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AEW is doing a lot of trust building


There have been a few times in the brief history of AEW that things were promised and while they were delivered on, failed to live up to the considerable expectation the promotion built for them. Two come to mind immediately, both from the same show, Revolution, back in March of this year — the exploding ring following Kenny Omega’s deathmatch with Jon Moxley, and Christian Cage’s debut.

Those were two heavily hyped moments, the promotion promising a Hall of Fame worthy talent showing up and the ring exploding following a match featuring two wrestlers who would absolutely be involved in something insane enough you could take it literally. It’s what sold the entire pay-per-view.

So when Christian walked out, instead of any of the other big names on the market at that time, he was met with a generally modest reaction. Maybe not entirely fair to him, considering his talent and what he brings to the table, and definitely not his fault, but quite a few fans couldn’t help but feel let down by it.

It only got worse after the main event, when the countdown hit and Eddie Kingston was throwing himself over Moxley’s body to protect him from the explosion and what ensued can best be described as a sparkler show, one that would have been disappointing even by those incredibly low standards. There were a few pops that sounded like firecrackers. And that was it.

It left a seriously sour taste in the collective mouth of pro wrestling fans everywhere, a real shame because the rest of the show was very good but would never be remembered as such.

Where I’m here to give credit to AEW is what they learned from that evening, and how they’ve altered their behavior since then.

When word got out that CM Punk was in negotiations for a return to professional wrestling, AEW leaned into it. They booked an episode of Rampage at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, dubbed it “The First Dance,” and had Tony Khan openly teasing that, yes, Punk would be returning, and he would be doing so as a member of the AEW roster. They leaned so heavily into it, that you could argue it was a spoiler. Others have said they were brilliant for making fans 99-percent sure he would be there, because that 1-percent of doubt is all you need to ensure it’s still a surprise. The anticipation of the moment was almost physically painful, the kind of giddy excitement that reminds you of childhood.

And then they delivered on that.

When word got out that Adam Cole’s deal with WWE had come up and it wasn’t clear where he would go, AEW started teasing his jumping ship. The Young Bucks were using their Twitter bio gimmick to talk about resurrecting someone from the dead — Cole was killed off in an episode of “Being The Elite” before AEW was even created — and even during All Out Dr. Britt Baker DMD hit a Panama Sunrise that every fan in the building went apeshit for. They teased it out in subtle and not so subtle ways.

And then they delivered on that.

When word got out that Daniel Bryan’s contract with WWE had expired, it came right along with word that Vince McMahon was still vying heavily for his services. It was hard to imagine him leaving, what with all his family ties to that company, but there was enough doubt to make it interesting. Then AEW started very lightly teasing his arrival too, with Punk himself even bringing him up in an interview and maybe using his shoes as a vessel for some subliminal messaging.

And then they delivered on that.

It’s been said that trust is lost in buckets and gained in droplets. Well, in one night, AEW did a whole lot of trust building by delivering beyond any reasonable expectation. This time, having delivered on all that, with a lot of great wrestling around it, the show was considered one of the very best in recent memory.

It’s worth pointing out that they are doing this during a time when WWE — and I promise this isn’t meant to pit the two against each other, but rather to accentuate how meaningful it is that AEW has gone this route — routinely advertises matches they are fully aware will not be happening. WWE knew ahead of time that Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks would not be taking place at SummerSlam, and Becky Lynch would be returning to win the title. Instead of creating buzz for that with an announcement removing Banks from the match, they went right on ahead with advertising it. Card subject to change and all that, sure, but that disclaimer was not intended to be manipulated this way. Lynch’s return after more than a year away should have been a slam dunk but by the time that show was over, I’m not sure anyone would tell you that was the case.

AEW is proving the formula is quite simple — deliver on what you say while giving the fans what they want. They are doing just that and the fan base, increasing by the day, is loving them for it.