Swerve Strickland Is Ready To Lead ‘The New Era Of AEW Wrestling’

Swerve Strickland makes it a point to stop and check in with his long-time friend, Gui DaSilva, when he’s in Los Angeles. DaSilva, who played the body double of the Black Panther character in some of the recent Marvel movies, is an inspiration to Strickland and someone he looks up to.

So at AEW Dynasty, as Strickland walked across the top of the entrance ramp dressed as Killmonger, he was both paying homage to his friend and sending a message to the wrestling world: It’s the Swerve Strickland era, whether we’re ready or not.

“It wasn’t about me being gifted the throne, it was me rising up, and I’m gonna take it by any means,” Strickland tells Uproxx Sports. “I’m not gonna wait, I’m here now. I’m gonna walk up to whoever the king is sitting on the throne, and I’m gonna knock him off, and I’m gonna sit on that throne. And that’s what happened at Dynasty.”

Strickland became the king of the AEW men’s division, the face that runs the place, and the first Black World Champion in the promotion’s history. The magnitude of this moment isn’t lost on him.

“I feel like in this generation, that was really something special,” Strickland says. “It meant something to people of all different colors, not just African Americans. It was for White people, Latino, Asian, anybody. I felt like it was people of all races that were joined together to witness history. It was a real special moment.”

Representation, Strickland says, will always matter. The impact of seeing someone like yourself succeed at the highest level is inspiring and can create a ripple effect throughout the world, not just in the sphere of professional wrestling. “That kind of story is what brings new viewers and brings new fans who want to follow in and brings them into our world a little more,” Strickland says.

Getting to this position hasn’t been easy. Before AEW, Strickland saw success on the independent scene before joining WWE. While he won the NXT North American championship and would eventually be drafted to Smackdown in the WWE Draft in 2021, his Hit Row faction was ultimately dismantled and he was released.

That left a chip on Strickland’s shoulder, he told Uproxx last year, and has resulted in him achieving a turnaround with potential to be arguably AEW’s biggest crossover star.

With AEW, Strickland has been awarded the creative freedom to blend pop culture with wrestling in ways that made the business boom through the 2000s. He’s worked with the likes of Fabolous, Rick Ross, and Kevin Gates. He has his own sneaker coming out and has a collaboration in the works with Flash Garments, who joined him as he walked out at Wembley Stadium alongside DJ Whoo Kid.

Strickland has a documentary series in the works, which began filming around the time of his match at World’s End against Dustin Rhodes. For Strickland, Rhodes has played a pivotal role in his development alongside AEW’s Wrestling Administration Coordinator, Will Washington.

“(Washington is) very good at understanding. Wrestlers, we have weak spots and blind spots that we don’t see. And it’s his job to point those out to make sure that we don’t make mistakes because of those blind spots and those weak spots, and he’s very good at pointing those out to me, so I’m not my own worst enemy,” Strickland says.

The relationship with Rhodes has been crucial since he joined AEW. The veteran pushes him, guides him, and offers affirmation to keep him on the right path.

“Structuring things, things that he would notice in matches, things like hearing the crowd, knowing when to do this, knowing when to shift on certain times in matches, knowing what’s needed and what’s not needed,” Strickland says about the influence of Rhodes. “Make sure the timing, the camera angles. This didn’t look right in that camera. There’s a huge science and art form to this. And he’s catching certain things that a lot of people don’t see, which is a magical thing. That’s someone that you want in your corner. That’s someone that you want to receive guidance from.”

There’s something that can be said about having locker room leaders and veterans with decades of experience. But without a certain bond, the ability to connect the dots, taking learnings away, and growing from these collective experiences might not necessarily come together.

“You can have great minds, but if they don’t know you and you don’t know them and you don’t understand, and you don’t trust their knowledge and their advice and everything, it’s kind of pointless to be working together,” Strickland says. “It’s about building the chemistry and the relationship between one another, knowing your best attributes and how to utilize them in the best way for you and someone pulling those things out of you and knowing when to pull the trigger on certain things and when to just pull back and not use, let’s wait, very simple things.”

Those learnings were instrumental over the first year of his AEW tenure, as he moved his way up the roster from the tag team scene to someone vying for the International Championship, and eventually a main eventer.

Just a year after his AEW debut, Strickland began to gain momentum around the Casino Battle Royale at Double of Nothing against Orange Cassidy.

“At the end and that little four minutes of a brief stint of a match that we had, I feel like that’s where a lot of people’s eyes lit up,” Strickland says. “Following up on that, I would say the title defense that Orange Cassidy had against me opened a lot of people’s eyes. And then I would say the Nick Wayne wrestling school invasion between myself and AR Fox and Nanna. That was another thing that opened up people’s eyes on the other side of that. Not just the in-ring, but what depth the character has. And then I would say after that me and Hangman Page, just me coming out and interrupting him and having that dialogue and just running down Hangman Page from top to bottom.”

At AEW Dynasty’s post-event media scrum, CEO Tony Khan said that a turning point in him seeing Strickland as someone who could become the face of the company began in his rivalry with ‘Hangman’ Adam Page. The rivalry between Strickland and Page has developed, transforming from two guys who meshed well in the ring to a classic rivalry defined by brutality between two wrestlers who bring out the best in one another.

“That’s honestly a special feeling,” Strickland says. “Especially where everything that Hangman Page has already done up to this point. Having the Bryan Danielson, the Kenny Omega battles that he’s had, you know, him and Moxley, the tag match with him and the Bucks, all those things that he’s already done. And then to still add me into that mix. It feels just so different than all those other matches.

“Those are already big, historic, all the wrestling staples to the company, but just adding me in that mix, it feels like you’re adding a whole different chemical imbalance to this formula that’s already been made and the room shifts a little bit,” he continues. “And that’s really unique to have. And I think that just right there, that’s the best part about that.”

As the champion, Strickland is in the unique position of no longer being the challenger. Now, he says, it’s not about finding guys to mix it up with, rather who’s hungry, who wants to step up and take a shot.

But Strickland feels the pressure that comes with the heavyweight championship. He calls the next steps a “never-ending, shifting puzzle,” but a challenge he’s up for.

“It’s a Rubik’s cube that never stops moving around. Once you figure out one side, you got to try to figure out the other side. And so it’s honestly just keeping a hand on the pulse of not just the wrestling world, but the world itself. Being on top of those things and trying to be just more cutting edge as much as we can be, but also stick to a lot of traditional things in wrestling, staying true to that as well,” Strickland says.

“And then there’s integration that comes into play with that kind of stuff. Activations taking our wrestling world outside of our wrestling bubble into other different worlds. I feel like I’m one of the people that can really bridge that together to go into the new era of AEW wrestling.”