Let’s start with the obvious: Things are massively screwed up right about now. With the Coronavirus sweeping across the globe, events the world over have been cancelled. Of course, that’s the least of our concerns, really, as people are dying and the rest of us are basically quarantined.
As such, we’re left in a strange purgatory of emotions, finding it hard to enjoy the things we typically do while also desperately needing some distraction from the real world. Last week, just as the reality of our current situation was sinking in, I had no interest in watching wrestling. I struggled through the opening of Dynamite and shut it off without so much as a second thought. I never did finish it.
This week, I was ready to get back to the action. Part of that was simple curiosity as to how in the hell AEW was going to pull off an episode of Dynamite with no fans in the crowd. I also needed the distraction. In the grand scheme of things, wrestling doesn’t seem that important right now, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place either.
With that as the context for this week’s show, the level of difficulty for pulling off an entertaining live wrestling program with zero fans in the building is monumental. A 15 on a scale of 10. This is especially true for a company like AEW, a company that thrives on hot crowds.
So how’d they do? All things considered, pretty damn well. This was a solid 7/10 episode that probably would have been higher if they’d been able to perform in front of a real crowd. Let’s break it down:
Main Event Shit
–Given that no fans could be in the arena for the show, AEW made a brilliant move in having wrestlers at ringside in the crowd. MJF was a perfect choice, and his gambling gimmick played well. Hell, it even gave Shawn Spears something to do. Just having a few people, even if it was only wrestlers, prevented the show from having a “high school theater production” vibe to it like some other shows. I fully expect WWE to steal this.
I also think that AEW is helped significantly by running these empty-crowd shows in a theater setting. The building has far better acoustics than an arena and should allow AEW to keep running entertaining shows for as long as they need or want to.
–The show opened with Cody giving a monologue about how small the world, and how we all need to stand together, even if it’s from a distance. He also puts over both Matt Jackson and Hangman Page, while saying that for the Elite to win at Blood & Guts, these two need to get along and be a team again.
Matt and Kenny Omega come out, with Omega talking about how he and Cody haven’t always gotten along. The current world situation has made him realize, though, that if he’s going out he wants to go out with the Elite. Page appears on the ramp, and Matt asks him if he’ll stand with the Elite, which gets a tip o’ the drink from Page.
Someone had to address the audience at home at the beginning of the show, and Cody was the easy choice. He weaved a story, from the coronavirus to storyline tension between the Elite, that made sense and set the stage for the night. While it was undoubtedly weird, given the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine this going much better.
–It’s truly unfortunate that AEW had to do this particular episode of Dynamite in front of no crowd. They’ve been building the reveal of the Dark Order’s “Exalted One” for months, and then they had to do it in front of basically no one. So who is the Exalted One? Well, in a very good segment, we finally get the answer. The Dark Order comes to the ring again teasing the arrival of the Exalted One, but they’re interrupted by Christopher Daniels calling bullshit on the whole thing.
Then, a video package cuts off Daniels mid-sentence. A distorted voice announces that the Exalted One will be revealed soon and they will do what they want when they want. Gradually, the voice becomes less distorted and we see Brodie Lee (the former Luke Harper).
Lee appears in the ring with Evil Uno and Stu Grayson. They proceed to clean house on SCU and kick the shit out of Christopher Daniels.
Even without a crowd, the reveal of Brodie Lee was handled really well. He looked like a star here. The only thing I didn’t like was that his ring gear was underwhelming. Otherwise, though, Lee as the leader of the Dark Order has to be considered a win considering how shitty the gimmick was when Dynamite started.
–In another “new guy” segment, Tony Schiavone tried to interview Lance Archer, but Jake Roberts cut him off (which is, more or less, how every Tony interview goes). Roberts says that Cody disrespected he and Archer by not answering the challenge. Now, he says, they’ll get his attention.
Following that promo, a video package airs of a wrestling ring in a backyard-type set-up. Lance Archer is there with a bunch of backyard wrestlers, and he proceeds to destroy all of them in kickass fashion.
This segment rocked. Archer looked massive and awesome.
–In the first match of the show, the Lucha Bros took on Best Friends, with Orange Cassidy sitting in on commentary (while hilariously not saying a word).
This came directly after a video package pimping the Death Triangle, which is a faction name that is growing on me big time.
The match itself was really good opener. With no crowd, these guys worked what I’d term a “loud match,” with lots of banter and loud strikes.
If we’re seeing the first of many no-crowd shows, this is the type of match that can succeed in such a setting. The action was solid throughout, and this was miles better than the tag team match that would follow later on.
The Lucha Bros needed the win here to legitimize their faction even more, and they ended up getting it after a low blow to Trent and an MDK.
Good back and forth tag match that sets up a parking lot for next week (which is a great idea since it requires no crowd).
–I feel like I’m burying the lede a bit in just now talking about the main event. Dynamite capped off this week’s episode with a six-man tag match between The Inner Circle (Hager, Santana, and Ortiz) and The Elite (Cody, Matt Jackson, and Hangman). The story here is that the winner gets an advantage in the Blood & Guts match. Of course, if you’ve ever watched any “War Games” match from WCW, you’d know that the heels are 1000% going over here. But, hey, it’s all about the journey, right?
Jericho comes out before the match and heads to commentary while Sammy hilariously belted out “Judas.” The Inner Circle controlled much of the match, as the disfunctional Elite angle was still extremely present. Page pouted, feeling he wasn’t be used enough, and him and Matt never once exchanged a proper tag. Cody, meanwhile, took the majority of the beating, as he often does, until he was able to hit a CrossRhodes on Ortiz.
Then, he tossed into MJF at ringside, only for Wardlow to interfere and get smacked in the head by Arn Anderson for his troubles.
Matt eventually made the blind tag and hitting his rolling northern lights suplex spot. Matt wasn’t able to suplex Hager, though, but then Page comes in for the assist in a move that would have popped the crowd big time if, ya know, there was a crowd.
They had the IndieTaker set up, but Hager grabbed Page’s foot to put a halt to that. Santana then hit a surprise cradle on Matt for the win.
Jericho, of course, gets on the mic and starts gloating about winning the advantage at Blood & Guts, saying fans are now banned from ALL future AEW events and that without Nick Jackson, the Elite is doomed.
Then, a drone appears, interrupting Jericho.
Matt says that he called in a favor, and they now have a new fifth member of the Elite: Matt Hardy in the rafters! DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!
The end of this segment felt a little too drawn out (the announcers didn’t help in this regard), but the reveal of Hardy was truly a great surprise. It made sense given the videos going back and forth between “Free the Delete” and “Being the Elite,” but it was still a great moment with some true shock factor.
Mid-Card Mixed Bag
–The Butcher and the Blade (sans Bunny, damn it) took on Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus. This match was not good. Luchasaurus felt, in my opinion, particularly exposed without the crowd as a distraction. Plenty of botches throughout this match. Luchasaurus ended up getting the pin in a sloppy finish to a sloppy match.
–A four-way match between Hikaru Shida/Penelope Ford/Riho/Kris Statlander was the women’s match of the week. I’m still not sure anyone really knows what they’re doing with the women’s division, but this was an entertaining match nonetheless. It wasn’t particularly clean, but everyone worked hard.
I thought Ford might go over here, but it was Shida picking up the win. Shida should theoretically now be in-line for a title shot, given that she beat the #2 and #5 ranked women in this match.
Shida can work, so I’m good with this outcome. A match between her and Nyla Rose should be a banger.
The Final Bell
–I didn’t know what to expect going into this week’s episode of Dynamite. Truth be told, I had very few expectations for what the episode would look like, but I did selfishly want to be entertained. I will remember this episode for the reveals of Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee, but also for pulling me out of the scary-as-shit world that we currently live in, even if just for a couple of hours.
I’m sad those reveals didn’t happen in front of a real crowd, as they both would have blown the roof off the place. Still, AEW continues to operate as a company mature beyond their years (or year, more appropriately). Hats off to everyone involved.