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The Meek Inherit Nothing | AEWeekly #124


Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The eligibility week always includes the most recent episode of Dynamite, but is more flexible in terms of Collision and Rampage, to account for busy folks not always being 100% caught up, so can include this week OR last week’s episode.



This week’s contributors are Tim [@TimmayMan]  covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering interview, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week, and Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] giving us the MVP of the week.


 A page of links to prior installments may be found here: #AEWeekly




Will Ospreay vs. Swerve Strickland


"A Showcase of Athletic Excellence..."


by Tim.



Wrestling like any performance art is a very subjective thing. The viewer brings in their own preferences, history, and psychology into interpreting what they are seeing. What works for one will be uninteresting to another. In picking the “best” match of the week I took some time to think about what makes a match my favorite. For me it comes down to two elements, the physicality of the workers, and the character dynamics in and out of the ring.


I had no doubt that the best match would come from Forbidden Door. Swerve Strickland vs. Will Ospreay for the AEW World Championship checked both boxes of what I enjoy in wrestling. What I was surprised by was how much more I enjoyed their physicality over their character work. Don’t get me wrong, the character work was solid. Ospreay’s turmoil when handed the screwdriver by Callis was tonally consistent with what we’ve seen. I was expecting more of a moment of doubt regarding the Storm Driver, but Ospreay looked like he was all set to use it to put away Swerve. This is fine. Even if the beats of the match played out slightly different than what I had in my head. It’s okay to defy expectations (within reason).


If Ospreay got to show off his character work, Swerve got to show off his physicality. It’s an underrated part of Strickland’s game, just how good of a wrestler and athlete he is. The opening moments saw him going toe to toe and move-for-move with Ospreay. Counters, reversals, dodges and dives as both men evaded each other’s attacks. The way these two complemented each other makes this match stand out. Ospreay hit a great frankensteiner off the ring barrier, but Swerve had to balance on the narrow rail in order to take the move. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can hit a Swerve Stomp to the outside announce table and not shatter both knees either (I certainly couldn’t). People (and organizations) have slept on Swerve for too long, and now that he’s champion he’s showing why that was a mistake.


This match served as a prime example of why I enjoy wrestling, and the post-match interaction added another layer. Swerve and Ospreay showed each other signs of respect for a hard-fought match. Plenty of wrestling storylines get filled with manufactured animosity and while this is kind of the point of pro-wrestling I also appreciate sportsmanship and respect. It makes for a nice contrast from Swerve’s blood feud [Ed: cheap plug! Thanks, Tim!] with Hangman. There’s more than one way to sell competition in wrestling and I appreciate that the main event of Forbidden Door took the "competitive athletes" angle.






Bryan Danielson


"Ra(n)ge of the Dragon..."


by Sergei.


Best Interview was a tough call this past week: many good, but none that truly knocked it out of the park. In the end, what set Danielson's promo on Takagi apart from the pack is something I have harped on the importance of in the past: dynamics…


Icymi:

This past week Toni Storm made a fascinatingly weird short film of a declamatory monologue portraying herself as Lady Liberty, Daniel Garcia cut a fun and enthusiastic "walking backstage" promo with his family around him after his hometown victory on Collision, and Ospreay filmed an achingly heartfelt confession-booth style video about losing his Nan and how he would need our energy, hours out from putting on the amazing MotY contender Tim just talked about above. Every one of those interviews had their points of excellence, but each one shared one flaw: compared to Danielson, they were all very one-note.


I've said many times that pro wrestling is not acting—especially nothing like film acting—and when a segment forgets that it tends to be terrible. I've compared it instead to stage magic. But another form of creative expression that has a lot in common with cutting a pro-wrestling promo is singing. And one of the deadliest ways to make the performance of a song dull is for the singer to not change their volume or tone throughout. It's dynamics that lets a singer take the listener on a journey.


Bryan Danielson is truly one of the masters of applying dynamics to his mic work. The story he tells here is a good one: that maybe being a good sport hasn't been good to him lately, that maybe it's time to get mean, that the time he has left to cement his legacy is rapidly dwindling. But nothing near as compelling as the awesome stories he was telling in the Blue League back in December. But, when it comes to the technical use of vocal dynamics to draw you into that story? In the case of this promo, that's where Danielson's overall excellence really shines through.


The Dragon starts here with an even, conversational tone, then suddenly lifts to an angry shout, and then falls back to an intense whisper. Every change of volume and tone fits the words, and the moment, and the emotion he is conveying. As he frequently does in all aspects of pro wrestling, Danielson demonstrates here his absolute mastery of his craft.





Swerve Strickland Retains the Gold


"Aggressive, Ambitious, Cutthroat, Relentless..."



by Saul.


In the Euros, England have performed poorly but (so far) have managed to stay in the tournament. At Forbidden Door, England’s own Will Ospreay (At least I believe he’s English, I haven’t fact checked that) put in an admirable performance but fell short, losing in the main event to Swerve. Would Jude Bellingham have used the screwdriver to win?? Will I ever stop these tortured cultural references???


The pre-match promo video emphasised the points made in the build-up about how this match would be won by the man with the killer instinct. With both competitors being such supreme athletes, this was set to be the deciding factor. Much like any father would tell their child before they partake in a sporting event, the winner will be the person who wants it most. 


This was showcased in the pivotal point in the match, after both men had tried but failed to fully put away their opponent. Ospreay had laid out the referee and possibly had Swerve down. (Mostly pointless aside, and maybe this is kind of typical wrestling nonsense that only bothered me because I was tired as I watched the match, but Ospreay just clattered the referee, so why does he go for the pin on Swerve right after that like it’ll do anything? Muscle memory? Maybe he was hoping for a quick second referee?? To me, it felt a bit like he was setting up the “I had you pinned BRUV” after-match excuse. Anyway, diatribe over.) With the referee sent to the Shadow Realm, Don Callis ran out and handed Will a screwdriver, so he could murder Swerve and become champion by default.


Will Ospreay refused, throwing away the murder weapon. You have to wonder what Callis will think of this decision. My guess is he will be like a disappointed father after their child ignored their advice and lost in the sporting event. Dammit son, we went over this!!! (Also, why was Ospreay considering using the screwdriver on Prince Nana instead of the opponent he would need to defeat to be champion? Because he pushed Callis? Are we supposed to think that their relationship is that close?? Struck me as a bit weird. Sorry, I appear to be too tired to keep the nitpicking devil on my shoulder quiet.) This indecision ended up costing Will, with Swerve being able to regain control and ultimately win.


The match could’ve gone either way, but on this night, this was the deciding moment. We all know Swerve would’ve done anything. We now know Ospreay won’t. Perhaps this loss will cause him to change his mind in the future, but for now it’s moot. Swerve fended off his biggest challenger yet, and fully established his place atop the mountain of AEW.


The idea that the champion will be whoever is willing to reach the lowest point of depravity was interesting to me, and maybe it’s partly due to the recent vignette that aired on Collision, but this framing reaffirmed to me that Hangman Page must be the man to defeat Swerve. (I would accept Page being the deciding factor in Swerve losing the title to someone else, but I’d rather he just be the one to dethrone him.)


I’m definitely guilty here of thinking of the destination instead of just enjoying the journey. Perhaps this is why I can’t enjoy things? Anyway, it would be the perfect encapsulation of this championship reign for Swerve to have created the man who was willing to become even more depraved and violent than he is—the ultimate consequence for his actions. 


For now, I will say this: the match was a banger (as Tim already detailed). It has also left interesting directions for both men going forward. As we exit the Forbidden Door and head towards Wembley, the future is bright for both of these performers. Swerve may have won on the night, but this match was an emphatic victory for both competitors, definitively staking their right to be top players in AEW for years to come.






Britt Baker's Return 


“An original that refuses to be forgotten”


by Peter.


One of the features that we have seen in AEW in its 5 year history has been that stars have gone away with no explanation. Has Person A been injured? Are they deal with family situations? Have they played their "that don't work for me brother" card? Whatever has happened, the absence of any AEW wrestler has intrigue associated with it… (It also tells you that Tony Khan prefers the way soccer deals with injuries than the way the NFL does, with its DL list.)


But with that secrecy it makes the eventual comeback moment so much sweeter, and when the opening strands of Britt Baker DMD's theme blasted it's way through the UBS Arena at Forbidden Door this past Sunday it was a moment that has made the TBS Title picture a very captivating watch.


Since we last saw Britt Baker on AEW television, the women's division has changed. The World Champion Toni Storm has become Timeless, Willow Nightingale has started to feel inevitable, Kris Statlander has a new attitude, the Stardom working relationship that many fans wanted has come to be, and one of Britt's best friends has become All-Elite (Deonna Purrazzo). But the most seismic change has been the signing of Mercedes Moné. 


The women's division in June 2024 is a very different place than the one that Britt was promoted as the face of in May 2019, at AEW's first-ever show. It was a division where depth was a problem. One segment a Dynamite was the maximum that the division could hope for but now the women's division has never been stronger and,dare I say it, is stronger than what WWE is offering right now. 


When the story of the women's division of AEW is written, Britt should be written as one of those who built the foundation of said division… and in the past year, we might have forgotten that, and—judging by Britt's body language when she appeared on the Forbidden Door stage—she might be aware of that.


Whatever the reason for the absence, (TK did say the word injury when asked about Baker's absence,) it looks like Britt has developed a chip on her shoulder in that time. The division might have grown since she has been gone but Britt isn't going to be left behind, and now that she's back, Baker is coming for one of the Monuments of the division in Mercedes Moné, and for her TBS belt. The setting looks like it could be Wembley Stadium, and—under the now-famous arch, one of the great structures of world sport—Britt has stated her case for the Road to Wembley, so when the mythos of the division is written, her name will be set in stone.






Even More Tournament Matches!


"Round after Round, you will find me, Round after Round..."


by Sam P.


Following some enjoyable tournament matches at AEW Forbidden Door, whether Mariah May defeating Saraya, or Bryan Danielson against Shingo Takagi in a battle of the Dragons, it does feel wonderfully apropos to end our three-part look at great Tournament matches over previous years. Remember, we will not be looking at any Tournament Final matches, just the early rounds, to give attention to the matches sometimes forgotten.


We begin in February 2021, where the AEW Women’s World Championship had an Eliminator Tournament to face Hikaru Shida. A very unique tournament, this had a Japanese Bracket on one side which occurred in Shida’s native country and was during the time where fans still couldn’t attend. Because of this, on the 15th February episode, Emi Sakura took on VENY in a match that blew the rest of the card away, based in a small empty arena with just skeleton staff, including the referee and a solo commentator in Excalibur. VENY impressed with their agility and high flying, such as some gorgeously smooth Moonsaults and a Standing Shooting Star Press, whilst Sakura demonstrated some tremendous power moves in a reminder of why she is considered one of the best Joshi wrestlers. Technically brilliant and skilled, it set a high bar for the rest of the tournament. 


Two nights later on AEW Dynamite, Riho and Serena Deeb took on the challenge of that high bar, and put together a true hidden gem. Deeb entered as NWA Women’s Champion while Riho made her first return after a year away from the company. Despite her smaller size, Riho focused her attack on Deeb’s already injured knee, but Deeb retaliated by working on the head and neck of the former AEW Women’s Champion. Deeb’s knee gave way during an attempted Brainbuster and Riho hit a Double Stomp and Crossbody combo for a nearfall. As Deeb’s struggle got worse, Riho began burning her out with Small Packages and pinning attempts, eventually locking in a Roll-Up for a major victory. A Dynamite match worthy of any PPV.


We now move to 2022, the 18th May Wild Card Wednesday edition of Dynamite, where the recently returned and beloved Kyle O’Reilly took on Rey Fenix. A contrast of styles between Rey’s high flying agility and speed against Kyle’s hard-hitting, technical speciality, both men are predominantly known for their success in tag teams (with brother Pentagon and Bobby Fish respectively), this is a finely paced match that utilises high spots to loop the submission build-up with Kyle’s focus on the left arm. With a surprising high spot of Fenix walking the ropes to hit a Hurricanrana to the outside near the end, it took Kyle’s methodical game plan to defeat Rey with a Cross Armbreaker.


The following week, AEW Dynamite celebrated its 3 Year Anniversary with Kyle taking on Samoa Joe in a Semi-Final main event. Intensity personified as the two men battled for the right to face Adam Cole in the inaugural Owen Hart Foundation Men’s Tournament Final, an exchange of hard physical strikes that demonstrated Joe’s power and Kyle’s methodical approach. As submission specialists, the tension built as both gradually broke one another down, but despite his competitiveness, Kyle was eventually choked out by the future AEW World Champion.


In September of that same year, specifically the 7th and the 14th, the Grand Slam Tournament of Champions featured Bryan Danielson in two weeks of absolute barnstormers, facing two former AEW World Champions in ‘Hangman’ Adam Page and Chris Jericho. Danielson had previously lost to both men, Jericho a few weeks previously at All Out, and Hangman at the beginning of the year, so these matches demonstrate Danielson’s subtle changes in rematches. For example, Danielson working on the right arm of Hangman to counter a Buckshot Lariat attempt with a rollup, or attacking Jericho’s left arm in preparation for the LaBell Lock whilst distracting him by selling his own left leg, baiting Jericho in. If you’re a Danielson fan, both are worth a watch.







Mina Shirakawa


"A Bombshell Explodes..."


by Joe.


After this Forbidden Door run, #WeWantMina signed to an AEW contract! 


Some CageMatch review highlights that pair with some take-aways:


Representation is important, and this story featured it on multiple levels. Asian women have not been featured well in mainstream American wrestling, which has been well-documented in certain cases such as Gail Kim and evil promoter / evil human who shall not be named. Further representation that has been lacking is LGBTQIA+ representation, and several reviewers expressed joy in seeing that representation in this storyline. 


Pigeon Scratch wrote on 01.07.2024:

[9.0] “It's the best ending they could've delivered, and my queer little heart just can't take it anymore. I mean that positively."

arkhamoutlaw10 wrote on 01.07.2024:

[9.0] "Outstanding lesbian narrative that has not been claimed as explicitly gay by any commentators or announcers, despite lots of it occurring during Pride Month and the performers obviously telegraphing the queerness on display.”

JenniferNero wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "The build was so good. I absolutely loved it. (...) Mina is just outstanding. (...) Honestly kind of nice to have this storyline during pride month. (...) I loved the storyline. And most importantly I absolutely loved the finish. (...) It was a great match with a great angle afterwards. The three way kiss was my favorite moment of the night, complete with Nigel sobbing. Absolutely loved it."

sarahlicity wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "With the final hours of Pride Month winding down, it was probably only right that everyone's favourite lesbian polycule in wrestling ended with a "hug it out" segment. (...) All the people who think that AEW "has no stories" were firmly put in the mud by this match, as Toni's Sunset Boulevard crossing with Mariah's All About Eve has been one of the best stories coming out of AEW recently. The women's division is on absolute fire right now.”

This last review touched on another point, that fans were happy to see this end atypically without a big betrayal or swerve or turn. What is impressive is that Mina is so likable she made this a desirable outcome even after she attempted to smash a bottle over Toni’s head and DID smash a bottle over Mariah’s head. Mina was the aggressor and trying to force Mariah to choose, so logically she was the heel and it would be reasonable to dislike her, but her charisma and likability overrode those factors. 


somerandommark wrote on 01.07.2024:

[9.0] "This was an excellent seeming conclusion to the Mina / Toni feud! The action was really great, and Mina especially seemed right at home on the big stage. (...) it was a nice conclusion, and I like the subversion that Mariah didn't need to turn on either of them at the end! Yay for love!"

RandyDaddy wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "The ending was very sweet with all 3 ladies embracing each other which was fitting since this feud doesn't need a rematch. Mina is a star."

This, much like the MJF vs Adam Cole match at All In (see also: Rock N Sock Connection, Booker T and Goldust, The New Day), reinforces my belief that wrestling fans are much more romantic and warm-hearted than people would guess. Wrestling fans latch on to relationships and invest in them when the company and performers invest in them. We want stories and progression and consequences, but a display of loyalty or devotion can be just as powerful if not more than a display of betrayal. Particularly in American TV wrestling, it is often at its best when characters and motivations are clearly defined and the volume of the personality is turned up. Mina seems to have natural knack for this, as she has made herself known and noticed and understood in a relatively brief amount of time. 


richardkingsx wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "It's amazing how well Mina has been received by the American audience after a few appearances in AEW TV. There were some visible chants for her during this match.”

Hazem wrote on 02.07.2024:

[8.0] "Mina is also someone who maximized her minutes on TV and is perhaps the biggest winner of Forbidden Door season, with the way she's taken to TV, I wouldn't be surprised if she's ALL ELITE soon."

aguakun wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "Mina Shirakawa did a fantastic job in her role in setting up the story and her performance in the match itself was equally impressive. Strikes, kicks, drivers, submissions, lucha libre.”

Now, what has also been impressive about this run that culminated at the pay per view, is the way Mina reached into the character of Toni Storm, and pulled out a human being once again, that has been hidden for the better part of probably a year at this point. Toni’s character work has been excellent for what it is, but sometimes it can feel so removed from reality that for me, it feels like it lessens the stakes. Mina helped fix that in this feud and this fight.


tlaustin wrote on 01.07.2024:

[8.0] "I think Mina Shirakawa really drew what made Toni so good in Stardom so long ago back out of her here. I hope this isn't the last of Mina on AEW TV, because I think she's found a real great spot she could leverage further."

Something that my colleague Sergei and I noticed was that there was a vibe that the performers seemed to be steering this story and these character choices. [That the sexuality wasn't something foisted on them by some middle-aged man trying to appeal to horny teen boys.] That is what another reviewer seemed to pick up on here. These performers committed fully and completely to this story in a way that made them very vulnerable to criticism, which they are receiving, but also won them all of this well-earned praise. 


jrn19 wrote on 01.07.2024:

[7.0] "I really liked this. (...) You could tell that this match mattered a lot to them, they felt invested into the story they were doing and wanted to pay it off on PPV. (...) the first time in a long time that the AEW Women's Championship felt like a true prize, that the competitors wanted to badly win (...) and Mina is a future star.”

I agree very strongly with the final line here, that AEW has a future star on their hands with Mina. From her entrance, to her promos, to her in-ring skills, Mina is a performer who I can see being a draw for years to come, but I would act fast if I were AEW, because Mina is 36.  








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