When I started writing about AEW and Dynamite specifically, I didn’t really just want to write another recap of a wrestling show. There’s plenty of those. I’m a lot more interested in what makes a wrestling show work. That’s where the title Getting Over came from. How does a company, starting almost completely from scratch, build a show into something engaging? Or maybe, it all falls apart. Either way, it’s worth discussing.
The last couple of years have seen the in-ring work across the world reach almost unparalleled levels. Wrestlers today are doing things routinely that wrestlers 20 years ago could only have dreamed of. Guys like AEW’s own Kenny Omega and New Japan’s Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay have raised the stakes in terms of work-rate. Is that high-level type of wrestling enough to sustain a weekly show and make it great?
Maybe, but I think that this week’s Dynamite is an interesting case study in what makes a show really click. Because, goddamn, this week’s show rocked. Why? The in-ring work was really good. More importantly, though, this week’s Dynamite gave us stories. For years, people have called pro wrestling a “male soap opera,” something I’ve bristled at at times. However, when done right, wrestling can be that and more. And, by and large, this week was done pretty damn right. Let’s dig in:
Main Event Shit
The top-notch storytelling of this episode started right from the opening match. The opener saw Jon Moxley taking on Ortiz, as Mox seemingly is going to try to take out every member of Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle one by one. The match itself was good, but no one is going to remember the match (which Moxley won with a Paradigm Shift) because the post-match angle was what mattered and what furthered the story.
Jericho provided commentary during the match, with the rest of the Inner Circle standing by. Jericho, by the way, is so so good. Nearly everything he says has a function, either getting himself, Mox, the Inner Circle, or the angle over in some way. It’s actually kind of amazing. So, with Jericho on commentary, Mox celebrates his victory by getting out the keys to the car that Jericho gifted him when trying to recruit Mox to the Inner Circle.
In a beautiful touch of synchronicity, Mox takes the car keys to Santana’s eye, screaming at Jericho, “An eye for an eye.” Not that Jericho-Mox needed any more build-up really, but this feud has had a million memorable moments that make the match a pretty damn huge deal. From Mox smashing the champagne bottle over Jericho’s head to the eye stabbing to this retaliation eye stab, the whole feud has been a masterclass in storytelling. This is miles better than “this guy does a run-in and interferes.” This gives people something to latch onto, something to care about.
Later in the show, the Inner Circle gets a video package where Jericho hilariously asks, “What kind of a piece of trash takes a spike and puts it in another man’s eye?” Never change, Jericho. Santana then cuts a great promo, challenging Mox to an “eye for an eye” match. I have no idea what that means, but I’m down for it after that promo.
–The 8-man tag between The Elite (The Young Bucks, Omega, and Hangman) vs. the Butcher, the Blade, and the Lucha Brothers was awesome in both in-ring action and the continuation of the Hangman Page saga. As I said last week, even with the Jericho-Mox and the Cody-MJF feuds, this slow-burn Hangman turn is my favorite thing happening in AEW. They’ve handled it so incredibly well, giving us a compelling character caught in a complex situation.
In this match, Omega worked flawlessly with the Bucks, operating like they were totally on the same page, from their entrance to the in-ring action.
Hangman was very clearly on the outside looking in. Page never tagged in the Bucks and they didn’t tag him in. It was a great mix of storyline influencing in-ring work.
Similarly, for the finish of the match, Hangman was looking to make the hot tag, but Omega got pulled from the apron to the floor. Page refused to tag in the Bucks, instead walking himself right into a slingblade from Pentagon Jr, giving way for the bad guys to get the somewhat unexpected win.
The Bucks were understandably pissed, but so was Hangman, leaving the ring to again drink beer with the fans. Omega again found himself in the middle, trying to play peacemaker.
Later in the show, Hangman was being interviewed backstage with a beer in his hand. The Bucks showed up to chew his ass, blaming his problem on beer (not cool Bucks), even taking Page’s beer from him and storming off. Then, in the best piece of camera work I’ve seen from a wrestling show in a long time, the camera zooms out to reveal Page lifting a freaking full pitcher of beer to his lips. Just a beautiful shot and yet another well crafted furthering of an angle.
–After the 8-man tag, Tony Schiavone is in the ring to interview Kenny Omega. Predictably, Omega is interrupted by a video of PAC backstage. PAC requests his long-awaited rubber match, and reveals that he has Riho, of course intimating that he’s going to hurt her if Omega doesn’t accept. Omega accepts immediately, and then PAC basically says he was never going to hurt her because he’s not an animal. Nyla Rose, however, shows up and powerbombs tiny Riho into a table, setting up a match for the women’s title on next week’s Dynamite.
Also announced is a 30-minute Iron Man match for the go-home show before Revolution in three weeks. First, let me say that I am jazzed for an Iron Man match because the in-ring work is going to be awesome. This type of match usually happens on a pay-per-view, so I’m interested to see how it plays on a television show instead.
However, the build to this Omega-PAC program simply hasn’t been anywhere near the quality of the Jericho-Mox or Cody-MJF feuds. It has basically been “you beat me, I beat you, let’s fight.” Which is not the worst thing ever, but it suffers by comparison. Still, I’m here for the match itself.
–A really great Darby Allin video package aired.
There were highlights of the Inner Circle beatdown from last week. Then, Allin breaks out a freaking flamethrower (!) and takes it to a cardboard cutout of Jericho and Sammy Guevara. This is a perfect example of a video package that helps to further a character and potential feud without having Allin actually wrestle a match. It keeps Allin hot (no pun intended) and in the forefront of fans’ minds.
–Finally, the “main event” of the show: Cody submitting to 10 lashes from MJF. I can understand if this segment wasn’t for everyone. It’s definitely something unlike anything we’ve seen on a wrestling show for some time, but I absolutely loved it. To rewind, this was the first stipulation that Cody had to suffer before he could have a match with MJF (the next being a cage match with Wardlow). So, Cody enters and takes off his shirt. MJF takes Cody’s own belt, and begins whipping the shit out of his back.
Arn comes down and doesn’t do anything because basically, he can’t. Cody has to take these lashes if he’s gonna get MJF. Dustin comes down and, like Arn, can’t do anything. Eventually, Wardlow takes a turn with the lashes too.
All of this was completely over-the-top in a perfectly pro wrestling type of way. Cody had to play the role of the suffering hero, and, let’s be real, this segment would have died if Cody wasn’t perfect in this role. MJF had to be the most despicable scumbag ever, a character that he was born to play. The segment arguably went on a little too long, but did it add to the drama? You’re damn right it did. The best part of this is not really the fact that Cody had to take the lashes, but the fact that he had to and couldn’t do anything about it.
In another interesting twist, Brandi (completely out of her Nightmare Collective gimmick) showed up and willed Cody to take the final lash. Is Brandi done with the stupid Nightmare Collective thing? We’ll see, but we can hope.
When MJF does exit through the crowd, they show a fan going after MJF. While this was almost certainly a plant, there is no doubt that MJF has that rare old school heel heat. Back in the 70s and 80s, a good heel would legitimately have trouble making it out of the arena without someone trying to kick his ass. I have no doubt that several fans would have been willing to take their shot after this week’s show.
People can’t wait for Cody to eventually give MJF his comeuppance. Right now, fans will pay money for that to happen. That, my friends, is what pro wrestling is. Yes, the in-ring stuff matters. Matches can’t suck and get over. But fans come to pro wrestling for the stories, with the matches serving as the eventual pay-off. That doesn’t work if there is no build, if there’s no investment. Well, there’s plenty of investment in Cody beating the everloving shit out of MJF.
Mid-Card Mixed Bag
–In the 2nd match on Dynamite, SCU took on Best Friends. The story the last couple of weeks has been whether SCU could get back on the winning track after losing the tag titles to Omega and Hangman. After a very solid match of back-and-forth action, they did just that. There were some really good spots in this match, and, of course, an Orange Cassidy appearance.
In the turning point of the match, Best Friends had the momentum over the #1 ranked SCU. Then, they went in for the obligatory Best Friends hug, allowing Scorpio Sky (who Jim Ross called 2 Cold Scorpio at one point) to recover and hit a knee on Trent. That sent Trent into a Yoshi Tonic from Kazarian, giving SCU the win.
Immediately after the match, the Dark Order makes their way to the ring and cleans house. Give AEW credit: After it was clear the Dark Order attack on The Elite did not work at all, they’ve shifted focus and given them a feud more fitting with their mid-card status. It’s still not a great gimmick, but at least they’re not forcing it into the main event scene.
The Dark Order tries to recruit Orange Cassidy, who puts his hands in his pockets only to get destroyed as a result.
Then, Christopher Daniels runs in, and, since he’s the Dark Order’s number 1 recruit, they retreat. Like I said, this is still not awesome by any means, but I’m interested to see where this goes. Does Daniels join? Who is the “exalted one”? Does someone like Matt Hardy or Luke Harper (who is set to make his AEW debut in March) show up and give the group some legitimacy? I’m actually interested in the answers to these questions, so they’re doing something right with the Dark Order I guess.
–I said it last week, but I’ll say it again: I am here for heel Britt Baker. This week, Baker took on Yuka Sakazaki. The match itself was not very good at all, but, in an interesting turn of events, the relatively unknown Sakazaki got the surprise win. This caused Baker to snap, playing up the full heel turn that fans have seen coming for weeks now.
After hitting Sakazaki with the ring bell (in the softest bell shot in history), Baker curbed stomped her, with her teeth around the bottom rope. In a visual that will do more for Baker than any match she’s ever wrestled, Sakazaki’s mouth was bleeding and teeth were falling out. Then, Baker put her in the Lockjaw, creating just a great lasting image.
The post-match angle made this segment way better than it had any right to be. Heel Britt Baker is the best Britt Baker.
–Probably the least interesting thing on the show was the Kip Sabian and Joey Janela match. It’s not that it was bad because it wasn’t. It’s just so blah. I think I could be into Janela, but Kip Sabian does less than nothing for me. I don’t like him. I don’t hate him. I just don’t care, which is about the worst thing you can say about a performer. Still, it wasn’t bad enough to earn “Jobber Status.” It was just there.
The Final Bell
–For one episode of a television show to build three totally different storylines and programs, with nearly all of the company’s top stars represented, is quite a feat. There’s Mox and Jericho, still chugging along at a top-notch pace. Cody and MJF is setting a new standard in today’s wrestling world for “hot.” Then, the Hangman Page saga is pulling me in all sorts of directions.
That is a wonderful balance of things happening. It gives the fans the red meat stuff it wants at an extremely high level, but it also doesn’t inundate them with pointless shit. One of the things that AEW tried to do early on was have every segment build towards something. Sometimes it has worked. Other times, not at all, but this was one of the good ones, folks. I’m looking forward to what happens next.