The Elite made the decision to stick with AEW and that was the perfect choice to make.
I’ve tried, over the last few days, to put into words that were neither overlong nor cliché the difference between the modus operandi of AEW and WWE, the different vibes the companies give off, as a framework to explain why the Elite re-signing with AEW was the right move. Often, opinion pieces in wrestling are too opinionated, too passionate, and too vigorously composed. No one wants to be called a mark, and no one wants to be compared to the likes of Jim Cornette.
But sometimes, the first idea that comes to mind can be the best idea, and so after days of thinking and revising, I return to my original statement for this article.
The Elite re-signing with AEW was the right move because they are artists, and WWE doesn’t care about art. They care about profit. This isn’t to say, I feel the need to add, that the Elite don’t care about profit either. I’m well aware wrestling is a business, and both companies I’m discussing here, the professionals I’m discussing here, are active in the wrestling industry. But I believe just looking at the business models of both companies is evidence enough of my opinion.
First off, there’s the problem of the Hogan model within WWE, the idea that there has to be one top guy that the company is built around. If the Elite went to WWE tomorrow, there would be no room for them in the main event title picture. Like the only motel in a small town, the world title scene is filled to the brim with the same players that have occupied those spots for years. Brock, Roman, Seth, Balor, etc. Damian Priest is the freshest addition in years. Narratively as well, there would be no room for the Elite in the current WWE. Think about it.
Roman’s 3-year-long reign being brought to an end by an outsider? What does that say about WWE’s own roster? That no one was good enough, or smart enough to dethrone Roman? Kenny or Hangman strolling in and taking the title wouldn’t be satisfying, but what else is there to do? Would you have Hangman wrestle Austin Theory to a non-f5inish 3 times in a row over the US title? Would you have Kenny Omega face Gunther?
Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing that last match.
The point is that the Elite would have to make a big splash right away in WWE for their move to be considered worth it. But there is no narrative rope for them to do so right now. Then winning would be unsatisfactory. Their losing would prompt Cody Rhodes comparisons and memes about Vince and Triple H’s revenge. They’d go down in wrestling history as being duped, as big fishes in a small pond, when their careers have been anything but.
The idea that WWE is the only game in town is in part what helps WWE to survive. Even in Cody’s recently released documentary, Triple H couldn’t help but refer to AEW as a “secondary company.” They were so insecure, so focused on the Brand, and the money the Brand brings in, that they cheapened what was meant to be a feel-good documentary on one of their most popular stars.
The WWE doesn’t care about what is narratively satisfying, nor do they care about what makes sense. They care about profit.
Think back to an interview Triple H gave, where he addressed the tendency of WWE management to push John Cena over every other talent on the roster, to the point it spawned the Cena Wins Lol and Super Memes we all know and love today. Keyword “today.” Because at the time, it truly was maddening. But Cena sold the most shirts. So they stuck with him.
Flash-forward a decade or so. WWE makes the same mistake with Roman Reigns. He sells the most T-shirts, so he must be what the fans like, right? We should push him above everyone. No one is better than the Big Dog. Let’s build everything around him.
WWE pushed Roman down everyone’s throats so much it took Roman revealing he had a life-threatening illness, something very relatable, something very moving, something human, to wash the taste out of the WWE Universe’s collective mouth. When Roman returned, even with his newly found sympathy from the fans, Roman continued to flop. One mention of dog food is all the reminder anyone needs of that.
Flash-forward again, four years. Everyone is praising Roman, at long last, as one of the all-time greats. He’s held the Universal Title for over 1,000 days. He is WWE. And he is exactly everything wrong with WWE. Roman is a personification of the sunken cost fallacy obsession that plagues WWE because they care about marketability above all else.
If want to make money, you need a strong product.
Now look at AEW. There is no one guy there. There are top guys, yes, but no Hogan figure. Instead, there are ebbs and flows, highs and lows, for every competitor. Jon Moxley, considered by many as the ace of AEW, has failed multiple times. He lost to CM Punk at All Out. He was duped by Kenny Omega at Winter is Coming 2020, he failed to see William Regal’s betrayal coming at Full Gear 2022. He isn’t the top guy always. And because of that, people aren’t sick of him. And unlike Roman, he can thrive away from the World Title picture.
Part of AEW’s branding is how much of a gamble its creation was. It’s why the majority of their PPV names are gambling themed. There was no guarantee AEW was going to succeed. And yet instead of clinging only to big names in the West, such as Chris Jericho, right from the very start, AEW began telling new stories. Orange Cassidy’s transformation. The Acclaimed, who was once an absolute flop of a team, is now one of their most popular acts. This took time, faith, and investments that stood a chance of not being returned. I can’t think of the last time WWE did such a thing, invested in someone other than their pre-picked stars, unless forced to by the sheer bloody will of the fans.
And if we look even further into the E of AEW, into the men this article is about, we see a rich history of this. Telling stories that had no guarantee of success, or marketability, but telling them anyway, because it was a story they believed in. Think of the connection between Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi. However you decide to interpret it, whether you see the Golden Lovers as literal lovers, or as two men with a bond so deep it transcends what we call platonic or romantic, you cannot deny their story has been masterfully told over the years. Slowly, with care, with thought, wonderfully acted and wonderfully written. Every moment of catharsis feels like a dam bursting. But there was no guarantee it would work.
Their story started with a promotion many write off as being the joke promotion, the sex doll promotion. In DDT, a company that was often an afterthought to all but diehard wrestling fans, Kenny and Kota took the time. And they continued to do so. And look at the Young Bucks. No matter where they go, their characters are consistent. Racking up more miles than a truck driver in the late 2010s, the Young Bucks appeared anywhere and everywhere, but they were never phoning it in when it came to character, nor did they act out of character just to suit a story. In New Japan, when Kenny and Kota reunited, it would have been convenient to have the Bucks just be fine with it, to let Kenny have this. But they weren’t written to do that. They were written to react in a way that aligns with who they’d been presented to be up until that point.
And then, we come to the most recent example. Hangman Adam Page. A mirror of Roman Reigns, of the “cinema” that has saved WWE’s reputation in recent years. Hangman’s story has been a slow burn, one told slowly over the years. It has seen peaks and valleys for Hangman as a character. It has seen him succeed, and fail, both professionally and morally. And it never once felt forced.
Now hold on, you might say. What about Full Gear 2021? They had to put the title on Hangman then because Kenny was so injured. That wasn’t the title changing organically, fate forced. Now. Look me in the eye and tell me that wasn’t the natural endpoint for Kenny’s reign regardless. Look me in the eye and tell me Wrestlemania 39 wasn’t the natural end for Roman’s reign.
Hangman’s stock plummeted after losing the title. No doubt, the Hangman T-shirts didn’t sell as well as they did before for a while. But it was natural. It was a story doing what a story had to do. And now, having walked through the valley, Hangman has found the peak again. The Elite Vs the BCC has been some of the best wrestling television this year, and it makes both groups look good.
Could WWE have done that? Could they have ended a reign naturally, guided a talent through the expected drop, and back into prominence once again? The answer, surprisingly, is yes. And that, and I know it’s taken a while to get here, is my point. They could have done that. The Bloodline storyline, damage control that it is, has been a great story.
But WWE wouldn’t let it end how it should have. Because that would have meant plucking a feather from their golden goose. That would have meant their darling champion would fail, would falter, would prove to not be invincible. They would encounter a valley they wouldn’t know how to traverse, both in regards to booking Roman, and in not having this mythical top guy. And that, in a nutshell, is why the Elite re-signing with AEW is the right move.
The Elite see the value in art for art’s sake and stand by it. That is why they succeed. WWE see value in art only if it guarantees them, without a doubt, money. And that is why they were, and will one day soon again, become so stilted that watching WWE becomes a chore rather than a delight.
The Elite are artists. WWE wouldn’t know how to properly utilize artists of their caliber if they were slapped in the face with a step-by-step manual.