inner Circle was in its early days where they jawed at each other about MJF’s potential joining of the Jericho-led faction. Fast forward almost 10 months and that interaction has just been rekindled on Dynamite, and is being used to presumably build to a huge and compelling angle in future weeks.
And the coup-de-grace of long-term AEW storytelling? The tantalising teasing of a new Four Horsemen stable. The seeds of this potential faction have been woven so delicately that it is both impossible to tell where the story is going, or even if the whole thing is just one big red-herring. Either way it is in the air and will continue to be an intriguing sideline until AEW eventually decide to pull the trigger.
It’s a far cry from Shelton Benjamin looking weird and shifty for a few weeks before just being normal, or that massive two-week build of Mojo Rawley looking in a mirror. But it’s also a far cry from when WWE do make attempts to build a richer story. Most fans will never forget, for example, how Vince and co conspired to take years of backstory and history between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura and effectively turn it into a dick-kicking contest.
WWE unfortunately either cannot or will not tell stories and would rather create a 5 second gif than a narrative that lasts more than 3 weeks. For fans of WWE I can only hope that the recent efforts on Smackdown to try and focus on some actual longer-term booking with Roman Reigns and the Sasha v Bayley feud are a sign that they are noticing what AEW are doing.
Because all of these lessons have been delivered by AEW. And they are only 12 months in.