Updated: May 14
Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The week runs Friday to Friday covering Rampage and Dynamite.
This week’s contributors are Joe[@GoodVsBadGuys] covering match of the week Gareth [@Gareth_EW] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Dan [@WinsDANlosses] reflecting on the best move, and Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
AEW World Trios Championship: Best of 7 Series Match 2: The Elite vs Death Triangle
Since Kenny Omega returned from injury on August 17th for the Trios tournament, The Elite have been elite in terms of match quality. Their GRAPPL app rating averages (out of 5 possible stars, w/ total user votes noted) read like this going into Wednesday’s Dynamite:
8/17 vs La Faccion Ingobernable = 3.94 (174)
8/31 vs United Empire = 4.37 (166)
9/4 vs Hangman Page + Dark Order = 4.41 (271)
11/19 vs Death Triangle = 4.46 (220)
Death Triangle have been no slouches since the birth of the Trios division, with their ratings against other opponents reading:
8/24 vs United Empire = 4.38 (184)
9/7 vs Best Friends + Orange Cassidy = 3.64 (139)
10/7 vs Dark Order = 3.33 (63)
10/19 vs Best Friends + Orange Cassidy = 3.63 (116)
11/16 vs AR Fox + Top Flight = 3.73 (85)
However, I was not as excited as most AEW fans to hear the Best of 7 series announced. One of my favorite things about wrestling is the variety it offers, both within shows and from one show to the next. Something that drove me away from WWE was seemingly never-ending rematches, with each successive match seeming to punish you more and more for being foolish enough to invest your time and emotion into the previous installments. Even worse, most of their characters involved were not changed in any meaningful way by the end of these marathons. The first 2 years of AEW were a pleasant escape from that monotony. Since the birth of the Blackpool Combat Club and their feud with the Jericho Appreciation Society in 2022, rematchitis has been running amok.
However, after their matchup on Wednesday, The Elite and Death Triangle are giving me reason to believe it could be different this time. Based on the story that was told at Full Gear, the Elite were the clear babyfaces, and the Death Triangle were the clear heels. However, a Chicago crowd that (cough irrationally cough) adores CM Punk decided that the Elite didn’t deserve their approval. Instead of stubbornly sticking to the script, the competitors in this match pivoted seamlessly.
Kenny’s bite, which Peter will talk about more later, was the kind of 4th-wall breaking stuff that not only stoked the heat of the crowd, but lit up social media and text message chains. The same goes for Matt Jackson’s failed Buckshot Lariat, mocking CM Punk’s failed attempt to use ex-Elite member Hangman Adam Page’s finisher, and Kenny Omega successfully using CM Punk’s GTS finisher.
The danger here is that this choice could have been the best for that night, but not the best for the long-term story. As Peter says, this Chicago crowd was often acting quite heelish, and you could argue, like a child on a playground, that “they started it”, with good evidence to support that claim. It gets a little flimsier when it comes to The Elite trying to use the hammer to win the match. You could argue they were just giving Death Triangle (and this prickly Chicago crowd), a taste of their own medicine. In a one-off, I can buy it. However, they need to be careful to avoid building to a heel vs heel dynamic by the culmination of this series. These teams have the skills to be exciting regardless of the dynamic and story involved (see Rey Fenix’s cutter, tornillo, high speed tope, Matt Jackson’s prayer-hands moonsault, etc), but wrestling is always better (in my opinion) when there is some element of “good” vs “bad” (hence my Twitter handle). The Elite and Death Triangle have proven they can adapt, create, and innovate, I just hope they don’t deviate - too far from the core of what works for me and many others as a wrestling fan.
(P.S. this 11/23 match of Elite vs Death Triangle scored a 3.99 on GRAPPL with 97 votes so far)
Promo of the Week
I didn't expect to see Toni Storm this week. After Hikaru Shida's year long reign was ended by Brit Baker, I said that now they had to do something interesting with Shida. I thought a breaking down of her babyface character leading to a heel turn would be interesting for her and add a layer to the division. That didn't happen and Shida languished on Dark for weeks.
So to see Toni Storm on TV just days after she lost the World Championship, with the knowledge that they made the sensible decision to retcon her championship reign to be official is a promising development. Her short prmo with Renee was human, raw and promised storyline progression. But that needs to be followed upon and not left for weeks as AEW is guilty of doing with their Women's Division storylines; think Shida and Deeb having weeks between their story beats.
My hope is that this sensible bit of narration of the Toni Storm character's devastation leads to a non-title feud or further character progression for Storm. A program with Britt Baker due to Baker's involvement in her title loss would make sense.
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
The House of Black have returned and, without explicitly saying anything, outlined their intentions. As the commentary team pointed out, with zero subtlety, "they are going after anyone and everyone."
I personally loved this, because previously the HoB had been relatively undefined. They were clearly "heels", but it never made sense to me because these seemed to me to be a group who have their own form of justice. A collection of individuals who align on their own moral compass, not that of society's norms.
The idea of HoB playing "bad guy" genuinely made me cringe at times. Because it just doesn't fit them. They're not "bad guys", they don't care for our idea of good and bad. Add to that how the audience want to cheer them, it never made sense to position them as heels.
A traditional "tweener" role makes perfect sense for them. Let them wrestle anyone and everyone, and thankfully, that is the new direction. How does this progress exactly? Who knows? But with The Elite and Death Triangle tangled in their 'best of seven' series, it's safe to assume the HoB won't be going for the trio's titles anytime soon.
If I could fantasy book for a moment, I would like to see them attacking different groups, setting up multiple short-term feuds with fantastic matches. And then down the line they can be the team to beat The Elite for those trio's titles.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
So, who had 5:48 in the When does Kenny Omega bite someone during Game 2 of the Trios Best of 7 series sweepstake?
Anyone who has ever watched BTE knew The Elite were going to be mischievous in front of the Chicago fans just two and a half months after Brawl Out. Anyone who was surprised, shocked or even upset hasn't been paying attention.
With vibes of Canadian Stampede 1997 where everyone involved in the matches character was the same the week before and the week after despite the change of the normal environment, The Elite notched their personas up to 11 on this particular night to suit the circumstances. So when Kenny mimicked the sleep taunt of CM Punk you knew it was Game 2 was going to be an experience. But in amongst the Buckshot Fail (Tony was a pro to bring it back to the Hangman/Elite storyline) and the wholesome KENTA tribute (that was what the GTS was about right?) It was the bite that stood out. If somehow you haven't got Google and didn't know anything about the events of September 4th, Kenny biting the arm of PAC was the act of a man needing to stay in control of a match he and his Elite teammates needed to win to prevent going 2-0 down whilst also showing the unhinged element to him that we saw during Kenny’s AEW World Title run but to those in the know, the majority I'm guessing, they understood that reference. Taz’s line “sometimes in a fight you've got to bite” was a perfect moment to reference the elephant in the room.
The aftermath was maybe more interesting with people on discords and forums all over the internet now insisting that CM Punk has to be coming back with all the foreshadowing going on and some showing how fun they are at parties they are, pointing fingers at The Elite calling them childish. But as I said earlier in this piece, Kenny and the Jacksons have always been mischievous in their humour and behaviour, it's what makes them so beloved by so many, maybe because they are kindred spirits and wired the same way as the Elite (hands up on my part) and if they were playing to that audience then great but by also playing to the audience in Chicago with their “antics” it made the whole viewing experience even better.
It also has to be said on a night where the Chicago natives chanted bullshit when Bryan Danielson talked about his father's struggles, maybe The Elite were the good guys on that Wednesday in Chi-Town after all.
Move of the Week: Dan.
A wrestling luddite who would absolutely rip his own knees off for a job with AEW once said, “Controversy creates cash.” But sod him and the nasty horse he rode in on because if your views on wrestling are based on what makes money, then as a fan you are missing the point entirely.
What controversy can create though is fun. That was certainly the case this week as The Elite waltzed into Chicago…a city weirdly obsessed with people who just happen to have been born there, with CM Punk one of the Second City’s favourite sons.
This isn’t the time or the place to discuss who was in the right and who was in the wrong at the now infamous ‘Brawl Out’. Yet with The Elite having been cleared following the investigation and now back on our screens, it was a very naive tipster that suggested it would all just be brushed under the carpet. Particularly when it came to Dynamite in Chicago.
Predictably, and in my opinion hilariously, The Elite poked the CM Punk bear with a sharp and witty stick, with failed buckshots, biting arms and GTS taunts all on the menu. The point of this though wasn’t simply to take the proverbial urine…it was all designed to improve the match and the atmosphere around it. Kenny and the Bucks knew they would likely have to be heels on the night and this was a perfect way to do that without having to tarnish their babyface characters once they left Chi-Town.
Never more was this encapsulated than Kenny Omega actually hitting the Go To Sleep on a beleaguered PAC. Catching the Geordie menace up above his shoulders, the Cleaner took his time to play to/wind up the crowd as he turned in the ring with a glorious snarl on his face. Fair play to Kenneth as well because he actually hit a pretty damn good GTS, even though that wasn’t really the point. Those supporting The Elite roared. Those detesting them booed. It all made for a crackling backdrop to an already superb match.
And you know what? Even the CM Punk apologists could smile at it all in the end as The Elite ate the defeat yet again. It was pitched perfectly and Omega was the right man, as he often is, to deliver the wonderful coup-de-grace.
MVP of the Week: Trish.
Death Triangle and the Elite
"Valuable" can have many connotations when it comes to AEW. It can be used to describe someone who puts all their efforts into elevating others, someone who delivers outstanding performances of their own or someone who is changing the perception or momentum of the brand. The last nine months have been difficult; from losing a co-founding EVP in Cody, the frustrations of Adam Page and MJF on the run up to Double or Nothing, injuries to key talent across the year and the well documented events of All Out it has felt like a cloud had descended over the company just as WWE was experiencing something of a resurgence.
The issues listed as well as what felt like changes to their format, ideology and identity, had reflected in the company's business metrics as well. Their original audience, especially in the Male 35-49 demo has been weakening as the year progressed, ticket sales started becoming softer in May and were not impacted by either August return as they may have expected. The late August and early September sales were some of the poorest in company history. Whilst the ship may have stabilised, it was clear AEW needed a lift.
The Elite's return last Saturday night to face Death Triangle (as well as heading back to TV) might have been just the thing they were looking for. There is an energy about AEW this week that hasn't been there for some time. The crowd was boisterous but along for the ride, buying into the match so heavily by the end that abusive chants towards the Elite turned to breakouts of "this is awesome!" in the final part of Wednesday's bout. Thus was swiftly followed by cries of the company name, something that had been shied away from in recent months. It was the sort of atmosphere which had been notably missing.
This value isn't just about the crowd in Chicago though, it was about how the Best of 7 is already helping them across the board. Wednesday's show caught fire ticket wise following the announcement, selling 1100 tickets in 100 hours, giving them a crowd of 6,060. This was a 11.3% increase on the last visit to Wintrust (MJF v CM Punk) and higher then any projection for that previous show when attempting to account for the weather back in February. Increases in attendance between visits have become rare in recent times so this must have been a very welcome sight. This was also the first time since Grand Slam that a Dynamite attendance has beat that of Monday Night Raw.
It wasn't just Chicago that saw an impact; all five of the remaining cities have seen movement increase from the rate of previous week's with the series announcement. Indianapolis (a number which needed somewhat rescuing) has already passed the last two week sales number it achieved last year, Garland and Denver doubled the selling rate of the week before whilst the season finale in LA is already up by more than 500 on it's previous total a week ago. With most shows tending to pick up between one to two hundred a week maximum outside of the onsale and last two weeks, this has been quite some pickup.
Outside of ticketing the Elite's entrance silhouette shirt has raced up to become one of AEW's top sellers in five days and the announcement of Kenny Omega's return to Japan has dominated Japanese Google trends to the point that more people enquired about "The Cleaner" in the twenty four hours following the PPV from his former home then from anywhere else on the globe. AEW and NJPW felt rejuvenated, and tickets for the Tokyo Dome are now moving too for those looking to welcome him back to his former promotion.
Death Triangle is very much part of this change as well. On Monday night the San Francisco 49ers Tight End George Kittle walked into the stadium ahead of his game against the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City sporting a Penta shirt and mask. Kittle, who has used the "cero meido" taunt to celebrate touchdowns and first downs in recent years, received a mask from his favourite luchador on the sideline and the moment was broadcast to millions of people worldwide. This was fantastic publicity for AEW and well timed with so many shows ahead in cities with large Latino populations. Chicago, home of Galli Lucha and other smaller Lucha infused promotions, came out not just to react to the Elite but to support the luchadors as well, with Mexican masks and flags visible around the arena. AEW will hope to see this trend continue in the likes of San Antonio, Denver and LA.
A Best of 7 is a massive undertaking. It requires skill, thoughtfulness and real craft to keep pushing above the previous efforts as well as to come up with something creatively different for each encounter. At this point in time though there seems no danger in it flaming out before its conclusion and it is having a fundamentally positive effect on AEW's business at just the right time. Six of the key originals that were fundamental to AEW at it's origin are now attempting to rejuvenate the brand through their in ring and storytelling excellence. It's a valuable breath of fresh air.