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, and Collision.
This week’s contributors are Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] covering match of the week, Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering promos and MVP, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, and Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week.
Match of the Week: Joe.
The Skye is NOT the limit!
I’m going to quote another match reviewer from CageMatch.net who also rated this match 8/10 aka 4 stars, who hit a lot of the major points I was hoping to. GoldLiger pointed out that this match featured “good power offense across the board and good nearfalls” in a match that lasted less than 10 minutes. The strikes from Stat and Skye were impressive and impactful, particularly from Stat’s arms and Skye’s legs. I’m a huge fan of efficiency, so the shorter the better as long as the quality is equal. That is why this match gets the edge over Bryan Danielson vs Christian Cage which required more than double the time investment. GoldLiger also noted that Skye Blue “was more aggressive [than usual and] clearly hungry for a championship, which lead to a lot of great and urgent sequences.” That urgency was a key ingredient, as Stat and Skye were pushing a pace that you would see from a Nick Jackson vs Rey Fenix match, which you don’t see in women’s matches as often, and it wasn’t because they “weren’t selling”, but rather because they seemed to be racing to beat their respected competitor to the punch, or superkick. It’s cliche to say, but this was another case where nobody ultimately lost here, as Statlander gets to add another excellent match to her impressive in-ring reign, and Skye Blue, who was 23 at the start of this month, is positioning herself as not only a prodigy but a player in this women’s division. Aside from the action in the match, and the championship consequences, you had Statlander seemingly trying to reach out to Skye, saying that she wasn’t acting like herself.
This push and pull of wanting to beat your competitor but not beat them up reminded me of a big sister vs little sister battle, grounded in compassion. This vibe that I was picking up was confirmed by the post-match angle and Statlander’s straight-to-social-media post-match promo.
After the match, Skye didn’t show her normal cheery good-sportsmanship self, which was a continuation off of that extra aggression and edge she showed in this match. All of this comes after being misted by Julia Hart. Now, I’m not a major fan of the spooky stuff, but this is the month for it, and it seems to be causing a character progression that is bleeding into not only personality but performance, which is really cool. Someone who didn’t think it was so cool was Statlander, who said, “Skye Blue, whoever you were in that ring today … that’s not the girl that I know … that’s not the upbeat bubbly person that I know and trust, and I - I don’t know what’s going on around here, but - I gotta find out”. Statlander’s eyes looked to be displaying a mixture of frustration and fear, but this story is making me excited and optimistic for the TBS Title picture. Do we see Statlander vs Willow at Full Gear in a battle for a belt and a soul? I typed that without cringing, which means they’re doing it well.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Max on Fire
MJF has often broken new ground with his promos, going in directions we've never seen before. This week on Dynamite wasn't that, but a pretty darn standard fiery angry-babyface promo. But MJF isn't only great on the mic because he is unique and stretches the boundaries of what's possible, but also because he's fantastic at the basics. (Kind of like Danielson is with the in-ring.) And this week after Switchblade beat Hangman (again,) Max came out and gave us a great example of that.
He starts out by comparing who Jay is now with who Max was not long ago, back when he was leading the Pinnacle. And it's an awesome comparison, because there are so many parallels. The ego, the obsession with hunting gold, the golden tongue, surrounding themselves with a gang of protection, the insecurity. He goes on to point out what makes him different now: he wakes up every morning and tries to be a better man, and no longer wants to punch out his reflection in the mirror in the morning….
Hmmmm. Does that sound like someone? Someone who Max canonically admires as his childhood hero and was deeply influenced by and had a massive feud with last year?
This leads into the segment where MJF builds up his opponent, something his critics seem to think he doesn't do… even though he hates Jay's guts, he knows how talented he is, that he's next level and elite. But also, that he needs to return what he hasn't yet earned, not for MJF, but just out of respect for himself and the sport. The rest of the segment is mainly Jay and Juice talking, including a bit with a roll of quarters that was very controversial.
But regardless of how you feel about an anti-semitic villain in AEW, Maxwell's part in this segment was a truly brilliant example of a fiery babyface promo, and more proof that Max Friedman is the best all-round performer in pro wrestling.
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
A Long Overdue and In-Depth Analysis of the Roderick Strong/Kingdom/Adam Cole stuff (lol)
I have been effusive (check out that vocabulary!) in my praise for the ‘Better Than You Baybay’ storyline. Going into All In, it was the hottest thing in all of wrestling. However, it has been a while since I have written about it and I think that silence speaks volumes.
We usually focus on the positives of AEW in this weekly roundtable, and here I am about to do a consecutive negative slanting piece. I have been enjoying AEW lately, but Scotland has entered its yearly cold season and it’s making me very krabby.
Most of the segments of MJF and Adam Cole falling for each other were great. MJF coming to terms with his past actions and his journey of self improvement motivated by the power of friendship was truly touching. Adam Cole being conflicted between his genuine connection to MJF and his burning desire to be World Champion lent him a depth of character that was absent in his previous AEW presentation.
The tension in these segments wasn't undermined by its comedic elements, but instead elevated by them. Part of this is because the uber heel MJF trying to better himself lends itself to many inherently comical situations. However, possibly even more important to the success of these segments was the talent of MJF. His ability to balance comedy and drama is uncommon in most professional wrestlers. There’s a very good reason he is branching out to acting. This is the man that made ‘le dinner debonair’ work, but also thrives in serious blood feuds like his rivalry with CM Punk. The man has range.
There are interesting elements to the segments between Neck Brace, The Kingdom and Adam Cole. Necky 2 Brace is jealous of Cole’s new boyfriend, and he and The Kingdom are using Cole’s desire to be a good friend and person to gaslight him, which is causing him to abandon Max in a moment of need. It makes sense and seems to have good dramatic potential…. In theory. However, there is one major problem. The comedy isn’t landing, and it undermines any interesting emotional aspect of the storytelling because it’s being played so cartoonishly.
Is this only an issue because MJF is a better comedic performer than Sir Brace of Neck, The Bay Bay man and The Kingdom? Possibly.
These segments leave me with one nagging question? Is the character of Adam Cole supposed to be an idiot? I get that he’s being gaslighted and is having his emotions played against him, however the neck brace glasses wheelchair man and his fawning minions are being so ridiculously toxic that it strains believability. He seems a totally different person to the man who was a step ahead of the conniving MJF at the beginning of their world title feud. It could be argued that he has a specific blindspot with Mr. Brace because of their past friendship, but I just don’t buy it.
There’s an interesting problem that often arises in entertainment. In order to add tension, there is often extreme conflict added to relationships that the viewer is invested in, hopefully keeping them hooked for the inevitable reunion. Again, it makes sense. Right?
My dad was watching Suits and he was enjoying it. He particularly liked the buddy dynamic between high powered attorney Harvey Specter and his personal associate Mike Ross. However (spoiler for Suits incoming if you care about that), at the start of season 3 their friendship is destroyed because of a corporate merger or some BS. This split only lasts about three episodes, but my dad stopped watching.
“The show just wasn’t as enjoyable when they weren’t friends.”
He never watched it again.
Moment of the Week: Peter.
The Quarter-Roll Incident
Unless you've been living in a cave with no Wi-Fi the last 10 days, you have surely been made aware of the escalation in the Middle East and the growing number of casualties that has occurred since. If you have Wi-Fi, you have surely come across opinions on the events of the last 10 days. If you have Wi-Fi, you have probably come across the opinions of people who saw the segment involving MJF and Juice Robinson and in particular the introduction of a roll of quarters.
The blowback was enormous, websites such as TMZ and Awful Announcing were critical of the moment of seeing Friedman in thick black ink scrawled on the roll. In a week where anti-semitism has escalated in cities across the globe, seeing a anti-semitic trope on TBS live on prime-time was jarring, it was very uncomfortable and the criticism since has been understandable. In a world where The Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic in the Wrestling Observer Awards is a thing, it shows that wrestling's past means that wrestling doesn't get the benefit of the doubt when telling storylines that are controversial, especially in the midst of the events a dozen time zones away.
If you could bet on the Observer Awards, a bet on Juice holding up the roll of quarters would be an odds on bet for the Most Disgusting Tactic Award. Whether that's right or wrong is a debate for another day but with the timing, the past, and tensions running high, chances are it might happen. But with a history that has seen companies exploit war, race, and terror attacks to improve ratings, attendances, and buy rates, the benefit of the doubt has left the station. But should it mean that MJF, a man whose faith has been on show in AEW television for many years, a man who has had a big hand in his storylines for a while doesn't get the benefit of the doubt?
MJF's appearance at the Stand Up To Jewish Hate event organised by Robert Kraft shows MJF's commitment to helping prevent the events that he had to endure as a child. In his tweet while the criticism was in circulation after the events of the previous night, MJF talked about bringing the sport of pro wrestling into the present with storytelling different from the dark old days. So maybe Maxwell Jacob Friedman should be given the benefit of doubt. But will he?
With Juice Robinson's promo on Collision straying away from talk of quarters and pivoting it's focus to the diamond ring, it seems that the people who are in charge of the creative regarding MJF have changed course. A lot of people will be happy with that decision but maybe MJF's tweet raising the point that pro wrestling storytelling needs to be modernised is correct and while MJF might have chosen the wrong hill to shout from in this case, the argument is worth listening to.
MVP of the Week: Sergei.
Year of the Dragon
Bryan Danielson recently revealed that this will be his last year as a full-time wrestler. He compared himself to Odysseus struggling past obstacles on a long journey back home… for Danielson this means a year of matches to cement his legacy on his way to being back home with his family in Seattle full-time.
One might think that could mean cherry-picking occasional high-profile matches against dream opponents each certain to burnish that legacy. But only if one didn't know Danielson: the man loves wrestling and he loves to work, and is all about giving back to the wrestling community as much as he can.
This week was a perfect example of that, with two matches that did more to build his opponents up than himself, which, ironically is the best thing for his legacy.
Christian Cage has his own legacy to cap off, and a fantastic main-event victory over the legendary Danielson was a huge step for that. Meanwhile, Swerve Strickland is building up to the main-event level to (everyone expects) be a major part of the World title scene very soon, and even a hard-fought loss to a legend at Danielson's level was good for that build.
Giving so much to such valued talents would be enough reason to crown Danielson MVP this week, to say nothing of having two matches of that calibre in one week! If the Dragon keeps up this pace, he could easily MVP fifty-some weeks before this year-long Odyssey is complete!