What could Matt Cardona and Ariane Andrew bring to AEW?

AEW, Ariane Andrew (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
AEW, Ariane Andrew (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images) /

The former WWE wrestlers’ respective debuts on AEW: Dynamite were met with mixed responses, but both could add something to the company.

Fans who tuned into the July 29 episode of All Elite Wrestling (AEW): Dynamite saw a pair of familiar faces make their debut with the young promotion, particularly if they watched WWE in the mid-2010s: Matt Cardona (f.k.a Zack Ryder) and Ariane Andrew (f.k.a. Cameron).

Unfortunately, neither wrestler received the sort of buzz that the likes of Eddie Kingston, Ricky Starks, or Warhorse — who challenged Cody for the TNT Championship on the same episode Andrew and Cardona debuted on — garnered when they respectively appeared on past Dynamite broadcasts (though both had their fair share of fans voicing their excitement over the news).

At some level, the tepid response is understandable; neither Andrew nor Cardona exactly set the world on fire during their disparate WWE runs. Of the two, Cardona came the closest to reaching wrestling stardom — specifically, when he parlayed his Z True Long Island Story web series into a United States Championship run in 2011 — but outside of that brief midcard push, he spent most of his WWE career as a jobber to the stars.

Combine that with his lack of standout skills in the ring and on the mic (not terrible at either, but not great) and it’s hard not to view this as Cody hooking his friend up with a job that dozens of more talented wrestlers would love to have.

As for Andrew, most fans remember her for three things: professing her adoration for a Melina vs. Alicia Fox match to Steve Austin on Tough Enough in 2011, her tag-team partnership with Naomi as The Funkadactyls, and, well, her not knowing how to pin her opponent. Given the number of green wrestlers already in AEW’s women’s division, it’s reasonable to wonder whether adding another questionable worker to the distaff ranks makes the most sense.

However, that doesn’t necessarily make these bad signings, assuming both hang around for an extended stay in AEW. In Cardona’s case, it never hurts to have some guys on your roster who are solid hands and can put over the bigger stars, and he fits that bill, though he should get a few wins so the inevitable jobs he does mean something. Plus, hiring one of the folks WWE laid off to make the company’s profit margins look better is never a bad thing.

For Andrew, this is a chance to rewrite the narrative that has defined her wrestling career for nearly a decade. In many ways, she was a victim of circumstance: her less-than-stellar in-ring track record was as much a byproduct of WWE’s retrograde vision of women’s wrestling as it was her eagerness to grow as a performer or any sort of ceiling she had as a worker.

Her workrate did improve a bit toward the end of her WWE run — working alongside more seasoned talent in NXT helped in that regard — and considering how wrestlers like Jamie Senegal have vouched for the work Andrew put in to prepare for a run on the indy circuit this year (which was impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown), any complaints about a lack of passion or commitment belong in the annals of history right next to those infamous Tough Enough comments. That should at least earn her a shot to prove the skeptics wrong.

Yes, there’s a chance neither of these signings works out. Cardona could go the way of Shawn Spears and show how right WWE was not to push him for the near-entirety of his time there, and with the promotion engendering side-eyes from fans for not featuring enough non-white stars (the opposite of what AEW promised), that criticism would only intensify, especially if he gets pushed above his station.

And for as impressive as Andrew looked in a couple of select clips, that’s all they are. After all, there’s a difference between perfecting moves in a training session and telling a compelling story in an actual wrestling match. If she resembles the worker everyone remembers her as, all those jokes will come back to the forefront and it would lend more credence to the not-incorrect perception that the women aren’t a primary concern in AEW.

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Either way, the company isn’t taking a huge risk bringing Andrew or Cardona in. But getting another chance to succeed where WWE failed creatively makes the gamble worth it.