For the majority of his lengthy WWE stint, Brodie Lee represented one of the promotion’s more frustrating blind spots. Though featured consistently, Lee often felt like a performer with potential far beyond his position. In WWE, Lee was Luke Harper, a Wyatt Family member that on more than one occasion, seemed set for greater heights. Those fleeting moments vanished as swiftly as they emerged though, with Lee’s clearly defined ceiling refusing to budge in that setting. Luke Harper simply wasn’t a focus and regardless of tweaks, that much was set in stone.
The same can’t be said for Brodie Lee though, a celebrated acquisition for All Elite Wrestling. Since arriving in AEW just two months ago, Lee has been a central figure, being revealed as ‘The Exalted One’ and leading The Dark Order. That increasing spotlight is clearer than ever this Saturday, as Lee challenges Jon Moxley for his AEW Title in one of Double or Nothing’s marquee matches. With such a quick turnaround, Lee should be viewed as an immediate success story and in some ways, he is. However, this particular tale is slightly more complex than that.
Though still in its primitive stages, Lee’s AEW chapter has already been unique, tracing all the way back to his much-anticipated debut. With ‘The Exalted One’s reveal advertised for Lee’s hometown of Rochester, New York, the writing was very much on the wall. It appeared to be the perfect starting point, an ideal place and moment to spark the next portion of his career. Unfortunately, Lee wouldn’t receive that hero’s welcome, instead arriving on the first empty arena episode of Dynamite. Circumstance may have dampened the spectacle but if nothing else, Lee could now officially move on.
That was the real key here, a clean slate, the chance to start fresh. Through no fault of his own, Lee had become a mere talking point in the year prior to that debut. The focus of an ongoing saga with WWE, Lee’s future had been speculated on extensively, with fans discussing and debating the moment that had now come to fruition. It was fulfilling to see Lee leave the starting line at last, but the real challenge was now underway, especially without AEW’s rabid fans in attendance.
Lee had a new character to establish regardless, immediately attempting to craft a persona that befit his ‘Exalted One’ title. Luke Harper was a follower, but Brodie Lee had to be a leader, creating a clear contrast in presentation and approach. Where Harper was wild and woolly, Lee is cerebral and calculated, donning a suit and tie while lecturing his masked followers. That destination seemed interesting enough and the route taken was encouraging also, utilizing vignettes that focused on Lee’s personality and purpose, taking The Dark Order in a different direction almost instantly.
There was a deserved optimism surrounding the whole thing, an excitement that Lee had earned with his performances in the years prior. That didn’t make the transition any smoother though, as Lee’s new character received mixed reviews right away. In fact, Lee’s antics even drew constant comparisons to Vince McMahon and naturally, that element only made the segments more divisive. Lee has since said that any ties to McMahon were unintentional but either way, the focus felt unnecessarily fractured. This was Lee’s introduction and yet alleged references to McMahon stole the spotlight, intentionally or not.
To me at least, that was slightly concerning. In theory, this latest presentation should’ve distanced Lee from his WWE run but the opposite was in effect, sparking a dialogue that felt counterproductive for his hopes to rebuild. Beyond that though, the character itself proved polarizing too. After years of watching him in the background, some enjoyed the chance to see Lee spread his wings, showing range, and branching out as a personality. On the contrary, others found it to be an ill-fit, questioning the choice and almost viewing it as an unnecessary risk.
Personally, I’ve mostly found myself sharing the latter view, reluctantly so in fact. Thus far, Lee’s presentation has been disjointed in my view, with his composed, cold temperament feeling almost in conflict with the performers’ dynamic in-ring capabilities. There was an excitement in Luke Harper’s hectic style, a raw energy that inside the ropes, captured his legitimately unique skill set. That persona may have lacked depth but for me at least, it connected so while I admire Lee’s effort to blaze a new trail, its result is a character that I’m still very much adjusting to.
The truth is though, that’s not an indictment in itself. Now more than ever, it can be easy to lose context on these things, but we remain in the opening moments of Lee’s post-WWE journey. Moreover, the circumstances certainly haven’t been ideal either. Lee hasn’t been able to adapt based on live response or reaction; he hasn’t had the organic boost that these crowds would provide, inevitably embracing him as a star. I maintain that in some ways, this character may be an over-complication of sorts, but the audience’s sheer optimism would’ve comfortably papered over the cracks while Lee found his feet.
Even with all those factors in mind, the reality is that as of right now, it’s too early to tell. This Saturday will very much vault that caution though, shining a spotlight on Lee that’ll likely prove pivotal in his long-term future. Mostly limited to character work and showcase matches, Lee may not have been an immediate homerun on Dynamite but thus far, he hasn’t really had a chance to be one either. That changes at Double or Nothing, as ready or not, Lee takes on Moxley in a match that quite feasibly, could be the biggest of his career.
If on Sunday morning, Lee’s performance dominates the headlines then frankly, any prior critiques could quickly be forgotten. Whether this character is for you or not, it’d be foolish to doubt Lee in that regard too. After all, that element was the root of the enthusiasm surrounding this acquisition, the bell to bell excitement that as a big man, Lee can seamlessly provide. On paper at least, Moxley seems to be the perfect opponent as well, a like-minded wild man that appears made-to-measure for this moment. In their own unpredictable way, Lee and Moxley could certainly make magic at Double or Nothing.
As most fans will recognize, this won’t their first meeting either, clashing both before and during their WWE stints. In fact, Luke Harper and Dean Ambrose battled on WWE PPV just over five years ago. This match is interesting in that sense alone, providing Lee with a direct comparison standing opposite him. Dean Ambrose was a WWE Champion but even still, Moxley had his own tests to pass after unexpectedly departing. There was a lingering doubt, a question as to how Moxley would fit in the wrestling world awaiting him.
Clearly, Moxley passed those tests and now as AEW Champion, he symbolizes the first true test for Lee. Though he may not have reached the heights that Moxley did in WWE, Lee can cement himself as the champion’s equal in AEW. Clearly, this setting isn’t ideal, but it could still provide enough evidence to firmly sway the consensus in one direction or the other. In terms of talent, there’s no reason that Lee can’t belong against Moxley and then some, he’s shown that before and hopefully, will show it again too.
Personally, I’ve been slightly disappointed with Lee’s initial AEW work but that only spotlights how high my initial hopes were. I genuinely believed that Lee could be a game-changer for this promotion and regardless of what we’ve seen so far, I maintain that hope. Saturday feels defining in that regard though. It’s far too early to deem this match ‘now or never,’ too soon to frame it as some kind of crossroads occasion. However, it’s importance can’t be overstated either. There are obvious limitations here but if Lee and Moxley can overcome those, this should be the first of a transformative series of matches for the challenger.
One year ago, Jon Moxley debuted at this very event and in hindsight, it’s hard to imagine an AEW without him. Ideally, we’ll think the same of Lee in a year’s time. This is Lee’s first AEW PPV match, his first shot at AEW gold. Clearly, this character isn’t yet for everyone but the performer behind it still can be. Excitement surrounded Brodie Lee for a reason and at Double or Nothing, he has the perfect platform and opponent to remind the world of exactly why that was.