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 Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering match of the week and best promo, Gareth [@Gareth_EW] exploring a key story beat and the best move, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, and Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP of the week.
This week especially, we feel it is important to note that each contributors views are their own.
Match of the Week: Sergei.
Darby Works Swerve's Foot
Sometimes I question if I'm too biased in favor of Darby Allin, writing him up for match of the week two weeks in a row now, and for both match and promo this week! So I took some time to quantify, as I do, and since the beginning of the year, this is the 4th match of the week for Darby, more than any other performer on the roster and the prior two had been chosen by other contributors. The two appearances this week make for 8 appearances in any category, tied for most with the World Champion.
Darby's Rampage match with the Firm's Lee Moriarty was my favorite match last week, but just an appetizer for this week's fantastic opening bout with career rival Swerve Strickland. Swerve did a fantastic job setting the stage with a pre-tape explaining the history between the two men on Road To. The match opens with Darby on the offensive, hitting Swerve with one of his most viscerally impressive moves, the only tope suicida worthy of the name. When Swerve rolled out to avoid the Coffin Drop, Darby switches in midstream to a senton to the outside.
Swerve takes over offence by a counter on the ring steps that leads to dragging and smashing Darby down the ring-steps on his road-rashed back. He then steals Darby's belt to whip him with, whIch Darby snatches back to trip Swerve up with, getting him into a ground & pound.
Swerve takes back over, primarily with some of his amazingly vicious kicks, leading into the pivotal spot that is the turning point in the match: Swerve does a stomp on Darby from the apron to the floor, but in the process twists his ankle which becomes Darby's focus for the rest of the match.
Darby gets Swerve tied up in the tree-of-woe position and removes his boot: all the better to exploit his injury, going so far as BITING his foot! After getting his leg worked for a while, Swerve tries to take over with some kind of powerbomb or suplex from the apron to the outside, but Darby reverses into one of the most amazing and terrifying moves I've seen at least since Vikingo's last match: an apron-to-floor Poisonrana!
Swerve's new "affiliates" from the Embassy save him from getting pinned at this point, putting his foot on the rope to break up the cover, then distracting Darby long enough for Swerve to recover. And when Darby returns, to hit him with a top turnbuckle stomp that exacerbates his ankle injury, leading to a great near fall. Darby stomps the ankle and goes for a rope running set-up, but gets tripped up. While the ref is distracted ejecting Swerve's allies, Swerve goes to fetch a chair, but Darby takes it out of play with a precision-aimed drop kick.
After Swerve kicks out of the Code Red, Darby remembers that, while his Coffin Drop does not take advantage of Swerve's current weak point, he has a secondary finisher, and pins Swerve with his tricky, trap finish, the Last Supper.
This match shows why Swerve and Darby are such great in-ring rivals: not only the chemistry and history between them, but they both have a smart and dirty approach, and we get a match that's fun and thrilling and fits together logically!
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Darby Not Outshined
Many weeks I have a tough time convincing myself any promo on AEW programming really deserves recognition. It's so nice this week having the opposite problem! It's been a while since Road To… has featured an exceptional pretape promo, something that the show used to be known for. This week, at least two: Swerve doing an excellent job mythologizing his and Darby's history together, and Daddy Magic directing one of his hilarious Daffy-esque tirades at the Acclaimed. If you haven't been following AEW's YouTube Dynamite preview show, I highly recommend checking out this episode.
But the toughest to choose between were two live promos: Dax Harwood on Rampage, with inspirational words about fighting when you're down and a promise to give back to the fans who have given them so much, and Darby Allin taking another verbal swing at the World Champion on Dynamite.
What puts Darby over the edge for me is that his quiet self-assurance isn't outshined, despite sharing the ring with two of the flashiest legendary talkers in MJF and Sting, and also while covering very similar "how do you look yourself in the mirror?" territory as Perry did in his own MJF confrontation two weeks ago.
Darby is one of my favorite performers and a big part of that is his strong sense of knowing exactly who he is that comes across on the mic. But as a speaker, he has room for development, and this brief dis track on Friedman is the strongest and most consistent mic-work from him yet. Part of that is just getting through it without tripping over any words or anything. But even moreso, Darby came across as even more genuine and down-to-earth than usual, with his frank talk of the let-down of sudden success, of seeking therapy, and having perspective on how short a ride a wrestling career can be, and remembering what's really important.
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
Return of the Bucks
On the last few weeks I’ve spoken a lot about The Elite’s rivalry with the Blackpool Combat Club, as well as the various offshoots of story possibilities within each faction. Because this story really is the best thing in AEW at the moment, and here we are again!
Last week I spoke about how ‘Hangman’ Adam Page would need saving, but this week he was off selling that beatdown from the BCC. But this story doesn’t take a back seat.
Kenny Omega was shown in a pre-recorded promo at home earlier in the show where he alluded to the idea that he wasn’t at Dynamite, instead looking after Don. Whilst the Young Bucks have been off with their own injury problems. Although we did get a big hint that those were over on Being The Elite earlier in the week after they watched the BCC’s attack on Hangman.
Despite that, the BCC had no reason to think anyone was coming to save their opponents this week, Brandon Cutler and Michael Nakazawa. However, they were wrong. As firstly Kenny Omega came down the entrance as a distraction whilst the Young Bucks returned from injury to take out the BCC.
The Bucks had a screwdriver with them, which showed they were looking for redemption for Hangman. Meanwhile, Kenny’s intentions are more up in the air. We are yet to see any real form of acceptance from Omega to Hangman, despite the Bucks reconciling with Adam Page.
Which leaves us with the question; what does Kenny Omega do now? Which leads to even more questions… Are we going to see a complete reunion of The Elite? Or will Omega finally be shown the footage from Full Gear 2021 where Matt Jackson nodded to Hangman, allowing him to finally overcome Kenny? What role does Don Callis play in all of this? Will we see Kota Ibushi? What will come of Don’s fascination with Konosuke Takeshita? There’s so much to this story, we cannot allow it to be overshadowed by CM Punk. Hey Peter, what’s the moment of the week?
Moment of the Week: Peter.
A brand split? Not another one!
In a week where the week that was on AEW television was good but nothing was memorable, it was a breaking story away from the ring that got the wrestling world talking.
When Fightful Select released the story that CM Punk's return to AEW is looking likely to happen with Punk being the main attraction of the new Saturday show that's in the pipeline in what will be a soft brand split to all intents and purposes, in the next 36 hours, we had Bryan Alvarez and Dax Harwood yelling at each via their audio channels, Brandon Cutler QT a Deadspin article which accused CM Punk of gaslighting AEW and Tay Melo herself post a picture about gaslighting. What can possibly go wrong with this brand split idea?
While I am #TeamElite I'm not going to use my bit to go after Punk or FTR. I will however point out why this plan by Tony Khan is a really bad idea.
First off, brand split/extensions have worked so well at WWE that they have been abandoned on two occasions with the the E trying for a third time to get a concrete brand spilt going and even three-time Booker of the Year Tony Khan isn't going to make a brand split work no matter how soft it is mainly because it's wrestling.
Second, TK kicking the Elite vs Punk problem into the long grass for the moment still means the problem is still there and the problem is going to get found out down the line. What happens when we have the scheduled PPVs happen and what happens on tours overseas where fan bases in say, the UK would like to see Punk and The Elite on the same show.
But mostly, what happens to the enjoyment of AEW. Unfortunately, the discourse in subject matters from sport to movies to politics mostly has become toxic (why that is deserves a separate thousand word article in itself) and while the toxicity of the discourse in wrestling actually isn't that different from discourse in gaming and Marvel vs DC, it's still pretty exhausting for those in the wrestling bubble and having the biggest fall out in wrestling since Shawn vs Bret play out on two wrestling shows even if it is unintended is not going to make good television.
Every time The Elite makes their appearance in Dynamite, the elephant in the room that is CM Punk will be looming large. Every time CM Punk appears on Collision, the elephant in the room that is The Elite will be looking large and their respective fans will have their say whether it be social media or even in the crowd at the shows their favourites nemesis will be, appearing on and that would make for awkward television.
I don't blame Tony Khan in this situation. CM Punk being sat at home on full pay is losing TK money and Khan will want a return on his biggest investment so far in AEW but this feels like it's not going to work.
I don't know the answer to this hardest of difficult equations but the truth is, does anyone actually know the answer? Maybe Tony Khan doesn't even know himself hence this throwing of the timebomb into Parts Unknown.
Move of the Week: Gareth.
Orange Cassidy’s AEW International Championship reign has been a triumph. Truly one of the best in AEW history and one of my personal favourite “mid-card” title reigns ever.
His 18 title defences after winning the belt from Pac have mostly been very good, and this bout with Buddy Matthews was exactly the same. But one thing struck me as the challenger stomped on the champion’s hands to gain an advantage.
Not only was this a very effective storytelling device for the match itself, could this be the part of AEW telling the story of OC losing his championship?
Seeing a babyface sell is nothing different, but having now sold two separate injuries, are we seeing the “lazy slacker” wrestler elevate himself to a new level by becoming the workhorse champion? And what impact will being the “workhorse” have on Orange Cassidy?
Buddy’s systematic targeting of OC’s hand allowed him to come across as a brutal, yet intelligent, heel challenger. And the selling on Cassidy’s part was expert as he overcame that adversity.
It’s old tricks, but they’re timeless and Orange Cassidy truly is a masterful pro-wrestler. His reign and this match proved that.
MVP of the Week: Trish.
An Unflappable Icon
Through all the turmoil, change and (at times) insanity in WCW there was one man who never wavered. Sting was a constant throughout their tenure as well as the man often left to pick up the pieces when things fell apart. He may never have been pushed as their top star but he carried out an important role in trying to maintain the health of the promotion.
Now, in the twilight of his career, Sting finds himself in another company navigating choppy waters where his experience is invaluable. What he brings to AEW isn't just limited to backstage support;- the 64 year old 'Icon' is still a captivating character who carries a real aura around himself whenever he is on screen. This week's promo pitted him against reigning World Champion MJF and was extravagant in its nature; ranging from silliness with the pom poms at the start to reflective when discussing his career history to serious at the end.
The two things that were left to resonate with the audience upon it's conclusion was his endorsement of Darby as somewhat of his successor and that we may be heading towards the sunset of a legendary career. Whether it takes place in London or other places associated such as Texas, Georgia or California, the final send off for Sting should be a moment of grandeur and celebration.