Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The week runs Monday through Sunday covering the most recent Dynamite, Rampage, and Collision.
This week’s contributors are Gareth [@Gareth_EW] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, and Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Gareth.
Ladder Match for La Sombra Mask
I know this is a controversial call for ‘match of the week’, but I felt like this ladder match between Andrade El Ídolo and Buddy Matthews simply HAD to be spoken about in this article. So, for that reason, I’ve given it to this match. But officially let’s call it a draw!
The previous match between these two wrestlers really established some heat, as did the other segments between Andrade and the House of Black. But I was never convinced by Andrade as a babyface throughout this feud.
The temptation from wrestlers in matches like these is for the babyface to pop the crowd as much as possible and for the heel to bend the rules for cheap heat. But the way Buddy and Andrade performed their roles really sold me on El Ídolo as a babyface.
Andrade was trying everything he could in the early stages, but Buddy reversed everything and simply looked like the better wrestler. Delivering brutal blows which allowed Andrade to gain sympathy. Whilst Buddy’s dominance made him look imposing, as opposed to a cowardly opportunist or a cheat. All this despite Matthews being the physically smaller man, he felt huge in the early stages.
This then forced Andrade to deliver a truly devastating blow, with a sunset powerbomb off one ladder and into another hanging against the ropes. He didn’t just perform a high spot, he earned it. This allowed Andrade to get back into the match, which then caused Buddy to go to the next level.
And eventually it forced Matthews to bend the rules, introducing handcuffs, but only as a last resort. However, Andrade, as the smart babyface, turned this on the heels which led to him winning the match.
The basics to storytelling are “cause and effect”. An action causes a reaction, so on and so forth. And this match epitomised that. It is basics, but it’s stuff that so often gets lost in these “spot-fest” style matches.
Andrade and Buddy didn’t sacrifice substance for style, they delivered both brilliantly. Everything felt like it had purpose, and it was the story they told in this match which sold me on the prospect of Andrade as a babyface.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
It's almost a cheat, choosing a post-show "send em home happy" promo as promo of the week. And Max Friedman's promo after Collision wasn't, technically, anything special. A simple giving flowers to a babyface team who'd gotten booed through no fault of their own by having to fight an even-more-beloved team, to send the message to the fans "hey, we don't want you to stop loving FTR, we're all friends here!" And then reference how good some beloved local restaurant is and toast with red solo cups, et voila!
The reason I chose this promo this week is that it really proved MJF's chops as a straight ahead babyface talker. He's been a smarmy heel acknowledging his "devil worshiper" cheering section with a sense of entitlement, or a hometown boy accepting his accolades but always foregrounding the cowardice and other character flaws that ensure the rest of the world outside of Long Island still hate him. But Saturday night he was a humble and enthusiastic good guy hyping up the AEW train! He made a single reference to the possibility his current alignment may not stick long-term, by keeping open the possibility of "Bidding War 2024" (but "we'll talk about it later!") And it worked!
I've been on board the MJF hype for a long time, "generational talent" is more than a catchphrase. But I believed in him AS a heel and resisted any suggestions he should turn. But I don't think there's any more question the direction Friedman needs to go, at least for now.
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
Summer of Punk 2: Heel Turn Boogaloo??
I was very tempted to do another long essay full of ebullient praise for the story of Adam Cole and MJF. However, considering the sheer amount of words I have spouted about this in the last couple weeks, I'm going to take a break and give the gift of analysing this week's events to my fellow contributors (For the most part at least. I have to mention that despite the nice post-show promo that Sergei just discussed, I will NEVER forgive FTR for defeating my boys and when I see them at All In, I will boo them with unbridled WRATH). So instead, let's analyse the segment involving the other world champion. The self-declared "real" world champion, CM Punk.
CM Punk is my favourite wrestler of all-time (yes, I know, I'm incredibly special and unique). The Summer of Punk in 2011 was the most invested I've ever been in a wrestling storyline (oh wow, tell me something I've never heard before). Without his presence, I wouldn't be writing the words you're reading right now. The homogenized, sterile and frankly inept product of WWE in the early 2010s was already tarnishing my interest in wrestling. Because of this, I truly treasured Punk's return. It felt like a gift, the performer that first made me fall in love with wrestling joining the company that fully reignited my passion for it. Then came 'Brawl Out'.
I'm not interested in re-opening this can of worms, I only mention it to put into context why Punk's return to AEW has been more divisive. More than a decade after his rivalry with John Cena, Punk is being met with a similar crowd response. Despite all the online DISCOURSE (I believe ignoring the online DISCOURSE is key to enjoying almost anything), I've still enjoyed Punk's retur. I'd think that even many of his detractors would admit that Punk has the special sauce. He's got an 'X' factor (get it) that most wrestlers can only dream of. The only real problem I had with the return was the lack of a clear narrative direction. His segment on this week's Collision solved this issue.
While I was still holding out hope that we would see the return of Erick Rowan's spider, CM Punk revealed that he didn't have a secret arachnid in his little red bag. Instead, it was his AEW World Championship. After Pepsiman revealed this, he proceeded to spray-paint a black 'X' on the title, proclaiming that this symbol has represented him since the beginning of his career. He also brought out one of his old catchphrases; "I'm straight edge, and straight edge means I'm better than you."
I'm not sure anyone else noticed this interesting detail, but the 'X' Punk painted on the title covered the 'E' in 'AEW', which is curious considering his recent history with 'The Elite'. While it is funny that some people suggested that Punk could do an 'X' any other way, this does seem like an intentional detail. An intentional removal of the elite representation and literally covering it with his own. I just think that's neat visual storytelling. However, the probably more important action is the defacing of the world championship at all. I'm pretty sure this action has only ever been done by heels. The most notable examples of this are, of course, 'Hollywood' Hulk Hogan in WCW and the Jacob Cass Road to Wrestlemania storyline in WWE '12. The use of his old 'straight edge' catchphrase (his heel mantra) directly after this also seems like an intentional hint that a turn may be incoming.
The parallels to the 'Summer of Punk' in 2011 are interesting. Both times, he won the world championship before leaving. Both times, he returned to declare that the current champion was a fraud and his title was the official one. It seems inevitable that this will also lead to a 'Champion vs. Champion' match. These similarities are neat, but the parallel is mostly interesting due to the differences it highlights. This time, the crowd is not fully behind Punk. Most people feel like MJF is the legitimate champion and that Punk is the fraudulent one for carrying around a championship that he rightfully had to vacate due to sustaining a long-term injury. He’s no longer the fully justified hero. But does he know that?
This is giving me vibes of Chris Jericho's legendary heel turn in 2008. Punk is right about having a claim to the AEW World Championship. He is correct in pointing out that his losses to Ricky Starks are because the referees didn't catch cheating. If this was a real sport, most people would agree with Punk's point here and support him in bringing it up. However, while these previous statements are absolutely true, they don't paint the full picture.
There's a difference between demanding a championship rematch and carrying around a vacated title that you just declare as "real". Babyfaces in wrestling aren't really allowed to complain about referees, even when they are justified in doing so. It's just a heel thing to do. These differences are slight but important. They are slight enough to cause the crowd to be conflicted in their support and for Punk to be annoyed that he isn't receiving the support that he did last time these similar circumstances occurred, which could be great fuel for a heel turn in the near future.
The idea of a heel CM Punk in AEW makes me truly giddy. Unshackled from creative compromises, liberated from having to get fans to cheer him and free to spew pure charismatic venom in his promos would make for unmissable television. With MJF seemingly on the road to the light, there is space for a new top heel in AEW and I can think of nobody more fitting than Jack Per- (sorry, stupid joke. Let me try that again). The villainous throne is up for grabs, and nobody would fill that seat better than CM Punk.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
The Moment Love Beat Hate
That noise you heard when Adam Cole and MJF hugged after the Tag Team Title title match wasn't just cheers of happiness but cheers of relief. In a world where the words Summer of........ gets used a lot, the fans do not want the Summer of Better Than You BayBay to end.
In an industry where hate=money, low key it's love that actually keeps the eyeballs onto our wrestling television product that we follow and the heartache that is part of the L word
We feared the worst on Saturday night, yet we couldn't keep our eyes away from the main event of Collision. Many sports fans will tell you that "it's the hope that kills you" and the hope was that AdaMJF would get the win and that everything would be ok, but after Dax held the tights and got the win for FTR, and with tears in his eyes, the very rare tinge of failure in which he couldn't blame circumstances elsewhere overwhelming his brain, MJF with Triple B in his hands yearned to go to default mode, the devil in his soul was going to win once again but this time and for the first time in a long time, it actually didn't. Maxwell dropped the belt and he let his angel in him win out when he hugged his partner and now friend.
MJF has always had a compulsion in him to be the baddest of bad guys and the fear is that it's gonna come back no matter how heartbreaking it is for the people he'll hurt. That includes us the fans and also Maxwell Jacob Freidman himself.
MJF wasn't born bad, it was a series of events that forged the MJF we have seen for the majority of the 4 years we have seen him on our screens yet with something to fight for with someone willing to fight with/for him, we have seen sides to MJF that the fan hasn't seen before and on Saturday we saw a new side of MJF
With the AEW World Title in his hands with Adam Cole knowing what was going to happen next, with sorrow in his face just seconds after telling MJF that "we failed" after MJF blamed himself for the loss, Adam thought that he failed. He thought that he could save MJF but he realised he couldn't until he realised he might have done. By Maxwell dropping the belt and accepting Cole's hug, Adam might have saved Maxwell and proved himself right when he had started to see the good in MJF and the fans who don't want the best bromance this summer that isn't Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves to end got the happy ending they wanted even if FTR got the 1-2-3.
The fans want MJF to defeat the compulsion to be bad, because he very clearly wants to get better but he’s receptive to love and friendship. MJF had his heart broken on multiple occasions in his life from teammates in school bullying him to heroes from his past telling MJF the day he met said hero was just "Friday to him" and the women he got down on one knee for and planned to spend the rest of his life with splitting up with him. MJF doesn’t trust that love and friendship will last because maybe it never does. But it's the hope that it does that keeps us going and maybe that's why we are so invested in Better Than You BayBay because we've all been MJF at one point in our lives.
MVP of the Week: Joe.
For the third week in a row, I’m picking a tag team or tag team representative for MVP. The stories of the summer for AEW have been built around relationships more than they have been built around rivalries.
@TrevorDame on X said it well:
This was exemplified well by the online interest & live crowd reaction to FTR vs Better Than You Bay Bay. Despite their connection to CM Punk, FTR have been greeted with some of the largest pops and warmest receptions of anyone on the AEW roster. Then there is BTYBB. Despite MJF’s dastardly actions towards Cody, DDP, Hangman Page, Jungle Boy, Marko Stunt, Orange Cassidy, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho, Brian Pillman (& family), Darby Allin, CM Punk, Wardlow, Bryan Danielson, Ricky Starks, & all of the people we have learned about him wronging in the past (like “Liv”), the fans were favoring the team - or friendship - of MJF & Adam Cole.
AEW is telling a surprisingly feel-good story with Better Than You Bay Bay, that Ian Ricabonni is calling “The Bromance of the Summer”. In my opinion, is why the crowd was cheering for BTYBB over FTR. Not because they have bad feelings towards FTR, but because they are catching feelings for MJF&Cole. The fans knew that FTR would stay together, win/lose/ or draw, but they feared that a loss for MJF&Cole would mean that was the end of their story, and that would not be Better FOR You, Bay Bay!
They played well into this fear with the post-match angle, covered elsewhere in this roundtable.The money here wasn’t in the swerve, bro - it was in the bromance. It isn’t even about money. The love was in the hug. Long story short, seemingly aligned with Kenny Omega’s mission statement about The Elite, MJF & Adam Cole are drawing with the power of friendship.