If you’re anything like me, you’re itching for an AEW show at this point. With no Dynamite on Wednesday this week, it feels like forever since we’ve gotten our proper AEW fix. Luckily, we get two days in a row of action, with shows Friday and Saturday (more on the preemptions in a minute). There’s plenty to get to in AEW land, with the return of a favorite and the build to Full Gear in full effect. Let’s get right to the action and find out who and what is “Getting Over”:
- Anxious Millenial Cowboys
If I put anyone else but “The Hangman” in this top spot, I think Ted Flint, the main man here at The Tailgate Society, might fire me. In reality, though, there’s really no other option. Having been written on television since August 4th (at his own request), Adam Page returned in triumphant fashion on last week’s two-year anniversary episode Dynamite, winning the Casino Ladder Match to earn a shot at Kenny Omega’s AEW World Championship.
Everyone knew that Page and his wife were having a baby, rumored to be the reason he asked for a break from television. The question was when Page would return. While the new additions of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole have been largely great, those of us that have been with AEW from the very beginning have been anxiously awaiting the return of Adam Page.
While the additions of Punk and Danielson have brought in new fans and viewers to AEW, fans that have watched from the very first Dynamite were left in a bind, hoping that the company wouldn’t screw up the best long-term storyline since the nearly two year build of Hulk Hogan vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage from 1987-1989. The build to Kenny Omega vs. Adam Page has been slow, deliberate, and inevitable, but, with Page gone from television and Omega feuding with Danielson, the feeling among many was that Page had lost his chance to take the title from Omega. Thankfully, those fears seem to have been put to rest last Wednesday, as Page’s music hit and he was revealed as the Joker in the Casino Ladder Match.
Now, we wait. With one month until Full Gear (the presumed home of the Omega vs. Page match), there’s plenty of time to give this story the attention it deserves. It’ll be interesting, though, to see how they shift the focus from The Elite vs. Danielson, Christian, and Jurassic Express to Omega vs. Hangman. Will the Dark Order be involved? Who will Danielson move on to? I’d guess that we’re getting a Danielson and Cole feud, but we’ll see. What matters is that the anxious millennial cowboy is back and ready for some real cowboy shit.
Note: For a primer on the story of Adam Page and his journey from a member of The Elite to challenger for Kenny Omega’s AEW Championship, check out this great Twitter thread:
2. Factions Acting Like Factions
After spending months upon months feuding with one another, the members of The Inner Circle and The Pinnacle each didn’t really seem to know what to do once they were done with that program. MJF moved on from his feud with Chris Jericho, wrestling Brian Pillman, Jr. briefly. Jericho and Hager went into a program with American Top Team. Sammy won the damn TNT Title and celebrated in the ring with an entire group of people that did not include a single member of his own faction. In short, the factions didn’t really seem like factions at all.
Apparently, this was not entirely accidental. Jericho, in an interview with Stephanie Chase, noted that he wanted to disband the Inner Circle and was overruled by Tony Khan, with Khan saying that they could have different programs but he didn’t see the need to break up the group: “My idea was for us to respectfully disband and go on our own ways. Tony didn’t want to do that. He said, ‘Why would you want to disband? You don’t have to be together all the time, but you’re still the Inner Circle.'”
That’s all well and good, but sometimes you need to remind people of who your friends are and who you’re riding with. Thankfully, that happened with both of these groups on last week’s Dynamite. After beating newly signed Bobby Fish, Sammy Guevara was jumped by Dan Lambert, Paige VanZant, Junior Dos Santos, Scorpio Sky, Ethan Page, Austin Vanderford and Dalton Rosa. Chris Jericho and Jake Hager ran in to make the save and send the heels scattering.
Now, we get Sammy, Jericho, and Hager vs. Sky, Ethan Page, and Junior Dos Santos on Rampage in Miami this Friday. Jorge Masvidal will also be at ringside for that one, so that bears watching.
Similarly, The Pinnacle came back together to kill Darby Allin in the parking lot during Dynamite. Allin is feuding with MJF, and, after dispatching of Nick Comoroto in 4 minutes with a coffin drop, was treated to a beatdown by a bunch of masked dudes who were pretty clearly The Pinnacle.
It’s not like factions have to be together all the time or anything. It’s just that there seemed to be wildly disconnected storylines, so it was nice to everyone to reconvene in kicking ass together, reminding the audience that, hey, these guys still all belong to the same group.
3. Tony Khan’s Balls
In case you haven’t heard, WWE is extending the run-time of this week’s SmackDown to create a 2.5 hour “Supersized” SmackDown. Because of the MLB playoffs airing on Fox, Smackdown will run on FS1, and the last 30 minutes will be completely commercial free. That means the final 30 minutes of the show (which is scheduled to include Brock Lesnar, Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks, and the semifinals of both the King of the Ring and Queen’s Crown tourneys) will compete with a live AEW Rampage. Oh, and then FS1 is going to replay SmackDown to go up against the last 30 minutes of Rampage. In other words, that’s 5 straight hours of SmackDown.
I’ll have more on the downsides of this in just a minute, but first a statement of positivity: Tony Khan is driving the hype train and is, at the very least, willing to put it all out there.
Say what you want, but you can’t say the man is scared.
That said, the card for Rampage is not super inspiring. Currently, here’s where we stand for Friday’s show:
- CM Punk vs. Matt Sydal
- Ruby Soho vs. The Bunny
- Inner Circle vs. Men Of The Year and Junior Dos Santos
I can’t see, if that’s the final card, Rampage beating SmackDown in the ratings. However, on Tuesday of this week, Khan pulled another rabbit out of his hat, announcing that he’s going to air a one hour Buy-In on YouTube ahead of Rampage, which of course now competes with the final hour of Fox’s SmackDown broadcast. That Buy-In will feature a better card than the actual Rampage show, with a battle of two recently signed talents in Bobby Fish vs. Lee Moriarty and then a wrestling geek’s dream match in Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki.
You can argue whether putting these matches on a YouTube show rather than television is a smart move or not, but there’s no arguing this: Tony Khan isn’t afraid to make big moves, schedule big matches, and show off his big ass balls.
It is always annoying when preemptions cause AEW shows to be jerked around and put into different time slots. It’s one of the reasons why Dynamite will be moving from TNT to TBS in January. With NHL games airing on TNT over the course of the next few weeks, Dynamite is a casualty.
AEW Dynamite will air on Saturdays, both on 10/16 and 10/23. Wednesdays have been destination viewing for AEW since the beginning, and, unfortunately, ratings drop considerably when Dynamite gets moved around. People watch it eventually, with DVR numbers always strong, but it feels like the considerable momentum that AEW has built since just before All Out will be paused temporarily as the company navigates these new nights. That’s not particularly ideal, as unusual time slots don’t lend themselves well to building the Full Gear pay-per-view that is only a month away.
2. Upcoming Ratings Banter
As mentioned above, while this week’s showdown of Rampage vs. SmackDown does lend itself to some peacocking from both AEW and WWE, it also invites comparison and an unusual head-to-head ratings battle that I, for one, am not looking forward to. No matter who comes out ahead for Friday’s shows, the banter among the tribal fanbases is going to be unbearable come Monday at 3 p.m. when the ratings are released.
The most likely scenario is that the half hour of SmackDown on FS1 beats Rampage. SmackDown should win, regardless of channel just given that it’s an established show and Rampage is two months old at this point. Rampage is also coming off of its worst showing, drawing just over 500k viewers and a 0.17 demo rating, making it the least watched episode by any metric. You can blame that on competition from playoff baseball and college football, and it isn’t particularly troublesome as long as it’s an outlier and not the beginning of a pattern.
What is going to make this problematic is pulling that atrocious number and then having Tony Khan challenge WWE in a very public way. I’d imagine that if SmackDown does beat Rampage handily, then there will be some Twitter dunking on TK by the WWE faithful, and rightfully so.
I’ve seen some wrestling journalists posit that if SmackDown beats Rampage, Vince will want to make SmackDown a permanent three hour show with the extra hour on FS1. I can’t see that happening for all sorts of reasons, but here’s what I do know: If AEW is somehow able to win the ratings battle this Friday, Vince will absolutely never try this head-to-head experiment again. WWE would look incredibly stupid for picking a battle here if they can’t pull out the ratings victory. If this was Rampage a month ago, I’d say that WWE would be in trouble, but all things considered I think SmackDown comes out on top this week.
3. Rumors of Executive Vice President Infighting and Unrest
Almost since the beginning of AEW, there have been rumors of a split between Cody Rhodes and the rest of the Executive Vice Presidents (Nick Jackson, Matt Jackson, and Kenny Omega). There has been zero overlap of on-screen stories between The Elite and Cody, and, as has been mentioned here before, Cody seems to exist in his own separate Codyverse, with regard to storylines. Ramping up recent rumors of unrest is a new report from Bodyslam.net:
Sources within the company have told me that creative was essentially completely taken away from the EVP’s, as basically everything now comes through/down to Tony Khan. AEW Talents are allowed and encouraged to pitch ideas/give suggestions, but “creative is absolutely Tony Khan’s prerogative now.”
At one point, Cody Rhodes was the only EVP to regularly attend “office” meetings and was an “office” regular, but that role as well as his input with creative have greatly diminished. Matt Jackson’s EVP role, as I was told, has been assisting his wife Dana with merchandise and Nick Jackson is focused on handling BTE. Additionally, it was stated that Kenny Omega is very hands on with AEW Games and “the gaming side of things,” as well as his role of helping to put together the women’s matches.
I was told by sources that, “basically they are EVPs in name only in 2021. They no longer have final say in creative or talent hiring. Any of them. TK pulled back on the reigns and took that power away from all.”
It was also stressed to me from sources that, “Cody doesn’t really have much of a relationship with any of the EVPs, anymore. The others are still great friends, but Cody is very much on the outside looking in.”
OK, so there’s a lot to unpack there, but really, this none of this should come as a surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention. It has been well-documented that the EVPs had too much booking say early on. Then, the infamous Dark Order beatdown at the end of the last show of 2019 happened and on December 19, 2019, Tony Khan took back full booking control.
That doesn’t mean the Bucks or Omega don’t have say because they do. Khan will come up with an idea (Bucks vs. Lucha Bros in a cage match, for example), and the Bucks will come up with angles to get to that point. That’s true for all of the EVPs and the other top talent, like Punk, Jericho, Danielson, Moxley, and probably others.
Of course, this doesn’t explain the divide between Cody and the rest of boys, but I think it’s just as simple as them having very different ideas of what AEW should be. Cody seems a little less willing to evolve and grow, tending to fall back to old school wrestling rather than innovating. Take his current character arc, for instance. He’s said 100 times, he is not turning heel, and he said it again recently: “This will disappoint so many and maybe it won’t, maybe this
will excite, but two things I can guarantee you. And I’m not saying this to waveone hand while you’re not looking at the other. I’m telling this from the mosthonest standpoint, I am not going to turn heel on this company. And I would
retire before I did that. Now I’m the head of the community outreach group. Ihave a little girl now. I’m not going to be doing heel stuff on TV. I am not turning heel and I’m not going back on my word to challenge for the title.”
This is basically the John Cena thing, where, because he’s so involved in charities and the like, he can’t risk turning heel. Instead, Cody’s new thing seems to basically be reenacting Rock III, where he’s distracted by the spoils of his celebrity, and Arn Anderson is Mickey.
Would Rocky turn heel? Of course not, and neither is Cody. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t. Just that he’s operating on some other planet where it’s apparently an impossibility.
Any talk of the EVPs losing power is basically meaningless at this point, but the Cody Rhodes/Elite split is far more interesting, even if it is probably slightly overblown.
I had my doubts that a Hair vs. Hair match could draw viewers in 2021. This is an old school gimmick match, and, let’s be honest, it was Jack Evans most likely to lose his locks. Yet, for whatever reason, the gimmick worked. For a show in Rampage’s time slot, the ratings should drop from the first quarter hour to the last quarter hour. For the 10/1 Rampage with the Orange Cassidy vs. Jack Evans Hair match, that final quarter hour was actually the highest of the show, which is the first time they’ve had that happen. More impressively, Jack Evans vs. Orange Cassidy did more viewers than Bryan Danielson vs. Nick Jackson.
Danielson vs. Jackson did 633,000 viewers to start the show, which was a surprise given how great this match was expected to be. The Cassidy vs. Evans match did 651,000. That’s some ratings lunacy there.
As of this writing, I’m fully expecting “Hangman” Adam Page to win the AEW Championship from Kenny Omega at Full Gear. If that happens, who comes for Page’s title? I have to think that Kenny Omega would get some much needed time off before coming for a rematch, so who else is out there? Well, we’ve got this pesky World Title Eliminator Tournament lurking in the background, with the full bracket to be announced on this weekend’s episode of Dynamite and the finals to take place at Full Gear.
Let’s suppose that the picture of Tony Khan at a Jaguars game with a booking notebook is real.
Based on that picture, it looks to be a Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley tournament final at Full Gear. Given that Moxley is who Page was battling at the end of the Casino Ladder Match last Wednesday, I think that served as a preview as to Page’s first challenger. Does that mean Moxley is turning heel? His promos over the last month or so have hinted at a darker side to Moxley, but I don’t know if that means a turn is imminent.
Regardless, Moxley is a decent first feud for Page. He’s a top guy, so beating him would give Page legitimacy as champ, and Moxley can eat as many losses as you want him to without it hurting him. Personally, I’d like to see an Adam Cole vs. Adam Page feud sometime down the road, maybe with a returning Omega feeling scorned by the SuperKliq and helping his old buddy Hangman out.
A Hangman run with the title is going to be a very different reign than Omega had, so, assuming they pull the trigger at Full Gear, I’m excited to see what Tony Khan has up his sleeve.