Hello and welcome to the #AEWeekly Roundtable Discussion where ProWrestlingMusings contributors share their thoughts on the major talking points arising from the last week of AEW programming.
1) MJF had an... interesting week as a babyface and becoming one of the final two in the Dynamite Diamond Battle Royale. What did you make of his performance this week as well as CM Punk’s promo?
[Brian] I think Maxwell showed us all a glimpse into what perhaps to most of us, myself included, will eventually be an incredibly over fan favourite. But that’s all it was: a glimpse, a mirage, a (in the macro-sense) blink and you miss it moment
Will we all experience déjà vu the next time AEW visits the UBS Arena in Long Island? I expect so. But for all the “Bizarro World” talk, I think it belies the fact that we live in a time and place that lets us step outside ourselves depending on the context.
MJF’s work in the Battle Royale continues his trend as winning over-the-top rope matches as he has won four of these matches (three Dynamite Diamonds and the Tag Team one at Beach Break, with Jericho), two ahead of anyone else in the company.
Who saw a triple elimination coming? I thought we might get MJF and Wardlow as the final two with the former expecting the latter to lay down for him, but I like this continued slow burn instead.
Punk did as Punk does. With a smile on his face, I was there for the hockey talk but I understand it’s not for everyone.
[Andy] As always, MJF played his role to perfection. The hometown crowd were always going to cheer him and his cheesy, over the top babyface mannerisms make him more detestable to fans watching at home. Seeing him take the first opportunity to eliminate Wardlow with plausible deniability shows just how well his character is booked and gives further ammunition to the eventual Wardlow/MJF feud.
CM Punk showed just how quickly he could turn heel if he wanted to, whilst also remaining a babyface to anyone not in the arena. It is nice to see AEW playing into the reaction they knew they would receive and explaining it for the fans at home. Plus, the swerve of Punk coming out to MJF's music given how many people were fantasy booking that for Punk's debut was a great moment.
[Allie] MJF showed that he still has some babyface chops, which he got to flex for the first few months working alongside Cody Rhodes before turning on him. The video package was an excellent touch. Perfectly tongue-in-cheek, with elements of both sides of the fence, and a fantastic announcer voice. For the battle royal, MJF eliminating Wardlow shouldn’t shock many, and I think it happened without MJF even laying a hand on his enforcer.
Meanwhile, CM Punk definitely antagonized a crowd that was already against him and showed that he still can illicit boos from the crowd, even after 7 years of absence and being one of the most desired stars during that time. The feud between Punk and MJF didn’t seem to advance or get hotter during the show, but the booking team still did a good job keeping it in the fore of our minds.
[Jae] Allie brings up a great point that did not occur to me; the feud did not actually advance. Both MJF’s and Punk’s individual development did advance, but their feud was not meaningfully furthered. I thought Punk’s promo meandered, particularly towards the end and, in part, it was because he was reviewing the feud thus far and nothing much has actually occurred in it. What is there to say? They need more heat!
As for MJF, I could not picture him as a face until Wednesday—and then I watched him be as hot of a babyface as Jungle Boy or Darby Allin with seeming ease. I hope it does not happen until after a run on the top as a heel but, whenever they decide to pull the trigger, they have an ace babyface ready to go.
[Dan] I thought everything around MJF was pitched to perfection this week. From CM Punk trolling the Long Island fans, to that superbly dick-ish video package to MJF’s cowardly and hilarious actions in the Battle Royale. It was superb from start to finish.
To Allie’s point above, I suspect AEW knew that storyline progression was going to be tricky here due to the home-crowd pop Maxwell would get, and so they didn’t try and take the fans for chumps. They leant into the flipped reactions but did so without compromising the overall point that Punk is the face in this feud.
On the subject of Punk, this was a fascinating glimpse into the future where we see a heel CM Punk. It won’t happen for a while...but when it does it will be stupendous.
[Sergei] There seems to be a consensus here that we just saw a preview of a future babyface Maxwell Friedman. I strongly disagree! I believe that our jackoff friend should and maybe will remain heel for life. And I think it remains an open question just how much Long Island really would have been Bizarro World for him without Punk warming the crowd up with some choice low blows to the Islanders. As Punk promos go, it was low-hanging fruit, but it served its purpose.
[Sam] I’ve always been the type that found the need to gain heat on somebody in their hometown, or have a heel insult his hometown, archaic and passe. In my mind, if you can only gain heat by utilising a hometown, then you’re lazy. Unless it’s MJF and Brian Pillman Jr, that was both in character and perfectly timed due to the recent Dark Side of the Ring episode.
I aways find it more interesting when wrestlers allow different reactions in different locations, such as Bret Hart in Canada, such as someone in their home country. What MJF and Punk did was play their roles according to the audience reaction, rather than forcing an unwanted story.
2) Dante Martin was also one of the final two competitors in the Battle Royale, eliminating, and turning on, Team Taz stable-mate Ricky Starks to do so. Dante will go on to face MJF at Winter is Coming for the Dynamite Diamond Ring next week. What did you make of this story development for Dante and the pairing of MJF vs Dante for next week?
[Brian] I actually think Martin and Starks working together to eliminate MJF may have provided a more intriguing dynamic for Winter is Coming next week. In that scenario, Martin is expected to give the victory to Starks but just can't make himself do it.
Back to reality, I think Dante will elicit the maximum sympathy from the crowd as MJF works him over. The only question is whether he will tap out or pass out.
[Andy] I'm not a fan of how quickly the Dante and Team Taz story has been rushed. I'm a huge fan of all the characters involved and was hoping for several weeks of storytelling. Obviously, there will be more to come and perhaps the very quick flip flopping will have satisfying logic behind it, but as of this moment it is a disappointment for me.
MJF against Dante has the potential to steal the show. The diamond ring is a heel gimmick and has suited MJF down to the ground, so I'd be stunned if it did change hands.
[Jae] It is strange, and maybe jarring, to see a mix of slow-burning stories (Hangman and Omega) alongside the Dante and Team Taz storyline. That said, maybe Lio Rush comes out on Dynamite next week and says it was all a plan from the get-go. If not, then is Dante Martin’s gimmick that he is a confused, directionless young person who keeps changing their mind? I mean, maybe it could work, I guess?
[Dan] I agree with Andy on this one. This felt like a story that needed a lot more twisting and turning before we got to the reveal of Dante being some sort of double-agent. I was really looking forward to this story developing over the next few weeks, but as it was, they didn’t even really deal with it in the Battle Royale itself, with Lio being eliminated by MJF and Dante turning on Starks before any intrigue could be built on.
All that said, Dante v MJF will be brilliant. A tantalising contrast of styles and characters and with MJF’s ongoing stories with both CM Punk and Wardlow swirling around in the ether. Should make for a particularly heady mix of a match.
[Sergei] I was shocked and a bit disappointed by Dante’s betrayal (already!) of Team Taz. Mostly because I was a big fan of what Dante brought to the table in terms of rounding out the team. An arrogant star, a wise & crusty mentor, a massive & vicious heater, a high-flying super rookie, and a nepotistic hanger-on seemed like a perfect set of roles for a group with no overlap.
But that was before we saw HOOK wrestle! The team doesn’t have room for two super rookies, so no time like the present. I expected it to require a stipulation match to get him free from his contract, but there was no way Dante was a fit for Team Taz long term, and with the stellar debut of HOOK, I’m resigned to it ending sooner rather than later.
[Sam] I’m curious to see where Dante Martin goes from here, I do feel the overall story is meant to be that of a confused young man who allows himself to be directed.
What’s interesting is that when in the ring with Lio Rush, the two of them had tremendous chemistry working together, and I think that’s reflective that Martin is a man who runs on instinct.
So, when Martin eliminated Starks, it wasn’t an intended betrayal, it was a moment of instinct. However, Team Taz doesn’t need Martin at the moment, and I’d much rather see Starks, Hook & Hobbs get their moments.
3) Cody Rhodes finally moved on from Andrade and Malakai Black this week, challenging Sammy Guevara for to a TNT Championship match in two weeks. Cody seemed even cockier than his usual self and very much teased being a heel. Is this a positive move? What are your thoughts overall on this development?
[Brian] This is definitely a move in the right direction. The thought of the Grinch Cody taking the TNT Championship away from the former Panda-clad Sex God (never thought I’d type those four words in a row!) is enough to keep children awake night.
In all seriousness, I think Sammy should “steal” the win with shockingly little pomp and circumstance and then, and only then, will Cody wreak his havoc. Expect at least one direct call-back to the inaugural match on the premiere episode of Dynamite from October 2019.
[Andy] We have to talk about those burns first...brutal! The heel teases from Cody were very interesting and given the reactions he is getting at the moment; a title change would send the fans completely over the edge.
As I said previously, Sammy has never really clicked for me as TNT champion, but this could be the feud that really kicks things into gear. Giving this a couple of weeks to build is a smart move and a win would see Sammy finally defend against impressive name.
But most importantly it sets up a title match which could arguably go either way. That lack of predictability brings excitement and allows fans to emotionally invest in the match - which is what wrestling is all about.
[Jae] Andy nailed it above. This is unpredictable. Truly 50/50. We have not seen many unpredictable TNT matches in recent months. And I love the call-back to the pilot of Dynamite. I want to see Sammy come out with the panda, and I want to see Cody cheat to win back his championship. The first two-time and the first three-time champion in AEW; that sounds good to me. I just had a vision of Miro, after winning his feud with God, going on to feud with “the man who thinks he is God.”
[Dan] As Jae says, the narrative possibilities with this one are pretty endless as we flashback to where it all started with AEW Dynamite.
I’ve not really been a fan at all of Cody’s character in the last couple of months and I think the feuds with Andrade and Malakai Black have to go down as failures. But this could be the chance to right those wrongs, and I liked the more overt hints at Cody’s turn to the dark side this week. I’m all for clever little Easter Eggs and teases in AEW, but I think with Cody it has become so muddled that they really need to start again and get to the point.
As for Sammy, I have enjoyed most of his matches as TNT Champion, but I agree with those above who have been underwhelmed by the reign as a whole. This is the chance to give his reign some creative and emotional heft, and I hope that AEW can make the most out of it.
[Sergei] I am in the minority here, as I am in no rush for Cody to get to the point of whatever his current character arc is. Sure, he is flailing, but the WAY that he is flailing is true to his character core. He’s a complicated man, and I am on board for wherever this train is bound. Winning OR losing the TNT championship should reveal fascinating new facets of that character, so whatever happens, the fans are the winner.
[Sam] One thing I always love is how whenever two wrestlers have a rematch, it’s a big deal, built on their history and previous interactions. We saw it with Cody and Darby Allin, all three of their matches built upon the draw in the first, Cody’s experience in the second, and Cody’s arrogance in the third.
It makes sense for Cody to challenge for the TNT Championship in terms of it being where he had his most success, but maybe the true story is that while Sammy and the TNT Championship have grown and moved on, Cody has taken a step back. Personally, I don’t think Cody should win, I’d rather see someone like Ricky Starks be the one to dethrone Sammy.
4) Hook made his long-awaited debut against Fuego Del Sol on Rampage. What did you make of his presentation and his in-ring performance? How do you see him being handled in the near future?
[Brian] Hook was sent, and he delivered. The match was short, but not too short. I think the combination of the music plus the confident but not cocky walk to the ring was impactful. If he slowly climbs the ranks and gets a few more wins, that’s all well and good. However, not everyone needs to go on a big undefeated streak to begin (see Colten Gunn) and I think that’s what we have here.
Whether Taz sicks his son on Dante or Sammy tries to avenge Fuego’s loss, I think the follow up is critical here more than in most cases as the body of work. Short version: send him again and we’ll talk.
[Andy] It's crazy how over Hook is with the AEW fan base and a testament to the booking strategy that he hasn't been used before he is ready. There is an obvious comparison to be make with Dominik Mysterio - just looking at the buzz around Hook tells you who was handled better.
I hope he is used sparingly. He is a potential main event star but needs to get there organically, not be thrust up the card because of his initial popularity. Look at how Jungle Boy has been handled - a slow burn approach will be best for his longevity.
[Jae] This was so interesting to see unfold over the past year-or-so. It started almost ironically. Then one day Hook showed off his arms. Then Punk mentioned him. Then he showed a bit of character using a bag of chips. And now he’s receiving universal acclaim for his debut. It is too early to tell if the acclaim will continue but, personally, I am invested, and I am confident he can be a big player going forward.
[Dan] The presentation of Hook was pretty much flawless this week. THAT is how you do a debut. Obviously, he’s a sexy so-and-so which helps, but his whole demeanour just screamed ‘star’ as he loafed his way to the ring.
Once the bell rang, he backed up that confidence with a brilliant wrestling performance. The mix of speed and technical wrestling was pretty mind-blowing considering how young and green he is, and I am fascinated to see what they do with him from here.
[Sergei] The HOOK memes were great fun, but in retrospect, I question what the point was of doing an ironic and meme-tastic slow reveal of … what turned out to be a purely unironically great rookie prospect. But now that we’ve seen him, he fits right in with a true youth explosion in AEW.
With Lee Johnson, Daniel Garcia, Dante Martin, and Lee Moriarty, the generation next after the Four-Pillars generation looks to be in good hands, and HOOK looks like somebody whose poise, charisma, and unique offense style may set him apart even in such lofty company.
[Sam] One thing I loved about Hook was the little moments he utilised before and during the match. The fact he never rushed, that he walked all the way around the ring so that everybody can see him, that he stopped on the steps to soak in the reaction, and then he waited in the corner with his back to his opponent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took notice from Jake Roberts’ classic line “Never turn your back on a man you fear or respect”.
The presentation was perfect, and even if Hook had just succeeded with an adequate match, it would be enough, but the confidence was backed up by smooth transitional wrestling.
Hook represents what AEW does right, making the little moments matter, taking an unknown second-generation wrestler, and making his debut with a jobber (sorry Fuego De Sol) a big fucking deal.
5) How did you feel about AEW overall this week? Is there anything in else you’d like to spotlight?
[Brian] This was in many ways the calm before the storm because, as we all know, Winter is Coming. I’m undecided on if I want FTR and the Lucha Bros to continue or not because the matches are so good, but I believe in raising up new contenders, particularly in time for the first Battle of the Belts.
I hope Page wins somewhat convincingly and fully expect it to happen. Every other AEW Champion has defended his/her title at least once and I don’t think that’s going to change here. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey all the same.
[Andy] I may be alone on this, but I'm very interested in where the Malakai Black character is heading. AEW does a good job of building up mini feuds whilst exposing young wrestlers to a TV audience. Brian Pillman Jr is always brought up as a name new signings want to face - with such a long gap between PPVs at the moment, giving him the chance to work with Malakai is a great idea.
[Jae] I was quite confused when FTR attacked Sting and Darby Allin. I actually thought I put the wrong Rampage on for a moment. We have been there! They had a great match. MJF defeated Darby. Why are we back here? So, that’s an open question for me. I must also say that I hope the Malakai storyline is better than “if I mist people, they join me.” But let’s put that aside for now. It’s getting cold out. Winter is coming!
[Dan] Overall I thought it was a very strong week for AEW. Dynamite was excellent despite having to act as a go home show to next week’s extravaganza, and the six-woman tag match aside, Rampage was an absolute blast.
AEW have huge expectations to meet with Winter is Coming after last year’s Sting-fest, and I think they’ve built up the event very well despite some bumps in the road on the way. The title match feels massive. MJF v Dante feels important. And Shida v Deeb should be absolutely superb. Bring it on.
[Sergei] When Tully whispered “one more time” to Sting, I can’t imagine he was talking about a return match from September, rather from 1988. We’ll see.
I didn’t think anything from this week was all that great, but it set the table quite nicely for Winter is Coming, which I expect to be fantastic! (Hangman will be champion forever, he told me so).