The “first time” in professional wrestling is an important moment. The first time two individuals partner, the first time someone wins a championship or breaks out a new move. All those moments are valuable in both short- and long-term ways. The same is true about matchups, which is why AEW President and CEO, Tony Khan, is exactly right with his comments about promotions doing excessive rematches.
Khan appeared on the Wrestling Perspective Podcast and gave his opinion about a variety of topics including scripted promos and rematches. It was clear that his comments were directed toward their largest competitor in the WWE. He spoke directly to WWE’s running of the same matches over and over.
“The flip side of that is you also sometimes see when you’re watching not AEW but other shows like it goes on forever,” Khan said. “It’s like 17 rematches with the same two people. So, there’s no happy medium between what you’re saying.”
This is one of the biggest among multiple problems within the WWE. Week after week, a large majority of the promotion’s television product is based around rematches. AEW also runs its own series of rematches, see Hikaru Shida versus Serena Deeb or the current feud between FTR and The Lucha Bros as examples. However, it’s the consistent nature of WWE leveraging rematches that is the problem.
Let’s look at some data within the question. Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics presented data back in July that breaks out how frequently major promotions use rematches. WWE’s main roster came in at 39 percent of matches were re-done, compared to 20 percent for Impact, 18 percent for NXT, 17 percent for New Japan, and 4 percent for AEW. Those are some glaring numbers and hard to ignore that WWE’s content is nearly half comprised of matches fans have seen before.
This creates several problems across the board. For example, it limits the number of people that are featured on television, cutting into the opportunity to build new names for the future. WWE has an expansive roster, yet they operate as if they have a depth issue, frequently featuring the same faces week after week. WWE programming is already low on televised matches, so what does that mean if almost half of those matches fans have already seen multiple times?
Another issue is that this is a clear indication that WWE fails in long-term planning. Shows that come together last minute are anchored by rematches announced at the last minute. This eliminates the opportunity to build to a long-term payoff and create matches or stories with stakes at the end.
Take Bianca Belair versus Doudrop from last night’s Monday Night Raw. Belair and Doudrop have been in a war of words since before Survivor Series. They had a match last week that ended with Doudrop leaving and taking the count-out. This would have been an impactful finish, but the match was running back immediately the next week. Again, the ladies put on a great contest with Belair getting the win via 450 Splash. But what happened next? Doudrop attacked after the match to regain her heat, building speculation that the two women will meet again, probably at WWE Day 1 – if not before.
Imagine the excitement fans could have expressed if their first match happened at the PPV with Belair and Doudrop getting the opportunity to physically tell the story that is told verbally weeks before. Belair’s attempt to get Doudrop up for the KOD and having to win with the 450 would be all that more meaningful. Instead, those moments are thrown away for needless rematches on weekly television.
There are things that WWE does right each week and places that AEW could improve on as well. But one area of many where it’s clear that AEW has the lead is its ability to book original matches that keep fans’ attention. WWE is failing in this area and it shows in more than one way.