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Is AEW’s lack of hated heels hurting the promotion?

Might a most deplorable villain help take AEW to the next level?

“You people are number one,” says Christian Cage. More despicable villains like him could propel AEW to new heights.
All Elite Wrestling

The lack of deplorable heels that fans would want to see get their comeuppance may be partly responsible for All Elite Wrestling’s on-screen woes, according to Jim Cornette.

In a clip from his podcast, Jim Cornette’s Drive Thru, the former wrestling personality, along with his co-host Brian Last, went through their weekly review of AEW Dynamite, which includes a discussion of the show’s television ratings. Following one of Dynamite’s worst numbers of the year, Cornette and Last cited several issues ranging from owner Tony Khan’s booking to the Continental Classic tournament and its overall presentation to AEW’s television production.

From there, Cornette — who was (and to some, still is) a heat magnet who led his team, the Midnight Express, to main event spots in arenas across the country in the 1980s — dropped a dissertation about a tried and true method that he believes is the foundation of pro wrestling, saying:

“The whole logic, universe of pro wrestling is built on — no matter how you get there, no matter who it is, no matter what they do, no matter how long it takes, weeks, months, years, one day, whatever the f*** it is — the ultimate thing about pro wrestling is the bad guy finally gets his ass kicked. And the people jump up and down and cheer when it happens, and they’ve paid to see it.

“Everything else is negotiable, right? You can think of five million different things that have been done in wrestling, but what is the classic wrestling moment that everybody would see in their mind or remember and, or the payoff, the blow-off, the goddamn big house, the end of the blood feud, whatever the case, the heel gets his ass kicked.

“That’s what the goal of wrestling has been, no matter when or where it was presented. It’s just how you get there. [AEW] can’t get there. They cannot get there ‘cause there’s nobody to get there on. Their heels are more popular than their baby faces and so nobody is going to cheer any of those heels getting their ass kicked.”

Going to see the bad guys get trounced has often led to success at the box office for wrestling promotions. Whether it was fans flocking to see Gorgeous George lose his luscious blonde locks in the ‘50s, or wrestling buffs showing up to see someone silence Matt Cardona, following the good guys’ pursuit of the bad guys, be it for titles, revenge, or something else altogether, has always been a winning formula.

WWE Hall of Famer Eric Bischoff, who oversaw World Championship Wrestling during its zenith, knows that well. The despicable tactics of Hollywood Hulk Hogan and the New World Order inspired millions to rally around WCW’s heroes, such as Sting and Goldberg, and their efforts to take down the rogue faction. Earlier this year, Bischoff shared a philosophy similar to Cornette’s.

“You want the audience to aspire to see that,” said Bischoff, “they want to see that heel get beat. I absolutely believe in —we’ll call it the Ric Flair philosophy — that heels should have the belts [...] and having the babyfaces chase it and making it aspirational and hoping that this is going to be the week we finally see it.”

At one time, MJF stood as AEW’s top evildoer. But despite such tactics as throwing a drink in a child’s face and exaggerated claims about committing a crime that led viewers to call the police, he’s since gone on to become the organization’s top babyface. Christian Cage has done a commendable job filling the void MJF left behind, becoming the new face most would like to punch. But after that, the heat cools down a bit.

However, that could all change on the last Saturday in December as AEW presents its final pay-per-view of the year, Worlds End. It’s there that the identity of the mysterious Devil, who’s been tormenting MJF for months, is expected to be revealed. If Tony Khan and his cast can stick the landing, it could produce AEW’s next top baddie.

And that could help set the brand up for big business in 2024, as emotionally charged fans arrive en masse, with cash in hand, to root for the downfall of wrestling’s next compelling dirtbag.

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