Tony Schiavone AEW Dynamite WCW Tony Khan Screen grab: AEW Dynamite

As Wednesday night’s episode of AEW Dynamite returned from mostly highly anticipated segment of the night, announcer Tony Schiavone appeared to be somewhere between despondent, disgusted and forlorn.

Maybe it was a coincidence; perhaps he didn’t know he was in the shot as his colleague Excalibur tried to make sense of the backstage segment in which the Young Bucks presented the security footage showing the real-life altercation between CM Punk and Jack “Jungle Boy” Perry that occurred eight months ago and resulted in Punk’s firing.

Maybe it was a part of the script; after all, the Young Bucks are ostensibly heels and it would make sense for a babyface announcer to no-sell their schtick.

Or maybe — and most likely — it was because Schiavone, whose face was literally in his hands, had seen this story before.

After all, as the lead announcer for WCW Nitro, he had a front row seat for the rapid downfall of the only company to successfully challenge WWE (then-WWF) since Vince McMahon brought an end to the territory era. WCW’s descent was so disastrous that after WWE bought it in 2001, Schiavone remained out of wrestling until 2019, when AEW was first formed to create WWE’s biggest rival in nearly 20 years.

In many ways, AEW was initially billed as a modern day WCW — its good days, at least — a fan-driven product focused on high-level wrestling and backed up by sensible storylines. But on more than one occasion on Wednesday, it was hard to not think about WCW’s downfall, and not just because of the look displayed on Schiavone’s face.

It started with the decision to air the real-life altercation between CM Punk and Jack Perry, which occurred last August at the All In pay-per-view. AEW tried — rather sloppily — to insert the footage into a storyline involving the Young Bucks and their tag team rival, FTR, but the segment came off as nothing more than owner Tony Khan’s response to Punk’s less than flattering interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour last week.

The other problem with the decision to air the security footage? It was pro wrestling’s equivalent of Al Capone’s vault. Everybody already knew that Punk and Perry were involved in a backstage incident eight months ago and it largely went down exactly how Punk described it on The MMA Hour. Whether you entered Wednesday as pro-Punk, anti-Punk or indifferent, nothing in this footage was going to change anybody’s stance.

The WCW vibes didn’t stop there.

Just one segment later, Will Ospreay cut a promo in which he took a thinly veiled shot at WWE chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque. Responding to comments Levesque made on The Pat McAfee Show about wrestlers in other companies not wanting to “grind” — a remark many perceived as being aimed at Ospreay — the AEW rising star stated, “the guy that said it is only in the position he’s in because he was grinding on the boss’s daughter,” a reference to Levesque’s marriage to Stephanie McMahon.

While Ospreay returning fire is defensible, his timing couldn’t be worse. WWE is just days removed its most successful WrestleMania in company history. If you’re going to take shots at Levesque, you’re going to have to do better than criticizing his career credentials.

It’s also worth noting that Dynamite‘s main event featured Dustin Rhodes — the brother of newly crowned WWE champion and AEW co-founder Cody Rhodes — facing AEW world champion Samoa Joe. Considering that Dustin has wrestled in just five matches this year — including one in the previous month — it would be more than fair to wonder if AEW was attempting to coast off the success of its rival’s big weekend.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; wrestling is often at its best when it blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Plus, WWE is hardly innocent when it comes to the nearly five-year wrestling war between the two promotions.

But there’s also a balance to all of this. And too often on Wednesday night, it felt like AEW was leaning into the reality and trying to retrofit the fiction.

Airing the Punk footage would have made sense when it happened, not eight months later in an apparent attempt for Tony Khan to settle a personal score. Ospreay’s response would have fit better on a podcast (or at least any other week than this one). And Dustin Rhodes in the main event was just fine — he’s still a helluva wrestler. It just wouldn’t have felt so forced had this not been his second match since Feb. 14.

That’s not to say that AEW will suffer the same fate that WCW did and with its next TV deal, Dynamite will likely surpass Nitro in terms of longevity. But if AEW did learn anything from WCW’s demise, you wouldn’t have known it while watching on Wednesday night.

The look on Tony Schiavone’s face said it all.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.