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    Thursday, December 30, 2021

    The Year That Was 2021: AEW

    CM Punk

    As the second-worst year in recent memory winds down in the next few days, we're continuing a new tradition we started last year. Once again, we take a quick look back at the promotions that have kept us sane through the pandemic. For the second time, we present The Year That Was.

    If 2021 was the year WWE's dominance may have shown real cracks, for AEW it was the year where the rally truly began.

    When All Elite Wrestling began nearly two years ago to the day, it had always only been touted as an upstart alternative. It was fun, it was fresh, it was exciting, but not many people saw it as a true contender that could possibly knock WWE from its spot atop the pro wrestling world. With only a handful of former WWE stars around to anchor the show, fans knew it was going to take a lot more to even smell a whiff of fulfilling its destiny.

    Well, fortunately for everyone, whether they're an AEW fan or not, that "a lot more" finally arrived this year.

    AEW acquires modern-day stars

    While gargantuan names like John Cena and Brock Lesnar will always stay on the WWE's side of the picket fence, AEW's biggest coup in 2021 is the acquisition of some more actual needle-movers from this generation of wrestlers—yes, no matter what anyone says about them. These aren't your washed-up legends from yesteryear seeking the nostalgia pop (although it can be argued that Christian falls under this category, with all due respect) no, these are current big names making the surprising switch to become All Elite.

    We're talking about CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole.

    All three of them jumping over from the WWE in some form or fashion is a huge co-sign for AEW as the place to be for both fans and wrestlers. It's a real testament to Tony Khan's commitment to actually delivering what the vocal crowd wants (something that's now more confirmed than ever, after a year of uncertainty) and treating the wrestlers with the creative respect that they actually deserve.

    While this doesn't automatically mean that AEW will overtake WWE immediately—the TV ratings, for one, still have some ways to go before they get to WWE's levels—the moves they made this year have certainly built upon the foundation that was laid in 2019 and 2020. 

    How to get better in 2022: fix bad habits

    That said, the AEW product still isn't perfect, and the good things that have happened in 2021 only served to emphasize the areas the company still needs to work on.

    Tony Khan is prone to some bad habits, such as putting on his biggest matches first in order to capture the rested crowd in the opening quarter of the show. The women's division is still relegated to a token one match on both Dynamite and Rampage, even when the big signings of the year also include the top female free agents in the industry and the division itself has improved significantly. Post-match beatdowns are the show's narrative crutch. He still can't control Cody.

    Fortunately, compared to WWE's approach to storytelling, these are all relatively easy fixes for AEW that should make the overall product even better once he makes them. Regardless of what some people might say, the wrestling itself has never been a problem, especially for major companies—it's always narrative execution that's harder to get down pat.

    If AEW manages to get even better in 2022, it'll be well on its way to taking over WWE's spot in the future. Maybe someday we'll be in that fine place, and from there we can all look back at the year 2021 as when it all started going their way.

    Photo from AEW

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    Item Reviewed: The Year That Was 2021: AEW Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Romeo Moran
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