This is a week that AEW has been building towards for months, as the company presents two shows that, on paper, look to be in contention for the strongest in company history, certainly in terms of in-ring matchups. Last week, I fantasy booked this week’s AEW Dynamite Grand Slam and, impressively, got nearly everything wrong. However the actual card for this week’s Grand Slam events (Dynamite and Rampage) far exceeded my expectations and wishes. Take a look:
I’ll dig into more of the nitty gritty on a few of those matches in the coming paragraphs, but, needless to say, it is a hell of a week to be a pro wrestling fan.
Now, with Dynamite, Rampage, and other happenings from around the world of pro wrestling as our guide, let’s get a lay of the land and see who is “Getting Over”:
- Bryan Danielson
Despite some of the hand wringing online over the last week, AEW made the absolute right call in giving the fans a Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson match nearly right away. Despite debuting less than three weeks ago and without having wrestled a match in the company, Danielson skips the line of ranked contenders and gets a dream match with “The Best Bout Machine” in Kenny Omega in a non-title match. While this irritated some, there’s nothing to be gained from waiting to do this match, especially with the next pay-per-view, Full Gear, not taking place for another two months. Danielson is as hot right now, fresh off his debut, as he’s probably going to be. This does not need a two month long build. Seeing his first match be against anyone other than Omega would be largely anticlimactic. He just main evented WrestleMania, for crying out loud. The longer you wait, the less buzz this creates. And, boy, there is some buzz happening.
This Arthur Ashe Stadium set of shows (a live Dynamite with Rampage taped right after) is going to have, per WrestleTix, over 20,000 people in attendance, breaking the previous AEW record from the United Center last month. You should not be upset about Danielson getting his chance here. Last week’s in-ring promo, face-to-face with Omega, proved that, as I felt like finally to see a completely untethered and unscripted Danielson.
And, as if there was any doubt, that segment was super hot and a reminder that we’re dealing with one of the absolute best in the world. Later, I’ll talk through how I think the match can and should go down, but, no matter what, this match is going to absolutely rule.
2. Adam Cole
If there’s one flaw with The Elite boys of AEW, it’s that there is no guy with real top-notch promo skills. That’s why Don Callis works the mic 90% of the time. He’s great in this role, but it’s so nice and refreshing to have a guy in this faction that can cut a great promo. Adam Cole is that guy. Last week, Cole opened Dynamite with a very good match against Frankie Kazarian. After winning, Cole got on the mic and did his thing, proposing a trios match with him and the Young Bucks taking on Christian Cage, Luchasaurus, and Jungle Boy at this week’s Rampage.
Here’s the deal: Adam Cole is going to be a great babyface eventually. He had to terrorize Tony Schiavone to get the crowd to boo him, but it’s clear that crowd wants to cheer Cole. He’s as over as anyone in the company right now.
Eventually, I’m guessing we’ll get a split within the Elite, with maybe this team of Cole and the Bucks forming a babyface SuperKliq group that takes on Omega and the Good Brothers. That’s not happening for a while, obviously, but the seeds are being sown already.
3. Sammy Guevara
Sammy Guevara, while not technically aligned or in a faction with Fuego Del Sol, is a real life friend of the masked man and has had his back recently. Fuego wrestled Miro again on Rampage last week, with the stipulation being Fuego would lose his brand new car to Miro if he lost, and Miro would lose his TNT Championship if Fuego were to somehow take him down. Well, Miro won because that’s what Miro does, but it seems as though he now has a new challenger for the TNT belt in Sammy Guevara. And I’m not so sure Miro’s going to come out of that feud unscathed.
Before talking about Sammy, I want to highlight Miro for a second. He came into AEW as Kip Sabian’s “Best Man” and was disappointing, leading skeptics to say that maybe WWE didn’t screw this guy but instead maybe he’s just a mid-carder no matter what. Well, after ditching Kip (thank God) and becoming the badass “Redeemer” character, Miro has been awesome. I don’t know if people realize how hard it is to be a monster of a character, dominate your opponents, and still sell your ass off for little guys when the time calls for it. Miro’s been absolutely perfect in this role.
Sammy Guevara, though, might just be the guy to take him down. Sammy is such a star in the making, the crowd loves him, and he’s great in the ring. When Sammy squared off with MJF in the Dynamite main event back at the end of June, I thought that was going to be his star making moment. MJF won, but Sammy got plenty over in that match and wasn’t, in hindsight, hurt by that loss at all. However, now’s the time to pull the trigger on Sammy.
Hell, move Miro to the main event scene. Let’s see Miro and Punk or Miro and some of these New Japan guys that are on their way eventually. Give Sammy the strap and let’s see what he can do. He’s ready.
- Ric Flair
At one point after his release from WWE, Ric Flair in AEW seemed like a blindingly obvious foregone conclusion. Hell, I even wrote about it last week, noting that he was likely coming in to manage Andrade El Idolo, his son-in-law. Now, just one week later, that outcome seems almost unforeseeable.
Last Thursday, docu-series Dark Side of the Ring aired their latest episode, titled “The Plane Ride From Hell,” about one of the most infamous plane rides in pro wrestling history. On this chartered 2002 flight from London back to the United States, several alcohol and drug fueled incidents resulted in firings, fines, lawsuits, and trauma. I’m not going to delve into all the details here (you should really watch the episode), but here’s the Ric Flair specific information straight from Heidi Doyle, one of the flight attendants who filed a lawsuit against WWE:
“I was in the galley. Ric Flair was naked in a cape only, and then he decided to come back to the galley to get a coke and then he wouldn’t leave the galley. He had me up against the back door, and I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get away from him… I couldn’t… I couldn’t move. He was spinning around his penis and he wanted me to touch it. He took my hand and put it on him.”
Flair would probably be the first one to tell you that this type of thing often got chalked up to “Flair being Flair” even as recently as a decade ago, as terrible as that is to say, but that’s no longer the world we live in. Tommy Dreamer, another wrestler also on the flight, was recently suspended indefinitely from Impact! and he isn’t even accused of doing anything on the flight, instead being punished for saying stupid shit during the show. Flair’s CarShield commercials have already been halted once the episode aired. Very soon, Flair is going to have to say something. This thing has gotten too big, and, if he doesn’t say something, I’m not sure he gets forgiven. To be honest, I don’t think he should even if he does apologize.
In recent weeks, Flair has been seen on Being The Elite and hanging out backstage at AEW tapings. I can’t see how AEW allows that to continue. If they keep him around or, god forbid, sign him, they’d be inviting critics and that’s not what a company with as much momentum as AEW needs to do. At this point, he’s radioactive, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
UPDATE: Flair has now issued two statements since I originally wrote this article. I don’t really think they change much. You can read them here.
2. Dan Lambert
When Dan Lambert, the founder of the premier MMA gym American Top Team, first showed up in AEW on July 7th, his gimmick was to play the Jim Cornette role. You know the deal: These wrestlers aren’t legit. All they can do is flippy shit and choreographed gymnastics. And Lambert’s role worked spectacularly. He got real heat and was promptly rewarded with a Blackout from Lance Archer.
I remember thinking at that point that Lambert would make a great full-time manager in AEW. While I’m not prepared to admit that I was completely wrong about that, the situation is currently trending in that direction. The problem is that his schtick hasn’t evolved since that first appearance. And worse, he’s teamed up with two really talented guys in Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky who had no problem getting heat and cutting promos on their own. If Lambert was going to be utilized successfully, he would have been best used in a role where he’s managing wrestlers incapable of talking on their own.
In recent weeks, Lambert has ventured into “go away” heat, with the audience no longer wanting him to get his ass kicked, instead just wanting him to go away. I think there’s a role for Lambert, but it isn’t what he’s currently doing.
If there’s a bright spot in American Top Team being on TV, it’s Kayla Harrison. She’s been great, absent any sort of starring role or, hell, even being mentioned really.
If AEW can sign and develop her, she looks like a charismatic natural for the squared circle.
3. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes returned last week, which should have been a big deal. As it was, Rhodes and Malakai Black, who had attacked Cody’s fellow Go-Big Show host Rosario Dawson, had a solid brawl through the crowd. But was it a big deal? Was this a fallen hero’s return? Nah, not even close really. Part of the underwhelming nature of the return was the lack of a pop for Cody. After the past month, which has seen gigantic reactions to CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Minoru Suzuki, and Ruby Soho, the return of Cody felt, well, small.
It would have helped if he’d have come down the ramp instead of through the crowd, but the slow build of his entrance music doesn’t exactly lend itself to a surprise entrance. Stone Cold’s glass breaking it is not. There’s also the problem of working with a red hot Malakai Black. The crowd wants to see him murder people in the ring. This Wednesday on Dynamite when Black and Cody face off for the second time, are we going to get a repeat of Cody’s return against Brodie Lee, with Cody avenging his previous loss? That’s how it seems, but I’d caution against it. Cody’s a crowd favorite, yes, but replaying the same angle is dangerous. I’m simply not sure the crowd is going to comply with that result.
Cody continues to exist in some strange alternate dimension to the other major storylines of AEW. What he’s doing always seems separate, for lack of a better word. I’m beyond interested to see how Tony Khan handles his return.
After you’ve watched wrestling for a long enough time, you can usually figure out how, if a company books logically, a match should or could play out. Usually. This Kenny Omega/Bryan Danielson match, however, has me flummoxed. I know what they could do. I know what they’d probably like to do. But I have no idea what they’re going to do, which, to be honest, is pretty exciting.
Normally, with this being a non-title match, you’d have Danielson pick up the win here, with Omega probably retaining the belt in a title match at the next pay-per-view. The problem is obvious. They just freaking did this with Christian! Now, that was not the plan and was instead a substitute because Hangman took time off and they needed something for the All Out main event. No matter, though, because I don’t think you can pull that off again, with Omega losing yet another non-title match in the matter of a month.
So, if we take that off the table, does Omega beat Danielson in Danielson’s debut? I don’t see that happening, unless you do an interference angle, which would draw groans far and wide.
The best option, in my opinion, is a draw. AEW has done a time limit draw before (Orange Cassidy vs. Cody for the TNT Title). If you give Omega and Danielson 20 minutes, which is probably what the time limit would be, they’ll have a hell of a match. If you give them 30 minutes, they’ll absolutely tear the house down (I fully recognize 30 minutes is unlikely, unless they do it at the beginning of Dynamite, where they usually have less commercial interruptions). Regardless, these two could easily put together a compelling structure for a match that finishes with Danielson just missing out on a pinfall due to the time limit expiring. Then, you do the rematch at Full Gear.
Would a draw leave a sour taste? Possibly, but, for the live crowd, you have to remember that they’re taping Rampage right after Dynamite. They’ll still have at least two hours of wrestling left, with a Jon Moxley/Eddie Kingston vs. Lance Archer/Minoru Suzuki unsanctioned match as the ultimate main event. The fans would still go home happy.
Of course, all bets are off if someone like, say, Adam Page shows up. Maybe he distracts Omega, enabling Danielson to pull out a win?
I’m not confident in any one direction, as far as how they’ll book this match. That excites me, though. This is going to be one hell of a week, and, no matter what, the Danielson/Omega match is going to be a highlight.
One of the most fascinating parts of pro wrestling for me is the business side of things. I love the in-ring action, the angles, the promos, and all that, but I really enjoy digging into the business aspect of wrestling. This is my space to do just that.
This week, I’d like to share something that I find completely fascinating. Later this year, AEW Dynamite and WWE Raw are both running UBS Arena in Long Island, New York. That’s right. The very same arena and, get this, they’re running the same arena just nine days apart. That’s crazy. What’s even crazier is the ticket sales for the two events. Check it out.
Here’s AEW’s ticket sales:
Just over 6000 tickets out. Not bad.
Now, let’s do WWE’s Raw:
That’s right. AEW, even though they are taking place a week and a half after Raw is there, has sold over double the amount of tickets. And this is in arguably WWE’s strongest market. There’s really no way to spin this in WWE’s favor. A company with a huge head start and 13x the revenue is selling less than half as many tickets as a two year old competitor. A big yikes and something to keep an eye on in the next month or so.