Features

Every AEW Signing Of 2021

AEW signings 2021

2021 brought forth a new landscape for professional wrestling, readjusting to performing in front of live crowds once more.

All Elite Wrestling used this as an opportunity to introduce a plethora of new faces to their roster, ranging from former WWE Champions to stalwarts of the independent scene, thus removing this stigma set on them that they only sign ex-WWE Superstars.

Once gone from WWE, the wrestlers in question are free to go anywhere. They’re typically in high demand, having just been let go from the most prominent wrestling promotion in existence, so of course, Tony Khan and co. will capitalise on the buzz of their newfound released status, in turn bringing some additional eyes to AEW programming. He’d be foolish not to, really. It’s effectively now a running joke that when a wrestler is let go from WWE, IMPACT Wrestling, Ring Of Honor, et al, their ‘X is All Elite’ graphic will be made straight away in lieu of their impending arrival.

Now, this feature will only take into account names who’ve received said graphic treatment. The likes of Mark Sterling and Bear Country, despite having been rumoured as officially signing with AEW, are yet to have such graphics released. Those who’ve appeared from AEW’s partner promotions – IMPACT Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, et al – also won’t be mentioned, as, again, they’re not AEW-signed talent. Therefore, no Minoru Suzuki, Good Brothers, KENTA, Tomohiro Ishii, etc.

As of this writing, 26 names – 24 if you view tag teams as one – have become All Elite in 2021, but who, exactly, are they?

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson

The first official All Elite Wrestling signing of 2021, Lee Johnson was a regular on the Georgian independent circuit, where he was part of The New Era faction and a Tag Team Champion in Georgia Premier Wrestling with eventual AEW locker room brethren, Alan Angels.

Though his signing wasn’t confirmed until February 2021, “Big Shotty” debuted with AEW ten months prior, coming into the company as an enhancement talent when a chunk of the regular roster was unable to travel. At the recommendation of Cody Rhodes, Johnson worked regularly for AEW on both Dynamite and Dark, being squashed by MJF, Brian Cage, and Eddie Kingston, amongst others.

The confirmation of Lee’s arrival in AEW came one week after his inaugural victory in the promotion, as he and Cody defeated Peter Avalon and Cezar Bononi of The Wingmen. He’s since gone on to defeat Dante Martin, Matt Sydal, and Daniel Garcia, while also acting as a challenger to the TNT Championship whilst it was held by Miro.

Paul Wight

Paul Wight

Unquestionably one of AEW’s most left-field signings thus far has been that of Paul Wight.

As The Big Show, the seven-footer was viewed, rightfully so, as a WWE lifer. He’d been with the promotion since 1999, bar a spell from 2007-2008 where he was a legitimate free agent and competing in Memphis, so it’s understandable as to why Wight going elsewhere was unfathomable. A multi-time World Champion, “The World’s Largest Athlete” also enjoyed numerous reigns as a Tag Team Champion with various partners, and one reign apiece as both the United States and Intercontinental Champion.

Having turned between babyface and heel what felt like every other month, the integrity of his character had become somewhat diminished, but regardless, it seemed that Paul would be concluding his career in WWE until AEW tweeted on 24 February what nobody thought was previously possible.

Officially debuting on the following week’s Dynamite episode (The Crossroads special), Paul has since served as a regular commentator for AEW Dark: Elevation on Monday nights, and also had his in-ring debut against QT Marshall at the All Out pay-per-view in September. Two handicap matches have followed, both in Wight’s favour, and it’s currently unlikely he’ll ever return to being a prominent in-ring name.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet

Red Velvet was at the forefront of mainstream wrestling for a few weeks earlier this year, substituting for a pregnant Brandi Rhodes in Cody Rhodes’ feud with Jade Cargill and Shaquille O’Neal in a match they’d ultimately lose.

Velvet had debuted in 2016 and was still a tad green around the edges when she first came into AEW, but she’d worked hard to reach that spot. Her progression across AEW programming exemplified this, ultimately resulting in her first AEW victory over Elayna Black on an October 2020 Dark episode. From there, she was effectively taken under the wing of AEW’s Chief Brand Officer as an official member of The Nightmare Family.

Receiving the formal All Elite graphic on Twitter a few weeks after her aforementioned outing vs. Jade and Shaq, Red Velvet has since challenged Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D for the AEW Women’s World Championship – doing so in the main event of the inaugural broadcast of Rampage – and is currently a quarterfinalist in the ongoing TBS Championship tournament, where, funnily enough, she’ll meet Jade Cargill to determine who advances to the final four.

Shawn Dean

AEW Signing Shawn Dean

Signing just two days prior to the second Revolution pay-per-view, Shawn Dean comes with a legitimate military background, having been a US Navy Officer before arriving in the Tony Khan-helmed organisation. The Chicagoan only debuted in 2017, receiving bookings from World Wrestling Network-affiliated promotions, Style Battle and EVOLVE. A regular in Tyrone, Georgia-based ACTION Wrestling, “The Captain” holds victories over some prominent names, including Alex Zayne and Alan Angels.

Dean would first debut for AEW almost as soon as their empty arena shows began, jobbing to Shawn Spears on the 31 March 2020 edition of Dark. He’d go on to act as card fodder for Sammy Guevara, Kip Sabian, MJF, and The Dark Order, to name but a few, with his first win not coming until a 9 August broadcast of Dark: Elevation. He defeated Peter Avalon there.

Traditionally found alongside Carlie Bravo as The Infantry, Shawn Dean also works backstage as an extras coordinator for AEW, as revealed by Fightful Select. This role sees him liaise between AEW higher-ups and unsigned talent, such as those who cheered at ringside during the aforementioned empty arena era.

Ethan Page

Ethan Page thumb

Ethan Page officially became a free agent on 1 January after his contract with IMPACT Wrestling expired, though his farewell “match” against The Karate Man – his alter-ego – didn’t air until the Hard To Kill pay-per-view on 16 January. It had been taped during IMPACT’s November 2020 television tapings, with Page, having not seen a final cut of the cinematic affair, feeling disrespected by how IMPACT treated him with the match. He posted as such in the Major Wrestling Figure Patreon-exclusive Facebook group the day after the pay-per-view:

“I’m going to take a full blown break from social media. I’ll be staying active on my personal Patreon as much as I can & probably in this group too cuz I love the fig life & u guys. Xoxox. But man …. last night sucked. I’m so embarrassed with how IMPACT! lazily edited that segment last night & forced it to be a joke. I felt the thought of the same guys fighting eachother was comedy enough & the more serious we took it the better the reaction would be.

But cuz I left the company, they lied to my face & just did what they wanted the whole time. I’m sorry if any of my fans paid for that PPV & felt cheated. I honestly feel the free version I gave away was made with more love, care & attention to detail.”

“All Ego” ultimately decided on All Elite Wrestling as his next landing place, debuting for them at the Revolution pay-per-view on 7 March as the surprise entrant for the Face Of The Revolution ladder match. Scorpio Sky won that match, with Page and Sky going on to form an alliance as The Men Of The Year soon after. Together, the duo has defeated Matt and Mike Sydal, and Chris Jericho and Jake Hager of The Inner Circle, while Page, in singles action, also contested AEW’s inaugural coffin match vs. Darby Allin.

As of late, they’ve also been backed by Dan Lambert and the members of American Top Team in their war against the Jericho-led Inner Circle, culminating in Lambert, Junior Dos Santos, and Andrei Arlovski aiding Page and Sky in their Minneapolis Street Fight at Full Gear against the entirety of Jericho’s squad.

Arriving in AEW was a no brainer for the former two-time IMPACT World Tag Team Champion, as Page detailed in a recent chat with Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp:

“Not long after, honestly. Things, really, were signed, sealed, and delivered at the beginning of the year, so essentially right when my deal [with] IMPACT was done. It’s just they [IMPACT Wrestling] had filmed so much that it bled over until January. So I knew I was going to end up there [AEW], I just was waiting for the VISA to process and all that stuff.”

Christian Cage

Christian Cage

Christian Cage seemed done with an in-ring career by the time All Elite Wrestling opened up shop in 2019. His return to active competition as a surprise participant in the Royal Rumble match was merely a one-off between Cage and WWE, that coming as his first official match in six-and-a-half years, bar an advertised unsanctioned match vs. Randy Orton last June that never really got started.

That seems almost intangible now, given the accolades “The Instant Classic” has achieved since resuming a full-time, in-ring career with All Elite Wrestling. He, like Ethan Page, came into the AEW fold during Revolution, touted by Paul Wight on the pre-Revolution Dynamite episode as a major Hall Of Fame-worthy signing. The former Big Show was certainly right with his description, but this is an aspect of Cage’s debut that Christian himself knew nothing about, as detailed on Renee Paquette’s Oral Sessions podcast:

“I didn’t know [they were going to announce the signing], as far as I knew at that point in time it was going to be a complete secret. I would just show up and be a surprise. I didn’t realise there was going to be anything and honestly, this is 100%, on Wednesday [the night of Paul Wight’s announcement] there was nothing signed. It was a shock to me when I heard it but obviously, I think Tony and I hit it off pretty quick and we felt comfortable enough that we were definitely going to get something done and work together.”

At 47-years-old, “Captain Charisma” has produced some stellar encounters with the likes of Frankie Kazarian, Matt Hardy, and Kenny Omega, the latter of whom he pinned to capture the IMPACT World Championship during Rampage’s debut episode. That, in turn, led to him returning to the IMPACT Zone for a brief spell, having further classics with Brian Myers, Ace Austin, and Josh Alexander, the man to topple him for the strap at October’s Bound For Glory pay-per-view.

Leyla Hirsch

Leyla Hirsch

The addition of “Legit” Leyla Hirsch to the AEW women’s division made it just that; legitimate. She’s got a genuine background in amateur wrestling, having partaken in the sport in high school, and so she used this style to make herself stand out on the pro level, too.

A Moscow-born, American-raised wrestler, Hirsch’s in-ring style traditionally transcends the technical style, utilising a tight armbar as her go-to finish. Prior to her days in AEW, Hirsch honed her craft on the American independent scene, while also plying her trade in the acclaimed Japanese promotion, World Wonder Ring Stardom, where she was a member of the Tokyo Cyber Squad unit.

It’s in AEW where Leyla has truly risen to such a high pedestal, though. She debuted vs. the then-AEW Women’s World Champion Hikaru Shida, albeit in an unsuccessful non-title outing, but the fact remains. That her second encounter then saw her challenge for Serena Deeb’s NWA World Women’s Championship is exemplary of AEW’s belief in her as a long-tenured talent. “Legit” Leyla has since enjoyed victories over the likes of The Bunny and Diamante, while also representing AEW on the National Wrestling Alliance’s Empowerrr pay-per-view. There, she again contested the NWA World Women’s Championship, challenging new champion, Kamille.

Mark Henry

Mark Henry

Mark Henry’s arrival in AEW was the epitome of a surprise in professional wrestling. Again considered a WWE talent for life, “The World’s Strongest Man” was casually introduced by Tony Schiavone as an analyst for Rampage towards the end of Double Or Nothing in May. There was no entrance music, no video wall, nothing; Henry walked out to cheers and that was that, though he was sporting a fetching blue blazer, at least.

Henry only lasted a month on the headset for Rampage, joined by Excalibur, Taz, and a rotating cast of Schiavone, Jim Ross, and Chris Jericho, before seemingly being permanently replaced by Ricky Starks. The WWE Hall Of Famer now acts as a pre-match interviewer on the broadcast, though why, exactly, AEW made this decision is yet to be formally confirmed.

Starks, the reigning FTW World Champion, commented on the matter during an episode of the WrestleTalk Podcast:

“I am definitely proud of AEW, the work that I’ve done in AEW, and the work that I continue to do. And the fact that I think so much that they appreciate me that they made me a permanent commentator for Rampage, replacing Mark (Henry). So, I love that fact, I love the fact that the work that I’ve done with Sting, Darby (Allin), and all of these things in such a small timeframe, will last on forever.

I want more though. I really do, I really want to push myself more and really explore the depths of my talent and get out of my comfort zone a bit.”

Andrade El Idolo

Andrade El Idolo

In WWE, Andrade was a curious case. He officially debuted at NXT TakeOver: The End in June 2016, and went on to have a prolonged spell in the midcard from then onwards. Once paired with Zelina Vega, though, the former La Sombra’s fortunes changed dramatically, culminating in him, eventually, dethroning Drew McIntyre of the NXT Championship in November 2017. This NXT run was of legendary status, as Andrade and Johnny Gargano would become WWE’s first Dave Meltzer-rated five-star match since John Cena vs. CM Punk at Money In The Bank 2011.

Why, then, did Andrade fail so miserably on WWE’s main roster? He looked like a lost dog at times, though it wasn’t technically his fault. Vince McMahon and co. had no idea how to utilise a man of Andrade’s talents, hence why he was granted his release in spring 2021. A forgettable reign as United States Champion and epic series against Rey Mysterio, who he defeated for the title on a Madison Square Garden live event, were his only proper highlights.

Upon signing with AEW, though, the slightly-rebranded Andrade El Idolo was a new man. He wrestled a similar style to that of his La Sombra days, enjoyed wins over Matt Sydal, PAC, and Cody Rhodes, and gained Vickie, and then Chavo Guerrero as managers for equally brief spells.

Andrade has also debuted for Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, AEW’s partner promotion in Mexico, as he challenged Kenny Omega for the AAA Mega Championship in unsuccessful fashion. He was, however, accompanied by Ric Flair – his future father-in-law – in a surprise turn of events, creating one of the weirdest professional wrestling headlines from 2021 in ‘Ric Flair Debuts For AAA’.

Malakai Black

Malakai Black

It was hilarious, really, that a clerical error led to the now-former Aleister Black being free of the traditional ninety-day non-compete clause for a released main roster talent. His status on WWE’s internal database still had him down as being on an NXT contract, thus freeing him up after just thirty days.

The former Tommy End, like Andrade El Idolo, did superbly in NXT, being the man to dethrone Andrade of the NXT Championship, but on the main roster? His luck wasn’t quite the same. A couple of solid matches with Cesaro and Buddy Murphy should have done wonders for “The Dutch Destroyer”, until he was chucked off the roof of WWE Headquarters at Money In The Bank 2020. He lost an eye, too, a storyline he has since carried over to AEW in a seamless display of attention to character detail.

He, surprisingly, debuted on the 7 July AEW Dynamite broadcast with his WWE surname intact instead of reverting to the Tommy End moniker, highlighting the company’s return to touring after over a year at Daily’s Place. He laid out Cody Rhodes and Arn Anderson in his debut, later annihilating Cody in his inaugural match just a month later. Lee Johnson, Dustin Rhodes, and Brock Anderson, as members of Cody’s Nightmare Family affiliation, also felt the brunt of Black’s array of deadly strikes.

Together with Brody King as The Knights Of The Black Throne, Malakai is also enjoying his first reign as the World Tag Team Champions of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.

The Varsity Blonds

Varsity Blonds

Note, this entry doesn’t include Julia Hart, who, despite appearing with the Blonds since May, hasn’t been formally confirmed as having signed a contract with All Elite Wrestling.

Why there was over a year between The Varsity Blonds’ first respective in-ring appearances on AEW programming and their official signing is anyone’s guess. Both Griff Garrison and Brian Pillman Jr. are still relative newcomers to the sport, debuting in 2016 and 2017, respectively, yet their body of work told a different story. They wrestled as if they belonged on a televised wrestling product.

As the son of “The Loose Cannon”, the success rate for Pillman Jr. was high, as he challenged for IMPACT Wrestling and Combat Zone Wrestling championships very early in his career, but for Garrison, it was a different route. He gradually advanced from small indie shows to reach Daily’s Place, though he did wrestle a couple of matches for Ring Of Honor that involved challenging The Briscoes for the ROH World Tag Team Championships.

Together, Brian and Griff clicked. They initially worked as fodder for FTR, Private Party, and Proud’n’Powerful early on, but as time progressed, AEW management gained more trust in them to gel in bigger situations. By the start of 2021, they were sharing an AEW ring with The Dark Order, Chris Jericho, and MJF, proving how far they’d risen in their short time with the company.

Their unsuccessful challenge for The Young Bucks’ AEW World Tag Team Championships in May is a testament to both their work ethic in AEW and the booking mentality of Tony Khan. If you perform well, you’ll be an appreciated member of the team.

Thunder Rosa

Thunder Rosa Mex American Flag

Though Thunder Rosa had originally debuted for AEW in August 2020, she was still signed to the National Wrestling Alliance at the time, where she would remain legally signed for the following eleven months. Owing to the NWA’s lack of live shows, Rosa would wrestle just six more matches for the promotion before signing on with AEW full-time mere days after her IMPACT Wrestling debut at Slammiversary. Her final match under Billy Corgan’s banner came as a loss with Skye Blue on the 6 July Powerrr episode; they were defeated by Serena Deeb and Kylie Rae.

Rosa found instant success in All Elite Wrestling, defeating Serena Deeb in both ladies’ debut outing in a critically-acclaimed bout. From there, the former NWA World Women’s Champion has faced everyone, from the trio of former AEW Women’s World Champions – Hikaru Shida, Nyla Rose, and Riho – to her famed rival, Britt Baker. Their Lights Out match from March’s St. Patrick’s Day Slam Dynamite special has been praised for breaking down barriers with regards to women’s wrestlers partaking in deathmatches.

It’s apt, really, that Rosa was involved in such a match, as she’s since recognised Alundra Blayze, another name associated with the progression of women in professional wrestling, as one of her three biggest mentors (the other two being Trevor Murdoch and AEW’s Dustin Rhodes). She stated as such during an AdFreeShows question-and-answer session, answering the query of Inside The Ropes’ Liam Alexander-Stewart:

“For me right now, like, mentors that I have are mostly like males. Definitely like Dustin [Rhodes] has been one of them. Trevor Murdoch has been another one. Madusa has reached out multiple times just to make sure that I’m doing all right, especially in difficult times or when I’m like my career choices, my career growing up, like she always has that talk to keep me on my on my feet grounded.”

Currently, Thunder Rosa is a quarterfinalist in the ongoing TBS Championship tournament, where she’s scheduled to meet Jamie Hayter. She teamed with Hikaru Shida to defeat Hayter and Nyla Rose – Shida’s quarterfinals opponent on this past Wednesday’s Dynamite – during the Buy-In to Full Gear.

2point0

2Point0

Released by WWE on 25 June, it took 2point0 just a matter of weeks to find a job once more; their All Elite graphic was revealed on 19 August, two weeks on from their debut in the company. They can’t look back on their decision to sign, either, as they’ve revitalised their careers in doing so.

Having been renowned for their superlative in-ring work and glowing charismatic personalities on the independent scene as 3.0, Matt Lee and Jeff Parker were perhaps most recognisable for their work in CHIKARA, where they reigned as the Campeonatos de Parejas – their take on the more-traditional Tag Team Championships – twice. Signing with WWE in early 2019 as Ever-Rise, the duo failed to make it past the NXT and 205 Live portions of their careers, though it’s unlikely WWE would have done much with either man on Raw and/or SmackDown.

Their release was, unfortunately, inevitable. It’s in AEW where they’ve found success once more, forming a neat trio with Daniel Garcia, and sharing the ring with Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, Darby Allin, and Sting. Their Texas Tornado match vs. Allin and Sting aired the night before their signing was made official, though they’ve largely been constrained to both Dark and Dark: Elevation since.

Fuego Del Sol

Fuego Del Sol

Fuego Del Sol had originally come into AEW to put over the stars. He debuted on Dark’s 9 June 2020 episode in a losing effort to Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian, and would then go on to play the role of jobber to Ricky Starks, Sammy Guevara, Brandon Cutler, and everyone in between. It wasn’t until this past July that he ultimately won his first AEW match, as he and Marko Stunt won over Baron Black and Ryzin.

Del Sol had been a five-year veteran before debuting with AEW, though, primarily competing across the south-central United States independent scene. He had a 196-day run as Imperial Wrestling Revolution’s Revolutionary Champion, but he was very much a mystery across the wider professional wrestling spectrum. You had to be a diehard indie fan to actually know the man in the mask.

What sets Fuego apart in this feature, though, is that his official signing was worked into a storyline. He challenged Miro for the TNT Championship on the first Rampage episode, wherein he’d earn an AEW contract if he won. Fuego lost, naturally, but, Tony Khan being Tony Khan, had Sammy Guevara – a real-life friend of Fuego’s – offer him a contract post-match anyway. A self-proclaimed master of the Tornado DDT, Fuego’s circumstances haven’t changed too much in the aftermath; he’s lost to Matt Hardy, Ethan Page, and Tony Nese since.

Jamie Hayter

Jamie Hayter

Though she only signed following the debut edition of Rampage on 13 August, Jamie Hayter had actually appeared in the early days of All Elite Wrestling. The Southampton-born grappler debuted on the 23 October 2019 broadcast of Dynamite, losing to, ironically enough, her now-ally Britt Baker. A tag team win over Riho and Shanna followed a few months thereafter, but then, there was nothing more of Hayter in AEW.

It’s important to note that Jamie was also touring with Japan’s Stardom promotion around this time, where she would make it to the finals of that year’s Goddesses of Stardom Tag League with AEW alum, Bea Priestley, though she’d later capture both the Goddesses of Stardom Championships with Priestley, and the SWA Undisputed World Women’s Championship.

Her rearrival in AEW was met with shock, more than anything. It had been rumoured that both she and fellow British standout Skye Smitson were bound for NXT UK. Hayter had vacated Revolution Pro Wrestling’s Undisputed British Women’s Championship in lieu of their tryout being confirmed mere weeks before Rampage premiered on TNT.

What, exactly, went down at the tryout remains unknown, but regardless, Hayter is now aligned with Britt Baker and Rebel, having aided the former in beating down Red Velvet and Kris Statlander to close the first Rampage broadcast. Recently, she pinned Anny Jay of The Dark Order in a TBS Championship tournament opening-round contest.

CM Punk

CM Punk

The world of professional wrestling stopped rotating when CM Punk debuted for All Elite Wrestling.

It was always going to occur from the moment that Fightful Select post dropped, but the fact Tony Khan actually made it happen brought hope to pro wrestling. If Punk’s come back, what else is there left for Khan to achieve as a promoter?

Having effectively retired from professional wrestling following the 2014 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, after which he walked out of WWE, “The Best In The World” left behind him a world-class list of accolades. A multi-time World Champion, Punk also won the 2008 and 2009 WWE Money In The Bank ladder matches, was ranked number one in 2012’s PWI 500, and won numerous awards from respected media outlets for Wrestler, Match, Feud, and Best On Interviews of the Year. He was truly what his nickname entails; the best in the world.

Debuting for AEW on Rampage’s The First Dance special, aptly held in a sold-out United Center in Chicago, CM Punk broke the Internet. His return, though highly anticipated in the weeks building to the 20 August event, still didn’t feel real as it was happening. The now-famous crying fan exemplified what Punk’s return to the squared circle meant.

Punk has since wrestled a series of enticing encounters with Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston, Daniel Garcia, and Bobby Fish, among others. He’ll remain the biggest coup for All Elite Wrestling for some time that can only be broken by the arrival of a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or a Dwayne Johnson.

Ruby Soho

Ruby Soho Wins Womens Casino Battle Royale

All Out 2021 quickly became recognised as AEW’s most-bought pay-per-view, garnering a reported 205,000 total buys. This was justified by promoting CM Punk’s first pro wrestling match since January 2014, the remainder of a truly stacked card that included a Steel Cage match between The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros, and the possibility of numerous ex-WWE Superstars – specifically, Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson – turning up in AEW, too.

Ruby Soho came before them, though, entering as the Joker in the second women’s Casino Battle Royale. Her entry in the match wasn’t much of a surprise, given she was the only real choice for the role, but regardless, she received a grandiose ovation. Last eliminating Thunder Rosa to win the match, Soho had a brilliant maiden voyage in AEW.

In WWE as Ruby Riott, she had a few highlights, her biggest being a Raw Women’s Championship challenge against Ronda Rousey in February 2019, though she lost this in under two minutes. She led The Riott Squad trio of herself, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan, though they mainly wandered about the main roster, failing to reach much success. When she was released on 2 June, the Squad was effectively disbanded for good, ending Ruby’s mundane time in WWE.

In speaking to Inside The Ropes’ Kenny McIntosh, the former Heidi Lovelace detailed her initial feelings with regards to working in AEW:

“Honestly, it was probably the moment… I’ve always had a good feeling, a lot of my friends have worked in AEW and they’ve always said wonderful things about it. To be honest, I’m just waiting for something to [go wrong], because it’s just too good to be true at this point. This place, it’s so rad, and it’s just so much fun.

I love coming to work and everything like that. But they have always had such good things to say about it, I’ve always been a fan of the product. But the moment where it was like, for sure, this is meant to be, was at All Out.

When I debuted and came out to the amazing reception in Chicago, there was not a doubt after that. It was like this is where I am meant to be, this is home for sure.”

Ruby Soho has since been positioned as one of AEW’s top stars, having defeated Jamie Hayter, The Bunny, and Penelope Ford thus far, as well as challenging Britt Baker for the Women’s World Championship during AEW’s Grand Slam Dynamite broadcast. The match was just the second women’s encounter to main event a “canon” AEW event (i.e. not a Dark nor Dark: Elevation episode).

Without a doubt, Ruby’s entrance music – also titled Ruby Soho by the band Rancid – is one of the catchiest in wrestling today. During the aforementioned interview with Kenny, Ruby detailed how she earned the rights to use the music on AEW programming:

“He [Lars Frederiksen] said, “Just go by Ruby Soho.” I’m like, “I didn’t know that it was an option.” Then he says, “Yeah, let me get on the phone with the band and see if we can make it happen and we will see if we can get you the rights to the song.” I’m there melting, being like, “Oh, my God, what?” So he just bestowed this amazing gift to me of allowing me to utilise this, and I told him afterwards people are going to respond, whether they like me or not, because they like the song. So I was like, “Thank you for allowing me to ride your coattails of coolness for the time being.” But it’s been surreal and it’s been awesome.”

Adam Cole

Adam Cole

The second of All Out’s trifecta of debuts saw Adam Cole surface in WWE, just weeks after what turned out to be his final NXT appearance vs. Kyle O’Reilly at TakeOver 36. His contract status was a tricky situation to follow at times, but ultimately, he did indeed depart following his loss to “Kool Kyle” in their Undisputed Finale bout.

He’d had tremendous success in WWE prior to this. Debuting as the leader of The Undisputed Era in August 2017 with Bobby Fish and O’Reilly, Adam Cole held both the NXT and NXT North American Championships, while also substituting for an injured Fish as NXT Tag Team Champion, too. As the NXT Champion, though, Cole rose to become one of NXT’s top acts, holding the strap for a record 396-days before being usurped by Keith Lee.

An indie darling before his days in WWE, Cole was never destined for the main roster, aside from a handful of appearances during NXT’s invasion in November 2019 ahead of Survivor Series. Superlative contests with both Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins followed, but WWE’s plans for him post-NXT justified his departure.

Given his previous affiliation with AEW higher-ups through their time in The Bullet Club, All Elite Wrestling was always going to be the destination for Adam Cole to arrive in. He did so following Kenny Omega and Christian Cage’s World Championship main event, joining The Elite for an in-ring celebration after receiving the lights out treatment.

Moving forward, he’s expected to take a bigger role on AEW programming while Kenny Omega rests his shoulder injury following his Full Gear loss to Adam Page. What, exactly, this entails regarding the overall arc of The Elite will be intriguing to see.

Bryan Danielson

Bryan Danielson

He didn’t enter to The Final Countdown, but it didn’t matter. Bryan Danielson, “The American Dragon”, was back outside of WWE for the first time – properly – in over a decade. It was a magical feeling that few couldn’t have anticipated at the onset of 2021.

Having become of the top stars in WWE, the former Daniel Bryan left behind a trail of accolades that can’t be matched. He’d achieved virtually everything in WWE, making his departure feel more well-timed than any. In the first four months of 2021 alone, Bryan was victorious in the annual Elimination Chamber match, main evented WrestleMania for the second time, challenged for Roman Reigns’ Universal Championship on numerous occasions, produced captivating in-ring sequences with Jey Uso and Cesaro to name two, and left when his contract expired, rather than requesting an early release.

He was a bonafide WWE Hall Of Fame inductee through this body of work alone, but, in actuality, this was only the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to Danielson’s immaculate WWE tenure.

When he sauntered onto the All Out stage at the conclusion of the 5 September pay-per-view, All Elite Wrestling felt like it had achieved what it set out to do. It was a gathering of the world’s greatest professional wrestlers, putting on a superb professional wrestling event week in and week out. Signing Bryan Danielson cemented this more than anything.

His AEW CV thus far is an incredible thing to look at. Bryan’s debut match, vs. Kenny Omega, earned five stars from Dave Meltzer, with their epic thirty-minute draw being a thing of legendary status. Further bangers with Minoru Suzuki, Nick Jackson, and Eddie Kingston would follow, setting him perfectly on track to be Adam Page’s impending World Championship challenger.

Lee Moriarty

Lee Moriarty

Perhaps an unfamiliar face to many, Lee Moriarty was offered an AEW contract onstage by Tony Khan following a match with Daniel Garcia during some tapings for Dark: Elevation. The match was Lee’s third under the AEW banner, having previously lost to Dante Martin and Joey Janela, too. It’s a mystery as to why he signed his contract on 8 September, but his All Elite graphic on Twitter wasn’t released until 16 October. It seemed odd, but nonetheless, Moriarty is officially All Elite for the foreseeable future.

He’d previously been touted as a top prospect in pro wrestling, with his track record bringing him to nearly every credible American independent promotion. Moriarty debuted for Major League Wrestling as part of their Opera Cup lineup, while having also wrestled a highly-acclaimed match vs. Jonathan Gresham for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.

During a chat with Inside The Ropes’ Liam Alexander-Stewart, Daniel Garcia would class Lee Moriarty as the leader of this generation of independent talent:

“Yeah, excluding myself, obviously. I believe that the person that really leading this charge and leading this package, Moriarty when I see Lee Moriarty, I wrestled him several times. He’s like my greatest rival on the independent circuit right now. He’s somebody whenever I’m standing in the ring and I see him come out to face me, I’m almost in awe of the way he just puts everything together. It’s not just about his execution of moves, which is obviously great. It’s everything about him. It’s the total package is the entrance theme. It’s the mask. It’s the little poses he does its the cadence. It’s the things he says in his matches. To me, that’s what makes a great professional wrestler and he is able to put everything together extremely well and extremely unique. And I’ve never seen a wrestler like Lee Moriarty in my life ever. I can truly say that I’ve never seen another wrestler like Lee Moriarty. And I believe that he is the person who, besides me, is leading the pack of the next generation of wrestlers.”

Lio Rush

Lio Rush entering AEW arena

Lio Rush seemed to be All Elite, then he wasn’t, and now he is.

After initially being the Joker during the Casino Battle Royale at Double Or Nothing, Lio Rush was reportedly on his way to AEW full-time before announcing his retirement in a lengthy statement posted to his Instagram account:

Owing to fulfilling his obligations to New Japan Pro Wrestling, “The Man Of The Hour” wasn’t really retired at all, appearing all throughout the summer before, finally, resurfacing on AEW programming on the 29 September broadcast of Dynamite in a pre-taped promo. There, Rush stated that Tony Khan had been calling him nonstop before he finally signed a deal with AEW.

Lio, a former NXT Cruiserweight Champion, was released by WWE as part of the infamous Black Wednesday series of cuts, returning to Game Changer Wrestling just two months later. He’d been a mainstay on 205 Live and NXT prior to this, though, having also previously been the manager of Bobby Lashley on Raw, a partnership that was shockingly far better than it had any right to be.

Now officially All Elite, Lio Rush has formed a bond with Dante Martin, with the duo having so far defeated the duo of Matt Sydal and Lee Moriarty, and The Acclaimed. How long, exactly, this pairing will last remains to be seen, given Dante is a wanted man by Team Taz, too.

Bobby Fish

Bobby Fish

So far, Bobby Fish just feels like another guy in AEW. His signing was formally confirmed not long after he challenged Sammy Guevara for the TNT Championship at the start of October, just over two months to the day from when he was let go from WWE.

During his time in WWE, Fish was a stalwart of NXT within The Undisputed Era, holding the NXT Tag Team Championships twice as they dominated the division, while also being acknowledged as the 2019 and 2020 Tag Team of the Year in the black-and-gold brand’s year-end awards. Again, he was more suited to the NXT style rather than the main roster, hence why he was solely in NXT, bar one or two Survivor Series-related main roster pursuits.

When it was confirmed that he’d be challenging “The Spanish God” for the TNT Championship, it was a legitimate shock. He’d tweeted following Guevara’s title victory over Miro the week prior to his debut, congratulating the Inner Circle man on his win. Fish was destined to fail in his quest vs. Sammy, but he’s now aligned with The Elite, having joined the faction on the pre-Full Gear broadcast of Dynamite.

Now once again aligned with Adam Cole, Bobby Fish is in a position to rule the wrestling world once more. That Kyle O’Reilly, Fish’s main partner in the UE, also has an expiring NXT contract approaching is intriguing news; should he depart NXT, AEW is his likely destination, with an original Undisputed Era reunion too hot for Tony Khan to pass on.

Daniel Garcia

Daniel Garcia

In a similar vein to Lee Moriarty, Daniel Garcia was viewed externally as a pillar for independent professional wrestling. It’s difficult to argue that statement, as, at just 23-years-old, “Red Death” has shared the ring with a who’s who of top independent names, from Jake Something to Christian Casanova to JD Drake.

Garcia first came to AEW in September 2020, teaming with Kevin Blackwood, though his appearances became more frequent from August 2021 onwards. He and 2point0, who’ve remained a trio ever since, wrestled Jon Moxley, Darby Allin, and Eddie Kingston on the Homecoming edition of Dynamite. From there, the reigning – for nearly 900-days – Empire State Wrestling Heavyweight Champion would contest a hoot of a match with CM Punk on the 8 October Rampage.

In speaking to Liam Alexander-Stewart in an aforementioned chat, Garcia laid out his plans for the immediate future, continuing down his path to become the greatest professional wrestler in the world:

“In 2021, in the future. I don’t like to set extremely specific goals for myself, like, oh, I’m going to sign here and win this title fight. My goal is more general and this has been my goal since I became a professional wrestler. You could ask people at Grapplers Anonymous where I started training two minutes from my house, my first day of training. I said, I want to be the best wrestler in the world. And that is always going to be my number one goal. And I’m going to keep wrestling until I reach that goal.”

Jay Lethal

Jay Lethal entrance

Having only debuted at Full Gear, Jay Lethal is AEW’s newest signing, with his appearance coming off the back of Ring Of Honor – Lethal’s home for nearly the past decade – going on hiatus, releasing everyone from their contracts by the year’s end.

A former ROH World and World Television Champion, Lethal would be introduced by Tony Schiavone towards the end of the pay-per-view, setting up an immediate championship showdown against TNT Champion, Sammy Guevara. That match went down on the post-Full Gear Dynamie, with Lethal being downed by The Inner Circle’s daredevil.

During the post-show media scrum following Full Gear, Jay Lethal would be on hand for questions, where he explained his departure from Ring Of Honor:

“The easy answer is I’m a professional wrestler, and this is the fastest rising, hottest promotion in the frickin’ world, so it was no contest. It was a very easy decision for any professional wrestler, in my opinion. This place is amazing. AEW is on fire and I’m so happy to be here, and I’m more excited that they are willing to have me, that’s even more exciting in my head.”

AEW Dynamite airs every Wednesday Night and AEW Rampage airs every Friday night via AEW Plus on Fite TV.