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A Solitary Man | AEWeekly #118

Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The eligibility week always includes the most recent episode of Dynamite, but is more flexible in terms of Collision and Rampage, to account for busy folks not always being 100% caught up, so can include this week OR last week’s episode.

This week’s contributors are Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos and MVP, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week.

 A page of links to prior installments may be found here: #AEWeekly

Dax Harwood x Tommy Billington

"An Impressive debut..."

by Joe.

Dax Harwood vs Tommy Billington is the AEW match of the week because of what it accomplished: it created a new British-born, Canadian-residing prospect, who isn’t an ex-WWE star. That covers 2 important AEW markets, gives them another potential #AEWOriginal.

The 3 hour block of Collision and Rampage blew Dynamite out of the water in terms of in-ring action. Will Ospreay being great was no surprise, the same goes for Danielson and Claudio, and Copeland has done a good job juggling the TNT title scene and the House of Black feud, and his match with Kyle O’Reilly delivered. However, the match that exceeded expectations the most, was Dax vs the new Dynamite Kid, Tommy Billington. I’ve seen some detractors on CageMatch, but for a first-time showing for me, as a major league rookie, the technical prowess impressed me. The way Tommy snapped that snap suplex, in particular, was impressive. More than the moves, I was impressed by 2 rare items amongst current wrestling rosters, the babyface fire and the natural crowd engagement. That fire that Billington showed is something that the top babyfaces do, but in the 80s and 90s, it felt like every noteworthy babyface had it in their arsenal. I understand the hesitance, because that level of commitment could leave you feeling vulnerable, or put you at risk of coming off as corny or cheesy, but it worked well on Collision. That brings me to the next point, the crowd engagement. Of all the names I rattled off at the beginning of this paragraph, the only ones in the ballpark of getting the level of support and reaction as Billington seemed to be Kyle and Cope. Now, could this be a fluke instance? Yes. Is it worth a few more trials of Billington against formidable opponents, ideally heels who could put a hurting on him, to see if the people choose him and rally for him again? Heck yes. Let’s do that sooner rather than later. Props to Dax Harwood, who used his experience and star power to elevate and feature a new star here, and give him something impressive to attempt to overcome, and make the nearfalls mean more. In this feud against The Elite, Harwood is on Team AEW, and his post-match actions and comments about Tommy position his character as someone who truly cares about the future of AEW. So, with a prospect-making performance, and storyline-sensible character development, the Dynamite match from Collision wins the week.

Kyle O'Reilly

"The Hometown boy gets his Shot..."

by Sergei.

This week didn't seem real noteworthy for great interviews. Danielon's "rah rah AEW" speech on Collision was the first to make me sit up and take notice, but in retrospect the best part of that was the subtle hint that stablemate Castagnoli didn't want to hear that. But before making a final decision, I always go through the @AEW feed for the week to see anything I may have missed or underrated, as well as social media exclusives. And Kyle O'Reilly cut a promo building up his main-event match with Copeland which was proof once again that more of these great social-media clips ought to make the show. ICYMI (and you probably did):

Kyle starts with a sweet, nostalgic full-circle story of how he is main-eventing against a guy who wrestled on the very first show he attended in that same hometown arena, where he also saw his first concert and his first hockey match. I love how he calls wrestling "the greatest form of live entertainment in the world."  One might expect to move on to talking about how important it is for him to win the TNT Championship to prove himself, but instead he talks about taking the time to enjoy this moment and not putting too much pressure on himself so he can appreciate this moment for what it is regardless of outcome. Also, after the match, he gives a really sweet brief interview talking about how just having the kind of match that they did and getting the amazing reaction that they did from his hometown crowd made this one of the greatest nights of his life, regardless of disappointing outcome or possible injury.

The "agony of defeat" promo where a talent gives a really devastating peek inside the mindset of someone crushed by disappointment and unsure of their path forward can be an excellent storytelling tool. Daniel Garcia is master of the style and has gotten Interview of the Week more than once with an entry of that sort. This very week Zay did a surprisingly serious and great interview of the type talking about the beating he took from Joe. But it's such a nice change of pace for a character on our show to be more focused on truly appreciating an amazing moment for what it is.

Swerve Strickland X Christian Cage

"The Mogul stands alone..."

by Saul

The Patriarchy is a necessary element of AEW, and if you don’t like that statement, blame Christian Cage.

Despite the significant Omega segment last week, I was incredibly selecting Christian’s return as the story beat of the week. This recent run has been instantly classic and his absence from AEW noticeable. So when his music hit and he was announced as the next world title challenger, I was overjoyed.

There’s always an interesting question of the stakes in a World Champion’s first title defence. In the vast majority of these feuds, the champ’s victory seems like a foregone conclusion. This makes sense, as usually a lot of audience investment is put into a wrestler's rise to the top and fans don’t want that eventual reign to be squandered. But, this is all fine right? I mean, many successful stories have been told where the ending is pretty obvious but that doesn’t preclude them from being entertaining and resonant.

An interesting part of Swerve Strickland’s face turn is how ready he has been to own up to his previous bad behaviour. So often wrestling heel turns feel like turning a switch from bad to good, where the wrestling comes up with factory new settings, with a different persona and fresh catchphrases to match their current alignment. Most of the AEW wrestling characters maintain consistency, and this has been done excellently with Swerve. This element of his character has also been well embodied by this first rivalry.

Christian has a bone to pick with Swerve for costing them the tag match at Wembley, where they teamed up as heels against Darby and Sting. The Mogul Embassy, the heel faction that Swerve was the leader of, turned on him. I guess it’s lonely at the top. Especially if you’ve left a long trail of enemies and if you’ve pissed off the bosses. Swerve’s championship reign will be of him battling his past, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the summit.

Part of this is definitely practical. It doesn't make sense for a face champ to have a faction of bruisers and The Embassy work for better as heels, but they weaved it in effectively. Turning his own faction against him masterfully fits in the petulant machiavellianism at the heart of Christian’s character. As alluded to previously, it also leaves Swerve in a far more interesting and vulnerable place as World Champion moving forward.

No part of me believes that Christian will win at Double or Nothing, but this story has already effectively progressed both the characters involved, provided entertaining TV and helped to establish Swerve as World Champion. Oh, and I’m sure the match will bang too.

Swerve Strickland

"Schadenfreude from the Roster..."

by Peter.

Swerve's ascendancy to the top of AEW came with  moments of heinousness, moments that have been so despicable that would make El Macho go "bro" (or is it "bruv" these days?) but with those acts and the rise through the ranks of AEW came a rise in popularity akin to the rise of Steve Austin in the 90s. But as Swerve Strickland got to the top of the AEW mountain, while the view might be scenic, it also has it is pitfalls.

The cliché of the champ having a target on him has already played out with a defence against Claudio happening on short notice (albeit on Swerve's call) but the timing of his win has come in the midst of a power struggle in the company and having chosen his side, life is already difficult.

A title contender picked by the Young Bucks (who obviously don't like the rankings) casts a light on one of the sins Swerve committed last year. Christian using the break in to his new son's family wrestling school as motivation for his assault on the World Title shows the people aren't forgetting his 2023 but it's what happened in the face to face confrontation between Strickland and Christian, a confrontation so awaited it needed it's own countdowns clock that saw the sins of Swerve's past brought to the attention of the AEW fan.

Betrayal is also part of the baggage a world champion has to deal with. The great champs in wrestling's past have had to deal with friends stabbing them in the back while holding their companies top prize and Swerve had to deal with that problem on Dynamite this past Wednesday after the Embassy faction that he bought into turned on him. While a Mogul less Embassy and hopefully a Nana-less Embassy (if Nana turns heel on Swerve I will riot) will be an interesting prospect and a Brian Cage sized obstacle for Swerve on this upcoming Dynamite will be a good watch, it's the lack of help Swerve got my attention and was my Moment of the Week.

It seems that The Embassy were his only allies in AEW and with them aligning themselves with The Elite side of the AEW civil war, Swerve's sins of the last 12 months were brought into the open. Just because the AEW faithful love Swerve, do the dance and shout "Swerve's House" doesn't mean the AEW locker room are joining in. Acts like breaking into peer's properties, the betrayal of his best friend and stealing other wrestlers' friends just to cast them aside are good ways to annoy people and it looks like Swerve hasn't mended fences in 2024 as the events of the head-to-head confrontation unfolded. 

Everyone’s version of schadenfreude is different!

On a different note, where the f*** is Hangman?

TNT Championship

"The Faces of TNT..."

by Sam P.

AEW Collision featured a big moment, as Adam Copeland successfully defended the TNT Championship against Kyle O’Reilly, in what was revealed to be the 100th TNT Title match in AEW history. With a landmark moment like that, then I felt there was only one throwback we could enjoy, and that would be several of the best TNT Championship matches to feature on free television (no PPVs, no Battle of the Belts).

We begin with one of my favourites, where the magic of the TNT Championship and Cody’s inaugural Open Challenge featured a major surprise on the Fight For The Fallen 22nd July 2020 edition of AEW Dynamite. It may have been at Daly’s Place with no fans in attendance, but the moment Eddie Kingston walked out on stage for the first time, to challenge Cody for the TNT Title, still sends shivers down my spine. “You know what I grew up around? Alcoholics! Junkies! I GREW UP AROUND THAT... AND I HAD TO SURVIVE. I HAD TO GRIND. You couldn't last.. a day in my shoes, so you don't tell me nothing about grinding.A raw, passionate promo that introduced the majority of the AEW audience to a man who grew to be the everyday hero fans could relate to, followed by a great No Disqualification match that pushed Cody further than before.

But Cody did survive, although not for long, as his continued weekly challenge culminated in him getting destroyed by the unrepentant and terrifying Mr Brodie Lee. On the 7th October episode of AEW Dynamite, in what would turn out to be the last match before Lee’s untimely death, the two men faced off in a barbaric and vicious Dog Collar match that left both beaten, battered, and bloody. While the previous matches had told of the fun and excitement the title could exhibit, this helped escalate the importance of the title, and willingness men were willing to go to hold it.

The following year on the 21st April edition of AEW Dynamite, the beloved cult hero Darby Allin defended the title against a fellow Four Pillar in Jungle Boy, in a main event that demonstrated why they’ve gone on to become integral parts of the AEW roster. Both men were fast-paced risk-takers, with the future Jack Perry demonstrating his technical excellence against the plucky, never-say-die underdog of Darby, that had the crowd rocking and has been unfortunately forgotten by most in years since. About eleven months later, Darby featured in a classic on the 4th March 2022 edition of AEW Rampage, where Sammy Guevara defended his title against Darby and Andrade El Idolo in an excellent three way, with Andrade’s physicality, Darby’s selling and Sammy’s risk taking combining to create an engrossing bout with false finishes galore and breathless action.

Finally, we arrive at 14th October last year, where AEW Collision featured a match previously mentioned when discussing Christian Cage’s brilliant work as a singles wrestler in AEW title matches. That night, he defended the TNT Championship against Bryan Danielson, in a match that demonstrated the level of prestige and importance the title had come to represent. Over the last one hundred TNT Title matches, it has main evented AEW Dynamite, it has been held by two of the biggest young stars of AEW in Darby and Guevara, it reinvigorated Samoa Joe as a champion before his future AEW World Title reign, and it main evented AEW WrestleDream 2023, and it’s first champion is currently the WWE World Champion. The TNT Title has been an integral part of AEW, and long may it continue.

Swerve Strickland

"A Champion on the Warpath..."

by Gareth

When a majority of the sections of this AEWeekly piece from all of our separate perspectives and the differing aspects we are focused on are all awarded to one talent, it's a strong sign that that is the competitor who should be AEW's MVP of the Week, and this week that was definitely Swerve Strickland. That's not the reason that I personally feel that he is AEW's MVP right now, and why I'm excited to write about him. Peter and Saul mostly talk about the realism that Swerve is having to deal with the consequences of his actions on his path to become World champ back when he was heel, and i agree that that is realistic and cool…

But it's not JUST that everyone has turned against him and he's now a man standing alone with no Mogul Embassy backup, but more importantly that he has the tools to thrive, for it to feel convincing to the audience that he can survive and possibly win in that situation. He just has a moveset and swagger that makes him extremely convincing when cornered and forced to fight outnumbered. He showed that a few weeks ago when he laid out an army of security trying to keep him from Samoa Joe, he showed flashes of it when he briefly got the advantage back from the Patriarchy on Dynamite and he especially showed it against his own turncoat faction on Collision. The Swerve Stomp from the top turnbuckle to the floor is one of the most thrilling ways to take out a group of adversaries like tenpins. And that kind ability to convincingly turn around a seemingly hopeless tactical situation is one of the key tools for driving a "hunted man alone" story work and thrill the audience.


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