By Adam Karenina Sherif
Featuring an all-star line-up of Brandi Rhodes, Awesome Kong, Nyla Rose, Chris Jericho, Jungle Boy and Jon Moxley, Friday’s All Elite Wrestling panel at NYCC was a joyously lively affair that included some serious conversation around what wrestling can be, the core values at work in this new company, and a fair few surprises.
The arrival of the talent kicked off a wave of raucous chants from the audience, including one of “Y2J” lauding the arrival of AEW World Champion Chris Jericho. Making it absolutely clear that he’s looking more keenly to the future than his own past, Jericho leaned into his microphone and stated “Y2J is dead.” His signature wit provided an array of highlights throughout the panel’s duration.
Asked about her feelings on the first episode of Dynamite which aired this past Wednesday on TNT, All Elite Wrestling Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes replied that “it’s been unbelievable”. She pointed out how quickly everything’s taken shape since January and how proud she is of the talent signed to AEW: “the roster is absolutely stacked”. Jericho followed up on this, enthusiastically explaining that having such a strong line-up means “you don’t have to keep repeating the same match until it means nothing”.
The panel discussed the personal appeal AEW holds for each of them, with a thoughtful range of individual motivations. For Jon Moxley, it’s as simple as “no scripts”. For Jungle Boy and Nyla Rose, it’s a question of being given opportunities, being taken seriously, and being embraced. Jungle Boy noted that “AEW looks at our differences as advantages”. Awesome Kong spoke of being jaded and having been hurt by pro wrestling. But despite her acting success with GLOW, she described jumping at the chance to be part of something new and positive, a promotion that would “listen to their artists, and let us be who we want to be”.
Pro wrestling as an artform was a theme that really ran through much of the conversation. Echoing Moxley, and drawing a contrast with his experience in WWE, Jericho put it that “we have a chance to be the artists that we are, and to use our skills to put on a show. Nobody in the world knows how to play Chris Jericho like I do. So don’t give me a script to tell me what Chris Jericho should fucking say”.
As well as an emphasis on allowing wrestlers to be themselves, and perform in ways that suit them, AEW is also highlighting the competitive sports aspect of pro wrestling. Rhodes shared that that direction had come from AEW Founder & President Tony Khan and his experience in the worlds of football and soccer. “Results in sports matter”, Rhodes said, “and we want this to be looked at like sports, so it has to matter. If there are no stakes, then becoming a champion doesn’t mean anything”.
Similarly, discussing pro wrestling storytelling, Rhodes cited the recent AEW Women’s Championship bout between Nyla Rose and Riho as the perfect example of the kind of coherent narratives AEW is aiming for: “that title match was a story bell-to-bell, and put together so eloquently by Nyla and Riho. You didn’t need to watch a backstage segment, no nonsense. It was beautiful”. Kong added that this kind of meaningful storytelling was moving women’s wrestling forwards to where “women’s wrestling is just wrestling period”.
It’s easy to see how AEW is defining itself with a radically different set of values and operating principles than their competition. Jericho relishes being part of an alternative, smiling as he said, “I like the fact that we’re mavericks, rebels in Star Wars up against the evil empire. I like being an individual, an outsider, a renegade”. But he also mentioned how happy he is to work somewhere where “wrestlers are making more money – closer to what they deserve as pro athletes and elite entertainers”. Moxley then spoke about his recent injuries and the conditions he was working under at WWE. He described wrestling with a staph infection, MRSA affecting his elbow, and having to have regular drainage while maintaining an intense schedule.
It’s clear that while these wrestlers are driving forwards from their experiences and what doesn’t work in WWE, they really believe in living and working by a better, more positive set of values to create something new. Wrestling should be good.
Rhodes also remarked that she wants to see pro wrestling integrated better alongside other pop culture. “Sometimes we act like wrestling is happening in a bubble,” she said, “when actually there’s all this amazing pop culture happening. Why wouldn’t you make those contact points? There are fandoms that want to see it. You can be fans of multiple things – why shouldn’t they sometimes integrate?” Following the recent AEW x DC Comics collaborations, she then teased an upcoming Halloween project.
Finally, Cody got on the mic, thanked the attendees and announced that All Elite Wrestling would be coming through NYC in Early 2020. The panelists then gave out tickets to their upcoming Philadelphia show, with Moxley sweetly making a point to give a pair of tickets to a young girl who had asked him a thoughtful question about his personal growth over the last five or so years.
Bonus Jericho Gems:
- A pitcher filled with “a little bit of the bubbly”
- “If a tree falls in ROH, does anybody hear it?”
- “Janela couldn’t afford the toll from New Jersey.”