5 Reasons Why: AEW needs to expand the Continental Classic to Women's & Tag Leagues
When AEW's Continental Classic was first announced, it very clearly felt like Tony Khan's attempt to create the magic of an American G1. I've only followed a handful of G1 tournaments from beginning to end, falling off of New Japan in the past few years – but when I was following NJPW, G1 season was always one of the best times of the year.
Not that you weren't otherwise getting great matches in New Japan, but the G1 was a chance to hyper-focus on them with big stakes on the line. Similarly, AEW routinely tosses out some ridiculously great matches on free TV every week in addition to next-level matches on PPV.
But, the Continental Classic was introduced as a way to "bring back that old feeling" in AEW with strict rules against interference to ensure every match had a clear winner without shenanigans.
Over the course of several weeks, AEW was able to tell a bunch of different stories: the rising confidence of Daniel Garcia, the underdog spirit of Eddie Kingston, the monster on the rise in Brody King, and the almost-but-not-quite perfect Bryan Danielson whose ego and hubris may have cost him the block finals against Eddie Kingston.
So, what's next? Hopefully, the same treatment for other divisions in AEW. Let's talk about the reasons AEW needs to emulate the Continental Classic for the women's and tag team divisions.
#1: Everybody needs reps
AEW isn't a promotion that routinely runs house shows, at least not on the level of someone like WWE. Long-term, that's better for wrestlers who get to have a better work-life balance without also destroying their bodies four or five days a week.
This felt more sustainable in the early days of AEW when it felt like more members of the roster were often working indies and gaining experience that way. Now, though, it feels like that part of the charm of AEW is largely gone.
Additionally, with Dark and Dark Elevation ending there are fewer and fewer opportunities for wrestlers to get more matches under their belts on a weekly basis. Not that Dark & Elevation were perfect in their own rights; most of the time it felt like a pile of squash matches with one or two competitive matches at the top of the card. It never felt like anyone was gaining a ton or able to show anything new when the matches felt like they were over in 90 seconds.
So, how does a round robin tournament solve this?
To paraphrase something Daniel Garcia said in the post-Worlds End scrum, it's a gift for a TV wrestler to be wrestling TV matches five weeks in a row at the quality level we saw in the C2. But, that was just for the men's singles division.
If we could get the same tournament format happening for the women's division and tag division, we would be guaranteed several matches in each division each week (*gasp* more than one women's match per TV show?!). Not only would we simply have more matches, but we'd have matches that are expected to be of a higher quality with no tomfoolery to affect the outcomes.
Take Julia Hart for example. Julia won the TBS Title on November 18. She then wrestled on the November 25 Collision and November 29 Dynamite, but then didn't wrestle again until a tag team match a month later on December 23.
For a young wrestler like Julia Hart, being in a round robin tournament with other younger wrestlers and some veterans could be a moment to shine even brighter than she has been the past several months.
Then we have someone like Serena Deeb who is about to make her return. Deeb returning in a C2-type tournament would give her ample time to showcase her style of wrestling, remind people of who she is, and have a great showing to reestablish herself whether she ended up winning the tournament or not.
For the tag division, it would be a chance to once again highlight some teams who may have faded into the background and remind the fans that some teams exist at all. Which brings us to our next reason...
#2: The fans need a reason to care about the wrestlers
There are a lot of great wrestlers and teams in AEW who feel like they disappear from television for weeks at a time before popping up to eat a loss in a competitive and fun, though predictable, match.
Let's take Iron Savages for instance. They're super fun in the ring, they have huge personalities, and when given a chance to have a great tag match have shown that they can get the crowd interested and behind them.
But, when they only pop up on AEW TV once every few months to eat a loss to another more regularly-used tag team it can be hard to get too excited. A team like Iron Savages could flourish in a C2 Tag League where they would be at the forefront for viewers for several weeks in a row.
And at the end of the tournament? Whether they walk away with 0 points, 3 points, or 15 points they would more than likely have had 5 great matches that established them as serious threats in the tag division. This future building helps everybody, because then when they pop up on Collision to face an established team like FTR or House of Black the fans will remember their tournament run and not only feel more attached to them as a team but more invested in the outcome of the match.
This is honestly less of a problem in the women's division as of late where we've been able to have storylines involving Kris Statlander, Willow Nightingale, Skye Blue, Julia Hart, Abadon, Toni Storm, Riho, and the returning Thunder Rosa to name a few. While we still don't generally get more than one women's match per episode of AEW TV, we have at least been able to establish relationships, dynamics, and connections between more of the women's roster even when a championship isn't involved.
#3: Prove that AEW is equally committed to all divisions
What feels like a renewed focus on the women's division has been a breath of fresh air, but now we need to keep that going long term while also refocusing on the tag team division.
Absolutely Big won the tag titles in shock fashion against FTR in what felt like a truly unexpected and exciting title change. Since then? Well, not much.
There have been some circumstances outside of everybody's control that have derailed some matches for Starks & Bill, but even if Kenny Omega had stayed healthy and the match with The Golden Jets went off without a hitch it still would have felt like the AEW Tag Team Champions were treading water – through no fault of their own.
A common theme in Ricky Starks' promos is a frustration with being underutilized and overlooked, and it feels like this is happening again. Despite more than delivering in singles matches with Bryan Danielson this year before seamlessly transitioning into the team with Big Bill, Starks still feels like he's not the focus of his division.
It makes zero sense to me that Starks and Bill aren't either cutting promos to build a feud each week or wrestling in an attempt to continue to establish themselves as a top-rate tag team. As it stands, since winning the tag titles they've only defended the belts once in a regular tag team match – their only other defense came in the form of a four-team ladder match.
Focus on specific divisions can ebb and flow, and that's just the nature of what the top storyline on the show needs to be at any given time. Shows have been main evented by the Women's World, Men's World, Tag Team, and Trios Titles at different points in time. That's all fine – but what begins to wear on viewers and fans is when it feels like a division is forgotten rather than just not being the main story point of the moment.
As Tony Khan pleaded with fans and critics that it was time to "put their money where their mouths are" and watch the Continental Classic, it's time for him to do the same and prove to the fans and critics that he can maintain focus on all divisions in AEW on a regular basis.
#4: Give wrestlers in every division motivation (and a McGuffin)
I'm not over the moon about yet another men's singles title being introduced with the Continental Classic. I'd have much preferred if the winner was just The Winner akin to the G1. The men's singles division already feels over-saturated with belts, especially when ROH Titles have spent so much time being defended on AEW TV and PPV.
If we were to get women's and tag versions of the C2, they would ideally not come with their own standalone titles. Let the winner take pride in winning the tournament or give them a guaranteed title shot at a big PPV for their win.
Balance it out throughout the year with the C2 leading to World's End while the women's and tag leagues culminate at other PPVs throughout the year.
Similarly to how Eddie participated in the tournament as champion, the champions in each division could also be in the tournament as an easy way to setup future challengers and feuds. Wrestling is at its best when it's simple, and when a champion or the eventual winner of the G1 eats a loss to someone else during the course of the tournament it gives that person a clear path to challenge the winner for their championship or #1 contender spot.
Then there's the long-term storytelling of doing the same tournament year after year. A wrestler who only scored 3 points in their first year may need to build themselves up to guarantee their spot in the tournament next year where they'll strive to end with more points than in their previous run.
This kind of self-imposed McGuffin can work just as well as a motivator and character builder than the actual tournament win itself. For Mark Briscoe, for instance, he talked about how this year's tournament was essentially his rookie year as a singles wrestler. He lost almost every match, but came through at the very end to solidify himself in the division.
In Briscoe's losses, though, he looked just as strong as he did in his sole victory. Will Briscoe be in next year's C2? Time will tell; but if he is, he already has a clear path to building himself up over the next year so that he can walk away from the tournament with more than 3 points.
#5: Continued focus on the sports-like feel AEW promised at its start
Tony Khan has made a few comments about the feedback he's seen from fans makes it clear that they want to see more of this type of presentation. Whether it's TV ratings, PPV buys, social media posts, or match ratings on Cagematch the fan response has been incredibly positive.
With Worlds End, and with a lot of the things Khan has said in interviews recently, it feels like 2023 is the end of one era of AEW and 2024 is the beginning of a new one – or a return to form of the first couple of years of AEW.
We now have a World Heavyweight Champion who is an absolute monster and wrestler. He's not going to do Kangaroo Kicks and goofy vignettes with his best friend. He's going to get in the ring and beat the piss out of his opponent, hoping that they do the same thing in return.
Could the success of the C2 and the coming reign of Samoa Joe be indicators that AEW is turning a corner away from some of the more sports-entertainment storylines we've seen in the past year? If it means we get high-quality matches with clear winners and losers each week like we did during the C2, I'm all for it.
This isn't to say MJF isn't without merit. I do like MJF, but I definitely grew tired of his reign and while the reveal of The Devil and his Devilboys was well done it felt like the storyline dragged on for way too long – another somewhat common problem with stories in AEW.
But, if we are about to pivot away from more convoluted storytelling and back to more reality-based or sports-based storytelling, we could be in for a unique year for AEW. Don't get me wrong – there is still absolutely room for some of the more chaotic and campy wrestling storytelling like the Christian Cage saga, but MJF's stories have always tended to cross a line toward tiresome for me.
Here's hoping Tony Khan's excitement and perceived fan excitement coming off of the C2 resonates in a way that brings a noticeable shift in the way AEW is presented both in-ring and in its storylines. AEW still stands a chance to become a unique competitor in American pro wrestling with more of a focus on the "sports-based presentation" than we'll likely ever get from WWE.
There's no point in trying to be WWE-lite or to try and do the same types of storylines they do. AEW exists because wrestling fans needed an alternative, not just a new company painted in different colors.
And bring back rankings!