AEW was really great when it was good in 2023.
The Better Than You BayBay saga was prolonged and turned sour, but - aside from some of those naff pre-tapes - MJF and Adam Cole's relationship was for a while a stirring mystery that struck the perfect notes of emotion and cliffhanger suspense.
Bryan Danielson, one if not the greatest wrestler ever, should have been inducted into a Hall of Fame and sent to jail at the same time for his shockingly violent artistic masterclasses. Swerve Strickland appeared to crack that elusive main event bracket, which was some achievement. AEW isn't just full to bursting point with great upper midcard talent; that dam broke long, long ago, and it was Swerve who took that spot by the throat.
Kenny Omega was on fire in the ring, even if his feud with Don Callis didn't really click (a traditional fired-up babyface promo really wouldn't have gone amiss). When Lance Archer wrestled some doomed jobber in October, he was announced as "kicking his way down to the ring", which proved that the vintage wit hadn't deserted AEW. The decision to belt pandemic champion Hikaru Shida ahead of Wembley Stadium proved that the company still beats with the old heart.
10. The Slow Decay Of Three Brands
AEW produces four different television programmes - and only one is truly "elite". Dynamite was uneven throughout 2023, but AEW still effectively positioned it as important.
Rampage is all but pinished as something worth caring about, outside of the odd, out-of-nowhere thrill, like the sequel to the Parking Lot Fight and Mistico's shock debut. Remember when you'd hear reports of fans absolutely gushing that they'd just watched some taped Match of the Year Candidate, like Bryan Danielson Vs. Eddie Kingston? Remember settling in to watch Rampage knowing that greatness awaited?
Those days are dead. Rampage is glorified Elevation: a dumping ground for barely used undercard acts and those who are under contract because they are close with management figures.
Collision launched and was mostly different, very, very good and actually worthwhile, although one match was always unreasonably long. When CM Punk departed, the show became the one night a week you'd get to see Bryan Danielson. That's good - great for 20 minutes - but the multiple In Action graphics and the unnecessary five-to-ten minutes tacked onto every main event underscored that AEW simply does not have enough ideas for five hours of TV every week. Contrast what happens at the top of the hour between Dynamite and Collision. Saturdays are fine, but unimportant.
Sometimes there are six hours, and Battle Of The Belts is not merely an obligation: AEW treats it like an imposition. Unlike Collision and even Rampage for a few months there, it never once developed an iota of prestige. Nobody, and this includes Tony Khan, gives a damn.
The effect is not great: AEW used to feel premium and elusive, and was the epicentre of conversation. Now, it's closer to a content farm than the original vision.