With the demise of WCW in 2001, WWE was left with little-to-no competition and wrestlers defecting to other companies always seemed like downgrades. Once a wrestler was released or retired from WWE, their allures were essentially made a mockery of by silly rebrandings or shadows of greener pastures prior to their leaving. Since the early days of the internet wrestling community, when a wrestler would leave the WWE, fans would joke about the absurd ways TNA (Impact) Wrestling would change said wrestler’s name and character, should they choose to sign them. We’ve all seen the memes. For instance, if The Undertaker defected to Impact Wrestling, you can guarantee about 20 Reddit posts reading something to the effect of, “WHAT’S THE MORTICIAN DOING IN THE IMPACT ZONE?”
We are very lucky then, however, to be wrestling fans in 2021 where defections to the “other” company aren’t something to be mocked but something to be excited about. For the last two-and-a-half years, All Elite Wrestling has captured the eyes and hearts of wrestling fans with its coherent and appealing storytelling, as well as its unbelievable roster of in-ring talent. AEW is not an alternative to WWE in the way that TNA was in the early 2000s; it’s competition in the way that WCW was in the late 90s. Part of this success is attributed to the way AEW utilizes underused talent let go by WWE.
Photo credit: @JJDillonWON
In 2017, Aleister Black debuted for WWE’s third brand, NXT, winning his first match against Andrade “Cien” Almas at TakeOver: Orlando. The dark and ominous Black would have a stellar run in NXT, winning their flagship championship and eventually being called up to the main roster. During his entrances, Black would rise from a coffin surrounded by funeral candles and slowly make his way up the ramp before rolling into the ring and sitting stoically in the middle of the canvas with a blank, threatening stare to the hard camera.
For such a gripping character and one that fans immediately got behind, he was criminally underutilized on the main roster, and to everyone’s disappointment but nobody’s surprise, he was released from the company. Less than two months later, however, he was back. On a random episode of AEW Dynamite nonetheless.
During a promo from the legendary Arn Anderson, the lights went black. Who would interrupt Arn Anderson? The lights are out, so maybe it’s Darby Allin? Sting, maybe? When the lights came back on, the crowd was already in a frenzy. You didn’t even have enough time to look to the top-left corner turnbuckle to see who had interrupted Double A, as the roof of the James A. Knight Centre had already been blown off. Aleister Black was in AEW.
He would continue his occult-like character in his new home, changing his name to Malakai Black and have fantastic matches with the likes of Cody Rhodes and Lee Johnson. The Satanic dispositions of his character would be turned up to 11 with a new entrance that looked to be straight out of hell.
The sounds of black metal now accompany Black to the ring as he dons a terrifying mask that resembles the skull of a combination of countless mythical nordic cryptids. In the ring, he throws a flurry of strikes that always look like they stiffly connect, and his real-life martial arts background is apparent. When a six-foot man covered in tattoos, with half of his face hidden by black face paint, is throwing kicks as high as his own head, it’s very difficult to take your eyes off the action. When a mic is in his hand, he becomes the preacher and we become the congregation, as AEW now serves as the House of Black.