Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The eligibility week ends with the most recent episode of Dynamite. so it covers last week's Rampage and then the most recent episodes of Collision and Dynamite.
This week’s contributors are Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos and moment, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, and Gareth [@Gareth_EW] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
Darby Allin vs Jeff Hardy
Meltzer Rating: 4 stars!
CageMatch Rating: 7.47/10
McCaffrey Rating: 4.25 stars, (rounded up to 9/10 on CageMatch)
My fandom for the Hardy Boyz began in 1998, when Darby Allin was 5 years old, so I acknowledge I have a positive bias fueled by nostalgia for Jeff Hardy content. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into this match!
Even though I rated their previous bout highly, my expectations were tempered for this bout because of its slot on the “C Show” that is Rampage. However, that was foolish of me, because Darby is incapable of giving anything less than his all, and Jeff Hardy has been campaigning to escape the “dimension” that is Rampage.
Instead of this match having the expected formula of a respectful competition between kindred spirit babyfaces, Jeff Hardy flipped the script with a disrespectful slap to Darby Allin’s face when Darby extended his hand. One can infer that Hardy’s decision might have been motivated by jealousy of Darby’s ability to travel freely through every dimension of AEW (PPV, Dynamite, Collision, Rampage), where he has felt relegated to Rampage. Whatever Hardy’s motivation was, Darby wouldn’t let him off the hook, and in doing so added another page to their highlight books.
Normally, I find “missed moves” to be a wrestling trope where the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. For example, when AJ Styles attempted a 450 onto Bully Ray in TNA and Bully Ray moved and AJ crashed through the table, it looked cool—but not as cool as it would have had he driven Bully through the table. It takes something that could have been purely awesome and makes it seem a little bit foolish or a bit like a failure. However, the way the “story” was told in this match—where two guys who have only faced off once before weren't countering each other because of extensive experience but sharing such similar spirits—had a bit of a fresh take on it, and the impact with which Darby crashed into a chair and the rampway on his missed dive and Hardy through the table on his missed Swanton seemed to make the moves still resonate.
Darby brings his usual A-game, highlighted by his own Swanton from the top rope to a standing Jeff Hardy at ringside, a sunset flip powerbomb off the top, and receipt slaps to a seated Jeff. Jeff was working over Darby’s neck and spine by whipping him into the steel guardrail, a running clothesline off the apron, a Twist of Fate on steel steps (!!!), several neck snaps, a nasty neckbreaker with Darby getting yanked off the top rope and driven into the ring apron, and jamming his knees up into Darby’s back on a failed Coffin Drop attempt. This seemed to sap the life out of Darby to the point where he was vulnerable for a second Twist of Fate, however, Darby countered with a super smooth reversal into a pin that Jeff Hardy almost kicked out of.
Whereas their first match was a chaotic clash of “can you top this”, this seemed to be more of a chess match. Out of respect, Darby ONCE AGAIN goes to give Jeff a double fist bump after the match, and this time Jeff DOES extend his fists out, only to drop them down and pull them away, rolling out of the ring and ripping off his arm sleeves. Even though it took place after the bell, Darby’s reaction was one of the most important parts of this match. For a guy who’d you expect would be hard to shock or surprise, Darby looks rattled. Darby’s jaw drops, his mouth hanging open wide, eyes staring and tracking Hardy as he walks off into the distance. For a man who has survived countless crashes and burns that would have sidelined and retired most humans, this is the most vulnerable I have ever seen Darby Allin.
So now, when I get the chance to see these 2 face off again, which I am hoping will be in the Carolinas and with the tag team gold on the line, I am actually rooting against one of my childhood favorites. That’s some incredible story and character development for any match, but especially a match on Rampage.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
During the Continental Classic, both Dynamite and (especially) Collision got a ton of mileage out of a specific format of interview: cameras catching up with competitors after their match to get an immediate, candid reaction. This format was incredibly effective at getting some amazing and truly gritty performances depicting the exhilaration after a victory or devastation or determination after a tough loss. Since then, the Collision team has continued to use this format to create some extra promo content for social media and get some buzz going, (if not three times a night, like during the Round Robin.)
This week they caught up with Shane Taylor after his hard-hitting attempt to upset Jon Moxley. For those who may not’ve caught it:
What they captured was more than what you might’ve expected from a Jobber-to-stars after doing his Job. He revealed that the Blackpool Combat Club isn't just a target-of-opportunity for Shane Taylor Promotions in a doomed attempt to pull themselves up from obscurity. Rather, they have a specific beef—it all comes back to a year ago when factions like BCC and JAS were forming and looking for rookie projects to develop and mold in their own image. BCC and JAS fought over Daniel Garcia like pro teams wooing a #1-ranked prospect, with BCC taking Wheeler Yuta as a consolation prize.
Meanwhile, Shane Taylor claims that Lee Moriarty is “the best young technical wrestler” in the world and that those two aren’t fit to “hold his jock.” The racial subtext here IS subtext, let’s be clear: Taylor never comes right out and says that racism is the reason for the big factions snubbing Moriarty. But the implication is inescapable. In an excellent play on words, Taylor says that they threw Moriarty to the wolves, “but the wolves have his back now,” casting himself in that lupine role.
That wordplay, the passionate delivery, and the amazing trick of squeezing a fascinating story out of a nothing job match all add up to make this the promo of the week. Taylor closes with a quote from the first great legitimate athlete to borrow from the pro-wrestling style of interview, Muhamad Ali: “Rumble, young man, rumble!”
On some other streaming service tonight there is going to be a famous annual battle royal going on, but at the same time on TBS, Shane Taylor Promotions has a match with stakes just as high, at least for them. Taylor gets another chance to put his money where his mouth is in a tag match between himself with the protégé he spoke so highly of, and the top star who snubbed him and who they haven’t been able to beat one-on-one, along with one of his BCC allies. It’s tough to come across as a threat just on big words while you’re being booked to consistently lose. AEW doesn’t do upsets often. (And rightly so: an upset isn’t an upset if they happen all the time.) But STP needs to start picking up wins to back up their words, and I hope that tonight is the night!
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
Friendship Ain’t Timeless
The character re-invention of Toni Storm is something to marvel at. While it has certainly received much due praise, I still find it a delightful repackaging and a sign that sometimes you can never fully predict the trajectory of a wrestler's persona.
Imagine someone looking at Toni Storm before she became timeless and pitching this character? I would’ve called them a madman or a loon. Shows what I know. Having completed the set with the dutiful butler and the fawning understudy, she’s on top of the world.
Enter Deonna Purrazzo. Technical wrestler extraordinaire and Toni’s former friend. While “astounded former friend” is a somewhat trodden path for Storm’s rivalries, the matching tattoos are a nice immediate visual signifier that this time, it goes even deeper.
The nicest part of this war of words was the split-screen colour lenses, with Deonna being in the normal world and the “Timeless” one appearing in her classic black and white.
I’ve appreciated how they’ve made a point of Toni appearing in black and white, as I always admire character being enhanced through visual presentation. This one may have been the most effective use yet, as it visually portrayed how Toni is in a world of her own, and how this change in character has fully distanced her from the person she used to be and people who used to be her friends.
It was also a nice visual representation when Deonna broke the colour barrier down by attacking the Storm stooges, and removing the black and white world. This effectively showcased the threat that Purrozza presents, and what would happen if she were to be victorious in her bid to be World Champion.
I’m excited for this match, and confident it’ll be great. However, my focus is on the aftermath. We’ve seen newly signed women’s wrestlers have a nice opening, and then failing to find their feet after losing their first big match. When Deonna (presumably) loses to Toni, I want to see good follow-up. Don’t throw this good momentum away!
There is certainly more steam in Toni as champ. Her performance of the character is getting better week by week, and there are still many competitors to go through. Including the returning Thunder Rosa who never lost her title, and a glamorous understudy who will likely want to step into the leading role.
If 2024 is to be a true banner year for AEW, an important part of that is to get the women’s division revving at full throttle in a way it never fully has before. This is especially true if a certain rumoured signing comes true, and while multiple steps of improvement have been taken, consistency is key.
Anyway, in the immortal words of Toni Storm, "Chin up, tits out, and watch for the shoe!"
Moment of the Week: Sergei.
Grit… Your!... TEETH!
When I was considering Promo OTW this week, Shane Taylor had one strong competitor: a promo that also starts out as a backstage reaction to a Collision match taped to put on social media. The Rated-R Superstar starts out giving props to Dante Martin for a valiant attempt against him earlier that night, but then transitions into the shock of the week: announcing that his match on Wednesday would be against puroresu legend and intimidating tough-guy Minoru Suzuki.
On the night, Excalibur would call this a “not-in-your-Wildest-Dreams” match, and I think that that phrase is particularly apt. A “dream match” is a match that folks around the world have called for for a long time that finally becomes possible, such as Danielson vs Omega. But a NiyWD Match is the kind of match-up nobody considered calling for before it was announced, but afterward, everyone says “oh! why didn’t I think of that?” This is the kind of thing that makes some feel that Tony Khan might be a genius and not just a guy who came along with a big checkbook at the right time.
On one level, the last student of Frank Gotch and the man fka Edge don’t seem to have anything in common. One is the product of Inoki, the other of McMahon, perfect emblems of worked-shoot vs smoke and mirrors. But when you think about them together, you realize that both are guys of a certain age who both maintain an aura of danger and both have a look that fits the grizzled veterans they are. One can easily imagine either man saying something along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to lose, I can’t get any uglier!” Or as Copeland says of the match-up, it’s “two grizzly, gnarled, evil bastards… beating each other up!”
This out-of-the-blue yet perfect match announcement was my moment of the week, and Copeland closes by saying he can sum up the upcoming match with three perfectly apropos words: “GRIT… YOUR… TEETH!” Suzuki might have instead said “Kaze ni nare” or “become the wind” but when he says it? It comes out to the same thing!
MVP of the Week: Gareth.
Copen to Change
I must admit that whilst I loved ‘Edge’ when I was younger, Adam Copeland’s return from injury really underwhelmed me in WWE. So, when AEW picked him up I was excited, but much less so than the majority of people.
That excitement only dwindled as Copeland felt, in my personal opinion, a little out of place. Things such as going off-script with Ricky Starks rubbed me the wrong way and, to be truthful, I’ve always felt he was a terrible babyface. He’s loved, because of his legend status, but he’s never, ever done legitimately above-average babyface work.
Until more recently! The feud with Christian has been great, besides one little snag where Copeland appeared to disrespect the TNT Championship. (An issue Cope fixed in a later promo). Then, since doing this ‘Cope Open Challenge,’ we’ve been able to see a different side to his performance which we’d not really seen since his return from injury.
In WWE we’d only really seen ‘Edge’ in big matches. However, wrestling the likes of Griff Garrison, Lee Moriarty and Dante Martin showed someone who wanted to lift the younger talent up. Then a match against Minoru Suzuki gave us a “so strange it wasn’t even a dream match” dream match!
The match with Suzuki was great also. It seems to be going very understated on social media because of bigger stories. But it was a hard-hitting, (albeit occasionally clunky as Suzuki matches are these days,) match where Copeland showed that “grit” he’s been speaking about.
I am still not fully convinced by Adam Copeland as a babyface. However, I am beginning to open my mind to changing that opinion and this week was a huge step in doing that.
A great Dynamite main event, promos that get people talking online, and working the younger talent. For a fairly ordinary week in AEW’s calendar, this is about as good as you can reasonably expect from a true legend of the industry!