It’s not an exaggeration to compare 2020 to hot garbage seeped in toxic waste and set ablaze. Thankfully, wrestling fans can rely on the comfort of their favorite form of sports entertainment to get through the trying times. When it seemed like an absence of fans would bury the business, the collective wrestling community said, “hold my beer.” 2020 was phenomenal across the board, but AEW was the new kid on the block that set the pace. With that in mind, AIPT is looking ahead and predicting – with delightful glee – what AEW has in store for 2021.
10. AEW will sign more WWE/NPJW/ROH talent
Full disclosure, this isn’t so much of a prediction, as it is a certainty. AEW’s first year has been an undeniable success. Granted, they still aren’t producing ratings on par with WWE’s “Big Two” shows, but they dominate the key 18-49 male demographic regularly — so much so that TNT has asked for a second show. Despite a roster already brimming with talent, AEW still has the door open for wrestlers that can contribute to their brand.
There are plenty of contracts expiring in 2021, and you’d be crazy to think that AEW doesn’t have its finger on the pulse. Kota Ibushi will technically be up for grabs, but his loyalty to NJPW and current title reign all but nixes this possibility. The true golden goose is Daniel Bryan, whose contract ends in the final quarter of 2021. But WWE has deep pockets and likely won’t let him slip through their fingers (but never say never). While these names are a fan’s dreams, they are less likely acquisitions than others.
The most notable and reasonable WWE contract expiring this year is Sami Zayn. The only reason his run with WWE is still in effect is due to an injury that extended the length of his tenure. Sami has been more than vocal about his displeasures with his current employer, most notably their Saudi Arabia shows. A few phone calls, a promise of satisfying storylines, and an enticing schedule could be enough for AEW to sign the Great Liberator. The standard prediction making the rounds is he can revert to his El Generico gimmick from his indie days, but however we can get him, babyface or heel, Sami Zayn could be All Elite by year’s end.
Then there is indie talent. Jeff Cobb is on a show-to-show basis with ROH and teased a new contract with a U.S. promotion. If you think his NJPW obligations change that, think again — he also mentioned this new contract allows him to work for NJPW, and he can only work shows in Japan for NJPW. This leaves the door open for AEW, and his last stint in the company could be a signal of things to come.
One thing’s for sure: expect plenty of new talent to be “All In” in 2021.
9. The Dark Order will turn babyface and acquire gold
It’s painful to talk about, but the loss of Jon Huber/Brodie Lee has left a void in the Dark Order. But it would be a disservice to his tragically short – yet genuinely fun – run as the Dark Order leader to put the faction on the shelf simply. The Dark Order has pivoted in tone and direction since making their way to Being The Elite — what began as a cult appealing to the disenfranchised and oppressed has become a highlight of BTE, with the team’s unique personality and sense of humor stealing the show. The faction also has two fantastic tag teams in Evil Uno & Stu Grayson and Jon Silver & Alex Reynolds, which has shown their prowess in the ring recently.
With a bevy of talent and fans cheering the Dark Order, their babyface turn is only a matter of time. We witnessed their camaraderie and growth on BTE and the Brodie Lee tribute show only humanized them further. Add in their burgeoning relationship with “Hangman” Adam Page, one of the most story-driven characters in wrestling today. Colt Cabana is a long-time veteran of the sport, and his humorous in-ring style never quite seemed to fit Dark Order’s current heel status. AEW is full of heel factions: the newly formed Super Elite, The Family, Death Triangle, Team Taz, and so on. Turning Dark Order babyface doesn’t feel forced, either; it’s a natural progression of the team’s current trajectory and balances the heel/face scales of AEW.
In its short tenure, AEW has proven one thing (among others): championships don’t come easy. Unlike other promotions that sometimes play hopscotch with titles, AEW imbues value to the title. With that said, Dark Order will hold gold in 2021. The obvious prospect would be to assume they might have tag team gold by year’s end, but they are a shoo-in for the Trios Championship.
What Trios Championship, you ask? Read on to find out.
8. The Inner Circle will turn on Chris Jericho
I know, I know, the writing is on the wall, but AEW excels at long-form storytelling. Many fans expected the Inner Circle divide to come sooner rather than later, but AEW doesn’t rush into anything, making the eventual payoff all the sweeter. Every week seeds are planted, building on the week before. What began as overt disgust for MJF among Inner Circle members has slowly transitioned into tolerance and now… acceptance? One by one, MJF is manipulating each member to gain their trust while weakening their connection to Jericho. He now has Santana and Ortiz trusting him, and managed to garner sway with Jake Hager after his big man showdown with Wardlow at New Year’s Smash. By All Out, MJF will supplant Jericho as leader of the Inner Circle.
There are two possible exceptions to this new Inner Circle: Sammy Guevara and Wardlow. Sammy will likely turn babyface — his AEW Dark promos continually edge ever so slightly towards the light. Wardlow is a superstar in the making, and every match he’s in confirms as such. There is still tension between Wardlow and MJF lingering just below the surface, and AEW never forgets. Before the year is up, Wardlow will stand as his own man, and Jericho will be ousted.
7. MJF will get his first title reign
MJF is the best young talent in wrestling today. A bold statement, but stick with me: he isn’t even out of his 20s, but understands the business as well as any veteran. His mic skills are unquestionable; if there was an award for playing a douchebag, MJF would win year after year. Just look to his many interviews where he remains in character, never letting up or backing down to his interviewer. He isn’t flashy or a proverbial “spot monkey”; he keeps it old school. He fiendishly sneak-attacks his opponents behinds the ref’s back, rolls out the ring at the most opportune times, disrespects the crowd, and attacks his opponent’s body parts like they cursed his mother.
Now, with the backing of the Inner Circle, MJF is more of a threat than ever before. Kenny Omega and “Hangman” Page have a date with destiny for the World Championship, but MJF is on course to become TNT Champion. Darby Allin is another great young talent, and I believe his title run will last several months, but it will be MJF to end that reign. It further cements both their statuses as main eventers, and their rivalry can pay homage to that of Sting vs. Flair: a dark, brooding, fan-favorite vs. the smug, ruthless heel we love to hate. I can practically hear the arrogant promos MJF will cut now.
6. Cinematic matches will continue to bolster PPV cards
If there’s one good thing that has come out of drudgery that is 2020, it’s the rise of the cinematic match. Both WWE and AEW embraced this match style when social distancing became ubiquitous in our vocabulary. On the AEW front, Matt Hardy was able to bring closure to his feud with Sammy Guevara in a much needed, safer manner, but the standout of these matches was the Stadium Stampede. While some cinematic matches entered into ambiguity with their style, Stadium Stampede remained relatively grounded. When used sparingly, the cinematic match can be a welcome departure for any PPV event, provided a palate cleanser from the rest of the card.
Sting was a guest on AEW’s recent Unrestricted podcast and noted that many discussions in his return surrounded cinematic matches. It’s perfect for the 61 year-old talent — he can remain protected while still providing the throwback nostalgia we all want, and we’ve never had an opportunity to see Sting in this type of match. It would be a feather in AEW’s cap in the “for the first time ever” mention. Potential matches will have a group of Sting allies vs. Team Taz, Sting vs. Christopher Daniels, or the match made in heaven: Sting vs. Chris Jericho, bringing two WCW/TNT veterans full circle.
5. “Hangman” Adam Page will end Kenny’s lengthy title reign
Did I mention how good AEW is at storytelling? “Hangman” Page and Kenny Omega’s tag title run lasted far longer than any of us anticipated, and it was glorious. We all knew it would end one day, but it built a bond and eventual divide that will be at the core of this feud. I have no doubt Kenny’s title reign will be memorable if his recent MOTY candidate (yes, already) with Rey Fenix is any indication. Kenny will continue to make the AEW World Championship the most coveted title in U.S. wrestling, rivaling NJPW by bringing the Best Bout Machine to every opponent he faces. It will reinforce the AEW title’s gravitas and make his supremacy seem even more insurmountable, save for Page.
Both men surprised us with a short but hard-hitting battle at Full Gear that laid the groundwork for what will come. Kenny ended the match with a One-Winged Angel that Page nearly fought out of, but it was game over once it hit. No one has ever been able to kick out of the finisher… yet. This feud will culminate at All Out, AEW’s version of WrestleMania, and the PPV that made them. And how will it end? There will be plenty of reversals since they know each other so well; “Hangman” will kick out of the One-Winged Angel and finally become the champion we all knew he could be so long ago. It just took some time and a lot of character building.
4. AEW women’s division will come into its own
Considering how lackluster AEW’s women’s division has been since its inception, this feels more like a personal desire than an expectation. It’d be ignorant to say the women in the division are not talented — they are, but they need an opportunity to showcase that talent. The booking of the division has been a sore spot with fans, the booking is inconsistent, and it often feels like there’s that “one obligatory” women’s match every week. However, slivers of hope have begun to surface. Jade Cargill debuted recently and alongside Nyla Rose can serve as the powerhouses of the division. Working in tandem with NWA has also provided a much-needed shot in the arm. Serena Deeb is a veteran who lends legitimacy to the NWA World Women’s Championship, and her in-ring work is superb.
But the shining star of the division is Britt Baker. AEW tried pushing Britt as the face they thought she needed to be, but nothing resonated with fans. Then she turned heel. Britt’s promos have been wonderfully biting and quick-witted, and it’s no exaggeration to say her mic work is among the best in any promotion, man or woman. Slowly but surely, her feud with Thunder Rosa has been building, with a series of attacks and one-upsmanship taking place over the past few weeks. By All Out, Britt Baker will sit atop the mountain of the women’s division with gold around her waist.
3. AEW’s new show will debut, and it won’t be on Tuesdays
It’s no secret that AEW is getting a second show. Recent rumors indicate that AEW has copyrighted “Elevation,” and while that could be a new PPV title, it can also be the new show’s name. Many presume that the new show will take over the AEW Dark time slot on Tuesday, but Dark serves a purpose as something of a farm system for new talent and a place for mid to high tier talent to pad their win/loss record. With Tony Khan being so nostalgic, he may opt to have a show on Saturdays as a nod to the old WCW time slot. It would also avoid the bevy of wrestling shows cluttering up the week and would be a natural segue into AEW’s Saturday PPVs.
It would still draw an audience, and with many fans DVRing or streaming wrestling nowadays, it can get eyeballs. AEW’s week is quickly overflowing with talent looking to get TV time — a Saturday show would grant them the time and place to showcase their skills.
2. AEW will introduce a trios title
During a media conference in early December, Tony Khan provided an update on a trios title: “I’ve been seriously thinking about it. I think there’s a lot of momentum for it, we have a lot of great trios teams.” He went on to say, “it’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time and thinking about.” The Young Bucks have also mentioned a trios title on several podcast appearances.
Many US wrestling fans might be unfamiliar with a Trios Championship, but it is common in Mexico and was featured prominently on the short-lived Lucha Underground. Let’s face facts: AEW has a lot of factions and teams (yes, there is a difference); a trios title is the natural outcome of having so many groups. AEW tends to have more 6-man tags than other wrestling shows, and having a trios title would justify 6-man tags allowing – you guessed it – six members of its roster to get TV time without feeling contrived. Any championship lends itself to new storylines and can be the MacGuffin for a feud among factions. Jurrasic Express, Death Triangle, The Family, The Elite, The Dark Order, SCU, or even three young wrestlers coming together to make a name for themselves can all be at odds over trios gold.
1. AEW will work with more wrestling companies, including ROH and NJPW
A cryptic Tony Khan tweet in late 2020 suggested that they are changing the wrestling landscape. At the time, it seemed like hyperbole, but recent events had made faithful of the faithless. In case you’ve been in wrestling black hole, Kenny Omega has shown up on IMPACT, and the Good Brothers invaded Dynamite to run roughshod on the roster. For an admitted mark like myself, it was a thing of beauty. The three will team up at Impact Wrestling’s Hard To Kill PPV, but it will only grow from there.
A true wrestling fan himself, Tony Khan is willing to play nice with other companies if it’s good for business, but more importantly, if it’s good for the sport. As of today, Tony has worked with NWA, AAA, and Impact Wrestling. NWA’s Thunder Rosa has worked Dynamite, and AEW’s very own Serena Deeb is the NWA World Women’s Champion. Both have been a boon to the division. Expect Further Impact talent to cross over, as well — Taya Valkyrie for the women’s division or even a classic rematch between the Young Bucks and Motor City Machine Guns are well within reason. But wait, there’s more.
I’m going out on a limb and saying AEW will form ties with NJPW. Kenny’s current gimmick of the title collector won’t end with AEW, AAA, or Impact — it’s only right that he sets his sights on his old stomping grounds in Japan. NJPW was bitter after The Elite stripped away a massive chunk of its talent to form AEW, and understandably so. However, there is a new back office at NJPW, and they seem intent on breaking into the U.S. market. What better way to get U.S. fans behind NJPW than to form ties with AEW? They can exchange talent on a case-by-case basis or even have an annual crossover like WCW’s old Japan Super Shows, a yearly event where the best of both companies clash in an east vs. west PPV. Just imagine the storylines and bangers we would witness. AEW already has small allowances for Japanese talent — they have no problem with Jon Moxley continuing work in Japan, and Jeff Cobb has been on AEW television despite his connection to NJPW.
ROH might be more of a hard sell, but the current pandemic might force their hand. The Impact/AEW connection is still in its early days, but Impact is quickly reaping the benefits of this cross-federation alliance. It can serve as an example of how ROH and AEW can co-exist. Honestly, if Rush and Bandido end up on Impact, I might have a nerdgasm. I have no doubt AEW will further their cross-promotion connections; the only question is how far it will go, and with who?
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