Right before AEW’s latest pay-per-view All Out, I wrote that it was the perfect time to start watching AEW. That, in fact, we could be witnessing the wrestling business change in front of our very eyes:
AEW is hot, no two ways about it. They’ve consistently hit a million viewers on their flagship Dynamite show since mid-July, but with the addition of Punk a few weeks ago, they’ve reached a level of mainstream buzz that simply was not there before. Now, in just a few short days, CM Punk will be making his first pay-per-view appearance for AEW against one of the company’s brightest young stars, Darby Allin, in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. The pay-per-view, All Out, will almost certainly set a new ppv buy record for a company that has seen buy-levels increase with each major show they’ve done. Punk, however, is only one part of the equation….If AEW’s ratings continue to rise and Monday Night Raw’s ratings dip (as they usually do) during football season, we could well be looking at a two year old product pulling even with a show that had a 26 year head start.
Last week, the AEW Grand Slam event confirmed that we’re seeing something special, something new, and something very very good. In a lot of ways, the Grand Slam events of Dynamite and Rampage served as a microcosm of AEW’s current product. They are a company with an absolutely stacked talent roster, providing a strong emphasis on in-ring work. The stories they tell are logical and simple.
There’s also something else worth noting here. This graphic was floating around Twitter last week that I think is important to break down:
Obviously, AEW is spending far more time showing actual wrestling than any other show (outside of NXT UK, which no one actually watches). So what? It’s a wrestling show, sure, but how much of it has to be actual wrestling? Well, I would strongly argue that AEW benefits greatly in a number of ways from including more wrestling on their shows. Look no further than AEW crowds at live events. During matches, the AEW crowd is engaged, popping at the appropriate times, chanting, and generally showing the enthusiasm of a crowd at a rock concert. The AEW crowd has been conditioned to believe that what happens in the ring is actually important. Matches have consequences, and wins and losses matter.
Contrast this with the crowds at a WWE pay-per-view, like Extreme Rules this past weekend. For nearly the entire show, the crowd sat on their hands, like they were at the freaking opera or something. WWE fans, rather than being conditioned to watch wrestling, is trained to watch a variety. As a result, when they have to sit through a 3 or 4 hour pay-per-view without the skits and 15 minute promos, they don’t have any clue how to act. What happens in the ring doesn’t matter because the result doesn’t matter. They’ll just see a rematch in a couple of days or a week. Someone losing doesn’t preclude them from being in the title chase by the next show. I’m not trying to pile on. Turn on any WWE show, and you can see this play out in real time.
The flip side of this (something that AEW needs to remember) is that the biggest boom periods in pro wrestling were not driven by in-ring action. While AEW fans are largely satisfied by the product and the ratings continue to grow and trend upwards, the company needs to continue to craft angles and stars that bring in new fans. Well worked matches are great and even necessary, but history tells us that’s not enough on its own.
Obviously, in reference to the graphic above, the retort from some will be that Bryan Danielson and Kenny Omega’s match, at 30 minutes, skews the AEW number. But even if you eliminate that entire match and replace it with talking, they’d still be averaging 22 minutes per hour. While we’re on the topic of Danielson and Omega, there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. I give you this week’s “Getting Over,” headlined by last week’s dream match.
- Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson
There may have been better matches in the short history of AEW, but there haven’t been many. And, if you consider all the things that went into this Omega/Danielson dream match, from the New York setting to the debut of Danielson, I can’t say that the other contenders don’t have much of a chance of stacking up. Tony Khan, as I predicted last week, decided to lead off Dynamite Grand Slam with Omega vs. Danielson, allowing two of the best wrestlers of our era to make the most of their television time, wrestling at an incredibly high level for 30 minutes, only once interrupted by a commercial break. As most predicted, this match ended in a draw, but that hardly mattered.
Omega and Danielson put on a clinic, keeping the match brutal and basic, leaving a ton of spots on the table for their future rematch, possibly but not certainly at Full Gear.
This was a 30 minute match that, when it was over, felt like a 20 minute match. Danielson looked in really great shape, and his chest was beet red within 10 minutes, as Omega brutalized him with chops. Danielson did a top rope Frankensteiner, a cattle mutilation, along with taking a dragon superplex from Omega.
Notably, Omega did not hit a One-Winged Angel, saving that for a future rematch no doubt.
Even with insane expectations, this match succeeded on every level. This was a match that felt like an event, right from the beginning, with the two men facing off for 96 seconds before ever touching, while the crowd lost their minds.
If you haven’t seen the match at this point, it’s one you need to seek out, as we don’t often see matches at this level on television these days.
I have no problem placing it as the best AEW television match in the company’s history. The Street Fight between The Best Friends and Santana & Ortiz would be a close second, and those are obviously two very different types of matches. Also in contention would be the Omega vs. PAC Ironman match, Rey Fenix vs. Nick Jackson, and Britt Baker’s “Lights Out” match with Thunder Rosa. If you’ve been following Kenny Omega for the last five years or so, you know that there’s at least a half dozen matches that could be considered better but maybe only one or two that, given the atmosphere and importance, would rank above this one.
In all, this was a hell of a match in an incredibly important spot and one that, I think, will be remembered as ushering in a new era for AEW.
2. New Titles
Last week, Andrew Zarian of WONF4W and the Mat Men Podcast shared the following tweet:
Zarian has an incredible track record with breaking news in the few months that I’ve been following him, and I don’t doubt that he’s accurate in this report. Also, if his hashtags are to be taken into account, it seems as though we’re headed towards an AEW TBS Women’s Championship, similar to the TNT Championship currently held by Miro. Take this news and couple it with the announcement that Dynamite will be moving to TBS on January 5,2022, while Rampage will stay on TNT, and it looks as though we could see this women’s championship be a Wednesday night exclusive title.
In general, I’m a less-is-more kind of guy when it comes to titles, ppvs, matches, etc., but the AEW women’s division has earned another title. There are still massive booking problems in the division, but there are more than enough stars at this point to make another title work. I could see Kris Statlander, Ruby Soho, Thunder Rosa, Serena Deeb, Riho, Shida, Anna Jay, Tay Conti, Red Velvet, and Jade Cargill all challenging for this championship. My larger worry is that, more often than not, AEW has shown a frustrating lack of ability to develop meaningful storylines for the women outside of the main title picture. Does another title alleviate that or only exacerbate it? If there’s two titles, will the only women’s storylines worth caring about be the ones involving the titles?
In addition to the TBS Women’s Championship, there’s renewed speculation about a Trios Title (known as the Six-Man Tag Team Championship in another WCW-based life). After the team of The Young Bucks and Adam Cole (The SuperKliq) beat Jungle Boy, Christian, and Luchasaurus, the Bucks updated their Twitter bio to say, “Give us the Trios Titles. #SuperKliq”
With so many factions in AEW, the trios title has been rumored almost from the very beginning of the company. Now, though, with the Bucks having dropped the tag titles and tweeting about the advent of new titles, it seems closer to reality than ever.
Obviously, there’s more than enough people and groups in AEW that could contend for this championship, and it’s something that, to my knowledge, WWE has never done, which is always a positive in my book. One of AEW’s strengths is that it doesn’t put six-man tags on television for no reason. It’s almost always to build a program or further an angle. Adding a title to the mix should, in theory, elevate those ideas even more. This is something I’m for.
3. Jorge Masvidal
Go figure that one week after I buried Dan Lambert’s crew, they’d produce one of the segments that garnered the most mainstream attention. On Friday’s Rampage show, Chris Jericho and Jake Hager faced off against the Men of the Year, Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky. The match was good, but the best thing came after the match, as American Top Team jumped Jericho and Hager.
For the most part, this MMA group has been fairly nondescript in AEW, just sort of existing in the background of these angles, and I’m going to guess that most AEW fans couldn’t pick these ATT guys out of a lineup, despite them being on TV almost every week at this point.
After Friday, though, I think that’s going to change slightly. The announce team heavily emphasized Paige VanZant as a character, and she laid some body shots on Jericho after the match. Then, separate from the rest of American Top Team, Jorge Masvidal entered through the crowd, wearing an outfit that only the Young Bucks could love. The thing about Masvidal is that, despite him being a good-not-great fighter, the guy is a star. Some people walk into a room, and it’s clear they’re a big deal just from their presence and how they carry themselves. Masvidal is that guy. He’s a superstar, and AEW did a nice job in presenting him in a way that made him feel important.
Masvidal ended up hitting Jericho with the same running knee strike that he used to beat Ben Askren in just five seconds at UFC 239.
I have no clue where this angle is headed, but it doesn’t seem to be over between Jericho’s group and American Top Team. Maybe for the first time, I’m interested to see where this angle goes. Although not the top level fighter he’s sometimes presented as, Masvidal is smart, charismatic, and a star. Let’s see what AEW can do with that.
- Wrestlers in “The Codyverse”
I wish I could take credit for the phrase “The Codyverse,” but I can’t. Worse, I can’t remember where I saw it, but it so perfectly describes the sort of alternate reality that some wrestlers in AEW live in. Obviously, it’s a term that derives from the storylines of Cody Rhodes and how they seem to exist outside of anything else happening in AEW. Since the beginning of the company, Cody has operated like he is on a completely other planet than other wrestlers and, even stranger, the other people he created the company with. It’s so freaking weird.
The same could be said for Andrade El Idolo. He’s there and he’s over, but it doesn’t ever feel like he’s an actual part of the main company stories. As far as I can tell, he’s back in a feud with PAC again. There has to be something more that he could be doing.
Strangely, CM Punk is kind of in this same space. He did his one-off thing with Darby. He took on Hobbs last week, but these are programs that aren’t really connected to the larger AEW universe. If I was up on my Marvel movies (I stopped at the first Captain America and now am so woefully behind I feel like there’s no use in even trying), I’m sure I could come up with something analogous, but the point is that it’s weird. I don’t even know what it is exactly, and you may disagree with my sentiments here. Maybe it’s because the company is so faction-heavy that when guys stand alone and do angles outside of those main factions it comes off as being non-canonical. Regardless, I’d like to see these two guys become more engaged in the main stories the company is telling.
And what of Cody? I’m glad you asked.
2. Cody Rhodes, Specifically
What is going on with Cody? Maybe more importantly, what do you do with this guy? On last week’s episode of Dynamite, Cody was soundly booed in his match against Malakai Black. While Black is supposed to be evil, the crowd loves the guy. He’s as over as anyone at this point. So, in what turned out to be the correct decision, Cody worked heel in his match against Black, basically from beginning to end, even coming out with Brandi who seems to generate heat out of thin air.
The finish saw Cody swat away the ref and get sprayed with mist by Black, who picked up the subsequent win.
So is Cody turning heel? It seems unlikely, but I don’t know what game they’re playing here. Cody himself said he’d sooner retire than turn heel, yet his actions last week seemed to be purposeful in hinting at something on the horizon. Last week, Arn Anderson, speaking on Busted Open Radio, said fans might feel slighted at Cody going all Hollywood on them:
“Wrestling fans are awesome. The reason I love them so much is they are so honest. When you’re great, most of the time, they’ll tell you. When you suck, they’ll let you know. I can see it and hear it. There are rumblings, not about Cody being the flagship or the face of the company because he carries that badge and I agree that he should because he can get the word out about our product and he does a great job. The fact is, without being one of, if not the best wrestler in the company, how many people are going to actually listen to him? Hollywood is a grand thing if that’s all you’re doing is Hollywood. Right now, he needs to concentrate on getting his wins and losses turned around and earn the fact that when he opens his mouth, people listen. Right now, I’m not too sure. Hollywood is a positive thing in a lot of case, I’m not sure if it works for Cody in this situation.”
On the same show, Tony Khan also referred to Cody as “Hollywood” multiple times. This can’t be accidental. It seems to me that this is the start of something, that the company is leaning into Cody’s ambitions outside of wrestling and the fan reaction that he’s received lately. The problem is, right now, he’s just being booed and nothing is coming of it, which is why I’m counting Cody’s stock as being down. The potential is there, though, for this to turn into something very interesting.
3. The Hair of Jack Evans.
Maybe it’s the fact that I bid adeiu to my hairline long ago, but I have to include AEW’s Hair vs. Hair match in this week’s list. Unfortunately for Jack Evans, he’s getting his damn head shaved.
Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends gang has been feuding with the Hardy Family Office for months, and this seems to be the culmination of the feud. While it had seemed like it was going to be Cassidy vs. Matt Hardy in a hair match, Hardy volunteered Evans up during a promo on last week’s Rampage.
Obviously, the Freshly Squeezed one will not be losing his locks, so, even though the conclusion is likely obvious, this is a fun stipulation that we don’t see too much of anymore. We’ll see what type of interest it generates given the mid-card participants, but I’m looking forward to it.
AEW Dynamite is in Rochester, New York, this week, which is Brodie Lee’s hometown. I have no doubt that the company will do something to honor the late Brodie Lee. With the Grand Slam shows out of the way, I’d expect the build to Full Gear to start in earnest this week. Could that mean a returning “Hangman” Adam Page reuniting the Dark Order in Brodie Lee’s hometown? There have been rumors. However, Windham Rotunda, the former Bray Wyatt, posted a cryptic image on Twitter recently, with him standing next to Brodie Lee.
While I would love Hangman to show up on this week’s Dynamite, I would be more surprised to see him than I would Windham Rotunda. Hangman is featured prominently on the promotional materials for AEW’s shows in Virginia the week after Full Gear. Reading the tea leaves, that could mean one of two things in my mind: 1) He’s going to be AEW Champion after returning this week and defeating Kenny Omega at Full Gear. Or 2) We get another Danielson vs. Omega match (probably a 45 minute version of their match last week) at Full Gear and Hangman shows up afterwards. Honestly, I don’t know which one is more likely at this point. I’d guess that we’ll get the answers we need this week.
Last week’s Grand Slam event was an unmitigated success by almost every measure. Here’s a few of the noteworthy stats from that event:
-The show was the second largest non-WWE gate for pro wrestling
in U.S. history and the largest attended non-WWE pro wrestling event in the
country in 22 years.
-The show drew 20,177 fans with 18,300 paying just over $960,000.
-The company topped $200,000 in merchandise and set its
-It was the largest crowd for a pro wrestling TV show in the U.S. since February
5, 2001, when WWF ran Raw at the Georgia Dome and drew 24,639, which was 22,336