Cody Rhodes addressed a wide variety of topics during an interview with the Asbury Park Press. One of those topics involved the fan criticism that too many former WWE stars dominate AEW television. For some evidence of that claim, all current male champions in AEW (Jon Moxley, FTR, Cody) are former WWE stars, as are the former world champion (Chris Jericho) and former TNT champion (Brodie Lee).
Cody dismissed the idea that this is a bad thing:
“You don’t put someone in a box based on the beginning of their career, that’s the point of pro sports and the arts. You can completely combine them in this regard: If this is your life’s work, you work on it every day. And the individual that was Luke Harper (in WWE), Mr. Brodie Lee, that individual has grown as a wrestler. He’s better bell to bell, he’s considerably better on the mic. He’s learned more — experience, experience, experience. ... It’s weird, in wrestling people like to keep you confined to where you were and I don’t believe in that. I simply believe in growing.”
I largely agree with the point that Cody is making here. Part of the reason why I was bothered with the booking of Dean Ambrose and Luke Harper in WWE is because I thought these wrestlers were much better than the way they were presented in WWE. For example, I saw Luke Harper organically get over in the lead up to WrestleMania 33 during a feud between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. Yet Harper was ignored coming out of that feud, and Jinder Mahal was suddenly pushed to the WWE championship. Considering how convinced I was that Harper deserved better then, it would be bizarre if I suddenly began to complain about him finally receiving mic time and a push in AEW.
I can see the other side of it, though, and a lot of it probably comes down to personal fandom. I find Jake Hager to be an incredibly boring wrestler. If he was wasting my time in frequent singles matches in AEW, I would wonder why he is getting pushed over other stars in AEW who catch my eye on a routine basis. This is a case where I think AEW has found a good role for the former Jack Swagger, as more of a silent bodyguard for Chris Jericho.
Right now I’m scratching my head over AEW’s booking of Miro, formerly known as Rusev in WWE. I think his introduction in AEW has largely flopped, and it’s disappointing because I’m a huge fan of the guy. Like Cody points out, though, I don’t look at it as hoping for better creative for another former WWE guy. I’m hoping for more entertaining matches and angles from a wrestler who I believe is tremendously talented, who WWE completely missed the boat on. That doesn’t mean I’m also not hoping to see more great action from wrestlers who are not associated with WWE, such as Kenny Omega, Hangman Page, Darby Allin, Will Hobbs, Lucha Bros, Hikaru Shida, and Jungle Boy.
As far as AEW booking Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley in top spots goes, it seems very straightforward to me. They are known all over the wrestling world as huge stars, and it makes sense to build a new promotion’s early years around the two most famous stars available. If CM Punk was available and willing to sign with AEW, then it would make sense to sign and push him too, because he’s arguably the biggest wrestling name not signed to WWE right now. It’s a priority to get those extra eyeballs on AEW with as much star power as possible, while still creating a unique identity for the brand. I don’t think AEW’s decision to push several former WWE wrestlers has compromised their brand’s identity.
Moving on, Cody also expressed some confusion as to why so many people don’t think there already is a working relationship between AEW and New Japan Pro Wrestling:
“I laughed when I heard people talking about a working relationship with New Japan because clearly it already exists — Jon Moxley has been on New Japan, Chris Jericho has been on New Japan. It already exists, the working relationship. The NWA (owner) Billy (Corgan) and Tony Khan are in contact, Thunder Rosa’s the prime example of that. ... I loved seeing Tanahashi on TV last week. He’s somebody I really wanted to get in the ring with one time as far as singles and never got the opportunity — and who knows? That might be something that can happen in the future. But our doors are open, our bridges are down.”
I understand what Cody is saying. Yeah, technically a working relationship already exists with AEW and NJPW, but it seems closer to a bare minimum type of a relationship than what many fans envisioned. The ongoing global pandemic means that this is a question that will have to remain on hold indefinitely.
How do you feel about former WWE stars receiving a big spotlight in AEW? Is AEW going too far in that direction, or is it incorrect to put those performers in that bucket to begin with?