While WWE and AEW largely operate in their own lanes, both companies ride the same professional wrestling highway. This leads to both Vince McMahon and Tony Khan occasionally glancing at the other in an attempt to get a little ahead. When McMahon accused AEW of being a company based on “blood and guts”, Khan turned around and named a match after that wording. After CM Punk Maxwell labeled Jacob Friedman a “less famous Miz”, Edge alluded to the dig Monday Night Raw. While these jabs are mostly inconsequential, there’s one odd moment that influences the companies’ bigger stories.
In Bloomberg‘s profile piece on the rise of AEW, it was revealed that Bryan Danielson was once tasked with studying the company for McMahon.
“Do you see anything that AEW does better than us?” McMahon asked Danielson on a phone call in early 2020.
At the time, Danielson was still wrestling under the name Daniel Bryan, as he was employed by WWE until the summer of 2021. Taking time away from the ring due to paternity leave, Danielson watched all available AEW content “for the next two weeks”. His conclusion on AEW’s presentation was that it “spent more time” and “placed more value” on the action that takes place in the ring.
In applying that critical eye to WWE product, Danielson noted that he saw McMahon’s product as having his attention elsewhere.
“It feels like watching a wrestling show without wrestling,” Danielson told McMahon.
After this conversation, Danielson would spend another year in WWE before finally choosing AEW. He debuted for the young promotion at AEW completely off 2021 and immediately entered a feud with AEW World Champion Kenny Omega. The two were one of the big matches at the inauguration AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam 2021, AEW’s most attended event in its four-year history.
Speaking of AEW’s commitment to its in-ring action, Danielson has been the poster child for that philosophy throughout 2023. He has wrestled long singles matches every week, switching it up with everyone from Konosuke Takeshita to Timothy Thatcher. If his winning streak continues, Danielson will take on AEW World Champion MJF in a 60-minute Iron Man match at AEW Revolution next month.