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Dragons Breathe Fire | AEWeekly Review #96

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 Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering match and promo, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat and moment, and Gareth [@Gareth_EW] giving us the MVP of the week. Get well, Peter [@PeterEdge7] !

Match of the Week: Sergei.

Danielson vs Kingston

If you were to ask me what are the ingredients to a perfect professional wrestling match, I might say: passion, technique, storytelling, and stakes. Not at all in that order. Saturday night’s main event was an excellent example of combining those ingredients in a perfect recipe. Kingston had claimed as his new credo: “humble in victory, humble in defeat,” and the American Dragon threw that back in his face, in so many words calling it loser talk. So, the passion was there between two men who simply see the world and the meaning of competition differently… and technique and storytelling practically go without saying, but the stakes! One man starting the tournament a week late, so still 0-0, the other behind the 8-ball already down one and now meeting the overall favorite. For Danielson, the stakes are pride: this is the kind of competition he thrives on, and that he’s pushed for behind the scenes, so starting his run at the Classic with a loss would be a bad look. Especially as he had already bragged of being able to get through it undefeated. While for Kingston, winning this tournament, in the style of the Japanese tourneys he had loved as a kid, would be the fulfillment of a childhood dream, even above winning a major World title, to such an extent he was willing to risk everything, both of his titles to raise the stakes and prestige of winning this, and so that, if he won, he would be able to call himself the first holder of the American version of the Triple Crown

They start out incredibly carefully, both men palpably hesitant to make a mistake or overextend: reaching for a hand grip just to jerk away at the last second, testing with light strikes but immediately backpedaling. Finally they lock up in the corner, and Danielson goes for a knife-edge to the chest in the corner as he breaks, a completely normal bit of offense, and yet Eddie is enraged by it. The effrontery! Can the Dragon really think that a strike battle to start will be to his advantage? They play around with a little more hand-fighting and little kicks, but when Kingston tries to close, Danielson again uses the knife-edge on the break, and this time Kingston isn’t going to let him get away with it, advancing to immediately respond with his own, a thunderous clap to the chest that echoes through the arena and knocks Bryan on his ass, reminding him that he is not the man with the advantage in strikes in this pairing.

Then they tie up and Danielson gets the better of Kingston in grappling, but after Eddie gets the rope break, Danielson tries a flurry of body shots. Unfazed, the Mad King returns with his own flurry, again knocking the American Dragon down, this time because one of his shots grazed Danielson’s injured arm. When Kingston advances, Danielson takes him down with a double leg charge from the mat. When they end up with Kingston on his knees and Danielson standing, Bryan goes for some more strikes, but this time Kingston uses one of the most effective selling tricks: attempting to no-sell, but then staggering. He goes back to this well, collapsing after popping up following an overhead suplex. Kingston then shows defiance, eating strikes intended to knock him off the apron. Then Bryan switches levels, taking out his knee to drop him to the floor. But when he slides out to press his advantage, the Mad King catches him with a back suplex on the outside.

When the action returns inside the momentum seesaws back and forth, but, as much as one might think Danielson would cede the striking game to the heavy-handed New Yorker and focus on pure grappling, he continues to return to his strikes, which ends up paying off. When Danielson digs deep to kick out of Kingstons Uraken spinning backfist, and counters out of his attempt at a powerbomb with the fans firmly behind their “Eddie,” he hits Kingston with a perfectly aimed round kick and the end is written, Neither man can follow up for the moment, but Kingston knows he has nothing left. As they recover on the mat for the last segment, Eddie’s eyes blaze with defiance as he gives Bryan the only offense he has left, his middle finger.

When Danielson finishes it with his Busaiku knee, everyone knows that they have seen something special. This would have been the moment for graciousness in victory and honoring a fallen warrior who gave all, but Danielson remained thematically consistent with what he had been saying all along and the match was followed by the shameless scene that Saul covers for us below in the “Moment of the Week” section.

Promo of the Week: Sergei.

Cage Paints a Masterpiece of Unctuousness

One of the trickiest things for an actor is a monologue that the character isn't supposed to be sincere about. Because the audience is supposed to be able to tell, so that they know to root against them! But if it's too obvious… Isn’t the character even trying to fool the person they’re talking to? And on top of THAT, maybe you want the audience to have some doubt, to entertain the possibility that the villain’s change of heart is sincere.

Translate that to pro wrestling, and you are dealing with performers who, for the most part, are NOT trained actors in the normal sense, who primarily play characters who are “themselves turned to 11” and the acting style is based primarily in the broad strokes of melodrama… especially the villains! It's a genre where subtlety is NOT the norm, and Jay Reso, playing the Christian Cage character (who he's been performing as his entire working life,) is NOT particularly known for subtlety! He's great at the over-the-top gestural stuff that works for reaching the nosebleeds that wrestling is known for.

That’s why the promo he delivered on Wednesday night was something of a masterpiece. It’s not that any individual thing that he did was particularly subtle, just that he combined subtlety of different kinds pointing in different directions in the perfect mix to arrive at some genuine ambiguity.

Specifically the words he chooses are so corny and sentimental, it makes one question, “who would say that and mean it?” and at the same time, “who would say that WITHOUT meaning it?” And on top of that, he’s saying such sappy sentiment with a disturbing lack of affect. I have never heard the phrase “I love you, man” sound so much like random sounds with no meaning behind them.

On the other hand, other aspects of Cage’s story sound completely relatable and believable: who among us has never gone for a drive to cool down, and had second thoughts about an argument? And then he goes for his killshot: “let’s do it for Judy.” Copeland’s real life Mom, who raised him alone making so many sacrifices for him and passed away only a few years ago. I mean, how could anybody go THERE unless they mean it? But then undercuts himself by calling Adam dead Mom, “the Jude-meister” referencing John Lovitz’s pathological liar character, for crying out loud!

Copeland’s reactions are spot on and completely fit with and sell what Cage is doing here: at first just dubious and dismissive, just like the audience, but as he goes along and gets more personal, looking shocked and seeming to doubt his own doubts. When he turns away from Christian, he looks so genuinely shaken that one almost can’t believe he’s still a step ahead of Cage and doesn’t get caught flat-footed when Christian goes for the sideswipe.

This is a promo that will be referred back to as a turning point in their relationship for the rest of their careers. But as disingenuous as he came across, and despite the Pearl Harbor attempt at the end, I expect at some point it will be revealed that there was a kernel of truth in there, and they really will go on one last tag run.

For Judy.

Story Beat of the Week: Saul.

Scooby-Doo is Cool, Actually

“In the shadows, our game begins….. Are you a hero, Max?”

Much like Kendall Roy’s ex-wife, I have been too online. I understand that MJF’s recent output has not been to everybody's taste. I’m not saying it’s been perfect (I also didn’t like the Jay White match and antics), but I have been privy to major backlash against MJF which, at least in my extremely smart opinion, is overblown.

His matches have delivered. He still rocks on the mic. I think criticisms about him not having “elevated” opponents is more down to AEW’s poor booking, or due to the fact that unlike every single other AEW World Champion to date, MJF wasn’t already a made man. This is his first main event run, so some extra focus and attention has to be given to ensure he feels established and credible.

Either way, I still like MJF. But even I proposed weeks ago that I think dropping the title could do him a world of good. And with the rising ferocity of the masked man’s attacks, a credible next contender in Samoa Joe, and MJF having had a record-breaking run, it could be time.

The masked man proposed a match, and spoke for the first time! Well, he sent some mean sub-tweets via the titantron. Continuing to try and undermine the champ’s confidence, while calling into question his character is the interesting psychological escalation that this angle needed.

MJF, in a lampshading line, said he was sick of the masked man's Scooby-Doo Bullshit. However, I like Scooby-Doo. So while some people may be saying Ruh Roh about this story, I’m still interested in the conclusion. Now, let’s just hope the eventual reveal doesn’t have us screaming jinkies or zoinks!

Moment of the Week: Saul.

The One-Eyed Dragon Breathes Fire Into Continental Classic

A Mad King fighting a Dragon? Could’ve fooled me into thinking I was watching season 2 of House of the Dragon.

I think this is the exact thing that people were wanting from the Continental Classic. Basically just have Bryan Danielson wrestle for 20 minutes and people’s issues with the promotion will lessen significantly.

After defeating Kingston, Danielson rubs salt into the wound, placing a sign saying “Eddie is a bum” on his limp body. That one moment takes this from a tournament of professional competition and instantly lights some personal fire into it. Fantastic.

This is particularly interesting for Kingston. After putting his dual championships on the line, he has had the worst possible start in the tournament, losing successive matches. Now, having been not just defeated, but humiliated, I imagine the mad king will have had the fire lit under him and come out defiantly for the rest of the tourney.

Let’s appreciate the magic of The American Dragon before he flies out of Westeros. Don’t forget to bask in the wonder, as sightings of this mythical being will become more and more rare.

MVP of the Week: Gareth.

Classic Danielson

The beginning to AEW's Continental Classic has been mixed. Generally good, especially in the Blue League. However, it just felt like something was... missing.

Now that he's returned, it seems that "something" was Bryan Danielson.

Firstly on Dynamite where he was fantastic on commentary. Really getting over every move, as well story beats within the match and how they related to the tournament.

Secondly in a promo (whilst sat at the commentary desk) where, after an Eddie Kingston pre-tape promo, Danielson ripped into his upcoming opponent on Collision with passion for why he was the favourite and why he was going to win the entire tournament.

This promo, accompanied by his commentary, really got over the importance of the tournament and each individual match. Danielson even suggested he would go undefeated, which leaves room open for a massive upset, potentially.

However, this wasn't the best thing Danielson did this past week, as his match with Kingston delivered, and then some.

A hard-hitting affair where Danielson played defacto heel and Kingston fell on his sword as Bryan pinned him.

It was the triple threat. Danielson showed that he is the best in the ring, on the microphone and at the commentary booth.

The star that's been missing from Collision and this tournament, until now, is Bryan Danielson.


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