Bloomberg published an article today that covers Tony Khan’s rise in the pro wrestling world and the ongoing battle between WWE and AEW.
One particular story in the article stood out to me, and so I wanted to share it with you, dear reader.
AEW was the hot new wrestling product on the scene in late 2019, crushing WWE’s NXT TV show in the ratings nearly every week going head-to-head on Wednesday nights. WWE had not faced any kind of serious competition in almost two decades, so Vince McMahon didn’t know what to make of AEW’s momentum.
Daniel Bryan was one of the most well-known stars on the WWE roster at the time, and Vince McMahon decided to ask him a question about AEW:
At WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, executives monitored their new competitor’s progress and wondered aloud what to do. Bryan Danielson, one of WWE’s top stars, says that in early 2020 McMahon called him and asked a question that shocked the wrestler: “Do you see anything that AEW’s doing better than us?” Danielson, at home on paternity leave, spent the next two weeks watching every morsel of AEW programming and came to a conclusion: AEW committed more time to and placed more value on the craft of fighting in the ring. WWE’s shows were often marked by long segments of characters on the microphone and short matches. “It feels like you’re watching a wrestling show without any wrestling,” Danielson told McMahon.
Bryan’s quote reminds me of one specific week in early 2017 when less than 25% of WWE Raw and SmackDown was dedicated to the actual bell-to-bell wrestling matches. Over the course of a year those percentages were closer to the 30% range, so that week wasn’t necessarily a big outlier.
I stopped tracking the week-to-week data shortly thereafter, and I’ve never tracked match times on AEW Dynamite, but this is one those cases where I think it’s safe to assume that AEW Dynamite and Rampage are definitely much more focused on the ring action than WWE. The pay-per-view data demonstrates a clear difference in AEW’s favor, at the very least.
The point is, Danielson hit the nail on the head about the biggest difference between AEW’s product compared to Vince McMahon’s creative vision for WWE. In Vince McMahon’s world, being great at wrestling is an insult, so I wonder if Danielson’s answer actually made him feel better about how things were shaping up longer term between WWE and AEW.
Do you agree with Bryan Danielson that Vince McMahon’s WWE product felt like watching a wrestling show without any wrestling? Has Triple H been able to find a better balance between McMahon and Tony Khan’s wildly different approaches when it comes to booking a pro wrestling show?
Let us hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments below, Cagesiders.