Updated: Mar 27
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 Craig [@CraigPWMusings] with match of the week, Trish [@TrishSpeirs48] giving us the MVP, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promo of the week, Sam [@Sir_Samuel] reflecting on the key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week and Tim [@TimmayMan] covering move of the week.
Match of the Week: Craig
Bryan Danielson vs. Rush
You would be forgiven for thinking Rush may not live up to Bandido and Takeshita’s Danielson, never mind it being most people’s favourite out of all of Danielson’s 2023 matches. In fact, it is AEW’s highest rated match of the year according to Cagematch out pacing Darby vs Joe, Game 7 and Moxley vs Page.
Looking at the numbers it reads like a Suzuki/Ibushi style G1 match; strikes, strikes and more strikes. But it was so much more than that. Yes, the impactfulness and the rawness of such strike-battles was there. But these guys brought so much more in terms of creating a real-fight feel through their snarling character work (and Danielson’s colour!).
This was a special match that ignited the crowd and captured Danielson’s TV-wrestling mastery in a time capsule. He was aided in doing this in no small part by Rush, who added the perfect ‘win at all costs’ heavy handed bad guy.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
The Ballad of Max and Liv
People say that believability is one of the most important virtues of pro wrestling. And they're right, but sometimes forget in the context of pro wrestling kayfabe what believability IS. They will say, "OH! I noticed Takeshita passing an object to the ref when he was checking him when he started bleeding, this broke my suspension of disbelief!" But if your disbelief was ever suspended at all, you had no reason to assume that object was a razor blade. What motive does a man competing in a wrestling match have to cut his own forehead? Maybe Paul Turner dropped his car keys?
Similarly, there is some disagreement about whether Max Friedman is a believable character or not. Some credit him as the most credible character in modern-day wrestling because of the way he never breaks kayfabe. Others find him to be the opposite because of the way he can be so obviously corny and full of shit. Both are wrong, because they are taking at face value what is not meant to be taken at face value! Max's performance is credible, while at the same time the MJF character is full of shit, because he is full of shit in the same WAY that many people in real life (politicians, business leaders) are also full of shit, and we all know it!
A perfect example of this dichotomy was Friedman's promo this week where he told the sweet love story of Max and Liv. Afterward a rumour went around wrestling Twitter that Max was SO believable that the Nassau PD got hundreds of calls reporting this fraud. I found this report laughable as Max's story was the biggest "sure, that happened!" ever!
But the fact that MJF's story wasn't very believable in the sense of buying that he was telling a true story about something that happened after his Junior Prom, doesn't mean that it broke suspension of disbelief. Because it WAS believable as a made-up story that MJF would SAY and be enough of a creep to think that on some level it made him sound kind of badass.
That's the level where this promo works, not in revealing backstory of the MJF character's past, but revealing more of his values. A jackass who, in a moment of fear and moral cowardice, changes seats with an injured passenger to avoid responsibility is bad. But in some ways, a guy who professes to believe that such a choice would represent moral courage—the willingness to make the tough choices to look out for number one—is even worse!
As this promo dragged on, I had my doubts. Where the hell are you taking us with this weird and drawn out tale, Maxwell?! Even AEW's social media guy refers to the interview as "Strange" in the YouTube title. But when he came around to his point—that methods, no matter how despicable, don't matter, only results—he really stuck his landing and gave his character some strong grounding in terms of what makes him an antagonist and somebody we should root against!
Story Beat of the Week: Sam.
A Question of Getting the Job Done
Dynamite this week had a big focus on building up the main event program. We saw each wrestler survive an onslaught from an aggressive, motivated opponent and MJF asked further questions of Bryan Danielson.
It was MJF's ruthlessness in particular that stood out. Week by week we have seen him take out Danielson's arm and shoulder, chipping away at his more fancied opponent ahead of what promises to be a gruelling ironman match.
While we have seen how Danielson revels in wrestling week in week out and would probably wrestle a three hour match on ppv if given the chance, so far in AEW Danielson has lost all his biggest matches, failing three times to win the AEW Championship. Despite arguably having an advantage in pure wrestling skill over both Hangman Page and Jon Moxley, both times Daneielson was beaten by someone with more grit.
MJFs somewhat divisive promo underlined this difference perfectly. While MJF would never give another wrestler credit for anything so failed to mention Mox and Hangman, he did tell us very graphically what he is willing to do when his prized trinkets and possessions are on the line and showed it by brutally bending back Daneilson's arm after the Dragon's bloody brawl with Rush.
This is a story that has been slowly simmering and as we approach Revolution it is all set for Danielson to bring it to a boil with his answer to MJF next week and I for one am falling further and further for it.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
Show and Tell
MJF's "reign of terror" has divided fans. It was a couple of weeks ago that fans online had talked about being over the shock jock, easy heat tactics of MJF after the LA Forum show. "Where is the MJF whose character comes from such a compelling backstory?" has been asked in the past 6 weeks. Well, we got some "back story" on this week's Dynamite.
Without going into detail, especially about Liv's "performance" to quote Jon Pollock from Post Wrestling, MJF's promo after his victory over Konosuke Takeshita was another insight into the origin of the MJF character. The intention was for the viewer watching that might having cheered MJF in the last 6 months to go "that's a scumbag right there" and for MJF to tell Danielson that if he can frame an innocent girl in Long Island, what's he going to do to someone he despises for an hour.
But this is where MJF lost people. First off, the story isn't real. In the real world, Liv doesn't exist, there was no "road head" and no switching of bodies akin to the scene in The Simpsons that MJF's story references but in the kayfabe world of pro wrestling where we do sometimes want a tinge of realism in our viewing experience, this just felt a little too icky for some. The drop in ratings could be attributed to MJF and his version of storytime. While some bad faith merchants went full "Helen Lovejoy" about this moment online, I wasn't one of those. My biggest problem with this segment was the following.
The MJF character has been built on how the slights inflicted on him in his past has fuelled him and how that has made him the person he is. He's the Joker. You get the angst he feels. You just wish he had channelled it better. Yes, hearing MJF frame an innocent woman to get out of a driving ban made you feel that this is a reprehensible human being but so did MJF's actions when he tried to rip the arm off Bryan Danielson post that awesome match against Rush. That moment when MJF with a psychotic look on his face, applying Salt of the Earth to an American Dragon whose arm has been destroyed the past 3 weeks made me more interested in this match than any story did.
MJF is a surefire pick to win Best on Interviews in the 2022 Observer awards and he'll be a contender for the 2023 edition as well but on this night in an industry where show and tell is so important. The show was more important to the mystique of MJF than the tell.
Move of the Week: Tim.
MJF lands on his feet.
The reversal is the simplest example of pro-wrestling defying the audience’s expectation. We’re led to believe that a move is going to land one way, yet when the recipient figures a way out of it our brains have to adjust to what we’re seeing. During the Takeshita/MJF match the action moved up to the high rent district (i.e. the top turnbuckle) and Takeshita was clearly in control. He was setting up for something devastating and it looked for all the world that MJF was going to be on the receiving end. While Takeshita did connect with a massive lariat, MJF rotated 360 degrees and planted his feet firmly on the mat. He took the time to sell the damage to his chin, before delivering a thrust kick to the stunned Takeshita.
MJF is such a great character and heel that I think the audience forgets he can be an exceptional worker. It doesn’t help that he only wrestles sporadically, whether this is by design or MJF being a diva it’s hard to say. Mr. Freidman can match Darby Allin move for move if he’s so motivated. It does speak well for his reign as AEW World Champion as at Revolution he’ll go against a technical legend like Danielson. He’s already proved he can do a hardcore style (see the dog collar chain match against Punk), it will be interesting to see how diverse MJF can be. Lucha Libre vs. Fenix? Plunder match vs. Kingston? MJF can do it all.
MVP of the Week: Trish.
If you were one of the small catchment of fans who regularly watched Ring of Honor between 2019 and 2021 you could be forgiven for not recognising the RUSH who has landed in AEW. Gone is the man who underwhelmed in World Title matches and was sometimes criticised for a lack of effort. What AEW has instead in 2023 is far more valuable.
The 34 year old is displaying a full commitment to his in ring work and delivering excellent promos in Spanish that leave him looking like an intimidating force next: even when stood next to the current AEW World Champion. His unique presence, size and presentation are immediately eye catching and feel key to how quickly he is moving up the company's depth chart.
On Wednesday night RUSH had what might be the best match on AEW television all year. He brutally dismantled the next challenger to MJF in a bloody fashion before succumbing to Danielson in the bout's dramatic conclusion. The match structure and execution meant that it felt that Danielson had merely survived El Toro Blanco rather than being a level above him with the victory.
The atmosphere for the match was electric and had been assisted by RUSH cutting several promos earlier on during the tapings to rally the crowd so that they got the desired reactions for the match that is part of the American Dragon's build to Revolution. The live audience adjusted accordingly, rewarding those extra efforts.
It has been nearly four years since a sixteen second destruction of Dalton Castle in MSG had seemed to signal the arrival of a man who could become a key player for Ring of Honor. In 2023 that promise is finally being fulfilled, but this time, on the bigger AEW stage instead.