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Are You Neck Strong? | AEWeekly #116


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, Tim [@TimmayMan] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week, and Gareth [@Gareth_EW] giving us the MVP of the week.


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


Danielson X Ospreay


"The War to Settle the Debate..."


by Joe.



There was not a lot of depth to the feud of Bryan vs Ospreay, but there didn’t need to be, because the premise of this match was less about settling a score and more about settling a debate. That debate? Some would say it was: Who is the best wrestler in the world? Others might say it was: What style is the best? Others might say: What generation is the best? Still others might say it was about: Who is the greatest in-ring performer of all time?


What you have in Will Ospreay is someone with action-hero abilities and seemingly superhero skills, and then in Bryan Danielson you have someone capable of grounding performances in believability, causing a beautiful mixture that is an entertaining simulation of how incredibly entertaining a real fight could ever be.


(Speaking of action movies, the opening minutes of near-misses and ducks and avoidances of moves were so skillfully executed that Hollywood stuntmen would’ve needed several takes to get it that right.)


The pacing that Will Ospreay brings to matches is a gift to anyone like me who shares Will’s ADHD diagnosis, never giving you a chance to get bored. The counterbalance of Bryan slowing it down just enough to where you had an extra second at each big moment to anticipate it—often long enough for me to warn my buddy and my older brother I was watching with that the next big was thing coming. Sometimes those moves hit, and knowing what to look for made them seem to hit harder. Sometimes those moves missed, and knowing what they were going for made it make more sense.


The crowd was another element that made this match truly special. They were so excited and so engaged and so appreciative that as a viewer, you could relax, knowing that these guys were in good hands. Also, the “we’re not worthy!” chant was an excellent new addition to the chant database.


Amongst the expertly executed moves and sequences were also moments that will stick, like the diving apron Hidden Blade, the tiger suplex off the top, the Busaiku knee counter to the Oscutter, them running at each other like the end of an Anime or action movie, and the drama of the finish that left my older brother feeling mad at Ospreay for not showing mercy, and left Ospreay feeling ashamed enough to retire the Tiger Driver '91. 


These ingredients presented responses to those big questions presented earlier, and left fans to interpret their answers. What I know is that both of these guys feel like they belong on the in-ring Mount Rushmore, and they left a lasting impression carved into our minds.





Anthony Bowens


"We are not going anywhere..."


by Sergei.


I am a big fan of Swerve Strickland and I believe one of the first to join the chorus calling him the uncrowned king in AEW. It's a reign I've been proclaiming as a necessity and an inevitability for months, so I'm disappointed to admit that the ascension has been a little slow out of the blocks. With two excellent back-and-forth bouts already since becoming champ just a week ago, Swerve seems perfectly positioned to be a fitting champ "where the best wrestle." But, while Swerve is unquestionably one of the best bell-to-bell, this isn't what sets him apart from a roster crowded with excellent grapplers.


Not saying a word on the first Dynamite of his reign didn't seem to me like the best way to showcase Swerve's blazing charisma. But the case could be made that they were holding off his mission statement for the best lead-in, a Collision immediately following the NBA playoffs. Tomorrow when ratings come out we'll find out if Swerve got more exposure through this surprising Saturday tactic than if he had simply kicked off the weeknight show. But in any case, Swerve's words didn't quite make the compelling case for the Strickland Dynasty I had been hoping for. ICYMI:


(One thing I did really love in Swerve's promo was the way he brought his kids into the story, saying that his daughter told him: "I'm so proud of you, but I feel like I just don't know you." That's the kind of storytelling that I feel will really fit with the story he had been telling with Adam Page until recently, if that subplot ever returns from limbo.)


Overall, I felt that there was a lot that was good, but little great on the mic this week. Storm was funny, Moxley intense, Castagnoli understated, Rosa passionate, Willow enthusiastic, but nobody did anything that matched slightly better stuff they've done quite recently. And the very elite on the mic were MIA: Danielson, Kingston, and (of course) Friedman. (MAXWELL COME HOME!)


I hope it's not too much of a backhanded compliment to give the honors this week to a game Anthony Bowens. he genuinely did cut a damn good promo laying out the Acclaimed's mission to work their way back to tag-team gold now that they've lost the trios titles. Here it is:


The knock on Bowens on the mic is that he is just a shouter, and that isn't untrue, (it wouldn't hurt for him to study guys like Mox, Eddie, and Bryan who really know how to use dynamics.) But he makes shouting work: I liked how, after a shout-y promo he gets to the catchphrase that he always shouts, ("because…. EVERYBODY LOVES THE ACCLAIMED!!!") and you wonder where he has left to go (dynamically) he kicks it into a new gear and just shouts it even more shout-y than usual lol





The Elite X TK


"Hits like a shot to the gut…"


by Tim.



The opening story beat in wrestling is always more impactful in hindsight. Who could have foreseen that a King of the Ring win and a really good promo would usher in the meteoric rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin? Who could have predicted that the zombie giant of Ted Dibiase’s Survivor Series 1990 team would go on to have one of the most celebrated careers of all time? I don’t know what the future is going to bring for Jack Perry, but when he sucker-punched Tony Khan in the gut after being welcomed back into AEW, it’s a good bet that he’s going to be the key figure of many major storylines for the rest of 2024. At only 26 years old, he’s set to take on some of the biggest stars in AEW, while joining one of the hottest heel acts in the Elite NMK. You know that when Hangman returns his path will eventually cross with them, likewise for Kenny Omega when he gets healthy. Blood and Guts, Forbidden Door, All In? Jack Perry is surely going to feature in all of them.


The rest of the Elite are on the precipice of big story developments as well. If Tony Khan is (kayfabe) out of action this only leaves Nicholas, Matthew and Kenny Omega’s as AEW’s on-air EVPs. If the Young Bucks want to consolidate their power, they know that Omega is going to be in Winnipeg and they have the corporate heater that is Kazuchika Okada who I’m sure wouldn’t be above ambushing his old NJPW rival. Extrapolate all these combinations of rivalries, histories, and animosities, and you have storylines that could conceivably be extended into the next Continental Classic tournament at the end of the year (where there’s a good chance Okada will still be champion).





Tony Khan


"A man and his neck brace…"


by Peter.


Cards on the table, I love the NFL and College football. I've been a fan for a couple of decades. Every weekend for 22 weeks in a year my weekend is consumed by "America's Game" and I'm not the only one judging by the ratings. With interest in the NFL and College football the highest it's ever been, the 2024 NFL Draft has been one of highest anticipated events with all the buzz surrounding 6 QB's, 2 wide receivers and quite possibly the best Tight End to come out of college since Taylor Swift's current beau, so: how is it that, while quite a few switched on to see where Michael Penix.Jr, Marvin Harrison.Jr and Brock Bowers were going to spend their Sundays, many of us stayed to see if a man was going to wear a neck brace?


We all know the "why?" in the case of fans of both AEW and the NFL staying on ESPN/NFL Network past finding out where the most fascinating players went and who their team picked. (Olumuyiwa Fashanu is a good pick for Pittsburgh, imo…) In one of the biggest heel heat segments in a long time in AEW, The Elite—with their newest recruit, Jack Perry—attacked Tony Khan, and while the segment itself had flaws, (Tony's selling of the gut-punch was so bad it made me think he was trained in the WWE Performance Center,) it has sparked interest in regular viewers of AEW about happens next. But as Thursday rolled on, a question began to surface:


Is Tony going to wear a neck brace when shown on the NFL draft?


For this AEW watcher and reviewer, one of the fun parts of the NFL Draft is the ability to do the Leonardo DiCaprio finger point any time Tony Khan shows up in the Jacksonville Jaguars Draft Room in his role as chief football strategy officer. But this year that anticipation was strengthened by wondering if we would see a neck brace on TK. Now while the Jaguars traded down at one point (I guess Jacksonville needing to find depth in their draft picks takes bigger priority than my curiosity about a man and his neck brace) when the time came and Jacksonville came next in line, we were not disappointed.


The camera focused on Tony, (almost as if the man operating it knew what to look for,) Tony, with a slight smirk on his face, was sat with a collar 'round his neck—as if he were Andy Kaufman in the 80s post a piledriver from Jerry Lawler—with his father Shad, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars behind him, looking on with an expression like he realized now that his son might not be the brain surgeon that all dad's hope their sons might become. The moment itself was highlighted by prominent football media personality Rich Eisen talking about the elephant in the room. After talking about TK being piledriven the previous night and even mentioning the letters "AEW," Rich then said: "hang in there, Tony"!


With a mixture of "they actually did it" and Rich being awesome, (I'm a Rich Eisen guy,) the moment lived up to expectations. People have said that it was played for laughs too much for what was a heavy heat angle, but I would counter by saying the modern generation see wrestling as a bonkers, funny deal… (I showed my friend the Hangman/Page death match while drinking and she couldn't stop laughing during it) The very short-term effects of this mainstream exposure were interesting.


Looking at Google trends in the hour after the showing of Tony and his neck brace, a lot of people typed the words Tony Khan/piledriver/AEW:



Whether this moment of publicity is going to have a long-term effect for All Elite Wrestling is something we'll find out later. While wrestling's boom periods have started with a mainstream celeb being involved, if every celebrity that appeared on wrestling meant an increase in business, wrestling would have been healthy at all times! But for the 20 secondsTK was on-camera for the NFL draft, those who aren't in the bubble of pro wrestling got to see how mad this the world of wrestling actually is, and to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way.




Champ's First Match


"First dance..."


by Sam P.


In a week where the majority of the focus was on an unprecedented event in AEW history—the manhandling of a major authority figure—I was briefly worried about what my throwback of the week would be. But then, as I read up on the discourse on Swerve Strickland as AEW World Champion, and people questioning the decision for him to wrestle Kyle Fletcher on AEW Dynamite in an AEW World Title Eliminator, I realized the perfect throwback. AEW is shortly coming up to its five year anniversary of when the first AEW World Champion was crowned, and in that time, they’ve had 8 separate World Champions. Let us roll back and look at the first matches (not title defences) each champion had.


We begin of course, with ‘Le Champion’ Chris Jericho, the inaugural World Champion after defeating ‘Hangman’ Adam Page at AEW All Out 2019. The first episode of AEW Dynamite occurred one month later, on the 2nd October, and was headlined by a Six-Man Tag Team Match with the champion teaming with the debuting Santana and Ortiz, who had first appeared at the same PPV attacking the Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers. Due to that, they took on The Elite, represented by Kenny Omega and the aforementioned Young Bucks, in a chaotic match that featured Jon Moxley sending Omega through a glass table in a surprise debut, Jericho hitting the Judas Effect on Nick for the win, and the coming together of the Inner Circle: Jericho, Santana, Ortiz, Sammy Guevara and Jake Hager. This match not only had the AEW World Title as the main focus, but instantly cemented the biggest heel group in AEW, who would be integral for the next 18 months.


On March 4th of the following year, (just after the AEW Revolution PPV), the new AEW World Champion Jon Moxley teamed with Darby Allin to take on a bitter Chris Jericho and Guevara, but the Inner Circle (Santana, Ortiz and Hager) attacked Moxley beforehand, forcing Darby into a handicap match that demonstrated his guts and bravado. It would take a mid-air Judas Effect to finally put down Darby, and Moxley himself would fight through the initial beatdown to attempt to defend him, but ended up Powerbombed off the stage through a table. While a surprising loss to the champion, both he and Allin were kept strong, with Moxley especially epitomizing that never-say-die spirit that encompassed his first reign, but also making the Inner Circle seem the biggest threat possible.


The end of that year, on the 16th December iteration of AEW Dynamite, we witnessed the beginning of the ‘Belt Collector’ Kenny Omega. Following his appearance on Impact Wrestling and his celebration of becoming the third AEW World Champion two weeks prior at Winter Is Coming, Omega was announced to face Joey Janela in a No Disqualification World Title Eliminator match. The reason for this opportunity was the sort of attention to detail that I loved in AEW, as Janela had to miss a Quarter Final opportunity against Omega to become the #1 Contender in a tournament that Omega won to challenge Moxley and win the title. In Janela’s place at the time had been his partner Sonny Kiss, who Omega had destroyed, but now it was Janela’s turn, who kicked off with a trash can attack and even a Top Rope Leg Drop through a table. Unfortunately for Joey, Omega’s skill quickly took control, using a Trash-Can-assisted Double Stomp, two vicious V-Triggers, and the all-conquering One Winged Angel, to defeat Janela and begin his control of AEW.


In a major change from previous, the fourth World Champion ‘Hangman’ Adam Page didn’t feature in competition for a month afterwards, instead building up Winter Is Coming on the 15th December 2021 edition of AEW Dynamite, where he took on the #1 contender, Bryan Danielson. Whereas the previous World Champions had been headliners in other companies, this was Page’s first run as champion, and he was taking on one of the best wrestlers in the world, determined to prove he was legitimate as champion. In an instant classic and possibly one of the greatest matches to air on free television, Page and Danielson battled for sixty minutes, the challenger attacking the shoulders, busting Page open, and attempting to make the champion tap, but the Anxious Millennial Cowboy refused to be beaten, escaping multiple submissions, kicking out of vicious kicks and knees, and even surviving a DDT on the concrete. An errant kick to the ring post left Danielson limping, and a Tombstone Piledriver, Dead Eye on the apron and a Discus Lariat left both men struggling in the 55th minute, an attempted Buckshot Lariat reversed into the LeBell Lock as a desperate Danielson tried to tap out the champion, but Page yet again escaped. In the final moments, despite the blood, an injured arm and exhaustion, Page hit a resounding Buckshot Lariat, but before he could make the cover, the time limit expired. Despite not winning, Page had proven himself the equal of one of wrestling’s best, and it would catapult him to an excellent victory over Danielson in a rematch. If you see just one throwback match this week, it should be this one.


I’m going to skip Punk’s first match after winning the title, as it seems a little cruel to focus on the match where he injured himself, as well as Moxley as Interim World Champion and the messy reigns between the two. Instead, we will skip to when MJF had won the World Championship. At the 2022 edition of Winter Is Coming on 14th December, 25 days after becoming champion, MJF defended his title against Ricky Starks, two of the best young talents on the AEW roster. Starks entered the match having won an Eliminator Tournament and the Dynamite Diamond Ring Battle Royal, so momentum was on his side, but with recent rib injuries, MJF had a huge target to attack. Alternating between rib attacks and the left arm, MJF kept cutting the challenger off, including several attempts with the Rochambeau, but Starks kept on kicking out or reaching the ropes. In the end, the nefarious champion resorted to old habits, kicking Starks low and getting an inside Cradle to retain the title.


And finally, we arrive at our most recent former champion, Samoa Joe. Having defeated MJF at AEW Worlds End, Joe announced his intention to be a dominant champion who would take everything from anyone who challenges him. His first challenge was a surprising one, the FTW Champion Hook stepping up on the 17th January 2024. Joe’s superior size and strength meant he could easily take control with an Elbow Smash, a Uranage Slam on the commentary table, and a Powerbomb, on the ring apron, but a defiant Hook refused to bow down, hitting a running Forearm Smash off the apron and flipping Joe off, even beating the ten count after the Powerbomb on the apron. A Death Valley Driver got two, a Muscle Buster only got one, and a stunned Joe almost fell to an impressive T-Bone Suplex and attempted Redrum choke. But the champion’s experience helped him to escape and he then choked Hook out with the Coquina Clutch to retain.




Will Ospreay


"The MAN in AEW..."


by Gareth


As with most PPV weeks, there are various candidates for “MVP”. Willow Nightingale had the week of her life, winning the TBS Championship and following it up with a great segment with Mercedes Moné. Swerve Strickland also had a career high whilst ‘The New Elite’ had probably their biggest week so far.


However, this award attempts to identify the “most valuable player” from AEW’s past week and whilst “value” is subjective, I don’t think it can be argued that anyone but Will Ospreay truly deserves the spot.

 

At Dynasty, ‘The Aerial Assassin’ had what is almost undeniably AEW’s greatest ever singles match against Bryan Danielson. A match that Dave Meltzer rated as the second greatest of all time. Now Meltzer’s ratings stir a debate, it is just one man’s opinion, but the match was rated as the 10th greatest on Cagematch, the highest of Bryan Danielson’s career. The point is it was an absolutely unbelievable match.

 

This is the level of wrestling AEW promised when Tony Khan created the promotion. Truly “elite” matches and, ignoring matches collaborating with NJPW, AEW frankly hadn’t quite touched that level before Dynasty. A physically imperfect Kenny Omega teased it with Bryan Danielson at the inaugural Grand Slam. Bryan Danielson has come close with the likes of ‘Hangman’ Adam Page and MJF. Even Will Ospreay in his debut match as an AEW wrestler went close against Konosuke Takeshita.

 

However, this match was “on another level”, to quote Will Ospreay. With AEW starting to brand themselves as “where the best wrestle”, it really cannot be understated how important “elite” wrestling matches are to the identity of the company. Ospreay, more than anyone, is perfectly positioned to deliver these otherworldly matches.

 

However, he showed another side to his game on Dynamite as he entered the Casino Gauntlet match and earned an International Championship match against Roderick Strong.

 

In this match AEW teased various potential opponents for Ospreay who we haven’t really considered as we focus so heavily on the “dream matches”. However, there is so much to gain from a match like Ospreay vs. Kyle O’Reilly, Lance Archer, Komander or Dante Martin.

 

It has made me totally rethink the “Ospreay must win the world title at All In” perspective. There’s plenty of time to be world champion and have ‘dream matches’. Will Ospreay is only 30-years-old (31 in a week’s time). However, it may be best to build a real story with Will whilst delivering the best matches of Dante Martin’s or Kyle O’Reilly’s AEW careers.

 

This past week Will Ospreay showed two sides to his appeal in that he can do the “dream matches” better than anyone right now and slot into a role wrestling less prestigious talents and elevate them. He is perfectly placed to be “the man” AEW build around for the next five years.


Who knows what AEW are planning for Ospreay at All In? Even considering he is now on a collision course with the International title, there are still possibilities. He could be screwed out of taking Strong's title at Double or Nothing and thereby be free to win the big one at Wembley. Or he could unify the International and World titles… or simply main event his hometown stadium with a high-profile International Championship defense. But this week, AEW showed that there’s an entire roster, probably the greatest ever assembled, for Ospreay to interact with. As long as he has this otherworldly ability, there will always be a place for ‘The Aerial Assassin’ to shine.







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