AEW: AJ Gray is Y’all’s Elite

AEW Credit: All Elite Wrestling
AEW Credit: All Elite Wrestling /

January 9th is a fairly significant day in pro wrestling.  The Bret Hart/Ric Flair Iron Man match. Edge and Lita’s Live Sex Celebration.  The airdate of Big E defeating Seth Rollins for the NXT Title. So it’s fitting that January 9th, 2020 would be an important day as well.

It was the day that AEW signed Austin Gunn, son of employee and former WWE star Billy Gunn, part of some of the largest storylines and moments of the Attitude Era.  What makes Austin Gunn’s signing so significant? It signaled the changing of a narrative and, really, the end of a certain conversation surrounding AEW’s signings, mission statement, and direction.

In a media scrum last summer, Tony Khan was faced with a question:  When we would see more men of color in the AEW main event picture. Khan, with an upbeat and reassuring tone, responded by saying “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.”

The end of 2019 came and went with no real additions at the top of the roster, making the words ring hollow for a substantial segment of the AEW fanbase. So, when an Austin Gunn with no real buzz, notable matches, or ties to known promotions is signed, the idea that “there are no known Black male wrestlers for AEW to sign” becomes moot,  because if white wrestlers you’ve never heard of can get a contract, the same should apply across the board.

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If this seems like a shot at Austin Gunn, it absolutely isn’t.  He might be the second coming of Kurt Angle. It’s simply that no one he wasn’t related to had advocated his signing.

If “what white wrestlers are there for AEW to sign?” is bypassed in signings, it simply shouldn’t exist for any other group or denomination.  Pulling from the entire talent pool is not only better for your audience, but it’s better FOR YOUR COMPANY.

Cody Rhodes himself thought aloud during an interview with Pro Wrestling Sheet, “African Americans are dominating in sports. Dominating in the NBA. Dominating the NFL. How come that hasn’t made its way to wrestling?” So in an effort to show respect to someone who has worked hard, shown both talent and promise, and fits the type of signing AEW themselves says they want, I present the case for AJ Gray.

Authenticity is a difficult thing to quantify in the wrestling space.  OF COURSE Matt Riddle can fight. OF COURSE Bianca Belair can outrun and outlift you.  OF COURSE Lacey Evans ties to the military will garner a reaction from the crowd.

AJ Gray listens to music you can’t play in a department store.  He wears his hair the way you can’t wear at your job. He tweets at 2 a.m. like EVERYONE tweets at 2 a.m.

And that’s the charm: Diamond Dallas Page was “The People’s Champ” because he wore jeans, wasn’t chiseled, and the narrative was that chipping away at the boulder that was wrestling success day in and day out made him.  The Rock was “The People’s Champ” because everyone loves the High School Quarterback with the golden arm and the Hollywood Smile.

AJ Gray is the guy who sells shirts out the trunk of his car, takes vacation days to run across the country for matches, and has the good will to host his own WrestleMania weekend show, “For the Culture” off the strength of being agreeable and reliable.

Admittedly, NONE OF THIS MATTERS IF YOU CAN’T WRESTLE.  With no hyperbole, AJ Gray has the VERY BEST CLOTHESLINE wrestling.  He throws it like if he takes anything off of it, he’d let down all 8,000 faces (that he can likely identify by first and last name) in his native Lexington, Tennessee).  The force, the lean, and the follow through would have Connor MacLeod investing in turtlenecks.

The matwork? Great. The agility? Great. He employs a fireman’s carry to a sitout powerbomb that’s a combination of speed and power you rarely see.  And he’s doing all of these things, through his own admission, without a bunch of cuts or visible abs. It’s great to look like Scorpio Sky, or have the sleek build of a Sonny Kiss, but part of what AEW has is the ability to create their own narrative.

Everyone doesn’t have to have that swimmer look, and a big part of diversity is emphasizing the various body types that can flourish in athletic competition. You’re one “AJ Gray” YouTube search away from one of the most impressive unaffiliated 25 year olds in the country today.

WWE: Seth Rollins, The Shield, and the Ghost of Dean Ambrose. dark. Next

AEW gets younger, more in tune with current social media, and has fresh match-ups in both name and look with an AJ Gray on their roster.

His rough edges, hard clotheslines and light personality freshen up a space that, while populated, is not reaching out to as wide an audience as they can.  Keep the hair, the physique, the gear, the CULTURE, and you have one of the most relatable and easy to support guys in all of wrestling.

When you can sign anybody, you should look to the real, early and often.