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Best Friends, the Sequel? | AEWeekly #121


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 Tim [@TimmayMan] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering Interview of the Week and Moment, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the MVP, and Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week.


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



Orange X KOR


"The forge of a new alliance..."


by Tim.



Face vs. face matches can be tricky things in wrestling since the core draw of any match is two diametrically opposed sides. Animosity can generate fan interest so when a match-up comes along like Orange Cassidy vs. Kyle O’Reilly one can hope for some cool moves and maybe a fun taunt or two. Yet watching this matchup from Collision I noticed some subtle story beats that got me invested. Both men have had issues with friend groups, Cassidy has lost his through either injury or betrayal, while O’Reilly has the Undisputed Kingdom who either want to recruit him or attack him (it’s been unclear). This similarity in story arcs creates a common bond that makes this matchup not as random and thrown together as it seemed at first glance. 

Another similarity that both men share is their work ethic. Cassidy has long been the workhorse of AEW, having long championship reigns and more matches than almost any other roster member. O’Reilly is making up for lost time having returned from injury and has been putting in the work with a variety of opponents. There’s something inspiring and relatable about someone who is dealing with adversity in their personal relationships, who still has to suit up and go to work.

The last point I’ll make on this match is one regarding an unfair criticism towards AEW. Where’s the story? Well, at first I wouldn’t have thought that there was much of one leading into this matchup but as I looked closer I saw that the two men’s recent struggles were mirroring each other. How fitting that post-match O’Reilly finds himself returning to the ring to help Cassidy who was being outnumbered by the Callis Family. Cassidy and O’Reilly were competitors in between the bells, but after it they stood shoulder to shoulder. The story’s plain as day, if one wants to see it. I’ve long maintained that pro-wrestling is art. Like any art, the viewer can bring different elements out of it based on their own background, history, and personality. It’s going to hit differently based on different fan’s perceptions. I thought it was a fine piece of storytelling and my match of the week.





Dustin Rhodes


"Callback..."


by Sergei.


One of the common elements of a pro wrestling interview is a catchphrase. A snappy bit that a wrestler throws in for a cheap pop almost every time they speak, almost as a calling card. Oftentimes these are introduced with the intent of becoming a catchphrase if they happen to catch on, but other times it's something a wrestler happened to say in the heat of a moment, and noticed a big reaction, so they would bring it back regularly. In other words: a callback.


But other types of callbacks are so tied to a specific moment and situation that it wouldn't make sense to bring them back every week— they have to wait for the perfect moment where some aspect of history repeats itself. The tough blue-collar man in Dustin Rhodes facing off in a high-profile opportunity with a spoiled silver-spoon baby in Jack Perry was exactly that kind of perfect parallel moment to warrant a major callback to his father, the son-of-a-plumber Dusty's most famous promo on silver-spoon Ric Flair. ICYMI:



Lately, Jack, I've been hearing you talk about sacrifice, about how much you've sacrificed for this business. Let me tell you something, boy! YOU WERE BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON IN YOUR MOUTH! You've never worked a day in your GODDAMN life! SACRIFICE? You wanna talk about sacrifice? Sacrifice is losing your job, they hand you a watch, and they say "a computer got your job"! And then you pick up two jobs just to make ends meet! And the money's even less, THAT'S sacrifice! For thirty-seven years I have sacrificed for my family—THE most important thing in my life! Jack, to put it simply: you ain't sacrificed SHIT!

For any who may not be aware of the callback, here is the original by Cody and Dustin's legendary father. If you've never seen it, the "Hard Times" promo is remembered as one of the greatest wrestling interviews of all time for very good reason, take a moment and check it out!



I am not at all claiming that Dustin reached the transcendent level of Dusty here. But I liked the way that he updated the "computer got your job" line for the grind culture era with "and you get two jobs that pay less!" And, overall, it's really cool the way that Jack Perry in this feud fits the relevant character aspects of Ric Flair (spoiled rich kid) AND of Arn Anderson (always a follower, never a leader) in the two Dusty promos that Dustin calls back to here.


It's worth remembering that the OTHER Dusty line that Dustin rips here—that, if you are a follower or "walk-behinder," the "view never changes, baby!"—was in a promo on Arn Anderson that Dusty cut speaking TO his son Dustin, asking to be his tag partner. (In another great parallel, one of Cody's best promos in AEW was a similar plea to Dustin to be his partner against the Young Bucks.) Hell, for any who may not have seen THAT one, here's another Dusty classic:



It's only fair that Dustin got the opportunity to do some callbacks to his father this week, his little brother seems to do it just about every week! But that wasn't the only sort of callback in this interview: he closes with a familiar catchphrase from the past, not from his father, but from his former persona, Goldust: "you will never forget my name"!




MJF


"Call it a Comeback..."


by Saul


So the return of a certain former AEW World Champion caused some discussion in the PWMusings group chat that piqued my interest. 


Some were pleased by the return. There was someone who was feeling disinterest but couldn’t articulate why. Another that suggested that MJF’s commitment to being a heel was part of what made him unique, and with that now lacking, they were no longer feeling the sauce.


The cruel world of wrestling, where with so many proficient practitioners and constant promotion about the next thing, can make the smallest moment out of the limelight feel like an eternity. But this all beggars the question, how am I feeling about the return of Maxwell Jacob Freidman?


I don’t want to partake in any revisionism. For the most part, I greatly enjoyed the teaming of Adam Cole and MJF. If you looked in the archives, you’d find many pieces where my praise for the story of Better Than You BayBay was effusive. I thought MJF’s commitment to full-time heeldom was in part what made his journey to the light through THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP™ so engaging. However, this was not the universal sentiment.


Some didn’t like the comedy that surrounded the storyline, many calling it WWE-lite. Some thought MJF’s transition to being a face was a bit bumpy, harming the structure of his matches. Some thought (enter whatever other critiques that were made here, you get the idea). By the end of the road, even I was feeling a bit of fatigue with it. The turn of Adam Cole was not executed as well as it could’ve been, which harmed the perception of much of the storytelling that preceded it.


It seems this was something that AEW and MJF were aware of, with Max distancing himself from his previous character work in his return promo after attacking Adam Cole and putting a ribbon on that story for now. However, MJF is still getting positive reactions from the crowd. So, who is a “babyface” MJF outside the context of Better Than You BayBay?


With some of AEW’s best storytellers absent for the foreseeable (Omega, Hangman, Kingston etc), there is space for one of the company's most consistent spinners of narrative to step up and fill the hole. However, he’ll have to contend with some more wary opinions and the fleshing out of his new persona. I’m confident he’ll be able to pull it off, with his skills on the mic and in-ring proficiency speaking for themselves. I’ll be keeping my eye on the group chat to see if MJF is successful in turning around the opinions of PWMusings crew.





Kris Statlander


"Stat lays out Orange..."


by Sergei.


Moment isn't my usual beat around here, and there were a couple of different moments I strongly considered. For example, there was Bryan Danielson announcing his entry to the Owen, which has HUGE ramifications. But I decided that would be cheating by writing up a second interview! And there was the moment that Fénix became #1 contender for the International title, harbinger of a true banger we can expect tonight in the following episode of Dynamite. But in the end I decided on a moment right afterward, a moment that fits two important prerequisites: it was memorable and had immediate impact… but at the same time had interesting implications for the future. And that moment was Kris Statlander sucker-punching her former stable-mate Orange Cassidy.


After the #1-Contender match to face Will Ospreay for the International title, former Best Friend Trent Berretta charged the ring with a steel chair to remind us of his ongoing antagonism with Cassidy. Orange did the smart thing and backed out of the ring and retrieved a weapon of his own with which to face Trent—a steel chain! The stand off between the two armed men prompted the intervention of Kris Statlander who acted as ostensible peacemaker, trying to talk Orange down from this confrontation as someone supposedly still on good terms with both ex-friends. But this was all a ruse, as Statlander sucker-punches Cassidy the moment his guard seems down.


This is a memorable moment, not just for the betrayal (not exactly a surprise) but because intergender violence is very rare in AEW. Also it was just really visually impactful: a great-looking punch that Orange sold his ass off for. It also has impact on the future as the logical save from Statlander's own former-friend Willow Nightingale began the forging of an alliance that Tim discussed the continuation of in his Match otW write-up. Will Orange/KOR/Willow be a one-time babyface alliance of convenience to counter their respective enemies? Or the seed of a new force in AEW? Best Friends II? Only time will tell.




Tournament Matches


"Yes, another tournament..."


by Sam P.


With last week focusing on Title Eliminators, and the recent tournament announced by Christopher Daniels, the next two weeks we shall be focusing on some classic tournament matches. This week shall be tag team or trio matches, and next week will be single matches, but both weeks we shall only focus on non-Final matches. With that in mind, let us roll back to the first year of AEW.


On the second episode of AEW Dynamite, back on 9th October 2019, the Tag Team Titles were being built to with a tournament, kicking off with Tournament favourites the Young Bucks taking on seed number 8 in Private Party. The Jacksons’ experience told early as their double team manoeuvres, such as a flipping Neckbreaker / Backbreaker combo and a Powerbomb /Sliced Bread #2 attack, had both Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen against the ropes. However, Private Party took advantage with some quick offence, utilising a Lionsault, a 450 Splash and a Double Hurricanrana to get some quick nearfalls. The final third featured the debuting Gin and Juice to wipe out Matt and a gorgeous Shooting Star Press nearly earned the three on Nick. However, it was a surprise roll-up that earned the young team a huge victory over the tournament favourites.


Two weeks later on 23rd October 2019, Private Party had another cracking match, this time in the Semi Final against another tournament favourite in the Lucha Brothers. After surprising the Jacksons in the previous round, Quen and Kassidy started quickly again, but this time the experience of Fénix and Pentagon Jr allowed them to cut the youngsters off. An attempted Kassidy comeback ended quickly after a Penta Destroyer that earned a close two count. Quen’s Shooting Star Press nearly finished Fénix off, and Gin & Juice had Fénix out for the count, only for Pentagon to be revealed as the legal man. The brothers took advantage and hit their Double Stomp / Package Piledriver combo for a strong victory. Despite losing the match, Private Party had been made as a capable contender in the tag team division.


Less than three years later, for the 150th episode of AEW Dynamite on 17th August 2022, a First Round match in the AEW World Trios Title Tournament had The Elite (Kenny Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson) battling La Faccion Ingobernable (Andrade El Idolo, Dragon Lee & RUSH). This match had huge anticipation as Omega made his return for his first match in 277 days, his shoulder and back covered to represent his recent injuries. The story of a struggling Omega added extra stakes to the match, with a slower than normal pop-up after a front roll, his knee buckling on a run, and a slightly ugly One-Winged Angel attempt. Beyond that however, the action was awesome, as all six men hit insane moves, such as a Torpedo Dragon Lee Tope, a Triple Elite Suplex to all three LFI members, a Lee Double Stomp, a trio of Running Splashes and Dropkick combo on Matt by all of LFI, a multitude of dives to the outside, Andrade’s Double Moonsault, all to culminate in Omega gaining the victory over the debuting Lee. Great fun, Lucha-Libre inspired madness.


The following week featured another Trios blinder, as Death Triangle (PAC, Rey Fénix & Penta El Zero Miedo) took on the United Empire (Kyle Fletcher, Mark Davis & Will Ospreay). A legitimate international dream match, by the time Ospreay and PAC exchanged vicious Poison Hurricanranas, the tension was palpable. The two singles specialists had a private battle, with the Oscutter and a PAC Avalanche Brainbuster leaving both rocking. PAC was attacked by a box-wearing Kip Sabian, and with the Empire taking out Penta, his brother Fénix was left at the hands of his opponents, who brutalised and ended him with an Assisted Oscutter for the three count. With nonstop pace for tremendous action, all six came out of this match looking fantastic.


We end on the 31st August 2022, as our aforementioned winners in The Elite and United Empire faced off in a Semi-Final classic. An insanely athletic battle, combining the singles rivalry between Ospreay and Omega with a tag-team fantasy between Aussie Open and the Young Bucks, this match is full of creativity, relentless strikes, jaw-dropping high spots, and nonstop action. Whether Davis’ strength in double-Bodyslamming the Jacksons, a Matt Cutter on Ospreay, a Shooting Star Press / Tombstone Piledriver combo on Matt or an Omega Snap Dragon Suplex on the floor, the match builds and escalates in madness until it culminates into Omega’s patented V-Trigger / One Winged Angel on Fletcher to down the Empire. A match that was brilliant on its own but set the groundwork for the future wars between Omega and Ospreay, and likely one of the reasons Ospreay eventually became All Elite.




Willow Nightingale


"An Ascension..."


by Joe


Willow Nightingale has always been great. From the moment that she appeared on AEW television, Willow has had the aura of someone that was going to make it. From the difference in presentation to other women in the company with the frequent reminder that wrestling doesn't have to be angry people being angry, Willow is that breath of fresh air on your wrestling television.


Of course when put into situations when she has to get her hands dirty, Death Match Willow turns out and hasn't let us down. But in a land where (until Mercedes Mone showed up) you got limited chances to show off, Willow's star maybe hasn't glowed as much as the smiley face on her entrance video through no fault of her own. 


Even with her IWGP Strong Women's Title win and her win in the Owen, (you forgot about that, didn't you?) looking at the totem pole of the AEW Women's division, Willow has always been stuck behind the likes of the usual suspects who are stuck permanently at the top of the Women's pool. But in the last 6 weeks something happened.


Some people call it a Glow-up, (I've always found that term patronising,) some call it a boost of confidence, I call it a feeling of belonging, and sensing the reaction to Willow on both Dynamite and Collision from the AEW audience—they clearly feel that Willow belongs at the top of the AEW mountain.


Right now, Willow feels undeniable and with the assurance in her tone when she put up her candidacy for The Owen, why shouldn't Willow repeat and with the stakes for the annual tournament the biggest they've been yet, as much as I'm enjoying the Toni/Mariah May story, this writer feels that for the triple figures he's paid for his Wembley ticket that Willow going to the planet of Harkonnen— (if you got that reference, high five for you)— and taking the AEW Women's belt off Toni will make a trip on the Jubilee line worthwhile.







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