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, Collision and Battle of the Belts.
This week’s contributors are Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering both the best match and promo of the week, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, and Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Sergei.
FTR vs Bang Bang Gang, 2-out-of-3-falls World Title Match
With all of the talk of this being the "greatest tag match ever," or the "greatest television match" ever, one might come to the conclusion that an all-time classic on Saturday night was a foregone conclusion, but that would be a mistake. The Title Eliminator match the two teams had just had the week before was well-received, and in fact was Gareth's choice last week for the #AEWeekly Match of the Week, but it wasn't an all-timer or anything. So why were these four men at it again, only a week later, with a stipulation that might well lead to a bloated, stalling mess? Why were the Bang-Bang boys still chasing tag gold when they had just added a tag-specialist team to their faction?
There are many things that made this match great, and many of them can probably be better explained by someone other than I, but one of those elements of greatness was the way they played into and played with those very tropes: falls being treated differently in a multi-fall match, and stalling and pacing in an extra-long match.
Many commenters have said that the stalling in the opening moments of the match was a clear sign they would be going long. (Other clues might've been the fact that it was the opener and how few matches had been announced!) But I think the "stalling" in this match was worked in in such an entertaining way, I wouldn't have found any of it out of place in a match one third as long. The Bang-Bang duo did the typical antagonist stall, trying to frustrate FTR by antagonizing, then fleeing out of reach. But then FTR responded by proving their opponents weren't immune to the same tactics, basically taking an extremely premature victory lap to the delight of the crowd and the annoyance of the Bullet Club boys.
(FTR play another typical heel tactic for laughs rather than for boos shortly after, with a rope-assisted abdominal stretch. Their next challengers, MJF & Cole, have been doing similar bits as the crowd warms to them, so I'm fascinated to see how the two teams play off against each other.)
One criticism of multi-fall matches is that the early falls aren't as dramatic or hard fought. These two teams turned this truism on its head, fighting tooth and nail for each fall, reinforcing their strategic reason to care about each one: the first because neither team wants to be one fall down, the second for survival in FTR's case, and victory in Bullet Club's. Because they took the early falls seriously, the fans did too, building excitement with near falls at each stage.
The other trope that could've undermined the match is the idea that if a match is running long it's clearly heading to a time-limit draw to set up a rematch. But an important point is that generally in a match like that one side is fighting FOR the draw, and in this match, neither team had a reason to want a draw. And now we have the example I've long been calling for to give viewers that seed of doubt any time a match approaches the time limit: instead of a deflating sense of "oh, it's just a draw," we'll feel that tension of the competitors not only fighting each other but also the clock!
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Kenny Gives an Elite Mission Statement
The Elite versus the BCC is a feud not everybody seems to get… because it's not really pure good versus evil. The Blackpool boys aren't nice, but they aren't dyed-in-wool villains, either. They have a vision of the future of Pro Wrestling modeled after their mutual mentor, William Regal, and they genuinely believe in that vision, and in helping along and molding the next generation of pro wrestlers. They've never been rule-followers but at one point they did seem to believe in some higher principles: cheating and bending the rules were all part of the game, but once you start playing numbers games to get an advantage to win a match, you've shown you don't really believe in your own ability.
But after a few frustrating losses—Mox coming up short in a blood feud with Hangman and Danielson failing to take the World Title from Friedman—they seemed to turn their backs on those principles, and started behaving like a typical antagonist faction by overwhelming any opposition with superior numbers, while still cutting moralizing promos about how they are the true future of pro wrestling and they need to push out the false vision of the Elite.
But what is that opposing vision? Is it also just friends supporting friends at the expense of anyone else, just a different group of friends than the BCC? On Wednesday, Kenny Omega took a stab at defining just what the Elite are about and what makes them different from the BCC: "Heart. Passion. Soul. Friendship! Love."
Corny? Sure. But genuine and heartfelt, too. He went on to make the distinction even clearer, asserting that people "consumed with rage" will never prosper. Within kayfabe, he clearly meant the Blackpool boys, but was he also hinting at CMFTR? Some are bound to read that into it!
Kenny Omega has never been known for his microphone skills. But when he believes in what he's saying, he can really be effective once in a while, and this was one of those times, and he really created a rallying cry for the Elite and their fans that is authentic to their unique appeal.
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
F is for Friends who Play Games Together
'Twas a difficult choice for me this week. I almost went with Jake Hager handing his hat to Jericho (unironically the most emotionally affecting moment of his career). I considered Ricky Starks cheating to win the Owen and big timing Jushin Thunder Liger in his post match celebration (which f'n killed me). However, considering that last week I made the brave admission that I thought QTV was quality television (yes, I even liked the music video this week LET ME LIVE), I thought I would go for an angle which seems to have an unanimous approval rating in a desperate attempt to claw back some respect from the readers and my fellow contributors.
The pairing of Adam Cole and MJF seemed like an overly contrived way to get another championship match down the line. As wrestling fans, I think most of us have had our fill of the CAN THEY COEXIST trope, which is why these two men teaming in this blind tag team tournament raised alarm bells for many people. However, this feeling vanished after the amazing gym session and birthday celebration segments.
This week we were treated to the pair having a bar date. MJF asked Cole why he wasn't wearing their t-shirt, to which Cole made up a half-assed excuse about how he lost it (what a bad boyfriend, and he's supposed to be the good guy??). He eventually confessed and said that he would wear the shirt if they played AEW Fight Forever™ together. Despite his initial reservations, Max ended up having a great time and admitted that this was the first time he'd ever played a multiplayer game with a friend (as someone who used to play Mario Party against the CPU a lot as a child, I felt this). This kind of recontextualisation is something that MJF has always been great at and this was another moment that lends much more depth to his character. The segment ended with the pair sharing an emotional moment about how they had come to enjoy each other's company, and then winning the tag titles in the game.
If what you just read doesn't sound like one of the greatest segments ever, I just can't understand you. Some have criticised this story by saying it's unbefitting for a World Champion. To anyone with this critique, I must demand that you get in the sea. Just kidding, of course I'm open to any opinion (but seriously, in the sea NOW). This criticism is reminiscent of the people who thought Kofi Kingston should've left New Day after he won the WWE Championship. Removing aspects of a character to fit some preconceived idea of how a World Champion should act is incredibly silly to me. Especially when some of those aspects are responsible for that person being over enough to become champion in the first place! This kind of mindset is absolutely stifling to originality and leaves each reign feeling beige. So, everyone should embrace the distinct and taste the damn rainbow!
It might have slipped past some people, but the segment also acted as excellent product placement for AEW's new video game, Fight Forever™. It was quite subtle, so don't feel bad if you didn't catch it. I, however, having a university degree in Media and Communication was able to detect this and must commend Tony Khan on this seamless product integration.
This story isn't just entertaining, it also has many intriguing dramatic questions to answer. Will Cole bring MJF to the light? Will MJF lead Cole to the dark? How will Cole's girlfriend Britt Baker and his other boyfriend Roderick Strong react to his growing bond with Max? While all of those questions are interesting, they do pale in comparison to the biggest question lingering in this story. Where will Adam and Max go on their next date? Ice Skating? Laser Tag?? Cloud watching???
Does a large part of me think they'll go the most boring route and have the pair break up to have a championship match at All In? Absolutely. I can only hope they realise that there's magic in this pairing and they shouldn't squander it. This week's Dynamite will feature the long anticipated debut of Kota Ibushi, and despite that, I still think there's a chance that MJF and Cole finally hitting that double clothesline will get the biggest pop of the night. The fact that I even believe this is a possibility is a testament to the great work these two men have done.
In hopes of this team staying together, I'm going to finish my section by completing the reference that I used in my subtitle. (Eagle-eyed readers may notice that this is the second time that I've compared MJF to Plankton and I think it works. He's like a mix of Plankton and Larry the Lobster.) Anyway, sing it with me folks...
F is for friends who play games together
U is for unexpected tag chemistry
N is for never breaking up this team
and keeping them as best buddies!
Moment of the Week: Peter.
The Elite jigsaw is complete
AEW doesn't do surprises well or actually they do do surprises well. It all depends on your outlook on such things.
The moment the announcement of AEW Blood and Guts and the added spice of both teams needing to add a fifth member came onto our screens, the wrestling world expected the Elite to add Kota Ibushi.
From the hint in the week after Anarchy in The Arena when Hangman Page said that Kenny was out of America but he wasn't in his home country of Canada to Kenny's tease when wrapping up the show after Dynamite and Rampage had stopped filming, Kota was a big odds-on favourite to be the fifth guy and unlike Ons Jabuer at the final at Wimbledon, this odds-on pick delivered.
The set up was so manga you might as well have had the Moxley and Omega conversation done in animation but when we watched the screen and saw Kota's greatest hits we learned that the Elite had become coated with a golden shine.
Those who know the story of the Golden Lovers don't need a refresher from me on their history and despite many a armchair critic insisting that the announce team explain to the viewer who Kota Ibushi is (if my 78 year-old father who is deaf knows how to use Google, anyone else can too) the fans in attendance knew who the Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer is and they knew the magnitude of the event happening.
Kota Ibushi has been one of the most sought after pieces in the rubik cube that is the story of AEW. Many a look at the weekly adventures of AEW (including this very series) said that the Elite was complete when Hangman Page rejoined his friends but now the Elite feels more complete. Ibushi and Omega are together again, so are the Bucks and Kota and despite past differences you kind of think Page and Ibushi will get along just fine.
The Ibushi piece in the Blood and Guts jigsaw makes for very interesting dynamics. The Moxley vs Ibushi dream match feels closer than before (TK, if you're reading this, can we get this at All In? I'll buy a Fulham shirt if you do) and zombie Kota in the confines of a Steel Cage feels more terrifying than a night playing Resident Evil 2 in a badly lit room.
The expectations for Blood and Guts already were high. They became higher with the inclusion of Kota Ibushi and PAC (who is a quality inclusion on the BCC side!) but AEW have always done high expectations and very rarely do they fail to meet them. Just look at the final few minutes of Dynamite last week as evidence.
MVP of the Week: Joe.
I would argue that June is not the ideal time to launch a new TV show, and that Saturday at 8pm ET/ 7pm CT is not the ideal time to air a new show, and that it’s harder to make that show feel essential when they are the 4th and 5th added hours of the same weekly wrestling universe.
That’s what makes FTR and Bullet Club Gold’s performances over the first 5 weeks of AEW Collision so valuable. They haven’t just produced quality television, they have helped produce an identity for a brand.
Regardless of how you feel about The Elite or CM Punk + FTR, it is cool that AEW’s shows have distinct flavors like the early days of the RAW & SmackDown brand split in 2002.
Dynamite, the flagship, is like a brightly lit arcade bar + restaurant with colorful graffiti art adorning all of the walls, that serves vegan options & ice cream. They have a QR code menu that features a little bit of everything and they’re very open to making changes or substitutions. The ambience features an eclectic Spotify mix playing hits from every genre over the speakers, so if you don’t like what’s playing now, just wait a few minutes.
AEW Collision is like a dimly lit brewery + barbecue restaurant where most of the decoration budget went into the giant screen featuring all of the drinks and menu options + the area just surrounding the bar. They have physical menus and the menu is limited, but they’re confident they can make everything on it very well. The music comes from real live people playing one genre at a time, but they only feature a few styles, so you likely knew what you were getting into.
The task for the featured players in these early days has not just been to create something good, but to create something different, and FTR have been hugely instrumental in that. If you are someone who is pining for the days of Triple H’s original Black + Gold NXT, then this is your place, this is your show. Personally, I am a Dynamite guy. I have ADHD, and I love a quick pace and loads of variety. I like the bright colors and the brightly lit crowds and all of the flips and dives. If you made me pick one, I’m picking Dynamite.
However, I don’t have to pick one, and slightly to my surprise, I have been regularly watching both, 5 weeks in. As I’ve mentioned, I prefer the quicker pace and increased variety, so it was a challenge to get me on board. What is impressive about what FTR have done so far is they have created variety WITHIN their matches. I saw Twitter user @JustAlyxCentral says:
They went all out for 55 minutes, and each fall felt like a different match with its own pacing and level of brutality.
Fall 1: Fast-paced blitz style
Fall 2: Old school slow and hard hitting
Fall 3: Anarchy
It feels like CM Punk, FTR, Bullet Club Gold, Andrade, The House of Black, and the rest of the crew have a vision for Collision. A quality over quantity and depth over breadth mission statement. I wouldn’t have thought I would be this engaged in that, but I am. This 2 out of 3 falls match was the definitive Collision match in terms of showing what VALUE it can offer, which is why I’m picking FTR for most valuable players.
I feel like Collision is starting to hit their stride, and apparently I’m not alone. Looking at CageMatch ratings, the 4th and 5th episodes of Collision were the 2 highest-rated episodes.
That’s a good trend. Now, with the Owen Hart tournaments completed, and this Canadian tour completed, for the first time Collision will have a PPV cycle to build towards.
Everything Collision has done so far has been without the benefit of a World Title story or a PPV build. I’m excited to see what they can do when those doors open.