Since launching 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 WWE since the height of the Monday Night Wars.
In 2022, the Tony Khan-helmed promotion has picked up where 2021 left off, signing a multitude of world-class talents to its roster. One criticism that has plagued them continuously, however, 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 either the company or Tony Khan himself through the usual ‘Welcome to the team…’ tweet. The likes of Ari Daivari and RUSH, who’ve been reported as having signed and have become regular AEW programming attractions, won’t be listed until either of the aforementioned parties posts the trademark tweet.
This also goes for names such as Madison Rayne, who has been mentioned in press releases as being a coach, and Josh Woods, who’s noted as being on a tiered deal with the company. Until their face is on an official #AllElite graphic, their presence will go unmentioned.
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 the previous September. Following his WWE release in August 2021, Atlas wrestled just twice on the independent circuit, appearing at EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch and Ring Of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view.
The latter of those matches – vs. Taylor Rust – appeared to end abruptly, with initial fan speculation being that Atlas had suffered a concussion. Posting to social media following the event, though, Jake confirmed that he in fact wasn’t injured, but would instead be stepping away from professional wrestling.
Jake’s AEW career got off to a hot start, wrestling Adam Cole on Rampage just two matches in but 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. Jake Atlas is reportedly now no longer under contract with AEW, having been arrested in May and charged with domestic battery, though the charges were later dropped.
A former World Tag Team and World Six-Man Tag Team Champion in the then-Sinclair-helmed Ring Of Honor, Brody King’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 stated that Brody King had indeed signed with AEW. 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 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 – as well as Julia Hart.
There are few characters in professional wrestling more wild and weird than Danhausen. The 31-year-old 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 ROH’s hiatus, before Danhausen finally showed up on the special Beach Break episode of Dynamite. 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 has predominantly been utilised in lower-card roles, the ‘Very Nice, Very Evil’ performer has still found some success. A pairing with the beloved HOOK as HOOKhausen and subsequent TNT Championship vs. Ricky Starks have come his way, but it’s highly unlikely AEW will ever present Danhausen as a top-level athlete. He’s not intended to be taken seriously; AEW needs to be wary of this.
Keith Lee’s arrival in AEW 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. First appearing 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.
Speaking exclusively to Bleacher Report’s Chris Mueller, a humbled Keith Lee explained the reasoning behind him joining AEW (H/T to Bleacher Report:
“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.”
Going mistreated in WWE, Keith Lee has made for a welcomed addition to the growing land of hosses in AEW. A pairing with fellow WWE alum Swerve Strickland has seen the aptly-named Swerve In Our Glory capture the company’s World Tag Team Championships, a moment that meant a hell of a lot to the one-time NXT Champion.
Formerly known as Zayda Ramier in NXT, the Booker T-trained AQA debuted almost as an afterthought on the same broadcast as Keith Lee. She had been announced as 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 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 then that 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.
Unfortunately, that moment will be where her career peaked. After wrestling just a sprinkling of matches in the Tony Khan-helmed organisation, AQA announced her retirement from the ring this past July. It’s unknown if she’ll ever make a return to pro wrestling, let alone AEW.
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. A graphic confirming his signing was posted by Tony Khan shortly after his surprise appearance.
‘The Best Kept Secret’ was released by WWE 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 humorously, ‘The Dutch Destroyer’ was able to return to in-ring competition before Murphy and the rest of their released group due to an error in his non-compete clause.
Buddy Matthews wouldn’t wrestle again until that September but as he revealed to Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp, there was an initial belief from WWE that the former Tommy End may not have been the only Superstar with the wrong non-compete clause attached to their contract:
“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 Revolution 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.
Strickland debuted with something to prove. His WWE release came just weeks after his Hit Row faction – comprised of Top Dolla, Ashante ‘Thee’ Adonis, and B-FAB – transitioned to the main roster. Finding himself without an opportunity to ever standout on the SmackDown roster, Swerve’s post-WWE career was a turning point in his career.
The former EVOLVE Champion wrestled for NJPW, PROGRESS, and TERMINUS but ultimately, signing a contract with AEW was the right call as he revealed on the Getting Over podcast (H/T to 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, William Regal showed up following Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley‘s encounter at the Revolution pay-per-view. WWE’s former Head of Global Recruitment had spent over two decades under employment with the company, though he hasn’t wrestled since facing Cesaro on a Christmas Day broadcast of NXT in 2013.
Onscreen, Regal serves as the manager for the Blackpool Combat Club, which has since grown to include Wheeler YUTA and Claudio Castagnoli alongside Danielson and Moxley. Tony Khan has confirmed he’ll also serve in a backstage capacity, however. Talking to the media following Revolution, 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, the arrival of Jeff Hardy in AEW 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 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.
It’s unfortunate, then, how tough it is to reflect on Jeff’s run with AEW thus far. A lacklustre performance at Double or Nothing saw Hardy struggle to make it through a match with the Young Bucks, which was subsequently followed by him being arrested on another DUI offence. Thankfully, he’s currently in rehab, where he’ll stay until it’s believed he’s medically fit to return to a wrestling ring, if that is ever the case again.
For the uninitiated, Paige VanZant is an experienced mixed martial artist, holding a record of 8-5, with experience also being held 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.
She’s wrestled just once, teaming with Sky and Ethan Page at Double or Nothing in a victory over Conti, Sammy Guevara, and Frankie Kazarian. VanZant was clearly limited to an extent in what she was able to do, but she managed to impress many with her aptitude to learning the ropes so quickly. This, perhaps, should be a testament to the work of Gangrel, who’d been helping teach her ahead of the match at his Coastal Championship Wrestling school.
To promote the inaugural women’s qualifier for the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament, a new signing was teased 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 Zealander wrestled an enjoyable eight-minute clash with The Bunny that concluded with the Storm Zero, 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 exclusive content account that saw her earnings in the region of $20,000 after just a few hours.
Storm has become a mainstay in the upper echelon of AEW’s women’s division, forming a team with Thunder Rosa – fantastically titled ThunderStorm – after challenging her for the AEW Women’s World Championship at the Forbidden Door pay-per-view. A genuine standout moment awaits her further down the line but with two championships to contend for, she may not have long to wait.
The signing of Wheeler YUTA to AEW was confirmed following Ring Of Honor’s Supercard Of Honor XV, where he dethroned Josh Woods of the 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.
Khan confirmed YUTA was signed in a tweet made after he captured the title, with the then-Best Friends associate having worked for Khan’s priority promotion without an official contract in place since the end of June 2021. He wrestled the likes of Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, and IMPACT Wrestling’s Karl Anderson throughout this period.
YUTA’s last AEW match without a contract saw him defeated by Bryan Danielson on the 30 March Dynamite broadcast, with a follow-up match against Danielson’s partner Jon Moxley seeing the ROH Pure Champion inducted into the Blackpool Combat Club. Here, Wheeler YUTA has found bundles of success, defending the championship in acclaimed matches, participating in Blood & Guts, and entering NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
Supercard Of Honor also the saw the return of Samoa Joe, though it was revealed he’d signed an All Elite Wrestling contract upon entering Garland, Texas’ Curtis Culwell Center. ‘The Samoan Submission Machine’ confronted 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 was 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 to 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 has since won the ROH World Television Championship from Minoru Suzuki, doing so in just his second AEW match. Alongside making it to the finals of the men’s bracket of the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament, Joe has enjoyed a successful run so far, but there’s still a long way to go before his disastrous last run with NXT is eradicated.
He’s been with All Elite Wrestling since late 2019, but Wardlow only became contractually obliged to AEW this past May, defeating MJF to earn his spot on the roster at Double or Nothing. Now free from ‘The Salt of the Earth’, Wardlow was positioned as one of the top babyfaces of the promotion.
Wardlow now holds the TNT Championship following his destruction of Scorpio Sky, putting him on the right path to superstardom. With the look, the ability, and the charisma that he possesses, it would be near-impossible for AEW to fail him. Although there have been a couple of digs made at how he isn’t as hot as he was coming out of the MJF match, ‘Mr Mayhem’ remains a current champion and, therefore, a priority for the company.
Many within the wrestling bubble believe so too, with AEW analyst and WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry going as far as to say he’ll grow to be as dominant as Brock Lesnar! ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ explained this in an interview with Sportskeeda Wrestling’s Senior Editor Bill Apter (H/T to Wrestling Inc.)
“I think Wardlow is an unbelievable competitor. And he’s going to be even better. The Wardlow we see right now, in a best of three, I think a Mark Henry might beat that guy. But in the next two years, Wardlow is going to be the most dominant force in pro wrestling since Brock Lesnar, since Goldberg, since The Rock, since Steve Austin. And then that guy, the best of three is going to be 3-0.”
So phenomenal is Stokely Hathaway as a manager that, in a rare move, his signing to All Elite Wrestling was confirmed through the same methods as the latest hot signing to the company’s in-ring roster. Who else can say they’ve made that much of an impact in a managerial role?
The former Malcolm Bivens came into AEW at Double or Nothing and already, he’s made his presence felt, recruiting a multitude of wrestlers to his ranks in the manner of a Golden Era WWF manager. Unlike his run in WWE with Diamond Mine, his AEW clients won’t be featured in the same stable – at least it doesn’t look like they will, anyway. Instead, they’ll simply be under the same learning tree, being led to success by Stokely Hathaway without any of them overshadowing the other.
Thus far, he’s signed the likes of Jade Cargill, Kiera Hogan, Ethan Page, and most recently Austin and Colten Gunn. It’s an odd mix, to say the least, but if anyone can make the batch of talent work like an old-school manager, it’s Stokely Hathaway.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where, exactly, Athena stands within AEW. She was once one of the hottest stars on the independent circuit and upon her 2016 NXT debut, that popularity transitioned over with her. In AEW, though, she’s not made too much of a dent in the landscape of the AEW women’s division.
Brought in almost exclusively to feud with reigning AEW TBS Champion Jade Cargill, ‘The Fallen Goddess’ has waged war with her ever since debuting at Double or Nothing. Their beef began on social media but at the time, it wasn’t made clear if there was actually interest in developing a story between the duo; clearly, there was, and that story is expected to conclude with the former Ember Moon becoming the new TBS Champion.
Speaking with NBC Sports Boston shortly after her shock AEW debut in May, Athena made it clear why she was ecstatic to be in AEW, detailing how excited Tony Khan is to get every aspect of the show as perfectly laid out as possible (H/T to Wrestling Inc.):
“Tony is extremely busy, but my interactions with him have been insanely different than that of my former boss. Because he’s just excited, he’s pumped, he wants to get everyone pumped up as he is. It’s the first time I think I had a show…He’s just going up to every match like, ‘Let’s go! Let’s get this!’ I’ve never had that.
And it’s just energy on cloud nine, every step of the way. Sometimes, the couple of days I’ve been there, we’re there for like fourteen hours and his energy doesn’t drop. He’s so motivating, he’s so pumped about everything that’s on the TV product, which I’m not used to on any level.”
The Claudio Castagnoli that wrestled in WWE isn’t who was signed by Tony Khan; it was the Claudio Castagnoli that wrestled on the independent circuit in a pre-WWE life that was signed to AEW and ROH. ‘The Swiss Superman’ proved this immediately when he Uppercutted Zack Sabre Jr. at AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door, taking ZSJ to the limit in a seminal post-WWE comeback.
Castagnoli hasn’t slowed down one bit since being snapped up, joining the ranks of William Regal’s Blackpool Combat Club, having a superb showing in the second Blood & Guts match, and – at last – capturing the ROH World Championship from Jonathan Gresham. As identifiable as he was with Ring Of Honor in his initial run, Claudio was primarily involved in the tag team scene, performing amazingly well alongside Chris Hero in The Kings of Wrestling. Finally breaking through the glass ceiling was the icing on the cake for his career.
So eager to debut the former Cesaro was Tony Khan that he actually pulled his inaugural appearance forward. With Bryan Danielson unable to face Zack Sabre Jr. at the aforementioned Forbidden Door pay-per-view, the AEW CEO decided to have Claudio debut there rather than at the originally-planned ROH Death Before Dishonor card, as told by Bryan Danielson:
“So when it was clear that I wasn’t going to be on Forbidden Door, I called Tony [Khan] and I was like ‘Hey, I got a great idea. Put Claudio in my place.’ I didn’t say that we should sign Claudio, I didn’t know that Claudio was signed. But I did say ‘I’m sure that Claudio would just come in to do a spot.’
He [Khan] goes ‘I talked to his agent and I don’t think he is just going to come in to do a spot.’ I was like oh, ok. But then he said ‘Just so you know, don’t tell anybody but I have already signed him.’ So yeah, he was already there.”
It’s become a running joke that Tony Khan will just sign anyone, so long as they’re a former WWE Superstar. The joke became fact when Parker Boudreaux was announced as having signed with All Elite Wrestling, aligning himself with Ari Daivari’s Trustbusters faction.
Though once touted as the next Brock Lesnar, Boudreaux’s stint in NXT as Harland was largely disappointing. Had he been promoted in a more positive light as a potential top WWE Superstar, then Tony Khan jumping to lock him down wouldn’t have been as shocking as it was. Alas, Boudreaux was announced as having signed following his bout with Sonny Kiss on the 12 August broadcast of Rampage.
AEW Dynamite airs every Wednesday Night and AEW Rampage airs every Friday night via AEW Plus on Fite TV.