SARAYA TURNS A NEW PAIGE | AEWeekly Review #35
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 and moment of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos, Gareth [@Gareth_EW] exploring a key story beat, Dan [@WinsDANlosses] reflecting on the best move and Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP of the week.
'Bryan Danielson vs Jon Moxley' by Joe.
From an-ring wrestling standpoint, I liked the match. From a standpoint of move execution and simulated combat, this was a match that was better than good, it was probably great, but I was too distracted and disappointed to give the wrestling the attention it deserved.
One of the major complaints I had about Grand Slam as a show was a lack of creativity and an excess of cheap tricks. The first 3 matches had dirty finishes. The first 3 interviews had interruptions. This was not a product that was rewarding you for paying attention, it was a product that was hoping you weren’t paying close enough attention. AEW’s creative team was hoping we were watching this show like MJF watched the main event. Scrolling through our phones, half-heartedly, with just half of our minds, but not invested or engaged enough to be where we’d be disappointed.
The first 3 matches were sending the exact opposite message of the first 3 years of AEW (or maybe just the first 2 if I’m reflecting honestly on much of 2022). I’ve been conditioned to expect that there will be decisive finishes, that storylines will move forward and change, and that if I don’t pay attention I might miss something. Well, as it turns out, had I just tuned out of AEW at Forbidden Door, skipped the next 2 months, and then popped back in for tonight’s show, I wouldn’t have missed much at all (creatively). Jericho is still feuding and winning against the BCC. Wardlow isn’t on the show, and Moxley is the World Champ. Okay, if I had just watched Forbidden Door, I would have actually expected that Orange Cassidy’s momentum was going to be capitalized on instead of losing in every featured spot since. AEW's booking is getting to a place where it’s risking losing must-see status for me. I know the matches will be great, but if the story is gone and it’s just about the athletic contests, it becomes a spectator sport I can check in and out of like baseball, football, or basketball.
But back to Moxley and Danielson. Jon Moxley has been The Ace of AEW, and like he said in his promo after the show, he has defined that belt. Many of you haven’t seen that promo, because there wasn’t time for it on the main show. What we did see, was his great match against Bryan Danielson, which was so rudely interrupting MJF’s main event silent film. While Moxley has been The Ace, and he has defined that belt, I have seen a few versions of that film. While I liked it, I wanted a chance to see what Bryan Danielson could do for that title. Would it have hurt Mox to lose? I don’t think so. AEW needs Jon Moxley, but they don’t need him burning himself out running in circles. I would have liked to see him take a well-deserved family vacation and let The American Dragon Bryan Danielson star in the Heart and Soul of Pro Wrestling tour. I was fantasy booking all of the fun fresh possibilities at the top of the card for a Danielson AEW World Championship run, but based on the way this match was produced, they are just the supporting act for the MJF show. That’s not a good look for AEW, and it risked putting a bad look on Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson. AEW, you’re better than that, and you know it. At least I hope you do.
'Kingston Shows off his Virtuosity' by Sergei.
AEW’s Road To YouTube series is where you can often find some of the best pretaped promos you’re likely to hear. The episode building to Arthur Ashe is a perfect example, with fantastic performances from Moxley, Danielson & Regal, from the Acclaimed and Swerve & Lee, from Castagnoli, and from Starks & Hobbs, blowing the live promos on Dynamite out of the water for this week and leaving me with a tough choice. But they saved the best for last: the God of the microphone, Eddie Kingston.
The first thing you notice about Kingston is that he looks rough as hell, with his neatly trimmed and edged stubble replaced with a mountain-man bush. Kingston deftly ties this into the story, explaining that he looks like hell and is “mentally whacked” over what happened to his friend Ruby Soho.
The content of this promo is great, convincing the audience to care about a match-up whose best-by date seems past. But I think the most impressive aspect of this promo is Kingston’s masterful use of his instrument: his voice. Listen to the way he extends the word “tiiiiime”, the rasp of “got in my way,” the way the whisper of “Noooo, Sammy” leads to the shout of “IT WASN'T!” Listen to the dramatically exaggerated final “T” sound when he says “where I learned to FIGHT,” the drawled growl of “like a clooown,” and the Shakespearian aside of “(I doubt it)” and what you are hearing is “Eruption”: the sound of a virtuoso, showing off his chops for the sheer joy of it.
'Garcia's Identity Crisis' by Gareth.
Chris Jericho defeating Claudio Castagnoli is a big talking point for various reasons, but the reason I was a fan of the result is because of what happened afterwards.
The Jericho Appreciation Society, in their entirety, came out to congratulate Jericho. Including ROH Pure Champion Daniel Garcia. This is interesting because Garcia is in the midst of an identity crisis. Does he follow his heart, the 'pure' wrestling heritage which he is literally representing as Pure Champion? Or does he keep going on his path to stardom by following the style of Chris Jericho?
Now that Jericho is Ring of Honor World Champion many see this as a direct insult to the legacy of the ROH title. Previously built around creating new stars from a hardcore, often "pure", perspective. Not relying on nostalgia and wrestlers who are already stars. And there is no doubt that Garcia (as a character) will hold similar sentiments to this.
Garcia clearly looked conflicted when congratulating Jericho. On one hand happy that his mentor had won his eighth world title. On the other hand, knowing what that means for the legacy of the brand which he, in part, represents.
Where does this lead exactly? I don't want to fantasy book too much. But I would love to see Garcia fight and overcome Chris Jericho to become Ring of Honor champion after a somewhat lengthy Jericho title reign.
'Saraya Gets Acclaimed' by Joe.
I have rarely ever done this, but I have to pick two moments from this wrestling show. There was a top wrestling moment, and a top show moment.
The top wrestling moment was when The Acclaimed were crowned after a 2 year and 3 month climb up the AEW ladder that began on DARK. The Acclaimed didn’t come into AEW with a resume of work in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring Of Honor, TNA, Impact, NXT, WWE, or the European independent scene. They are as homegrown as homegrown stars can possibly be in the 2022 wrestling landscape. That is why this moment wasn’t just rewarding for The Acclaimed, but also for the fans who have been along for the ride. It was a payoff for paying attention. A care package for actually caring. A reward for remembering where this all started. Now the big question is, what happens next? The last homegrown crowning was Wardlow’s victory over MJF and TNT Championship win. That has not led to prominence or featured spots on big shows. Hopefully there is a better plan in place for Anthony Bowens and Max Caster than a one night stand before Tony Khan puts a ring on FTR, who would then have as many championship belts as they do limbs. For the time being, I’m going to Bask In The Glory of The Acclaimed’s big moment, which felt like justice on a card where that was rare.
Next, there was the top show moment of Grand Slam. That was the debut of Saraya, formerly known as Paige in the WWE. The undeniable weak point of AEW for their entire history as a promotion has been their women’s division, and Saraya’s debut offered excitement and hope. While most knowledgeable wrestling fans would not place the blame on the women’s roster, the way that Saraya was debuted, and equally importantly, when and where she was debuted, seems to signal added investment into that division. Saraya debuted on the biggest Dynamite of the year, in front of one of the biggest crowds of the year, scaring off AEW’s biggest female star with a babyface save. Saraya has an ability to connect with fans that is rare, and hard to teach. The promise of her getting a second chance at her wrestling career offers another rarity, something that is familiar and fresh at the same time. Now, much like The Acclaimed, will this promise be fulfilled? Too soon to tell, but it could be the start of something special, and it would be fun to be along for that ride.
'Shove Heard Round the World' by Dan.
I’m fairly certain that in writing Move of the Week, I’m supposed to invoke my inner Nick Bockwinkel. I’m supposed to analyse the pure technique of a move. Look at the snap, praise the torque and lavish adoration on the inch-perfect footwork of it all.
Sometimes however a move is much more about what it means, about how it turns the course of events, and that’s why this week the Move of the Week is….a shove.
Yes, the mighty shove. The sort of thing you see ten times a night if you are daft enough to enter a Croydon Wetherspoons, and very much not a manoeuvre you expect to pop a stadium wrestling crowd in New York. But MJF says he is a generational talent for a reason, and this week he elevated the humble shove to the upper echelons of excitement.
It was a very necessary move as well, as the segment between MJF and Wheeler Yuta had not been working up until that moment. MJF was supposed to be ‘The Devil’. The Big Bad who was hovering with menace over the evening’s main event threatening to spoil it for everyone. And he was being cheered. Whether it was down to classic lines such as ‘Blackpool Cuckold Club’ or rooted in the clear gulf in promo quality between Maxwell and Yuta, the crowd were with The Salt of the Earth all the way.
So what does a supposed heel do to regain that heat? That’s right…you go after the most lovable man in a room with over 12,000 people in it. Tony Schiavone. Attacking Schiavone is like attacking Paddington Bear and is perhaps the ultimate transgression possible in AEW lore these days.
With this knowledge under his scarf, MJF headbutted Wheeler Yuta and then, with pure malice in his eyes, put both hands on Schiavone and executed a picture-perfect shove. It was technically beautiful, the torque was immense and the footwork was on-point…there we go nerds…but more importantly it was just nasty.
To his credit, Schiavone sold it perfectly, going down in about six different stages and then lying face-first like a wounded earthworm.
The cheers halted immediately. The boos rained down from every side of Arthur Ashe. The Devil was a heel again. And it was all because of a shove.
'The Acclaimed' by Trish.
The issue of homegrown talent vs the placement of imports has been hotly debated in AEW this year. After all, it's much easier to input an established name into your show who has experience on TV (and has already gone through the process of constructing their persona and in ring style) then it is to develop an act from scratch. This is also an environment where the time and opportunities are limited,therefore, being able to stand out from your competitors can require you to do something vastly different or use other methods in order to move forward. The Acclaimed are a success story in every sense of this.
Whilst they may have been brought together by Khan during the Jacksonville pandemic era of AEW, it is Bowens and Castor themselves who have made this work and turned what many deemed as solely a comedy act into a team who people wanted to be their tag team champions. The music videos last spring, taking aim at the likes of Hangman, Kingston and Moxley caused a stir amongst the hardcore following and Max Castor's on screen raps were doing much of the same. His bars were quickly being made into memes or replicated to provide a humorous take on whichever world event they could be applied to. They had become part of regular dialogue amongst the fanbase and had captured something which alot of people struggle with- anticipation.
The raps were not the only part of their act either. Bowens, an excellent wrestler to begin with who has seemingly had a riot with this character, has continued to have great matches when put in the ring with high profile opponents and pushed his teammate to improve in the ring as well. For a team who were often panned for their in ring ability at the start to have the strongest match on the most recent PPV is a testament to how rapid their development has been. Wednesday's match at Grand Slam was likely never going to live up to their efforts in Chicago, however, the finish still garnered the loudest reaction of anything on the night; above a World Title match.
Staying at the top and maintaining such reactions is often more difficult then reaching the summit but there can be no doubt that their journey so far has wildly surpassed any expectations people had for them at the start. The Acclaimed have more then arrived; others in the tag division now need to step up in return.