After what feels like an eternity of waiting, we are finally smack bang in the middle of the most significant week of professional wrestling in quite some time. And there is finally some graps back on TNT, which will mean a lot more to the middle-aged readers than the younger set.
Before we check out the maiden voyage of All Elite Wrestling’s ‘Dynamite’ TV show, there’s one thing worth addressing: is AEW an indy? Surely not, given the TV deal, big money backing and presumed veto power of their roster’s outside bookings?
Well, here’s the thing. We’ve spent six months listening to how AEW isn’t a promotion at all, just a group of guys who ran a one-off show and got lucky based on the novelty appeal. We then heard about how they were doomed to fail ever since announcing AEW would move forward as a promotion because they had tickets available on the secondary market (ignore the fact that this is par for the course for any event, wrestling or not). Now, AEW are too big!
So, since creative licence is encouraged in the critique of AEW, I’m going to adopt said licence to cover Dynamite, check out how AEW finds their feet and then see where we go from there.
Slick opening video greets us to episode numero uno. Remember when WWE flirted with tweaking the tone and visuals of their openings in the mid-2010s with things like 205 Live and the temporary NXT opening before getting a nosebleed and heading back to their comfort zone? Looks like AEW want to give it a second go.
And of course, we get pyro to start us off inside the arena. Pretty tame pyro, but whatever. I’ve never cared for it personally, and didn’t bat an eyelid when WWE binned it off. Now everyone has to have it back because WRESTLING WARS!
Jim Ross welcomes us to the show, which just feels so right. Even after his notorious gigs covering NJPW. Alongside him is Tony Schiavone, back after nearly 19 years. Remember that final Nitro? And rounding out the three-man team is Excalibur, who genuinely seems a little flustered and starstruck in his opening lines.
The live crowd clearly has access to the match graphics as the team run down the scheduled card, going by the pops for each showdown. And that’s good – it used to annoy me when WCW let the crowd’s initial enthusiasm grow lukewarm with five minute intros bereft of interaction. And JR and Tony saying ‘bastard’ is an early highlight.
As soon as I say that, we get a hype video for Cody vs Sammy Guevara. Why!? Just get to the match! All due respect, this isn’t the match that warrants a hype video.
Cody vs Sammy Guevara
Thankfully, the live crowd aren’t fazed at all. Having Cody be the first walkout was the obvious move, and it weathered the gap between opening pyro and Cody’s own. Guevara, meanwhile, comes out in a panda suit. OK.
Commentary and production try to make Sammy out as a threat, but let’s be honest: he has no stock at this point. That will come down the line, no doubt. Especially after a great showcase in a combative opener. The interactions with Brandi could and should have been scrapped, as they contradicted the post-match handshake and the wrestlers really didn’t need it to pop the crowd.
Cody wins with a cradle after countering a shooting star press with the knees, and I kinda dig the fact that there are no easy wins for Cody even against the up-and-comers on the roster. Post-match, Schiavone’s in the ring for an interview, which Cody postpones with a hug in another one of several conscious efforts to draw a line that connects the end of Nitro to the start of Dynamite.
Now Guevara interrupts for a handshake – only for Chris Jericho to blindside his top contender for the AEW title. Sammy opts to just walk away as Jericho hits a belt shot and the Codebreaker. After the adverts, Jericho adds a powerbomb onto two unfolded chairs in a really needless spot.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman vs Brandon Cutler
MJF cuts a promo on his way down which’ll introduce new viewers to his spoiled preppy deal nicely, though having to rely on Excalibur to explain some of his lines after the fact isn’t a good look. Schiavone adds ‘prick’ to his repertoire as he adopts an anti-MJF stance from the get-go. But after giving Cutler an early showcase, MJF uses the ref to create an opening for a stiff forearm before tapping Brandon inside three minutes with his ‘Salt of the Earth’ armbar. Short and sweet was the right way to go after giving the opener plenty of time.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are in the front row, since Jay and Silent Bob are actor pals of Jericho. Jack Evans and Angelico are down to talk smack to them, before Private Party prevent the celebs from taking a beating. Quick, harmless, and star-powered hype for the tag team tournament.
Speaking of that tourney, SCU have a Presidential-themed pre-tape to announce that DC is the worst town that they’ve ever been in (get used to that). They then interrupt Schiavone live in the arena – and they’re more starstruck than Excalibur. They confirm Daniels and Kaz will represent them in the tag brackets, which makes sense considering Bad Influence in TNA and the Addiction in ROH. The Lucha Bros interrupt we have ourselves a donnybrook.
Adam Page vs PAC
A long-overdue singles match that has been teased ever since AEW’s first press event. JR and Tony go into ‘bastard’ overdrive while Excalibur throws some shade WWE’s way in hyping PAC as ‘overlooked’.
These two brought a level of intensity that did their early interactions justice and brought the live crowd back to fever pitch after a short match and a handful of segments. PAC looked an absolute star here, one mean dude who can get it done. And this defeat for Page was far more flattering than the underwhelming main event vs Jericho.
PAC hits a low blow behind Earl Hebner’s back then follows with the Black Arrow off the top and the Brutaliser submission to go 2-0. Hopefully they keep ref spots like that to a minimum – or perhaps even structure it so that only the ageing Hebner is vulnerable to missing such dirty tricks.
To crown the first AEW Women’s Champion: Nyla Rose vs Riho
Dr. Britt Baker joins commentary for this one. Nyla gets plenty of heat, unsurprisingly. Despite all the disagreements surrounding transgender athletes in sports, Rose makes a natural monster in a women’s wrestling environment. And Riho, who won the well-received Joshi showcase at All Out, is the perfect David to this Goliath.
They worked that tried and tested formula with some neat creative new takes thrown in. They weathered some rough moments to enter a hot closing stretch with big near-falls for each until Riho caught Nyla up top and brought her down with a huge Northern Lights Superplex before finally connecting with her low-flying knee strike to become the first AEW Women’s Champion.
Michael Nakazawa attempts a bi-lingual victory interview but Nyla lays both out – just. She nearly drops Nakazawa on his head but saves the powerbomb spot as Schiavone calls it a “double clutch Liger bomb”, ha. Kenny Omega comes out for the popular save, preventing any further damage being done to the new women’s champ.
The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) vs Chris Jericho, Ortiz & Santana
The titular trio come out to Being The Elite as JR professes his love for “TV time remaining” and curfew time limits. Jericho fakes a willingness to start off with Omega before tagging Santana in. The Elite get on top of the bout until Omega prepares a dive and enters the Terminator pose, which allows Jon Moxley to make his return and attack Kenny. The two fight into the stands where Mox leaves him laying with a Death Rider through a glass table in the VIP suites. And none of that triggered a disqualification. Huh.
That leaves the Bucks down 3-to-2, somehow legally. And despite putting up a good fight, they succumb to Jericho’s Judas Effect elbow. Post-match, Cody rushes out to prevent more damage being done only to be stopped by Guevara and a low blow to cement his stance after some really blurred lines in that opener. Dustin Rhodes is out for the save to a huge pop, but Jake Hager blindsides him in his debut. The attackers unify against The Elite and friends, with Hager hitting Dustin with a gutwrench powerbomb onto a Japanese table as the first edition of Dynamite comes to a close.
The first edition of Dynamite featured a hot crowd and a wide array of different matches. We also continued the steady establishment of champions, with Riho joining Chris Jericho in the golden circle. And the beginning of what could be an intriguing storyline, with a collection of wrestlers joining forces to target the group who founded the company, could keep people coming back for more. Will Jericho and his merry men have a benefactor, perhaps?
That said, there are definitely some things that need sanding off ASAP. The quality of their content and the talent on their roster means an over-reliance on dangerous bumps is completely unnecessary. Why put Cody through two chairs after the opener when he’s just going to run out, dressed to the nines, for more later? A hit-and-run belt shot from Jericho would have been more than enough to foreshadow Guevara’s actions later on, and show us why he wanted a handshake out of the blue.
If the glass table spot with Moxley and Omega is a one-off to help add oomph to the first episode and a feud that was forced onto the backburner for a while by injury, it’ll hold up in hindsight. But if it becomes a weekly thing, we’re entering Russo territory. And remember all the soundbytes about AEW wanting to celebrate the positives of WCW rather than repeat their mistakes? Guess which one of those Russo’s writing style would fall into.
And while it’s smart of All Elite to pick up on several production styles that WWE either refuses to touch or didn’t keep because of their dinosaur head producer, I hope to gradually see them further differentiate their product from WWE. Pyro is so forced, and only a few entrances were really enhanced by it. And the stage and ramp are a direct ripoff of what grew stale for WWE years ago.
As a standalone episode, the first Dynamite was absolutely a good watch. Going forward, I think it’s clear what needs emphasising and what needs to be reined in. With the tag tournament and a simmering main event storyline, there’s more than enough reason to keep tuning in.