Wrestling can be a lot of things, ranging from action to athleticism to drama to comedy to suspense to romance and probably even more things that I’m forgetting. What it all boils down to though is telling a story, and that’s where the real interest comes from. The matches themselves really are secondary to the stories that are being told to make them interesting, and that is where we’re picking things up today.
Last weekend, AEW held its latest great pay per view with Full Gear, which was headlined by Hangman Page finally ending Kenny Omega’s World Title reign after the better part of a year. These two have a very long and detailed history which goes all the way back to before AEW even came into existence. That is a lot of history and this particular story had all kinds of details included. The title change was the grand culmination, but is that the best way to go?
One of the things that both AEW and its fans pride themselves on it its long term storytelling. The company goes out of its way to plant seeds for things that are coming WAY down the line and it can make for an incredible payoff. Some of these are a lot more obvious than others (Page vs. Cole mainly took place right before our eyes) and you can pretty easily tell what is going on at any given point in the story.
At the same time though, you can have some stories where things are a bit more subtle. You might catch a glimpse here or a glare there, often after a single line in a promo. It might not be addressed at the moment, but you can almost guarantee that it is going to come back up later. These are often for the more watchful fans who not only see every show but remember all of the little details to everything that they are seeing at any given time.
As cool as these long term stories sound (and they often are), they are not always the greatest things in the world. There are some problems and drawbacks to running stories like this, and that is what we are going to look at today. You can have both long and short form stories, and as is the case with just about everything, there are positives and negatives associated with having either of them.
One of the main positives to AEW’s longer form booking style is how things come together. Wrestling fans can tell that there is all kinds of time and effort put into these stories and you know that AEW has made it a focus to not just throw something out there and hope for the best. This is one of the things that sets them apart from WWE, who seem to be making this stuff up as they go on any given night.
On the flip side of that though, there is one simple problem: not everyone pays that level of attention. Maybe some fans aren’t around every week. Maybe they missed one of the more important points to set up a feud. Maybe they have just forgotten something that happened. There are a bunch of reasons why someone might not remember every detail and those fans might be a bit lost about some points.
I have yet to miss an episode of Dynamite and I had to think pretty hard when Page was talking to the Young Bucks about how he and the Bucks had cost each other title shots. It absolutely happened and a lot of fans remembered what he’s talking about, but what about the fans who don’t remember for one reason or another? If you want to have this kind of a story where it is all built on the history, let us know what that history is. Show us a long video package, tell us what is going on, have the wrestlers talk in detail about these things. Just do something other than assuming that every fan follows every single week.
Another side of this is the feeling after everything is over. Page winning the title was the big ending to a story that started (at the latest) two years ago. His fans have watched him get so close to the top of the mountain, fall all the way back down, and then make it even higher the next time around. That’s an awesome feeling and for fans who have been along for the ribs, there is very little sweeter to see in all of wrestling.
That’s the kind of fan base that AEW caters to: the hardcore fans who have been around for the entire ride and aren’t going anywhere. Those fans make up a lot of the AEW audience and they are going to be around as long as anyone else. It makes a good bit of sense to focus on them, as without those fans, AEW would not be where they are today.
That being said, there are a lot of other fans out there who might not be getting the point. For fans who have jumped on the AEW bandwagon since Page’s story started, there are some things missing. They don’t have that same connection to the quest that everyone else does and it won’t have the same impact. Without that emotional connection, how many of them aren’t going to care all that much about Page winning the title? The longer you spend building a story, the more of those fans there are going to be.
Finally, there is the inherent risk in running a storyline that lasts so long. Page vs. Omega was set up over the course of two years and there were a lot of pieces that had to come together to make that happen. That is hard enough to do on its own, but it also brings in several other factors. Running a story for that long is going to bring about some other possible problems, any of which could screw the whole thing up.
What if someone gets hurt? What if someone else gets hot and the fans want to see them in the spot instead? What if the fans just get tired of waiting? There are all kinds of potential problems and it can all come apart in a hurry. This is the case with every story told in wrestling, but the longer stretch of time you spend setting everything up, the more chances there are of something going wrong. Look at CM Punk’s debut and the match with Darby Allin. That took place in less than a month and was the biggest match on the All Out card. It can be done just as fast, and if it hadn’t worked out, AEW doesn’t lose nearly as much.
There is nothing wrong with running a long term story. If you can make it work out and avoid the landmines that come with it, you can have one of the best payoffs in all of wrestling. The time, effort and energy put into it can all be worth it and so much more in the end, but it is not something that is going to work for everyone. It also caters to the fans who have been around the longest, and that is going to make it difficult to bring in a larger audience. Just look at AEW’s TV numbers and you can see that things are not exactly being lit on fire.
The good thing is that AEW seems to have figured out the formula to make these things work fairly well. They aren’t too subtle with their major plot points and their recap videos hit enough of the important parts to keep things going. They are the kind of stories that AEW knows how to run, but they can’t be all that are done, at least at the top of the card. This was a situation that went well, but it also isn’t something that is going to work every time. Well done on making it work so well this time, though they need to keep it mixed up a bit, just so they can be have a more long term success story to tell.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.
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