Since launching, officially, in January 2019, All Elite Wrestling has amassed an impeccable roster that just five years ago, would have been unfathomable. In doing so, they have launched an online rivalry between diehard fans of both AEW and WWE, becoming the first promotion to provide true competition to Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment giant since the height of the Monday Night Wars.
In 2022, the Tony Khan-helmed promotion has already picked up where 2021 left off, signing a multitude of world-class talents to its roster, but one criticism that has plagued them continuously is that they sign too many wrestlers far too quickly. In the first two months of the year alone, they signed seven wrestlers, all of whom would go on to receive vastly different booking directions.
For this feature, we’ll only be looking at those who’ve officially signed contracts with All Elite Wrestling, as confirmed by both the company and/or Tony Khan himself through the usual ‘Welcome to the team…’ tweet. The likes of Jay White, who stepped through the Forbidden Door from New Japan Pro-Wrestling, won’t be listed, unless “The Switchblade” ultimately jumps ship, contract-wise.
Neither will talents who, although may appear frequently on AEW programming, have yet to receive that graphic, such as former IMPACT Wrestling star Rohit Raju and ex-WWE Superstar, Erick Redbeard.
So, who has been signed by AEW this year?
Jake Atlas’ arrival in All Elite Wrestling was rather surprising, given that he had seemingly hung up his boots for good in September 2021. Following his WWE release in August, Atlas wrestled just twice on the independent circuit, defeating EFFY as part of the titular star’s Big Gay Brunch event over All Out weekend, before losing to Taylor Rust at Ring Of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor event.
That match appeared to end abruptly, with initial fan speculation being that Atlas had suffered a concussion. Posting to social media following the event, though, the El Monte, California native confirmed that he wasn’t injured, but would instead be stepping away from the world of professional wrestling:
“I’m not concussed or ‘banged up’. I simply just can’t keep going anymore. Take your mental health seriously, both for yourselves & for each other, because we only have one life to live. Thank you to anyone who did support me for 5 years. I didn’t do much, but what I did was fun.
I’m stepping away from wrestling completely right now so please don’t ask me to do interviews/appearances. I’d like my privacy to be respected. At 26 years old, I’ve got my entire life ahead of me & I’m choosing to explore completely different industries to find my passion again.
Unfortunately, it was unhealthy for me the entire time. I just learned how to hide it really well. I hope that friends & fans I’ve made alike continue to support me no matter what.
I have major anxiety just having done that, please be sensitive. Thank you.”
Since departing Vince McMahon’s empire, Jake Atlas has been rather complimentary towards the company, going so far as to say they had saved his life. The real-life Kenny Marquez spent just under two years under WWE’s employment, though he had been working with them for a while before signing as a wrestler in an ambassador role.
Jake’s AEW career got off to a hot start, defeating Chaos Project’s Serpentico in relatively quick fashion on the first Dark: Elevation broadcast of the year, with AEW CEO Tony Khan meeting Atlas onstage post-match, offering him an AEW contract in the process. He’s wrestled just once since, losing a nine-minute affair to Adam Cole on that Friday’s Rampage.
Unfortunately, the ex-WWE Superstar was reported to have suffered a knee injury in the bout, with PWInsider’s Mike Johnson initially reporting that he blew out his knee during the contest, and was spotted on crutches post-match. In an update posted one month later, Atlas confirmed that he suffered a torn ACL in the match, putting him on the shelf for several months.
The October-announced hiatus for Ring Of Honor brought with it the release of every contracted performer, which subsequently brought with it the possibility of numerous free agents being snapped up elsewhere. One of those who has found a new home in AEW is Brody King, with his All Elite Wrestling signed being formally confirmed almost a month to the day of Final Battle, the final live show for the old era of Ring Of Honor.
A former World Tag Team and World Six-Man Tag Team Champion in the former Sinclair-helmed promotion, Brody’s arrival in AEW had been teased through a series of ominous vignettes courtesy of Malakai Black, King’s PWG World Tag Team Championships-winning partner. These began on the special Winter Is Coming episode of Dynamite.
Reporting that same night, Bodyslam.net’s Cassidy Haynes reported exclusively that the 34-year-old Brody King had signed with All Elite Wrestling. The report stated that a plethora of sources were able to confirm the news, with official details surrounding King’s deal reportedly being made official almost as soon as the news broke of Ring Of Honor’s hiatus.
Brody finally debuted on the 12 January broadcast of Dynamite, uniting with Black as they laid waste to The Varsity Blonds’ Brian Pillman Jr. and Griff Garrison in a sickening display. They’ve since been joined in The House of Black by Malakai’s old WWE foe, Buddy Matthews – the former Buddy Murphy.
There are few characters in professional wrestling more wild and weird than Danhausen. The 31-year-old, whose persona is inspired by Conan O’Brien if he were possessed by a demon, has been one of the fastest-rising independent stars for the past few years, with his dedication towards his character gaining him a brief stint in Ring Of Honor.
His signing with AEW was clamoured for ever since news broke of Ring Of Honor’s hiatus, before Danhausen finally showed up on the special Beach Break episode of Dynamite on 26 January. Making a cameo appearance during Adam Cole and Orange Cassidy’s Lights Out match, the eight-year in-ring veteran was dragged out from under the ring while Cole was trying to find a steel chair. Needless to say, the Cleveland, Ohio faithful went ballistic for his shock arrival.
Although Danhausen is yet to wrestle an official match for the Tony Khan-helmed promotion due to being on the injured shelf, there is strong potential for his character to thrive in All Elite Wrestling, given how the company rarely restricts its roster from being too outlandish. Orange Cassidy is perhaps the prime example of this, with his nonchalance antics making him a firm favourite with the AEW audience.
A Danhausen and Cassidy alliance has already been teased by Tony Khan, who told Busted Open Radio that there will be more of the duo appearing together to look forward to. Danhausen has previously been seen alongside ‘Freshly Squeezed’ in Wheeler Yuta’s corner when Yuta battled Jon Moxley a few weeks ago on Dynamite.
Keith Lee’s arrival in All Elite Wrestling was hardly a surprise, given that rumours of him and AEW management holding extensive talks circulated at the same time as Tony Khan advertising a mystery opponent for Isiah Kassidy, but his debut was nonetheless received with tremendous adulation. Debuting on the 9 February Dynamite, ‘The Limitless One’ made short work of Kassidy, at one point tossing him high into the air in a delightfully GIFable visual.
Lee’s tenure with WWE, to put it lightly, was rocky towards the end. Despite finding mass success in NXT, where he at one point served as both the NXT and NXT North American Champion, his main roster run left him without any real character direction. Though he was given – hampered may be a better description – the moniker of Bearcat Lee by the end of his run, there was nothing saving him from being released on 4 November.
Speaking exclusively to Bleacher Report’s Chris Mueller, a rather humble Keith Lee explained the reasoning behind him joining AEW:
“I think that it was quite a simple decision. Not only for business’ sake, but there’s a lot of people there that I know. And I have a lot of friends and associates that I’m just comfortable with. But more important than any of that was that I had a couple of very laid-back, chill meetings with Tony [Khan].
We just kind of hung out and shot the breeze. I like him as a person and so to me, a relationship built that way kind of helps me trust a little better. And it helped me in that decision as well.”
Formerly known as Zayda Ramier in NXT, the Booker T-trained AQA debuted almost as an afterthought, seeing as she came in on the same night as Keith Lee. She had been announced to be answering Jade Cargill’s TBS Championship open challenge in the hours before Dynamite went on air, though she’d ultimately come up short against the undefeated champion. Her official signing was confirmed by Tony Khan two days after.
As Ramier, she wrestled just five matches under the WWE banner, with her most notable coming as she defeated Toni Storm in April 2021. It was there that, for a short while, she went viral on wrestling Twitter for her awe-inspiring Shooting Star Press execution. The agility and finesse shown by the Gilbertown, Alabama native in performing the manoeuvre left many bewildered, serving as a fine highlight for her short WWE career.
She’s been restricted almost exclusively to AEW’s YouTube programming ever since signing, perhaps indicating that Tony Khan offered her a contract solely because of this jaw-dropping move with no creative direction in mind for her.
The signing of sixteen-year-old Nick Wayne may have gone unnoticed to AEW’s casual viewers, given that there has been no formal confirmation made by AEW themselves on social media. Wayne’s signing came when he was offered a contract in-ring by Darby Allin following his loss to Christopher Daniels, AEW’s Head of Talent Relations, at DEFY Wrestling’s Year V event in the middle of February.
Having been wrestling since he was just twelve-years-old, Wayne is a third-generation star, with his father being Buddy Wayne and his grandfather Moondog Ed Moretti. Wayne has been making waves across the independent circuit for the past few years, primarily competing for Game Changer Wrestling, Violence X Suffering, and the aforementioned DEFY Wrestling, amongst others. He’s yet to actually wrestle for AEW, though he did post to his Twitter account a very simple caption upon being signed:
— Nick Wayne (@nickwayne21) February 13, 2022
Buddy Matthews, formerly known as Buddy Murphy in WWE, showed up in AEW on Dynamite’s 23 February broadcast, instantly joining The House of Black in a beatdown of Death Triangle’s PAC and Penta Oscuro, whom it appeared Matthews was initially there to help. A graphic confirming his signing was posted by Tony Khan shortly after his surprise appearance.
Known as ‘The Best Kept Secret’ during his time in WWE, the then-Buddy Murphy was a former Cruiserweight and NXT Tag Team Champion, while also serving as a face of the now-defunct 205 Live brand. His July 2018 No Disqualifications match vs. Mustafa Ali is regarded as one of WWE’s greatest matches of the past few years, but that is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Murphy’s time spent in WWE.
He’d ultimately be released by the company in June 2021, just under a month to the day before Malakai Black debuted with All Elite Wrestling. Black was released on the same day as Buddy, but rather humorously, ‘The Dutch Destroyer’ was able to return to in-ring competition before Murphy and the rest of their released group (Braun Strowman, Lana, Ruby Riott, and Santana Garrett) due to an error in his non-compete clause.
Buddy Matthews wouldn’t wrestle again until that September, and has since appeared for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Major League Wrestling, but as revealed by the Aussie to Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp, WWE believed that Aleister Black may not have been the only Superstar with the wrong non-compete clause:
“Oh, I’ll give it to you straight here: I actually received a phone call from the office, the day after I was released, saying that they received an email saying that they had messed up and that my contract was only 30 days non-compete and that if I wanted to prolong it to the 90 days, that they would do that for me.
I thought that was weird as I was a budget cut, but you’re still willing to pay me in over two months. But it wasn’t me. I received my letter which said August 31st. So August 31st is my date. But also when it comes to the visa situation, the more time I have, the better so I can get prepared. So even if they gave me an out, I have to take it for my life, to get ready.”
Though rumours of the former Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott entering the Face of the Revolution ladder match at AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view as a surprise seventh entrant ran through wrestling Twitter, Scott – now going as Swerve Strickland – instead made his All Elite Wrestling debut following the match, signing his contract on-stage next to Tony Schiavone.
Signed to WWE in April 2019, the former Shane Strickland would make his debut as part of the inaugural NXT Breakout Tournament, though he’d be ousted from the brackets in the opening round by Cameron Grimes. Despite this, the decade-plus veteran thrived in NXT, working his way up to challenge for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship by the following January, and the NXT North American Championship by the end of 2020.
As the North American Champion in the summer of 2021, Strickland’s Hit Row faction with Top Dolla, Ashante ‘Thee’ Adonis, and B-FAB proved a hit success – pun fully intended – in the former black-and-gold brand, with a brief callup to SmackDown rounding out the WWE careers of all four members.
The former EVOLVE Champion has since wrestled for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, PROGRESS Wrestling, and TERMINUS, but ultimately, signing a contract with All Elite Wrestling was the right call as he revealed on the Getting Over podcast (h/t Fightful):
“My cousin, Will Washington, who helped produce ‘Who We Are’ AEW album, he talks with Tony Khan frequently and does a lot of media scrums as well. He also does the Grapsody podcast with Righteous Reg and Phil Lindsey, shoutout to them. Tony Khan reached out to him because we’re family and was like, ‘what can we do about getting him here?’ That was the bug in the ear.
I was happy about interest being there really early on. I didn’t want to just show up there. I’m glad I had the 90 days. It gave me time to go out, travel, build a team, network, meet other people. I went to LA for 12 days and met so many people in the industry and outside the industry, in the music industry, fashion. I’m building a podcast team, a music team.”
Unquestionably one of the most shocking AEW signings of 2022 came in the form of William Regal, who showed up following Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley‘s encounter at the Revolution pay-per-view. WWE’s former Head of Global Recruitment had previously spent over two decades under employment with WWE, though he hasn’t wrestled since facing Cesaro on a Christmas Day broadcast of NXT in 2013.
Onscreen, Regal will serve as the manager for Danielson and Moxley, as was shown when he accompanied them to a victory over The Workhorsemen on the post-Revolution Dynamite, but AEW CEO Tony Khan has confirmed he’ll also serve in a backstage capacity. Talking to the media, Khan noted that he’s excited to have the former King of the Ring onboard with AEW:
“Also behind the scenes, I’m really excited to have him here. I think Lord Regal can teach everyone here a lot and it’s gonna be great having here. I’m very excited on-screen and off-screen. It came together very recently but he fits very well, I think, with what we’re doing here in AEW all around.”
William Regal is also on AEW’s active roster list on their website, though it’s unclear if he’ll actually wrestle in All Elite Wrestling or if he’ll be restricted to a managerial and backstage capacity.
Similarly to Keith Lee’s debut with the promotion, the arrival of Jeff Hardy in All Elite Wrestling wasn’t much of a shock, given that ‘The Charismatic Enigma’ had previously confirmed he was going to the promotion in an interview with Jared Myers. Nevertheless, it was a jovial feeling when the former WWE Champion burst through the tunnel on the 9 March episode of AEW Dynamite, coming to the aid of Sting, Darby Allin, and his brother Matt.
Jeff Hardy had been released by WWE in the middle of December 2021, which caused some controversy given the company’s insistence that Hardy was under the influence and needed to attend rehab. Updates regarding Jeff’s wellbeing have, however, remained positive ever since he was let go, proving WWE’s foolishness in not trusting Hardy.
The word going around the rumour mill is that WWE, sensing one of the most influential performers of all-time was on their way to the competition, reportedly offered Jeff a spot in the Hall of Fame if he were to return. Jeff, understandably, turned the offer down to pursue this new venture in his career, which is being referred to as the final Hardy Boyz run ever. An AEW World Tag Team Championships run surely awaits the decorated brothers further down the line.
For the uninitiated, Paige VanZant is an experienced mixed martial artist, holding a record of 8-5, with experience also coming her way in the fields of amateur wrestling, boxing, and bare-knuckle fighting. In other words, VanZant will be a certified killer in the ring when her professional wrestling career officially gets going. She signed her AEW contract on top of Tay Conti on the post-Revolution episode of Dynamite in the midst of Scorpio Sky’s TNT Championship celebration.
Current plans call for the American Top Team member to train with the Pompano Beach, Florida-based Coastal Championship Wrestling, whose head coach is former WWE Superstar, Gangrel. When, exactly, she makes her AEW in-ring debut remains to be seen, though expect her to face Conti in her debut outing. The similar fighting styles between the pair is enough to make for an intriguing clash.
To promote the inaugural women’s qualifier for the Owen Hart Cup, Tony Khan teased a new signing to combat The Bunny on the 30 March episode of AEW Dynamite, which saw the former IMPACT Wrestling knockout defeated by Toni Storm. The New Zealand native wrestled an enjoyable eight-minute clash with The Bunny that concluded with the Storm Zero snap Piledriver, advancing to the next round of the prestigious tournament.
The match marked Toni’s first since 28 December, with her WWE release being reported the following day, where she seemingly quit immediately after this match, citing “burnout” as her reason for departing the company. The former NXT UK Women’s Champion has remained busy while not physically competing, as she started an OnlyFans account that saw her earnings in the region of $20,000 after just a few hours.
Prior to joining WWE, Storm was already a world-renowned name, having plied her trade across Asia and Europe, being a multi-time champion and tournament winner in the likes of World Wonder Ring Stardom and PROGRESS Wrestling, the latter of which saw her crowned the inaugural Women’s Champion in May 2017. In Stardom, she’s held both the SWA World and World of Stardom Championships.
The signing of Wheeler YUTA to AEW was actually confirmed following Ring Of Honor’s Supercard Of Honor XV event, where he had dethroned Josh ‘The Goods’ Woods of the company’s Pure Championship. This event, of course, was the return of ROH after their months-long hiatus, and was the first to be produced under the watchful eye of Tony Khan, who had purchased the now-former Sinclair-helmed promotion in the meantime.
Khan confirmed YUTA was signed in a tweet made after he captured the title, with the Best Friends associate having worked for Khan’s priority promotion without an official contract in place since the end of June. He wrestled the likes of Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, and IMPACT Wrestling’s Karl Anderson throughout this period, before becoming an ally to Chuck Taylor, Trent Beretta, and the rest of Best Friends shortly after.
YUTA’s last AEW match without a contract saw him defeated by Bryan Danielson on the 30 March Dynamite broadcast. It’s unknown if he’ll also defend the ROH Pure Championship on AEW television moving forward.
ROH Supercard Of Honor XV also the saw the company return of Samoa Joe, though it was revealed he’d officially signed an All Elite Wrestling contract upon entering Garland, Texas’ Curtis Culwell Center. ‘The Samoan Submission Machine’ would confront Jay Lethal and Sonjay Dutt to conclude the event, with Lethal having been Joe’s protege in ROH in the mid-2000s.
The former WWE Superstar has remained synonymous with Ring Of Honor, having wrestled there from 2002 and 2008, alongside a brief return in 2015 before he signed for NXT. According to Joe himself, Tony Khan’s acquisition of the promotion was a key reason in him opting to sign for AEW over the various other options (h/t Fightful):
“It played a role. But the initial discussions, Tony was playing his cards very close to his chest and not revealing things. Heavily alluding to it, but never quite revealing.
But it did play a major role because obviously I have a lot of my legacy tied up with the promotion, and a lot of work that many fans have enjoyed over the years has been affiliated with the promotion. So to see it and to be a part of it and to help influence the future of it, it was kind of an unmissable opportunity.”
Samoa Joe is expected to wrestle for both AEW and ROH going forward, though no further ROH dates have technically been announced. “I’m here in AEW and ROH to be a Unified Champion. I’m here to win the AEW Championship and Ring of Honor Championship”, Joe said with regards to his future plans. The feat would have been previously unfathomable, but if ever there was someone to change history, it’s Samoa Joe.
AEW Dynamite airs every Wednesday Night and AEW Rampage airs every Friday night via AEW Plus on Fite TV.