The next few weeks will be the first serious test for AEW Dynamite. Ratings have been ticking down since their debut one month ago, and considering the fact that MLB’s World Series went to a Game 7 that ran against AEW and NXT, there’s no way the ratings won’t drop further this week. Though they remain very much within their early targets, now is when we’ll see if they do indeed stick to their guns for the bigger picture or if they do what many before them have: panic.
I and most others hope they refrain from that giant red button, because the show so far has been quality content, despite the nitpicks that can certainly be made (and have been on this very site). Tonight, it’s SCU vs the Lucha Bros in the finals to crown our first tag team champions. And as reported online this week, Chris Jericho and Cody will sign the contract for their heavyweight title bout at Full Gear.
Another cold open this week, following on from last week going straight to the ring. This time, however, we’re at the airport where Tony Schiavone greets Cody and brother Dustin. It actually makes for a nice segment, as Tony talks to Cody about the big match.
Into the official opening montage, which does a good job of emphasizing the presence of the curfew time limit, used for the first time last week. It then segues into exclusive content after last week went off the air, as Kenny Omega saves Jon Moxley from PAC’s assault, making it clear he wants Moxley healthy for their PPV grudge match. Hangman Page then challenges PAC to a rematch for Full Gear, and Moxley loses his mind when told by Tony Khan that his Omega match will be unsanctioned, ‘lights out’ – it means no disqualifications, but it also means the win won’t go on their records. I appreciate that being something Jon hates.
JR and Excalibur run down the card, with Schiavone still on his way. I liked the rest of the non-wrestling start because it served a purpose and didn’t leave the live crowd hanging after the intro pyro/music pumps them up. This rundown, on the other hand, could have waited until after match one. Speaking of which…
Adam Page vs Sammy Guevara
I’ll be honest: I’ve enjoyed all three commentators and their independent contributions so far. But, JR and Excalibur starting the show as a two-man team is so much better than the three-man set-up. It’s an easier dynamic to pull off, judging by a wide sample of various promotions, and the balance between one veteran leader and one enthusiastic modern sidekick is simple but effective.
They bill this as Elite vs Inner Circle, in what is Sammy’s first real in-ring showing on Dynamite in his full character (the debut show opener vs Cody was just before he pulled the switch and aligned with Jericho). The two start off pretty well, with a nice mix of fast-paced action and smartly playing to the pumped crowd with character work and antics until Page takes an apron bump for Sammy to take over (because of course it has to be an apron bump).
Ross is doing a great job stressing how much sharper, faster and more determined Page seems since All Out, which does a tidy job of sweeping some of his early losses (and less inspiring performances) under the carpet and portraying his current run as a fresh start. Guevara, for his part, looks peerless with some of his counters and dodges but Page returns the apron bump favour (because of course!) before a huge moonsault bodyblock from the top to the outside leads to an exchange of strikes that concludes with Page’s Buckshot lariat for the win. With his PPV match vs PAC on the horizon, this was just the tonic – not just the win, but putting this on first. Hangman looked like a star and Guevara continues to stand out in his own right.
Page takes the mic post-match and acknowledges his shaky form prior to recent weeks, and he promises to keep up his streak at the PPV by doing some “real cowboy sh-t” and taking PAC’s head off. And yes, the crowd oblige with a “cowboy sh-t” chant. Short but sweet.
As promoted on social media, there’s a Rick and Morty crossover on this episode. That announcement really made me wish Dan Harmon would book wrestling TV one day.
Hikaru Shida vs Shanna
Both women are making their first Dynamite appearances. Shida was very close to being in AEW Women’s champion Riho’s position on the debut episode, losing the title eliminator in one of the standout matches of All Out. Shida wastes no time taking control, using a steel chair as a launching pad for a knee strike on the outside.
There’s some clear communication issues and hesitations in the flow of the match, but the veteran dominating the relatively inexperienced Shanna is a dynamic that gets them through the rough patches. Shanna fights back, and unfortunately uses that ridiculous rope hang foot stomp Alberto Del Rio used to love that can pretty much only be done with the recipient’s co-operation. The crowd are digging the big moves in the closing stretch, including a nasty Sunset Driver, a superplex from the apron and a falcon arrow. Finally, a running knee strike gets Shida the win.
One thing I didn’t mention earlier about Page/Guevara was that it ran about eight minutes. This match, on the other hand, was back into that 11-12 comfort zone about 90% of the matches on Dynamite have landed in. It’s part of the issue in the bigger picture: apron spots side, Hangman/Sammy came off better with a few minutes trimmed off the same old template. This was good women’s action but, especially with Shida controlling 75%, would have worked a charm between 6-8 minutes.
We get a recap of Brandi Rhodes randomly attacking Jamie Hayter last week, followed by a high-production video of her spliced with clips of Awesome Kong. I hope the pay-off to this is good, as I’m not vibing it so far.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express are introduced on the stage. They have the AEW tag title belts, which they’ll be presenting to the winners of the main event. They’re only able to shoehorn in a reference to beating the Andersons in this town before Santana and Ortiz assault the veterans. They’re apparently “Proud and Powerful” as their official tag name, which not only sounds far too positive for a pair of thug mercenaries but isn’t actually any less catchy than just using their names. Swing and a miss.
Anyway, Santana and Ortiz punctuate their attack with a double slam through part of the stage. JR adds his melodramatic calls on commentary and the production team reaches a 0.4 on the Kevin Dunn scale with the volume of cuts to members of the crowd looking shocked and appalled.
Schiavone and Cody continue to wax nostalgic in the ride to the arena. There are certainly aspects of their overall product that seem hell-bent on attempting to wake up those lapsed fans from the old Turner days. While I’m not sure how successful that will be, I’m digging the old school callbacks spliced with the state-of-the-art performers so far.
Best Friends (Chuckie T, Trent Baretta & Orange Cassidy) vs Jon Silver. Alex Reynolds & QT Marshall
The scrubs are in the ring from the off, and BFs are out in full Rick and Morty garb for that crossover. Silver and co get a jump on things and outnumber Trent for a few moments before the Rick and Morty cosplayers take over with their trademark offense. Cassidy doesn’t get involved until QT breaks up the Best Friends hug attempt. His comedy weak kicks only serve to annoy Marshall, but when he goes in for the kill Orange blitzes him with a dropkick and the hands-in-pockets suicide dive. Back in the ring, Chuckie and Trent finally get their hug with Orange too, and the Strong Zero gives them the win.
After looking good losing to superior teams, this was another good showcase of how the Best Friends can work a charm as light-hearted midcarders. Orange gets plenty of criticism from fans desperately trying to project an image of having superior standards, but his lethargic savant deal is highly entertaining in small doses and with a crowd as into it as they were here, it looks great to anyone tuning in for the first time. Better yet, a brisk three minute TV match is always a breath of fresh air on Dynamite.
Next, it’s time for the heavyweight title contract signing. Chris Jericho’s Jack-O-Lantern shirt is something else. And Cody and Tony’s car finally arrives, as JR and Excalibur hammer home the whole ‘make Chris wait’ payoff to some of what we saw earlier.
The champion stalls signing his end after Cody puts his name on the paperwork to good heat, before teasing tipping the table over before deciding this match is too important for any of those common contract signing tropes, which was a moment those of us who love our inside-baseball bits no doubt enjoyed.
This is another masterclass in non-wrestling work from Jericho, as he turns the ‘make them wait’ theme around on the challenger by sitting in his chair the whole time, then taking so long to finally sign. Jericho then offers a sincere ‘best man win’ handshake – but of course, it leads to the video wall showing Guevara and Jake Hager assaulting Dustin outside the arena. Hager works in two pretty good callbacks – first, kneeing Rhodes in the crotch (check out the result of his latest Bellator fight) and then slamming a car door on his arm (think Rhodes’ old tag partner Barry Windham 19 years ago at the hands of The Enforcers).
The Hybrid2 (Jack Evans and Angelico) and Kip Sabian vs The Elite (Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks)
Omega is out as Sans from Undertale, complete with a video game display on the big screen. I like my games, but I’ve not played Undertale so a lot of it went over my head, unfortunately. The Bucks are out as Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter – now that I am familiar with – but JR’s repeated introductions of the Bucks as the best tag team in the world needs to be put to rest, especially on a show where they’re crowning the first tag champs.
Again, this one runs in the 10-12 ballpark. With six participants, it at least spreads out as a showcase for everyone’s trademark offense. But in a clear stars vs supporting cast match, it’s still a fair chunk of TV time. The Bucks powerbomb Sabian into the apron (because of course!) before a triple superkick kills Evans dead on his springboard attempt. Omega adds the V-Trigger and One Winged Angel to wrap this one up.
Post-match, Santana and Ortiz are disguised as front row fans with Bucks shirts and Rick and Morty masks! They drag Matt and Nick over the rail for a pummeling before fleeing when Omega catches wind of what’s going on.
After the break, The Librarian Peter Avalon and his assistant Leva Bates are out. Avalon runs down the crowd while Jon Moxley comes out through the crowd and takes out his bad mood on Peter. Mox vents about the unsanctioned match with Omega at Full Gear not counting towards their records, again emphasising the importance of the win/loss records that show up on everyone’s name screens during their entrances. This is great, fired-up stuff from Moxley but while I have no doubt the match will also be very good, it’s really feeling like they need to just get it out of the way after the injury-forced delay to their original plans so that they can position both men as top protagonists in different feuds.
Tournament final to crown the first AEW Tag Team champions: Lucha Bros vs SCU (Kazarian & Scorpio Sky)
We get in-ring introductions for this, which adds to the importance. But, we skip past their entrances entirely, which takes a bit of that straight back off. Private Party are watching from the front row, and the Dark Order observe from backstage.
Given the bad blood between the two sides after the Luchas took out Christopher Daniels, we start with fisticuffs over holds and rightly so. The Bros take control from there and get early near-falls by going for some of their best moves right from the off.
SCU rally and Kazarian, in a near spot, hits an Angel’s Wings – the signature move of Daniels. Kaz’s attempt to rana Fenix onto the other two on the outside doesn’t come off, with Frankie narrowly avoiding a very nasty spill indeed.
Sky and Kaz look for SCU Later, but the Luchas fight back and Pentagon springboards off the ropes and into a Destroyer to Kazarian. Fenix gets a near-fall on Sky with a counter into a cutter, before the Luchas powerbomb Kaz through the timekeeper’s table at ringside.
Scorpio realises he’s on his own and weathers some double-team offense before the Luchas look to wrap it up with their assisted package piledriver. Sky counters into an inside cradle, however, and Kaz is able to make it back just in time to stop any saves being made for the upset pin and the titles.
This is the match that should have received the extra time that could have been trimmed from the women and the Elite. This wasn’t just a tournament match, it was the final and one with a grudge written in. The ending could have been so much better, had they stretched out the two-on-one for Sky. It didn’t have to be so long that it made no sense that he kept surviving, but it was brief enough that Kaz’s return from the table crash was a bit daft.
Another reason why I wanted the ending to be better was that Sky is the story of the tournament and perhaps the highlight of AEW Dynamite so far. His selfless decision to step aside for Daniels and Kaz in the tournament, followed by the sneak attack to the Fallen Angel forcing him back in set him up as an underdog MVP, and he absolutely nailed that role for three straight weeks. I was emotionally ready to get more into that conclusion here, and while the ending was a happy one (I’m pleasantly surprised they actually went with SCU for the win here) it felt like a rushed conclusion to the tournament’s main story arc.
Once again, the samey nature of some of the matches has undermined what AEW are trying to do. Instead of a bunch of 11-minute matches running the same template, Shida and The Elite should have gone home a few minutes earlier each and left more time for an epic main event and breathing space for the gravitas of Sky being temporarily left alone at the end.
I also questioned going with the finals here instead of at the PPV in 10 days. It now seems possible that we may get a title change at Full Gear, after giving SCU a moment as the first champs before that. I actually hope that isn’t the case, especially considering just how good Scorpio Sky has come off.
Once again, AEW Dynamite is good. Very good. From a sheer quality standpoint, they’re offering great action and great entertainment without insulting their viewers’ intelligence (which, while a low bar, is exactly where the bar is at thanks to modern day RAW and SmackDown). But the sooner they put more faith in their storytelling and the art of TV matches as opposed to PPV matches and less faith in filling each bout with cutters, destroyers and apron spots, the better.