AEW leans into sports entertainment for Double or Nothing

AEW is the home of great professional wrestling, but the company knows to leverage sports entertainment when it counts.
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AEW is heading into a major show on Sunday, May 26 with Double or Nothing. AEW has done an excellent job putting on fantastic PPVs all year, and this event is expected to keep that pace going. There are several big contests to see, and anticipation of more surprises. As this show inches closer, analyzing the card points to an intriguing trend in the company. AEW Double or Nothing is anchored by sports entertainment more than professional wrestling as the main draw.

AEW is known by many as the place where the best professional wrestling happens. Any company that features matches like Will Ospreay versus Bryan Danielson or Will Ospreay versus Konosuke Takeshita can rightfully make that claim. AEW’s roster is comprised of many of the best performers in the business. It’s understandable how this company is capable of putting on excellent matches each week.

However, when the conversation about professional wrestling versus sports entertainment comes up, the narrative is that AEW leans into pro wrestling as a way to be “better” than the sports entertainment other organizations present each week. Yet, when one looks at several of the top angles heading into Double or Nothing, many of them lean hard towards being more sports entertainment than professional wrestling.

The Anarchy in the Arena match is based around a storyline where two EVPS, The Young Bucks, decided to overthrow Tony Khan because they do not like how he’s leading the organization. This is straight out of the authority-figure-based angles that several wrestling organizations have used over the years. Chris Jericho versus Hook versus Katsuyori Shibata is another sports entertainment style match because that’s the space that Jericho works best at this point of his career. Adam Copeland versus Malakai Black featured a Blood Bath segment on the May 22 episode of AEW Dynamite, right out of the playbook from his days in the Brood and beyond. Even Toni Storm's character, as excellent as it is, is more of a sports entertainment figure at this point.

When done well, sports entertainment doesn’t have to be looked at in a negative fashion. AEW attempted to lean heavily into the sports aspect of professional wrestling, but that’s proven to not fit in this industry. Once again, the rankings were thrown to the wayside, this time faster than anyone expected.

Excellent professional wrestling combined with characters and stories that fans enjoy is the perfect combination for success in this business. Trying to do either without the other doesn’t lead to long-term growth, which is what these businesses look to achieve. AEW does a great job telling and giving fans excellent pro wrestling under the guise that sports entertainment doesn’t occur on the show. In reality, the biggest matches heading into the PPV are wrapped in sports entertainment tropes from the same playbook as other companies.