Sidelines: For the first time in 20 years, World Wrestling Entertainment has real competition

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What an amazing time it is to be a pro wrestling fan.

For the first time in 20 years, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – the largest professional wrestling company on the planet – has a legitimate competitor.

All Elite Wrestling, a company founded in 2019 by businessman Tony Khan – the son of billionaire Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League and Fulham FC of the English Football League Championship – quickly grew to the second largest in the industry and aggressively making list moves that give pro wrestling fans no choice but to be careful.

Perhaps the biggest moves in the business took place just last month. AEW managed to sign former WWE Champion CM Punk – who walked away from a lucrative career in 2014 due to injuries and general dissatisfaction with the direction of his career under WWE leadership . Punk took this time to try his hand at the fighting game with Ultimate Fighting Championship (recording an official 0-1 record), but repeatedly insisted that he had no intention of backing down in the square circle. It was until August 20, when Punk made his first appearance on the AEW show “Rampage” at the United Center in his hometown of Chicago. The building was completely sold because of the rumor that Punk might have signed with the company, and the roof of the building completely exploded when the first notes of his entry music (“Cult of Personality” by the group Living Color) hit the building. been played throughout the arena.

It was a scene that almost came out of a movie. Punk was the returning and conquering hero that wrestling fans desperately wanted to reclaim. His story of his dissatisfaction with WWE is well known. He was notoriously served with his WWE termination papers on his wedding day to fellow wrestler April Mendez (formerly WWE performer AJ Lee). He was taken to court by WWE after an appearance on the “Colt Cabana Podcast” claiming he had a staph infection in his back that was misdiagnosed by company doctors. When Punk first appeared in front of the Chicago crowd, he was clearly moved and happy to be back in the ring. Punk managed to live up to the hype of their comeback with an excellent match against AEW star Darby Allin last week at “All Out,” the company’s Pay-Per-View special.

But it didn’t stop there. Two other former WWE stars made their AEW debut at “All Out.” Towards the end of the show, Adam Cole, the longest-reigning NXT champion, made his debut, lining up with AEW World Champion Kenny Omega. Moments after Cole’s debut, AEW managed to deliver another surprise, when Bryan Danielson – former WWE Champion Daniel Bryan – came out to defeat Omega and Cole. The crowd went into a frenzy.

Just like that, within weeks AEW had three big WWE stars on their roster. It was almost reminiscent of the mid-1990s during the “Monday Night Wars” when the big stars of WWE made the leap to WCW. Each week, fans tapped into WCW’s lineup to see who would be the next star to take the leap, and that matched top TV ratings.

AEW seems to be heading in the same direction. The company had big names on its list before last month. Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho have been with AEW since its inception. One of the first additions to the list was Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose). Even WWE’s “Attitude Era” talents of the late 90s and early 2000s border the company, with Paul “Big Show” Wight, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy and Billy Gunn all currently employed at AEW. And not only does AEW use former WWE stars, but it also infuses the company with the best independent wrestling talent from around the world, mixing different wrestling styles to suit any wrestling fan’s taste.

It’s not just the list. One of the main reasons AEW is taken seriously is the financial support of the Khan family. Money like this hasn’t been invested in a wrestling company outside of WWE since billionaire Ted Turner owned WCW in the ’90s. AEW has a weekly television deal with the cable network TNT (which, funny enough, was WCW’s flagship station at the time).

That’s not to say WWE is dying. Far from there. In fact, with the transfer of the “Smackdown” program to the FOX Network and the making of an agreement to move the WWE Network to the Peacock streaming service, the company had a record financial year. However, the current programming has become obsolete. For years, WWE has relied on established and aging talent, such as John Cena (44), Brock Lesnar (44), Bill Goldberg (54), Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway (56) and, on rare occasions, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (49) to present the company’s biggest shows each year. Other than Roman Reigns, the company has not established any other profitable male star for the event main (on the other hand, the company has done well in building and establishing new stars in its women’s division.) It’s a process that has started to tire even the most avid WWE fan.

Can AEW overtake and end WWE? It is highly improbable. WWE is now a business. Too much money, too many resources. But can AEW make an impact on the WWE portfolio in terms of wrestlers, fans, audience and mainstream attention? It’s entirely possible.

It may take a long time. It may take more money and list movement. But if this trend continues, AEW’s popularity will only increase. And, for the first time in 20 years, WWE could finally start to sweat the competition.

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