If fans didn't know any better, they might think WWE—not AEW—is the new company in this so-called wrestling war.
But the war has been a bit lopsided to start. It is WWE, not All Elite Wrestling, making downright awful decisions, squashing beloved characters, overextending in an effort to create notable waves, taking losses in ratings and downright getting booed out of their own shows.
AEW, not so much. The company's inaugural show, Dynamite, crushed WWE's NXT not only in the overall ratings but in key demographics as well. And while both lost ratings to MLB in Week 2 of the Wednesday night war, AEW came out ahead again, both in overall and notable younger demographics.
It isn't hard to figure out why.
AEW has put on a traditional wrestling show with an "anything can happen" vibe while treating fans with respect. That might smack of bias or as downright silly, but sometimes the truth just plays out in such a manner.
Over two weeks of Dynamite, Chris Jericho has established a fun new stable, Jon Moxley has wreaked havoc, The Young Bucks have fallen victim to a massive upset in a tag team title tournament, a women's title match stole a show outright, a commentary spot for PAC was brilliant, rehashes from elsewhere such as Jake Hager have managed to seem like massive ordeals and former unknowns like Darby Allin are now must-see material on a broad scale.
And while it hasn't all been perfect, that's just to name a few of the memorable moments over two weeks. Remember, in the background of all this, AEW has managed to nail the basics without having fans think about it—they've transitioned to a weekly show without issue, nailed the presentation under the weight of massive hype and had few issues with continuity, giving fans a reason to anticipate the next episode.
Juxtaposed next to WWE's issues lately, it's hard to tell which company is the new kid on the block.
Where to even start? In what was the biggest week in wrestling history, WWE's Raw on September 30 ended with Lana and Bobby Lashley revealing they've been having an affair, much to the chagrin of Rusev. NXT had the Finn Balor surprise but got walloped in the ratings. The first-ever SmackDown on Fox saw fan favorite Kofi Kingston lose his title in a matter of seconds to Brock Lesnar, all so Lesnar could get in a feud with Cain Velasquez.
Then...Hell in a Cell. Good show for the most part until one of the worst main events in modern wrestling history. We took a deep dive on the matter, but long story short, the match between Bray Wyatt's The Fiend and Seth Rollins was so unbelievably putrid that fans at the show itself started chanting things like "refund," and "restart the match," among other pleasantries. Oh, and they chanted AEW.
Let's not forget whispers of false advertising, with The Undertaker, who was used in advertisements and teasing an appearance, publicly noted he was told he wasn't needed for the blue brand's big debut on Fox.
That rough run of a week for what was supposed to be a historic stretch didn't get much better, not with Raw this week hardly even bothering to mention the terrible Hell in a Cell main event and ending the show focusing on Braun Strowman's match with the heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury. The second episode of SmackDown on Fox featured the fun draft—but only about half the roster was eligible for selection, the rest happening on a different episode of Raw.
It is all exhausting, really. There are many weird, inexcusable problems there. Some of it felt like overcompensation for the newfound competition. Other parts of it—the Kingston loss especially—were easy to see coming. The how it happened was a slap in the face to fans, though. It didn't need to be that way, but the company sought it out for one reason or another.
This isn't railing against WWE to just rail against WWE. But the problems are easy to see. The company is comfortable and isn't in any real danger thanks to its embedded infrastructure and lucrative television and Saudi Arabia deals.
But the long-term strategy of thinking hardcore fans will always watch no matter what is failing now that true competition has emerged. Treating beloved characters poorly for the sake of reaction, giving the same part-timers shine and sacrificing characters and continuity is now finally starting to backfire.
This is a long, long dance set to unfold between AEW and WWE. But WWE's almost comical performance when it would seem to matter most is staggering, especially with the recent hype about Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff breathing new life into Raw and SmackDown, respectively.
Fortunately for WWE, it isn't the new company and there is plenty of time to correct the wrongs. But if it didn't have its game face on to combat the arrival of legitimate competition in the industry, it's hard to feel encouraged about things turning for the better.
While early, at this stage, all AEW has to do is keep being itself and the success will follow. Provided it never falls into the habit of taking its audience for granted, the passionate support AEW has seen out of the gates is not only what a veteran company should have built for a long time, but it won't be in danger of fading.