wrestling / Columns

The Light from AEW Dark

July 24, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
Brian Pillman Jr AEW Dark

Ever since AEW hit the ground running last year, their weekly Dynamite show has been accompanied by another weekly show, the slightly misleadingly-titled Dark.

The Heat to Dynamite’s Raw, Dark began life as a show that recapped some segments from Dynamite while throwing in three or four matches featuring names that weren’t booked for the “main show” that week. Inoffensive, reliable content that’s easy to watch… even if it did feel a little bit like WWE’s second-tier shows, such as Superstars and Main Event.

As 2019 became 2020, Dark continued to showcase a good proportion of the AEW roster. Dark wasn’t a show that had it’s own roster, with guys rarely escaping onto the “A show” – in fact, despite it being just a YouTube show, Dark had more than its fair share of big names paying it a visit, with Kenny Omega vs. Joey Janela headlining in just its second week. Since then, Cody, the Young Bucks, the Lucha Brothers and PAC have dropped in – making Dark more than just run-outs for Dynamite’s  bench warmers.

Of course, the current pandemic has caused AEW a lot of problems, with a few big names from their roster choosing to sit out tapings – or worse, simply not be able to fly in because of various travel restrictions. At time of writing, PAC is about the only regular from the AEW roster who’s been MIA since March… which is pretty rotten timing since they’d just formed the Death Triangle group with PAC and the Lucha Bros.

So, with a reduced roster, and TV content to produce, what’s AEW to do? Well, they rolled back the clock and pulled a trick out of the days of WWE Heat and Velocity. They called upon the indies! Much like how Velocity booked the likes of a pre-Scotty Goldman Colt Cabana, a pre-Corey Graves Sterling Keenan, a pre-Darren Young Fred Sampson, along with Frankie Kazarian and the future Beer City Bruiser… AEW Dark has become a haven for some names off the indies that may have raised some eyebrows.

Since AEW began to tape exclusively at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, or QT Marshall’s facility in Georgia, AEW’s started to feature some names that even the most hardcore of indie fans won’t have seen before. Trust me. I watch a LOT of stuff that makes tape and drops over on IWTV or the HighSpots streaming network, and I had never heard of Rache Chanel, Preston “Ten” Vance, Joe Alonzo, Shawn Dean or Musa before. That’s a whole new level of niche.

Granted, pretty much everyone who’s debuted on Dark has largely been on the losing end in the proverbial “enhancement talent” role – but it’s not all been bad news. Alan Angels – who got some degree of notoriety for being way more competitive than many would expect against former IWGP champion Kenny Omega – joined fellow Dark newcomer Preston Vance in the Dark Order… Pineapple Pete (better known on the British scene and elsewhere as Sugar Dunkerton) managed to get a brief TV feud with Chris Jericho – not to mention some new t-shirt designs – out of this… while everyone else got many, many matches and paydays under their belt in a time where opportunities for any kind of wrestling were scarce.

On the flipside of that, though, as we hold our collective breath over just when wrestling will return to crowds (since AEW is on the verge of having held more TV shows in front of empty arenas than in front of fans), is the longer-term question of whether they have any plans for any of these guys beyond “filling out cards.” None of the new arrivals have anything close to winning records, and while this isn’t a deal breaker, it may well present a hurdle if AEW need to pivot and push one of the crew. Sure, “all the losses were on Dark,” but one off the issues with AEW presenting a win/loss record means that it can add an extra challenge, particularly if they decide to portray one of these guys – like say a Shawn Dean, or a Will Hobbs, as a viable threat. Yeah, they can give them a new name, or just straight up omit their Dark match records, but given that this’d be the first time AEW would have done this, it’d be an interesting choice.

Still, minor gripes about future usage aside, AEW’s growing usage of independent talent – cycling them in and out of matches – can only be a positive, and hopefully something that the promotion continues to use if and when things get back to the old ways of the show travelling into new towns every week. Even if it’s “just” on Dark, the possibilities of surprise appearances are tempting – especially if those opportunities lead to something much, much bigger…

article topics :

AEW, AEW Dark, Ian Hamilton