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 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.
Gates of Agony Make a Statement
As often is the case there were so many options to choose from for ‘Match of the Week’. I won’t even waste time going through them all, but the one that stood out most, to me, was Darby Allin & Orange Cassidy taking on the Gates of Agony.
It’s one of these matches where I’m not sure if the relatively unknown act (Gates of Agony) prove how good they are or if the established stars prove why they are stars by raising the level of their opponents. I’d like to think it’s a bit of both.
But I really have to say that the Gates of Agony massively stood out to me here. I’ve seen them wrestle a few times and it was perfectly fine. But the way they cut off the ring and beat down the babyfaces here was fantastic.
It really felt like an obstacle for Darby and OC to overcome, and not just in the typical way. The venom with which Toa Liona and Bishop Kaun delivered their offence was incredibly mean.
Darby took the beating for most of the match, through the commercial break, and when we came back it really felt like an obstacle course just to get the tag to Orange Cassidy.
We then see a back and forth before the babyfaces get on top thanks to some great teamwork between this absolute dream of a union in Cassidy and Allin. Through working together they overcame the monsters and got the victory as Darby hit the Coffin Drop on Kaun.
It’s a match type as old as time, but it was just so expertly crafted that I had to give them their flowers. Moving forward we know the stars involved in this match will go on to do great things, but the Gates of Agony really proved they deserve a few more chances.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Statlander Takes Us on an Emotional Journey
Last week, Kris Statlander's emotional return from a second long stint of rehab was our moment of the week. On Dynamite, they played footage of Statlander speaking about that moment and what it meant for her. But it's well worth seeking out an extended version from the YouTube show Road To, where they stitch together words from different moments throughout her rehab process to take us on a journey of emotions from tragedy, thru tribulations, to triumph.
It starts with Statlander soon after the incident, speaking rather matter-of-factly about the exact circumstances of her injury, the surgery, and the outlook for rehab. But then we leap forward in time, but still closer to the beginning than to completion. And we hear from an emotional Statlander whose voice is cracking while revealing her fears and insecurities of possibly being labeled injury-prone or being left behind by a promotion that maybe no longer needs her.
Then we leap ahead again to a Statlander months farther along in the rehab process, ready to resume ring training for the first time since surgery, and showing off her growing happiness and confidence. And finally to the Statlander of today: healthy, victorious, and proud to have a title to hold, something tangible to signify that her contributions are valued.
The entire video takes us on an emotional journey through time, one that is in many ways unique to the metafictional nature of pro wrestling. I don't think anybody would claim that Statlander is a gifted actress. But if this were an entirely fictional performance, I'd be convinced of just that! The way that reality and fiction blur to make the kayfabe metafiction that is the tapestry of pro wrestling, allows performers to display their genuine emotions in service of the story in a way that would be the envy of method actors!
But regardless of the exact proportion of real and fiction, the whole video was moving and spirit-lifting!
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
Takeshita is Ichiban
In my relatively short tenure covering the story-beat of the week for the AEWeekly Review, I have picked Konosuke Takeshita basically anytime I can. While one could put this down to the massive crush I have on the man (can you blame me, have you seen his clothesline?), I actually think it is more down to the great work AEW have done to elevate the new star. Stop me if you think I'm being hyperbolic (no seriously, I need to be stopped), but I think this segment was one of the best in Dynamite history.
That spicy enough for ya? Lemme roll out my argument. Crowd involvement is a necessary component of wrestling. We have all seen good segments dragged down by a crowd that doesn't care. We have all seen bad segments elevated by a massive crowd reaction. During the pandemic we all witnessed wrestling without fans, and I for one would like to leave many of those memories alone. This is not to say that wrestling in an empty arena can never be an enjoyable novelty, but that’s all it can be. Wrestling without a crowd is just not the same.
The reason I'm saying this will be obvious to anyone who watched this week's Dynamite. The new pairing of Don Callis and Konosuke Takeshita came out to discuss their involvement in the conclusion of Anarchy in the Arena. The crowd's contempt was clear from the jump. They even used the Ciampa method of forgoing entrance music to let the chorus of boos ring even louder.
While Callis was clear that his new protégé was better than many Japanese legends and Omega, one thing that was left murky was their association with the Blackpool Combat Club. Wikipedia claims that they are associates of the BCC instead of full members, if that makes it any less ambiguous for anyone. I think it would make sense for them to remain as separate entities. As Callis claimed he was singularly responsible for all of Omega's championship glory, it tracks that he would believe that he doesn't need the BCC to turn Takeshita into his next superstar.
A key thing to note from this promo is that the heat did not diminish when Takeshita took the microphone. This is not a Paul Heyman/Curtis Axel type pairing, where a manager generates heat just for the wrestler to be met with indifference when they take the microphone (sorry Curtis). This was effective heat transference and Takeshita showcased a lot of heelish swagger in his short promo, giving me even more hope for his prospects as one of the top heels in AEW.
The level of heat this promo received truly has to be heard to be believed. It is possibly the loudest and most sustained heel reaction in AEW history. Some reactions of this ilk can be put down as anomalies, like the infamous Kevin Owens and Elias promo in Seattle. Many of these reactions can spawn from crowds wanting to entertain themselves more so than being truly captured in the moment. This case is more than that. It is the perfect convergence of the right crowd reacting to truly despicable heels created by effective storytelling. I would compliment this segment by calling it cinema, but that would actually be insulting. This was WRESTLING.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
Everyone is Angry with Don
The word heat gets bandied around in wrestling. Apparently Dominick Mysterio has heat. If you count the piped in noise from WWE production heat then yes, Dominick has heat. But proper crowd heat is hard to come by nowadays in pro wrestling. Even MJF who has built a career in being a heatseeker has at times become an anti-hero especially at Double or Nothing. If you're good at being a heel you get praise from the fans for being a heel. Without wanting to sound like one of those grifters that pops up on podcasts talking about the good ol' days, there is an element of "he's behind you" about the jeers that a heel gets in modern days.
So that's why the cascade of boos towards Don Callis felt different on Wednesday night. The reaction to Don was anger, disappointment and loathing all into one ball of rage. I said a couple of weeks ago when Don betrayed Kenny that the only redeemable quality Don had, his love of Kenny went with a stab of a screwdriver and the fans knew it too.
In the house that The Elite built, the story of Kenny and Don was known to the fans. From Don's emotional reaction to Omega's IWGP Title win to their heist of the AEW World belt in 2020, Kenny and Don were linked to the point when Kenny returned as a babyface last year, lifetime heel Don being by his side seemed OK. If Kenny told the fans that Don was OK then Don must be OK and when the Elite fans in San Diego maybe extra protective of Kenny after the events of All Out saw Don Callis on Dynamite their anger towards the betrayer came out in volumes not heard in a long time.
When you look at Wikipedia at the Heat (professional wrestling) three separate tabs are set up to categorize different elements of heat (cheap, canned, go home). There was nothing from Don Callis' boos that pertained to the three. The reaction from the crowd was one that had to let Kenny's betrayer know that they were not going to forgive him.
MVP of the Week: Joe.
AEW’s ASL Ambassador, Kris Statlander
This week the focus is on added value. Jade Cargill is an extremely valuable player for AEW. This was proven by the fact that Kris Statlander beating her after she had been weakened by another match still gave Statlander the rub. One of AEW’s homegrown stars being able to give the rub to another homegrown star is a cool moment for this promotion, particularly in the women’s division. Now, AEW has for a long time been a company with two women’s titles and one poorly structured, pushed, and featured division. That changes now. With her first defense, Statlander gave an example of what I think the general bar for TBS title matches has become. While Jade Cargill was a standout character, promo, and entrance, she is a work in progress in the ring.
On the other hand, Statlander is a work in progress in the character and promo fields, but she’s shown growth immediately upon her return, as evidenced by Sergei awarding her with the promo of the week. Statlander seems to be tapping less into the alien gimmick, and more into her real self, and it is working. The “Mama’s Home” catchphrase is fun, and lends itself well to merch opportunities. Moreover, what is particularly working for me is the sign language she is incorporating. One of the immediate appeals of AEW in the early days was that it seemed like it was going to be a more inclusive wrestling world, and this representation and outreach to the deaf community is something I really appreciate.
AEW is right around the corner from running two semi-separate rosters, and with the way Statlander has returned, it makes sense to have her holding down the fort on Dynamite while Toni Storm holds down the fort on Collision. That possibility of having two strong women’s singles programs running simultaneously is not a luxury AEW has had until recently. That is huge added value, and the player adding that value is Kris Statlander.