It’s been nearly two decades since I’ve watched a full episode of a weekly professional wrestling show. I broke that streak with this Wednesday’s debut of All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite on TNT. I’ve written here before about the events that led me to stop watch wrestling (as well as how I’ve dabbled here and there in the last couple of years). But for the uninitiated, here’s a bit of background that I promise not to rehash after this particular article.
I was a huge WCW fan, never missing a Nitro or a pay-per-view. I recorded EVERYTHING. Yes, even episodes of WCW Thunder. I bonded with my dad, an old school NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions fan, over all this wrestling and became obsessed. I read the “dirt sheets,” and eventually, when I was still in high school, I joined up with two guys in 1999 to create a show called Saturday Night Slam, one of the first professional wrestling radio shows in the nation. We went backstage at house shows and pay-per-views, meeting a ton of great people in the business along the way. Hell, I even took my senior pictures in a Monday Night Jericho t-shirt (And no, I will not be posting that here).
I didn’t disregard WWF. It just wasn’t what I grew up with, so when I watched, it didn’t carry the same weight for me personally as WCW did, even when it put on a superior product. So, when Vince McMahon bought WCW, I checked out. Immediately and completely. Since it coincided with me going off to college, it was a good time to get out.
Slowly, over the course of the last couple of years, I got sucked back in via New Japan Pro Wrestling. I began following the careers of the group known as The Elite (Nick & Matt Jackson and Kenny Omega). When they, along with Cody Rhodes and others (including my old fave Chris Jericho), formed All Elite Wrestling, I was as excited as I’ve been about professional wrestling in the last 20 years.
So, with all that said, I watched AEW Dynamite this week. And I really, really liked it. Apparently so did a considerable amount of other people. AEW pulled in over 1.4 million viewers, good enough for 2nd place among the 18-49 demographic (behind only the MLB Wild Card game). Of course, it’s only the first episode. It’ll be more telling where they are after a full quarter of shows, grinding week to week, but it’s a pretty damn strong first number.
For the sake of comparison, WWE’s NXT had 891,000 viewers on the USA Network.
While I’m on the topic of NXT, let me be clear: This is going to be a weekly AEW recap. I’m not anti-WWE or anti-NXT. But I am jaded and, to be perfectly honest, still pissed off that WCW imploded and WWE came out on top. I don’t think I’m alone in that. When WCW folded, all of those viewers didn’t just jump to WWE. Many left the sport entirely like me. If we can judge from the ratings this week, it seems that some (also like me) are back.
So, 500 words later, I’m here to say that AEW has reignited a wrestling flame that I thought long, long extinguished. I want AEW to succeed because I think it will boost the pro wrestling product across all companies, big and small, and pro wrestling is still something that I love, all these years later. I want it to do well, and I’m rooting for it. So, as much as this column will be cheerleading the good stuff, I won’t hold back on the drizzling shits, as they say. While it’s not realistic to think that everything can be great, the whole goal of wrestling is to GET OVER. Make the crowd pop. Get a reaction for the reason that you intended. That’s what I’m going to be looking at. From the perspective of a fan, and from the perspective of someone that was a fan for a very long time and is now coming back with a new perspective on the business.
Each week, I’ll break down the events of AEW Dynamite into three basic categories:
Main Event Shit
Mid-Card Mixed Bag
So, as they say in the biz, without further ado, let’s go to the ring!
Main Event Shit
The AEW set looks fantastic. The lighting is such a drastic shift from its Wednesday counterpart, NXT, that the difference is literally night and day. There’s also the phenomenal idea of a turnbuckle cam, which provided a few great shots during the show.
Seeing Tony freaking Schiavone on screen with JR (and Excalibur) hits me right in that sweet spot of nostalgia. Tony was the voice of my childhood. When I heard he got back in the business and was doing a podcast called What Happened When (with co-host Conrad Thompson), I became an instant listener. That podcast never fails to deliver on laughs and memories, both good and bad. It’s great to see him back in the business.
Displaying the records on the graphics along with the wrestlers’ names is very different. I honestly wasn’t sure about it when I heard that AEW was going to go this route of “wins and losses matter,” but I like it so far. Plus, I think that there’s an instant buy-in with the casual fan flipping through channels. They can see instantly where this good guy or bad guy is in terms of pecking order. We’ll see how this works long term, but I’m down with it so far.
It was a bold move opening the show with a video package instead of going right into a match (especially with NXT running their title match at the same time). However, I thought it worked. Let’s face it: A lot of fans know the backstory on these guys, but a lot don’t. If you’re tuning in to AEW, you probably know Cody Rhodes. But what about Sammy Guevera? I thought it was extremely helpful in setting the stage for not only the match, but the characters going forward. It turned out to be extra important, as that opening match set the stage for the last few minutes of the show.
Speaking of which, I love stables. The 4 Horsemen. The NWO. DX. The Dangerous Alliance. Love them. So when the main event of Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks vs. Chris Jericho, Santana, and Ortiz ended with The Elite getting beat down by the new stable of Jericho, Santana, Ortiz, Guevara, and the surprise run-in Jake Hager (formerly Jack Swagger in WWE), it felt like the beginnings of AEW’s first uber-heel faction.
The women’s title match delivered and then some. In terms of workrate and fan engagement, Riho and Nyla Rose probably put on the best match of the show. There were several near falls that faked out both the crowd and myself. The actual finish got maybe the biggest pop of the show. The women’s division looks to be in great shape.
Mid-Card Mixed Bag
The promo and ensuing brawl between SCU and the Lucha Bros was sufficient in establishing the characters of these teams (and the tag tournament), but it was just ok. It was nice to see that Christopher Daniels hasn’t aged in the 20 years that I’ve been away from the sport. The dude looks exactly the same as he did when I wanted WCW to sign him in the 1990s.
Pac and Hangman worked a solid mid-card match, but neither came off as stars. They can be upper mid-card talent, but where they fall in the ultimate pecking order of AEW is yet to be seen.
Bringing Britt Baker out to do commentary during the women’s match probably sounded like a good idea in production meetings, but she brought the excitement level of a coma patient. There was no added value at all.
If wins and losses matter (as AEW is promising they do), how can you make the officials of your sport look completely hapless? Well, that’s what happened when Jon Moxley blatantly interfered in the main event right in front of the referee’s eyes?
I’m fine with run-ins, but there’s no way that shouldn’t have caused an immediate DQ. Let’s not be like WWE and insult the viewer’s intelligence.
In all, the debut episode of AEW Dynamite has to be considered a win, from fan reaction to ratings to actual content. Dynamite managed to look like a big league show without coming off as an exact WWE copy. Now, going forward, AEW needs to continue to establish characters and not be scared to take chances. While ratings are important, they can’t let that drive decision making. This show was not revolutionary, but it was an alternative and for now, it seems like that will be good enough. How long can that last? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out.