When you are called The Elite, the expectations of your performance, week-to-week, let alone year-to-year are extraordinarily high.
It is not an exaggeration to say they changed the business. Whether it was The Young Bucks revolutionizing the indies (or killing the business to some).
Kenny Omega brought more critical acclaim to New Japan and became a God of pro wrestling (after wrestling blow-up dolls and a child). “Hangman” Adam Page had penis envy on Being in the Elite. All this before they formed WWE’s biggest competitor, All Elite Wrestling.
Since then, the group more than any other wrestlers (until recently) have had their careers, and actions, on and behind the screens analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized. This year especially, things have been inconsistent.
Kenny Omega, some suggest referencing the criticism online recognized this has been a “putrid year” for him. Some fans feel this could apply to the entire group. Yet realistically, has it been that bad?
Too Much of a Good Thing
One major issue AEW has created for itself is the expectation of week-to-week greatness. Eventually, this becomes unsustainable.
Think black and gold NXT. AEW generally suffers creatively from an abundance of talent, limited time, and a repetitive reliance on what has worked previously (which I explored by discussing AEW’s women’s division and Chris Jericho). Five-star matches, like Kenny Omega vs. El Hijo del Vikingo, cannot happen weekly.
Yet such matches like the latter had no storyline, no build, or relevance to the product at the time. One-off matches are fine. Yet AEW has drifted into reliance on good wrestling to carry the product generally. The problem with this is that good wrestling quickly gets forgotten amidst the weekly abundance of good wrestling.
Storylines between these matches exist, but they have either been repeated, too long or the logic AEW promised in its first years at times evaporates. Being Elite means, rightly and wrongly, means fans expect more. When you’re the face, the founders of the company, that expectation is doubled.
Where’s The Belt Collector, The Cleaner, The Wrestling God?
January, Omega set out his case early for the match of the year. At Wrestle Kingdom (then at Forbidden Door 2), Omega and Will Osprey collide making history. The story was simple: who is the best wrestler in the world?
What did Kenny do after those bouts? Returned to AEW to team with his best friends to win the best of seven series against Death Triangle for the AEW Trios Championships.
The series was good. It produced another five-star ladder match, but it seemed like a consolation prize compared to what Omega showed in Japan—perceived as taking it easy in a division that had passed its heyday.
Even when they lost the championships at Revolution to The House of Black, the lack of storyline and build let the bout down.
It was not just Kenny who was underwhelmed. The Young Bucks, except for All In against FTR, seemed happy to avoid the tag division to let The Usos have a turn at being the best brother tag team in wrestling.
Hangman lit up telling Jon Moxley, he was a man. He was then threatening to kill Swerve Strickland. Where was that fire and intensity the rest of the year?
All four members have held multiple championships (except Hangman who only had the ROH six-man tag team championship) this year across multiple promotions.
Yet did any of these reigns feel significant? All four can tell memorable long-term stories: “The Belt Collector”, Hangman overcoming anxiety to become the world champion, and The Young Buck’s becoming arrogant heels. Their reigns as trios championship and ROH Six-man Champions in comparison were lackluster.
The word “aloof” has been used to describe Kenny Omega’s promo style. Accused of brushing off opponents, losses, and the things that typical good guys character with ease.
Despite losing to Konosuke Takeshita, twice in two weeks, did it feel significant for either man’s story? They were obtuse, having (seen as giving themselves) little microphone time suggesting a lack of care or the assumption fans should already know their characters.
The Numbers Don’t Lie, But They Tell Half-Truths
It’s a strange time in wrestling where four of the most talented, influential, and lauded wrestlers can have between them some of the best bouts of the year while collectively being viewed as underachieving at best and failing at worst.
Between them: Omega (six); “Hangman” (three) and The Bucks (three) have accumulated ten five-star matches out of the twenty-five given by Dave Meltzer this year.
Meltzer’s word is not gospel. Yet to deny the man’s judgment mean squat would be disingenuous. These numbers prove one thing: when focused on match quality, the Elite is still performing at an elite level in the ring. In big matches. So why for some fans does it feel like the Elite are not the elite they once were?
What’s the Point?
The big matches were wrestling nirvana. The journeys however were inconsistent or drawn out and motivations weren’t clear or illogical. During their feud with The Blackpool Combat Club, the BCC was fighting to protect and uphold the honor of the sport against amateurs. Besides reacting to being attacked, what were The Elite fighting for? Friendship was the implicit rather than explicit motivation.
The same could be said of the feud with Don Callis Family. Both feuds were shown to be deeply personal, violent, and world-altering. Yet they were dragged out, exhausting tension, intrigue, and logic: great matches and moments but lots of bumps.
The Journey Not the Destination
Storylines are like road trips: the journey is remembered as much as the destinations. The destination might be nirvana, yet the ill feeling of car sickness lingers, and the damage done by potholes lasts longer.
It taints the memory. The matches delivered nirvana when they counted. Yet the build was not consistently enthralling or emotive, a general issue of All Elite this year.
Yet, the destinations this year, compared to last year’s for each member of the group and collectively will be remembered more positively, despite being tainted by their involvement with one man.
2022 Was Even Worse
2022 for The Elite delivered worse. Hangman had an underwhelming AEW World Heavyweight Championship reign. Page’s character felt directionless both before and after the reign ended.
The Young Bucks never got to feud with Red Dragon. Adam Cole got severely concussed. Kenny Omega returned from injury! Before being suspended at Brawl Out.
It feels like most of AEW’s woes stem from Brawl Out and for the Elite, it’s a plaque of wrongdoing hung around their collective necks. The Elite’s fight with CM Punk is a topic that deserves an article on its own (that will be out soon).
The shadow of CM Punk and the unresolved issues that bleed from behind the scenes have added extra expectation to The Elite. Some fans, from the moment the Elite returned and won the trios championships fantasy booked All In match between The Elite and CMFTR.
This didn’t happen. When The Elite battled The BCC, some viewed the The BCC as stand-ins for Punk. Again, another consolation prize in a year where fans have wanted more. The story of this year.
Yet at the same time, when matches have been delivered and moments have hit, the conversation has turned to the other side of the Brawl Out conflict. It feels like much of what The Elite has done this year, things have come back to CM Punk.
Twice Punk stole the Elite and the entire company applauds this year. First with his social media rant after Omega vs. Vikingo and then post-All In, where the Elite had two great (not their best) showcase matches where they helped elevate their opponents.
Throughout the rest of the year, the focus turned to “will they” and then “why don’t they” make money with a feud with Punk that has soured what the Elite have done.
The Elite’s involvement in Brawl Out has tainted some fan’s perceptions of them and even those who remain Elite fans have had a difficult year defending them when The Elite themselves have not been consistently Elite and not always present in the company that shares their name.
With Punk gone, changes are in progress for The Elite as they go their separate ways. AEW is in flux. 2024 will be a year of rebuilding.
More From LWOS Pro Wrestling
Header photo – AEW – Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world. As well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can catch AEW Dynamite on Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TBS. AEW Rampage airs on TNT at 10 PM EST every Friday night. AEW Collision airs Saturday at 8pm Eastern on TNT. More AEW content available on their YouTube.