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 Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering match and promo of the week, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Peter [@PeterEdge7] with the moment of the week, and Gareth [@Gareth_EW] giving us the MVP of the week.
Match of the Week: Sergei.
Orange Cassidy Is the King of Consistent Quality
A little over a year ago, Orange Cassidy defeated PAC in the main event of Dynamite to win his first title in AEW, the All-Atlantic Championship, since renamed the International Championship. He held the title for just over a year in spite of frequent high-level challenges, And after losing it to Jon Moxley, regained it from Rey Fenix just five weeks later. In that time, Orange Cassidy and his title have become associated with two things: providing a hot show-opener for Dynamite, and consistent, frequent, high quality singles matches.
This Wednesday was no different, with Claudio Castagnoli looking for revenge for the injury suffered by clubmate Danielson the prior week by taking away his beloved title and beating him up in the process. For me, the match served as an awesome kick-off to an episode that I enjoyed a great deal. For others, who weren’t impressed by this divisive edition of the program, it was, at least, one bright spot!
The match opens with Orange’s light-kicking schtick, but he accounts for his revenge-minded opponent by quickly back-pedaling all the while. The first ten minutes of the match are fundamentally an extended heat sequence, which I tend to find tiresome, but they make it work: Claudio’s offense highlights his amazing strength, and at the same time Orange’s resilience. But it also shows Castagnoli’s tactical mind, like when he sprints around the ring to short-circuit Orange’s roll-out avoidance tactic. Throughout, Orange sprinkles in comeback attempts that show he isn’t out of the fight, while the fact that they are cut off so quickly demonstrates what a massive challenge Claudio represents. While stalking Orange out on the floor, Claudio steals his light kicks, with all of the disdain, but none of the playfulness of the original. The highlight of this sequence is a massive second-rope delayed vertical suplex.
Orange starts his first real comeback with a dropkick to the ass, and then a diving DDT to the outside followed by the stundog. But then his attempt at the swinging DDT gets countered into the Giant Swing, and Claudio transitions from there to the Scorpion Deathlock. As Orange tries to fight out, Claudio transitions from hold to hold, and is finally forced to break when Orange counters into a cover. But Claudio follows that with a flat-footed uppercut that Orange sells like death and barely kicks out of. Orange then goes limp to force Claudio to expend energy to get him up into a sleeper hold. Orange counters sleeper with THE POCKETS in a classic Cassidy bit. The leverage of the pockets (I’M SERIOUS) allows him to counter the sleeper with a sliced bread, which he follows with an Orange Punch, AND then the Beach Break when the punch fails to take Castagnoli off his feet. But Claudio avoids the cover by stealing Orange Schtick AGAIN, this time Orange’s classic roll out avoidance tactic. Claudio is just able to beat the count out to return to the ring, by which time Orange is back on his feet, and walks up to Caudio, still in a seated position. Orange then goes back to mind games, using the light kicks again, but adding insult to insult doing them in the Danielson Yes-Kick style. And then adding some injury too, because the urgency of the moment leads him to quickly ramp up to real kicks and then stomps as Claudio goes supine. Claudio ducks an Orange Punch but then eats a spinning DDT. When he kicks out at 2, a “Fight Forever” chant breaks out. But Orange suddenly puts a cap on it with a flash pin using a huracanrana roll up.
We may not agree on whether AEW is on a big creative upswing or the doldrums, but I think we can all agree that Orange Cassidy defending the International belt is a great way to start Dynamite. Moxley has OC and that title in his sights once again, so this reign may be a shorter one, but one may hope that, whether seperately or together, both the International title and Orange Cassidy continue to be frequent show starters.
Promo of the Week: Sergei.
Jake the Snake has a Posse
Three-and-a-half years ago, Jake Roberts returned to wrestling in AEW after many years sidelined by his struggles with addiction, and cut a scathing thesis promo on Cody Rhodes by way of an introduction, and foreshadowing a client whose debut was imminent. This was the enthralling “hail Caesar” promo that is still remembered as one of the greatest in AEW history. Sadly, once the client—who turned out to be Lance Archer—was dispatched by Cody to win the inaugural TNT Championship, he never really got much by way of opportunity to get that momentum back, so we never really got to hear Jake speak much since then.
That changed this past Saturday night, when, following the Murderhawk’s defeat by the much-smaller Darby Allin, “the Snake” introduced us to his back-up plan, “a couple more guys…” who “...you may have seen them on the street at some time”—specifically, the hyped rookie team, the Righteous. I have criticized the Righteous as feeling like a retread of the feel and portentous aura of acts like the Wyatt Family, or Age of the Fall, or… Jake the Snake. Allying with an undeniable original like the Snake himself squashes my complaint and I am now fully on-board the Righteous train.
There are many attributes that make Jake Roberts one of the greatest of all time on the microphone. His razor-sharp intelligence, his off-kilter but authentic moral center, his playfulness with language and metaphor, first calling Darby “the Golden Goose,” but then a golden egg that he’s determined to get “cracked and spread, scrambled and done.” And of course there is his ineffable aura of danger. But one aspect that is impossible to fake or copy is that voice! I like to compare him to Johnny Cash in terms of the physical, timbre aspect of their voice: in their youth and middle years, a powerful, muscular deep baritone, but in their later years reduced to a weedy rasp, sometimes little more than a whisper. But both men take those very-different instruments given them by time, and use them each so effectively. Jake Roberts' voice in his youth made him seem almost a force of nature, but his current raspy whisper feels like the Pale Horseman, himself.
Jake the Snake has a posse now, a trio that could easily be a dominant faction in AEW if the man with the pencil chooses so. They have picked a fight with Darby Allin which means that they are up against Sting as well, which should prove very interesting, as it was established long ago as canon that Archer respects Sting deeply. I suspect that his issue may end up being jealousy that Sting chose Allin to mentor—I caught Lance saying to Darby: “you think you’re cool, cause you’re with Sting?” as trash talk in their match. Roberts’s three “pieces of artillery” are scheduled this coming Saturday to go up against the team that will be fighting the Christian Cage led trio at the PPV, which suggests that the bookerman sees them not as a top-level threat as a faction, but merely as a tune-up. But I see so much possibility in them, I believe they really could push past that perception based on pure aura. The visual and audio of Jake and the Righteous stalking down the ramp is one I hope to see a lot of as Roberts sends all of our favorites “right straight to hell”
Story Beat of the Week: Saul.
A Deadly Premonition (for MJF’s Title Reign)
The Causality Principle; “The principle indicates the existence of a logical relationship between two events, the cause and the effect, and an order between them: the cause always precedes the effect.” - Miguel Rubi
I apologise, but I’m back at university so I’m currently in my academic bag. Did I need a quote to explain cause and effect? No, but this is my section so I’ll write whatever I damn well please.
Anyway, MJF was pinned by Jay White in an 8-man tag match in the main event of Dynamite. Could this spell disaster for MJF at Full Gear? Sadly I’m not doing a mathematics course so I can’t say for curtain.
Mr. Friedman recently became the longest reigning AEW Champion ever. A truly impressive feat, especially since he’s the most “homegrown” champ. However, now that he’s passed that threshold, the question of how much longer the reign will go on for, much like the radical philosopher Thanos, is inevitable.
MJF has consistently delivered in-ring during his championship reign, and with his babyface turn, it has also had a clear narrative throughline. What else can he do as champion? Obviously he could do a lot more, but does he need to?
The DISCOURSE around AEW recently has become rather divisive, especially due to this week's Dynamite which was received extremely tepidly. While this isn’t due to MJF, could a change in world champion help refresh the company's brand? Would this be an extremely hot-shotting decision that has little to do with the overall problems that many are having with the product? Yes, but you need short-term change to create long-term change.
The Switchblade could very well be the person to dethrone MJF. My choice would be Swerve Strickland after beating the Hangman at consecutive PPVs. It seems that Adam Cole won’t be the man after his injury. There are really many wrestlers that could be the next champ, and that could spark renewed interest in AEW. (Except Wardlow. Definitely not Wardlow. Sorry Wardlow).
However, despite all that nonsense that I just wrote, I think the most important thing is what a title loss could do for the character of MJF. Exploring how his friendship with Adam Cole sparked a positive change in his character, but also CAUSED him to lose the Triple B could be super compelling.
The increase in matches. His refusal to use the dirty tactics that helped him become champion. Being more focused on his friendship instead of competition. How does the MJF character deal with his morality when he loses the top spot? Does he stray from his path of self improvement, or can he stay resilient and continue to become a truly honorable man?
I dunno. I think it could be cool.
(Oh damn, I forgot about the masked man. He’ll probably factor in. WHO IS THE MASKED MAN DAMMIT? REVEAL IT ALREADY! AHHHHHHH!!!!!!)
Moment of the Week: Peter.
Tony Khan Ruins Christmas
Let's be honest, Dynamite sucked last week. Even I, who is positive about the product, can say the words, boy did that show suck last week. Was it the worst Dynamite ever? That award still belongs to 18/12/19, a show so bad that I don't need to go on Google to look up the date of that monstrosity but if you were to do a Death Valley of Dynamites, 1/11/23 is on that foursome.
I want to look at one particular moment that maybe signifies the problem(s) with AEW and Tony Khan right now.
The monthly tradition that is Tony Khan has a __________ announcement peered it's head again and while the wording of the the announcement of the announcement might get people to their dictionaries to prove their point, for those who live in the UK that might look at their phones to watch the videos of All In they recorded on their phone (I'm not the only one who does that right?) finding out the date for when the tickets for All In in 2024 is really important but in that announcement, it showed the need to take on WWE, the personal desire for Tony Khan to fulfill personal ambitions and the panic moves that TK is making is affecting his product, his fan base and the trust of said fan base.
Was the announcement of Bash in Berlin to take place the weekend after All In 3 a hostile move from WWE? 100% absolutely. Quite a lot of fans that brought tickets were from mainland Europe. On either side of me at Wembley, 70-odd days ago were a couple from Italy and Germany. But its WWE and hostile business moves is as common in the New York territory than Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic victory in the Observer Awards. So the announcement from Tony Khan about the date that tickets go on sale with the prerequisite pre-sales being December 1st might be a tactic to take on WWE to remind the European fans that they have an option come late summer to which event to go to but at what cost to the loyal fan.
When the caption on the big screens at Wembley showed the fans that the August Bank Holiday Weekend in 2024 will see England's national stadium host All In again, gears were already turning about the event 364 days from that day. With the cost of tickets, hotels which on that weekend were higher than usual in Central London because of Notting Hill Carnival (or Carnival as the people I was getting drunk with in the Premier Inn post-All In insisted on calling it) and the headaches that travel in 2023 Britain can cause, the announcement of tickets being released for the August event being 24 days before Christmas came as a surprise to those who had mentally planning for maybe their biggest fiscal expenditure of 2024 to be made in the Spring like it was this year when tickets for All In 2023 were announced.
Something that looked like a panic move, felt like a panic move was in fact a panic move and it wasn't his only one in the last few weeks. MJF/Omega had only 3 days hype, Ric Flair has been signed to a contract much to the chagrin of a large percentage of their female fan base and rumours have circulated of a meeting with the main creative forces of AEW took place after Dynamite in which a course correction is going to take place.
While the latter is not the first time this has taken place (a similar thing happened after 18/12/19) the other things I've mentioned are part of a systemic shift in All Elite Wrestling and IMHO the release date for tickets of All In 3 is the biggest sign of that. It's a moment that shows that the fans are secondary to what is essentially a dick-measuring contest between the two companies and the casualty is the fans who are being asked to spend money (and in line with the ticket price hikes in 2023 it could be a lot of money) less than 4 weeks before Christmas.
This is a further case of AEW losing the trust of their fans and it's a case that doesn't need to happen. Asking fans to make a purchase in the holiday season is a risk that might bite them on the backside in perception and in reality and it's one they could have avoided.
In short, if the folks at the local orphanage are wondering why there's no turkey this year, it's because I'm going to spend the money on tickets for All In.
MVP of the Week: Gareth.
In a week where AEW have caught lots of criticism for the signing of Ric Flair and the perceived decline in the quality of the product, Daniel Garcia delivered a speck of gold dust.
Whilst there are flaws to this piece of booking, it is also a reminder of what AEW “used to be”, according to some, and what it still can be, according to myself.
Think back to Darby Allin vs. Chris Jericho in 2019 or Jungle Boy vs. Kenny Omega in 2021. Brilliant, underrated matches for the world title where a young up-and-comer challenged a legendary world champion.
We all knew what the result would be going into these matches, but that wasn’t really what these bouts were about. They existed to platform an up-coming talent and act as defining moments in their rise and that’s exactly what this is for Daniel Garcia.
After defeating Trent Baretta on Rampage, Garcia called his shot. Challenging MJF for the world title despite not having a single’s match in six months or a single’s win in eight.
Now, we must address the flaws in this booking. It should probably be an eliminator match, as Garcia has done nothing to earn a title shot.
But if you’ll allow me to be kind to the booking, because this is a match that the hardcore base is so excited about, we’ll say that Garcia earned this title opportunity by being smart.
Garcia, in his promo, appealed to MJF’s sensibilities as a reformed man, showing his passion and perhaps showing a personality that MJF could relate to in his younger days. The confusion around what style to be, the inner conflict around how he perceives. Fighting against the crowd’s wishes by calling himself a sports entertainer.
It's different, and unique to Garcia, but also very similar to MJF over the last few years. I am probably reaching here, but as I say, I’m being kind to the booking.
Thinking more critically, the idea of Garcia getting a title shot whilst multiple other more deserving challengers are waiting kind of makes MJF look like a coward. Either that or it makes Tony Khan (in kayfabe) look silly for prioritising a challenger who has realistically done nothing to stand out over others.
AEW is sort of parodying themselves from when they were hitting the highs of 2019-2021 by booking this match. It isn’t the same as Darby’s 2019 challenge or Jungle Boy’s in 2021. But that’s not through any fault of Daniel Garcia who has been grossly underutilised as of late.
So, for all the flaws, Garcia’s return to singles action is a welcome one, that really motivated the company’s base, and his challenge to MJF is a reminder of how great AEW can be. If they invest in the likes of DG as they did Darby Allin, then the best under 25 wrestler in the company is in for an exciting few years.