Lessons Vince McMahon, WWE and Tony Khan, AEW Can Learn from Each Other
One of the perks of WWE and All Elite Wrestling being in competition with each other means both sides can reap the benefits of learning from the other's mistakes while capitalizing on strategies that prove fruitful for the opposition.
WWE is the veteran promotion of the two, but even old dogs should learn new tricks to stay relevant.
Similarly, AEW is the fresh, exciting product, but it must acknowledge its rookie status and be wary that youth doesn't always trump experience.
Assuming Vince McMahon and Tony Khan are keeping an open mind to all this, let's look at the lessons they can learn from watching each other within the world of sports entertainment.
Athleticism vs. Psychology
WWE tends to dedicate a lot of time to video packages, vignettes, promos, interviews, recaps and everything but wrestling, which can be frustrating.
AEW, meanwhile, has a near-constant barrage of matches with little time between the wrestling to take a breather.
As much as WWE sometimes seems to be ashamed of itself, it must acknowledge this business is about professional wrestling, not "making movies" as McMahon likes to think of it. If people want to watch more cinematic stories, they'll turn to actual films, where the budget and acting are considerably better than what WWE puts out.
On the flip side, AEW could stand to spend more time letting fans get to know characters beyond what moves they can do. Watching Being the Elite shouldn't be mandatory to understand character development for more than The Inner Circle.
This applies to matches, too. AEW trends more toward pure athleticism, but someone like Cody, who has gone through the WWE system, understands the value of psychology in a match.
It's about moderation and finding a mix between sports and entertainment: story and action.
There's no need for an hour-long kickoff of a WWE show that has 10 minutes of wrestling, nor should an AEW program feel like it's just a collection of stunts with no depth.
Quality and Quantity for Match Length Isn't Always the Same
Any given match for both WWE and AEW has a chance to be amazing or horrendous. It depends on many variables such as the chemistry of the competitors, timing, the build and even the atmosphere on the night.
Generally speaking, though, AEW tends to have longer matches than WWE, which brings both pros and cons.
AEW should take note that matches don't have to be lengthy in order to be good. Star ratings aren't given out every five minutes.
A midcarder against some enhancement talent on AEW Dark doesn't need to go 15 minutes when everyone knows who is going to win. It's not like anyone really thinks Peter Avalon will beat Jungle Boy when The Librarian's shtick is that he's lost every match.
However, WWE can occasionally go too far in the opposite direction.
Sometimes, a squash match can be OK, but it should be done sparingly to make Superstars stand out. It's fine for Goldberg, but it's not right that every Brock Lesnar match is less than five minutes when The Beast Incarnate has proved he can do more than that and provide better quality.
Knowing that weeks, if not months, will be spent hyping Lesnar's next match and the entrances will be longer than the bell-to-bell time doesn't make it worth taking the ride for the build.
The most important matches with the best in-ring performers should be given plenty of time. Quick bouts should be used for shock value or to put over someone strong.
Quality and quantity don't mean the same thing.
Proper Pacing for Storylines
Speaking of length, a proper balance doesn't just apply to the matches. The same goes for building storylines.
WWE has a terrible track record of stretching things out too long. For instance, Bayley and Sasha Banks have been teasing a feud to start between them since before the 2018 Royal Rumble, but they may still not even fight at SummerSlam this year, according to Louis Dangoor of WrestleTalk.
Moving at a snail's pace leads to fans being over a story before it gets started or expectations building past the point they can be met.
AEW could be more patient, though, and understand WWE's slow-burn method does work if it isn't overkill.
There's no need to unveil Brodie Lee, Lance Archer and Brian Cage and immediately push them to a title shot within weeks and leave them with nowhere to go beyond that point.
Cody vs. MJF is probably the longest build for AEW, but even that could have waited a little longer before they split and started fighting. In just a few months, they were introduced as mentor and pupil, split, feuded and moved on.
WWE has to pick up the pace and not drag things out beyond their welcome, but AEW shouldn't rush to the finish line.
Creating Characters and Cutting Promos
For a storyline to be awesome, it needs great writing and interesting characters. Every part of the process needs to be in sync.
AEW has considerably more freedom for performers to be themselves, try out gimmicks they think will work and cut promos with their own voices. When they speak, it's often more believable and entertaining.
WWE has the same handful of writers scripting dialogue for dozens of wrestlers. Everyone ends up sounding the same, so it's rare that different personalities stand out.
However, not everyone knows how to formulate their thoughts coherently without resorting to cliches. Sometimes, they can actually use the help of a writer who can punch up the dialogue and offer another perspective.
When someone in AEW isn't a natural on the mic, it shows just as much as when WWE has someone spitting out lines they don't believe in.
The same goes for gimmicks. At one point, AEW had far too many stables that tried to be a dark and edgy cult-like entity. Eventually, The Nightmare Collective had to go, as it just wasn't working.
WWE avoids that problem by making sure ideas don't overlap, and it doesn't saddle everyone with great gimmicks to avoid blandness, either.
Far too often, when someone doesn't have an outlandish personality, they're given something goofy as a poor substitute for charisma, such as Chad Gable becoming Shorty G.
AEW could use more creative guidance for each performer but nowhere near the tight shackles WWE needs to loosen up.
Educating the Audience
Every episode of any TV show could be someone's first time watching. It's up to the storytellers to give new audience members enough information to keep up without ruining the experience for longtime fans.
WWE must think fans have the memory of a goldfish and require recaps of everything from earlier in the same night, last week and more. AEW isn't as bothersome with that.
But WWE does do a good job educating everyone on fresh talent, which the newer company struggles with. For example, a vignette to promote Matt Riddle moving to SmackDown was smart. People who don't watch NXT or are unfamiliar with his MMA career may have no idea who he is.
When AEW brings in lesser-known independent wrestlers, though, they're often spoken of as if everyone knows their history.
Indie wrestling is much harder to follow, so it's forgiven if someone doesn't know a wrestler's history from small federations or promotions such as Impact, MLW, ROH, New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Who is Luther? I still don't know and I'm more inclined to do the homework than the average viewer. Similarly, WWE can cool it on explaining who The Rock is. Everyone on the planet knows Dwayne Johnson.
AEW plays to a crowd that has been following all wrestling for years and assumes everyone has all that knowledge, which can leave people confused.
WWE, meanwhile, plays too much to the casual viewer, which can leave long-term fans feeling patronized.
Size Is Relative When It Comes to the Roster
WWE recently went through a huge round of releases which included dozens of Superstars. Even with 10 hours of programming to fill each week, the roster was too bloated, and many wrestlers did nothing for months.
With more talent at its disposal, though, the company will always have options for different circumstances.
If Superstars are injured or unavailable, backups can fill in for them, which helped save WrestleMania 36. Similarly, NXT talent has proved crucial during the coronavirus pandemic for Raw and SmackDown.
However, AEW Dark has relied almost entirely on unsigned talent to avoid the employed roster running out of fresh matches.
The AEW women's division lacks depth, particularly, and losing any of Nyla Rose, Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker or Kris Statlander would be devastating for the company.
Variety extends to styles, too. Only recently has AEW addressed the fact that most of its roster was on the smaller side. At one point, Luchasaurus was the only "big man" on the team. With Brian Cage, Lance Archer and Brodie Lee now signed up, not everyone is doing the same type of wrestling.
Like everything else, it's all about balance. Not every job requires all the tools but having 100 hammers means nothing if you're looking for a screwdriver.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.