Tony Khan & AEW promised we would see more men’s wrestlers of color in World Title matches by the end of 2019. That didn’t happen. Here’s what did.
From the beginning, AEW and its figureheads have touted how they will be the most inclusive and diverse wrestling promotion. Cody’s comments to his wife that he “doesn’t see color,” only for her to reply he couldn’t see her existence in that case, led many fans to be hopeful because the willingness to discuss the issue and confront their own biases; Raphael Garcia covered how important it was to hear these words from Cody.
Brandi Rhodes told TV Guide, “‘We aren’t looking for a cookie cutter. We aren’t looking for a blonde that’s 5’4″ because we need a blonde that’s 5’4.” We’re looking for Kia Stevens because we need Awesome Kong.”
The lack of signing wrestlers of color (particularly men) led many to question AEW’s commitment to its stance on diversity and inclusion. During the All Out scrum after the event on Aug. 31, 2019, Rich Fann asked Tony Khan when we’ll see more men of color in the AEW World Title scene. Khan replied:
“I think you are going to see some men of color in the men’s title division. It is something that is absolutely really important to me…I don’t wanna tip my hand on who will be in contention, but I think you will see by the end of the year that I am committed to diversity and I am doing some exciting things to establish new stars both in the singles and tag division and getting some diversity in those roles.”
Well … not only has 2019 ended, but we’re three weeks into 2020 and there are no visible signs of progress. Amelia Nash, specifically discussing the women’s division, cautioned us only four weeks into Dynamite that their promises of diversity have been empty and shallow. Worse, while AEW did sign Big Swole to the women’s division, nepotism seems to still run the men’s division with their recent signing of Austin Gunn.
I’ve gone through each event under the AEW banner (PPV, Dynamite, Dark) since they formed just over one year ago, tallying how many main events were singles matches (note: no women’s match has main evented a show yet, including Dark). I also tallied how many of those singles main events included a man of color (and remember that Khan said “men”). The results?
Through the Jan. 22, 2020 airing of Dynamite, there have been 37 AEW events, though one was the “Year in Review” episode of Dark with no new matches. There have been 15 singles main events (out of 36), including four of the five pay-per-views (and presumably the upcoming Revolution event); the rest are tag, trios, and an eight-person tag match.
Only ONE person of color has been in one of those 15 singles main events: Scorpio Sky in his unsuccessful bid for Chris Jericho’s AEW World Championship on the Nov. 27, 2019 of Dynamite. The most recent rankings have only one person of color in the men’s top five (Sammy Guevara).
It is safe to say that Khan has failed to live up to his promises, considering his earlier comments. Disappointingly, it’s not like AEW lacks men’s wrestlers of color, though we also must not conflate the number of men’s wrestlers of color on the roster with the quality of their pushes. However, one issue may be the focus on tag teams.
According to the AEW roster page, there are seven US-born men of color signed to the roster, and four foreign-born wrestlers (as I wrote here, the difference does matter). Of those 11, six are teams (Private Party, Lucha Bros, Santana & Ortiz), two can vacillate between tag and non-tag matches as group members (Guevara, Sky), one is the leader of a stable and frequently in tag and trios matches (Cima), and the last two are low on the card (Sonny Kiss, Michael Nakazawa).
That means nine out the 11 wrestlers have some focus on tag team wrestling. It’s hard to build a singles star when you only have two bonafide singles competitors.
The simple, in-house solution seems to be to have Sky focus on his singles career while Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian team. Sky has tremendous talent, and he’s already shown viewers he can handle a main event singles match. Why not start his singles run with a match against a returning Jimmy Havoc?
Further, I’m arguing for AEW to have the Lucha Bros focus on singles careers, either with an implosion or while supporting each other. Pentagon Jr. has been a World Champion before (including on US television with Lucha Underground and Impact Wrestling), so there are no worries there.
Rey Fenix is more tantalizing; his upside seems limitless, and I’m curious to see how much his style might shift as a singles competitor (less dives, perhaps?). He was champion in Lucha Underground as well, but that had less reach than Impact Wrestling, so many fans may not be as familiar with Fenix as a singles competitor compared to his brother.
The Lucha Bros are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve also been booked basically 50/50 thus far in AEW; is it ridiculous to say the tag division doesn’t need the Lucha Bros?
The best solution would be to sign more wrestlers of color and give them purposeful pushes on television. Just a few names: Arik Royal, Chris Bey, Myron Reed, AR Fox (please, please, PLEASE watch these if you’re unfamiliar). Regardless of your feelings on how he handled his actions and departure from WWE, there is also “Super” ACH.
The amazing Shane Taylor is reportedly a free agent fresh off his long run as ROH Television Champion, and just think of what he would bring with his look, build, and skills. Just imagine Taylor vs Cody, Royal vs PAC, or ACH vs Moxley; wouldn’t those be some dope matches?
What makes the singing of the younger Gunn more egregious is that at this point, he probably needs more time honing his craft, whereas the above wrestlers can be on TV right away. It is hard to fathom how, over a year in, more signings haven’t happened.
While some might say AEW lacks funds, their recent extension with TNT leads me to believe otherwise. Furthermore, their reported interest in Brodie Lee (fka Luke Harper) and Lance Archer indicates they have the funds to sign great talent.
So how do we hold AEW accountable for their promises? Well, a boycott could happen, but I think the more prudent course of action would be to continually demand (I mean remind) AEW abide by their broken promises (respectfully, of course).
Further, the more they hear from fans on who they want to see in AEW, the more likely they are to listen (they’ve shown us with Dynamite that they’re receptive to constructive criticism). Imagine them hearing during every show, “Where’s Arik Royal at?” or “I would love to see ACH in AEW!” or “Give me Shane Taylor!” That has to sway some opinions, right?
Now, if we’re still in this position in another four months, we’ll need to have a different discussion. Until then, consider this our plea to Tony Khan, Cody, Brandi Rhodes, and the rest of AEW: give us the quality of diversity, inclusion, and representation that fans not only expected, but was promised for the men’s division. After all, you aren’t looking for “a cookie-cutter,” right?