AEW deserves the backlash for a failed surprise on January 11 Dynamite

TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 04: Mercedes Mone enters the ring during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling - WRESTLE KINGDOM 17 in Tokyo Dome on January 04, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 04: Mercedes Mone enters the ring during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling - WRESTLE KINGDOM 17 in Tokyo Dome on January 04, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

AEW did not deliver on Mercedes Mone and the blame should fall on the promotion’s shoulders.

Fans had a big reason to tune into AEW Dynamite on January 11. Yes, there was a big “Game Seven” feel with The Elite versus Death Triangle. But much of the focus was on the women’s tag team match where Jamie Hayter and Britt Baker would take on Saraya and Toni Storm. It wasn’t the action in the ring, but the speculation around the match and its story that led the discourse. Mercedes Mone did not make an appearance and debate rages about whether AEW committed “promotional malpractice.” In reality, the situation is in the middle, but Tony Khan should learn from this situation and how surprises are promoted in the future.

The start of this conversation must consist of what did and did not happen. Did AEW ever promote Mercedes Mone as the secret partner? No. Did Mone herself ever confirm the situation across her massive platform? No. Did any of the parties involved with the match or the promotion itself say that Mone was coming into the match? No. Did AEW reveal who the partner was in advance? Yes, but that step doesn’t absolve the promotion of all backlash – more on that later.

What AEW did do was lean on the speculation and innuendo that is a major part of professional wrestling to build buzz for a women’s match that featured the four biggest names in the company. Tony Khan knows his fanbase is made up of hardcore viewers that consume content both in the ring and behind the scenes. Revealing a mystery partner for early January when that same fanbase has seen the news about Mone’s status as a free agent opened the door for said speculation to begin.

Feeding into said speculation didn’t help. Britt Baker using the “boss” line in a taped promo increased the spider-sense of everyone watching. Hikaru Shida’s surprised reaction to Saraya picking Storm built upon that as many believed she’d be the individual to take out Storm in advance, paving the way for Mone to appear. Khan was even asked about the situation in interviews leading up to the match but did not provide a clear answer. None of these steps helped the situation.

Fan speculation increased interest in the moment

Did fans rile themselves up into thinking that Mone was to appear? Yes. Wrestling is built upon the excitement of surprises and big moments. For example, those surprise returns and debuts are a big part of what makes the Royal Rumble appealing. When WWE fails to deliver on anything meaningful in those areas, that hurts the reception of the event as a whole.

AEW Dynamite has strong viewership without the big surprises. This was already a major card that many deemed PPV-worthy. While some may have turned in for a potential Mone appearance, there was a strong potential for them to stick around for the strong show. What about those that paid ticket prices with the idea that Mone was going to appear? Do they lose faith in the promotion in the future?

Much of Khan’s support in wrestling is because many see him as a fan and a promoter. He knows exactly what it is like to hint at and deliver big surprises. Think back to when Darby Allin used the “Best in the world” line, that was a direct call to CM Punk’s eventual debut in the company. Imagine the blowback if that did not pan out to fruition in the end. Khan has even apologized to fans in the past for not delivering on his promotion of a big surprise, and while this may not fall directly into that same space, it is close.

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Only time will tell if Mercedes Mone appears in All Elite Wrestling. She’s one of the biggest names in the industry and has proven her star power since leaving WWE. But fans will remember the January 11 episode of AEW Dynamite and hopefully, the promotion does as well as it looks to build surprises that deliver in the future.