After A Year Of False Starts, AEW Is Finally Getting Wardlow’s Build Right


AEW’s stop-and-start booking of Wardlow in 2022 has prevented him from reaching stardom. Now, as 2023 looms, Tony Khan is finally getting it right.

If All Elite Wrestling had approached Wardlow differently in 2022, he could be one of the most influential stars in the company entering 2023. The 34-year-old is a unicorn for AEW, a 6-foot-2, 277-pound throwback of a professional wrestler who looks and wants to act the part. There’s certainly room for the likes of Orange Cassidy and HOOK, but it’s also essential for a wrestling roster to have balance. Too many high-flyers and the matches become repetitive gymnastics routines. Too many bruisers and the bouts become predictable slug fests. Wardlow ticks boxes on both sides of the spectrum. He is an athlete who can hit a swanton bomb halfway across the ring as easily as he can powerbomb an opponent through the mat.


Yet AEW’s 2022 was full of events that prevented Wardlow from gaining traction. Whether it was the build to Forbidden Door, ROH content being shoehorned onto weekly AEW TV, or the All Out fallout, Wardlow always ended up too far down the card to make an impact on Dynamite. Put another way: the company struggled to get the rising star on television consistently, which created a start-and-stop feel to his multiple pushes. While his feud with Samoa Joe developed on Rampage, the two can now finish that story on the A-show. Wardlow is finally being treated like a main event player, which bodes well for the year to come.

Related: AEW Might Finally Be A Fixing Fatal Flaw That Held It Back In 2022

How Wardlow Got Stuck In The Muck In 2022

Wardlow and Samoa Joe back when they were friends in AEW.

Understanding how AEW is finally getting things right with Wardlow requires a quick rewind to understand how bogged down he’s been for the last six months. Wardlow’s program with MJF during the spring of 2022 was outstanding. It was so over with the audience that, somehow, a public lashing worked, and fans were aching to see the Wardog get his hands on the smarmy MJF. He had to jump through multiple hoops to make that happen, but eventually, AEW set a fight between Friedman and his former bodyguard for Double Or Nothing on May 29. Friedman can make just about anyone look good—that’s why he’s such a tremendous natural heel—but Wardlow more than held up his end of the bargain during that feud.

The spotlight should have been on Wardlow as he outright squashed the future AEW World Champion in the night’s opening match, kayfabe earning a contract with the company. That isn’t how things shook out, though. Friedman had no-showed a fan event that weekend, and that was the talk of the wrestling world by the time the pay-per-view rolled around. Fans were hooked, wondering if it was a work or if MJF was amidst a public dispute with Khan and All Elite Wrestling. At this point, the reality doesn’t matter. Wardlow destroyed Friedman, but once MJF cut one of the best promos in company history on the following Dynamite before vanishing until All Out, no one cared. Wardlow’s star paled compared to the one MJF had just created for himself.

Over the following months, Wardlow would end up involved in feuds that failed to move the needle much for him and the company. His chase of Scorpio Sky ended in his winning the TNT Championship, but even that felt too little, too late. Fans were still on board, but not like they were leading up to Double Or Nothing. A feud with ROH holdout Jay Lethal further sank Wardlow’s position on the card, and the audience had very little to latch onto by the end of August. That’s changed since Samoa Joe entered the picture. The WarJoe angle was badly rushed, but the outcome has been a feud that fans can invest energy and emotion into as Wardlow chases a villain worth taking down.

Samoa Joe Gives Wardlow’s TNT Championship Chase Meaning

With all due respect to Scorpio Sky and Jay Lethal, Samoa Joe is a genuinely detestable heel when he shifts into that mode. He’s not a cartoon character. Joe comes off as a legitimately bad man. A babyface is only as good as the bad guy he’s trying to beat, and in Joe, Wardlow is squaring off against one of the top villains of a generation. AEW is giving this feud a little time to breathe too. It had to be tempting to have Wardlow go over at New Year’s Smash on December 28, and there were even reports that bits of confetti was drifting from the ceiling, perhaps tipping off his win.

Instead, Joe attacked Wardlow backstage before the match, taking out one of his knees with a steel pipe. Was it the most original wrestling angle of all time? No, but it didn’t need to be. The pipe assault gave fans a reason to cheer Wardlow on as he fought back against the odds. He pushed through the pain and almost came away with a win during the main event of Dynamite. Almost. Yet he wasn’t able to prevail against the 43-year-old veteran. At least not this time. There’s money in championship chases, and AEW finally realizes that fact.

Short builds, and shorter title reigns devalue the championships. So does having so many of them floating around on screen at once. Now that ROH is mostly away from AEW TV, Wardlow, among many others, is getting the opportunity to shine. Khan has structured a nice, tidy story around Wardlow’s TNT Championship chase. Once he finally dethrones Samoa Joe, it’ll be a cathartic feeling for everyone who’s followed along for the ride over the last year. As AEW enters year four, bottling those kinds of emotions will become even more paramount.

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