When Cody Rhodes left WWE in 2016, opinions varied as to whether the son of “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and brother of Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes was to be applauded for seeking out his own legacy or looked down on for running a fool’s errand on the independent scene. By the end of that same year, he’d silenced doubters by signing with Ring of Honor and allying himself with the Bullet Club, the world-famous signature stable of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and the Hot Topic T-shirt wall. The artist formerly known as pseudo-comic-book villain Stardust had transformed overnight into the self-proclaimed American Nightmare, and was the face of wrestling’s coolest clique.
The faction that really mattered, though, was the Elite, the Bullet Club–adjacent cohort which principally included Canadian NJPW megastar Kenny Omega and tag team visionaries the Young Bucks (brothers Matt and Nick Jackson) at the time but also featured rising stars like Adam “Hangman” Page and Marty Scurll. Over the next two-year stretch, the clique—as seen in New Japan, on ROH TV, and in the massive web series, Being the Elite—proved volatile on screen but unshakable off. Their bond, along with some high-profile backing from Jaguars and Fulham FC co-owner Tony Khan, led to what is now the business’s hottest commodity, despite having yet to stage a formally sanctioned match: All Elite Wrestling. The company’s unofficial kickoff was last year’s event All In, but this Saturday the outfit has its first proper event under the incorporated AEW name: Double or Nothing. It’s a big deal! AEW has the potential to shake up the pro wrestling status quo, from ratings to workers’ rights—and if nothing else, it’ll provide some awesome wrestling. But in case you’re more of a WWE purist or this suddenly omnipresent upstart has caught you off guard, here’s what you absolutely need to know to be up on All Elite.
AEW Is a Kahn-Do Promotion
Father-son duo Shahid and Tony Khan are billionaires. They also own the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and English soccer club Fulham FC. Tony is 36 and loves pro wrestling. With All In and Being the Elite as proof of concept, the prodigal son quickly found himself hatching plans with the Bucks, as well as Cody Rhodes and his wife Brandi, for a new promotion that could provide an alternative to WWE, TNA, ROH, etc., by leveraging the collective founders’ industry-specific clout and mainstream media relationships. By late 2018, a blueprint had materialized for Cody, the Bucks, and Omega to share on-the-ground duties as co-executive vice presidents—Brandi would assume the role of chief brand officer, with several other carefully selected co-conspirators heading up merchandise, marketing, publicity, and so on—while Tony executed strategic oversight and financial jurisprudence from Jacksonville as president and CEO. In a dramatic gesture, AEW launched in earnest just after midnight on New Year’s Day, with a glitzy, live-streamed press conference on its heels. The Rhodeses, Bucks, and Omega will all juggle C-suite responsibilities with in-ring competition, though Khan, as he shared in an interview with me recently, is content to remain off screen—for now.
Read any interview with any of the AEW spokespeople, and a constant theme is that this promotion will put power back in the hands of “the boys in the back.” (For the record, women are quite visible both behind the scenes and on the talent roster, but more on the latter in a bit.) Rhodes in particular has walked a tightrope for months while articulating exactly what that means when it comes to talent potentially unionizing and/or receiving health benefits. (He has most recently acknowledged that some performers beyond himself and his fellow EVPs will receive some kind of formal coverage.) What the “boys in the back” talk most directly addresses is wrestlers assuming creative control over their characters, entrances, etc., even if story lines are still subject to backstage consensus. And outside of the circle of EVPs and a few high-profile signees, most AEW wrestlers will be free to orchestrate dual deals (British Goth grappler Jimmy Havoc, for example, is currently booked to appear at a Major League Wrestling event one week after Double or Nothing). This will be crucial for talent, since AEW intends to reap most of its revenue from TV, streaming, and PPV, rather than outlaying the costs of year-round house shows that pad wrestlers’ salaries but also add wear and tear on their bodies and psyches. Without getting into specifics, AEW also avows to pay talent equitably, minimizing the need for them to break their backs multitasking for myriad companies at once.
There Will Not Be Another Monday Night War
Khan has stated that he has no intention to compete on Mondays with Raw or on Fridays with SmackDown (which is set to make its Fox debut in October). But make no mistake: The AEW is gunning to be no. 1 in fans’ hearts, minds, and DVRs. A bona fide blockbuster broadcast deal with TNT was just announced, though the launch of AEW’s weekly answer to the status quo—which Rhodes and his colleagues promise will focus on wins, losses, and letting what happens between the ropes tell the stories—is still TBD. Although given the clip at which Kahn and Co. have proceeded in their first half-year off the ground—two more marquee live events, Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen, are already on the books for June and July, respectively—don’t be surprised if they enter the prime-time battlefield on or about when SmackDown transitions to its new home. So, to amend that headline above, AEW and WWE may not duke it out with concurrent programming, but befitting this modern era, will be hovering around each other like drones deployed from remote locations.
As for That Roster …
WWE and WCW living legend Chris Jericho was the big get (you can see the whole roster here), and is already doing what Jericho does best in promos and vignettes: stirring shit up, whether with Double or Nothing opponent Kenny Omega or by teasing something down the road with Cody. PAC, once known as Neville in WWE, was likewise a buzzworthy acquisition, and an affirmation that those who were once in the McMahon clans’ employ have a viable option other than scurrying back to Stamford if/when things go bust barnstorming smaller promotions. (That that includes AEW special adviser and featured play-by-play man Jim Ross.) And to whatever degree Rhodes, Omega, Adam Page, and the Bucks’ defections thinned ROH/New Japan’s ranks, their recruitment of Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Scorpio Sky, Chuck Taylor, and Trent Baretta (now Beretta) was a brutal blow to the competition. The question is whether comparatively ascendant names a la MJF, Pentagon Jr., Britt Baker, Jungle Boy (yes, the late Luke Perry’s son), openly gay male competitor Sonny Kiss, and transgender female fighter Nyla Rose will convert the lay fan or lack the star wattage those folks crave—and how convincingly AEW can get them over as stars. As presently constituted, the roster is two parts alpha-incubator to one part relatively established difference-makers. And Double or Nothing and what lies beyond are very much still a crapshoot.
And No, Jon Moxley a.k.a. Dean Ambrose a.k.a. Jonathan Good Is Not Signed
Or so AEW says. We’ll know the score for sure—on that and a number of fronts—come first thing Sunday morning.
Full Double or Nothing Card
“The Buy-In” Pre-Show Match: Kip Sabian vs. Sammy Guevara
Sabian, one of AEW’s several Brit recruits, kicks things off against fellow hotshot Guevara, who’s made a name for himself here and south of the border.
Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega
Omega got one over on Jericho in their Wrestle Kingdom 12 clash for New Japan last January. What was advertised as a “dream match” then is presented here as just a taste of what’s to come.
Cody vs. Dustin
It’s a story as old as the Bible—brother against brother, with pride and the passing of a family’s legacy on the line. Tune in for the Shakespearean subtext, stay for what could be Dustin Rhodes’s last rodeo.
Britt Baker vs. Nyla Rose vs. Kylie Rae
This will be a good litmus test for how intense the women’s competition will be, and something of a groundbreaking moment with the inclusion of transgender female competitor Rose.
SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky) vs. Strong Hearts (CIMA, T-Hawk, and El Lindaman)
Can AEW’s partnership with Chinese promotion OWE live up to what ROH (and WCW and so on) has historically had with New Japan? If wily vets Daniels and Kazarian have a say in it, then yes.
Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, and Emi Sakura vs. Hikaru Shida, Riho Abe, and Ryo Mizunami
These will be fresh faces to most in attendance, creating an opportunity for all six women to exceed expectations and briefly break wrestling Twitter. Until then, enjoy this street fight between Kong and Kota Ibushi.
The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs. The Lucha Bros (Pentagon Jr. and Fénix)
Lucha legends-in-the-making Pentagon Jr. and Fénix, a.k.a. the Lucha Bros, venture to regain the AAA World Tag Team Championships they recently lost to AEW co-EVPs and former ROH and New Japan tag champs Young Bucks. This one’s for the spot-lovers, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. This match will be eye-opening to anyone disenchanted with WWE’s often-mechanical match style.
Best Friends (Chuckie T and Trent Beretta) vs. Angélico and Jack Evans
Chuckie and Trent give WWE’s Bayley a run for her money in the hugs department, but they’ve also jelled as a duo over the past half decade. Ditto for Angélico and Evans, known around the world—if not on widely accessible cable TV—as Los Güeros del Cielo, who’ve been waiting for this kind of spotlight.
An earlier version of this piece misstated the day Double or Nothing will air.