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The Most Forbidden Door | AEWeekly #120

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 Peter [@PeterEdge7] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering best interview and MVP, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Greyson [@GreysonNation] with the moment of the week, Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week.

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

Casino Gauntlet

"Better than a Rumble?..."

by Peter.

So it's Forbidden Door season, where the worlds of All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling meet and as a starter, we got the Casino Gauntlet Match. God bless Tony Khan, he likes to run an idea to the ground (yes, I'm looking at you Eliminator Matches) and he loves a gambling metaphor in his match stipulations and with a second Casino Gauntlet Match in as many months unlike the inaugural CG with its many workhorses only had one obvious winner in Will Ospreay, this time round with the Forbidden Door World Title shot on the line and also with a new bromance with CMLL starting up and despite the date clash with a Road to Dominion show meaning a mass of names weren't available, the potential eclectic nature of this match was fulfilled.

With many combinations of matches teased, (Ospreay Vs Mistico or Hechicero anyone?) the all-star nature of this match made for captivating telly. 

A talking point I have seen in the past few years in wrestling discourse has been "why don't AEW have their own Royal Rumble?" A take so fedpilled you'd roll your eyes. AEW doing a Rumble clone would always get people comparing both companies' efforts and give people with agendas a nice big stick to poke AEW with. But with this variant of the staggered start melee, you see the elements of the Rumble that people love with the countdown (people really like counting down don't they) and the element of surprise when the clock hits zero but with the twist of the match ending at anytime before all of the field has necessarily entered the match, the suspense that makes the theatre of wrestling so great is full force in a Casino Gauntlet Match.

Ospreay's win when eight competitors were in the match before Roderick Strong was apparently going to enter, set off a chain of events that means we're getting Swerve Strickland Vs Will Ospreay for the World Title. Of course, the discourse followed. 

This isn't the place to talk about the booking of the AEW World title (I'm leaving it for the AEW series I'm currently in the middle of) but after an exhilarating 20 minutes of action, surprises and fun, the Casino Gauntlet Match has earned its way into the crown jewel of AEW competitions along with the Owen and the C2. And with The Owen having been confirmed as the deciding event for the title shots for the Mens and Women's World Titles at All In, I believe that this version of the Casino Gauntlet, (sprinkled with prominent names from AEW's interpromotional partners, as at this past Dynamite,) should be seen—in a company where TK likes to book around traditions—as the first edition of an annual event to determine the No.1 Contender for the AEW World Championship at one of their blue-ribboned events in the Forbidden Doors going forward.

Kyle O'Reilly

"You either Win or you Learn..."

by Sergei.

There is a common saying, often applied to competitive pastimes, but equally applicable to life in general: "you either win or you learn." According to the internet, the source of this saying is South African leader Nelson Mandela, which sounds WAY too good to be true, but evidently? It's a powerful idea for remaining motivated in the face of failures: that there is no true failure—if you lose, that loss should be teaching you enough to be potentially more valuable than a win would've been. You should be learning from a loss about aspects of your game you need to improve, and learning directly from your vanquisher about their winning ways. But there has to be a point where you say, "haven't I learned enough?"

Kyle O'Reilly cut three excellent promos this week, related to his International Championship challenge in the main event Saturday night. The first was a well-thought-out argument that, despite acknowledging his underdog status, he fully intends to upset the champion and take that title for himself. The second was a shorter and more fiery version to play during Collision, and the third was a very authentic post-match interview talking about how, even though he didn't win, just facing the GOAT Will Ospreay was an honor and made him a better wrestler. All three were excellent interviews with O'Reilly's patented combination of humility, authenticity, and intelligence. But I was very hesitant to make him the awardee again this week, because he cut almost the exact same promos a few weeks ago when he challenged Adam Copeland for the TNT championship.

Much like Shane Taylor, or like Daniel Garcia before his win over Brody King to avoid the shut-out in the Continental Classic, KOR is an amazing wrestler who is an even better interview, but in desperate need of that signature win to keep those interviews from sounding like a guy who just isn't learning anything from those losses.

Trent Berretta

"Welcome to the Family, Son..."

by Saul

It twas’ not the meatiest week in terms of story beats, and to be entirely honest, I was struggling to decide what to talk about. I guess that’s going to happen sometimes, but does speak to a less inspiring week of AEW television than usual. I did consider discussing the “TV Time” segment time, but honestly, I don’t particularly want to, so let’s talk once again about Trent Beretta.

I was quite high on Trenty’s turn. Twas’ an exciting moment and a tragic breaking up of the Best Friends. However, there’s always risk with storylines about faction-mates turning against each other, something I believe I also warned against at the time. When the feud is finished, where does the newly turned heel go from there? If you look at wrestling history, it may tell you that they are almost destined to get lost in the shuffle and lose momentum.

Trent and Cassidy had their big match at Double or Nothing. Orange won because he's Orange F*****G Cassidy. The match was good but only tepidly received, caught in the crossfire and becoming a lightning rod for AEW PPV length discourse. Cassidy winning also takes the flame out of Trent’s momentum, so they would have to do something to try and keep his heat.

Enter Don Callis. After a few weeks of getting citrus scented by being in proximity to Orange, the rather foreseen revelation of Trent joining the heel Callis Family and not Cassidy happened on this week’s Dynamite. So, I guess this is the way the company is going to try and keep Beretta in the mix…

Hmmmm. The Callis Family at this point feels less like a cohesive faction, and more like a foster home for mid-card heels sharing only a lack of direction. However, it hasn’t been very effective in fully elevating the members it already has. (I know Ospreay is apparently and technically still in the faction, but it doesn’t really feel like it.) This is in part of the ongoing problem of AEW having too many mouths to feed and too many people wanting the ball. There are only so many proper pushes to go around, and if you aren’t getting the proper attention, maybe you could join the Don Callis Family instead.

By attacking Cassidy, it seems that this rivalry will continue. They have a bit of convincing to do to get people on board with this feud’s continuation. It makes sense for Trent to still be upset, and for the defeat at Double or Nothing to have only stoked the embers of his resentment. I guess it would be thematically rich for this rivalry to end in a parking lot, with Cassidy going full blood orange, or perhaps they have twists in store that I can’t predict at this moment. I guess we’ll find out. Although, I’d be shocked if this feud doesn’t end with Trent learning the lesson that you should never bring a Beretta to a fruit fight.

Orange Cassidy

"Just Say No..."

by Greyson.

I had the privilege of being in attendance at AEW Dynamite live at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles, and I made a sign nervously anticipating this very moment. “Orange Cassidy: Say No To Don Callis” it read, hoping to amplify the message that would certainly be said by the chorus of boos Don Callis receives each time he enters. Sadly, I did not get to bring my sign into the arena, but thankfully it was not necessary. I worried that a down on his luck Cassidy might wind up being taken advantage of by Don Callis, just as Callis has done with the other young talents who are in his so-called “family.” Joe in a prior AEWeekly aptly analogized Callis’ attempts to befriend Cassidy to the common pattern in modern society of toxic masculinity grifters who exploit men going through difficult situations. But Orange Cassidy is a man of character and someone who knows his roots, and seems to be rediscovering them after going through the trauma of losing his Best Friends, as opposed to doubling down on the more aggressive approach he took during his championship runs. One outward symbol of this was the return of his prior entrance song “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies at Double or Nothing, which I see as highly emblematic of his unique “sloth style” that made him a fan favorite.  

Here, presented with the contract by Don Callis, instead of responding with the aggression he showed while holding onto his championship, he reverted to his usual slacker defiance. He very slowly ripped the contract up in front of Callis, dropping it on the ground afterward, then telling Callis simply “Hey Don, no.” His calm approach infuriated Callis so much so that it resulted in Callis plainly exposing who he really is. “Who do you think you’re talking to? No one says no to me Orange, I tell you what you’re going to do,” exclaimed Callis. Then we see that Callis apparently involved Stokely Hathaway to get Best Friends member Kris Statlander to go directly against Orange’s clearly expressed wishes and somehow agree to the deal on his behalf. Even sans that odd tactic and the attack by Trent Beretta that followed, Callis’ own words immediately proved very clearly that Cassidy made the right decision. The Don Callis Family is not really about helping to foster the greatness of young athletes, it is about Callis’ using them as pawns for his own agenda, just like the masculinity grifters aforementioned. People like Callis will puff you up and tout your strength, but here Callis showed in no uncertain terms that he does not respect your agency. In his “family,” he’s the one who tells you what to do and will do anything to maintain his power over you. 

Thankfully here in the end, we see that Orange Cassidy is unshaken. Not tragedy, trauma, the pursuit of gold, nor manipulation by people trying to take advantage of him have taken who he is away from him. He has chosen not to use bravado or hubris of being the best to get through this situation, as Callis and “Alpha Male” experts would likely call for in order to exploit for their own selfish gain, but rather doing what he knows is right and sticking with an approach he knows works for him. I hope Callis “Family” members take note, especially Will Ospreay who seems to possibly be breaking away from him soon. And anyone going through a hard time whose social media feed has become inundated by toxic grifters should do likewise. 

Title Eliminators

"Beat the Champion, and get a shot at the title..."

by Sam P.

Double or Nothing featured a match between IGWP Champion Jon Moxley and Konosuke Takeshita in a Title Eliminator, where if Takeshita won, he would receive a title shot against Moxley. He was unsuccessful, but the main story seemed to be people complaining about title eliminators. Considering my own appreciation for them, an opportunity to keep a champion strong while offering a storyline reason if they were to lose, I felt it was a good time to step back and look at some great Eliminators from years previous.

On the 24th March 2021 episode of AEW Dynamite, AEW World Champion Kenny Omega faced Matt Sydal, who surprised many with an impressive performance against the champion, his high flying reputation hiding a technical intelligence that was nearly equal to Omega. Sydal on several occasions escaped the One-Winged Angel, including a rollup that got a nearfall, and had the champion scrambling. Unfortunately for the challenger, when the One-Winged Angel was finally hit, it was the end, but it remains one of Sydal’s strongest performances in AEW. Ironically, a month later on 28th April Dynamite featured another of his best AEW matches, again in a Title Eliminator, this time alongside his brother Mike against the Young Bucks. Between the obnoxious and disrespectful antics of the Jacksons (just like now) and sympathetic but energetic antics of the Sydals, this is a tidy and fun little match-up that ended up in a character moment as Mike suffered a low blow from Matt Jackson, then an emphatic BTE Trigger to leave the Sydal Brothers unable to challenge for the Tag Team Titles as long as the Jacksons were champions.

Two months later on the 30th June 2021 edition of AEW Dynamite, the Young Bucks again appeared in a Title Eliminator match, this time against Eddie Kingston and Penta El Zero Miedo. A wildly chaotic battle that had Eddie as the babyface in peril, suffering from attacks on the ring floor and a crossbody on the ramp, only for a Penta Code Red that had an invested audience adamant that it was a three count. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds as both the Good Brothers and Brandon Cutler interfered on the champions’ behalf, the challengers refused to give up, kicking out of multiple Superkicks and even a low blow. In the end, a vengeful Frankie Kazarian took out the interference, Penta hit a Package Piledriver to stop Matt, and a Spinning Backfist downed Nick for a rare loss for the champions in a title eliminator match.

The next year, we had Moxley as Interim AEW World Champion, which featured two cracking major Title Eliminator matches. The first was also against Takeshita on the 13th July 2022 episode of AEW Dynamite, which unsurprisingly was brilliant, but I’m going to focus on a month later, the 5th August edition of AEW Rampage, where Moxley battled GCW’s Mance Warner. A gritty and hard hitting battle, the two exchanged weapons and vicious shots, with Moxley bloodied as he attempted a series of stomps by the end, having to choke out Warner to finally defeat him. On another episode of AEW Rampage, 27th January 2023, AEW Women’s Champion Jamie Hayter (much missed since her injury last year) took on Emi Sakura, in a hidden gem from last year. Very All-Japan inspired, the two women utilised hard strikes and a variety of suplexes, including a Tiger Driver that earned Sakura a close two count. However, it would take a vicious Clothesline and a brutal Hayterade for the champion to vanquish her opponent.

We end with two of the possible best Title Eliminators in AEW history, the first being 8th February 2023, where MJF as AEW World Champion gave Takeshita an opportunity to earn a title shot. Konosuke had an explosive appearance, taking MJF down with running knees, Exploder Suplexes, and an Eddie Guerrero homage with a gorgeous Brainbuster and Frog Splash combo. In contrast, MJF was manipulative, focusing his onslaught to the left arm to slow down the challenger, although he gave a hint at his agile ability with an amazing backflip off the turnbuckle to land on his feet. MJF’s right knee would begin to hurt near the end, and a Running Knee and Blue Thunder Bomb gave Takeshita a series of close two counts. But in the end, the champion’s Salt of the Earth armbar proved too much.

And finally, eleven months ago, on the 8th July edition of AEW Collision, FTR as Tag Team Champions were challenged by Bullet Club Gold in Jay White and Juice Robinson. A tremendous throwback to old school tag team wrestling, White utilised his psychological warfare to get under the champions’ skin, including several cut offs for some false hot tags leading to a molten lava of a hot tag where Harwood nearly beat the challengers singlehanded, either by a small package or a Brainbuster. As the crowd began chanting ‘this is awesome’, FTR thought they’d won with a classic Power and Glory only for Jay to still kick out. The last 5-10 minutes is a ridiculous pace, the tension rising as they got closer to the thirty minute time limit. Just as it reached the twenty-eighth minute, Cash was knocked out by a Blade Runner and Jay hit a Forward DDT on Dax for the pinfall. One of the few times a champion has lost a Title Eliminator match, this led to a Tag Team Classic in a Two Out Of Three Falls. I look forward to seeing some of the future possibilities in more Title Eliminator matches to come..

Lio Rush

"The TRUE Forbidden Door..."

by Sergei

Well, it's Forbidden Door season, and the time of year for all sorts of interpromotional goodness in AEW, but with the expansion of the Forbidden Door concept to encompass promotions beyond NJPW, I think it can be easy to forget what made the Forbidden Door so "Forbidden" in the first place. It should be remembered that the term did not originally apply to just any interpromotional partnerships. There are many doors, and not all are forbidden! Before the tournament to crown the first AEW Tag Champions, the Young Bucks feud with the Lucha Bros over the AAA tag titles was the most prominent tag-team feud in AEW. And in those early days friend-of-the-Elite CIMA would bring performers from his Chinese promotion OWE around for appearances. These Doors weren't Forbidden, it was specifically the door to NJPW that was. And the reason for that comes down to bad blood. NJPW management and fans saw AEW as founded on poaching AEW's biggest stars, and it took a long time for that rift to heal.

A strong case could be made for Will Ospreay as MVP of the week kicking off Forbidden Door season. On Wednesday night, he put on an excellent performance and earned his shot at Strickland's World title at the interpromotional show. He has often called himself the Forbidden Door personified and as the newly-crowned International champion, he seems quite set on returning that title to its roots as AEW's globe-traveling title. (I personally am absolutely PSYCHED at the thought that he might bring the International belt to Uganda to defend against the amazing hardscrabble talents at SGW.)

But I think that—considering what originally made the Door so Forbidden—the most apt MVP for this week is the shockingly returning Lio Rush. Much like the original Forbidden Door, the reason the sight of Lio in AEW is shocking comes down to bad blood. Tony Khan is a millionaire nepo baby, but despite this he displays several traits that I reluctantly genuinely admire. He's used his money to create something he is passionate about, and when people go after him and his passion project with bad-faith tribalist criticisms, he hits back with an admirable (and entertaining) lack of mealy-mouthed corporate restraint. But he has the vices of his virtues, which translates to not always seeing the difference between that and legitimate good-faith constructive criticism, and can have a very thin skin about it. The most egregious example of this, (in my opinion,) was the Big Swole debacle.

For any who may have forgotten: at the beginning of 2022, former AEW performer Big Swole spoke about some issues she saw in AEW, most contentiously a lack of Black Americans in top roles both in front of and behind the camera, and a failure to present Black Americans in a genuine way. Tony Khan had two noteworthy responses, both of which were disappointing and disingenuous. First he tweeted that Swole was motivated by resentment and that she wasn't retained due to lack of talent, a completely irrelevant accusation, and one that contradicted their mutual-decision announcement when Swole originally departed. And TK also claimed that AEW can't have any issues with diversity because he, the owner, is brown, and there are other brown people in executive positions, completely missing the point that diversity isn't a simple binary of white vs non-white and exposing his ignorance of the issues of sensitivity to the Black American community specifically.

Lio Rush came out in defense of Swole and I believe he was 100% in the right to do so, but he soon after left the promotion and nobody expected to see him back after leaving on such poor terms. So Lio is my MVP for three reasons. He has an absolutely state-of-the-art speed style that was sorely missed on AEW television and was a delight to see again, both in the Casino Gauntlet on Wednesday and the technical showcase against Roddy Strong Saturday night. Also,the simple fact that he returned, the opening of that most forbidden door of pissing off the owner, may well be a promising sign of an AEW boss who is less thin-skinned and more willing to separate tribalism from genuine constructive criticism. And finally, and most importantly, the AEW Lio Rush is returning to (visiting, anyway) is Swerve Strickland's AEW, the very future for AEW that he took a stand for to his cost.


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