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, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, 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.
Everyone Actually Does Love The Acclaimed by Joe.
All Out was super stacked with matches, but lacking in strong rooting interests, The Acclaimed filled a much-needed void. Heels were crushing babyfaces. Christian Cage over Jungle Boy in 20 seconds. Powerhouse Hobbs over Ricky Starks in 5 minutes. Athena fell to Jade Cargill in 4:20, and Jade gets mixed reactions because of how great she is. All Out featured some strong beloved babyfaces, but they were often pitted against other strong babyfaces. Ishii vs Kingston, The Elite vs The Dark Order and Hangman Page, CM Punk vs Jon Moxley.
What this meant from a crowd atmosphere perspective was that it was hard to get a majority of the crowd on the same team with any kind of harmony. Ironically, the match that pulled it off was this tag team title match that was yet another babyface vs babyface booking.
What was special about this match was the way the crowd was using it as an opportunity to find unity and use their voices together to try and will The Acclaimed into a more prominent spot in the promotion. When they were heels, the line “Everyone loves The Acclaimed” was a delusional narcissistic claim, but what you could feel in Chicago(land) on that night was that it’s becoming true. Why did we love The Acclaimed? Like Keith Lee said in the press conference they are FUN. Something All In (2018) and early days AEW (2019-2020) was not short on, but 2022 AEW could use more of. In Swerve’s press conference he brought up that there were “four African-American people in that ring, with an African-American referee,” which is also special and different. What also shouldn’t be lost is that The Acclaimed bring diversity in representation and visibility in terms of sexual orientation.
With no Best Friends, no Orange Cassidy, no Danhausen, no Wingmen, this was the crowd’s chance to vote for fun. Scissoring” seems to be catching on like “Suck It” in the late 90s and “Too Sweet”-ing in the 2010s. Now, it might be gone a month from now, I don’t l know. What I do know is that chanting along to “Oh-Scis-sor Me Dad-dy” with 11,000 people is a silly highlight that I’ll remember for my whole life.
“That’s what works with The Acclaimed is that they are different and they are memorable. While most acts in AEW rise up the card largely based on how they can go in the ring, The Acclaimed have made it off of the backs of their words and ideas. However, in the last few years, The Acclaimed’s wrestling abilities have caught up closer to their “sports entertaining” abilities, where they can deliver on a show.
Speaking of that in-ring component, it takes two to tango, or in this case, four, and Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland are top-level wrestlers. They say they are “Mount Everest” for tag team wrestling, and at All Out they The Acclaimed climb up to that level, so credit is due to them as well. Fans wouldn’t have been cheering so hard for The Acclaimed and so excited for a triumph if they didn’t have an impressive team to beat. All 4 (or heck actually 5 if you count Daddy Ass Billy Gunn) of these performers put on the most joyfully unifying fan experiences - that could’ve been even better if they called an audible and gave All Out one more much needed happy ending.
Mox declares All-Elite Mission Statement by Sergei.
This week has been AEWs darkest, with backstage friction and chaos threatening their most important selling point to talent: the promise of a welcoming and congenial place to ply and sharpen one’s craft. Without that, rumors have swirled of a mass talent exodus.
It is in dark moments such as this when one can see the genuine, organic leadership of an organization. Because that’s who, in that moment, will step forward, speak up, and remind everyone why they joined up in the first place. And that’s exactly what we got from Jon Moxley on Wednesday night.
It’s worth noting that although the subtext of this promo is about real-life events going down in his promotion, everything he said made sense for his character to say within his fictional story. You’d think that would be a low bar to clear for a great promo, but that’s not the world we live in.
One thing people in my TL noted about this promo is that he didn't stoop to outright burying anybody under suspension right now. However, he does open the promo saying that he’s in no mood, that he’s angry and embarrassed about “a great many things.” And understandably so.
However, he ties that back to the fictional, on-screen story, since for his character, one good reason to be pissed off and embarrassed about Sunday is that he lost the world championship. Which makes a fantastic segue to talk about the AEW World Championship, and what it represents.
First, he talks about what it isn’t, and that’s a physical object. The Jon Moxley character has a fundamental stoic indifference to material wealth, that seems to very genuinely arise from the real guy, which is already a reminder to everyone in the locker-room of one of their fundamental values, that there are things that are more important than money, that, like himself, many of them took pay cuts for the opportunity to be here specifically.
Then Moxley brings up how they already fought through the dark times of the pandemic, and how they started from the beginning with a common vision of leaving the ugly side of pro wrestling to die in the darkness of the past. Then he spoke about how it represents always being committed to improving oneself, and “slaying demons”. This last brought a surge of emotion, as he is clearly referencing his own struggles with alcohol.
At this point he pauses and the audience and the commentary team both start marking out at the tour de force of a performance they’re getting the privilege to witness. Then he puts over the entire field of the tournament for the ways in which they are even better than himself, but then asserts that, as the Ace, he wants the ball and that this tournament is the time to cement legends.
This goes beyond promo of the week. This was a mission statement for what AEW is, and even moreso why AEW is. This promo was a legendary all-timer.
Punk's Outburst by Peter.
It seems that the events of that press conference from CM Punk post his victory over Jon Moxley at All Out were premeditated and thought out in advance. Rumour and innuendo has dominated the wrestling landscape in the last week and while the latest edition of the Wrestling Observer's assertion of the above might have been a "well, duh" moment, it was the moment in which professional wrestling's greatest free agent acquisition actually might have been its biggest bust.
If you said 55 weeks ago on the day when I must have watched CM Punks entrance at The First Dance around a dozen times, sent the YouTube clip to all my non-wrestling fans’ WhatsApp to tell them that this is the reason I love wrestling so much that I'd write about Punk being a bust, I'd thought you'd be crazy but the trickledown of that press conference could reshape AEW and its future and not for the better.
When Punk locked eyes with Nick Hausman of Wrestling Inc. and used his presence to start his rant, he started to show his contempt for not only the company he works for but his fellow workers. On a night where fans should have talked about The Acclaimed, Punk hijacked the evening. On a night where Toni Storm was given the interim keys to the women’s division, something fans of hers had wanted to see for a while, Punk overshadowed her and her achievement and Punk also showed contempt for not only the fans of the company but its owner.
While Tony Khan didn’t help himself in the eyes of a lot of fans with his incessant nodding while Punk was setting alight the gasoline he poured over the wreckage his actions two weeks beforehand had caused, I do have a theory that Khan’s nodding is a tick which is a possibility of nerves that is evident in previous media scrums he has attended, Punk’s actions showed what his opinion was of his boss and put him in a position for people to ask questions about his man-management skills and gave rise to questions of the harmony of the AEW locker room and caused his boss to drastically change booking plans which in turn affected his peers with Jon Moxley’s time off having to be postponed being one example. Not really in the description of how self-appointed locker-room leaders should behave.
What happened next is still being debated with rumours and innuendo dominating the wrestling bubble this past week. We know that Punk threw the first punch, we know Ace Steele cosplayed Luis Saurez at one point, we know the situation in Punk’s locker room lasted 5-6 minutes. Some stories are yet to be verified, some of them I hope are true. The idea that Kenny Omega single-handedly saved Larry the Dog brings much warmth to this cold heart but the situation that followed Punk’s rant has put AEW on at the forefront of the wrestling media’s front pages and not in a positive light, something that has been rare in the companies three-year existence. That is not the actions of a good locker room veteran and no advice from any greats in wrestlings past would include what CM Punk did on Sunday night.
That’s probably the heartbreak of this story and moment. We all want people to change. The petulance on the indy scene was one of a young man who was uncomfortable in his own skin. What happened in WWE was the sign of a man whose mental wellbeing was damaged by an environment where you had to walk on eggshells at all times, right? The First Dance was supposed to be the start of Punk’s third marriage to wrestling but as it looks likely to end in divorce, it turns out the new Punk that we were falling in love with all over again was the same old, brand new Punk.
A Dragon Rises by Gareth.
As Peter has explained above, CM Punk's outburst resulted in the AEW World Championship being vacated and a 'Tournament of Champions' was announced to decide a new champion.
Sammy Guevara will face Darby Allin tonight on Rampage, with the winner going on the face Jon Moxley. Meanwhile on Dynamite Bryan Danielson overcame 'Hangman' Adam Page. An opponent he has a storied history with in AEW, but had thus far failed to beat.
Bryan will face Chris Jericho, who has just defeated Danielson at All Out, in the semi-finals next week. Should Bryan defeat Jericho he could face his Blackpool Combat Club stablemate Jon Moxley, who he lost to at Revolution earlier this year, at Grand Slam.
Bryan Danielson is the favourite to become the new champion, and it makes sense. He is a reliable competitor who was always going to win that title at some point. And the story of overcoming his toughest opponents, the only three he hadn't beaten coming into the tournament, writes itself!
On top of this, whoever is crowned AEW World Champion will have to deal with MJF who "won" the Casino Ladder Match to make himself number one contender. I can think of nobody better to 'put over' MJF than The American Dragon. Not just because Bryan is a beloved legend of the industry, but because the match will be a work absolute genius.
That is, of course, assuming MJF defeats Bryan. Maybe Bryan just defeats and has a proper world championship run. Either way, the American Dragon rising above those who have previously slain him to become champion is a great story if they go with it.
Bridge to the Future by Dan.
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that actual wrestling was not top of everyone's thoughts on this week's Dynamite. With all the childish nonsense going on behind the scenes after All Out, the only manoeuvre people were likely poring over was Kenny Omega's apparent rescue of a dog.
The show as a whole however successfully wrestled the narrative back to…well…wrestling, with the chiefs of that drive being Bryan Danielson and Hangman Adam Page.
Their excellent technical and hard-hitting affair included plenty to remind fans that AEW should be about grappling first and large egos a distant second - and the end to the match exemplified that perfectly.
Hangman seemingly had Danielson where he wanted him as he rolled his bearded foe into the ring and took up his customary pose, readying for his trusty Buckshot Lariat. As Danielson lolled about, Page launched himself over the top rope and cocked back his trigger arm.
Danielson, though, had other ideas and laid the perfect cowboy trap. He didn't simply duck the lariat, as in the same movement he swivelled and enveloped Hangman like a troublesome octopus. From there he drove Page into the ropes and on the rebound rolled him up for the pin. Finally, adding the coup-de-grace, Danielson executed a perfect bridge to hold Hangman in place to secure the three-count.
Whatever trials and tribulations AEW may go through, if they hold on to talents like Hangman and Danielson I'll likely follow them to the end, and I suspect I won't be the only one.
'Who Else?' by Trish.
In the last few weeks it feels like my part of this column has only featured three names- Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho and Bryan Danielson.
How with all the talent on the AEW roster and all the big returns, shocking promos and great matches can a choice for MVP revolve around just three people? Surely you should be celebrating Punk's promo last week that 'sold' the PPV or MJF's return to a wall of noise at the end of Sunday's show?
Well here is the answer. For me, being the MVP isn't always about being in the highest rated or most promoted segment, or even who shouts the loudest; it's who drives this company forward. It's who provides a platform so stars can come in from elsewhere and be successful, it's the people who understand the original vision of this company and who make it their mission to build people up rather than break them down.
Jon Moxley, who after carrying AEW on his back once more over the summer with only partial reward, is now giving up his vacation time to see them through another challenging period created by the actions of others. Moxley's promo on Wednesday night felt like a reaffirming of what the heart is of this company as well as a rallying cry to everyone back in those locker rooms. It was a promo full of passion and positivity and offered a welcome break from an era of continued worked shoots which has plagued AEW television in recent months.
Chris Jericho, the man who as their first champion got them off the ground and got them as much outside publicity as he could (I will never believe he lost that belt). A man who elevates people through having them with him In his stables as well as having them on the opposite side of the ring whilst consistently reinventing himself to retain his relevancy. Jericho understands the importance of talking up every one of his opponents in his promos and/ or on commentary. This week he was also another man who gave up his vacation time to support the show.
Bryan Danielson, who wasn't there at the start of AEW but abides by very much the same philosophy as his compatriots mentioned above, has consistently elevated talent since his arrival in AEW. Perhaps none more so than this week's opponent Hangman Adam Page. Danielson didn't go easy on Page, he challenged him to put the emotions of the past few weeks behind him and instead use them as motivation to deliver in the ring instead. Page responded aptly and together the two were able to deliver another great match in a very G1 style.
That the locker room is now being led by these three men is the best thing to come out of this week for AEW. All three understand the need for a viable alternative in American Wrestling in 2022 and will now provide the stability and leadership required to ensure the company sustains itself at its current level.