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    Wednesday, December 30, 2020

    The Year That Was: AEW

    As the worst year in recent memory winds down in the next few days, we've decided to do something different here on Smark Henry: instead of listing down 31 days of wrestling in 2020, we chose to take a quick look back at the promotions that have kept us sane through the pandemic. We present The Year That Was, what we hope to be our new annual year-end series.

    We’re approaching the second year of AEW Dynamite and a lot has changed. It took a while but All Elite Wrestling has sort of found its identity as a jack-of-all-trades promotion; a company that can have a hard-hitting iron man match one week and a neat musical number the next. 

    This year was a crazy one for All Elite Wrestling. COVID-19 is obviously the big factor and one that hindered AEW quite a bit, but the company managed to stay strong, even if a number of stories and events had to be put on hold. AEW adjusted to COVID well, even if it puts a lot of people at risk with its limited-capacity live audience shows. The year also saw the company managing to get an influx of new talent, whether they be young up-and-comers, former WWE superstars, or veterans from the indies. 

    It wasn’t a perfect year for AEW, but it sure was eventful. Let’s talk about the biggest moments from the company this year.

    Jon Moxley Was The Man

    While I’d be lying if I said that all of AEW’s World Championship rivalries this year were great, the fact of the matter is, Jon Moxley was a great world champion for the promotion.

    Holding the AEW World Championship for most of the year, Moxley elevated the fairly young belt to new heights. The man only lost once this year and was booked like a winner who had to outsmart, out-brawl, or outwrestle his competition. I have no idea why Cody Rhodes is being called “The Giant Slayer” or something like that when Moxley beat Mr. Brodie Lee, Lance Archer, and Brian Cage in three different title defenses.

    Moxley’s talent on the mic also helped elevate all of his opponents and matches, even if they weren’t always the best. His rivalry with MJF was terrible and felt like WWE-lite with the whole “banned finisher” gimmick but Mox always put the guy over as a legitimate threat when cutting a promo. The former champ did this for Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston, and all of his opponents, whether he was fighting them on pay-per-view or television, Moxley always wanted to let us know that his matches were a big deal.

    Part of me wishes that Moxley retained during Winter is Coming so he could lose to Omega on pay-per-view but there’s no point crying over spilled milk. Good job Mox, I can’t wait to see what you’re gonna do next.

    Kenny Omega Opens The Floodgates For Potential Crossovers

    A fairly recent development but also the biggest talking point, for obvious reasons. The fact that AEW World Champion Kenny Omega will be competing in an Impact Wrestling pay-per-view in January is something no one predicted and has everybody excited.

    Going from The Cleaner to The Collector, Kenny and Don Callis are looking to take all of the belts; and Impact World Champion Rich Swann is clearly in their sights. Omega already has the AEW World Championship and the AAA Mega Championship on his shelf so things aren’t looking too good for Swann.

    Obviously, the best part of Omega’s “collector” gimmick is that it allows him to compete with other companies and give them some attention from the hardcore AEW fans. This means more eyes on Impact Wrestling, AAA, and whatever other company AEW wants to work with, which is a good thing in my book.

    “Hangman” Adam Page Has A Downer Year (So He Can Rise Up Later)

    You know, The Hangman’s year didn’t start out bad; he had one of the best tag matches in recent years back in Revolution and even took part in the super fun Stadium Stampede match back in Double or Nothing

    Unfortunately, like many of us, Hangman let his insecurities get to him. He cut ties with The Young Bucks after costing them a tag team title shot, was abandoned by Kenny when they lost the tag team championship to FTR after they got to his head, and lost a #1 contender’s tournament to the aforementioned Omega, who beat him clean as a sheet back in Full Gear

    These losses could be seen as a burial if they weren’t part of a story and Hangman being in an all-time low has made for one hell of a compelling narrative, showing just how great long-term storytelling can be. His current angle with The Dark Order adds another neat wrinkle to the ongoing story and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

    The Women’s Division Still Needs Work

    Just a bad year for AEW’s women’s division.

    Don’t get me wrong, there were some good things about the women this year. Hikaru Shida has done her best to carry this division on her back, competing regularly as part of AEW’s skeleton crew during the height of the pandemic and she was rewarded with the AEW Women’s World Championship. AEW also managed to strike a partnership with the NWA, letting us see Thunder Rosa in the promotion and the hiring of Serena Deeb gave us a proper veteran who can help out some of the less-experienced talents.

    This year also gave us the heel turn of Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. which completely revitalized her character and career. For a while, her promos were must-watch television and her rivalries with Big Swole and Thunder Rosa have been fun.

    But that does not excuse some of the absolutely horrible bookings this division has had. Shida might have been a good champion, but she barely had any storylines this year and it was hard trying to get into some of her championship matches as a result. Nyla Rose was given a manager when she didn’t need one and has mostly been relegated to AEW Dark

    Sure, a lot of the Japanese talent, like Riho and Emi Sakura, are stuck in Japan, but that just goes to show why AEW shouldn’t only rely on the Joshi division for quality women’s matches. Thankfully, they’ve been more consistent with women’s storylines ever since Jade Cargill debuted and we can only hope the division gets booked better next year. 

    Juggling Stars

    Now that AEW has a big roster, their biggest problem has been juggling all of these wrestlers and finding a place for them. Scorpio Sky received a bunch of hype packages to put the wrestler over but he’s mostly been booked on AEW Dark, only occasionally appearing on Dynamite. Orange Cassidy beat Chris Jericho twice but has been booked inconsistently for the most part. Jurassic Express, Jungle Boy, in particular, are always hyped up as big deals and they barely win. At least the late, great Mr. Brodie Lee managed to get title pushes as the Exalted One of the Dark Order, and there were likely plans for him to achieve even more.

    This is par for the course with AEW and is why AEW Dark is sort of essential viewing, even if those shows can go a little too long. You’ll find a lot of women here practicing their craft and getting reps, along with the super big tag division that has grown to the point that it’s kind of bloated, if I’m being a little honest.

    AEW still does the old-school thing and tries to shuffle the roster for every episode of Dynamite but that’s become a bit harder now that they’ve expanded quite a bit. I hope the company doesn’t pull a WWE and hires every hot indie star that has some buzz when things get back to normal since they have a big enough roster to focus on, at least for now. Maybe some veterans for the women’s division but they’re pretty stacked right now when it comes to the men’s division.

    The road into 2021

    With ratings that are continually rising and beating every program WWE has to offer on TV, AEW is poised for an even better 2021 despite its flaws. That's a win for everyone who has bet big on the company, but the hope is that the success of its not-WWE branding doesn't overshadow the need to fix the glaring issues—they shouldn't wait for the numbers to normalize. Nevertheless, the good thing is that the downward trend won't be happening anytime soon.

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    Item Reviewed: The Year That Was: AEW Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Nico Parungo
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