They always say hindsight is 20/20. Well, with the way the year has gone since AEW’s first Arthur Ashe Stadium show in 2021, we can see how AEW has steadily declined over the year as a result of poor booking that probably was due to a mix of promises and lack of understanding on Tony Khan’s part of how things would turn out. But when the buzz first started about both CM Punk and Bryan Danielson signing deals with AEW, AEW suddenly became a very big deal especially as CM Punk made his debut. As things are now a total mess in AEW, I think we can pinpoint where some of this could have been corrected or maybe where some of this started which I strongly believe was from the bad booking at the Arthur Ashe Stadium show.
The biggest flaw I think with the Arthur Ashe Stadium show was the result of the 30 minute draw between Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson. At that time, people didn’t know that Kenny Omega would go on a long hiatus to recuperate from numerous accumulate injuries. This match between Danielson vs Omega was considered a sort of dream match as you have one of the top stars from the WWE who would face the champion of AEW at the time that many were pretty hyped to see. As far as I’m concerned, that was Kenny Omega’s best match that I’ve witnessed in AEW and much of that was due to a fresh Danielson just structuring the match the way it needed to go, except for the lame finish.
The finish of the time limit draw people say was perfect. I think it was really stupid in retrospect because you had 20k people in a stadium wanting to see a major title change. Bryan Danielson had a built in fan base coming in and a lot of momentum as now he could fully unveil what he’s been wanting to do as a pro-wrestler. And that audience would’ve bought it. But there were those that said that Kenny Omega should have been protected, which is why the time limit draw was the only conclusion worth having.
However, little did people realize that Omega would eventually drop the belt to Adam Page. Tony Khan mentioned that it had been the plans from the start to eventually put the belt on Adam Page. But the thing is that I doubt Tony Khan had foreseen the moment of signing both CM Punk and Bryan Danielson at that point in time. Getting two top stars on the level of Punk and Danielson many people would call almost like when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash signed to WCW. While that idea might sound similar on paper, it really wasn’t. The difference is that WCW already had a lot of top stars but they put together a great angle that caused a massive paradigm shift in the wrestling industry. Signing Punk and Danielson generated buzz, but they didn’t have a good angle to make their debuts on that level. However, AEW only had up until that point, Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley as true stars.
While some may argue that putting the belt on Adam Page was a good move to help cement his position as a top star in AEW, the truth is that he didn’t bring in ratings nor change the landscape of AEW. Instead, we simply saw a promise that was fulfilled where AEW really needed to maintain the momentum of bringing in top people in the form of Punk and Danielson. In this case, the only real output should have been Danielson beating Omega and solidify himself as the top guy in AEW. The AEW audience would have bought Danielson as the champion because they recognize he could not only have great matches but is worthy of the title. He has enough personality to make being a champion in AEW work.
Since that moment, AEW more or less fell apart. Danielson had a short reign as a great heel when he pursued Adam Page for the title. He had the best singles TV match with Adam Page that I’ve seen and should have beaten Page right then or at least in their 2nd match. But now, he’s allowed Daniel Garcia to beat him, regardless of outside interference. It wasn’t something people wanted to see and it’s hurt not only him but AEW since people don’t want to see Daniel Garcia pushed down our throats at that level.
Adam Page effectively has alienated CM Punk and caused enough controversy to perpetuate a legal disaster and various bad PR with his comments about “not listening to veterans” or “Punk’s supposed pushing of Colt Cabana into obscurity” which set Punk off, especially after the awkward line he gave Punk prior to their PPV match. Yet he’s rewarded by being kept near the top and doing crappy matches while not figuring out how to improve his overall game plan.
One thing I will say is that Adam Page’s chance to be champion had long passed him. Part of the issue was that he took paternity leave and had a few months off, which caused him to lose a lot of momentum. There were more than a few instances where Page could’ve picked up the title prior to Danielson and Punk entering AEW. But once the pair showed up, Page should’ve been discarded or at least moved into the mid card and possibly feuding with Miro, who was really picking up steam as a heel TNT champion and made that belt worth something. But they put together a worthless ladder match just so that Page could have his moment and used that match as an excuse to shoot him back up (pun intended) the proverbial ladder.
Kenny Omega and the Bucks have been exposed as being “children in a kindergarten” by Punk in that post media scrum interview. While they have their set of supporters, there’s many detractors as well. But the whole angle that was being setup seemingly between the Elite and Undisputed Era now is dead because the Elite are off TV while the litigation goes on, Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly are recovering while Bobby Fish’s contract expired and he’s over on Impact. And if Tony Khan ever reaches out to Impact to borrow Bobby just to complete this angle, you know automatically which person of the Undisputed Era will be doing the job.
Jeff Hardy was temporarily brought in and all the plans for a Hardyz Reunion vs the Bucks had been cancelled because Jeff couldn’t manage his demons. And even if Jeff could manage his addictions, the Hardyz aren’t the same kids back from 1999 having their infamous ladder match because both guys’ bodies are so broken down that they barely can move and it’s sad to watch. Some say that FTR was leading towards having another AEW tag team title reign but that was cut short because the Bucks didn’t want to put FTR over or used this situation as an excuse to avoid FTR, thereby dumping the titles on a non-team in Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland.
I’m sure there are other ramifications of how things just trickled down from that on. But you can see how things just weren’t thought out as Tony Khan doesn’t have a clear vision. I’ll return to other problems since then but let me go back to the Arthur Ashe Stadium show.
Another major mistake with the Arthur Ashe Stadium show of 2021 was Ruby Soho losing to Britt Baker. Many people really believed that Soho at that time should’ve beaten Britt. She had a great reaction coming in on their All-Out PPV as the Joker and actually won the battle royal. She proved on the mic in that one Rampage segment she could bring it there. For whatever reason though, she wasn’t given the win and has been on a steady downhill slide ever since. It’s so bad now for her that Tay Conti not only beat her but broke her nose. At this point, she means nothing to AEW as they have moved on from her to Toni Storm, who feels like a filler until either Saraya/Paige can win the title or have her feud against Britt Baker, or when Britt Baker decides to take the title from Toni Storm (where the only person that should be in that position is Jamie Hayter but she too is in a terrible spot).
But going back to Ruby Soho, she had one other major opportunity to make an impact in AEW and that was for the TBS women’s title. As fate would have it, a jobber called Swole complained on the internet about black women (in particular) not getting enough TV time where Tony Khan awkwardly responded and got more egg on his face. So his retort came in the form of Jade Cargill winning the TBS title. Yes, Jade was a project that they spent a ton of money on but misconstrued Goldberg for Greenberg because Jade is just too inexperienced and has been facing lots of inexperienced people while not improving much nor really causing a change in ratings. Her matches on average are awful and her gimmick is boring whenever she’s forced to talk. She has a great look and probably would work better as a babyface but Tony Khan is just too stupid to realize these facts. But again he’s put himself into this position because he just doesn’t know what to do and that whole division now is super stagnant.
What should’ve happened is Ruby Soho beating Britt Baker to at least have some momentum and freshen up the top tier of the AEW women’s division and give Thunder Rosa the AEW TBS title. Both were ready for those positions. Then Britt could’ve gone in a chase after Ruby while Jade could’ve learned from Thunder Rosa. Now, you have a green person as the TBS champion having bad matches and given people who won’t challenge her because Tony doesn’t a real plan for her outside of the Goldberg treatment while Toni Storm is just a transitional champion for either Saraya, Britt or Jamie Hayter. And while Jamie Hayter is accepted by the audience, she has no credibility going in as an out-of-the-blue champion type because Tony Khan doesn’t know how to build up anyone.
What about Jungle Boy? Here’s another goof who hasn’t really stepped up to the plate to improve no matter how many people they decorate him with. They should’ve killed his tag team with Luchasaurus a while back but it’s such a huge mess now that I’m cheering for Christian Cage because I don’t want to see Jungle Boy anymore. Yet you know that Tony Khan is going to die on his 4 Pillars of AEW meme (5 if you include Britt Baker). There’s only one guy in that group that belongs there. The rest have massive flaws and needed to be cycled out of that position to make new rounds of fresh faces that belong in those spots.
Same thing with Sammy Guevara, who has been rewarded despite all the backstage attitude problems that are slowly being exposed on the internet with the latest being him vs Andrade. And this situation has lined up with “since Arthur Ashe Stadium” since Guevara said, “I want the TNT title” from Miro and thereafter got it. Miro was doing excellent but the moment Sammy won, the TNT title meant zip. Imagine if Guevara had lost that match and Miro kept the TNT championship up until Wardlow started to get momentum. At least if that happened, then the TNT title would’ve continuing meaning something instead of having that weird interim period with Cody Rhodes that possibly led to him leaving. Then when Miro would go to face Wardlow, people would’ve seen that as a situation where Miro was passing the torch and that match would’ve been worth something.
Instead, we got the Sammy Guevara show and his idiocy. Scorpio Sky was obviously a transitional champion that got the belt as a thank you, until people pelted Tony Khan with the switch. But that whole situation was a disaster and Sky had no chance of getting over at this stage.
Then you had people who lost all their momentum because Tony never figured out how to capitalize on the little that they needed like Brian Pillman Jr. At this stage, he’s just a jobber. His team got stripped of the only thing that helped make them stand out a bit with Julia Hart. But whatever goodwill Pillman Jr could’ve received from the Dark Side of the Ring episode had zero momentum because Tony Khan only focuses on workrate and moves rather than real stories that could mean things to people.
What about Ric Flair? I’m certain if it wasn’t for the Dark Side of the Ring, he would be part of AEW by now and probably with Andrade being Andrade’s mouthpiece. Again, another bad decision that happened and whatever Andrade could’ve done was killed off because Tony Khan let the internet run business decisions. Do you think Vince McMahon would’ve ever stepped down if his company wasn’t a publicly traded place with shareholders and a board of directors just because it was discovered and announced about the intern scandal? The reason why the WWE is where it’s at is because McMahon had enough business sense at the right moments and stubbornness not to care about the opinions of lesser people. If Flair had joined AEW at the right moment, I wouldn’t doubt that Charlotte might eventually be convinced to come over either and that would’ve been a bigger scoop than Saraya/Paige showing up (because Charlotte can still go reliably)
Then let’s talk about Adam Cole and the others from the Undisputed Era. At this stage, I don’t know if Adam Cole will return to the WWE. From what it sounds like, neither Cole nor O’Reilly seem keenly interested or if they are, they’re keeping those cards close to their chest. Obviously, the big plan was for the Undisputed Era to show up and feud with the Elite to continue their Bullet Club story line. A lot of people seemed excited for that. But in the end, who would go over? Just look who the EVPS are. And Tony Khan would’ve positioned Omega and the Bucks as faces once again because they weren’t in that god awful feud against Adam Page and the Job World Order.
But would the fans want to see the Undisputed Era jobbed to the Elite? Shouldn’t the host treat the guests with respect? But imagine this scenario if Danielson had beaten Kenny Omega. Adam Cole comes in, teams with the Elite initially, but is the chosen one to go after Danielson once Omega went on hiatus. Instead of feuding in that worthless set of matches with Jungle Boy, Christian, Luchasaurus and Orange Cassidy (where I think Cole probably got his concussion from), he could’ve been made into a main eventer by chasing after Bryan Danielson. He was a main eventer in NXT, but now he could’ve been playing at a whole new level. At the end of the day, Bobby Fish made zero difference to AEW and Kyle O’Reilly’s impact barely was felt, even though he’s had a few decent matches. However, Adam Cole was primed and ready to be placed at the main event level. Why on earth did Tony allow him to face Orange Cassidy, etc.?
At any rate, you can see my line of thinking in all of this. Everything that could’ve made AEW into a serious competitor to the WWE was dropped at the Arthur Ashe Stadium show in 2021. That should’ve been the moment where they could’ve made a major statement in the direction of their company. Instead, we got Tony Khan insistence on continuing to push his “homegrown stars” as opposed to using the momentum that was coming in from the people he signed. You never get momentum back like that because you’ve already sent the message that the people you brought in are meaningless and being used to get your own people over. However, when the people you want to get over never have a chance to get over, you’ve effectively nullified all the money you’ve spent bringing these people in.
I don’t know if AEW can recover. Tony Khan recently has said that people like Jericho, Moxley and Bryan Danielson have stepped up since his EVPs and Punk are gone for the time being. That might be true backstage but the product is just really bad. The booking is bad, the ratings aren’t moving, the arenas are shrinking, the crowds are quieter and people are unhappy. Tony Khan seems hellbent on proving himself but I don’t know who he’s trying to prove himself to. His ultimate problem is himself and he won’t get out of his own way.