AEW’s World Champion Swerve Strickland Deserves More Than an Opening Match

Courtesy of All Elite Wrestling

Most wrestlers love the sport of wrestling—they live it and feed off it; it is their every waking thought and the last thing on their minds when they go to sleep. So, dreaming of becoming a world champion one day might be an understatement for some of them. It might be their top goal or the only one. But there is prestige and importance when you become a champion; it means you are the best—the top guy, an important figure. And it means a world of a difference when you are the only Black wrestler to have accomplished this feat in a promotion. Swerve Strickland is the World Heavyweight Champion of AEW— the first Black AEW World Heavyweight Champion, and there is a significant burden when you’re not chosen to follow a path, but to create one. As the champion, Strickland has proven his ability and his worth to represent AEW and to help stack the bricks needed to keep the company growing and prospering. But with all of that said and done, Why is AEW’s top star relegated to the opening matches instead of headlining the show?

Let’s work backwards here with my argument: Strickland’s most recent title defense against Killswitch. There is no valid reason for the company’s top champion to be in opening matches or defending his title in the first hour of the show. As the champion, Swerve is suppose to be seen as the ending, the climax, the bread and butter—the main course. He is suppose to be the top biller, everyone is suppose to come to see him. This is how heavyweight champions have always been seen, worked and marketed. Now, maybe to spice things up, Strickland opens up the show and cut a promo—whatever. But he should never be the first match of the night, let alone it be a match where he is defending his title. A world champion often serves as the face of the promotion and is typically featured in main event matches. And if the champion’s match cannot close the show because another match is booked as the highlight, it is an injustice to the champion.

Understand the importance of opening matches in the wrestling industry and the role in setting the tone for the show they have. These matches are set up to energize the audience and build up on an exciting atmosphere from the beginning. A well-delivered opening match will build both anticipation and engagement, and influence the fans for the upcoming matches; which is why bookers often select wrestlers who are known for high-energy performances to kick off the show. However, despite their importance, opening matches are generally regarded with a different relevance level than main event slots. This concept is because the main events are seen as the show’s climax, including high-stakes encounters. While first matches are vital for building momentum, they are viewed as warm-ups rather than the main attraction. Because of this notion, the opening matches are headlined by mid-card talent and emerging stars rather than top-tier wrestlers, such as the heavyweight champion. By placing world champions in the main event, the bookers (AEW) highlight the importance of the championship and reinforce the champion’s status as the face of the company. Despite whether Strickland is defending his title or participating in a high-profile match, his presence signifies the match’s value and should draw full engagement from the audience.

Swerve Strickland AEW

Strickland must be prominently displayed as the champion for the brand to thrive long-term. If he isn’t spotlighted, fans may think of the belt as lacking importance. And this way of thinking can damage AEW’s overall image and dissuade both the loyalists and potential new viewers. And if the fans’ interest start to decrease because the champion isn’t participating in important matches, this could also lead to a disconnect with the audience and reduce their interest in the championship. To make to plain and simple, the title’s clout is in jeopardy if the one who holds it isn’t treated as the supreme star. Being the AEW World Heavyweight Champion is a coveted goal.

Furthermore, having Strickland facing Roderick Strong, not only for the title, but to see who faces Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door is insanity. How is this match, in any way, elevating Strickland’s standing as the champ? And why is he in a match to determine if he faces Ospreay when it’s his title on the line at this upcoming PPV? Logically, the challengers should be competing to earn an opportunity to go up against the reigning champion, not the other way around. Positioning Strickland as the ultimate prize allows AEW to keep a legible storyline with him and his title at the forefront.

At the end of the day, I am both a fan of Strickland and the AEW brand. I think his title reign is important to those who understands that he is a pioneer and he will go down in history as the first Black AEW World Heavyweight Champion. All I want to see is Strickland booked as such—to be seen and treated as the top man of the brand. I have no doubt that despite this, he will continue to do his share as champion; promotional tours, interviews, title defenses, etc. I just want All Elite Wrestling to treat him as an “Elite” wrestler.