In 2021, new AEW signings went through the roof. Long gone were the days of watching Brandon Cutler or Jimmy Havoc battle it out on AEW Dynamite. Joey Janela was a thing of the past and no long was Jack Evans positioned as top of his division.
AEW signed a new class of talent. They went from a C grade to an A +, with some of the greatest of all time joining the promotion.
AEW’s new signings in 2021 included, but weren’t limited to, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Adam Cole (BayBay), Andrade El Idolo, Malakai Black, Buddy Murphy, Christian Cage, Mark Henry, Ruby Soho and The Big Show.
A comprehensive list of some of the greats. The majority of which left WWE to join AEW and were major coups (except for Big Show and Mark Henry, which were not great signings) for Tony Khan and company.
The AEW roster has grown leaps and bounds since it’s debut three years ago and it seems to be growing by the day. In 2022 alone they have added former WWE stars like Toni Storm and Jeff Hardy and, while they wont be signed to the promotion, NJPW stars seem set to work with company to promote the upcoming Forbidden Door pay per view in June.
However, the signing of all these new stars has come at a price and has seemingly been pushed into the AEW Championship storyline. CM Punk challenged Adam Page for the AEW Championship at Double or Nothing with the storyline partially being about CM Punk not being one of the AEW originals and not understanding what AEW means to the likes of Hangman and The Elite.
Adam Page may not be far from the money. AEW has changed over the three years since it’s debut and, for better or worse, the presentation and booking has changed since 2019.
This is none more clear than by looking at the Double or Nothing 2022 card and looking at how many new wrestlers signed in the past year competed at the event.
AEW Wrestlers signed in 2021
Looking at the Double or Nothing 2022 card and the amount of wrestlers recently signed on the card is staggering.
Of all the wrestlers booked for the show and before any surprise appearances, a shockingly low number of talents were already signed for AEW prior to last years Double or Nothing. While a number of injuries to stars like Kenny Omega and Orange Cassidy certainly skew the stats, the following wrestlers are the only ones to be a part of the show after being with the company for over a year;
- Adam Page
- Jungle Boy
- Ricky Starks
- Powerhouse Hobbs
- Anna Jay
- Chris Jericho
- Eddie Kingston
- Jon Moxley
- Jake Hager
- The Young Bucks
- Matt Hardy
- Rey Fenix
- Darby Allin
- Frankie Kazarian
- Scorpio Sky
- Sammy Guevara
- Britt Baker
- Tay Conti
That makes 23 wrestlers who have been at the company for more than a year, compared to the 25 new signees including CM Punk and Bryan Danielson who are competing in the show. While it is good to have a healthy turnover on the roster is has left out a number of AEW stars like FTR and Sting from the show.
FTR in particular have been one of the best tag teams in the world recently but could have missed out on a tag team match had AEW not signed the likes of Jeff Hardy or Keith Lee.
However, a wrestling promotion cannot sit on it’s laurels. A constant turnover of talent is required to keep a roster seeming fresh and keep fans interested. While this is a good thing, changing your talent so often and in such great numbers can cause fans to become less invested in the show, knowing that their favourites will likely not be involved a year from today.
In addition, if the new signings don’t land then the fans will not want to watch and will miss the old ones who may have signed for other promotions (like Cody Rhodes signing for WWE).
It’s a delicate balance that Tony Khan has to walk the tight rope on and while he is doing his best, I feel that AEW needs to stop signing so many new talents and focus on building up the ones they have.
However, with the amount of talent they are set to release (and lose involuntarily) at the end of their contracts, they can afford to fill their roster with former WWE stars in the near future.
AEW losing talent
With Cody Rhodes move to WWE at Wrestlemania 38, other AEW talent could have their heads turned by the way the former EVP of AEW has been treated by Vince McMahon. Cody Rhodes has been position as a top face in WWE so far, and is much higher on the card than in AEW (although his position in AEW was much his fault as anyone).
Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer has corroborated this feeling within the AEW roster. He stated during a special Wrestling Observer Radio due to the MJF situation that;
“There’s been a big shift among people in AEW. Not that like they want out. But it’s definitely different in the sense that I get the impression that more people are willing to go [to WWE] if they get like a great offer.”
“Whereas a couple of years ago, it wasn’t like they wouldn’t go if they offered tons of money but they were like so happy to be there [in AEW]. But now that they have seen that Cody’s made a lot of money and he’s like a top guy and he’s getting pushed, now things have absolutely changed in terms of the way that people view potentially going to WWE.” – source
With MJF’s contract situation looking like he’ll leaving the company in 2024 (or even earlier), AEW will need to keep signing new talent. However, at the time being they seem to have done too much turnover and fans have had little to cheer for as they have not been able to build the connection with the new stars.
While the likes of Adam Cole and Samoa Joe are big stars in wrestling, neither have the attention of the AEW fans like the stars they have seen grow on weekly TV over the years. AEW originals like Orange Cassidy or Adam Page have a much better connection with the fans than the latter due to the time they’ve had to grow to know them, and this bond will never form with a yearly turnover of talent.
AEW is signing too much talent and, while they are big stars in wrestling, it will soon end badly for AEW as they are a roster of stars that no-one connects with rather than a less-talented roster that has a connection with the crowd.
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