Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The week runs Monday through Sunday covering the most recent Dynamite, Rampage, and Collision, as well as All Out.
This week’s contributors are Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, and Gareth [@Gareth_EW] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
Bryan’s First Strap in AEW
While Bryan Danielson has had an incredible run in AEW, particularly on the mic and in the ring (leaving only his storylines and feuds as an overall area where he hasn’t been properly utilized), he has not won any belts. However, he finally got a hold of a strap on Sunday night at All Out, and proceeded to wear Ricky Starks out with it. However, Bryan wasn’t the only one carrying the strap on Sunday, and according to Bryan himself, it was actually Ricky Starks who carried him through that incredible match.
Bryan claimed that one thing the Blackpool Combat Club likes to do in both storyline and reality, is test people, and All Out was his first chance to test Ricky Starks. He said that he had watched him and he seemed good, but he wanted to get in the ring with him to “see how good he really is”. Bryan said that when he brings his intensity into matchups, it can upset people, so some of his opponents wilt and some of his opponents fire up. Ricky Starks fired up, and leveled up, showing off a new side to him that was previously undiscovered. Much like Randy Orton’s Backlash 2004 matchup against Cactus Jack, this was a case where an up and coming pretty boy proved that he was also pretty tough, earning a new level of respect against a veteran superstar.
This match didn’t just present a new perspective on Ricky Starks, but a new perspective on what is possible in a strap match. I have found strap matches to be a historically disappointing and distracting stipulation, something that tends to level down the ceiling of the best possible match between two competitors. However, in this strap match, when they started striking each other with home run derby swings of leather to each other’s faces, it shocked my senses as a grizzled veteran of wrestling fandom. They used that tool and stipulation to incredible positive effect, having the strikes match the moods of each part of the match, and leading to a satisfying conclusion where a bratty young heel earned his comeuppance, but also earned the respect of the fans and his peers in the process. Ricky’s stock has been reimagined in my book, thanks to this incredible performance.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Moxley and Cassidy Pull a Draw (on the Mic!)
Jon Moxley claims that Orange Cassidy and he have something in common: neither of them really like to talk. This is absolutely true of Orange and an outrageous lie when it comes to Moxley. Jon Moxley loves the spoken word and that love comes through when he is speaking. Orange Cassidy always seems genuinely uncomfortable with speaking and yet is able to make that work to his advantage in creating a memorable moment. It makes for a fascinating contrast, and both did some of their best work yet this week, which is why I am awarding a rare tie in the promo category.
On Wednesday night, after dispatching the threat of Pentagon Jr, Orange Cassidy called for a mic and a steel chair: the steel chair was not for a weapon but just to sit on–it being well established that Orange, at this point in his International Championship run, is just so very, very tired.
The surprise that commentary express that Orange would even request a mic to address the live audience, the fact that he basically never does this, is part of what gives it an illusion of importance . "I don't usually like to talk… but here we are," he says, at once adjusting fans' expectations of eloquence, and also putting over that this is important enough to overcome his reluctance at public speaking.
Orange Cassidy tells us that he is so tired and hurting, and his backpack (that he carries the International Championship in) keeps getting heavier. The weight metaphor will go on to tie this promo to the one he will go on to cut on Saturday. He then cuts a stilted but serviceable live promo. His authenticity cuts through his woodenness, and he closes with the perfect (for Orange) new catchphrase "I do NOT have a catchphrase".
On Collision Saturday, Moxley addresses facing Cassidy for the International title, and his monologue starts out florid, even for him: "be the rock around which the waves crash" lol. But then he gets down to business: first building up his upcoming opponent, (like a pro does!) talking up how 31 men before him couldn't find a solution to the Orange Cassidy puzzle, and how Orange had exceeded the limits of the expectations of critics who hadn't expected him to make it. Then directly addressing the Cornette crew claims that Orange is a cosplay wrestler, making the excellent point: "if that's the case, who's he pretending to be?"
But then he gets down to the nitty-gritty: if Orange Cassidy is "the real thing," how is Moxley beating him? Moxley makes the claim that he is "a technician of the highest order," an unusual claim from him, but he explains: his specialty isn't working a body part, he's going to "target your soul," a claim so utterly daft and outrageous I was forced to include him here, as much as I hate a tie.
Not just the ludicrousness of the claim, but also the fact that he makes it make sense! By "soul" he meant his "heart… guts…. conditioning." His "will to even be here." Then he comes as close to addressing the elephant in the room as he would: "a lot of guys want to be perceived as great wrestlers… but once it gets hard, they look for a way out."
His promise to Orange that on Sunday, "it's really, really, gonna get hard," is terrifying in a way unique to Moxley.
But later in the show, Orange gets the last word with his own backstage promo, starting out once again hitting on the fact that talking isn't his comfort zone, but for the importance of this moment, the match Sunday is everything he's "been working for." He shows appreciation for Mox that returns to the weight metaphor: Moxley had picked up AEW when it was down and put the weight on his shoulders, but Orange would take that burden from him! New catchphrase, fade to black!
These two promos illustrate two great approaches to handling promos, depending on the talent. If they aren't very comfortable on the mic, keep it brief and let their authenticity shine through, along with some self-deprecating humor. On the other hand, if they have the golden tongue, let them rip, and give them space for their creativity and eloquence to work! We got excellent examples of both approaches this week.
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
Big League Takeshita
So, in a previous week of this prestigious weekly roundtable review, I whinged and moaned about how AEW had lost focus on Konosuke Takeshita. This was motivated by my belief that other than MJF, he is the brightest young star in the promotion. (Completely unrelated side-note; I've never been to the US, and so I've been deprived of the taste of Cinnabon. However, from the pornographic shots of their pastries included in Better Call Saul, I can understand Takeshita's deep appreciation for the brand.) Tony can say he ignores online discourse all he wants, but Takeshita pinning Kenny Omega at All In AND All Out seems like a direct response to my complaints. Whinging works every time!
I guess it makes sense really. Kenny has stated many times that Callis was like family, so he’d have information that would give Takeshita the upper hand (his PowerPoint presentations could use some serious work though). However, I was still left stunned when the referee counted three and Takeshita was declared the victor. Was Callis right to move on to the new model? Obviously not morally, but these consecutive victories does make it seem like a shrewd business decision.
Kenny has not been on his A-game since the betrayal (y'know, like, kayfabe wise). The emotional turmoil causing his performances to be below his normal standards. This is solid wrestling storytelling which follows a clear logic, however I think I've been traumatised from years of WWE, John Cena storytelling where the top-guy almost always conquers whatever obstacle is in front of them by beating the baddie on PPV. This is not that. I'm intrigued to see where Kenny goes from this devastating loss and how long it'll take to get his groove back.
Even more interesting is where the Japanese Supernova goes from here. In my fantasy booking, I had Takeshita beating OC for the International Championship. With Moxley beating the pulp out of Cassidy, that can be thrown out of the damn window and anything that they choose to do will be inferior to my idea! I jest, but I'm curious what Takeshita does next. They have anointed a star and they have to treat his next few months accordingly. The International Title is out of contention and the TNT Championship seems below him. Could they elevate him to the World Championship? It would be fast and bold, but what else befits a wrestler who you just put over one of your top stars twice in two weeks?
AEW have left the Takeshita pot to boil over in the past, and they can not afford to make that mistake again. Strap the rocket to his back and make sure the fuel doesn't run out. Or else I’ll be forced to whinge once again!
Moment of the Week: Peter.
There is a line I once heard in wrestling circles that it's the belt that makes the man. Well, it was the opposite in the case of Orange Cassidy and the International Title. The man made the belt.
On its inception, the All-Atlantic belt felt like one belt too many in the eyes of many of the AEW faithful. Its identity felt muddled in the sea of titles defended on AEW television. But when Orange Cassidy won the title in Toronto, it very quickly became the "working man's title" that became synonymous with the early days of the TNT Title but while Cody's story of "the energy bar running out" that helped get the belt over ended earlier than a lot people expected thanks to Brodie Lee, this night was the perfect time to end the "reign of Orange"
After 11 months and 31 successful defenses, Orange's gas tank ran out but with nowhere to go, his face a crimson mask, OC unleashed one last barrage of kicks in the attempt to hold onto his title but once he was thwarted by a Mox lariat that would make Stan Hansen say "Holy ****" and with nothing left came a middle finger with barely anything behind it, it was the moment you knew it was over.
On the 32nd mountain that Orange tried to climb in his historic International Title reign, Jon Moxley was one climb too steep but the fact it was Moxley, one of the HC climbs of AEW tells you what the International Title has become in the hands (and the bag) of Freshly Squeezed.
The two time WOTY and surely eventual Hall of Famer Jon Moxley will be the next man to hold the International belt, the third owner of that title is one of the heads of AEW Rushmore in what has been just shy of the first 5 years of AEW. The glee of his BCC teammates told you the magnitude of Mox's accomplishment. The reason for the celebration was because of the man fallen in the ring.
326 days after orange confetti fell on him in a Toronto ring, OC was in a Chicago ring, it's canvas red from his own blood but when he woke, the standing ovation, the audible thank yous rained down from the fans. The sign of appreciation at Orange's efforts in AEW's annus horribilis, one of the shining lights while the dark clouds hovered, this reception was deserved as will be the rest that he will probably have after, but after a year where the valuation of some AEW gold has gone downhill, (yes, I'm looking at you, TNT Title,) the title he worked so hard to make great is in exceptional hands, even if Moxley has a hell of an act to follow, and the fans knew it from the ovation to end All Out
MVP of the Week: Gareth.
It’s hard to think of something unique to say about Orange Cassidy because the praise he’s got has been so universal at this point. At least amongst anyone speaking in good faith.
The achievement of elevating a “mid-card” championship from, frankly, an afterthought to main eventing a pay-per-view is staggering. And whilst it main eventing was perhaps largely contextual, due to the quick turn-around from All In, it didn’t feel any less deserved or unimportant.
Not only did Cassidy elevate the AEW International Championship from being an afterthought to a main event. He also elevated a PPV that many thought would be an afterthought into something that many are saying is AEW’s best show of the year.
Achievements aside, what made all of this possible was the storytelling OC has displayed over his title reign. It’s not been some grand epic saga. Just classic babyface pro-wrestling storytelling. Some people say it’s hard to do a long babyface title reign. But Orange Cassidy excelled by embracing the simple art of selling, perseverance and overcoming. Until he was eventually slain.
AEW will miss Cassidy as one of its champions. The week-to-week consistency has been outrageous, but to drop it to a star like Jon Moxley in the main event of All Out is perhaps the perfect ending.
The greatest “mid-card” championship reign of all time? It’s certainly in the conversation. The best title reign in AEW history? It’s certainly in the conversation.