AEW’s Swerve Strickland Is Everyone’s Favorite Wrestling Supervillain

Photo:  All Elite Wrestling
Photo: All Elite Wrestling

AEW star Swerve Strickland has had a pretty spectacular 2022. After debuting with the company in March, he and partner Keith Lee spent a big chunk of the summer as the AEW Tag Team Champions. Unfortunately, their differences on how best to defend those titles has led to a split for Swerve In Our Glory and they are now bitter enemies.

When Swerve spoke to The Root ahead of his face-to-face meeting with Lee on the Dec. 21 episode of AEW Dynamite, he told me to expect fireworks from the segment. Well, he wasn’t wrong. During an attack on Lee, which ended with Swerve driving a cinder block through Keith’s chest with a top rope stomp, Strickland introduced his new group, Mogul Affiliates. It also appears that rapper/producer/occasional wrestling hype man Rick Ross is a member, but we’ll have to wait for the story to unfold to find out exactly what Ross’ connection is to the new faction.

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This is just the latest development in a fascinating shift for Swerve’s character. He’s always been cocky and confident in his abilities, but now he’s adding a new level of danger to things that fans have gravitated to. Unlike other heel turns, this change hasn’t been an out-of-the-blue situation. The audience has gotten a slow build as we’ve watched Swerve drop hints about his true feelings and motives. It’s been a cool progression for the character, something that Strickland put a lot of work into.

“I always survey the playing field of my character, other people’s characters, other people’s motivations, my motivation and the situation in the scenario I’m in,” Strickland told The Root. “Then that’s where I really get to have a lot of fun and manipulate and play with certain things. I think that’s why people really dig a lot of my work in the ring as far as my persona, because I’m just taking and improvising with what I’m giving. I shift on what the crowd’s feeling.”

The former NXT North American Champion admits that his time in WWE helped him develop his on-camera facials. That work, combined with some inspiration from one of the best actors in the world, has allowed Swerve to give his character an evil supervillain vibe without it veering too far into campy or cheesy territory.

“I always base my performances on actors who have really strong facial features…and I kind of take scenes and I recreate them in the ring,” he said. “I’m a big Daniel Day Lewis fan, so I use a lot of his facials, his voice inflections, his presence on camera, I try to manipulate a lot of those same things and make it my own.”

After months of teasing fans that we were going to see a less ethical version of the character, a surprise segment during the Oct. 28 episode of AEW Rampage featured Swerve viciously attacking The Acclaimed’s mentor Billy Gunn. Fans were shocked at his brutality, but also intrigued by the unorthodox presentation. To Strickland, it was a chance to show that he has more to offer than incredible in-ring performances.

“It showed a different side of me…also it showed that I can be a dangerous person,” Swerve said. “There has to be a sense of danger. I showed the world that I can perform. Now I need to show the world that I’m actually a dangerous individual. Every time you step in the ring with me, or get around me, whether it’s a backstage promo, whether I’m by myself talking to the camera, there’s a sense there’s a fuse, and it’s really, really short. And there’s consequences to igniting that fuse.”

Now that he’s taking things in a fresh, unexpected direction, it opens a whole new world of possibilities for Swerve in 2023. Two names he mentioned for opponents he’d like to battle in the coming year are Kyle O’Reilly and Andrade. Unfortunately, both wrestlers are currently injured and out of action, but come on. Who doesn’t want to see those matches?

“Someone like that I’ve always admired—he’s currently not healthy at the moment—is Kyle O’Reilly. I’ve admired that man for so long, so many years,” Strickland said. “I’d pick a one on one match, because he’s literally the most unique in-ring performer in the world. Just so unique, so versatile, doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for how good he is. He’s someone I definitely want to tie up with. And Andrade is someone I’ve always admired as well. I feel like he was on his way to having one of the biggest breakout performances in wrestling a couple years ago. I know he’s hurt too. I miss him, I want to see him around more, and I definitely want to get in the ring with him.”

Honestly, both of those matches could be awesome main events for any shoe and would be certified bangers.

You can check out Swerve Strickland and his Mogul Affiliates on AEW Dynamite, airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on TBS and AEW Rampage, airing Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.

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