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 Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering match and promo of the week, 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: Sergei.
Most weeks there's a decent amount of variety in this roundtable, with maybe two or three of the sections dealing with one particularly favored wrestler or moment, but this week you may get tired of hearing about Action Andretti, as the majority of the sections (4 of 6!) will be talking about his match with Jericho! And there's a good reason for that: there have been many amazing and auspicious debuts over the years, (think John Cena's debut versus Kurt Angle,) and many shocking and thrilling upsets, (the Kid's shock 1-2-3 over Razor Ramon comes to mind,) but Action Andretti's debut upset over "the Ocho" Chris Jericho may well be one for the ages.
Some ( @SaltyJayyycob !) have claimed that Jericho's brief mention of his upcoming "tune up" against "some jobber" earlier that night was clear foreshadowing to expect an upset, but I strongly disagree. Jericho's mention was very much in passing and easily could have led into the more typical "good showing" type of match that AEW does quite regularly, or equally could have led to a brutal dismantling of a rookie by the Ocho to make a statement! But instead we got something that I think I would call almost unique, which is a BIG claim to make in a field like pro wrestling where everything has been done before.
The first part of the match went very much as expected, (other than the crowd being unusually hot for their anonymous hero "jobber"!) with a great hope spot where Andretti uses a tornillo off the bottom rope, (a very similar-looking move to Jericho's Lionsault,) to get a one-count leading directly into a (seeming) match-finishing segment with Jericho using an old secondary finisher, the Code Breaker. But this turned out to be a false finish. A shocked reaction to a finisher kickout has become something of a discredited trope in wrestling, but justified in this case: both because it was actually shocking to the audience as well as the wrestler, and because Jericho looked genuinely confused as to what the hell just happened rather that overacting a Pikachu face.
Earlier, I compared this match to John Cena's debut, and to Sean Waltman's star-making upset. But it would be more accurate to compare those matches to this first section of this match. If it had ended there, it would have been quite good and memorable and a great debut for a promising rookie. Cena's debut was 5:38 and the fluke win by "the Kid" was at only 2:12. The first part of this match was 3:03 but it was far from over!
With this miracle kickout, the magic of this match truly begins. It leads into what one might call a "heat" segment--extended heel beat downs are an aspect of a typical match structure that I normally have little patience for, but this was an exception. Both because it genuinely makes sense for Jericho to overmatch some raw rookie, and because brief hope moments of Andretti firing back were sprinkled in liberally to prevent the build to the turn from getting boring and repetitive. And with each of these momentary shifts in offensive tide, the frenzy of the crowd built to a new level, wildly cheering on Andretti's offense, then booing all the more viciously at each of Jericho's weaselly tricks to take back the momentum.
Andretti then ducks Jericho's primary finisher to reverse into a roll-up. His second attempt at a cover gets two rather than one, and the crowd is absolutely over the moon. Not that I would say that we actually believe he can do it yet at this point. But we WANT TO BELIEVE.
Andretti keeps control, knocking Jericho to the outside and hitting a big aerial maneuver on him, leading up to another two-count in a flash pin from reversing a "Walls of Jericho" attempt.
Then Andretti gets Jericho down on his back with a reversal and quickly hits a running shooting star press for a cover and Jericho... just... doesn't kick out! This moment is pure electricity. The crowd exploding in both surprise and celebration. Excalibur screaming "WHAT?" Andretti running a victory lap and crowd surfing in bewildered excitement. Jericho looking gobsmacked and confused. Schiavone's hyperbole being this time simple fact: "We are seeing a moment that we will NEVER forget!"
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
"Promo" is the section of this Roundtable that I volunteered to cover every week, and there's a reason for that. Professional wrestling is a form of storytelling mainly done wordlessly through physicality. And I love that kind of storytelling, too. But I deeply love storytelling that engages an audience's emotions using words and the human voice, and when the best in the field show the potential of the very best spoken storytelling, covering that is a god damn privilege.
Every week, (unfairly,) I have a platonic ideal of the sort of promo I'm hoping to find, to choose to talk about in this forum. It's a single competitor with a live mic in front of a rapt audience, telling a simple story that seems to be pulled from their real life, but then twisted into something fictional to fit with the story and fuel the passion of their words and light a fire of motivation for their character. And once in a while I get that: Friedman talking about his bullied childhood and CM Punk fandom… the Bald One talking about his daughter's battle with cancer.
This week Adam Page proved that you don't need those classic trappings of an in-ring special promo, or fifteen minutes of air time, to cut a classic like that. Instead we had what seemed like a de rigeur backstage interview just to remind the audience a feud is being built. And then Page delivered devastation and passion and blazing character motivation in a minute and a half without once raising his voice.
Fundamentally, he did this with the power of silence, specifically an incisive moment of silence following one tragic question: "what's his name?" This question was a pointed reminder of the dual stakes of this thing we all love: the potential for life-changing injury for the characters in the story in their "real" (to them) fights and equally to the performers telling this story with pretend fighting that can still lead to injury or disability that are all too real, and the consequences that can have for their families and loved ones. Stakes that have now raised Hangman's feud with Jon Moxley far above the petty concerns of pro wrestling morality-play alignments.
Story Beat of the Week: Gareth.
This week's story beat is something that I might be incorrectly inferring. But after defeating Luchasaurus at Full Gear, 'Jungle Boy' Jack Perry then defeated Brian Cage on Dynamite this week. After which he called out Big Bill after an altercation during the Dynamite Diamond Battle Royale last week, as Perry appears to be taking on a "Jack the Giant Slayer" gimmick.
And I thought to myself "why would AEW do this?" Just to tell a story of Jack Perry overcoming the odds? Sure maybe. But perhaps they are setting Jungle Boy up for a serious push in 2023, with an eye on having him be the one to dethrone Samoa Joe for the TNT Championship?
Now this could all be null and void if Wardlow defeats Joe to regain his championship. Although even then Wardlow still fits the profile of Perry's recent opponents despite being a face, rather than a heel.
The alliance with Hook is an interesting wrinkle also. Will that set up a one-off tag match against Lee Moriarty and Big Bill? Most likely, rather than anything more permanent. Still, the possibility is something to consider and perhaps something AEW should seriously look into.
Either way, it feels like Jungle Boy is about to receive a bigger push heading into the new year. Singles gold feels like the next step, be that the All Atlantic Championship or the TNT title. However, that story just fits with the current TNT champion, Samoa Joe.
And beyond that there is a score to be settled with Christian Cage. Could singles gold be the motivation Christian needs to step back into the ring with Jack? As it stands Cage holds a victory over Perry. But what has that victory accomplished if Jungle Boy is champions and Christian is not? Things to consider.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
So when is a crowd reaction a genuine crowd reaction?
There's a reason why it's called X-Pac heat. People didn't boo X-Pac in 2001 because he was a tremendous heel. He was booed because fans thought “oh god he’s back again”. Some people will tell you that Fandango was over after Wrestlemania 29 when fans were singing his song but when his catchy theme tune ended and the bell rang the silence was akin to a 1993 McLaren Ford F1 car after it retired during a Grand Prix
So, when the folks of Dallas, Texas started the Chris Jericho vs Action Andretti match by chanting “Let's Go Jobber” in response to Jericho’s breaking the 4th wall moment in which he called Action the J-word, it was a moment in which a fantastic crowd (Connecticut take note please) decided to entertain themselves during a routine enhancement match in which Jericho was going to win after the Codebreak…. wait a minute, Action kicked out!
The palpable shock in the arena was only matched by Jericho’s exquisite “NXT shocked face” which led to a second sound, a sustained roar that got louder as Excalibur threw it to the PIP break. Now the fans were in this match. No irony, no entertaining themselves now. The fans in Dallas really wanted Andretti to do this.
The rest of the match felt like a March Madness contest between a underdog team and a powerhouse team in the vein of Duke or Kentucky with the underdog going point for point with the giant but eventually the legend always wins right but sometimes the underdog has one shining moment and Action got the 1-2-3 to produce the greatest upset in AEW history. But the moment was set several minutes earlier thanks to a kick out and how it made people believe.
Move of the Week: Dan.
Watching a star being born is a special moment. I’m an old enough lump of human that I have seen footballers make their debut as a scrawny 15 year old runt, and then become world superstars. I’ve seen bands play in tiny pubs who then go on to be headliners at festivals. And this week I feel like I’ve seen it again with, of all people, a supposed nobody called Action Andretti.
Other more eloquent voices in this article will have talked about the match as a whole and the glory of the moment when Mr Action pinned The Ocho Chris Jericho to get a seemingly impossible win. But here I want to spotlight the actual wrestling performance of Andretti, as he bloody well deserves it.
Long before we got to the finish of the match, Andretti had very much earned his ‘Action’ moniker. We saw some beautiful technical wrestling. We saw a willingness to brawl in glimpses. Yet most impressively we saw some incredible athleticism, with step-up dropkicks, split-leg moonsaults and a wonderful moment where Andretti leapt over the top rope, leapt back onto the rope and executed a perfect back somersault to the outside.
The move that made the man though was the Action Man’s finisher. Jericho was down having been dropped on his bonce, and like a team with 10 men behind the ball facing Lionel Messi, there seemed no danger. Almost out of nowhere though the excitable pup, with very minimal run-up, advanced on the former Demo-God and executed a superb running shooting-star press.
The pure feat of aerial athleticism was impressive in itself, but Andretti also managed to pin-point the landing perfectly. His head landed square in the bread-basket of Jericho, meaning that the impact genuinely looked like it was more than enough to justify the three-count.
And the three-count is what the move received. Taz almost hyper-ventilated, Tony Schiavone began waxing lyrical and the crowed were going absolutely wild. A superb moment and a sublime all-round performance to underline the elevation to the big-time, proving that AEW is still the absolute best at getting new talent over.
MVP of the Week: Trish.
He's Magic You Know….
The first week of January is seen as somewhat of a special week in the English football calendar. The third round of the FA Cup allows for something out of the ordinary; it often pits sides from the very lowest tiers of the game against their much richer Premier League counterparts. The games should be somewhat of a procession, international players paid hundreds of thousands each week lining up against bricklayers, electricians and PE teachers all but guarantees a one sided result for the professional outfit. The "magic of the FA Cup" though is that every now and again the unimaginable happens.
On Wednesday night Chris Jericho arrived at Dynamite in poor form, having lost his ROH title decisively to Claudio at Final Battle this past Saturday. Could facing a no-name opponent be the confidence boost he needed? Would it be the walk in the park his pre-match promo suggested?
What happened next, as we have raved about numerous times throughout this review, was a quintessential "giant killing". A crowd that begun the match simply having fun enjoying the occasion became hotter and hotter as the contest progressed when they started to feel there just might be the chance of an upset. The momentum built right up to the conclusion of the bout, leading to one of the most memorable moments in Dynamite history.
Whilst the Garland crowd were essential, the key to all of this was Chris Jericho. He is perhaps the only man who could take this idea and execute it to perfection.
By labelling Andretti a "jobber" beforehand, he had effectively set the table for the crowd chants at the start and continued to encourage them through his own verbiage in the opening minutes. As the match extended into the commercial (and the audience realized it was going to defy the original expectation), he changed his shouts. Whilst pummeling his opponent in the corner, he exclaims, "Come on Action!" "Come on Action!" The crowd swiftly moves from its "jobber" enthused chants to cries of "Act-ion!" "Act-ion!" He had not only given the crowd the name of the man he wanted them to get behind and an identity but also instantly changed the dynamic of the match.
The finish being completely clean turned this from a simple shock to a potential star making performance. Jericho made sure that Andretti didn't receive a "lucky" win, there was to be no questioning the outcome, no distractions or objects involved. On this night, Action Andretti was presented as simply being better than Chris Jericho. In an industry where big stars rarely lose clean, yet alone to anyone not established at a similar level to themselves, it was a fantastic moment to give to a younger, newly signed performer and felt much more of a callback in ethos to the AEW of in its first few years.
When the FA Cup third round ties are announced each year pundits and fans alike often question the value of the competition. It isn't anywhere near as lucrative money wise when compared to flashier competitions such as the Champions League and the gap between sides in the modern era is now so great that shock results don't happen as regularly as they once did. The competition survives, though, because these moments are still possible and when they happen they are unlike anything else in the sport. To make such moments happen in wrestling is perhaps just as difficult.
Maybe Chris Jericho's self imposed "wizard" description isn't that far off after all?