All right, it's time to have this conversation. I haven't been looking forward to it and managed to put it off for a while, but when Brodie Lee jumped Jon Moxley on this week's AEW Dynamite and got an AEW World Championship match booked for Double or Nothing, I figured now was as good of a time as any. Now if you've been following me on Twitter (and you should!) or tune in whenever I pop up on ComicBook Nation (ditto, and I'll be on this week talking Money in the Bank), you've probably noticed I've developed the reputation around the ComicBook office of being the staff's resident AEW fanboy.
Some of that is deserved. But I wouldn't consider myself a fan boy; I simply want the product to succeed because if it does it makes the wrestling industry as a whole infinitely more interesting (just think of how much fun Wednesday nights have been since last October?).
But Dynamite hasn't been a perfect show every week, and the company as a whole isn't immune to fair criticism. And there's one pretty big critique against the company that I see on the horizon, one that AEW can't afford to ignore.
As of now, AEW's roster is mostly comprised of wrestlers who have made names for themselves elsewhere — Ring of Honor, New Japan, Lucha Underground, GCW, smaller promotions in the United States and most notably, WWE. The knock against AEW from its more ignorant critics is that its biggest stars are simply "reheated leftovers" from the WWE. But that's simply not true. With very few exceptions, all of those ex-WWE stars were people that openly demanded to leave the company out of frustration for how they were being used — Cody Rhodes, Jon Moxley, Pac, Shawn Spears, Brodie Lee, Matt Hardy, etc. This distinction is important, as it gives each of those stars a foundation for a new character and a motivation beyond, "Oh, I got fired from the big place so now I'm working at the other place." For the direct opposite version of this, see 95% of the ex-WWE talent that jumped to TNA in the 2000s.
But there's one criticism directly connected to this that AEW won't be able to avoid, no matter how you slice it, if they continue down a certain path with their top championship. So far its two AEW World Champions have been Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. Yes, both men openly chose to leave WWE and yes, both have masterfully reinvented themselves since the days of The List and The Ambrose Asylum. But they're still both former WWE Superstars, and on some level even the most casual of fans won't forget that. So when an AEW critic says, "They just put their championship on WWE guys," they're not technically wrong.
Mind you, two does not make a pattern. And between Jericho's hysterical run as "Le Champion" and Moxley's white-hot momentum, I think making them the first two world champions was the right choice. But the third champion? That guy cannot be an ex-WWE star. If he is, that makes three in a row. That's a pattern, one that could inadvertently build a negative perception around the championship and in turn the company.
I can already hear it — "If this promotion is all about building new stars, how come their world champion is always a former WWE guy?"
Even if it's not true, and everything else about the product shows that it already isn't, the mere perception that AEW's only stars are ex-WWE guys would be poison for the company. It was poison for WCW in the pre-NWO mid-90s. It was poison for most of TNA's first decade as a promotion. AEW does not want to be anywhere near that perception.
Now don't be alarmed. I'm not writing this because I think Lee is going to beat Moxley at Double or Nothing. My guess is Mox will still be rolling along as world champion up through at least All Out. But when the day finally comes for him to drop the belt, my sincere hope is AEW knows just how important picking that third champion will be.