Welcome to the AEW Grand Slam Night 1 Preview Roundtable, where Pro Wrestling Musings' contributors share their thoughts on the biggest talking points ahead of AEW's "Biggest week ever". PWM will be previewing Night 2 on Thursday before reviewing the week on Sunday, so keep your eyes peeled for that, and please not that writer's views are their own.
This week's contributors are:
1) In the most anticipated match for a long time, Bryan Danielson takes on Kenny Omega in a non-title match. What have you made of the fast build to this match? What are your hopes and predictions?
[Tim] I don’t mind the quick build to this as AEW already had a great venue in Arthur Ashe that’s going to house their attendance record, so why not give those fans a dream match? My hope for this match is that we get a 20-minute draw as neither man should lose this, but even more importantly neither man should win this. This can be the opening act to something tremendous.
[Craig] It’s fine because it’s what everyone wants! This match will be more like Omega/Page at Full Gear 2020 than Omega/Okada, but you will get another version of this match down the road.
As it’s not for the AEW World Championship, I’d expect it’ll have a 20- or 30-minute time limit. I don’t see either of these guys putting the other away within 20 minutes so that may be a tell as to how this is going straight out of the gate. I’m going out on a limb and saying it’s a 30-minute draw! A precursor to a multi-year series that’ll define the next few years in the same way as Page/Omega will.
[Peter] The traditional booking playbook usually says that Bryan wins the match to set up a Championship match down the line. But considering we saw this a month ago with Christian, I would be surprised if we saw the same here. This then leads to the popular option of a time limit draw, which is the smart play. Danielson comes out the next week and says if it had been an hour time limit, he would have won, and we get the championship match at Full Gear.
[Sergei] The important thing for me is that this is non-title: giving ANYONE, even Danielson or Punk, a World title match as their AEW debut would’ve been an intolerable violation of the storytelling conventions that we’ve been assured we can trust in. And that Danielson goaded Omega into this match: the World Champion is only in this position due to his own hubris, as it should be.
I expect that Kenny will avoid using submission holds against Bryan, out of wariness of the LeBell lock, much like he ceded throws and suplexes to Christian Cage due to concern about Cage countering into the Killswitch. I go into more detail about this in Styles Make Fights #28!
I have no idea who wins and I don’t think it matters, the ending of this match will be all about setting up the next match, any way you slice it.
[Shreyas] I am very excited for this match, and I agree that it should end in a time limit draw, with Bryan narrowly missing out on the win. Like he did with Christian, I expect Kenny to attack Bryan’s head A LOT due to his very public past of head injuries and Kenny’s head-oriented move set. I am expecting a fast-paced 20-minute sprint with both guys starting the match in the fifth gear instead of building it slowly, which would more likely be the case if, and when, we get a longer match between the two.
[Dan] It’s Kenny Omega versus Bryan Danielson. To be honest they could have announced it yesterday without either having interacted at all and I’d have been over the moon. As it is I’ve actually really enjoyed the build since Danielson’s debut. The two already have electric chemistry between them on the mic, and when we saw Danielson take down Kenny into the LeBell Lock it was one of the smoothest transitions I’ve seen for a long time…and that was just 3 seconds.
I agree with my esteemed colleagues that this will likely be a time-limit draw. But if that means we get 20 minutes of these two going back and forth before building to another match further down the line… you know what? I’m okay with that.
2) The result for Britt Baker vs Ruby Soho for the AEW Women’s Championship isn’t in much doubt, but with the sheer amount of energy these two generate in the ring together, what do you think will happen between them?
[Tim] Similar to Omega/Danielson I don’t know if a conclusion is right for this match. The difference being that this one is for the belt and I really don’t like non-finishes to title matches. Britt has been on a great run so I’m expecting her to retain here. Ruby can then work her way through the women roster as she works to get that title re-match.
[Craig] Similarly to the Bryan Danielson booking, the quick elevation of Ruby Soho into the sphere of a AEW Champion is earned by the booking of previous former WWE stars. Moxley, Miro and FTR have all had to work their way up the ranks. Therefore, booking Soho as the winner of a one-shot number one contender's match is both acceptable and not universe breaking.
Soho is the first woman in a while to share the ring with Baker and not feel dwarfed by Baker’s star power, so this match is almost a fresh step forward for the AEW Women’s Division. This is probably the second biggest match that AEW can put on in this much-maligned division only after the Rosa/Baker rematch.
[Peter] I see a very fun match with Britt taking the win with some help from her friends. I think it should open the show or the second hour, instead of being stuck in the traditional "women's quarter". This is one of the most eagerly awaited women’s matches in AEW history and I hope it gets the love that it deserves.
[Daisy] Whatever happens here, Soho needs to come out of it a top player in the AEW women’s division. These are two main event worthy talents and considering the hesitation to put women’s matches in main event spots for AEW, we need Ruby to stay on top and stay relevant in order to advance the division.
I think Tim is correct in saying that Soho/Bakers feud should not end at the bell. They have the potential for a huge long-term feud between these two similarly to Rosa and Baker’s rivalry. Now, I’m no expert on Ruby Soho, but I have gone back and watched a few of her matches in Japan and on the American indies respectively, and she still has a hell of a lot to pull out of her bag in AEW. There’s been rumours that Danielson/Omega will begin the show instead of main eventing it, and if that’s the case, this is the only other match on the card that should take that place.
[Dan] I’m actually not as confident that Britt walks away from this one with the win. Ruby Soho is on fire with the crowds right now, and their face-off on Rampage last week was absolutely superb. I just wonder whether AEW might capitalise on that heat and let Ruby run with whilst Britt hopefully completes the face-turn that her popularity warrants.
Ruby Soho can be excellent in the ring when not towing an awful company’s line, and Britt generally shows up in a big way for the big matches. So, this should be a superb match and I’m just so delighted to see Soho being given this well-deserved limelight.
3) There is a lot of fear online about Cody Rhodes defeating Malakai Black in their rematch. Where do you stand on this? What do you think should happen? What do you think will happen?
[Tim] Sometimes I get the feeling that Cody legitimately thinks he’s more over than he actually is. It’d be hard to argue otherwise because he still gets a great crowd reaction, but I think it could be argued that he’s not even in the top five of AEW faces. Black is new and cool and different. He should win here (albeit in more competitive outing than last time) but I’m only 50-50 in thinking that he will.
[Craig] Cody Rhodes is actually a very self-aware individual who is aware of his flaws. He knew he was beginning to get carried away with his ‘preachy’ promos, so had Black boot him in the face as he was winding one up. He also talks really openly and honestly in interviews. He doesn’t seem like he is playing at being a decent guy as are the vibes I get from some other wrestlers! He’s putting guys over to put guys over, and not to be seen as putting guys over.
PWMusings’ Styles Make Fights-guru, Sergei Alderman, has always been a supporter of Cody’s booking and how by being booked strongly and only putting over a few wrestlers, it actually works out better in the long term. By going over Penta and Ogogo, his loss to Black means a heck of a lot more. However, parallels have been drawn between this program and the Brodie Lee one last year. Perhaps this is another level to Sergei’s point?
Last time around Cody put over Brodie, elevating him magnificently but came back to complete the story. Brodie was more over than he was to before and Cody was able to carry the TNT Title on to Darby Allin. This time if Cody comes back and loses to Black, that puts Black over ever more, as the man who bested a revenge-driven Cody who had proven himself a difficult proposition over the last man that put him on the shelf.
[Peter] Just because Cody is the son of Dusty Rhodes, whose booking of himself in Jim Crockett Promotions was vomit inducing, doesn’t mean he’s like Dusty when it comes to the way he presents himself. Cody lost to MJF and hasn’t got his win back and may never will. Craig has already spoken about what he did for Brodie.
Cody is not the egomaniac that some want us to believe he is when it comes to how he works with other talents. He was one of the most important people in the evolution of Darby Allin and he helped multiple others during his TNT Title run last year. Malakai Black is winning on Wednesday. I’m very sure of it.
[Sergei] I think that there’s one aspect of this match-up that isn’t getting long enough shrift, and that’s that Malakai has utterly decimated the Nightmare Family, leaving Cody with none of the back-up and support he’s accustomed to. Will a lone wolf Cody be even more dangerous? Or diminished?
[Daisy] Give me a competitive match with a more determined Cody Rhodes, give me a Malakai Black win at the end of it, and give me a Cody heel turn after that. As Sergei said, the Nightmare Family is gone – fractured and split into a group of men who have been destroyed by Malakai’s boot or turned heel themselves as the Gunn’s have. There is no happy family there to greet Cody when he returns. They were left alone – to fend for themselves against a man whose only goal was to crush them, and their leader was nowhere to be seen, too humiliated in defeat to assist his 'family’.
Heel Cody is the solution to the past year of frustrating booking when it comes to the Codester and the Nightmare Family. The Gunns are already better off as heels and with a Hangman title reign just around the corner, the rest of the faction going with them would make sense. Cody says he’s a career babyface, but I disagree. Was he an untouchable babyface at AEW’s conception and in its’ early days? Yes. But that’s not the best work I’ve seen Cody do in his career. He excels in the heel role. He’s fantastic at it – pure over-the-top anime villain, American flag eye contacts and all. I need that guy back. Give him to me, Cody.
[Dan] A defeat here derails the brilliant work that AEW have done with Black. He’s gone from a relative figure of fun in WWE broom cupboards to one of the most menacing presences we’ve ever seen in AEW, and I believe that a defeat here would rain catastrophically on that parade.
Yes, it needs to be more competitive, but it still needs to end in a spinning heel kick to the face and a win for Black. From there Cody can go on to do any number of things, whilst Malakai is aimed at whoever dares to get in his way.
4) MJF is a heavy favourite to defeat Brian Pillman Jr, but what do you hope to get from this match?
[Craig] Not as into this match as the others but the fact that I am is testament to MJF’s glorious promo in Cincinnati. This match is a part in MJF’s post Jericho push even further up the card. That being said, expect a lot of these as MJF will be a huge part of Adam Page’s eventual title reign, possibly taking the belt off the cowboy in quick fashion. Thus, continuing Page’s tortured hero story even beyond the apparent happy ending.
[Peter] Like Craig said, MJF’s probable win is a device to get Max his heat back after his loss to Jericho at All Out. As for Pillman. Jr, it’s what happens post-Arthur Ashe that is important. I would like Brian to be a major part of the just announced Owen Hart Cup when the inaugural edition of the tournament takes place.
[Tim] I like that Pillman Jr is getting a push but what of Griff Garrison? He’s a plucky babyface yet he moved to the back burner so quickly I’m afraid he’s off the stove entirely. My hope is that MJF wins and the Varsity Blondes continue their quest through the tag division.
[Daisy] I’m a huge fan of Pillman and I think it’s fantastic how big of push he’s getting from this match. AEW have done the right thing with him and have continued to put him in big spots post Pillman Sr.’s episode of DSOTR. He’s a natural babyface, and unlike a lot of second-generation wrestlers, he has a rather relatable life story which makes him a very strong mid-card underdog.
He still has a little bit of a ways to go in the ring. He’s fundamentally solid, but not quite at that main event level yet. If he continues to hone his skills in the immediate future, he’s going to a be shoo-in for the brand-new Owen Cup, as well as the TNT championship a little further down the line.
[Shreyas] I agree with Daisy here, Pillman Jr is one of the purest babyfaces in the company right now. Having learned his backstory from DSOTR I am always going to root for him and he makes that easier with the babyface fire he exudes in his promos and matches.
Simply put, MJF is winning this. As for Pillman, his time will come. The Varsity Blonds are a very lovable act and have future tag champs written all over them. But this has been a very fun two-week program that has raised Pillman’s stock while also giving MJF something fresh to do after feuding with the Inner Circle for most of 2021.
[Dan] In MJF, AEW have the luxury of a heel who can get any babyface over such is the heel-heat he can effortlessly generate. Pillman is the current beneficiary of this, and it will be very interesting to see if he can step into that spot and shine. We obviously haven’t seen a lot of him in a singles capacity, but his work in the tag-team division provides more than enough evidence that he can put on an excellent match. MJF is a much better worker than some give him credit for, and I think between the two of them they’ll put on a bit of a classic old-style face v heel banger. MJF wins, Pillman feels elevated, everyone is happy.
5) A matchup that is dividing the audience in terms of predictions is Sting and Darby Allin taking on FTR. Lots of people seem to think that both sides need to win. These sort of stakes make for great drama, but what do you think should happen?
[Craig] This is great booking! Darby and Sting are the mouth-watering booking device nobody expected to be in the holster of the AEW Tag Team Division at the start of the year. There were calls for them to end up in a match against the Young Bucks in what would be an emotional rollercoaster of a bout. However, with that option possibly being redundant now, using the emotional heft of Sting and Darby to reignite FTR may be as good a use of such a story-telling device. FTR have to win.
[Peter] Yes, FTR must win. The direction of the past few weeks feels like we are getting Sting and Tully in some kind of sanctioned contest with maybe Darby and Shawn Spears as tag partners, so I expect Tullly to get involved.
As for FTR, they need to get back into the tag title hunt after being distracted by the Pinnacle feud for the last 6 months. Now that they've moved on a FTR vs Lucha Brothers match should be happening soon, and that dynamic will be fantastic to watch.
[Daisy] FTR have to win this one, and I believe they will. Allin and Sting don’t need to win. Darby is AEW’s perpetual underdog, losses slide off him like water to a ducks’ back. This is undoubtedly the start to FTR’s slow build to a Lucha Bros title match, potentially at Full Gear.
[Shreyas] Actual tag teams losing to two singles guys/a new tag team is one of my biggest pet peeves in wrestling, Kenny and Hangman’s title run being the only exception. But you especially can’t have a top of the card team like FTR lose here.
[Dan] The fact that this one is so hard to call is a refreshing notion for me, and considering this confrontation came out of nowhere, it feels like a big deal.
The tag division in AEW is a bit muddled right now, with Proud and Powerful seemingly moving up the ranks towards a title shot, but recently siding with the Lucha Bros against HFO. So, does that leave a gap at the top of the division for FTR to fill? I think we’d all love to see FTR v Lucha Bros for the title, and that’s why I’d have them win here to put that thought in everyone’s minds.