What is AEW’s future in a HHH world?

With Vince out, will we see guys like AJ Styles get a big push from WWE?

With Vince out, will we see guys like AJ Styles get a big push from WWE?
Screenshot: WWE

Jumping the gun, obviously. We’re only three weeks into the HHH version of WWE, and we won’t really know what he can do until the networks and board he works for have their say over it all, and, more to the point, have their say on the ratings and revenue his vision attracts. But it’s always fun to project out, especially as you can see some of the major avenues that AEW used to grow into what it is now are being closed up.

We do have some seeds as to what WWE might look like under Trips. For one, just about everyone is going to get a chance to shine. We’ve already seen Dakota Kai and Karrion Kross brought back (though only one of them is any good). Iyo Sky was snatched from the brink of heading back to Japan and promoted up to Raw. It would appear Dexter Lumis is getting the same treatment. Tommaso Ciampa was given a major push in a matter of weeks, Mustafa Ali got a TV match on the first Raw after Summerslam. It’s possible Ricochet is going to get a major look too.

The women’s division is clearly going to be a major focus, as it’s the center of Raw now. Some of that is Roman Reigns holding both major titles and only showing up once every few weeks, but it’s already been spread out amongst six women instead of just the Becky-Bianca axis it was on. Hell, AJ Styles has been allowed to go back to using the Styles Clash as his finisher, as WWE actually is now admitting there was a world before and around them, and hospitals exist again instead of local medical facilities.

The major point, at least so far — and again we’re only a matter of weeks into this and things could always change — is that the storytelling in WWE has been and looks set to be so much cleaner. Subtlety has been reintroduced, such as Lumis’s introduction sprinkled throughout last night’s Raw, or the seeds being planted for the eventual Street Profits split. We see new matches instead of the same ones over and over that keep things planted right where they’ve always been, and those matches get time to breathe. Even when things end in DQs as they did last week, it was to establish Bayley’s new faction as the center of the show now instead of just avoiding anyone having to win or lose. There’s no rush to get someone their heat back. There’s a purpose to it all.

Clean storytelling, developed matches with definitive endings and pushes, and a chance for everyone is exactly what AEW’s calling card has been, and was the siren song for so many to sign up. It is kind of curious that recently, the speculation about certain social media likes and posts have been guessing whether or not it is AEW wrestlers that are unhappy while the buzz out of the WWE locker room is just how excited everyone is for what’s next. It’s a sharp pivot. How much of this is real, and how much will last is never going to be clear. This is wrestling, after all, and nothing is ever what it seems, which is kind of the point. Still, it’s the absolute opposite of what the case has been for the past couple of years. It was all as simple as just one elderly, senile creep being forced out, apparently.

It is far too tempting to play a sliding doors game of what would have happened had HHH been in charge a year — or more — earlier. Would Bryan Danielson have felt the need to jump ship to do the kinds of things he wants to do? Would Adam Cole and his cronies be on the main roster of WWE now? Would we still have Aleister Black instead of Malakai? Would Ruby Soho and Athena have been released? You can play this game for a long time.

And you can set it out into the future. It would appear AEW missed whatever window there might have been, if there ever was one, to lure Sasha Banks over to completely make over their women’s division (if that’s something Tony Khan thinks is necessary, which is very much up in the air). One of the biggest parts of being an AEW fan was dreaming, or guessing, which disgruntled and underused New York wrestler would be next. That’s a much harder game now, and the ones HHH is likely to stuff toward the bottom of the card or to catering are not the ones that AEW fans would be jonesing to see an #AllElite graphic next to (so far that list appears to be headed by Omos and Lacey Evans).

Certainly, AEW has enough talent right now, and probably has too much. But if HHH is going to be offering wrestlers WWE Money with AEW storylines, it’s going to get awfully tricky to keep everyone around or win battles for indie talent. Unless of course, WWE becomes bloated again, which you can never rule out, and their hoarding of talent years ago is what helped create the rogue AEW in the first place.

AEW has created some of its own success stories, such as Wheeler Yuta or Daniel Garcia. Jade Cargill would also fit that description, except she hasn’t had a real feud yet or even a competitive match, which she now desperately needs. The entire women’s division could use more of that. But AEW’s “four pillars” have been a bit scattered to the wind. Darby Allin is still around (though should he be?). MJF is nowhere to be found. Fans have soured on Sammy Guevara. Jungle Boy appears poised for his first singles push, but it’s a mixed bag. On the woman’s side, Britt Baker still seems to rule over all, while their champ Thunder Rosa has never been given a long-term story worthy of her talents. If AEW’s main source of intrigue and talent of picking up WWE’s unused is going to dry up, their record on using their own development and coaching is spotty.

AEW still feels like it hinges on CM Punk and Danielson and Moxley and Omega, and all of them are hurt (though Omega’s return is imminent). And the spigot beneath them that at least provided rotating opponents and feuds might turn off soon.

That doesn’t mean AEW is going anywhere. It has cut out a dedicated and large fanbase that should land it a lucrative TV deal next year, whether it’s in Discovery’s plans or not. The ratings of Dynamite are certainly large and consistent enough to be attractive to a few different outlets (Rampage might need some work). But its method of keeping the product vibrant and alluring might need to go through some changes, ones that the company and Khan haven’t yet proven they can nail as much as they have the importing of talent fans thought were starved of time in a company they all hated anyway.

All these things are cyclical, and we appear to be heading into a phase where both companies now want the same things. We know how one can go about getting it, We’ll find out about the other.

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