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Dynamite Report Card 01/04/23

Hello and welcome back to the Dynamite Report. In this article we will take a look at the most recent episode of AEW Dynamite and how it stacks up against our Report Card Success Criteria. Below you will find our evaluation criteria and grading:

As always opinions are personal to the writer.

Ricky Starks Defeats Chris Jericho, And Is Punished For It | Grade: B-

There was certainly a lot to like in the opening 20 minutes of Dynamite, and most of it was Ricky Starks, who remains a must-watch ascending star. The poses, the chops, the top rope strut, when he lifts up his opponent and makes a face like he’s trying to lift up a car. All of it is the sign that he’s exactly where he should be and the crowd responded in concurrence. Even Jericho did his part portraying the aging phenom who wants to teach a young punk a lesson about what the top of the card is like.

But unfortunately in this case the booking was not content in letting good enough be good enough, because we got into some very silly territory when the Walls of Jericho were applied. While Ricky crawled with all his might to get to the ropes, referee Aubrey Edwards made a grave mistake, perhaps because the booming hometown chants she received early in the match left her disoriented. She left the perfect spot to see the submission attempt in order to coax Angelo Parker off the camera-side ring apron, leaving ample opportunity for Daddy Magic to strike Starks with Jericho’s bat and knock him out just as he was about to get a rope break.

This lead to one of my least favorite match tropes, when a referee picks up and drops a wrestler's hand three times if they suspect the competitor is unconscious. Sure, I grew up watching this rule and understand the tension it can create. But also since I’ve grown up we’ve seen an explosion of televised MMA that has made it clear that as soon as someone goes limp, they’re done the first time their hand drops. For the most part, wrestling has acknowledged this in the modern era and refs will call the match as soon as they no longer get a response. But sometimes this rule is still arbitrarily reintroduced and it no longer has any tension behind it because it’s ONLY used when the wrestler is going to heroically regain their whereabouts on the third drop.

And so Ricky finds his way back into the match and with a few clever moves is suddenly spearing Jericho for the victory. But of course the moment is short lived because the JAS comes to gang up on him. After a short protest by a chair-swinging Action Andretti, Starks is getting Hagerbombed, and I’m sure his last thoughts before crashing through that table were “Well I guess these are my plan up through Revolution!”

There are a few interesting parts here: Andretti’s appearance sets up the possibility for some tag matches and feud variance and I’m sure you’d have to go back a long while to find a 3 loss streak for Jericho. But still I can’t help but feel like Ricky is driving through the same mud that slowed Eddie Kingston’s momentum in 2022.

Hangman Page and Jon Moxley Go At It, With Words | Grade: D

I’ve made it clear that this is not for me. I think it’s in bad taste to misrepresent concussion protocol for dramatic tension. I think it’s in bad taste for Mox to follow up that misrepresentation with an insinuation that Hangman is a coward for adhering to concussion protocol. I don’t think it’s in bad taste for the microphone to not work, but it does hurt the promo delivery. Point being, I think there is a way to tell this story where Hangman is scared but feels disrespected, and Moxley thinks Hangman has a martyr complex, but this framing is holding it back.

So why am I giving this a higher grade than last week? Well because I liked the phrase “knock his dick in the dirt” and also I thought both of these gentlemen looked very nice in their stylish jackets. And despite everything I say, I would wager heavily on this being a fantastic match.

The Acclaimed vs. Jeff Jarrett and Jay Lethal | Grade: C

This match felt very sports entertain-y in a way that I don’t think is a knock. The ringwork I could take or leave, but the periphery was on point. The opening rap had some good lines and Max Caster’s Kurt Angle imitation just shows how willing he is to step up to the edge of getting shoot punched. The unbelievable number of refs that it took to remove Satnam Singh got a reaction out of me, by the most basic rules of comedy the only way to heighten the stakes of one really big guy causing trouble is for there to be a bunch of little guys kicking him out.

The match restart made me upset because at first I really bought into the idea that Lethal and Jarrett had taken the titles and second because it felt like a really unnecessary way to tell the story when you could just as easily have had Anthony Bowens show resilience in taking on two opponents while Caster was recovering. But in the end I came around to being okay with it because it sets up a rematch at Battle of The Belts that I think will be good. Officially it will be billed as “No Holds Barred” but the real appeal will be “Satnam Singh and Daddy Ass Can Freely Interfere” which is a stipulation you couldn’t justify on the first go-round but will greatly multiply the number of fun spots they can do.

A Pair of Women’s Tag Team Sit-Down Interviews | Grade: A-

In preparation for the tag team match set for next Wednesday in LA, Britt Baker and Jamie Hayter got a sitdown interview, as did Saraya and TBD. First was the Killer and Pillar interviewed by their good friend Tony Schiavone, which started off with a very salient point about how it wasn’t easy for Britt and Jamie, who had to build their way up in the very barebones women’s division of early AEW. This is a hardship that Saraya doesn’t know and won’t be expected to cut her teeth in the same way. It ended with a message that got poured on pretty thick as Baker referred to herself as “The Boss” with a wink. Unless she’s planning on starting a feud with Bruce Springsteen, it seemed like a pretty obvious teaser that we will see one Mercedes Mone in one week.

Then later on Saraya appeared, flanked by Toni Storm and Hikaru Shida and spoke with Renee Pacquette about the issues she’s had with Baker and Hayter, and how she’s confident she will be able to win. Then, as if we had reached a season finale of The Bachelor, Saraya just went ahead and said she was choosing Toni as her partner, to the understandable chagrin of Shida. I’m not sure if “enthusiastic but tactless” is an intended character trait for Saraya but it does seem to be how she comes off more often than not.

I thought this was a terrific move for the women’s division. They delivered on announcing a match for LA while also giving a lot of reason to doubt what you’ve heard. Over two interviews they advanced the storylines for five (six?) women’s wrestling without making it too clear exactly where any of them will go. Even though we’ve had some quality women’s matches in recent weeks, this is the first time I can recall where the anticipation for a women’s match really had an “anything could happen” vibe.

Bryan Danielson defeats Tony Nese (with kicks) and MJF (with words) | Grade: A

In the week leading up to this show the fan excitement for Tony Nese as Bryan Danielson’s homecoming dance partner could accurately be described as tepid, and to their credit AEW did not make that match the central point of this quarter hour. Nese was already in-ring for his introduction and, despite getting an early upper hand, was finished off in less than four minutes. But this was just the appetizer.

Danielson challenged MJF and that’s where things really started to spice up. Max made his contractually obligated appearance and set some boundaries about what makes the two of them different. MJF has a mind for business, he realizes his value and how to keep the checks rolling in. He doesn’t have to win the fans over and he doesn’t have to wrestle too often, and the fact that he’s got the belt around his waist is proof that he’s got a working system. Danielson fights for the adoration of the fans and gets accolades from journalists, but in the big picture that stuff doesn’t amount to much more than a hill of organic, vegan, fair-trade beans. Bryan’s got very little sand left in the hourglass and no AEW belt to show for it, because he’s prioritized being liked over being successful. And most crucially of all, he looks like his mother may have had relations with a goat.

Danielson fires back with insinuations about the number of men MJF’s mother may have had relations with. For some, this is below the dignity of someone like The American Dragon. I say to hell with that! It’s a very calculated decision to stoop to MJF’s level and he just about explains why later in the promo: Danielson can do the easy insult stuff that MJF thrives on, but t MJF cannot in turn do the things that Danielson thrives on, and he’s just about ready to prove it. He showed the first part to be true by trolling MJF into losing his cool and agreeing to a 60 Minute Iron Man match at Revolution, and just for fun he’s also going to beat a bunch of opponents on Dynamites for the next 6 weeks. Now THIS is the Danielson that got lost for portions of 2022. He may not win at Revolution but he damn well is going to put on a MOTY contender.

Swerve Strickland defeats AR Fox | Grade: B+

The result here was never in doubt, and in order to piece together a reason for animosity you had to dig into a wrestling show that isn’t even streaming anywhere currently. But minute for minute you got your money’s worth with this action. There was a lot of what a more snobbish palate might call “flippy shit” but I don't mind that, especially when the moves in question are flippy in a way that I don’t recall seeing before. Most importantly, it accomplished it’s main goal: I’m fully onboard Swerve as the #2 heel in the men’s singles division, and the gratuitous Swerve Stomp that ended the match has been cemented (cinder blocked?) as the most brutal finisher around.

I’m still calibrating my report card grades, and I think this is a B+ match because if it was an A- or higher match, I would have much more to say about it. But I think in-ring this was my match of the night and I’m excited to see what both of these performers have to do in the coming months.

Jade Cargill and Red Velvet defeat Kiera Hogan and Skye Blue | C

This was not strictly a rematch, it was in spirit. Three weeks ago The Baddies had a trios battle against Kiera Hogan, Skye Blue and Madison Rayne. Roundly defeated the first time, the rematch was a tag team match with the The Baddies leaving their weakest and most interim member on the sidelines, whereas the opposition left out their most veteran. Even if Jade wasn’t on an unprecedented winning streak, the odds would not be looking good for Kiera and Skye.

To the extent there was any threat to that streak it was not from the opponents, but from Red Velvet. It’s been clear for weeks that they aren’t on the same page, and Red was even hinting on Twitter that she was in the perfect position for sabotage. The match itself was fine, and Velvet’s exit makes me interested in where we go from here, but most of this feels like it would be better explained with promos by Velvet, Hogan and especially Jade explaining where all of them are right now. This is one of my problems with the way they book Jade: when she has nothing to say, they are likely to give her promos instead just letting her dominate in a match, and when she clearly has something on her mind they ask her to tell the story in the ring.

To the extent Jade has “history” with anyone, it would be Red Velvet, her only real rival turned stablemate, and they’ve had some fun bouts in the past. I expect their next one to be the most fun of them all, matches featuring Shaq excluded. The most optimistic view of this feud is that it’s like a miniature version of the one going on at the top of the card, where all the three women involved have their own perspective and there’s intrigue to see who is aligned with who, if any such loyalty exists. The announcement that Jade’s Battle of the Belts opponent will be the fourth wheel Skye Blue unfortunately does nothing to increase that anticipation for me.

Darby Allin wins the TNT Title from Samoa Joe | Grade: B-

In a vacuum you could make an argument that this is A moment. Joe’s promo earlier in the show set the mood. Darby’s pre-bell aggression said this would be a brutal one, and collecting the hidden tape by ollieing off of Joe’s back said I the viewer would be smiling throughout. On several occasions I assumed it was over for Darby and by the end it felt like Joe suffered enough to make the loss believable, and of course the crowd was extremely into another victory for an Emerald City original.

A crash into the exposed turnbuckle, followed by two coffin drops meant the Kingdom of Television had been split by Allinist usurpers in the TNT region, leaving the former King with nothing but his ROH TV Title (hardly even a Grand Duchy). This is not in line with my personal preference, and that’s my main critique. I wouldn’t say that I dislike Darby Allin but I would say that to me he and Sting spent 2022 in the Cody Rhodes Memorial Spot For Guys Who Feel Like They’re On A Different Show From Everyone Else and I don’t feel like I’m ready to root for him in title defenses again. To a further point, I don’t know who this reign is supposed to benefit. The rub does very little for Darby since he’s already held the belt in the past, and in the hands of Samoa Joe the TNT gold felt it’s most valuable since the days of Miro.

I can name at least 6 wrestlers who I’d say could benefit from this title more than Darby, and that’s before we include Wardlow, who would gain to redeem his hamstrung 2022 run by getting revenge on Joe. I don’t feel like Joe’s comeuppance will feel as sweet if Wardlow only gets the ROH TV title from him, and even if Darby is a transitional champion, I don’t know if it will be as powerful for whoever’s got next to beat Darby (a guy who is always getting his ass kicked) than it would’ve been for them to beat Joe (a man with a near unkickable ass.)

So logically this is closer to an A, in my heart it’s closer to a C. We’ll split the difference and give it a B-.

Cumulative Grade: B-

I was a little harsher this week than last, and I’ve seen quite a few people grade this higher than me. But I want to set some expectations that this is no bird course and that it’s not always easy to get an A! A lot of my knocks this week are personal preference, but I also want to establish that there’s nothing wrong with a B-, if we get B- Dynamites every week this year it will be a banner year for AEW.

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