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 Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] exploring match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, Gareth [@Gareth_EW] covering story beats, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Dan [@WrestlingRhymes] reflecting on the best move and Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
Owen Hart Tournament: Darby Allin vs Jeff Hardy.
One of the coolest things you get to experience as a long-time wrestling fan is getting to come along for the ride on a performer’s journey from the bottom to the top. I remember first taking a liking to the Hardy Boyz when they were an enhancement talent team that reminded me of The Rockers. From there I got to witness their rise to show stealers, WrestleMania moment-makers, main-eventers, and World Champions.
The first time I saw Darby Allin wrestle live was in a half-full boxing arena for PROGRESS wrestling in Chicagoland, and now he is an established TV main eventer, facing off against his spiritual predecessor, Jeff Hardy. If the AEW Galaxy were the Spider-Verse, Darby is the Miles Morales to Jeff Hardy’s Peter Parker. Or you could say Sting is Batman, Jeff Hardy is Nightwing, and Darby is the Batman Beyond guy that Eric from Boy Meets World did the voice for.
Darby starts it off with maybe his best suicide dive ever, and his landing onto Jeff Hardy’s torso mimicked the ending impact of Hardy’s own Swanton. After that, Darby immediately sets up the next stunt, and this match was a stunt show that wore that label like a badge of honor. They do a certain kind of thing better than almost anyone on this planet can. The risks they take and the pain they withstand matter more because of their unique personalities that fans either relate to or are intrigued by. This match was not about constructing something with a high-level of believability, this was about creating moments that were unbelievable. This was not about trying to impress a crowd with a simulation of amateur wrestling or MMA. This was about impressing the crowd with creativity, courage, and otherworldly resilience. The Darby death-defying-dive (which Dan describes below as being off of a 90ft ladder) caused me to shout while watching alone in my basement, and I heard POST Wrestling’s John Pollock and Wai Ting report this same phenomenon. That spot was so crazy that I didn’t choose to react, it pulled a reaction out of me. After the big bump spots, the match ended on a low-impact creative cover where Hardy used his most famous weapon - the ladder - as his tag partner to keep Darby down for the count. That ending protects Darby for me, who has proven he can withstand losses without losing, and keeps a wrestler who actually knew and competed against Owen Hart in the tournament.
You can definitely nit-pick technical aspects of this match or the structure of it (for example the Hardy Swanton onto the steel steps should have likely come before the ladder spot), it certainly succeeded in captivating my attention and giving me something that I will remember, and something exciting enough to revisit. As for the level of bump-brutality of this match, that is something I hope Jeff Hardy will not revisit. You have earned your rest. You’re a Dad, protect that bod!
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
For many years, Montreal has been considered the Bizarro-World of the WWE, where the alignment of several characters seemed to switch just in the one city. And this has undeniably led to some unforgettable moments, like the nuclear heat for Shawn Michaels’s return to the city. Long Island seems to be established now as AEW’s own Bizarro-World, with Max Friedman and whomever he’s feuding with switching teams at least in the hearts of the in-house crowd, and now pretty well established that CM Punk does as well, regardless of whether he is currently involved with the LI hero MJF or not.
A lot of people say that Friedman’s promos in his hometown are a preview of how excellent he will be as a babyface. Although he is undeniably charismatic and holds the crowd in the palm of his hand, I certainly hope not. He lacks the one attribute far more important to a great fan-favourite: sincerity.
Friedman and Punk both had in-ring mic segments that had a lot of fun with leaning into the Bizarro nature of MJF’s “most magical place on Earth.” But to me, the most noteworthy mic work came from guys who were unaffected by the alignment shifts and so able to deliver something that felt more genuine: for two, the cut-together Darby Allin and Jeff Hardy interviews. The two men seemed totally unfiltered themselves while promising a truly insane stunt-show of a match together.
But the most important thing about sincerity: “if you can fake that you’ve got it made”... I am reasonably confident that the real man behind the ring-persona “Samoa Joe” wouldn’t really implacably murder anyone who annoys him with his bare hands. But after a few short minutes of his promises of destruction in his perfectly-modulated growl, that confidence evaporates for a moment and I feel that his latest irritants are crazy not to flee for their lives. And that sincerity of purpose that laughs in the face of disbelief is why Samoa Joe edged out those runner-ups that I mentioned first for promo of the week.
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
Christian Hugs Jungle Boy.
There was a lot of subtle story development in this past week's AEW programming, and a lot of very blatant developments also. But my favourite is definitely Christian hugging Jungle Boy whilst holding a stern and disappointed face.
AEW have hinted at a Christian heel-turn on Jungle Boy a few times now and we more or less know it's just a matter of time. But this week they decided to tease us. After a big loss AEW set this up as if the turn was going to happen here, and then subverted that with a hug.
This very much feels like the final string for Christian. But it shows the internal battle he's having over deciding to back someone who got the better of him almost a year ago now. The next time Jungle Boy looks for that hug, it might just turn into a Killswitch...
Moment of the Week: Peter.
Dark Side of the MJF-ing.
One thing AEW have got right in its existence so far has been its humour from the Inner Circle parody of a Cody Rhodes profile video in the build up to Full Gear 2019 to the Sting/Orange Cassidy confrontation and once again AEW got it right with the Dark Side of The Ring parody that formed the basis of the build-up to the contract signing for the MJF vs Wardlow match for Double or Nothing.
From the Chris Jericho voiceover which fits perfectly to AEW canon to the re-enactments to the talking heads (Barry Horowitz is the MVP of this weeks AEW), this Dark Side Of The Ring watcher loved the poke into the ribs of what has been an entertaining but very meme-able show.
If Long Island is going to end up being AEW’s “bizarro-world”, videos like the Dark Side parody and the MJF homecoming video are going to the perfect side to the main course of MJF hometown hero angles
Move of the Week: Dan.
In a week where Darby Allin did a Swanton Bomb off a 90ft ladder onto 137 chairs (potential exaggeration alert) and a small part of Jeff Hardy, it may seem odd to go for anything else as move of the week.
But whether Hangman Page likes them or not, I am fully in support of masturbatory Bret Hart tribute matches, and the match between Adam Cole and Dax Harwood was certainly within that category…albeit with a not-very subtle flirty eye in the direction of a certain Heartbreak Kid as well.
The move that really made me get all excited like Daddy Magic’s nipples was Dax’s attempt to finish off Cole with Bret Hart’s finisher the Sharpshooter.
The match had been beautifully booked to get to this moment with Dax taking continued punishment to the ribs following a horrible thunk into the ring-post. So when he put on the much-vaunted submission manoeuvre, it was clear that it was causing him as much pain as his downed opponent.
The hero of the piece tried valiantly to keep it snapped in, but as Cole wriggled to escape, the anguish for Dax became too much and he had to release the hold to clutch at his own wounds.
It was a small piece of marvellous theatre and one that was made even more bittersweet when the dastardly Cole used the very same sharpshooter to defeat Dax later in the match.
Don’t get me wrong there is always a place for insane leaps of danger and weaponry, in the same way there was always a place for Shawn Michaels. But as with Bret over Shawn…most of the time I just think superb technical wrestling is better.
MVP of the Week by Trish.
Out of all of the *homegrown" stars in AEW it is not an overstatement to say that no one has received the time investment and booking that MJF has through the first three years of the company's history. With annual Diamond Ring triumphs, several victories over AEW's other self-made talent and high profile feuds with Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley and CM Punk; Max has been given the opportunity to craft his act- and never was this more apparent than this past Wednesday night.
Friedman was at his most captivating, basking in the glow of his hometown admiration (whilst still insulting the audience at will). He kept the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout what was a highly entertaining segment. Most importantly though, he made sure that they didn't fall into the trap the atmosphere could have created; ending the segment with Wardlow looking a dominant force and he and his minions scampering away- so that the wider build up for the PPV was not interrupted.
That he can now be trusted to elevate another after the names mentioned above did the same for him is a credit to his work and the strength of the booking behind him. It also has, indeed, made him incredibly valuable, something which this week's news about his contract status (currently plastered across several websites) has only provided further evidence of.