This is perhaps the most meaningless short-term consequence of Vince McMahon resigns as WWE Chairman and CEO after 40 years as pro wrestling’s most powerful dignitary – the creative direction of the art form. McMahon has almost exclusively called top shots since the first full year of Ronald Reagan’s administration. His more recent decisions, story ideas, and cohesive missteps reverberate and set the tempo for every other American and Canadian square circle. The long-term effect will be staggering.
Attention when mentioning McMahon should now always come with the caveat of his pending withdrawal. Without him calling the shots right behind the curtain, pro wrestling is guaranteed to change. And the greatest replacement ingredient to be a the catalyst for change is Triple H. Yes, he has a strong influence on Vince having been his son-in-law and already one of his closest confidants. “The Game” has also proven himself to be an individual thinker, making small changes and correcting more than a few missteps over the past few years.
We’re in a honeymoon period when it comes to WWE led by Triple H. This is the first time the company’s creative process hasn’t had to be channeled through someone whose last name is McMahon, even though the new locker room chief is married to Stephanie McMahon. Friday night episode Smack down! is a prime example of the ripple effect of leadership changes.
Hit Row returned to WWE as a trio, not a foursome. A popular act that WWE started before they could really take off last year has been brought back into the business, with commentators Michael Cole and Pat McAfee selling how important their presence was. WWE fans with a good memory would notice the absence of Swerve Strickland, as he is now known, the faction’s most talented member.
Strickland is now under contract with All Elite Wrestling and is halfway of the Company’s Tag Team Champions with another NXT standout turned WWE reject, Keith Lee. Mistakes happen, AEW makes them weekly. WWE has done a lot more with Vince at the helm. And yes, both products have been good since McMahon’s resignation. What we are settling into is truly a new era of professional wrestling. It may be cliché, but it’s the first major change in the landscape since the end of the Monday Night Wars.
The creation of AEW gave an outlet for disgruntled fans looking for an alternative. In its bubble, it is a huge success. Launching a national TV show five months before the coronavirus pandemic hit without completely derailing the company was a small miracle. We are finally starting to see now, more than three years after the company’s inaugural show, double or nothing, a long-term vision. There’s no hazard. AEW is here to stay and puts on several solid shows a month.
For most of AEW’s run, WWE product was stale, and that’s probably the best way to put it. Stupidizing and frustrating with tangible plot holes left and right, wasting the potential of pro wrestling’s most stacked roster. It’s better. However, for hardcore WWE audiences, the introduction of AEW into the professional wrestling lexicon meant nothing. Sami Zayn’s name dropped the company once. There are were subtle hints from Edge and Cody Rhodes. But a casual WWE fan wouldn’t have understood that.
Even strongly isolationist WWE fans will eventually notice a change with Triple H in charge. First of all, watching WWE’s several hours of programming per week leaves an incredible amount of time to digest other media. With an interest in pro wrestling, you couldn’t avoid all the Vince news. Unconsciously or not, change is expected. This isn’t rematch for Triple H waging NXT 1.0’s failed Wednesday Night War against AEW. Tony Khan’s team should have destroyed development territory on TV and did. Having a full-strength army at his disposal wouldn’t allow Triple H to focus on anything other than improving things internally. And that’s a good sign for WWE fans.
I started formulating this story two weeks ago. There was going to be a point about how Karrion Kross and Scarlett were the perfect examples of where Vince went wrong. And then Triple H brought them back into the fold. Their NXT presentation was phenomenal. An entry theme that would have become an arena anthem in the same way as Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura. They both had “the look” too. And they showed it again.
AEW will continue to put on great shows no matter who runs WWE. Triple H has shown he can steer a better ship than his stepfather with a small sample. The only way to have a WWE-AEW foray is if the odds become similar. dynamite drew 972,000 viewers on Wednesday, while last week Smack down! had an average audience of 2.01 million viewers. That’s all the difference, no matter the context of these numbers. Still, the Triple H effect has a lot more to do with WWE right now than anywhere else. Finally, and there is no real predictions as to when it will, it won’t.