All Elite Wrestling didn't pull any punches when revealing its big plans to return to the road this year. Rather, it threw the stiffest possible shot—it's going into the heart of WWE territory by running a show in New York.
AEW's flagship show, Dynamite, will get a special branding for the September 22nd event at Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, being labeled AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam.
It's a stunning revelation by AEW for a number of reasons. It's not just the centerpiece of the company's return to the road, the event will be the first-ever wrestling show held at the venue.
Call it a warning shot to WWE. After a quick, somewhat predictable ascent into the upper echelon of the wrestling world (the promotion filled a critical niche for fans), AEW essentially won the Wednesday night wars as WWE shifted its NXT program away from Dynamite. After throwing around some major weight on television programming, the natural next step was elbowing into the regional and national game with its touring.
Now fans can see the first part of the plan. This is going to be an epic spectacle for both AEW and wrestling as a whole. The venue means AEW will place the ring right at center court, making for unique, if not amazing sightlines to the action for both in-person onlookers and those tuning in via television.
And with what's at stake, it's safe to say AEW will go all out from a booking standpoint to give this special moment in modern wrestling history a pay-per-view-level event. That means plenty of titles on the line, big stars throughout the card and likely some major surprises.
The goal of providing an alternative to WWE is one of the reasons AEW decided to run this particular event at a venue WWE has never stepped foot in, too.
“They're a huge successful company, especially in the New York market. That's a WWE stronghold. But there are a lot of people who are excited to see things done a little bit differently, and I think that's one of the reasons why we're making our debut in New York City in a stadium WWE's never been in."
Even so, the challenge AEW faces is immense. Getting the hopeful 16,500-19,000 fans in the stands and selling this arena out isn't going to be an easy thing to accomplish.
There have been many, many wrestling failures in the New York area over the last two or three decades, both in one-time shows and ongoing events. Even WCW at its prime with Hulk Hogan didn't always fill up New York arenas religiously. WWE has had its problems, too, no matter the card or how historic the venue might have been.
And the fact we're talking about a Wednesday night is a major hurdle. This isn't a weekend event or one that goes down around a holiday. It's right in the middle of a workweek in a massive city with plenty of traffic and travel considerations to tackle.
But that's what makes this so interesting to watch and such a power play on AEW's part right in the heart of WWE territory. We are talking about international star power here, with not only legends like Sting and Jericho, but guys who have gone all over the world and excelled—Jon Moxley, Kenny Omega, the list goes on and on.
We're also talking about the first-ever show at this particular venue. And in the backdrop is the loosening of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. The general public is just getting back to being able to attend live events, and it feels like pretty much anything is selling out—wrestling fans will easily prove this to be the case over the summer and into the fall.
Other promotions have tried to challenge WWE in certain regions and failed. The McMahons, after all, made their rise by gobbling up regionals before evolving into what it is today. But other promotions tried to gain headway on television and came up short or didn't last long, too.
AEW has. One sellout here and the competition inches ever closer. It wouldn't mean WWE can't come to New York anymore or anything hyperbolic like that. It might not even impact WWE in the short term at all.
But if one sellout leads to another and consistently packed arenas in regions where WWE has traditionally had no equal, it could mean wrestling fans start to pick and choose which events to attend per year. You never know, right? And if that slowly starts to happen, WWE won't have a choice but to evolve in a way that remains competitive.
That still sounds a tad dramatic, sure. But just a few years ago, anybody who suggested AEW would slap around WWE in the ratings war with a new show and send the juggernaut of a company retreating to a different night would have been laughed out of the building.
So maybe this bold September event is the beginning of a seismic shift in the industry. Maybe not. Either way, it's bound to be something with the potential for an all-time classic of a modern show, if nothing else.