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AEW’s Top 25 of 2023 – #25 & #24

The Twelve Days of Wrestmas

Since it’s December I felt around my sack (mind out the gutter please) and pulled out the best twenty-five things from AEW tv this year: two for each of the first eleven days, three for the twelfth.  Could be matches, promos, anything that lived up to the hype… or even Tony Khan’s announcements.  Thank you, here all week.

Only things I actually watched count so nothing from Rampage after June for example.  Times are tv-time roughly minus ads.  Meltzer ratings are just to give an idea what critics thought, not because they’re the be-all end-all.

If I’ve ranked your favorite #20 then here’s permission to be pissed off; most of these were very close, I’ve tied myself in knots and learned valuable lessons about ranking as I go.  What I can say definitively is nothing would change my top 3.  The order of 2 and 3 though…  Knots.

Without further rambling, here are 25 and 24.  Since we’re descending.  Like Santa’s sleigh (*ticks off obligatory Christmas simile*).

  1. Darby Allin wants a Fight

Darby Allin vs Minoru Suzuki, Collision, 07/28/23

Meltzer: 3.75*

On the last Saturday in July Darby issued an open challenge for a ‘fight’.

There are undoubtedly better matches relegated to the Honourable Mention section below.  But the story used to go that during Brock Lesnar’s nomadic phase Vince McMahon didn’t like advertising his champion.  Because he loved the ‘ohhhhhhh’ from the crowd when that guitar twanged.

And yours truly is guilty of similar pleasures.  So when a different guitar riff brought a similar ‘ohhhhhhh’ from those in attendance, and a look of ‘FFS, anyone but him,’ from a waiting Darby, I was his second name.

And Allin rudely didn’t even wait for kaze ni nare to finish, knocking the vet off the apron then almost killing himself with his bullet tope before somehow just simply getting back up.  This is, after all, the guy who had to be talked into doing the pre-Everest training after initially insisting it was all a mental battle anyway so why bother.

A stiff, pretty good match followed which mixed the ring and the outside, dives and strikes, building to a brilliant last couple of minutes with each looking for their finish; culminating in Suzuki snatching Allin out of a Coffin Drop into the choke, only for the youngster to bridge his legs to sneak the pin after seven minutes.

And providing a rare-in-AEW clean win over a credible opponent, en route to the #1 contender’s clash with Christian Cage in what was AEW’s best-booked feud of the summer.

Fun match; fun moment.

  1. An Homage to Canadian Stampede

CM Punk, FTR & Ricky Starks vs Bullet Club Gold, Collision, 06/24/23 

Meltzer: 4*

At its outset Collision brought a refreshingly different feel to AEW television.  And this clash was worlds away from the current Saturday night product – notably because of Punk’s presence and the loud, passionate crowd.  Even if they were booing.

But also because these guys were taking their time in more traditional main events.  In this instance a well-worked pacey tag which had a clear objective: make us want to see CM Punk fight wrestle Jay White.

And since they were over the border, White played the part of Steve Austin during that famous ten-man in July ’97 – taunting, avoiding and playing mind games with Chicago Phil until finally they clashed.  And things got very physical while they quickly teased finishers.

Before going old school: Punk cut off for a long time in the heels’ corner, really milking the hot tag – to a wildly popular and very babyface Ricky Starks.

Building to a series of high spots leaving everyone outside.  Except of course for Jay White and CM Punk.  The latter of whom was then left laying via uranage, there was one for a returning Starks too who after running through the Gunns ran into a Left Hand of God from outside and a Bladerunner as Jay White finally did something notable on AEW television.

As for White and Punk, disregarding politics, behaviour, rights and wrongs, it’s a shame we didn’t get that match.  They told a great story here and made Jay more relevant in about eighteen minutes of action than he’d been in the previous four months.  Which is what wrestling matches are supposed to do – elevate talent.

Honourable Mention (no particular order)

  • CM Punk vs Ricky Starks 8/5 Collision – Like the above, a more traditional main event with two dudes trying to one-up the other, making things feel personal. A little clunky in places
  • Vikingo & Komander vs Aussie Open 8/2 Dynamite – A very fun tag which contrasted fluid speed-moves and double teams vs stiff shots and double teams but was just a little on the short side at seven minutes, even if it did feature a breathtaking stepping-stone destroyer from Komander
  • Nigel McGuinness’ ‘site for sore eyes’ joke – had to
  • Mark Briscoe vs Jay Lethal 1/25 Dynamite – A good match rich in emotion commemorating the death of Mark’s brother.  Briscoe somehow kept things together while repeatedly looking for his brother’s finish until finally landing it on a visibly cut-up Lethal.  In a between-the-ropes story perfect in its simplicity
  • Andrade vs Buddy Matthews 6/17 Collision – A large, boiling crowd in Chicago for Punk’s return saw these two just blister one another for nearly ten minutes
  • MJF vs Samoa Joe 9/20 Dynamite – A strong world title match taken down a notch by babyface champ MJF spending most of it working like a heel. And winning like one too
  • Jon Moxley promo 1/3 Dynamite – A single camera caught the former champ on a stairwell, covered in blood, venting, lurching at the lens while red pools collected on the steps beneath. To tell Adam Page that he might be a ‘great wrestler’, even a ‘great man, BUT YOU ARE NOT THE SAME ANIMAL AS ME!’.  So he’d see Hangman at ‘Texas Death’
  • MJF vs Adam Cole 6/14 Dynamite – Later in the countdown there’ll be an MJF match I previously underrated. A second viewing of this had the opposite effect, possibly not helped by knowing ahead of time that it was a long time-limit draw.  With some shoddy booking: Cole never came close to defeating the champ without help from the ref yet this was sold as if he’d been screwed, starting some drunken summer-long booking around the promotion’s centerpiece
  • Bryan Danielson vs Ricky Starks 9/23 Collision – If anyone out there ever thought it’d be fun to wrestle the Dragon, just check this out. Don’t know if Starks ticked him off or if he felt a ‘welcome’ to the main event scene was necessary, but Danielson spent this kicking the absolute crap out of Ricky with fists, feet, bins, chairs, chains and finally a knee.  Despite not being totally my style with all the weapons, this was one of the hardest cuts
  • Kenny Omega vs Jeff Cobb 3/29 Dynamite – As was this. Really enjoyed it at the time and watching it back only reminded of the well-done story of Omega’s injured ribs preventing him from lifting the bigger man until finally using the ropes to hoist Cobb into the One Winged Angel after a great finishing sequence
  • Bryan Danielson vs Karl Fletcher 10/7 Collision – This got better as it went: stiff, smooth wrestling, lots of submissions and cool transitions into them before Danielson finished Fletcher with Sabre’s Clutch ahead of his clash with Zack
  • Kenny Omega vs Vikingo 3/22 Dynamite – This will surely be controversial, one of the few tv matches all year to bag 5* and a breathtaking collection of big moves from the AAA champ. But as with many lucha clashes, it had its holes: the opponent waiting for their foe to balance before performing the next dive and such.  And, say it with me, ‘I’m an asshole’, so this just didn’t feel like a contest.  Dudes killing themselves also takes me out and Vikingo bounced after missing a 630 like a god damn basketball
  • Orange Cassidy vs Claudio Castagnoli 11/1 Dynamite – In watching this right after Orange/Swerve from the summer, two things stood out: 1. The in-arena darkness & lack of atmosphere just a few months later was glaring; 2. It just wasn’t as good. So with limited spaces left… to the cutting room floor with you! (feel free to use that one Toni)
  • Kenny Omega vs Kyle Fletcher 10/18 Dynamite – This was just a little bit better than the Aussie’s clash with Danielson: a little quicker, a little more athletic, a few more big moves and a few more ‘ooohs’ from the crowd. But still wasn’t quite good enough to make the cut
  • Brian Cage vs Claudio Castagnoli vs Nick Jackson 9/27 Dynamite – Even I’m surprised to see this here because I loved it. About eight minutes of Nick Jackson using the other two as a playground, zooming around the ring into cool, creative moves before a very receptive crowd which was on its feet by the end

I did try to watch everything good but it’s possible I missed one or two.  Guess we’ll find out as we go.  Thanks for reading, check out #23 & 22 tomorrow as Wrestmas continues.

 

Paul Hemming
Paul Hemminghttps://h00kedon.weebly.com/
Paul Hemming got into AEW during the pandemic, lives in Liverpool, England, and is a huge Liverpool fan, Playstation player and history lover.

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