The Flinch Seen Around the World: How AEW Has Failed To Go "All Out" in Their Mission to Be the Anti-WWE | Smark Out Moment
In the movie Man on Fire, John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is helping Pita (Dakota Fanning) prepare for her upcoming swim meet. While observing Pita, Creasy notices that she loses races because she is the last one in the water off the starting block as she is startled by the sound of the starter's pistol. This causes her to flinch while the other swimmers do not. The solution is to train Pita to anticipate the sound and react without thinking. After multiple practices simulating the sound of the gun, Pita overcomes her problem and wins her next race. This scene from Man on Fire is how I would detail All Elite Wrestling's (AEW) attempt to truly prove themselves to be the "Anti-WWE" that Cody and many other AEW talent have repeatedly touted that they would be.

Since the formation of AEW, the leadership of the upstart promotion has taken shots at WWE both directly and indirectly. This is all well and good because a little competition in the marketplace is good for everyone from fans to wrestlers. As Stone Cold Steve Austin says "The more places for the boys and girls to work, the better." However, when you build your brand on the premise of being revolutionary and unlike the competition, you damn well better be able to walk the talk because your actions and decisions will be scrutinized.

The Throne Breaker

AEW has had 2 major pay-per-views since becoming an official promotion and 2 free shows available to the public on BR Live. Through 4 shows, AEW has failed to capitalize on some major opportunities they have had to truly show that they are going to be different than WWE. I will give them credit for the things they have clearly done that WWE doesn't do, such as showcasing newer talent on a big stage and showing a serious commitment to their tag team division. I also am a big fan of AEW using time limits for matches, because I think this makes it feel like a real sporting contest. But there are opportunities AEW missed in their mission to truly be an alternative to WWE thus far.

1. Chris Jericho Becomes the First AEW Champion

The main event for All Out was set after Double or Nothing. The two men who would do battle for the honor to be the first man to become AEW champion were future hall of famer and wrestling legend Chris Jericho and young and upcoming superstar Hangman Adam Page. Conventional wisdom would say put the title on the proven commodity and bigger star out of the two, which is Jericho. The reasoning is that in order to attract the "casual" fans when the show goes live on TNT on October 2nd, AEW had to have an established star become their first champion to add legitimacy to the title. While I certainly understand the logic behind the approach, it's the most WWE thing they could've done.

Best for business?

WWE has been killed by many fans for continually putting the Universal Championship on former UFC champion turned WWE part-timer Brock Lesnar  instead of younger, up and coming stars like Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. The theory on why this is consistently done is that Brock Lesnar is major name in the world of combat sports and having him hold the universal title would lead to increased viewing of Monday Night Raw and WWE pay-per-views Lesnar appears on by "casual" fans. See the similarities.

This is awkward
Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

If AEW really wanted to show they weren't like WWE, they would have gone against conventional wisdom and the WWE way of doing business and crowned Hangman Page as their inaugural AEW champion. This move would have given Page instant credibility as he would've not only won his first ever major title match in his career, he would have beaten one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time to do it all while becoming the first champion in the history of a new promotion. This is the stuff legends are made of. To use the analogy of ice cream sundaes for their respective careers, Jericho came into AEW with a bowl full of ice cream of different flavors, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, fruits, candy pieces, sprinkles, and a cherry. Hangman Page came into AEW with a just a bowl.

Becoming the first-ever AEW champion simply added an additional spoonful of sprinkles to Jericho's massive sundae while a title win for Hangman Page would have provided him the base layer for which his sundae would begin to built. Hangman Page is 27-years old and has a long career ahead of him as opposed to Chris Jericho who's best years are behind him. AEW had the chance to give Hangman Page a career defining moment that would be interwoven into the fabric of the AEW brand much like the moment Chris Jericho had when he became the first-ever WWE Undisputed Champion by defeating Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night.

A shocking victory
Imagine if Jericho never became the 1st Undisputed Champion because Austin and Rock were bigger stars?

The detractors to Hangman Page winning the title make statements such as Hangman Page isn't a big enough star yet to be the first champion and/or he's not ready. I am not sure what exactly he has to be ready for given that the title could be taken off him literally at any time if they were displeased with his performance as champion. Transitional champions have been a part of pro wrestling for decades. Randy Orton, a first ballot hall of famer and 13-time World Champion, first title reign lasted less than a month after he defeated the late Chris Benoit to become the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history. I would say his career worked out pretty well even though is first title reign was short.

Short title reign but Hall of Famer nonetheless

As to the point him not being a big enough star, AEW has over a month before they debut on TNT and the Khans are billionaires. Also AEW had nearly 3 months between Double or Nothing and All Out to let the world know who Hangman Page was and tell his story.There are countless resources they could've used to promote Hangman Page and introduce him to the masses.

I would've had him throwing out the first pitch at an Atlanta Braves game with the AEW title around his waist. I would've had him at midfield for a coin toss of a Jacksonville Jaguar's home game with the AEW title over his shoulder. I would've scheduled appearances for Hangman on several prominent wrestling and sports podcasts and radio shows such as Busted Open Radio. Lastly, I would've tried to get Page booked at anything country music and/or cowboy related given his character.

AEW could've gone "All In" on Hangman Page as the fresh face of a fresh promotion but instead of choosing to put in the work to build a new star that could be your franchise player for years to come, they played it WWE, I mean safe, by going with Jericho. Lastly, a guy who just won his first major title probably wouldn't have let it get stolen two days after he won it :-).

2. The Sub-Featuring of Nyla Rose

One of the principles AEW mentioned when they launched would be paying a respect to and celebrating diversity in the wrestling business and to their credit they have a pretty good blend of talent for a company that is still filling out their roster. One of the most unique stars in AEW is Nyla Rose, the first openly transgender woman working for a major American wrestling company. She is a dominant force of a woman who has made appearances on 3 of the 4 shows AEW has had to date. However, she has never been featured on any of those shows. At Double or Nothing, she was a part of a triple threat match that was overshadowed by the debut of one of the most dominant women in the history of wrestling, Awesome Kong. At Fyter Fest, she once again found herself a part of a triple threat match where she had to share the ring and spotlight with two other women. Most recently, at All Out she was a part of the Women's Casino Battle Royale to capture one of the slots in the match for the inaugural AEW Women's Title. Nyla won the battle royal and will face Riho, who earned her spot in the title match by defeating Hikaru Shida at All Out.

Native Beast

I personally feel that Nyla Rose should've had the spot in the singles match against another woman on the AEW roster to earn her shot and Riho should've earned her spot in the battle royal. There have been plenty of major promotions to feature women of Asian descent and WWE currently has 3 of the best with Asuka, Io Shirai, and Kairi Sane. However, there is only one Nyla Rose and she is an AEW exclusive. The fact that she hasn't been featured in a singles match when AEW has had 4 shows is a huge missed opportunity to highlight and celebrate the diversity on their roster.

3.What about Sonny Kiss?

Next to the Nyla Rose, the most unique talent AEW has on their roster is Sonny Kiss. Sonny Kiss is an openly gay African-American male that previously worked in Lucha Underground. While Sonny Kiss is not the first openly gay male competitor in sports entertainment, he is definitely the most unique. The blond hair, make-up, and twerking might distract some from the fact that he is an extremely athletic wrestler who can flat out go inside the squared circle. Thus far Sonny Kiss has not really been featured much on AEW cards. He appeared in the Casino Battle Royale at Double or Nothing but his appearance wasn't nearly as memorable as Orange Cassidy's was in that same battle royal. At Fight for the Fallen, he competed in and won a singles match on the Buy-In pre-show.

A unique talent

A star as talented and as unique as Sonny Kiss should've done something at All Out whether it was a promo, guess ring announcer, or doing a run-in to continue to feature him. I am in now advocating that he gets pushed up the card and becomes an AEW title contender but he could've had a moment at All Out similar to Orange Cassidy's moment which was a highlight of the show. It's not enough for AEW to have a diverse roster, they have to figure out a way to feature that roster.

Thanks for reading everyone! Let me know your thoughts. Has AEW done enough so far to differentiate themselves from WWE?

Greg Coleman is a long-time pro wrestling fan who aspires to be a wrestling writer. Greg is a frequent Smark Remark and Triple Threat contributor on Smark Out Moment You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.


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