AEW Feb 22, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Wrestlers battle during a tag team battle royal during AEW Dynamite at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

AEW: All Access debuted in its installed timeslot on Wednesday night on TBS. The wrestling promotion’s foray into the world of reality television promised to go where no pro wrestling company had ever gone before: Behind the curtain into their zany world.

But the premiere show lacked serious punch for a company that’s made shocking its audience part of its wheelhouse. The exposition laid out the scene well. But it fell flat at times and its execution may have found trouble before it even started.

The show’s premiere began after an episode of AEW: Dynamite. At its start, the wrestling promotion’s origin story was told. From there, the spotlight primarily shined down on six people: Adam Cole, Britt Baker, Sammy Guevara, Tay Melo, and The Young BucksMatt and Nick Jackson.

Throughout the episode, All Access attempted to draw attention to these six wrestlers. Along the way, a couple of things happened that hampered it.

The show primarily showcased Baker. If you’ve watched AEW programming in the past few years, that felt like a familiar sight. Baker is the second-longest AEW Women’s World Champion in the promotion’s short history. She appears extremely regularly on Dynamite and Rampage, more so than most of her peers.

All Access dropped its viewers in the pool before an episode of Rampage in Asbury Park. Backstage, Baker and other women were backstage, chatting about a situation that developed. Thunder Rosa had stepped away from the ring while she held the AEW Women’s Championship. This occurred prior to All Out on Labor Day Weekend, a fact the show grazed on, which might be selling it even shorter than it was. The show aired a short clip from when Rosa had to give up the title, with a graphic entitled “THREE MONGHS AGO.” It featured no mention of the show that it took place on (Dynamite) or how close it was to All Out (only 11 days).

We also met Toni Storm. Wrestling fans know Storm from her run in WWE, the leading professional wrestling company in the United States. Storm had a short, ill-fated run in WWE with a few twists and turns.  Ultimately, she departed the company in December 2021. She cited burnout among other reasons. And then, three months later, landed in AEW.

She became the Interim Women’s Champion in September 2022. Two months later, Rosa, still citing injury, wasn’t around still. Britt alluded to this situation and said that she was upset Toni “wasn’t the champion,” instead, holding the interim title. Baker appeared to outright accuse Rosa of faking and milking her injury, comments that she still has stood by to this day.

This part lost me early on. For one, accusations like faking an injury are pretty tactless as it is. Given that, since it’s been two months since her injury, that feels like quite an act to pull without serious repercussions. So continuing to ride that feels extremely harsh and unfair.

Harsh and unfair can also describe the fact that Thunder Rosa wasn’t made available in this show. Rosa was featured in a “coming soon” advertisement when the broadcast concluded. But if you’re going to start off with such an accusation, you should at least give the other party the opportunity to share their side of the story. Even if she does now, some significant damage was done. Baker discussed the fact that Rosa was flying around to other places, ignoring the fact that you can be injured but still move about the cabin.

“Thunder Rosa had hurt her back,” Baker said on the show. “But when I was champion, I wanted to be everywhere. Whether my wrist was broken, my nose was broken, you’re sore, you’re tired, it doesn’t matter because it’s your time to hold that belt up high, rep the brand. You know, this is YOUR division.”

This quote would be fair in even a slight way if they had bothered to explain absolutely anything about Thunder Rosa, her injury other than “she hurt her back,” or anything that would at least paint her in a fair and reasonable light. Instead, all that the show did early on was dogpile the former AEW Women’s Champion. There was that quote, there were mentions from both Baker and Storm that Rosa, despite being injured, could fly to seminars, as Storm cited, and “flying to a different state, every weekend, doing appearances, doing seminars, but she can’t come to work,” Baker said directly to Saraya, formerly known as WWE’s Paige, a recent newcomer to the company.

It’s a brutal conversation to watch that nobody in the room (perhaps except Jamie Hayter, who never said a word) looks good without any fair look at Rosa’s situation. Considering the fact that it’s never walked backed to on the episode, you have to wonder what purpose this segment served to anyone except to make Baker look like the honorable champion who’ll fight through anything.

This is all to ignore the elephant in the room: The wrestlers aren’t really the ones at fault here. The person in charge of the company, who makes decisions like that, has that power. You can assume someone talked to Tony Khan. But this particular part of the show seemed to villainize Thunder Rosa in a way that wasn’t fair to her in any sort of way. No mention of when her injury occurred, no chance for her to immediately rebuke, and her co-workers trampled her for all of the world to see.

The Young Bucks were emphasized heavily throughout the show as well. Matt and Nick Jackson built up an extraordinary reputation on the independent wrestling scene in the 2010s. Their rise to prominence is a real success story, you have to hand it to them. It’s hardly easy to protrude through the space when you spend little to no time in WWE.

The show used the Bucks to tell the story of AEW’s origins. They explained that the promotion belonged to ‘outsiders’ with “only one game in town” for the most part (WWE, of course, is that game in town). While not wholly surprising, it was amusing not to see Cody Rhodes be discussed while the Bucks explained AEW’s origin.

Then came something many were expecting, and perhaps some hoping that the series would delve into. At All Out, things took a nasty turn for the promotion The Bucks, former World Champion Kenny Omega, CM Punk, and others involved themselves in a massive brawl in the locker room. That brawl led to Punk not appearing with the company since, a position he seems to be taking no issue standing in if you’ve read up on him lately.

It also led to the Bucks’ and Omega’s suspensions. The show enlightened viewers about their suspensions but didn’t give an actual reason. No mention of Punk, no mention of when the suspension began, just a reel of owner Tony Khan explaining the suspensions.

AEW, right now, is probably unwilling to air anything with or about CM Punk. That’s an understandable position. But it does come off like a bit of a tease in this situation. We’d likely know if cameras caught the brawl and filming didn’t actually begin until November. However, the show aimed to portray the Bucks in a position of desperation and unusualness. They said they hadn’t ever been away from the ring for that long. So, the show made you want to see how they tackle it. But not mentioning it just leads to the question of, “Well, why bother at all?” At least viewers won’t be too confused in wondering if they’re going to discuss it any longer.

AEW All-Accesss also highlighted Sammy Guevara and Tay Melo. The show followed Guevara, 29, as they teed him up to face wrestling legend Bryan Danielson. They used much of this show to highlight Guevara and his quest to face the very best in Danielson on an upcoming episode of Dynamite. Melo was also highlighted, as the show profiled her ups and downs in the promotion thus far. As was the spawn of their on-screen relationship and the crowd’s visceral reaction to it. For a side story that was probably fourth out of the four storylines in terms of prominence, it did its job and nothing more or less.

Finally, the show once again found its way to Baker in another way. Her relationship with Adam Cole, real name Austin Jenkins, was a huge focal point of the show, if not the A-storyline. Cole, who’s starred in wrestling promotions all over the world, came off looking like the most likable person on the show. This isn’t surprising, because anybody who’s ever seemed to interact with him will feel the same way. Cole is mellow, down-to-earth, and humble in the show. But that probably has a great deal to do with the condition he’s dealing with.

Cole suffered two concussions in a three-week span in the Summer of 2022. We picked this up as Cole was on the cusp of a make-or-break doctor’s appointment with the head of AEW medical. Cole aspired to get cleared for the Full Gear event later in November.

The show followed his uphill battle, highlighted his friendship with longtime wrestler Kyle O’Reilly, and discussed his yearslong relationship with Baker. But to Cole’s dismay, the head of AEW medical failed to clear him, setting Cole back. He desired, though, at the end, to not let any of this stop him from getting back to business.

All of this is to say that it’s a good story. Cole’s natural likability will make him a very sympathetic figure here. The only problem comes from something not even on the show. The episode of Dynamite concluded with the sight of Cole, healthy and cleared now, celebrating a victory in his first match back. The company dropped streamers on him and Britt came out to celebrate with Cole.

In ending the show on the note they no doubt wanted to, they might have given up the game on the reality television series as well. Consider that the A arc followed Cole on his road to recovery. So, if you tuned in and wanted to jump in before the show began… you saw Adam Cole and Britt Baker celebrating. And at the end of the reality series, you saw Adam Cole and Britt Baker promising this wouldn’t be the end.

Naturally, it’s not really Cole or Baker’s fault for this. But if you’re going to start a reality series off, perhaps think about what it might look like if you just spoiled the finale (and maybe even the final scene) minutes before the debut.

Rating: In terms of a television show, on its own, this was fine. Nothing eye-popping, nothing outrageous, just fine. Most wrestling fans, by now, know the dangers of the ring. AEW promised to go where no wrestling promotion ever has before. But, Beyond The Mat, Dark Side of the Ring, and even its chief competitor have gone where no wrestling promotion ever has with Total Divas.

The tactlessness of Britt’s arc with the women’s division soured me early and never recovered. This felt completely needless because we never even returned back to it. Nobody in that segment was heard from again besides Baker with a hint of Hayter, whose background status to Baker felt way too similar to her presentation on Dynamite. (A reality made more awkward by Baker saying she didn’t want to be champion or, essentially, be at the top. While… being the most prominent face in this episode).

A fairer result for this segment should have been to just wait until you make it a part of another episode. If you’re that inclined to include injury drama and faking accusations, then go be like reality television usually is and make it the central point of a storyline in the episode

But this was the introduction for Britt Baker. It had nothing to do with Storm, the Interim Champion at the time, who was practically never seen again in the episode. It had nothing to do with the quiet Hayter, who was to face Storm at Full Gear, the event they were leading up to. But it had everything to do with Baker and it also had everything to do with Rosa. But Rosa wasn’t there to defend herself while her co-workers showed absolutely no problem or hesitance in spreading rumors. That’s the impression you leave first when you start off like that. Much like the impression the company made with its women’s division at large, it might be hard to rid of that very easily going forward.

Adam Cole is clearly going to be the star of this series. He has tremendous likability and came off great. Through no fault of his own though, his story was interrupted by the end of the show he had just wrestled on. Wrestling fans know all there is to know about suspending disbelief. That’s quite a tough ask to do, especially given the timeslot here.

In general, the show felt like a standard vehicle for the AEW machine. The big stars of the show were hit and miss – if you’re expecting a lot of MJF, you’ll be disappointed. Just be ready for some short quips that were put front and center. It didn’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know or didn’t expect to know. For AEW and the way they have branded themselves, that feels a bit disappointing and very lacking. Hopefully, the series can find its way and find some juice. Right now, that juice box can easily be crushed.


About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022