How Does AEW Bounce Back From Revolution's Botched Finish?
AEW suffered its biggest humiliation on Sunday night, but here's why they'll recover...
At some point when you were younger, something incredibly embarrassing will have happened to you, and it probably felt like the absolute end of the world. Maybe you got drunk at a party and vomited in front of your crush, or maybe you fell in a pond or something.
Or maybe you hyped a monstrous explosion on pay per view, the likes of which the wrestling industry had never before seen, and it turned out to be the most comical anti-climax imaginable - a literal damp squib, which two of your toughest wrestlers then had to sell as if their souls had been drained by Shang Tsung.
We’ve all been there. It happens.
As you can probably tell by now, it’s hard to find anything original to say about the ending of AEW Revolution. It has been torn asunder from all angles. But just like our shameful childhood lowlights, is this really the end of the world for AEW? Contrary to what the past few days’ reaction might suggest, I maintain that their future is still bright.
But first, because we have to - and perhaps because we secretly want to - let’s linger on the negatives.
Given modern wrestling’s bizarrely partisan nature, Sunday night didn't see a lot of insightful takes once the smoke had cleared (i.e. within seconds.) The pro-AEW crowd were horrified and the haters were openly delighted, but it was Bully Ray who cut through the noise with a damning tweet:
Although not a universally applicable rule, it’s certainly true a lot of the time, including here. A week ago, the idea that anything could have overshadowed Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega in an exploding barbed wire deathmatch would have sounded absurd. Yet clearly - and this is not an easy pill for AEW to swallow - explosion-gate is going to be remembered. It’s too perfect a slip-up to be forgotten, hilarious in both a visual and situational sense. Parallels have been drawn with another infamous wrestling farce, and while it’s hard to predict whether this will indeed reach Shockmaster status, it’s already well within the same ballpark.
I’ve already gone far too long here without mentioning that, of course, Sunday’s ill-fated crescendo was a tremendous shame for the key figures involved. Moxley and Omega bled for close to half an hour for that payoff, with Wrestling Observer Radio reporting that the champion was ‘furious’ in the aftermath.
Let’s also not forget Eddie Kingston, whose heroic face turn quickly became the silliest moment of his career - and he wrestled in Chikara for over a decade!
I tend to enjoy AEW a lot of the time. It feels like the company most naturally in line with my current taste as a wrestling fan, but Sunday is a reminder that I can’t pretend it’s a perfect promotion. Every company has its flaws, and while AEW’s may not be irreparable, they’re immediately noticeable. Intentionally or not, All Elite wears its weaknesses on its sleeve.
Production is still not as polished as it could be, with the pacing sometimes rushed or ragged, and more than a couple of key spots missed by an ill-timed camera cut. The women’s division continues to lag behind its male counterpart, because even though AEW are addressing a lack of dedicated broadcast time, the feuds still suffer from a severe dearth of nuance and flair. Commentary is a big issue too, because as iconic a figure as JR is, it’s all too obvious when his enthusiasm wanes. (In all fairness, if I’d commentated on prime Austin, Rock, Michaels et. al., I’d also struggle to maintain those excitement levels two decades later.)
That all sounds incredibly doom and gloom, but let’s now remember that on the whole, AEW has impressed in its short history so far. It was the consensus best wrestling promotion of 2020, and clearly has positive attributes far beyond a collection of big names and a wealthy backer. I believe that of these qualities, AEW has three key tools to recover from its current humiliation.
First of all, the company’s biggest strength in my opinion: storytelling. AEW’s central arcs have had simple, solid foundations, often inspired by the heyday of the NWA. We’re familiar with this formula, and feel satisfied when it’s done well.
In hindsight, maybe this is where they slipped up last weekend - by straying from the tried-and-tested method. The very need for a final explosion may have overstepped the mark in terms of melodrama (which sounds like a stupid thing to say about professional wrestling, but we’re all guilty of taking this silly art form too seriously.) Realistically, what was the best case scenario on Sunday night? If Omega’s plot had actually worked, would the angle have escaped all criticism and ridicule? I suspect not.
Despite this, storytelling remains AEW’s crown jewel, which means a quick recovery is certainly possible. It’s a big task, but the direct involvement of Moxley, Kingston, and Don Callis - three of the best promos around today - can only help matters.
The second key factor is AEW’s ability to laugh at itself - or at least the perception that it can laugh at itself. The news of Omega’s anger, although understandable, was jarring to read because it clashes with the company’s self-deprecating image.
Speaking from experience, I imagine Kenny wasn’t the only one feeling this way in the moment. A few years ago, the top rope snapped during the opening exchange of an indie match between two of the world’s best high fliers. I was at the production table that night, and have never felt the air thicken so rapidly in real time.
Our mistake played out on a far smaller scale, and we somehow escaped unscathed, so I can only imagine the widespread panic and disappointment behind the scenes at Revolution. But in a public-facing sense, Kenny and co. are always at pains to show how self-aware they are, and this week’s Dynamite will almost certainly see multiple gags made at their own expense.
Acceptance is the secret to shaking off embarrassment here, especially as wrestling fans can be a fairly merciless bunch. AEW seem well-versed in this, but we've yet to see how their jokes will land.
The final, and perhaps most crucial factor in bouncing back from Sunday night, is ambition.
With Tony Khan at the helm, AEW is a promotion that loves trying out innovative, risky things. Khan is often alluded to as a fan-turned-promoter, given his inexperience and evident enthusiasm. He supposedly operates how we would if we fell into the same position - and while that may have backfired in spectacular fashion at Revolution, it won’t stop him from trying again. We only have to go back to last Wednesday to see a successful example.
Booking Shaquille O’Neal to be part of a wrestling show isn’t an innovation in itself. WWE have done so multiple times, as we know. But trusting Shaq to remember sequences, sell offence and take a big bump? And on top of all that, pairing him with an inexperienced newcomer you’re keen to get over? That certainly counts as innovative.
Shaq and Jade vs. Cody and Red Velvet was, in a sense, the opposite of Revolution’s main event. Aftermath aside, Moxley vs. Omega was exceptional, whereas O’Neal’s AEW debut was far from a perfect match. Some of Cargill’s offence didn’t land as cleanly as it might have; Shaq moved into position too soon for the table spot; the ringside camera caught him giving Cody the ‘I’m okay’ back pat after their fall; production completely missed Red Velvet’s big comeback spear, and so on.
But as Bully Ray’s tweet reminds us, it’s all about the finish - and while it didn’t quite close the match, Shaq’s involvement ended with he and Cody exploding through a pair of tables at ringside. It was a thrilling moment, and that’s what we’ll remember.
Because of this, I still have faith. The ending of last weekend’s pay per view was certainly a disaster, but AEW was born from the philosophy of ‘all in’, one which Tony Khan clearly shares. Sometimes it’ll go wrong, but whether you’re a fan of All Elite Wrestling or not, it certainly makes the wrestling landscape a more interesting place.