Updated: Mar 16
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] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, Gareth [@Gareth_EW] exploring a key story beat Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Dan [@WinsDANlosses] reflecting on the best move and Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
Suspension of disbelief is hard to come by in wrestling these days. Fans are smarter than ever are clued into not only how moves work, but often who actually does and doesn’t get along behind the scenes.
Those ingredients go out the door with Darby Allin matches. It looks and feels real. You don’t have to believe in the fight Darby is having with his opponents because you believe in the fight he’s having with himself.
The dives, the bumps, the stunts all hit home with a level of authenticity that is rare. Rare is a good word to describe Darby. His style, his move set, his look, his promos & vignettes all have a flavour unique to Darby Allin. 10-20 year from now we will be enjoying matches from wrestlers who were inspired by Darby.
The match with Samoa Joe worked well because Darby is great at bringing undersized underdog never give up energy and Joe is great at bringing big man final boss never stop punishing make you quit energy. Samoa Joe established himself as the nasty heel early on before the match even started by choking Darby’s teenage protégé in the front row. This gave Darby an early chance to play the hero by making the save with his signature suicide dive, and suffering for it afterward. Joe’s Uranage onto the steel steps made me shout out loud with second hand pain from my bed. The pre-match brawl also allowed Darby to operate outside the rules and whack Joe repeatedly with his skateboard, perform a skateboard trick onto Joe’s back, and then crash down onto Joe from a very talk very wobbly ladder on top of the ramp.
The match peaked near the end when Darby was caught in the Coquina Clutch from a man who is Godzilla in wrestler form, and Darby fired up by pounding his chest like a pint sized King Kong - the same fire-up gesture used by Darby’s friend & mentor Sting. Coming off of the fiery exchange between Sting & Darby on Rampage, this was a nice way to show that Sting’s words hit home, and that like a good parent, Sting didn’t need to be in physical proximity to provide inspiration and support during one of Darby’s dark moments. Darby showed he was not only resilient but also intelligent by hitting Joe with 2 Coffin Drops to acquire TNT Championship #2.
Seeing Darby with the TNT belt is an old familiar feeling, but winning it in front of a packed hot hometown crowd on the first Dynamite of the year gives not only Darby, but also the TNT title, and even All Elite Wrestling itself a fresh feeling to start 2023.
Note to anyone who missed this match: Darby’s promo from Rampage and post-match promo on YouTube after Dynamite went off the air are required viewing to get the full effect.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Hangman put out a couple of extremely effective promos this week, but he is also one of those guys I definitely grade on a curve. His convincing and alignment-ambivalent grudge with Jon Moxley was a highlight of the week, but not quite at the level of being a highlight in the context of Hangman promos– not quite on the level of the promo leading into his title challenge back in October or the short but sweet one about forgetting his baby son's name a few weeks ago. BUT… he said he was gonna knock Moxley's dick in the dirt, so Hangman wins!
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
Last week I spoke about how I didn't think Darby Allin would beat Samoa Joe for the TNT Championship. But how much AEW had made me want to see him win with that fantastic promo from Sting.
Well, this is one of those times where we have to congratulate AEW on doing something great. People had criticised Darby for being stagnant for a large period of time, and that started to come out in a promo from Darby, before Sting re-focused that energy into motivation. And the story they've told is that it worked. Sting's mentorship has helped Darby regain his championship. There's nothing you can say besides "that's fantastic!"
I also said last week that regardless of the result the fall out of this match could be very interesting. A loss could have taken Darby in one direction, but this win will take him in another. I don't know what that is and don't want to speculate right now. But in terms of who should beat Darby? Swerve Strickland is right there, and with their history you know the match would be great.
That's a little way down the road though. For now we enjoy Darby's title reign and hope he has regular defences as AEW look to make this title hot property once again after a strange 2022 for the championship. For now though, all I can say is "well done" to AEW and Tony Khan for using Darby's recent stagnation as story motivation and as part of Sting and Darby's relationship.
And most importantly well done to Darby Allin and Samoa Joe for two exceptional matches.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
When Saraya turned to Toni Storm and asked her to be her partner for the tag match in next week's Dynamite, Hikaru Shida's reaction was ripe to be taken as a meme. Her shocked face with her hands out the picture embodiment of "huh", it was a picture perfect for the game, Do You Know What I Meme. But with Saraya's pick of Toni over Hikaru, which might be the worst selection since Armel Bella-Kotchap was picked instead of Mats Hummels in Germany's squad for the 2022 World Cup, it looks there might be more questions than answers heading to Dynamite in LA.
Shida's reaction, and Renee's too, spoke to how surprising developments in that segment were. A lot of people seem to think that Shida will turn heel and attack Toni Storm and like all good heel turns, the turner will have a point.
If you look at the last 3 years of wrestling in America, Shida has a legitimate claim to have been the best women's wrestler in either AEW or WWE with her tally of 10 matches over 7.50 on Cagematch being the most in either promotion since the beginning of 2020 and as the current Regina Di Wave Champion, out of the contracted AEW stars, Shida seems the perfect choice but if Saraya didn't even seem to know Shida's name let alone her accomplishments, you can understand Hikaru’s anger.
So, I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room now. On the same day that Mercedes Varnado turned up at the Tokyo Dome, expectations were that TAFKA Sasha Banks was going to be Saraya's pick to be her tag partner which made Saraya’s announcement such a surprise and with journalists offering different theories to what happens next week maybe Hikaru Shida will be the key to who actually will be partnering Saraya against The Pillar and The Killer.
Move of the Week: Dan.
When one of your signature moves is something that another star has used before you, it immediately courts comparisons. And when your signature move is one that has been used by hundreds of stars including luminaries such as Edge, Goldberg, Roman Reigns and Mil Muertes, you are putting yourself under a huge amount of pressure to make that manoeuvre look special.
Ricky Starks however doesn’t seem to be a man much-encumbered by pressure. The fact that he is teeth-gnashingly handsome is probably enough on its own. Yet his charisma and ability to move between light-hearted mockery and vivid intensity make him a compelling character to watch on our AEW screens.
All of that would be for nought though if he couldn’t wrestle…this isn’t WWE after all. And by utilising the Spear, Starks is putting himself in the same move-window as a lot of very good wrestlers (and Goldberg). For me though, he’s moving towards the top of that table and this week on Dynamite we saw arguably his best yet.
The setup to his finishing spear-assisted decimation of Chris Jericho shouldn’t be ignored. As the wonderfully irritating 2.0 got involved in the match again, it looked as if we were careening towards a JAS interference victory, which would have been disappointing after the white-hot match that preceded it. Pretty Ricky dispatched of Daddy Magic and Cool Hand Ang with ease however, ducked a Jericho clothesline and then bounced off the ropes to execute his spear.
And what a bloody spear it was. One of my criticisms of the move when it is employed by others is that it looks more like a ‘pick and drive’ than a particularly vicious weapon. Starks however launched himself half-way across the ring to reach his opponent and actually connected on the downward trajectory of his leap. The result was that he hit The Ocho at the peak of his momentum and snapped the former AEW champion’s head and body to the canvas.
This was probably Starks’ biggest win in AEW to date, and he completed it with one of his best spears. Rising to the occasion is a big asset to have in wrestling, and Ricky seems to have that in spades.
And yes we see you Disco Inferno… Ricky Starks is better than Goldberg!
MVP of the Week: Trish.
Ever since Full Gear it has felt like AEW has been in somewhat of a reset. Gone, in the most part, were inconsequential titles from other promotions and TV dominated by non-noteworthy groups and veteran wrestlers. Focus seemed to return onto many of the wrestlers and characters who have driven interest in the product from the very start. It was a welcome reprieve that has led to more vocal crowds and a refocus on elevating younger members of the roster. It came at a welcome time for Darby Allin.
Allin, who put up outstanding main event numbers during his first TNT title run in the Spring of 2021, had somewhat floundered since dropping the belt. He was used to build up both CM Punk and MJF in the following months before being somewhat downcycled for much of the next year with many a new arrival moving ahead of him. It was a strange situation;- the Seattle man was still extremely popular with live crowds and had a strong following in the younger part of the AEW audience (who often turned up at shows in full Darby cosplay).
Thankfully, sometimes it doesn't take much to get back on track. On Wednesday night, in front of his hometown crowd, everything that caused the audience to be captivated by Allin in the first years of AEW was on display. His creativity was fully illustrated by his unique entrance video, his speed and willingness to take risks by his inventive move set and his selling ability (especially against bigger opponents) used to great effect. It is these components which makes him such a fantastic babyface to root for.
Allin is perhaps one of AEW's most underrated in-ring talents. In the span of a single month he has given Samoa Joe his two best matches since joining the company in April. He followed this up on Friday night by giving Mike Bennett one of the best of his career as well. His AEW record is full of these types of exploits that more often and not go under the radar. More often then not, everybody has their best match when they go up against him.
As AEW launches into 2023 it feels as though the TNT Championship has returned to its rightful home on the shoulder of Darby Allin. It is the correct course correction for a company which is rediscovering the reasons for its initial success and once more pushing them back into the light.