AEW fans love heels, leaving the company in difficult storytelling spots with top faces. Swerve Strickland and The Mogul Affiliates change that.
All Elite Wrestling is short on heels that fans are willing to boo all the time, but Swerve Strickland and the Mogul Affiliates are changing that in short order. Tony Khan seems to enjoy pushing back against conventional wrestling storytelling, which is fine. But no booker—or author, director, or playwright, for that matter—on Earth can redefine the essential parameters needed for an engaging tale. Since narratives have existed, there has always been good versus evil. The side the audience is supposed to cheer for and the side listeners or readers hope will lose out eventually. Some of the best villains have relatable qualities and reasonable motives, but viewers still celebrate their downfall in the end.
Wrestling is the Wild West of storytelling, however. A bizarre and hard-to-explain place where cowboys in bedazzled jeans, walking dinosaurs, living dead men, and small-package roll-ups make sense. Despite that, heels and faces have existed and continue to exist for a reason. Fans are free to pick their side, but AEW’s wrestlers often end up stuck in the muddy middle. Audiences end up divided, giving the impression that neither performer is particularly over with the crowd or just in their cause. Enter Strickland and his new faction, the Mogul Affiliates, who don’t seem to mind playing the cold-blooded bad guys that modern wrestlers stray away from far too frequently.
The Problem With AEW’s Heels (& How Mogul Affiliates Is Different)
AEW—and, to a lesser degree, WWE—is full of heels trying to earn cheers instead of heat. These are the cool gunslinger types like Eddie Kingston, Chris Jericho, and Britt Baker. They are willing to bend the rules to a certain degree but never to the point of them truly breaking. And rarely to the end of generating any real, lasting, or legit heat. Sure, audiences will boo whenever Chris Jericho gives them the bird, but that usually comes a few minutes after they’ve serenaded him to the ring. The audience might cheer when Baker loses, but that comes after they say her “DMD” catchphrase along with her during her entrance.
A lack of detestable villains makes it nearly impossible for do-gooders like Ricky Starks and Wardlow to get over. They come off as short-sighted due to their unwillingness to do what their opponents are. It’s not like All Elite Wrestling’s referees have been treated with a single modicum of respect over the last few years. Why wouldn’t Wardlow have a friend distract the ref before walloping his opponent with a steel chair? It rarely, if ever, costs the heels their matches.
This is where the Mogul Affiliates’ value comes into play for AEW. It doesn’t seem like Swerve Strickland, Parker Boudreaux, and Granden Goetzman give a damn about being in the audience’s good graces. This trio comes off as menacing and dangerous. Willing to do anything to win matches and make money. All Elite Wrestling doesn’t have another group like them, putting the trio in a unique position to move up the card.
Audiences Don’t Like The Mogul Affiliates & They Aren’t Supposed To
Heels aren’t supposed to be the kind of people fans want to scrounge up $30 to buy a shirt in support of. Heels are supposed to be the wrestlers audience members are willing to pay to watch get beat up and eventually lose. MJF walks this line beautifully for AEW, but the Salt of the Earth is in a league of his own in pro wrestling. He can’t be the only one generating heat and pushing heels to new heights.
Tony Khan and All Elite Wrestling need people like Strickland, Goetzman, and Boudreaux willing to generate heat and not play to the crowd for cheers. Wrestling is already a brutal way to make a living. It’s even more challenging when every arena you walk into wants to see you get your head kicked off. That’s always been the business, however, and a babyface is only as good as the heel they’re trying to take down. Strickland is well on his way to being the best villain in the company besides Friedman—who might be the best heel in all wrestling, period.
There’s tremendous value in an act willing to be genuinely disliked. Who will go out and earn the constant and consistent disdain of the audience, night in and night out. Strickland has only wrestled two matches flying the Mogul Affiliate banner, but he’s ruthlessly cheated both times to win. It won’t be long before AEW fans are booing this faction out of the building during their entrance. That’s different from what Jericho or MJF can bring to the table at this stage of their respective careers. The audience isn’t supposed to like this group, and Strickland and Co. are eating up the contempt. Once Keith Lee returns for his vengeance, it’ll be one of the hottest angles All Elite Wrestling has in the build toward the first pay-per-view of 2023, Revolution.
Next: Chris Jericho Is Helping AEW Build Future Stars (& Not A Moment Too Soon)