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Keepin’ It Kayfabe: Is All Elite Wrestling’s roster truly Elite?

All Elite Wrestling boasts that they have the best roster in the world, but is that true?

When All Elite Wrestling was first announced on the Jan. 1, 2019 edition of Being The Elite, four names came alongside the big reveal: Cody, “Hangman” Adam Page, and Matt and Nick Jackson.

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Later that month, AEW’s first press conference announced the arrivals of PAC, SoCal Uncensored, Dr. Britt Baker, Joey Janela and Penelope Ford, international stars in CIMA and Stronghearts, and WWE legend Chris Jericho. Soon, we were also hearing news on the incoming Best Friends and Lucha Brothers, plus huge news in AEW becoming the American home of Kenny Omega.

The roster’s steady unveiling between New Year’s Day and Double or Nothing in May was exciting, and though the “Elite” in “All Elite Wrestling” was assuredly a reference to the stable of Cody, Omega, Hangman, and the Young Bucks (sorry, Mr. Scurll), it also promised that the wrestling — and wrestlers — on display would All be Elite as well.

Any news of a fresh signee was eyed down with this level of criticism, for even though it was clear that the likes of Omega, PAC, Jericho, and Pentagon Jr. were some of the best wrestlers in the world, we didn’t really know who the likes of Jungle Boy, Private Party, and Nyla Rose were yet. There was a lot of “unproven” talent on this roster, and while it was possible there were other folks like me who happened up the Californian indie wrestling scene in 2012 and knew how great Peter Avalon was, I’ll be generous and say that makes 50 of us.

It’s been over a year since Double or Nothing 2019, and we’ve had nearly 13 months to figure out who all of these folks are. For the most part, people have made incredible connections with the fans.

People love Jurassic Express. People hate MJF. The Inner Circle are establishing themselves as a powerhouse. Darby Allin and Private Party had important bouts with Elite members and became bigger names from within the company, while AEW also managed to bring in burgeoning names like Brian Cage and Lance Archer, as well as established forces like Matt Hardy and current AEW Champion Jon Moxley.

The show is working, and while I love it for what it is, that still doesn’t answer the titular question: Does All Elite Wrestling’s roster live up to their name?

To figure this out, I had to take a look outside of AEW’s walls and see how their wrestlers stacked up against wrestlers from other promotions. This meant win-loss records, title reigns, positions on the card — anything that could quantify how “elite” a wrestler was before (or in some cases during) AEW.

A Quick Peek Behind The Curtain

As a quick disclaimer, I can’t fully count direct WWE history into any of this research. While Chris Jericho seems to give a lot of winks and nods to his time there, other wrestlers like Jon “not-Dean-Ambrose” Moxley and Broken-to-Woken-to-Broken-again Matt Hardy make it hard to say the companies share the same universe. On the other hand, Allie and Brandi have directly referenced Impact Wrestling in “Road To” shows, Omega’s Undertale video referenced New Japan, and Moxley’s Countdown to Full Gear video showed CZW footage, so it’s clear that most other promotions — including, say, EVOLVE — do exist to AEW.

With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at my findings.

All Elite Wrestling - All In
Nick Aldis and Cody battling over the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship on Sept. 1, 2018, at All In.

All In

The biggest independent show of all time, All In is retroactively seen as the precursor to All Elite Wrestling, featuring a lot of the same wrestlers as well as folks who are top stars in other promotions. As such, this show exists as the perfect place to showcase how AEW’s guys fare against other promotions’ stars in direct competition.

Some matches don’t add or detract to the company’s overall score — Omega beating Pentagon and Hangman beating Joey Janela could happen on Dynamite any week, while Kazuchika Okada beating Marty Scurll and Jay Lethal pinning Flip Gordon are completely separate from AEW. Christopher Daniels also doesn’t get any points for beating celebrity Stephen Amell.

However, All In Zero Hour saw Scorpio Sky and Kazarian of SCU defeat Ring of Honor mainstays The Briscoe Brothers. In the middle of the show, Cody defeated then (and current) NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis to become the champion. And in the main event, The Young Bucks (and NJPW’s Kota Ibushi) defeated WWE’s Rey Mysterio and ROH’s Bandido (and AEW’s Fenix).

AEW didn’t sweep the card here. The main card kicked off with MJF losing to indie veteran Matt Cross, and Impact Wrestling’s Tessa Blanchard pinned NXT’s Chelsea Green in a match that also featured Britt Baker. Also, the Over Budget Battle Royale featured the likes of Gunn Club, Marko Stunt, Best Friends, Brandon Cutler, and Brian Cage, but the final two were Ring of Honor’s Flip Gordon and Bully Ray (though Colt Cabana did get tossed out by Bully Ray in the “fake-out” final two).

Ultimately, all but one of AEW’s losses here came in multi-man matches or against other future AEW stars. The lone straggler is the man who proclaims to be better than you, but looking at the card here, you wouldn’t know it.

AEW took home wins from three of the four biggest matches, as well as NWA’s top prize, so I believe it’s safe to say that this show was a slight net positive for the boys in Jacksonville.

All Elite Wrestling - AEW Champion Chris Jericho in NJPW
Chris Jericho entering with the AEW World Championship around his waist on Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom 14

Around the World

Cody was notable in 2016-2017 for being the first and only man to appear at WrestleMania, Wrestle Kingdom, Final Battle, Bound for Glory, and the Battle of Los Angeles within one year. It’s impressive, for sure, but plenty wrestlers travel to lose.

Cody lost in the second round of that year’s stacked BOLA to Marty Scurll, and in Impact he had a 50/50 record across his four matches, picking up wins against Mike Bennett twice over (once in a tag match with Brandi and Maria) but losing to top stars Eddie Edwards and Moose. On the positive side, Cody did manage to become Ring of Honor’s World Champion and 6-Man Champion (with the Young Bucks), and he won his NJPW debut match against Juice Robinson after joining Bullet Club.

Though he wasn’t dominant, Cody was a big name and stayed in the title scene everywhere he went. While he’s officially locked out of the World Championship scene in AEW, this status translates to Jacksonville well as Cody has a 19-6-1 career there and is currently AEW’s inaugural TNT Champion.

Speaking of Elite members, Kenny Omega was known as one of the best wrestlers in the world prior to joining AEW, as his New Japan run saw him tangle with top stars. Though his last match in the promotion saw him lose to one Ace in Hiroshi Tanahashi, Omega is notable for being the one to unseat NJPW’s younger ace in Kazuchika Okada, ending the Rainmaker’s record-setting 720-day IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign.

To make up for Omega’s loss, Chris Jericho defeated Tanahashi this year at Wrestle Kingdom 14 while still AEW Champion. Jericho’s time in NJPW is a lot like Cody’s 50/50 reign in Impact, as he also beat Tetsuya Naito and EVIL there but lost an equal number of matches to Okada, Naito (in a rematch), and Omega himself.

In NWA, Colt Cabana (a man who was undefeated for months in AEW) won the National Heavyweight Championship twice, but after his second title win, he never won a match in the promotion again, losing his next three matches and then debuting at AEW Revolution while at his lowest. Though Cody was Worlds Champion there as well, he lost the best of three series to their top star, Nick Aldis. NWA actually beats up AEW’s roster in the end.

All Elite Wrestling's Darby Allin vs. NXT's Velveteen Dream
Velveteen Dream continuing a beatdown on Darby Allin during their untelevised match-up at EVOLVE 113

Darby Allin is another person who got throttled before AEW, as he lost to a lot of WWE’s roster in Mustafa Ali, Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole, and Roderick Strong, and he went 50/50 with Fabian Aichner and Timothy Thatcher. Darby does have a win over WALTER, which is always something to brag about, but Darby’s time in EVOLVE was overall entertaining yet not quite “elite.”

The strongest display of AEW’s roster power is in the story of PAC, who was untouchable for nine months from his Oct. 2018 return to Dragon Gate to his July 2019 championship loss to Ben-K. Any promotion that featured PAC would watch as he tore through their roster, only losing in multi-man matches or via DQ during that whole run.

But in AEW, PAC lost his third match — a tag bout pitting him and a traitorous Jon Moxley against Omega and Page. His next three matches were a draw with Moxley, a win over Trent, and a clean loss to Hangman Page at Full Gear.

PAC was a monster outside of AEW, but in the promotion, he’s just “upper tier” with a 9-6-1 record. In other words, AEW’s roster has a better chance at stopping PAC than anywhere else.

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: Is All Elite Wrestling's roster truly Elite?
Jon Moxley defeated Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States Championship at NJPW Dominion on June 5, 2019.

Title Reigns

In a similar way, Jimmy Havoc — the longest reigning champion in PROGRESS Wrestling history at 609 days — has an 11-9 career record in AEW, holding an overall losing record in 2019. There’s a similar note to be made of Bea Priestley, who lost her sole AEW feud while holding the World of Stardom Championship (though the Full Gear match with Britt Baker was admittedly five days after she lost the belt to Mayu Iwatani).

Other promotions’ dominant champions losing in your promotion can make your roster look strong, but there’s also prestige in their success. For example, it sure helps AEW’s luster when two-thirds of all IWGP United States Champions have ended up in AEW, and three of them (Cody, Omega, and current US Champ Moxley) hold AEW gold right now.

Speaking of Moxley, he won the IWGP US Championship in his New Japan debut, and as champion, he defeated the likes of Naito, Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, Taichi, and an outsider he also beat in AEW, Jeff Cobb.

AEW has former Impact World Champions in Pentagon Jr., Matt Hardy, and Brian Cage. They have former ROH Champions in Cody and Christopher Daniels. Current AAA Mega Champion Kenny Omega and Tag Team Champions The Lucha Brothers are all in AEW. Omega is also a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and the Young Bucks hold the record for most IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reigns as a team.

A lot of AEW’s roster had tons of accolades, so not only do they bring prestige with them, but they transfer it over with every loss. When Private Party beat the Young Bucks, it put them on the map. When MJF beat Cody, he beat a former NWA, ROH, and IWGP US Champion. Any time Christopher Daniels takes a loss, it’s with the knowledge that he did just about everything in ROH and Impact, WWE’s biggest American competition prior to AEW’s launch.

AEW’s roster has an inarguable level of prestige.

All Elite Wrestling - Private Party vs. Young Bucks
Private Party beat the Young Bucks in the first round of the AEW Tag Team Championship tournament on Dynamite, Oct. 9, 2019.

Conclusion

It’d be inaccurate to state that AEW’s wrestlers are outright better than those in other promotions, but in direct competition, they win more often than not. Moxley, Omega, and Jericho have all done well against New Japan’s roster; Cody, Daniels, and The Bucks ran through American wrestling promotions for varying lengths of time; and PAC crushed Dragon Gate and the British indies for a while.

Of course, the biggest question is the one unanswered, as NXT and WWE’s bubble is almost impossible to penetrate for this exercise. We’ll never see Moxley vs Rollins, Cody vs McIntyre, or the Young Bucks vs the Viking Raiders. It’s a shame, but it’s reality.

However, of the information found in my research, I think the most interesting contrast would be between the NWA and AEW rosters, as serious contenders Cabana and Cody had mixed successes there. Maybe if the two promotions would come together for one big NJPW/ROH-esque supercard, we could find out which one is truly the “all elite” wrestling promotion.

Only time will tell.


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