By Chuck Carroll
(CBS Los Angeles/CBS Local) — It’s on.
With All Elite Wrestling, for the first time in nearly two decades, Vince McMahon and WWE face a worthy competitor. The first true shot of what will be a bruising and well-funded war for wrestling supremacy will be fired Saturday as All Elite Wrestling premiers on pay-per-view with Double or Nothing. The upstart promotion is backed by Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise and Fulham F.C. of the English Football League Championship in the U.K. His estimated net worth of $6.6 billion dwarfs that of wrestling titan McMahon, whom Forbes estimates to have amassed a $3 billion fortune.
Khan’s deep pockets ensure that AEW will be in the battle for the long haul and won’t be just another flash in the pan. Additionally, his son, Tony Khan, who is an experienced sports businessman and entrepreneur, will be overseeing the operation. The promotion’s top stars, including former WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes and independent wrestling giants Matt and Nick Jackson (aka The Young Bucks) are also serving in executive roles.
Upping the ante, AEW recently announced that it will have a weekly live prime-time show airing on a widely available national cable network beginning in the fall. Until now, alternatives to RAW and SmackDown have been relegated to smaller networks that cater to a more niche audience. But with this particular television rights deal, AEW can cast a wider net and chip away at WWE’s broad demographic reach.
The initial roster is a mix of up and comers and well-established stars, such as Chris Jericho, whom the promotion will be leaning on heavily to attract longtime fans of WWE. There is little doubt that hardcore wrestling supporters will be sampling the product, but Jericho’s presence and popularity should also pique the interest of the more casual wrestling fan, who makes up the majority of WWE’s television and live-event audiences.
Not surprisingly, Jericho will be in Saturday’s main event as he goes against Kenny Omega, a wildly popular international talent, who will also double as a company executive outside the ring. Like The Young Bucks, Omega carved a name for himself on the international scene and built a loyal following outside the auspices of WWE.
Yet, for all the trailblazing the group has done, they are still relative unknowns to the bulk of wrestling fans in the U.S. And it is those fans who will ultimately decide the fate of AEW. Without their support, the promotion cannot succeed.
For their first outing, AEW is relying on the old-school pay-per-view model and charging $49.95 for Double Or Nothing. That’s a steep price to pay for the initial event, especially with WWE having trained fans to pay a $9.99 monthly fee to access the WWE Network and its premier shows.
But a lower pricing point would also be potentially problematic for AEW in other ways moving forward. While a greater number of fans would have purchased the show, it would also establish the precedent for cheaper pay-per-view fees. Raising prices down the line risks angering large numbers of fans and eroding audiences. In short, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.
Additionally, there is the thought that something is inherently better simply because it cost more. And charging $49.95 pretty much says that their product is “elite.”
All fans will still have the opportunity to sample the product for free, as the hour-long pre-show, billed as The Buy In, is being streamed live online at no charge and features two matches, including the first ever Casino Battle Royale. The winner of the latter will receive a future title shot against the victor of the main event, which pits Jericho against Omega.
The co-main event is a highly anticipated brother vs. brother battle, with Cody Rhodes challenging Dustin Rhodes, who is best known for portraying Goldust in WWE. It’s unclear what role the elder Rhodes will have with AEW in the future, and at 50 years old, it’s possible that this will be the last high-profile match of his career.
PAC, better known as Neville in WWE, was originally slated to face Adam “Hangman” Page in Las Vegas, but instead faced him last week in the U.K. due to creative differences. It is possible that he will still wrestle for AEW at a later date.
Many other former WWE talents are on the card, including the recently released Shawn “Tye Dillinger” Spears as well as Degeneration X Hall of Fame member Billy Gunn. Neither can be expected to have a large impact on the buy-rate of the show, but will help the audience familiarize themselves with the new entity. That is critical given the rest of the card is comprised of names that are largely unknown to most fans.
No matter what, AEW must succeed Saturday night if it hopes to be a viable competitor long-term. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it better be a good one.
Double Or Nothing Card
Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho
The winner receives a future title shot.
Cody Rhodes vs. Dustin Rhodes
AAA World Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. The Lucha Bros.
Dr. Britt Baker vs. Kylie Rae vs. Nyla Rose
SoCal Uncensored vs. CIMA, T-Hawk & El Lindaman
Best Friends vs. Angelico & Jack Evans: Chuckie T & Beretta
Casino Battle Royale (The Buy In)
You can expect some surprise entrants in this one, as not all of the 21 competitors have been announced. Confirmed for the match are: Shawn Spears, Billy Gunn, Brandon Cutler, Glacier, Sonny Kiss, Ace Romero, Sunny Daze, Brian Pillman Jr., MJF, Joey Janela, Dustin Thomas, Jimmy Havoc, Michael Nakazawa, Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus, Isiah Kassidy, and Marq Quen.
Sammy Guevara vs. Kip Sabian (The Buy In)
NEWS & NOTES
A GoFundMe campaign has been created by a number of former WWE talents to support the daughter of women’s wrestler Ashley Massaro. The former Diva Search winner died of an apparent suicide last week. The money will be used to pay for the daughter’s college education. Mick Foley was among the first to donate to the cause.
Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Aleister Black, and Daniel Bryan are not expected to work the Super Showdown event in Saudi Arabia on June 7, according to The Wrestling Observer. Bryan also skipped the last event held in the county.
Ratings for both RAW and SmackDown were up this week.
Ruby Riott is recovering following surgery to repair a bilateral injury in her right shoulder, WWE announced. She is slated to have the same surgery performed on her left shoulder in the future. It’s unclear how long she will be out of action.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.