Flying high after a much needed kid-free vacation to Cancun, I return to recap this week’s edition of AEW Dynamite. Similarly, AEW returned to soaring heights last week, drawing 900k viewers in a New Year’s Day episode that erased the sour taste left by the winter finale.
That episode successfully teased the fate of The Elite: Would they return to the dominance that was promised upon the foundation of All Elite Wrestling? Or would they continue to job to lesser opponents and be embarrassed by half-baked cult factions? The answer, thank God, was a resounding nod to the former, with the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega defeating the Lucha Brothers and PAC in a blistering main event.
AEW seemingly got the message. Perhaps the most comforting things to come out of last week’s episode is the idea that they are willing to listen to criticism, a stark contrast to a WWE that continues to disregard what anyone not named Vince McMahon thinks. Coming off their first big dose of negative criticism, AEW seemed to have made it clear that they knew the big angle with the Dark Order didn’t work.
But was last week an aberration? Or is AEW truly back to delivering a fun show that delivers on promises and builds programs in a thoughtful and fulfilling way? Here’s my take on just who and what is Getting Over on this week’s episode of AEW Dynamite:
Mid-Card Mixed Bag
–Let’s start with the end of Dynamite, since it’s a microcosm of the problems with this week’s episode. AEW smartly chose to end the show with the Mox/Jericho segment that has been teased for a month now: Would Mox join the Inner Circle? I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that exactly no one expected Mox to accept Jericho’s offer. We just didn’t know exactly how he was going to reject it, although I certainly expected the rejection to be badass. Instead, what happened was a largely flat, tension-less segment that went on way to long.
Mox walked pensively to the ring, joining Jericho, Sammy Guevara (whose picture-in-picture cue card gimmick was arguably the best thing about the segment), and Jake Hager. In a swerve that someone probably thought would rile up the crowd, Moxley said yes to Jericho’s offer.
I’m not opposed to this, and it wasn’t exactly unexpected. The problem was that between the acceptance and the inevitable double swerve where Mox actually rejected the offer, there was a whole lot of nothing. The segment died because the crowd kept waiting for Mox to change his mind and it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen. Of course, he ended up smashing a champagne bottle over Jericho’s head and giving everyone a Paradigm Shift, but the road to get there was a boring one, a disappointing segment that should have been hot as hell.
Now, if we’re just looking at the end result, this angle did a nice job of cementing Mox as the man that should ultimately take the strap from Jericho. However, if we look at if from a storytelling perspective, it (like too much of this week’s show) fumbled the ball on the one yard line.
–Similarly, there were a couple of really good matches throughout the show that got somewhat overshadowed by clunky narratives.
The opening match of the show was probably, all things considered, probably the best from both an in-ring perspective and narratively. They’ve been teasing Hangman’s split from The Elite for weeks, and that continued here. There were numerous miscommunication issues in the match, although, in the end, the team shook hands and seemed ok. This was an action-packed, entertaining match.
My issue with the Hangman/Omega tension is that there’s no real baseline for the crowd to invest in. There’s a ton of people watching Dynamite that have no idea about the background of The Elite, Omega’s main event status and iconic matches in Japan, or Hangman’s role within the group. All they know is what’s been shown on television. In other words, AEW is asking the crowd to invest in two guys that haven’t exactly been treated as the stars that they should be and then, on top of that, be invested in them splitting up. This is not the Rockers. This is not #DIY. In my opinion, this “will they/won’t they” angle works best with an established team, but, all that said, AEW is doing it about as well as they can. I can only hope that both guys come out of it hotter than they were, which, to be honest, wouldn’t take all that much.
Mostly, I just want to see the Kenny Omega that was, just a year or two ago, the hottest guy in the business.
–The most over thing on the show was arguably (and strangely enough) the six-man tag of Best Friends and Orange Cassidy vs. the Jurassic Express. Apparently, Marko Stunt’s hometown of Memphis is close to Southaven, Mississippi, so he was insanely hot with the crowd. Marko did his thing and got great crowd response. Similarly, Orange Cassidy, in what was I think his first actual match in AEW, got an insane pop when he entered the ring.
It’s a rare thing (and the very definition of “over”) when someone gets tagged in and the entire arena stands in applause. That’s what happened with Cassidy. It warmed my heart. I think Jurassic Express won the match, but, in the end, it barely matters. Between Marko, Luchasaurus, Jungle Boy, and Orange, the crowd was frothing. See? Goofy shit works in wrestling, but it’s got to be done the right way. Funny, enjoyable stuff is great. Dumb, irritating is not. Remember this, AEW.
–I really like Sammy Guevara and think he’s going to be a star in a couple of years. Christopher Daniels is one of my favorite dudes in wrestling. Because of that, I liked their match on this week’s episode. Daniels was in control until Pentagon Jr showed up to challenge Daniels to do a springboard. Sammy took advantage and got the win.
All of this stems from Daniels botching the springboard moonsault a couple of weeks ago, which makes me wonder whether they built the angle out of the botch or if the botch wasn’t a botch after all. Inquiring minds want to know.
After the match, the Dark Order showed up. I think that, if this Dark Order thing is going to work in any way, it’s by going after mid-carders like Daniels. Inserting the Dark Order into the main event is no way to live, so working their gimmick into the “does he still have it” angle with Daniels is not so bad. Daniels rejected the Dark Order this time and got pummeled for his choice. Both SCU and the Bucks ran in for the save. To end the segment, Daniels successfully hit a moonsault, so maybe he’s got his mojo back? Time will tell.
–The Rhodes brothers teamed up to take on the Lucha Brothers in a match that probably wasn’t as hot as it should have been. Don’t get me wrong, all four guys are over and the action was fine. I just expected more, especially if we couple this match with the overarching crossover angle between Cody and MJF. After Cody and Dustin win this match, Tony Schiavone came down to the ring to talk to Cody, but Arn Anderson took over, asserting himself in his new role as head coach, basically saying that they’ll answer MJF’s demands next week. This is the same “tease an answer for next week” thing they did last week with Mox and Jericho.
Immediately after this segment, MJF and Wardlow make their way to the ring for a promo. MJF starts the promo by giving Cody ten seconds to make his way to the ring. Cody doesn’t come out, and the announcers say that they don’t think Cody is even here anymore, all this maybe five minutes after Cody just got done wrestling.
DDP, however, does come out and cuts a promo on MJF, calling him “Motormouth Jackoff Friedman” and dropping a “Wardblow” for good measure.
There’s a lot to like about this segment, and it’s one of the better ones of the show. DDP is good on the mic as always, and MJF is hilarious, never more so than when he’s in the corner looking bored and actually tweeting while DDP is talking:
DDP teases coming back to wrestle one more match, which would be a great idea for a pay-per-view. This could actually draw some buys and create some interest. DDP doesn’t give an answer during this segment at all. Instead, in a completely brain dead move, AEW blows the potential for a big comeback match by announcing later in the show that DDP is going to be in a throwaway six-man tag match on next week’s show with QT freaking Marshall and Dustin Rhodes. Giving away DDP’s return for free and having it be in a match with the Butcher and the Blade is just insane to me.
Speaking of insane, it was QT and Dustin who came down to the ring to help DDP during the beatdown by the Butcher and the Blade. Why not Cody? Dustin was in the same match as Cody and he made his way down. Cody’s the one actually feuding with MJF. What the hell was he doing? These narrative inconsistencies are ruining an otherwise enjoyable product. Just have Cody come down, clean house, and watch MJF squirrel himself away through the crowd. This isn’t hard, folks.
–By far the worst thing on this show was the way the women’s title match unfolded. In fact, this was the worst segment in AEW’s short history. The match between Riho and Kris Statlander has been built up for a few weeks, and Statlander has been positioned as a budding star. This should have been a showcase for these two wrestlings and, ideally, for the women’s division as a whole.
Alas, that is not what happened. Instead of establishing Statlander as a star and Riho as a championship force, we got a total match-ruining angle. I knew things were not going to turn out well when we got Brandi Rhodes starting out on commentary. To her credit, she was not bad, calling Excalibur “Exhibit” in a decent heel announcer role.
Things took a turn for the worse, though, when the Nightmare Collective made their presence known. If they want to do this shit during a Britt Baker match or whatever, then fine. But to pull this during maybe the showcase women’s match the company has had thus far? Egregious.
Awesome Kong and Mel came down to the ring, completely sucking the energy out of the match. They attacked Riho and Brandi walked to the ring to confront Statlander, who apparently has thankfully softened her alien gimmick. Then, the bald man from the Nightmare Collective videos came out from under the ring. Because no one on the announce team ever knows who anyone is aside from Excalibur, he introduced the bald man as “Japanese deathmatch legend Luther.” Maybe one percent of the crowd would know who this was, so, predictably, no one reacted or cared. Long story short, Luther is Jericho’s buddy from way back, so Jericho got him this job.
All of this went over like a lead balloon. The only thing the crowd popped at all for was the two women in the match, so maybe, just maybe, AEW SHOULD HAVE LEFT THE GODDAMN MATCH ALONE. The Nightmare Collective are crowd heat vampires, completely sucking any and all energy out of the building.
I truly think there is a role for Brandi in this company, and the same goes for Awesome Kong. Unfortunately, this pairing is by far the worst thing going in AEW and maybe all of professional wrestling, which really covers some ground. Please, AEW, put an end to this gimmick. Forget it ever existed. The audience will forgive you, but please make it stop.
The Final Bell
–Coming off last week’s very good show, this episode of Dynamite was a strong disappointment. The end result of a lot of the matches and angles were fine, but the path to get there was fraught with inconsistencies and nonsense. Let me make things simple, AEW:
Give the fans very good matches. With this roster, this shouldn’t be hard.
Let the good talkers in the company give a few promos per show.
Build characters through video packages.
In other words, do what you did last week instead of what you did this week. Seriously, if you can do that, you’ll be ahead of the curve.