There's been plenty of great AEW signings since the tail end of 2019, but some have been better than others. Guys like Bryan Danielson, Ricky Starks, and Swerve Strickland, among others, have put together an impressive resume in these last couple of years alone, and even then, there are plenty of guys not too far off. To not drag along, here are my Top 10 signings ever made by Tony Khan, as AEW is just two months out from what should be an important 2024.
List Notes Refresher:
- All talent listed either started appearing regularly or were outright signed to All Elite Wrestling after the first episode of Dynamite aired (No one from the Elite, Mox, MJF, Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker, etc.).
- A bit of everything is factored in the rankings, such as memorable matches, promos, moments, general impact on the promotion, personal enjoyment, etc.
- Adam Copeland is excluded since he just got there, as is CM Punk, for what I would like to believe are obvious reasons.
- Five spots are reserved for All Elite Wrestling Women's Division hires (seven ladies made the cut).
- Anything that happened on Ring of Honor television post-Tony Khan's buyout is considered. As are Championships won in ROH, Impact Wrestling, New Japan, and AAA as members of AEW.
- This is all subjective, of course. HOWEVER, I'm objectively correct, and I'm not here to argue. Glad we're all on the same page.
- All Names/Groups will have a match and promo/moment recommendation link if available.
Top 20 All Elite Wrestling Signings (10-1)
No. 10 'The Exalted One' Brodie Lee
Match Recommendation: Dog Collar Match vs. Cody Rhodes (AEW Dynamite 10/7/20)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: Debut Vignette and Segment
Championships: TNT Champion (1x)
As good as Brodie Lee's AEW run was, we never got to see the best of the 'Exalted One' after he tragically passed away the day after Christmas in 2020. He had been off TV since early October, but hearing about his passing felt surreal at the time. I distinctly remember a report Sean Ross Sapp made about Brodie Lee Jr. 'winning' the AEW World Championship off of Kenny Omega a few weeks prior, but at that point, I thought nothing much of it. Either way, the AEW locker room deserves a ton of credit for giving that situation to privacy it deserved. But one of the better big men of his generation tragically lost his life due to a rare lung condition named IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis), just as he was beginning to hit his stride as the leader of the Dark Order. In the wake of his passing, AEW would then put together a heartfelt tribute show for him that concluded with Tony Khan retiring the TNT Championship Belt variant that Lee had won earlier in the year.
But Lee's ranked in the top 10 for a reason. His AEW run was as good as advertised. He was booked as a top-level heel from the jump, with his only two singles losses coming to then-AEW World Champion Jon Moxley, then Cody Rhodes in a dog collar match, which would be the final of his career. Even before he lost to Rhodes, Lee beat him for the TNT title in a legitimate squash match that lasted three minutes and ten seconds on the dot. His addition to the Dark Order took them from a group without much direction and turned them into the faction of AEW for the better part of 2020. His mere presence elevated the people around him, like Anna Jay, John Silver, Preston Vance, etc.
Another element that Lee brought to the table was from a comedic standpoint. Although it may have gone unnoticed by the more casual AEW fan, Lee and the Dark Order were consistently one of the best parts of the 'Being the Elite' vlog show run by the Young Bucks through the summer of 2022. Highlights included the boys failing to bring Lee Jack Perry, but instead Griff Garrison on multiple occasions, Lee making Chuck Taylor of Best Friends Fame Mother Susan beat John Silver with a stack of papers, and this now iconic parody of Cody Rhodes' theme getting shut down.
It's a tragedy that we never got to see Lee reach his maximum potential after leaving WWE, but his AEW run, even in the limited sample size, was as good as anyone who's ever been there.
No. 9 Jamie Hayter
Match Recommendation: Vs. Emi Sakura (AEW Rampage 1/25/23)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: The Entrance...That's it...it's really good
Championships: AEW Women's World Champion (1x)
Some fans may not remember this, but Jamie Hayter appeared on just the fourth and sixth-ever episodes of Dynamite while she was an active member of Japan's all-women's promotion Stardom. The pandemic kept the Hampshire, England native away from AEW for nearly two full years before she returned on the debut episode of Rampage, aligning with Britt Baker. 15 months after that return, Hayter became the AEW Women's World Champion over Toni Storm.
In those 15 months before becoming World Champion, Hayter became increasingly more popular with each passing week despite being a heel. She has the great fur entrance robes, the rave entrance music, the great move set, capped off with a ripcord lariat dubbed 'Hayterade', and simply the look and feel of a star. Not exactly hard to see why she got over as quickly as she did. She's as good as any Women's wrestler today. Hayter was dealing with multiple ailments before she dropped the belt back to Toni Storm earlier this year but fought through it to do business. The hope is she's back early next year at some point, which would be the best news AEW has gotten in a little bit.
No. 8 FTR (Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler)
Match Recommendation: Dog Collar Match Vs. The Briscoe Brothers (Ring of Honor Final Battle 2022)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: "I'm Gonna Fight Like an Eight-Year-Old Girl"
Championships: AEW World Tag Team Champions (2x) and IWGP Heavyweight, Ring of Honor, and AAA Tag Team Champions (1x each)
Over five years ago, when FTR, then just the Revival, were still in WWE, Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks famously stated this in a now-deleted tweet.
"One day The Young Bucks will wrestle The Revival and everyone will rejoice. Remember this tweet."
Not only did we get a true tag team dream match once, but on three separate occasions have two of the five best tag teams of this generation gone head to head since FTR arrived in AEW in the summer of 2020, literally coming out of a truck to make a save for the Bucks.
Triple H, as the lead booker of NXT, knew how to get the best out of his tag team division, and FTR was excellent on the black and gold brand. Vince McMahon, meanwhile, did not, and while Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler had three separate WWE Tag Team Championship reigns, they weren't presented in the best way, especially at the very end of their tenure. Their AEW run has since been far closer to their NXT days than Main Roster WWE stint, as FTR have cemented themselves as a generational tag team in the last four years.
Since joining All Elite Wrestling, Harwood and Wheeler have held Tag Team Gold across the globe, both in AEW and ROH, plus reign as the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and the AAA Tag Team Champions, in which they held the latter three all at once. Wheeler and Harwood's trilogies with the Bucks and Briscoes are worth every bit of praise they received in real-time, as well as a pair of relatively recent scraps with Jay White and Juice Robinson of Bullett Club Gold. The 2-out-of-3 Falls match was one of the best TV matches I've ever seen.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of FTR's jump to AEW was the singles run that Harwood got in 2022. There was a three-month span in which he had several high-quality TV matches against CM Punk, Wheeler, Adam Cole, and Will Ospreay. All four of those matches got at least 4.25 stars from the Wrestling Observer, as well as a rating of at least 7.8/10 on Cagematch. It wasn't super widespread, but some were calling for him to be the outright Wrestler of the Year in 2022, and based on the body of work, it's hard to say he wasn't in the conversation.
As far as natural fits in AEW, FTR made sense for the promotion well before they ever made their way down to Daily's Place in Jacksonville one faithful evening in late May of 2020. As great as they are, they never truly fit in the Vince McMahon-run WWE Main Roster. Their old-school vibe, from the entrance to the look and down the move set, could translate into several different eras of Pro Wrestling. When it's all said and done, you're looking at one of the 10 best tag teams in the history of the business. Top Guys, out.
No. 7 The Acclaimed (Max Caster and Anthony Bowens)
Match Recommendation: Vs. Swerve in Our Glory (AEW Dynamite 'Grand Slam' 2022)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: Any of 100-ish Entrance Raps Done by Caster
Championships: AEW World Tag Team Champions (1x) and AEW World Trios Champions (1x w/Billy Gunn)
There's probably not a better original act to come out of AEW than the Acclaimed. To go from a jobber tag team in the pandemic era to what they've become, effectively as homegrown talents, has been an incredible journey. Max Caster and Anthony Bowens rained under Pat Buck at separate times but signed matching five-year deals with the promotion in late 2020 and got a ton of chances to work as a unit and as singles stars, with one in the corner for the other.
While both Caster and Bowens had some seasoning on the independent scene before committing to AEW, Bowens' relationship with WWE feels worth mentioning. He had tried and failed to get signed there multiple times from 2015 to 2020 but got "ghosted" in his own words, for three years trying to get an agreement. Then, they conveniently got to him after he appeared on AEW Dark, right before he and Caster got locked down by Tony Khan. Also, Caster was now famously one of Bobby Lashley's 'sisters' in that one segment on Raw in 2018, so there's some fun trivia for you.
Getting the chance to work tag matches against the Young Bucks, Jon Moxley, and Eddie Kingston, and SoCal Uncensored right out of the gate was big, but the Acclaimed got themselves a chance to stand out in other ways while getting valuable in-ring experience. Much like John Cena in his early days, Caster sings, rather freestyles, the Acclaimed's entrance music, and while that got him into some hot water in August of 2021, that was a gigantic part of how both he and Bowens got over as quickly as they did. Even as heels, facing a steady dose of losses throughout 2021, they consistently were getting great crowd reactions every week.
Then came 2022, where a knee injury to Bowens set off a chain of events still being felt today. That injury led to the Acclaimed being paired on screen with all three of the Gunns, which led to the now famous Bowens catchphrase of "Scissor me Daddy Ass" with Billy Gunn being born. Only in professional wrestling. This only further accelerated the popularity and growth of the Acclaimed, and the elder Gunn was then made a part of the group once his sons betrayed him.
The night where you knew Caster and Bowens were made men weren't when they won the titles, but just before Labor Day weekend: All Out 2022. Facing off against Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland, they were the overwhelming, and I mean overwhelming crowd favorite from bell to bell. If a crowd of 10,000 people singing "Oh Scissor Me Daddy" in the tune of Seven Nation Army at the top of their lungs isn't being over like Grover Bubba (RIP the Iron Sheik), I have no clue what being over is.
The night they won the tag titles off Swerve in Our Glory was ultimately an incredible feel-good story, especially on the heels of CM Punk going mask off, and a well-deserved crowning moment for a couple of guys who put in a ton of work to get themselves to that point. Even after dropping the titles and picking up the Trios Championships, they haven't missed a beat and have all the staying power in the world.
And that's exactly why they rank ahead of FTR here. They came in with a pre-established record of being one of the best, the Acclaimed started from scratch to become arguably the hottest act in AEW for the better part of the last 18 months. Let it be known that Bowens never lied to me when he said "Everyone loves the Acclaimed." However, something tells me that could potentially be changing soon. Regardless, Bowens and Caster have all the makings of mainstay stars for the foreseeable future.
No. 6 Jade Cargill
Match Recommendation: Vs. Kris Statlander (9/15/23 Episode of AEW Rampage)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: TBS Championship Celebration Segment
Championships: TBS Champion (1x)
Classifying 'It Factor' can be difficult because either you have it or you don't. The microsecond Jade Cargill first showed up on Dynamite, you knew she stood out from the crowd in every way possible: Size, appearance, presentation, crossover appeal, etc. After trying out in the WWE Performance Center in 2019, Cargill opted to stick with wrestling, training under AR Fox, then later under QT Marshall and Dustin Rhodes at the Nightmare Factory, before making her TV debut late in 2020. That crossover appeal element got put to the test almost immediately, as her first-ever match would be with Shaquille O'Neal (yes, the very same) against Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet.
Even as she was still very fresh to the wrestling business, having someone like Cargill, who checked every box outside of in-ring seasoning, was a godsend for AEW. You can't teach aura, and Cargill was best in show in that category. Even then, you saw Cargill get more comfortable and better with each outing, as she was being booked and presented like a true Superstar, winning her opening 50-plus singles matches and becoming the inaugural TBS Champion. That reign ended earlier this year at Double Or Nothing, where she dropped the belt to still TBS Champion Kris Statlander, and then one night a few months later, Sean Ross Sapp dropped the bombshell that Cargill was WWE-bound.
The one thing I think should be appreciated more is that she came back to put over Statlander one more time before she reported to the Performance Center. That was super selfless of her, and I don't think anyone would have been (justifiably) angry if Double or Nothing was her last night. A true pros pro, and seemingly universally liked by her peers. WWE has a true superstar on their hands already, and she's still yet to reach her maximum potential in the ring, which is the horrifying part.
No. 5 'Swerve' Strickland
Match Recommendation: Vs. 'Hangman' Adam Page (AEW WrestleDream 2023)
Championships: AEW World Tag Team Champion (1x w/Keith Lee)
WWE has had some releases that have looked bad in hindsight over the years, but I can't think of many in recent years that look as bad as Swerve Strickland's does at this point. In less than 20 months, the 33-year-old Tacoma, Washington native has gone from a formidable upper-mid carder to a legitimate Main Event level heel and is one of a few wrestlers in the middle of a career year in AEW. His promos, matches, and work with his Mogul Embassy faction (Himself, the Gates of Agony, Brian Cage, and Prince Nana), have been one of the best things in AEW for the better part of the last six months.
Looking at the body of Swerve's work right now, it's crazy to hear that he only felt like "a good hand to have" in the early days of his NXT stint. About a year ago on 'The Sessions' with Renee Paquette, Swerve went into detail that when he began to sit down and work with current NXT showrunner Shawn Michaels, that's when it all clicked for him. That aura he picked up around the time he became North American Champion carried straight over to AEW, and Strickland hasn't looked back since.
After a successful Tag Team title run with Keith Lee, and really in the back half of that run, Swerve's ascension into a supervillain began to take shape, starting by kidnapping and breaking the fingers of Billy Gunn with some channel lock pliers before Full Gear 2022, but that was just the beginning. Some of his better antics as of late have been jumping Nick Wayne and leaving him in a bloody heap in his literal backyard, and then just recently breaking into Adam Page's home, doing a villain monologue in front of his infant in a crib, and dripping a shirt of his on top of the baby. Real hatred, real cinema, real hoop.
Swerve's in-ring and mic work have been superb in 2023, but me saying that is one thing, his peers, most notably Kenny Omega, also know what they're seeing is special.
"Swerve's name is the first name in a long list of incredibly talented performers that we have backstage. I've always been a huge Swerve fan. I remember making a point, after many of his performances to kind of tap him on the shoulder like 'Dude what you did out there was really incredible tonight. I don't know if you need to hear from me, probably not. Feel free to not paying attention to me. But if it does mean anything, I think you're great and I really hope we can do something at some point down the line in the future.' And again, real humble dude. Always willing to do what's right. He's got a great attitude. And clearly, if you saw his performance today and you've seen his performances lately, he's a guy that works very, very hard. You'll never feel like you've been slighted or you've never got your money's worth. - Kenny Omega (WrestleDream Media Scrum)
Again that's coming from KENNY OMEGA, with Chris Jericho effectively agreeing with everything being said in real time. That feels like quite the endorsement. I'd imagine a couple of other all-world talents that Swerve has worked with, Bryan Danielson and El Hijo Del Vikingo, have nothing but good things to say as well. Keep in mind, we haven't even gotten into the crossover potential Swerve brings to the table. Having legitimate connections in the rap industry, he's been able to get Rick Ross, yes, Rick Ross on AEW TV on multiple occasions, in what has objectively provided incredible meme content on each occasion. He's not the only rapper to make an appearance for AEW either. Names like Westside Gunn, Kevin Gates, and DJ Whoo Kid have all made appearances since Swerve arrived, and hard to say that's a coincidence.
Now, with the interest and intrigue around Swerve at an all-time high and with the string of in-ring performances he's put together dating back to April when he and Darby Allin put on a clinic on Dynamite, I feel confident enough to say that this is you're next AEW World Heavyweight Champion. No longer "just a solid hand", you're watching a legit five-tool player entering his prime, and Tony Khan should strap a rocket to Strickland's back and let him take care of the rest. Also, on a final note, 'Big Pressure' goes unbelievably crazy.
No. 4 Eddie Kingston
Match Recommendation: Vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Rampage 10/27/21)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: Debut Promo Before Match Against Cody Rhodes w/Arn 'Glock' Anderson and "My Demons Know How to Swim"
Championships: NJPW Strong Openweight Champion (1x, Reigning) and Ring of Honor World Champion (1x, Reigning)
As someone who never saw the early days of ROH and checked out on TNA once AJ Styles left the building, my first introduction to Eddie Kingston wouldn't come until the summer of 2020. One faithful night at Daily's Place, he was thrust into an open challenge TNT Championship match with Cody Rhodes. I heard everything I needed to hear from the 'Mad King' to be sold on him after that first promo. It took him next to no time to become a major part of AEW programming after his official signing, either. His feud with Jon Moxley at the tail end of the year received far and wide praise and accolades, with Kingston showing that he could be a Main Event player on the biggest stage he had ever been on.
While Kingston is a stout in-ring performer, when you think of all the great moments of his AEW run, it's been him in front of a camera talking. If there have been guys who are clear-cut better promo than him since 2020, I'd only need one hand to count them. Kingston leaves you hanging on every word, on account that there are zero perceived degrees of separation between Eddie Kingston, the person, and Eddie Kingston, the wrestler. Perhaps more than anyone else in the industry, the two feel the same.
Kingston has also had his fair share of meme moments, as well, which never hurts the cause. The 'Eddie Kingston Addresses His Enemies' graphic lives rent-free in my head and has for the last three years. "Redeem Deez Nuts" was incredible, as was him walking back down the ramp in the Anarchy in the Arena Match where he was drenched in blood, in a tanktop, carrying a gasoline jug. Memes are the DNA of the soul, and he has plenty of them, both in and outside of AEW.
Kingston is another guy who's sadly had to deal with a good share of criticism over multiple facets of his game, but he is himself at the end of the day. What you see with Eddie is what you get, and he's consistently been one of the most over talents in AEW ever since they started getting crowds back in front of shows and that isn't by accident. At long last, Kingston also got the biggest nod of his career just over a month ago, beating longtime rival Claudio Castignoli for the Ring of Honor World Championship in Arthur Ashe Stadium. A well-deserved moment for one of the most enjoyable personalities in the entire industry since the start of the decade.
No. 3 'Absolute' Ricky Starks
Match Recommendation: No DQ Strap Match Vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW All Out 2023)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: Promo on MJF a Week Before Their AEW World Championship Match
Championships: FTW Championship (1x), AEW World Tag Team Champion (1x w/Big Bill, Reigning)
Since taking over the National Wrestling Alliance some years ago, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame has had some generational fumbles regarding talent retention. Eddie Kingston, Nick Aldis, Thunder Rosa, and some guy named Eli Drake jump out...wonder what happened to him by the way. Well, you can add Starks to that list too, as he became a member of the AEW roster during the summer of 2020. The 33-year-old New Orleans native, shortly after making his debut, would be put into a faction with Taz as a manager, alongside Brian Cage and Hook.
Just shy of a year into his run, Starks' career and livelihood were in serious jeopardy after a botched German Suplex from Adam Page left him with a fractured neck despite finishing the said match. Starks has gone into detail about how traumatic that whole experience was, and how he was seriously close to becoming paralyzed.
Luckily, Starks only missed a handful of months and picked up the FTW Championship off Cage in July of 2021. Once he dropped the belt to Hook and Team Taz broke up, Starks was finally flying on his own, and with his elite promo ability, won himself over in short order. Say he's a Rock ripoff all you want, you can't teach natural charisma, and Starks has a perfect rating there. The Promo he cut on MJF (linked above) was as good as gold, some of the pre-tapped vignettes he's had are excellent, and his entrance is that of a superstar.
Like Swerve, Starks has had an impressive match catalog in 2023 as well, but Starks hasn't been dealt the best hand from a booking perspective. While he did take a win over CM Punk in the finals of the Owen Hart Memorial Tournament, it wasn't a clean finish, and he never got a clean win over him in that feud, which was a mistake in real-time and looks far worse now. If it's any consolation for that, and being left off of All-In, Starks got a pair of matches after the fact against Bryan Danielson, in which he hung in the deep end with one of the best to ever do it, in a match that Bryan in his own words, was "carried" in a strap match by Starks at All Out.
As far as being an AEW mainstay for years down the road, Starks is a Cody Rhodes guy through and through, and his contract could expire at some point in 2024. MJF is certainly priority one, but Tony Khan should do whatever he can to look up Starks for the foreseeable future, even if that means passing up on Will Ospreay. At just 33 years old, in the middle of the best 12-month stretch of his career, he's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the nickname 'Absolute' isn't just for show.
No. 2 Christian Cage
Match Recommendation: Vs. Darby Allin (AEW WrestleDream 2023)
Promo/'Moment' Recommendation: Hater Manifesto Promo the Week After He Betrayed Jack Perry
Championships: Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion (1x), TNT Champion (1x, Reigning), and Professional Wrestling Hater of the Year (1x soon to be 2x, reigning)
Hater Noun "One who either verbally and/or physically inhibits another individual's game or mode of operation primarily due to jealousy, envy, animosity, bitterness, resentment, and contempt. - via Urban Dictionary
If you told me when Christian Cage first signed with AEW on March 7, 2021, at Revolution, that he would not be in the conversation for the most must-watch wrestler on the planet, but in the driver seat specifically, I'd have called you crazy. But here we are, as Christian is less than 30 days away from turning 50 years old, he has been on the run of his career since he first turned heel in the Summer of 2022. How? By embracing the art of hatred.
The best part of his heel turn was how long the con was. Christian was eliminated from a No. 1 contenders battle royal for the World Title by Jack Perry, and opted to be his mentor, when in reality he was getting checks to show up and do nothing until he slipped up, and oh boy did he. Well...it took a year and a half, but he slipped, losing the tag team championships with Luchasaurus in the summer of 2022. After which, Christian proceeded to give Perry a conchairto with his sister and mother in the front row.
The very next week, which was right on the heels of MJF's pipebomb promo in LA, Christian proceeded to cut perhaps the second-best, if not the best promo in AEW's short history. In which he laid out his entire villain origin story for the world to hear, and punctuated things by saying this now-infamous line about Jack Perry's deceased father, Luke Perry (yes, the very same).
That one blip in this multi-minute promo, plus the usage of a turtleneck has since defined Christians AEW run, which to this point was still very good, highlighted by a pair of great matches with Kenny Omega. If you had any sort of deceased relative, it was already too late for you. He's done this song and dance with multiple other wrestlers like Wardlow, Brian Pillman Jr/Lexis King, Darby Allin, and Nick Wayne, whom he gaslit into betraying Allin despite making light of his dead father and hitting on his mother. He even got Luchasaurus to betray Perry, and he's been his heavy for some time. In short, Christian Cage is one of the greatest haters in recorded history, with an incredible track record in less than two years of work.
Despite an arm injury keeping him out of the ring for a chunk of 2022 after he turned, Christian can still get after it in the ring. Since this summer, he's had an impressive match catalog, from a tag team Coffin Match in Wembley Stadium, a pair of great 1-on-1's with Darby Allin, including a sensational 2-out-of-3 Falls Match for the TNT title in the Main Event of WrestleDream, then a triple threat match with Allin and Luchasaurus. His current run with the TNT Championship, which began when he beat Wardlow for the gold on the premier episode of Collision (trust me, he won it, not Luchasaurus), has been one of the better runs with the belt, with his most recent defense coming against the only man ahead of him on this list, more that later.
But at nearly 50 years old, for Christian to be doing what is widely believed to be the best work of his career is nothing short of remarkable. In less than three years, he went from a surprise legacy signing to the most must-watch performer not just in AEW but the entire wrestling business. But, as much as I wanted to put him at No. 1, there was only one option for that spot.
No. 1 Bryan Danielson
Match Recommendation: Vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Dynamite 'Grand Slam' 2021)
Promo/Moment Recommendation: Taped Promo Calling out Kazuchika Okada to a Match at Forbidden Door 2023, Standing Ovation Seconds After the Opening Bell in the Omega Match, and Coming out to 'The Final Countdown' for the First Time in Nearly 15 Years
The term "Greatest of All Time" gets thrown around too liberally for my liking. But in a medium like wrestling, I think it's more than fine that there's a solid handful or two of guys to have a claim to that mantle. Especially from an in-ring and technical in-ring vantage point, Bryan Danielson has held claim to that title for the better part of a decade. The multi-time WWE World Champion and two-time Wrestlemania Main Eventer was rumored to be AEW bound around the time he put over Roman Reigns for the final time, and he would make his first outing literal minutes after Adam Cole did at All Out 2021. In under a month, the additions of CM Punk, Cole, and Danielson felt like the highest peak AEW has ever had, and Danielson has unequivocally been the best money Tony Khan has ever spent.
The best part of Danielson's addition to AEW was simply that he had a whole new rouges gallery of guys to work with, and it took no time at all to get a genuine once-in-a-lifetime dream match: Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson in the first-ever wrestling match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. Despite ending in a time-limit draw, it was a sight to behold. Two all-time talents who never met before (in a major setting) at the peak of each man's power. Hell, we even got to see Danielson take on perhaps the greatest Japanese wrestler to ever live, Kazuchika Okada, at Forbidden Door earlier this year. Add in that along with his excellent work with the Blackpool Combat Club (He, Jon Moxley, Wheeler Yuta, and Claudio Castignoli), plus some excellent feuds with Adam Page and MJF, the American Dragon has been worth his weight in gold.
But the great thing about Danielson's AEW run has been his unselfishness. Even in wins, he's gone well out of his way to get younger talent over like Ricky Starks and Daniel Garcia and has yet to hold an AEW Championship. That unselfishness isn't just on camera either. Danielson has been a mainstay as a teacher and locker room leader behind the curtain ever since he got to AEW. Talents like Jade Cargill and Red Velvet have both mentioned on the record that they've gotten the chance to work with Danielson, both in the ring and via film sessions.
“Bryan is always saying phenomenal things to me, and I remember one time I was working with him, and we’re talking about something, I think it was like, like my role and like doing moves and stuff, and he was like, ‘No, you’re a star, you’re a superstar. You’re in a different realm, and you know that. You have to do something a certain way.’ And he was telling me to just calm down. Because I go to the back — I want to be great; so I’m like, let’s watch film now, let’s do this now. I want to get this all out right now… like I feel iffy, like, let’s talk about it. And he’s just like, ‘Take your time; you are on a fast track right now. Take your time! I know the internet might say this, and it might say that, but it takes several years to get into this and be comfortable. And even if you are out here sinking or swimming, whatever, you can’t tell. You can’t tell. And it’s all about having fun. I’ve said that before.’ He always asked me about having fun. - Jade Cargill on working with Bryan Danielson
One thing that Tony Khan has stated that should tell you how well-regarded Danielson is in AEW, is that if anything were to happen to him, Tony's father Shad should give the reigns of the company to Danielson. Especially as the Hall of Famer's career begins to wind down, I wouldn't be shocked to hear more about how he's helping out. Whether that be scouting/evaluating talent in and outside of AEW, helping out in creative, etc, this business is always going to have a place for the American Dragon. Feels like just yesterday he was the Miz's "rookie" on the original NXT, but here we are some 13 years later, and Danielson is still as good as he's ever been. Appreciate him while he's still here.
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