We’re finally here. After three Covid-assaulted years, AEW are finally back where they began. Complete with their usual strong line-up for the big shows. So, here’s how we’re going to do this: run through the matches, previewing and predicting, in order of my level of interest.
Thunder Rosa vs Serena Deeb, Women’s Championship
Most of the build-up to this one has bordered on unwatchable. Out of nowhere, Serena is annoyed at Rosa because she had breast implants back when she was Straight Edge. We’ve barely seen the champ since she dispossessed Britt Baker; this feels like the secondary women’s title given the attention received by Jade Cargill.
Poor build, a lack of screen time and the certainty that Rosa isn’t dropping the belt at the first hurdle after finally dethroning Britt means that this holds almost no interest. Should be decent enough in the ring.
Anna Jay vs Jade Cargill, Women’s TBS Championship
Even Jade emphasized the lack of credible opponents in her promo Wednesday. She’s already beaten Anna Jay, who’s had no buildup, character evolution or TV time in the meantime to suggest the result should be any different here.
This belt is only of use as a vehicle to push Jade. And it’s hard to argue that it’s been ineffective. She seems to be seen by most as a star. But between the two belts and the women’s tournament, the lack of depth, both in-ring and in terms of over characters/personalities, has really stood out.
In terms of match quality, both are pretty inexperienced and Anna’s shoulder injury seems to have set her back a bit. Better make this a quick one.
Darby Allin vs Kyle O’Reilly
This feels absolutely thrown together. Because it was. When Darby appeared on Rampage, it was, ‘oh yeah, Darby’s not on the PPV.’ Almost the definition of an afterthought.
As a viewer every Friday and Wednesday, I can’t even remember these two interacting. And perhaps they have, but the point is, I don’t remember it.
Meanwhile, the company is clearly very high on O’Reilly, even having him recently defeat Rey Fenix. And Kyle’s very good in the ring. But other than being Adam Cole’s lackey, that’s about it. It should be good bell-to-bell, but I wouldn’t even think of this as an interesting main event for Dynamite. There’s no interest in the outcome.
WINNER: Darby Allin
Britt Baker vs Ruby Soho, OH Women’s Final
Britt doesn’t need this. Her opponent needs it but hasn’t been brought to the level to warrant it. And I say that because Ruby disappeared for months and was booed during her semi-final victory. Contrast that with her male counterparts, Cole and Joe, who’ve been all over TV and are pushed, particularly Cole, as main event stars.
In Baker’s case, it would be kind-of fitting if she won because she is essentially the circa-’96 Davey and Owen of the women’s division: an over act with no-one else at her level. But she absolutely does not need this victory: as displayed when the fans got behind her on Wednesday as she cheated to win against babyface Toni Storm.
This one’s tough. On one hand, it’s unlikely they’ll have heels win both tournaments and I’m convinced of Cole’s victory. But there’s part of me that thinks he and Britt winning as a couple could be good TV, not to mention the inbuilt rivalry with Storm. On the other, AEW really need to start building some other women. So that’s what I’ll go with.
WINNER: Ruby Soho, aided by Toni Storm
The Men of the Year & Paige Vanzant vs Sammy Guevara, Frankie Kazarian & Tay Conti
I’ve made my thoughts pretty clear about this one. An absolute mess in terms of booking. Sammy’s supposed to be the babyface and has even resorted to the desperate ‘I like you if you like me, but if you don’t, I don’t’, while Scorpio was getting traction as a good guy (a role for which he’s much better suited) only to re-turn heel out of nowhere.
The fans aren’t unsure who to boo or cheer, they just hate the whole thing. Hence even the announcement of the match being roundly booed on Rampage.
So why are there four matches ranked below it?
Simple. When the guys are in, the action will be very good. And in contrast to the previous four, there is at least a story, even if it’s a bad one.
In terms of the ladies – let me be clear here, I’m comparing the scenario, not the performers – Tay’s background means she can be used in a role similar to Vader when Ken Shamrock debuted back in the Stone Age: tough enough to absorb some probably legit blows and stick to a more combat-based approach. So as long as the exchanges are kept short, they at least shouldn’t drag the rest of the match down.
Regard a victor? ATT are the ones with an axe to grind, having had various belts/possessions smashed and stolen. Plus, you’d think they’d want to debut Paige with a victory. And if the company’s smart – which they generally are except when it comes to this feud – they won’t have Sammy or Tay win, because then they’ll be booed by their biggest audience to date.
WINNER: Men of the Year and Paige Vanzant, Paige to defeat Tay
The Young Bucks vs the Hardy Brothers
Despite Matt (Hardy)’s excellent promo on Dynamite, I just can’t bring myself to care about him or his brother. I’ve seen it all before. More importantly, when it was much, much better. When Jeff didn’t have to crush guys on the Swanton because he’s so beat-up.
They’re calling this a dream match. I’d much prefer the Jacksons face FTR (who despite their momentum can’t even make the PPV???) for the third time.
Nonetheless, the Bucks will probably drag a good match out of the vets. Although they shouldn’t be losing when there are so many young, promising teams who’d benefit more from such a victory, they probably will.
WINNER: The Hardys
Mox, Danielson, Kingston & Proud and Powerful vs the Jericho AS
You had me at ‘Nah, I ain’t doin that s***’.
Jon Moxley’s so ultra-believable because he understands his character. And his character, and probably the real person, would want no part of a Stadium Stampede match. He’d want a fight. Which is what this will be. And given the talent involved, it should be awesome.
Despite my reservations about the heels, this one’s been well-built. Eddie, Santana and Ortiz were consistently outnumbered by the Sports Entertainers, until the Pro Wrestlers who happen to be friends with Kingston had had enough. Multi-layered storytelling that makes sense. Nice.
Given being beaten down for much of the past few months, being burned – which Jericho’s done his best to turn into a joke – Danielson/Mox being positioned for the tag belts and the fact that there is FAR more star-power on the babyface side, I’ll go with them to win.
WINNER: Kingston and co.
Wardlow vs MJF
Going all the way back to when he was easily Moxley’s best-built opponent as champion, MJF’s feuds tend to be the best-booked, and there’s a reason for that. He never wrestles and is rarely even ‘got-to’ by the babyface. So you can’t do pull-aparts, you can’t do ‘I interfere, you interfere’ and you can’t have him lose to his future opponent in say, a tag match.
Meaning there have to be long-term, well-thought-out, creative storyline reasons for his matches. And boy has this one been long-term, the hints beginning in maybe late 2020. Not to mention it’s worked like a charm, Wardlow’s now a much bigger star than even a few months ago.
The only slight reservation here is match length. Despite his popularity, the fans kinda want the big fella to skip straight to the powerbomb, Diesel/Backlund style, and can become a bit restless during longer sequences. That though, was against lower-card wrestlers. Here, in front of 15,000, against a top guy, that shouldn’t be a problem. Nor should picking a winner.
Swerve and Glory (Swerve and Keith Lee) vs Hobbs & Starks vs Jurassic Express, AEW tag-team championship
Couldn’t help but notice on Wednesday both Swerve and Starks coming out to cool music, dripping with charisma, and then Jungle Boy coming out reppin’ the 80s hard, both in character and soundtrack.
Those differences aside, these are three very similar ‘classic’ tag-teams, each with a versatile big man and a smaller athletic dude. Providing tons of possibilities to mix and match competitors for all kinds of cool exchanges, particularly if Wednesday’s triple-threat was anything to go by: Strickland flipping out of a top-rope poisonrana and landing on his feet was breathtaking
Not to mention the animosity between the two challenging teams, which helps a lot because both the champs and the tag belts are FREEZING cold. The only real storyline with them the bubbling internal dispute between JB and Christian.
In the other company, all the signs would point to Swerve and the big man’s push being a red herring, something to throw you off the scent. But there’s a reason I named these two Instant Chemistry, there’s a reason Swerve won on Wednesday, and there’s a reason Keith Lee came out last with full entrance as the star of the show.
WINNER: Swerve and Glory
Death Triangle vs the House of Black
I’m completely contradicting myself with this one. The build’s been on-and-off and TV time has been hit-and-miss, with the possible exception of Penta. But damn all these dudes are awesome. The Lucha Bros might be my favorite performers in the company, while Pac and Malakai fall into the section marked ‘ultra-believable’, not to mention ‘unique’.
Dare I say it, this might be up there with the Shield/Wyatt Family classic.
In terms of a victor… I just don’t know. It’s hard to see the Bros involved in the title hunt anytime soon. But perhaps Malakai might be a good opponent for Hangman if they don’t string out the feud with Punk. Either way, I see the newer, less-established act going over here.
WINNER: House of Black
Adam Cole vs Samoa Joe, OH Men’s Final
Adam Cole is perfect in the role of tournament winner. A sniveling, arrogant, whiny heel who can spend the next year bragging about winning the tournament in the truest testament to its namesake. Both have been featured heavily since their arrival, both are seen as stars by the fans, both are worthy winners.
Moreover, the tournament itself has been made out to be a big deal, something worth winning.
On paper, this should be phenomenal. The Samoan is as real as it gets; Cole’s fantastic, the fans care about both – Cole might be the most over guy in the company – given the time this final should receive, this one could steal the show.
WINNER: Adam Cole
CM Punk vs Hangman Page, AEW World Championship
If you’d asked me on Tuesday, this wouldn’t have been near here. Considering how much I like both guys, this one was ‘mid’ before a flamethrower of a promo segment on Wednesday’s Dynamite.
Who’s the heel? Who’s the babyface? Normally, I’d say who cares? But this one’s been done with an air of intrigue, like a Whodunnit. On the face of it, the champ’s too aggressive and has an unwarranted level of disdain for Punk. While Punk’s been almost too nice, too respectful, with an air of ‘who me?’ when it seems he knows exactly what he’s doing. The sly smiles giving him away.
Throw in the fact that Page says he’s doing this to defend the company he helped build from outsiders – no pun intended – and the match really becomes interesting.
In ring, CM Punk said very recently he’s the best he’s ever been. Agreed. While Hangman rarely fails to deliver once the bell rings. Throw in the World Title and I’d say you’ve got the match of the night right here.
The outcome? Well, Punk’s probably the biggest star in the company and putting the belt on him would be a smart move in that regard. But that can be done at any time, and given how profusely Hangman has insisted he’s going to embarrass Punk, the only way he could really lose is if he’s turning heel. So this one feels like a Hangman win, but as the end of the chapter rather than the story.