wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Has Tony Khan Hired Too Many Wrestlers for AEW?

May 11, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
AEW Dynamite Tony Khan ROH Image Credit: AEW

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Tyler from Winnipeg wants me to do some counting:

How many championships are there active between what you would consider the major promotions?

There are 70.

That breaks down to 19 in WWE, 4 in AEW, 9 in NJPW, 30 in CMLL, and 8 in AAA.

Some people might say there are 71 if they want to count the FTW Championship in AEW as a legitimate title, but I think that’s a stretch.

Also, in case you’re not familiar with lucha libre and are wondering what the hell is going on with the glut of titles in CMLL, the answer is that in traditional lucha libre there have almost always been titles but they have never really been all that significant, so a bunch of them just accumulate but are never really used for much. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for some of those 30 titles to disappear for months at a time before reappearing out of the blue one day, even though all of them are technically considered to be active by the promotion.

Brad continues his one-man campaign for TNA content in this column:

Listening to Jeff Jarrett’s My World podcast in the last year has opened my eyes to the tumultuous history of TNA. For example, how they were on the verge of shutting down several times only to find an escape in the nick of time. That company has managed to survive over 20 years. I assume there aren’t any original wrestlers left by now, but how about backstage employees? To clarify, I’m asking about people still working there, not in the industry in general.

To answer this question, I first had to decide what I felt were fair criteria to apply to determine whether somebody was an “original” TNA employee. Surely people who were around for the very first show would qualify, but how much further out do you go from that?

Ultimately, I decided that anybody who worked for the promotion during its first year of existence should qualify. If you use that cutoff, you don’t even have to worry about analyzing backstage employees, because there are three remaining wrestlers on the TNA roster who competed for the promotion in its first twelve months, none other than . . .

Chris Sabin, Johnny Swinger, and Mickie James

Sabin made his TNA debut on the company’s fortieth weekly pay per view event in a four-way X Division tag team match in which he teamed not with his best known partner Alex Shelley but rather with British indy stalwart Jonny Storm. He continued to wrestle for the company for the next eleven years, departing in 2014. He returned to the promotion in 2019 and remains there to this day. As of the time I’m writing this answer, his most recent match for them was against Jay White over Wrestlemania weekend. (For what it’s worth, Shelley did not debut in TNA until 2004, so he misses our one-year cutoff.)

Swinger showed up on the sixth weekly PPV, continuing his ECW tag team with Simon Diamond. They feuded with America’s Most Wanted and 3 Live Kru over the NWA World Tag Team Titles, even capturing the belts for three months in 2003. They eventually split up, after which Swinger teamed with Glen “Disco Inferno” Gilbertti for a few weeks before disappearing altogether. He had a couple of one-off appearances with the promotion over the years before eventually returning to them on a full-time basis in 2019, briefly reforming his team with Gilbertti and doing an old school “worker” gimmick.

James, under her original ring name of Alexis Laree, had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance in the lingerie battle royale that was on the second weekly TNA PPV. She appeared here and here over the next several months but was not a regular until 2003, when she joined Raven’s stable “The Gathering” along with Julio Dinero and CM Punk. She left there to enter the WWE developmental program and had her run in that promotion, trading back and forth between WWE and TNA for the rest of her career to date (with some NWA sprinkled in there too).

It’s also worth noting that, though he is no longer an in-ring competitor, D-Lo Brown has been working for TNA as a producer as of late. He debuted in the promotion in its first year of existence and almost immediately feuded with AJ Styles over the NWA World Heavyweight Title, never winning it but eventually becoming a World Tag Team Champion with largely forgotten (in the mainland U.S. anyway) Puerto Rican wrestler Gran Apolo.

Finally, though it happened after I wrote the bulk of this answer, the Briscoe Brothers now appear to be TNA regulars. They had a handful of matches in the weekly PPV era of TNA, including against a who’s who of early 2000s indy tag teams that never really went anywhere, including Divine Storm, The Hot Shots, and The Lost Boys.

Joseph does not work well with others:

I’m curious – who do you think are the top wrestlers that had the worst in-ring chemistry together? Booker T and Batista immediately come to mind. Two solid, main event guys that worked well with most top stars – but for whatever reason they never clicked in the ring together. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens for a more recent example. Any other significant examples that come to mind?

This might be considered by some to be a bit of a stretch because one of these names may not be considered a top wrestler, but there is one duo that immediately sprang to my mind when I read this question:

Chris Benoit and Billy Gunn

Don’t get me wrong, Gunn never really had the reputation of being a great in-ring performer, but Benoit definitely had the reputation for being able to get a match that was at least passable out of some of even the biggest stiffs (including doing far better with Sid than even Bret Hart ever did), but for some reason Billy Gunn, who was much better than the worst wrestlers Benoit faced, seemed to cancel out whatever magic the Canadian Crippler had.

The main place you can see them working together is in some Intercontinental Title matches in December 2000, including Benoit beating Gunn for the belt at that year’s Armageddon pay per view.

Jon wants to box with giants:

I’m watching a SummerSlam from the mid 90’s with Vince on commentary really is as bad as all the jokes to this day suggest. Literally every two count is “he got him!” He doesn’t know the name of a single move. And to make it worse, with Jim Ross and Curt Henning as his partners, he does 99% of the talking.

So my question is: is there anything on the record of anyone telling Vince how bad he was? Anyone in the business at the time on the record here?

Finally, I know he left commentary entirely when he adopted the “Mr. McMahon” persona, but was that strictly for storyline purposes or at least in part because he knew he had far better commentators to do the work?

Honestly, criticism of Vince McMahon on commentary is something that I’ve heard from fans much more than it is something I’ve heard from those in the professional wrestling industry – and I’m particularly talking about fans who preferred the style of commentary used in other promotions or modern “smart” fans.

I think that there are two reasons that you don’t hear much derision of Vince on play-by-play from those in wrestling. The first is obviously that we’re talking about the most powerful single man in the industry, so there are plenty of people who are going to want to downplay any negative thoughts that they may have about him.

The second is that, even though Vinnie Mac may not have been great with the names of holds and even though he may have relied on some repetitive calls, he legitimately did have his positives as an announcer.

The main positive is that, when an individual is calling a professional wrestling match, naming moves and giving backstory on wrestlers’ careers, the sort of thing that fans who hate McMahon as an announcer seem to enjoy, is really only part of the job. Another part of the job, which at least some in the industry would argue is even more important, is explaining what is going on in storylines and conveying the emotion of key moments in matches and angles.

When it comes to that aspect of the job, Vince was actually pretty damn good . . . and it makes sense that he would be. He was the man who had final say over creative, so essentially he would be sitting there on the mic explaining his own rationale and telling you to feel how he hoped you would feel as a result of the story that he put together. In fact, this has also been noted as one of the big advantages of having Cowboy Bill Watts on commentary on old Mid-South Wrestling shows that he was booking. In another take on this, it’s the reason that I’m able to enjoy good Japanese professional wrestling commentary even though I don’t speak one single word of Japanese – because they’re doing a great job of conveying the emotion of the moment, even though I have no conception of the vocabulary used.

And all of that makes it highly unlikely that McMahon recognizing his so-called shortcomings was part of the rationale for his leaving the announce desk.

Night Wolf the Wise is collecting a steady paycheck:

Before I ask my question, I need to throw this out there. I like Tony Khan. I like AEW. I love that they have given us an another alternative in wrestling. So, I don’t want anyone to think I’m bashing Tony Khan or AEW. Because I’m not. With that being said, let’s address the elephant in the room. AEW has a bloated roster. They have 130 wrestlers signed. If you break that down, that’s 104 males, and 26 females. Let’s be honest with ourselves. That’s not helping Tony Khan. That’s not helping those wrestlers who aren’t featured week to week on Dynamite or Rampage. If you were to look at the roster, who should stay and who should be cut?

If your going to cut wrestlers, why not just move them to ROH and make ROH a viable 4th company instead of turning ROH into a feeder system like Tony Khan is think about doing?

Would it be fair for me that Tony Khan has made the major mistakes that Vince McMahon did. By signing all these wrestlers like WWE did and by not featuring some of those wrestlers week to week? Out of those 130 wrestlers, how many are featured on Dynamite and Rampage week to week? And how many do nothing and are just taking up space?

I thought that it might be helpful to start with some numbers, because if there are any propositions in NWW’s ques­tion that are just objectively false, we can dispose of them fairly easily.

First off, when I sat down to answer this question, there were in fact 104 male wrestlers on the AEW roster, at least according to the roster as it is maintained on Wikipedia. I decided that I would analyze match data for those 104 wrestlers from January 1, 2022 through March 31, 2022, since that gives us the first quarter of the year to work with and a decent sample of how performers operate over a period of time.

Of those 104 men, 19 of them did not have one single match on either AEW Dynamite or Rampage during the first quarter of the year. However, when you look at the nineteen names, there are very good reasons for most of them to not have wrestled in that time. First you’ve got Anthony Ogogo and Santham Singh, who are really more under developmental deals than anything else. Then you’ve got Kip Sabian, Marko Stunt, Jack Evans, and Sonnny Kiss, who are all reportedly not going to be re-signed in the near future, so there is no reason to feature them on television. Brian Cage was also reportedly in a similar boat until very recently, when he popped up as part of the Ring of Honor relaunch. Then you’ve got Billy Gunn, Luther, Michael Nakazawa, Brandon Cutler, and Paul Wight, all of whom are veteran wrestlers and/or have a role in the company other than just being a traditional in-ring performer. The next group is Miro, Kenny Omega, and Danhausen, who are off due to injury-related issues. Samoa Joe is a bit of an odd case because he’s currently on the AEW roster but didn’t debut until after the start of Q1.

So, after all of that, you’ve really only got three guys who haven’t been on AEW’s primary television shows for seemingly no reason. Those names are Angelico, Colt Cabana, and Matt Sydal, though I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that Angelico is going to meet a fate similar to his tag team partner Evans.

Regarding women, I also count 26 women on the Wikipedia roster. Of those, 9 did not wrestle on Dynamite or Rampage during the first quarter of 2022.

There are a few explanations here as well. One of the women is Paige VanZant, who just has not wrestled anywhere yet. Yuka Sakazaki is not even in the United States at this point, competing primarily for Tokyo Joshi Pro. Rebel is listed on the roster as a wrestler, but she is really more a manager or valet for Britt Baker than she is a wrestler in her own right. Tay Conti has not been wrestling on Dynamite or Ramage, either, but she has obviously been featured on those two TV shows in different capacities.

That means there are only four women who have not been on the promotion’s main shows with no justification, those being Abadon, Emi Sakura, Kiera Hogan, and Leva Bates, the last of whom who has really been in that sort of position ever since the company started.

Thus, the number of people who are not getting on to TV without any justification is really quite minimal.

What about the people who are getting TV time?

Let’s start with the men. Here’s a breakdown of how often they are on either Dynamite or Rampage:

One man wrestled on TV in 75.0% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
One man wrestled on TV in 66.6% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Three men wrestled on TV in 58.3% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Seven men wrestled on TV in 50.0% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Nine men wrestled on TV in 41.6% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Sixteen men wrestled on TV in 33.3% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Fifteen men wrestled on TV in 25.0% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Fourteen men wrestled on TV in 16.6% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Twenty men wrestled on TV in 8.3% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.

And now the ladies:

Five women wrestled on TV in 41.6% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Two women wrestled on TV in 33.3% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Three women wrestled on TV in 25.0% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Two women wrestled on TV in 16.6% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.
Five women wrestled on TV in 8.3% of the weeks in the first quarter of 2022.

What does all of that mean?

Only five men and zero women have wrestled on AEW television for more than half the weeks in the first quarter of 2022. Of the wrestlers who have appeared on TV, twenty-five of them have appeared in 8.3% of the weeks in the quarter . . . which, if you don’t want to do the math, equates to only one week of the quarter.

If you just look at those figures, it sure seems that Night Wolf has a point, because there are a lot of people who aren’t being featured week-to-week, right?

Wrong. Or, even if it’s not wrong, it’s not really problematic. In fact, I’m willing to take the position that the frequency of individual wrestlers wrestling on TV that is reflected above is perfectly acceptable.

First off, you have to keep in mind that the data above reflects only wrestling in matches. There are plenty of other ways to feature competitors who are not wrestling, be it cutting promos, participating in angles, video packages, and so on.

And yes, there are quite a few wrestlers who only appeared in televised matches once in three months. However, much like the wrestlers who were never on TV at all, there are valid reasons for a lot of these. Many of them are young or enhancement talent who are brought to the primary TV programs to help put over the real stars of the show, and every wrestling promotion needs those individuals.

Second of all, maybe this is just a different preference that I have as a fan, but if I’m watching a wrestling program week-to-week, I don’t WANT to see the exact same wrestlers on the show each and every week. I want variety. I want guys to go away for a little while so that I don’t get tired of them as quickly. I want the roster to be deep enough that it feels like there are three our four legitimate contenders for each championship at any given time.

Admittedly, there are a few people on the AEW roster who feel like they’ve gotten lost from time-to-time, with probably the most notable example being Jay Lethal. However, I don’t know that there’s really an epidemic of top-level talent vanishing, and, if there are high level wrestlers who have gone away for a while, their absence makes some degree of sense and/or has helped given them a refresh when they ultimately return.

So, I’m not going to say anybody needs to be cut, particularly because now that we’re coming up on the point where several of the original contracts that were signed with the company are not being renewed, which will help streamline the roster.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.