Friday, September 24, 2021

Poacher's Delight, Case Number Three: Big E

Big sweaty men slappin' meat in AEW? Maybe...
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 All Elite Wrestling has done what WWE has conditioned people to think could never be done. They got Tony Schiavone and CM Punk to return to wrestling and overcome the malaise they developed for that business in their prior stints. They made a deal to honor Owen Hart with Hart's widow and family when WWE CONVINCED everyone that Martha's problem was with wrestling and not with the negligent and callous company that killed her husband. And they've overrun New York City, WWE's home base for DECADES, setting attendance records and exciting the city with wrestling at levels not seen since at least Rock vs. John Cena, once in a lifetime part two. All signs point to them not just being a fringe alternative to WWE in the North American wrestling market, but as legit competition and a future potential market leader.

This means that people will jump from WWE to AEW. There are targeted names that seem like foregone conclusions to head over once their contracts are up. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are two. There may be others, like Kyle O'Reilly or Ricochet, but the likely names, to me, are boring. I want the spicy names. Baron Corbin, All Elite Wrestler, is spicy. Charlotte Flair on the infographic posted by Tony Khan signifying that she's All Elite, is spicy. And the man who won his first WWE Championship a little under two weeks ago on Monday Night Raw, Ettore Ewen, better known as Big E, is spicy as hell. Let's examine his case, shall we?

The Case For: WWE just put their co-top championship on Big E. He should have little reason to want to jump to AEW, right? Point blank, titles really should not be the driving factor in whether someone sees themselves as a main event player. WWE has often used the Money in the Bank briefcase as a vehicle to test drive someone in the main event without ever putting faith into them as wrestlers. Whether Big E's first title reign is more of a Miz one than a John Cena one remains to be seen. Titles aren't the be-all, end-all of whether a wrestler is a main event player, but one can only look at how title reigns can correlate to importance in that or any company.

Big E won his first World Title at age 35. He made his debut on the main roster at age 26, coming with a NXT Championship to his name, from a time when winning the NXT Championship portended success at the next level. He has all the tools that Vince McMahon wants except skin pigment, and no matter how much representation Black wrestlers have in WWE right now, it's important to look at the context. Bobby Lashley debuted on the main roster at age 29. He got to the main event at age 44, after leaving the company. Kofi Kingston got to the main roster at 27. After a main event tease shortly after his debut that ultimately went nowhere, he had to wait another decade to get to main event level, age 37. Mark Henry debuted at age 25, underwent humiliating angles on-screen and weight shaming offscreen. His Hall of Pain run, his one title run, happened at age 40. Booker T was WCW World Champion when that company closed. He lost the title at SummerSlam 2001, scuttled around the midcard mostly, and won his only WWE World Title five years later. The hallmark of all these sniffs in the main event is that they were ultimately temporary. Henry had one other main event program against John Cena a few years later, but these wrestlers, with the exception of Lashley, whose loss of his title was recent enough that he hasn't had the chance to be demoted yet, all were mostly pushed back down the card after their lone title run. Booker T might be the exception, but it's telling he had to jump to TNA to get back to the top of a company. WWE will say they treated Book like royalty, but other than his Kingly run, he was a supporting player.

Is there a sea change in WWE happening? You can maybe squint and think that the leopard is changing his spots, but Big E most definitely should have been pushed to the upper stratospheres of WWE's card structure at least five years before now. Whether or not a title would come with that is one thing, but the one thing WWE loves to do is pepper their top guys with top title reigns. Roman Reigns, John Cena, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Alberto del Rio, Randy Orton, Edge, even SHEAMUS all are multiple time champs across the spectrum: WWE, World Heavyweight (Big Gold), or Universal. The one Black wrestler in that group is The Rock. Basically, if you're a Black wrestler, you have to be a preternaturally gifted speaker from two different wrestling families with Hollywood crossover potential to be a main event mainstay.

AEW does have their own deficiencies regarding Black wrestlers so far, yes. They clearly could and should have pushed Scorpio Sky to a main event level by now. But AEW also has only been in business for two years. They have shown that they value Black talent given how many wrestlers they've signed and their continued support of both Nyla Rose and Jade Cargill. One could argue that most of their main event level talent had gotten over in arenas other than AEW. Their two biggest success stories are Hangman Page and Britt Baker. Everyone else, whether Jon Moxley or Kenny Omega or even Orange Cassidy, got over first somewhere else. I would look at Big E as a guy who got over in WWE more than I would look at him as someone who'd be a victim of "All Elite White People," which I feel is a bad faith smear by people trying to paint WWE as a virtuous paradise for Wrestlers of Color despite the fact that their trail of grievances towards Black wrestlers is STILL being left behind. Just look at Bianca Belair's recent history.

If he were to jump, Big E could immediately be AEW's first Black wrestling megastar, and there's another massive piece of evidence that should they offer him a contract when his WWE tenure is up, he might jump. Brodie Lee and Big E were very good friends, to the point where nearly everyone congratulating Big E for his title win brought up how proud Lee would've been. The way AEW handled the end of Lee's life, the privacy given and all the tributes laid at his feet after he passed, has been a point of pride for the company. Punk, Bryan Danielson, and the Owen Hart Foundation all pointed to the way they handed that situation as reasons why they were amenable to going there. Why wouldn't it be a selling point for all his friends, especially one who was as close to him as Big E?

The Case Against: Do you believe everything you read on the dirtsheets? You shouldn't, but the hit rate on truth vs. fiction is a lot better than some of the most ardent skeptics would have you believe. One chestnut from reports about five or so years ago said that there was a decision internally to be made about who might succeed John Cena as WWE's arch-draw, their ace so to speak. Reigns was surprisingly not McMahon's choice, but he was Paul Levesque's guy. McMahon wanted to put Big E in that spot. For whatever reason, Levesque persuaded McMahon to go with the Anoa'i kid. The point is, if you believe those reports, McMahon loves Big E. It may have taken that infatuation to materialize in a main event push, but it's not like the signs weren't there.

For example, what stables in WWE are allowed to stay together as long as the New Day has? The stable has been protected at levels that McMahon hasn't even afforded Reigns at times. Yeah, Reigns rarely ever loses and has always been in high-profile stories, but at times, his push has felt forced, artificial. New Day has existed in a plane below the main event, but one that gets marquee things thrown at them constantly. They hosted a WrestleMania, which meant they were on screen with regularity on the biggest show of the year. Their feud with the Usos allowed them to get a Hell in a Cell match, which usually was only reserved for the big singles titles or John Cena-level blood feuds.

There's also the fact that WWE has consistently skewed older on pushing wrestlers in main event slots. It feels like even as far back as 2004, when they were obsessed with pushing the youth, they started feeling buyers' remorse when Brock Lesnar left the company to pursue other avenues and Orton didn't get as nuclear over as they hoped he would when he eclipsed Lesnar's mantel as youngest Champion ever. That progression on age has developed over the years to now, where the "new" main event guys are a 45-year-old Lashley and 36-year-old Drew McIntyre. At age 35, Big E is ripe to develop into a workhorse at the top of the card in WWE. If McMahon is going to break his mold and have a Black wrestler who isn't descended from a Hall of Fame father and a literal wrestling dynasty on his mother's side stay in the main event, it's going to be now with Ettore Ewen.

The Final Word: Big E in AEW is one of those jumps that might seem logical in the mind of a low-information partisan smark, but the dynamics in play make it feel far more unlikely than if, say, Roderick Strong was All Elite when his contract is up. That being said, there are plenty of reasons why a Big E jump down to Jacksonville would make a ton of sense. Again, these are exciting times, unprecedented in the last 20 years. The idea that anyone could go from RAW to another show or vice versa is something that made the late '90s so unpredictable in the best ways. Any name with little exception is on the table.