It is a compliment to AEW’s Wrestledream PPV on Sunday, and to the now-Adam Copeland’s appeal and history, that his arrival in AEW was only one of the biggest, and most memorable moments of the show. That’s how good the show was, perhaps the best AEW has ever run, and a testament to the former Edge’s arrival feeling immense enough to cap it all off. And yet it was only the latest mechanization in the push and pull between wrestling’s two biggest companies, and what it says about each.
The idea of free agency in wrestling, especially since the creation of AEW, has generated a whole lot more conversation, and fantasy booking than it has actual movement. Sure, a fair number of released WWE talent has ended up in AEW, and for the most part playing a much bigger role than they did with New York. Swerve Strickland might be the latest, gleaming example, as he just authored what might have been the match of the night with Hangman Page. And that was on the same card as BRYAN DANIELSON VS GODDAMN ZACK SABRE JR.!
And yes, Cody Rhodes defected back to WWE when AEW’s offers to him were seen as just above half-hearted. But other than that, it’s been some time since we’ve seen moves that feel as immense as both Edge’s/Copeland’s and Jade Cargill’s in the opposite direction, where both companies wanted to sign a wrestler.
As for Copeland, we saw something like this about two years ago, when on the same night AEW unveiled Danielson and Adam Cole, two wrestlers that WWE very much wanted to keep but opted for the greater variety, and options in AEW. That’s what it feels like Copeland is doing, as he’s at the end of his career and wants to finish out by doing some matches he wouldn’t get to do in WWE, and working with his buddy Christian one more time, and just trying something different.
AEW also uses vets like Copeland far differently, and far more often, than WWE does. In the latter, Copeland showed up every couple months. The spectacle of his return was the main draw, and really all he was used for. In AEW, it’ll all hinge on regular matches, and regular matches to boost the younger generation. It’s how AEW does it, as Sting has been there to make Darby Allin a star, or CM Punk (for a second there) helping to vault MJF into the stratosphere, or Christian just being the most hilarious thing going in the company or Kenny Omega making all the promise of Konuske Takeshita into reality or Chris Jericho with a host of wrestlers decades younger than him. Even other over-agers, shall we say, have been allowed to put out a few last bangers before calling time on their career, like Dustin Rhodes.
Which isn’t how WWE sees it, or how they like to get the younger side of their roster to the top of it, if they ever do. There is rarely “lift while you climb” in WWE, instead preferring to just bestow mic time to clods like Austin Theory, or Grayson Waller who really aren’t ready for it. It’s not a huge shock why someone like LA Knight, approaching 40, is the rare one to punch through on his own simply because he’s had so many reps in other places. They don’t get 15-20 minute matches with established vets who are experts at making them look good.
But what WWE does do is amplify natural glow, which is almost certainly what Jade Cargill is thinking, especially in its women’s division. Cargill clearly has sights set on things beyond wrestling, which she’ll get to through wrestling, and that’s what WWE does and AEW isn’t particularly interested in. Cargill is still somewhat green in the ring, and AEW did a great job of working around, and with that to make her look like an absolute star. But given the company’s usual indifference (and that’s kind) toward its women’s division and her limitations in the ring (though they’re lessening all the time), there is a ceiling to how much of mainstream culture Cargill could pierce from an AEW ring. That ceiling is much higher in WWE. It’s a far better launch platform, and one only needs to see Becky Lynch’s appearances on “Billions” or “Young Rock” or Mercedes Mone on “The Mandalorian” as proof.
As for the rest of Wrestledream, calling it AEW’s greatest PPV is hardly wide of the mark. What it did best was exhibit the variety the company is capable of. Swerve and Page made every move they threw at each other look like an absolute bomb. Danielson and ZSJ put on a technical masterclass rarely equaled. Kris Statlander and Julia Hart, still sadly the only women’s match on the card, put on a banger that showcased one of the few talents in Hart that the company has built from the ground up into an attraction while turning Statlander into a Final Boss character she should always be. It had prime wrestling silliness with MJF and The Righteous. There was the multi-man car crash that the company has made its calling card with Hook/Orange Cassidy vs. the Lucha Bros. vs. The Young Bucks vs. The Gunn club. And some more of that with the six-man between Kenny Omega, Jericho, and Kota Ibushi vs. the Callis family, with the added pathos of Don Callis always having an answer to Omega.
And there was Eddie Kingston and Katsuyori Shibata just beating each other into burger, which is always nice.
It’s perhaps as deep as the AEW roster has ever been, which Copeland only adds to. They can produce one of their best-ever shows with Jay White not even on it, or MJF in the opening match, or Jon Moxley not even wrestling. It will leave some always frustrated, both fans, and performers alike, but it will also produce the excellence of last night.
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