The pandemic era has ended for AEW and WWE. Now what?

Which company will stick with the lessons it learned during the pandemic?

Nyla Rose is challenging Britt Baker, above, for the women’s AEW title.
Nyla Rose is challenging Britt Baker, above, for the women’s AEW title.
Screenshot: AEW

You wouldn’t think a video package simply about a wrestling company being stuck in one location for 15 months can bring a tear to the eye, but I suppose that’s a testament to the production team at AEW:

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It’s not so much a joyous recollection, and anything with Brodie Lee is going to be a heart-wrencher. Maybe it’s positioned like that, but it feels more like just something we lived with for so long and had to make the best of, which was pretty much every facet of life the past year and a half. And anything you lived with that long you end up missing, no matter the misery of the experience. Just like Ron Livingston told us in Swingers. Or maybe that feeling is just the joy and relief that it’s over, and we got out of it at all.

The TV Studio/pandemic show era is now over for AEW. It’ll end for WWE in two weeks. One wonders if either company will take anything into the future from this past year and a half, or just return to what they were providing before everything shut down.

There was certainly innovation on each side, be it gimmick matches or cinematic ones. Stadium Stampede, Firefly Funhouse, Mimosa Mayhem, parking lot brawls, boneyards, infernos, you name it. One gets the feeling that AEW will be the one trying to incorporate this kind of thing in the future more than WWE will. But then, they’re still the upstarts, and still have to establish what it is they are. They still have to take risks.

When thinking about this whole time frame, it can be a little startling at just how many things are actually the same as when we went into lockdown. Who’s at the top of WWE? Roman Reigns. That ignores the fact that he’s doing the best work of his career, and probably the best of anyone anywhere, but that’s the case. Drew McIntyre is still floating around the top of the card on Raw, just as he was right after he won the Royal Rumble in January of 2020. Atop the Raw women’s division is a feud between Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair... which is exactly what it was right before Wrestlemania 2020. The AEW women’s division is still a mess, when we can even see it. Right before the pandemic, Nyla Rose defended the title against Kris Statlander. Now Nyla Rose is challenging Britt Baker for it, with Statlander floating in the background.

Still, you’d have to say that AEW has done a far better job of still producing new names to get excited about while locked in one place. Eddie Kingston is top of the card after being introduced during the pandemic. Orange Cassidy’s star only rose through it, augmented by feuds with Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega. If Reigns isn’t the top heel in the business, MJF might be. Jade Cargill is going to run the industry one day, if AEW would ever just pull the trigger on her. Baker might be the breakout star of the whole thing, and she mostly did it in a wheelchair while recovering from a broken leg. Miro has been revitalized as the TNT champion. Who’s a genuine star that WWE made during this time? Bianca Belair, Apollo Crews, and then... Bobby Lashley? He’s been around a while. And he’d be the only other name you’d consider. WWE took a look at some others, like Cedric Alexander, Cesaro, Buddy Murphy, and Mandy Rose, and seemingly put them all back in the box.

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That’s not to say WWE had nothing going on, because it ran many great angles during the Thunderdome era. Sasha Banks was the go-to star, and her feuds with Bayley and Belair will be remembered for a very long time. Reigns and Kevin Owens ran two classics. Randy Orton actually tried. MVP created the most interesting faction, The Hurt Business, that WWE has had in a long time.. which WWE promptly broke up for reasons no one can identify.

And that’s the story for WWE. For all the fun or intriguing stuff they ran in the Thunderdome, it feels like almost none of it will have a lasting effect. That WWE wants to put it all back in the drawer, except for Belair.

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That’s when they’re not downsizing, of course, which may work to AEW’s benefit as well. Simply grabbing up the best of what WWE tossed overboard would give AEW a fresh coat. It’s hard to believe that Tommy End won’t be making a surprise entrance at All Out on Labor Day weekend, and if he doesn’t, then AEW will have lost their minds. Andrade is already in, and if he isn’t one of the company’s biggest stars within weeks it’ll be an upset. Ruby Soho could really shake up the women’s division, and AEW must already be dreaming of a full arena all singing “Ruby Soho” in unison. Again, if they’re not, they should all have to reinterview for their jobs.

While Adam Page and Omega were the biggest story before the pandemic, and look to be the feud that will bring the company out of it, there are far more names you can see tussling for the top title soon. WWE is rumored to be bringing in John Cena for SummerSlam. That says a lot.

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Both companies should be applauded for adjusting on the fly and being creative, though some of that has to be limited thanks to the amount of jobs WWE took away from people. But both will tell you it wasn’t the same and are glad it’s over. But now that we’re getting back to normal, getting back to what these companies do best, there’s still a feeling that only one of them will be doing anything that new.