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Main Character Vibe | AEWeekly #104

Updated: Feb 7

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 promo and MVP, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, and Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week.

HoB vs FTR & DG

"Flight of the Speedo-clad Technicians..."

by Joe.

This match was not perfect, but it was effective. 

We’ll start with the messy part. The rules. Wrestling is driven largely by characters who are pressed into fight or flight situations, and the babyfaces fight, whereas the heels take flight, until they have an advantageous time to fight with the odds stacked in their favor. In this scenario, the conditions for winning relied on all wrestlers trying to flee from each other. The edge that many TNA and AEW cage matches have had over WWE cage matches over the years was changing the formula so that the cage was meant to be a place that would keep interference out, and serve as a tone-changing setting that could be used as a weapon. This stipulation switch had many fans feeling disheartened at the prospect of how much better this match could’ve been, and theorizing about why we were having a match where no one would have to pin or submit. This created storytelling-dynamic issues and technical headaches, but it did not render this match ineffective.

The story was set up well from earlier in the show where the dastardly cowardly House of Black attacked Daniel Garcia, leaving him beaten and bloodied. This motivated another babyface with close ties to FTR, Mark Briscoe, to offer to lace up his boots and battle at their side. FTR showed loyalty by saying if Garcia could go they would save his spot, but if he couldn’t, they welcomed and appreciated Mark’s support. That brought us to the entrances, and the suspense ended with Mark Briscoe’s music. It looked like we’d have to wait for the next chapter of Garcia vs House of Black. Except, the House of Black continued to take shortcuts, and attacked Briscoe from behind, sending him flying high through the sky and flipping down through a table. 

This opened the door for a hero’s return from a bloodied and battered Garcia, who was still willing to put what was left of himself on the line in the support of his friends, Dax and Cash. This made Garcia look brave, tough, and loyal. 

Daniel Garcia used the rules as a tool to advance his character’s development even further. When FTR & Garcia had an opportunity to make an escape, Garcia insisted they stay and beat them in a fight. This further solidified FTR and Garcia as courageous characters. After Dax and Brody took their spill to the outside, the teams were tied 1-1. After Cash hit the floor, through a table, it gave FTR and Garcia the lead at 2-1. Buddy Murphy was a few feet away from tying the score, but started climbing back up the cage to get the numbers advantage against Garcia, making Murphy look smart and calculating. However, Garcia outsmarted Murphy, realizing his plan and sending him through a table, weirdly costing his team a point, but giving them a better long-term chance at victory. It has been covered how rarely we see Malakai Black go 1 on 1 with anyone in AEW, so the feeling became special at this point. 

But, for the third time tonight, the House of Black didn’t have the bravery or courage to fight fair, and Julia Hart blew black mist into Daniel Garcia’s face. This mist has been shown to not only be formidable enough to win matches for the House of Black, but also to permanently poison the character of its victims (Julia Hart, Skye Blue, etc). It remains to be seen if Garcia has been poisoned, but one thing is for sure, he wasn’t beatenbecause he wasn’t alone. When Malakai Black was making his way out of the cage for the win, Mark Briscoe came back to deliver some steel-coated karma to Malakai’s face. This bought Garcia enough time to escape the cage, and share in a big group babyface celebration with a very feel good ending to a show on a night and a weekend that was covered by very dark clouds in the wrestling world. This match served to prove that Daniel Garcia is a prime-time player, and that the House of Black was wrong about FTRthey do have people that care about them.

Serena Deeb

"Deeb's mission..."

by Sergei.

Some people are gifted with a silver tongue: they might have a voice that is naturally compelling and holds your attention, and/or they might have a facility for words that allows improvised or semi-improvised verbiage to flow with neither hesitation nor non sequitur. But one of the irreplaceably unique aspects of pro-wrestling storytelling is its barely fictionalized nature… and one of the benefits of that is how it allows performers with a very limited range (if one were to judge them as actors in a conventional sense) to nonetheless be highlighted to their best effect. They are athletes who are there to speak about why fans should be interested in their upcoming matches and they are playing athletes who are there to speak about why fans should be interested in their upcoming matches—the only fictional part being that the matches aren’t legitimately competitive. As such, the fact that not all of them excel at public speaking has verisimilitude, just as you’d expect from athletes in real sports.

Serena Deeb does not have a gift for gab, and she doesn’t have a voice that we might be pleased to hear read the phone book, like some of her peers. What she does have is authenticity and passion, and on Saturday night, that was enough for her words to get the live crowd in the arena mirroring that passion back to her in chanting her name. One thing that helps her win them over is just how perfectly she chose her words to incrementally develop her thesis. Which was: she’d been gone for over a year due to injury, it had been a long, hard road back, so what had driven her to follow that road, why had it been so important to her to return at all?

Each of the reasons she gives is meaningfully distinct, but they also fit together to fully paint a character designed for AEW fans to root for, yet at the same time seem fully convincingly authentic to Deeb. First: she is back to lift up the women’s divisiona goal that can be seen as altruistic, but at the same time as a criticism of the direction while she was gone. But, while there is a ton of great talent already in the women’s division, it would be tough to argue that the division isn’t lately at a low-point, overall. Deeb moves on to her second motivation: she wanted to come back to bring “wrestling” back to “all-elite” wrestlingan even more pointed criticism of the recent direction. I don’t have much patience for those who will see this as a shoot: the “Timeless” Toni Storm character is one of the best things going in wrestling right now. But, as kayfabe, the conflict between those who do or don’t brook silliness can be a compelling one, and Deeb may turn out to be an even better avatar for no-nonsense than Purrazzo is. With her final motivation, Deeb reveals that she is not just back for selfless reasons, she is back for gold!

Her three reasons for coming back are excellent sentiments, but her closing thoughts are even better. She makes a powerful distinction between vocation and identity: that wrestling isn’t just what she does, but who she is. Then she finishes off by referring to herself as “the most elite wrestler” and I think it’s valuable that—while she is addressing the women’s division, since that’s who she’ll be competing against—she makes no caveat that the woman of a thousand holds is only “the most elite” within her division. That’s the kind of self-assurance that they will need to build that division up to the point where the massive free agent we are all pretty sure is on her way won’t seem like she is out of place or lacking meaningful competition that is genuinely on her level.

Swerve Strickland & Adam Page

"Number-One Contender..."

by Saul.

The rankings are back! While they aren’t a particular interest of mine, I believe that wins and losses having consequences is essential to successful wrestling storytelling. Their return has many hoping that AEW will stick closer to the sports-based presentation that was a key concept in the foundation of the company and which the acclaimed C² received much of its plaudits for. 

The wider implementations of this refocused approach can already be seen in the booking of Swerve (ranked #1) and Hangman (ranked #2). Both have started out 2024 red hot, each man winning 4 matches and placing themselves into the World Championship picture. If there were a textbook on pro wrestling storytelling, this would be in Chapter 1. It’s simple and effective. Meat and potatoes pro rasslin’.

Wrestlers going for the top prize should be among the best. This is very true in this case, so giving them lots of in-ring time means that a significant percentage of the wrestling on your TV show will be great. Hot take: this is good. It provides entertaining action, while building the eventual contenders into believable contenders and raising anticipation for bigger matches down the line. This stuff doesn’t have to be complicated.

However, there is another layer that elevates this conflict to become the number one contender. Both men are motivated to be champion, but also further incentivized to ensure that the other man does not. Their heated rivalry in 2023 resulted in the best match of the year (in my opinion at least, look out for our AEW 2023 Match of the Year article coming soon!) Despite the brutality in their last match, the contempt that Swerve and Hangman have for each other still lingers, which has pushed each man past their limits and is a key to their hot starts in 2024.

This has led to a marquee main event for this week's Dynamite. Whoever comes out victorious will face Samoa Joe at Revolution (unless it’s a time limit draw or something). No matter who it is, no-one will be able to say that their title opportunity wasn’t rightfully earned.

The 4 CMLL Invaders

"Another Door Forbidden...?"

by Peter.

The Forbidden Door has been one of the biggest developing threads in pro wrestling, to the point that Paul Levesque spent more time talking about the term than he looks like he did reading the document outlining the conduct of his father-in-law. But with all the relationships that Tony Khan and AEW have forged with other promotions in their 5 years in business, one door had yet to be properly opened.

The relationship AEW had entered into with AAA along with OWE (remember them?) was one of their starting points to tell fans that there was a world away from All Elite land—from the Lucha Brothers and the Young Bucks fighting over the AAA Tag belts, to Kenny Omega picking up the Mega Title as the first infinity stone on his quest to dominate the Pandemic Era.

But while AAA and AEW stars were crossing the border to appear on each other's shows and the NJPW partnership was blossoming, an elephant in the room had yet to be addressed.

CMLL and NJPW have had a working relationship for awhile. From Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi going on excursion to CMLL, the annual Fantasica Mania shows and CMLL wrestlers filling a spot in annual NJPW tournaments, the friendship between the two companies had been one of the absolutes in wrestling in the 10's but AAA and AEW in business together and AAA and CMLL having been at promotional war for 30 years with any chance of a resolution as likely as a Taylor Swift/Harry Styles reunion (the whole history of AAA Vs CMLL would make a great 5,000 word article) if you had told me 18 months ago that we'd see CMLL wrestlers on Dynamite I would have thought you'd be crazy. 

Thanks to AAA imploding, Konnan deciding to bury his business partner on his podcast regularly, and CMLL having its best year in a long time in 2023to the point they were my pick for Promotion of the Year in 2023 (I don't know if I should have said that in an AEW friendly roundtable!)the final Forbidden Door to be broken down might have become more likely, but actually seeing Hechicero, Mistico, Volador Jr. and Mascara Dorada (2.0) at AEW ringside was mind blowing. 

Yes, Mistico was on an episode of Rampage, but that was an attempt to get a flagging number at Houston up by reaching the Latino market, at a time when attendances across the board were very meh, but this Wednesday felt very different. 

The similarities to that night when the four Radicalz turned up on RAW a week after leaving WCW (I don't think it was a coincidence the CMLL four were in the far left corner of the hard cam) and scenes that were similar to ECW wrestlers being at the front row of WWE PPV in 1996 and caused chaos were apparent. For the first time in a very, very long time, Jon Moxley didn't feel like the most dangerous thing in a AEW segment that he was appearing in. In a week where WWE tried to do the interpromotional thing, too, four CMLL stars made the biggest impact of the week.

What do we have to show for the scenes of that first segment of Dynamite? The Blackpool Combat Club Vs Mistico/Volador.Jr/Mascara Dorada. I think we might have the early frontrunner for MOTY on our hands, folks.

Adam Page

"The main character...?"

by Sergei

In the first two-and-a-half years of All Elite Wrestling, few people would seriously question the premise that Hangman Adam Page was the chosen one, the man of destiny, the true main character of AEW. But inherent in the nature of a long and arduous hero’s journey is that, once the goal is achieved, the NEXT step is rarely so obvious. After that point, it seemed like maybe it was time to shift narrative focus to someone else’s story. Until this week, the Hangman hadn’t been chosen as our MVP of the week for over a year! In that year, Swerve Strickland—the man that the Hangman has been viciously feuding with going on five months, and the man many believe to be AEW’s new Man of Destiny—has been selected as MVP four times! Hangman / Swerve was a fantastic feud—selected in the PWM poll as AEW’s Best Rivalry of 2023 in a landslide—but it takes two to tango, so Swerve’s selection wasn’t JUST about being in an amazing feud, but also influenced by a desire to look forward: Strickland seemed to be AEW’s future, Page their past.

But here’s the thing about a great “chosen one” character who has now completed an amazing hero’s-journey story: that character may no longer have that clear goal and focus that they did during the journey, but they still have all of the powerful and useful character traits that allowed them to believably reach their goals then, just with a need for some new focus.The same smart attention to detail that allowed the Hangman to trick Matt Hardy with a contract switcheroo, now allows him to realize, where Swerve did not, that “Dealer’s Choice” didn’t just mean that he and Swerve could pick one another’s opponents, but also the match stipulation, which elevated the choice of Rob Van Dam from “that’s interesting, but why him?” to “Oh! That’s why. That’s brilliant!”

Everything that made the Hangman such an amazing main character will make him an amazing obstacle, with that former focus of proving himself worthy to be Champion shifted to doing anything to prove that Swerve Strickland is not. And who knows, perhaps that new resolve and focus won’t JUST make the Hangman a great forge for the hero of tomorrow, maybe he will become the hero all over again? But in either role, Adam Page is exactly what AEW’s story needs—both as a character and as a performer.


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