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Is Ospreay X Friedman the Future? | AEWeekly #123

Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The eligibility week always includes the most recent episode of Dynamite, but is more flexible in terms of Collision and Rampage, to account for busy folks not always being 100% caught up, so can include this week OR last week’s episode.

This week’s contributors are Tim [@TimmayMan] covering match of the week, Peter [@PeterEdge7] covering interviews, Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] giving us the MVP of the week, and Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] with the moment of the week and key story beat. Sam P.'s [@BigBadaBruce] Throwback of the week is on hiatus this week, but we hope will return next week.

 A page of links to prior installments may be found here: #AEWeekly

All-Star 8-Man Tag

"A balanced ensemble piece..."

by Tim.

I’ve maintained that the best ensemble movies, despite their large casts, succeed when every character gets a moment to shine. Robert Downey Jr may be the star of the Avengers, but Mark Ruffalo got his “I’m always angry” moment. George Clooney gets his name real big on the Ocean’s 11 poster, but without the supporting cast that movie loses most of its charm. Likewise, a party match in wrestling while chaotic needs to give each participant a moment to shine.

In the eight-man tag from Dynamite each wrestler got their moment. Dante Martin was the babyface in peril and got some payback at the end, Kyle O’Reilly continued his alliance with Cassidy, and Mark Briscoe got his fun high spots in and a nod to the Karate Kid with an attempted Crane Kick. Other competitors used their time to build interest in the upcoming Forbidden Door, as Cassidy and ZSJ briefly faced off, and the TNT Ladder match had multiple men who will be involved in that in this eight-man. The TNT Ladder match preview continued post-match as Jack Perry got involved in a tussle after the bell. Even Kyle Fletcher, not booked for the PPV, looked good as he took a fantastic Total Elimination from Cassidy/O’Reilly. 

The spot of the match for me came as a prone Takeshita laid on the mat. Previously he and the other heels had teamed up on Dante Martin in the corner, delivering a series of running attacks. Now the tables had turned and Takeshita was on the receiving end of a series of top rope maneuvers that culminated in a lazy top-rope elbow drop from Cassidy. It was a feel-good spot from the babyfaces that popped the crowd. The whole match flowed really well, moving from spot to spot with good energy throughout. This should be credited of course to the workers in the ring, but whoever was the producer on this segment did a really good job of laying everything out. I can only assume this though—I’m not privy to the backstage workings of producing an in-ring segment, but I do think that time management—in terms of giving each talent an appropriately balanced amount of time to be featured—is a big part of what makes a match like this really click the way that this one did.

Jeff Jarrett

"...Win One for Owen..."

by Peter.

The reveal of the bracket for the 2024 edition might have the perfect representation of the Drake Hotline Bling meme (yes, I'm fully aware referencing a Drake meme in a AEW review is risky when the AEW fanbase is #TeamKendrick, I mean how else do you explain the rating for Dynamite?) Your first reaction is disgust at the thought that Jeff Jarrett is in a No.1 contenders tournament for a World Title shot at All In but then you realize why he's actually in the Owen….

The 94-second package on Collision was the perfect reminder for those who are either too young or too new to wrestling to remember the reign of Jeff and Owen as WWF Tag Champs, that Owen Hart has a special place both in Jeff Jarrett's heart and in his career. Those of us old enough to remember that awful day in May 1999, JR saying that "something has gone very wrong", Jerry Lawler's face when he came back from the nearby scene looking like he had seen a ghost, we also remember seeing Jeff Jarrett beside himself with worry and anxiety as he was being interviewed backstage 5 minutes after the events.

But to fully understand the mindset of Jarrett going into the third edition of The Owen, it's imperative to watch the full uncut nine-and-a-half minute promo Jeff gave that is now on YouTube, and not just because it's important to the AEW canon, but because it's just that damn good! (There's a reason I'm taking over Promo of the Week from Sergei this week.)

As mentioned by Jeff, those events would scar him for the next decade and a half, those scars were ones he didn't fully realise until the therapy sessions he took in the midst of the addiction battles that had plagued him. It is nights like May 23, 1999 that shape who you are for the next battles you fight.

To hear Jeff open up about the connection he had with his friend, the bond he had with Owen through what they had in common and to hear Jeff talk about the love he had for his friend even when he was facing the worst moment of his life, and how—in his own way from beyond the grave—Owen made his friend smile in his darkest hour.

Hearing about the love Jeff Jarrett has for his former tag-team partner reminds you that The Owen can be special. Without wanting to micro-analyze why the first two editions didn't hit the way they could have, but the opportunity for this competition to show why Owen Hart was such a beloved person in this industry can still be taken, and AEW fans that might not have seen the side of Jeff Jarrett they saw on Collision before when he was in TNA can see that an Outlaw can be brought to tears by remembering the good that absent friends did for them.

But on the 25th anniversary that Owen was taken from us, a spot in the Owen that was left for a name synonymous with the 2-time Slammy award winner, is also a spot filled in a tournament with a grand prize beyond a pink belt for the winner. A ticket to the main event of All In awaits, and when the tears dried and the reminiscing finished, Jeff wasn't in any doubt about what his goal is. 

The multi-time world champion made it clear he wants one last chance to ride into the sunset, and to achieve something very few have: to win a World Title in a third national company. And unlike the times he won Big Gold and the 10 Pounds of Gold—where selfish desires carried him to become that company's King of The Mountain—it's the love of his friend, and the love from his current partners-in-crime, that is pushing Jeff towards the Road to Wembley. Maybe he'll have to take a shortcut or two like he did in the 1999-2006 period, but after that promo he might get to hear cheers on the way—the first time he'll do so in AEW. By winning the tournament in his honour, Jeff Jarrett looks to replicate his friend's achievements in 1994: when Owen also won an early-in-the-summer tournament to become No.1 contender in his company's August PPV.

It's an underdog story so filled with love and fight and loyalty that it might need a callous wild card to break Jeff's heart.


"He’s More Valuable Than Most, and He Knows It… (but we still like him…)"

by Joe.

MJF was AEW’s Most Valuable Performer this week because of his contribution to an entertaining match that paid off a TV feud, the impact when he made the save for fellow babyface Daniel Garcia, and the anticipation that was built for a first-time showdown or team-up with Will Ospreay.

Before his hiatus, MJF had made the turn from hated heel to beloved babyface with the help of Attitude-Era-inspired vignettes and catchphrases and comedy spots. 

Since his return, MJF has still been using his best weapon—the microphone—but he’s also been endearing himself to the audience with aggressive action-packed angles & some sympathy-inspiring selling & bumping, which was on full display in this match with RUSH. MJF got blasted into barricades, stretched in submission holds, whipped with cables, walloped with boots & chops, & chucked off the apron onto the cold hard floor. MJF didn’t back down—instead he fought back with some of his most technically impressive offense, including a stellar spinebuster & a brilliant brainbuster.

Since MJF was on the receiving end for so much of this match, he successfully put over his opponent, increasing the status and profile of RUSH while defeating him, which can be hard to pull off.

Now, aside from the awesome match, MJF made 2 more contributions to AEW on Dynamite.

Firstly, saving the Saturday Night Swiveler, Danny Garcia, from the Cage of Agony. MJF expressed respect for Garcia during his babyface title run, and he is facing off against Hechicero, so the alignment is consistent, but choosing to save anyone other than Adam Cole was new. The manner in which MJF made the save included remnants of his roots as a heel, using a double-barrel low blow to even the odds. This nod to his heelish past is something my colleague Sergei pointed out is reminiscent of the babyface incarnations of The Hot Rod Rowdy Roddy Piper and Latino Heat Eddie Guerrero. 

However, the odds still weren’t even enough, leading the company’s current top babyface, Will Ospreay, to make the save. Now, Will Ospreay was the target of some of MJF’s promo material since his return, leading to a tense staredown that got a big buzz reaction from the live audience in attendance. Leaving some fans to wonder if MJF vs Ospreay could be on deck for a Wembley program. 

So, MJF was able to deliver a great match where he elevated a heel, make a 2nd appearance during an angle to further solidify himself as still in the babyface camp, and set up a teaser with the company’s current top babyface. Whenever someone can make multiple appearances in a night like this, with this much screen time, and still leave fans wanting more and looking forward to more, that’s a very valuable performance. This week, it was the most valuable.

Will Ospreay X Brian Cage

"Getting his Shit In..."

by Sergei.

Joe has selected MJF as the MVP this week, and I respect that. During his record-setting reign as World Champ, MJF was only selected as the week's MVP three times, and, looking back, I don't think that reflects the reality of his value over those 58 weeks. But if I were writing MVP this week, I might give it to Will Ospreay… AGAIN. Which—if I were picking—would be his fourth MVP nod in about 16 weeks since he started as an AEW full-timer: so, basically, winning MVP a quarter of the time. And the reason I might have selected him anyway is: his title defense Saturday night against widely-maligned Brian Cage was a perfect example of why the Billy GoAT adds SO MUCH value.

Muscular Brian Cage is not many fan's fave, and the knock on him is that he cares too much about "cool movez" and "getting his shit in," to the detriment of in-ring storytelling—that the way he wrestles isn't logical for a guy with his clear strength advantage. (My view has always been that they should do some storytelling to explain Cage's style to the fans, have him talk about having been trained by the great innovator Chris Kanyon and how doing a simplistic style would feel like a betrayal of his training lineage…) The thing is: Will Ospreay is the exact one-and-only guy with the exact ability and skill set to pull the perfect platonic ideal of a "Brian Cage" match out of Brian Cage.

There were many excellent aspects to this match, but, (like MVP,) Match of the Week is not my beat this week, either. And I think one moment and one move encapsulates what makes this the perfect Brian Cage match that only happens with Will Ospreay on the other side of the ring. Very near the end of the match, Cage's last big offensive move was a middle-rope… something… that Schiavone simply labeled a "spinning power slam." Cage leapt from the middle rope on one side of the turnbuckle to the other, demonstrating his agility, then pulled off a flying slam that showed off his power. It was the sort of move you could imagine a Steven-Universe gemstone-fusion of Dante Martin and Mike Wardlow pulling off. Which is exactly what Brian Cage IS, at his best. As soon as I saw this weird and wonderful maneuver, I knew that it was my moment of the week.

But I was wrong. Because less than a minute later Bloody Will Ospreay hits a GODdamn Poisonrana on FUCKING 270-pound Brian Cage. And the sheer visual impact of that makes it unquestionably my Moment of the Week.

MJF X Will Ospreay

"An Archetypal Face Off..."

by Sergei.

When I learned that I would be covering Saul's Story beat for him this week, I felt pretty stumped. It felt to me like not a lot happened in AEW this past week! But one possibly VERY momentous event did occur: two of AEW's VERY top stars interacted for the very first time. A face-off between Ospreay and Friedman could very well lead to huge repercussions, (like a butterfly wing,) and very naturally led to speculation in some corners that we may well have just seen a preview of the Wembley main event. However, let's not forget that AEW is a promotion that likes to make sure it feels like the characters all exist in the same universe, even if no particular plans exist: remember the backstage sniping between Max and the Hangman a few months ago that led to nothing. Still, the possibilities are intriguing.

What I think tells us a LOT about the characters of MJF and Will Ospreay, (which should inform any story which MAY happen between the two,) is how they both came to be out in the ring at the same time to have a face-off in the first place…

At first glance, it looks like completely typical babyface stuff: MJF comes to the rescue of embattled Daniel Garcia, and when he gets overwhelmed by the numbers as well, Ospreay comes out to save him. Basic, effective storytelling but, in my view, not at all what happened!

In the MVP section of this article, Joe does interpret this segment as MJF making the save, he notes how surprising it is that he would save anybody, other than ex-friend Adam Cole. And there's a reason that it would be surprising beyond the fact it hasn't happened before: MJF isn't really a good guy: he's a "lovable rogue"...

During his match with RUSH earlier that evening, Max responded to the tough brawler's invitation to prove his toughness by having a chop exchange with, instead, a thumb to the eye. Normally foul tactics like that are meant to draw boos from the crowd, but instead they cheer Max for his skulduggery—much like movie audiences cheered Indiana Jones for shooting the swordsman who had "invited" him to an uneven contest of skill with their lives on the line.

Later, during the run-in, MJF is heavily outnumbered, and when the super-heavyweight tag team Gates of Agony advance on him, he pretends to beg off on his knees, but he is actually drawing them in for a double low-blow. Both of these are examples of how MJF cheekily plays typical villain tactics for laughs and cheers rather than boos. As Joe mentioned, I had compared Max to Roddy Piper and Eddie Guerrero in the "beloved scoundrel" eras of their careers in our conversations about this segment. But what makes those comparisons so apt to me is what a delight it is as a fan to watch Max flout what a fan favorite is supposed to do and be, much like the renegade appeal of those two legends.

What separates a "lovable rogue" from a "redemption arc" in terms of storytelling is that the audience doesn't WANT the rogue to reform. They are delighted for "their scumbag" to continue to bend or break rules throughout the universe, as long as he's doing it ultimately for the right reasons and as long as (after protesting, refusing, and changing his mind at the last minute) he ultimately comes to the good-guys' rescue against the self-interest he had always claimed was his #1 priority—ie, the Han Solo maneuver.

So, the problem with interpreting MJF's run-in as a rescue of Daniel Garcia (prompted by Daniel having earned Max's respect when he challenged for Friedman's world title back in the day,) is that it lacks those essential steps for a rogue of protesting and initially refusing before doing something against his self-interest. Unless MJF is a rogue in denial of his heart of gold, in the mold of Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel—always doing things that happen to help someone he sympathizes with, but always with the plausible deniability of a mercenary reason for his actions to maintain his self-image. And the mercenary alternate reason for Max's "save" are clear: the four men beating up Garcia and his cornerman Menard are the same four who had interrupted MJF's celebration of his win earlier in the evening to bark threats and challenges at him. This was simply hothead Max's first opportunity to get some of his own back on the Cage of Agony, and Daniel just happened to be getting beat up at the time.

Will Ospreay coming to Max's rescue was the exact same… but the opposite. Although Will admits to having been quite a rascal in the past, the Ospreay of AEW today is very much the redeemed purehearted paladin in contrast with Friedman's rakish rogue. He is such a goody he's even forsworn his most powerful weapon out of concern for his enemies' well-being. Unlike Max, he's not a character who would need a lot of story justification to come to the aid of just about anybody outnumbered, even Max. BUT, there's also only so much Will to go around and he's not necessarily going to come to the aid of someone who puts themself into a difficult situation through sheer self-interest or hot-headedness—that's maybe just none of his business… like Max.

In a quick hallway interview later, Ospreay confirmed that he hadn't joined the fray for Friedman's sake, that he "couldn't give a crap" about MJF, but that he had instead run in to assist plucky DG. The fact that Hechicero had been trying to break Max's arm at the moment "Elevated" hit was, evidently, sheer coincidence. And look who Ospreay just happened to end up backing into….

White-shirt, primary-color Ospreay backing into and wheeling to face scowling, black-shirt MJF was the creation of an iconic highlight-reel moment that we may be seeing in recaps for quite some time. I started this piece with the caveat that this face-off MAY not turn out to have been the harbinger of a top feud incoming in AEW. But the more I talk about the contrast of archetypes between Ospreay and Friedman, the more I've talked myself into it. In a world where unplanned-for real-world contingencies like injuries and paternity leave always have to be accounted for, the future holds no certainties. But, the more I consider, the more it feels to me like a rivalry between AEW's hero of sunshine and their hero shrouded in darkness—between the pure paladin and the lovable scoundrel—is a fated confrontation.


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