LOS ANGELES — All Elite Wrestling continues to thrive with compelling matches while attracting new fans three years after making its debut.
The upstart professional wrestling circuit kicked off a busy summer schedule by returning to Las Vegas for its “Double or Nothing” pay-per-view for the first time since its opening card in 2019. That was followed by an appearance in Los Angeles for the first time as its Wednesday “Dynamite” show on June 1 attracted a sellout crowd to The Forum.
AEW CEO Tony Khan said the May 29 Las Vegas show at T-Mobile Arena had $1.1 million in ticket sales, the biggest gate revenue they have generated.
“It was great to go back to the city where it all began for us. Three years later we came back and we have kept growing our audience,” Khan said. “Every event has had year-over-year growth. We have a great group of wrestlers that have had so many amazing matches. There’s so much more to come.”
Final pay-per-view buy numbers are not in yet, but various reports from business and wrestling sites that track it have estimates at 155,000.
AEW remained in Southern California a couple more days and had its Friday “Rampage” card from Ontario. It is one of the few times since “Rampage” debuted last August that it has aired live. It is normally taped on the same night as “Dynamite”.
Last week’s episode of “Dynamite” was the second-highest rated program on cable television with a 0.4 rating and average audience of 969,000. The two-hour program on TBS has drawn over 900,000 nine of the last 11 weeks.
Chris Jericho, who has been with the company since the beginning and was AEW’s first champion, said the trip to Vegas was a good time to assess how much they have grown.
“We’ve now made AEW, a viable contender. And it’s a safe place for people to come now,” he said, “When we first started, it was a little bit of the wild, wild West, no one knew what to expect. And it was like taking a little bit of a chance. I think it’s gone even further than I expected. I think now that we’re here, we’re just scratching the surface of how far we’re gonna go.”
Fans have gravitated to AEW because of its emphasis on wrestling without a lot of backstage drama or storylines.
AEW’s growth has happened despite not being on the road for 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. They did a couple live shows in Salt Lake City and Denver in early 2020 before the pandemic took everyone off the road from March 2020 through June 2021.
Jericho, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega were the biggest names when the company debuted. Since then, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Adam Cole, Ruby Soho and Athena Palmer (formerly Ember Moon) have been added to a star-studded roster.
Cody Rhodes was also one of the biggest names at the start but departed at the beginning of the year before eventually going back to WWE.
AEW champion CM Punk, who started with the company last August, appreciates how much progress has been made, especially after the pandemic.
“When there were no fans during the pandemic I got to see them be innovative and creative while struggling through what was a hard time for everybody businesswise and personal,” he said. “I think what you’re seeing now is we’re getting settled back in, selling out more arenas and providing a little bit of everything to all types of fans.”
Even though there are plenty of veterans, AEW has shown it can develop its own talent as well. Britt Baker was the women’s champion for 290 days and TBS champion Jade Cargill is unbeaten in 32 matches since making her debut in March of 2021.
“It’s very empowering that I was able to have all this growth on live television. ‘Dynamite’ was my performance center,” Baker said. “I knew I was brand new and learning, There was something that was going to be trial and error and some things I was going to fail at, but that’s what made me who I am today, It was very much I was thrown into a sink or swim situation. And I wouldn’t change anything for me.”
Khan continues to have a full plate. He is also AEW’s GM and head of creative as well as having roles with his father’s ownership of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and English soccer team Fulham FC, which is back in the Premier League when the season begins in August. Khan also bought Ring of Honor earlier this year and is rebuilding that.
All of that adds up to an interesting summer for Khan and AEW. There are new cities to visit, including Detroit at the end of the month, and a pay-per-view between AEW and New Japan Wrestling in Chicago on June 26.
The summer will also include a storyline no one envisioned one week ago. An interim champion will be named after Punk suffered a foot injury, which will require surgery.
Despite the injury, Punk, who won the title at “Double or Nothing” is enjoying his time back in wrestling, even if it means spending some time on the sidelines.
“They’ve rekindled something inside of me that I thought honestly was long dead. I used to love professional wrestling and I fell out of love with it,” he said. “I think when you love something so much you can hold on to it so tight it can ruin that thing for you. But there’s almost no reason to dwell on that anymore.
“I like the youthful enthusiasm that everybody has backstage and it has rekindled my love for it. So these past nine months has been nothing short of kind of like a miracle. I’m enjoying every step of the way.”