Who would have thought it possible? The world of wrestling hasn’t seen the like in 25 years. Many of us will remember the 1990s, when Eric Bischoff’s WCW overturned Vince McMahon’s WWF (now WWE) in the popularity stakes, and the ensuing Monday Night Wars. Indeed, prior to WCW’s run, WWF had achieved such a clear advantage over its rivals that most of the top talent from other organisations had jumped ship by the time the new decade rolled around. The idea that another wrestling organisation could genuinely compete with WWE, and even surpass it, was as inconceivable then as it is now. Yet surpass it WCW did, and that momentary shift in power undoubtedly inspired Tony Khan to launch his glimmering new AEW enterprise. As if fueled by his early doubters, Khan invested figures that most of us could hardly comprehend. And slowly but surely, perhaps bowing as much to the inevitable as to Khan’s unwavering persistence, the power base started to shift.
As WWE continued to inexplicably release top talent, Khan just as quickly snapped them up to bolster his ever-growing roster. In the recent case of Daniel Bryan, the move to AEW was a personal preference over returning to the company he had served faithfully for 10 years. There can be no clearer vote of confidence than this.
Yet AEW’s true turning point was the signing of CM Punk. Punk draws people to his cause like Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta. Or, dare I say it, in the way Hogan did during the Golden Era, when WWE grew their company around The Hulkster’s unparalleled popularity. A seasoned wrestler now, Punk’s age will prevent him from the physical heights of his colourful WWE career. But the charisma is still there for all to see, and this is what AEW will continue to showcase in their bid to dominate the world of wrestling. AEW merchandise has grown into a multi-million dollar enterprise. AEW action figure sales have tripled recently, and the highly anticipated AEW trading cards pre-sold out from distributors in less than a week. And that’s before the cards are made available to the public. The natural order has been shaken into disarray. Even the punters are now confused. WWE’s Punk disciples defect to their leader’s new tribe. Those on the fence consider which camp to side with. And so begins the Monday Night Wars sequel. The hinge of history opens the AEW decade.
Article by Steve Ayers