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 and 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.
The Elite vs United Empire.
I was lucky enough to experience this match live, as I’m one of the wrestlemaniacs who is attending all 3 days of AEW in Chicago this week. This match was able to come close to matching the athleticism of last week’s match of the week - the trios showdown between Death Triangle and United Empire, but had significantly more emotion and backstory to support it. Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay have been feuding online, stemming from their past in New Japan Pro Wrestling. and that feud has spilled over to AEW TV.
What was surprising is that Will Ospreay, who has been working as a heel, was getting loud crowd support in one of AEW’s 2 hometowns (Chicagoland and Jacksonville) in duelling chants for him and Omega. All 6 competitors put on a show to the extent that the crowd could no longer choose a side and just chanted for the promotion itself. The action was incredible, as you would expect. Elite level flips, dives, strikes, and combination team moves. Now, onto the story, which seems to be building towards a potential Wrestle Kingdom interpromotional match-up.
The story seems to be about a younger brother (Ospreay) who feels like his big brother doesn’t give him enough support or respect, and a big brother (Kenny) who feels like his little brother is too immature and too much of a brat to be trusted with anything valuable or precious. Inside the match itself, Ospreay is showing that he has no athletic equal, but Omega was able to prevail with his superior intelligence and wisdom. Another aspect of this match that was strong was that the teams seem to truly care about each other. When they were making the saves, they were emotionally charged saves, and it seemed to actually pain them to watch their partners get hurt. That emotional investment from the wrestlers leads to greater emotional investment and buy-in from the fans. Athletic feats are exciting, and authentically simulated combat seems to be the priority for many fans, but wrestling is at its best when you can comfortably care about the characters and the outcomes. That emotional investment ingredient is why our best trios match could be yet to come, if we get The Elite vs Hangman Page & The Dark Order (fingers crossed).
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Two weeks ago, CM Punk returned from injury and delivered a promo that I panned for being both de rigeur and incoherent. This week's promo couldn't be more day and night: an epic construct in three acts, accomplishing an extremely tricky bit of rush storytelling.
Last week, CM Punk was totally crushed in a World title match where he appeared to reinjure himself and was utterly dominated by the now-undisputed champion. In a vacuum, as a moment of its own, this was self-evidently great. But if you want to run a rematch off of that, less than two weeks later, how do you get there? How do you get there without no-selling how badly Moxley crushed Punk? But also without making Punk into the Woobie, (a pitiful victim of circumstance)?
It was a delicate dance, but Punk perfectly thread that needle. The first step was to move some pieces into place. Last week, as he limped to the back, a new face was seen at Punk’s shoulder. Ace Steel, we were told, was Punk’s original trainer, from back in his rookie days on the Chicago independent scene, and now a backstage official in AEW. And at the beginning of this week’s show, it was established that Steel had an open contract for a match for Jon Moxley’s championship in his pocket.
With his stage set, enter Punk for act one: a contrite performance that seemed to hint at being a retirement speech. The fans, knowing somebody needs to fight Jon Moxley on Sunday, seemed primed for a salmon-suit “I got a LOT left in the tank” sike moment, but Punk didn’t seem to be hinting at anything like that. Notably, he didn’t limp and claimed his foot was at 100%, but that that might not be enough anymore.
On one hand, fans booing hints of retirement indicates that they at least don’t want you gone, but on the other, the animals were clearly restless. So Punk regrouped and changed his tack to talk about love: the love for a business that doesn’t love you back, his love for the fans who do, and–now that his hometown crowd was entirely in the palm of his hand–the genuinely mature notion that “maybe that love just wasn’t enough anymore.”
This prompts an interruption from stage right: Ace Steel in the Anthony Burgess role stomps to the ring to give Punky Balboa his pep talk as act two of this drama. For any who possibly hadn’t been paying attention, Ace tells the audience his name and that he has been Punk’s coach from day one. He then goes into some pretty boilerplate pep talk: “it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up,” but delivered with genuine fire and passion. Leading up to smacking Punk in the face as motivation, thrusting the open contract and pen in his hand, and telling Chicago to remind him who he is if he forgot, prompting “CM Punk” chants!
This whole time, Punk’s face goes through a fascinating evolution from shame, to hints that he might be angry, to clearly motivated and fired up. Punk then pulls off his hoodie to reveal the T-shirt of some beloved local spot underneath and grabs the mic in a dramatic moment that indicates moving into the third act of this drama. The story playing out here is casting Punk as a Rocky figure, but make no mistake, in the context of the wider story and his place in the wrestling business today, Punk knows full well that he is the Apollo Creed. So he recontextualizes the story to be about his whole life, about the rough streets he came from. “Before I was ever CM Punk, I was just a Punk rock kid from Chicago,” he said, who the world had been trying to kill from the moment he was born with “the cord around [his] neck.”
He then addresses his opponent Moxley directly, referencing Mox’s theme song while co-opting his move of walking through the crowd as Moxley does when it plays. And then he gives a perfect hometown hero speech, claiming that he and the crowd have one pulse, and that it pulses through the Chicago streets, and that Moxley can’t kill him because: “I am… we are… Chicago!”
It’s a bravura performance, but more importantly finds a way to convincingly tell an entire story, of going from thinking of retirement to issuing a fired-up challenge, without seeming preconceived or artificial, taking us on a whole emotional journey in record time, exactly as the moment required.
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
Go-home shows are usually about hyping up the pay-per-view rather than any extravagant story beats taking place. Obviously, we did have everything involving CM Punk and Jon Moxley as Sergei has covered. But it was nice to see Hangman agree to come to the Dark Order's aid after the injury to 10.
Of course, this was always fairly obviously going to happen. But it was nice to see nonetheless. This plays into a long-running story of Hangman keeping the Dark Order at arm's length. Scared to let another group of friends down. Especially with the potential (and almost certainty) of facing The Elite in the final.
Many things could happen in that match, of course. But my personal hope is that Hangman is the one pinned in the match for The Elite to become the first ever AEW trio's champions.
The reason for this is simple. Hangman's story is not simply about winning and losing. Both matches and friendships. It's about being okay with those losses.
As much as many people saw his winning of the AEW Championship as the end of the story. It wasn't. Because Hangman's problem wasn't with his inability to win. He won the tag team championships.
His problem was in letting down those he cares most about, and being okay with those losses in the process. To me, the end of Hangman's story, (which absolute does not NEED to happen this Sunday), would be where Hangman loses, lets down his friends (in this case Dark Order), but learns to live with that.
Moment of the Week: Gareth.
For me, the moment of the week actually came after Dynamite ended with Will Ospreay and Aussie Open of the United Empire laid a beatdown on The Elite.
Everything in the trio's match between Kenny Omega and Ospreay only made me want their inevitable singles match all the more. But seeing that beatdown suggested to me that the match is around the corner... somewhere.
Ospreay said his time with AEW is done for now. But whether it happens on an AEW PPV, a Wrestle Kingdom or a future Forbidden Door. That beatdown confirmed to me that this match is coming.
Move of the Week: Dan.
The AEW roster will be delighted that William Ospreay is currently on his way back to Japan. For why? Well obviously every week after Dynamite the entire locker room gathers in anticipation to see who has won the coveted ProWrestlingMusings.Com Move of the Week. Miro will pray to his god that it’s him. Darby Allin will mumble darkly that he deserves it. Peter Avalon will look confidently at his phone. Yet whilst Mr Ospreay has been around, nobody else has really had a sniff.
And this week he proved that by taking the prize for a move that the AEW production team didn’t even manage to capture properly on camera. That’s how good he is!
In what was a bonkers trios match featuring some superb spots, some magnificent storytelling and a whole lot of body-tape, Ospreay again shone the brightest. No more than when the Young Bucks were setting up to hit Kyle Fletcher with the Meltzer Driver.
Matt had the Aussie Arrow in the tombstone position, and Nick was readying himself on the outside of the ring. Next thing you know, Ospreay was seen flying in from off screen seemingly having plucked Nick out of the air before delivering a beautiful OsCutter. The fact that the cameras didn’t pick this up completely almost made the whole thing better as it highlighted the chaotic…ummm…chaos going on. A chaos from which Ospreay was still able to soar like some sort of supercharged Essex falcon.
Now he will return to New Japan Pro Wrestling…and maybe next week it will be Pretty Peter’s time.
MVP of the Week: Trish.
Last week I wrote on how Jon Moxley was the "Ace of All Elite Wrestling." I listed how his in ring work during his reign gave his ferocious destruction of a one footed CM Punk full credibility, what I perhaps didn't list however, was just how much his microphone work is also vital to that aura.
Moxley opened the show this week in once again outstanding form , tearing down Punk's previous performance in Cleveland as he attempted to rally the Chicago crowd somewhat against him ahead of Punk's appearance later on in the night. The problem somewhat, is that he's simply too good at it.
This Moxley, a fearless man who's willing to throw out an open contract to anyone, who truly is the "real deal" and has no time for "fake messiahs" or "martyrs" may well be the "heart and soul" of AEW and right now is out performing everyone else, which even the Chicago crowd seemed to acknowledge.
The atmosphere on Sunday could be an interesting one and perhaps somewhat of a litmus test. Moxley will be doing all he can to play the bad guy in Punk's hometown but will likely have a good element of support from those flying in to attend. Is last week's win enough reward for his efforts this summer? That maybe something we can only judge further down the line, but it's absolutely clear that Jon Moxley shouldn't be phased into the background if he is defeated on Sunday and the method shouldn't be in any way which is at a detriment to him.
A supporting note on Ace Steel as well, who turned a CM Punk promo which had been distracted by a heckler into something far better and galvanised a crowd which probably hadn't reacted as strongly at first to the segment as many would have expected them too. His passion and shaking some life into Punk brought out a genuine reaction from the audience and got the build for Sunday's match back on track before the second part of Punk's promo. Without his strong delivery this interchange may not have been anywhere near as strong.