WrestleDream 2023 preview and predictions

Without further ado.

Darby Allin vs Christian Cage (TNT Title, 2/3 Falls)

Star quality: 8 – Cage is the most over heel in the company.  Allin’s among the most featured acts.  Thus this is deservedly closing the show in front of Darby’s faithful (and increasing the chance Edge debuts).

Match quality: 8 – They had a belter on Collision a month or so ago.  No reason this should be any different.  Presumably the recent cheering for Cage won’t continue in Darby’s backyard.  Should make for a great atmosphere.  Cage has challenged Allin to ‘wrestle’.  Went well quality-wise when MJF did the same.

Build: 9 – A lot of this ground was covered during the All Out preview.  It’s AEW’s best-booked feud this year.  Only enhanced in the interim by Cage stealing the TNT belt from his charge and Allin while sewing the seeds for both Nick Wayne and Luchasaurus to change sides.

Overall Score: 25

Meaning there are a million ways to go with the finish.  The obvious headline is Hometown Babyface Wins in Hometown.  Possibly helped by Luchasaurus.  Possibly helped by Nick Wayne.  And Allin insisted he’s not losing in Seattle.

But there’s a problem.  Cage continually sitting victoriously atop his dinosaur’s shoulders isn’t an accident.  And it’s hard to see how they pay it off if Christian loses.  They might, might (though shouldn’t – they’re doing too many turns) even have Wayne go heel in his hometown and cost Allin the match.

Edge alert.  Lastly, there’s the possibility Adam Copeland has a hand in the finish.  His WWE contract and related red tape ended yesterday. It’d be counterproductive to debut him as a heel given fans will go nuts for him.  But it’s possible.  Most likely, Cage retains; Copeland comes out afterward.

Have to say, does seem these big show bouts are becoming less predictable.  Equally possible yours truly is getting dumber.

WINNER: Christian Cage

Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho & Kota Ibushi vs Konosuke Takeshita, Sammy Guevara & Will Ospreay

Star quality: 8 – Three big stars along with Ibushi; Takeshita’s getting over even if he should be wrestling – and winning! – on tv more often; Sammy’s been hurt by too many turns and bad booking.

Match quality: 8 – This heel team is awesome.  It’s Guevara’s first meaningful ppv work since May: that lad’s going to kill himself to steal the show.  Then there are the exchanges between what most consider the match series of the year so far.

For this to hit the real heights, Omega’s going to have to carry the babyface load.  Though Jericho’s match with Ospreay at All In was very good.  Whereas Ibushi looked a little off his game again.

Build: 6 – An awful lot’s gone into this (emphasis on awful where Jericho’s booking is concerned) so let’s stick to the main thrust: Don Callis has united his former friends Omega and Jericho against him.  His ‘son’ – Omega’s replacement – Takeshita, has bested Kenny twice in a row.  So plenty of reason for revenge there.

While gaining the moniker ‘the Alpha’ in a clever move which has understandably pissed off both the former ‘Alpha’, Jericho, and of course ‘Omega’.  The latter of whom’s also driven by the heels making a target of his best friend Ibushi.

It even made sense for Jericho and Kenny to team as reluctant partners on some ‘enemy of my enemy’ ish.  Collision effectively rammed this home.

Overall Score: 22

Callis said this’ll settle things.  Babyfaces tend to win when things are settled.  And they’ve been consistently losing to Ospreay and Takeshita.  On the other hand, Sammy could do with a win.  Especially over Jericho.  There’s the story of Kenny losing since leaving Callis.  And the looming possibility of Omega/Ospreay III.

A lot to juggle.  Probably lean toward the good guys.  Be interesting to see who takes the pin.

WINNER: Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho & Kota Ibushi

Hangman Adam Page vs Swerve Strickland

Star quality: 6 – It was made pretty clear how fans feel about these two on Wednesday.  Outside of chants regarding Swerve’s abode and Page’s feces, those in attendance were not exactly rabid for the two most underutilized talents in the company.  The tale of Page not being at the level he should is all too real.  Strickland loses like Hulk Hogan lies.

Match quality: 8 – Despicable as his actions are, Swerve’s hard to boo because he’s cool.  AEW don’t really do ‘cool’.  They mostly veer into ‘dorky’.  Even with their top acts.  Which might mess up the crowd reactions in Strickland’s homestate.  Swerve even played to those fans by talking up his homefield advantage.

Outside of that, both guys are really good.  Page hits hard – as JR likes to emphasize – yet is agile enough to hang with the lithe Strickland.  So there’s a nice mesh of styles but one which shouldn’t clash.

Storyline can merge with reality too.  With that ‘cloud’ now banished back to Chicago, hopefully Page is motivated for this one.  Swerve will surely be out to legitimately prove he deserves a top spot.

Build: 5 – Back in 2021 when Cody was being booed, there was a Dynamite segment where he ‘went back to school’.  He’d lost his spark, got caught up in the limelight, needed to go back to his roots.  So he trained in a ring with other up-and-comers.  It was a good segment, a smart idea to try to counter said boos, a good start.

Except it wasn’t the start.  It was all there was.  The next week he was back on tv as usual.  There, we’ve given you your story.  Except it was only a blurb.

Similarly, Strickland came out to chastise Page for having lost his spark.  The next week Hangman beat Bryan Cage then won the ROH Trios Titles.

There were a million easy ways to develop this.  Have the announcers discuss Page, have heels and former enemies say he’s not what he was; have the Bucks, Kenny, even Mox (who did more for Page with his talking than the world title did) stand up for the guy.  Have Strickland mockingly introduce one of Hangman’s biggest moments every week – ‘remember how great you used to be?’.  Why, Page could’ve even talked for himself.  He’s pretty good at those introspective promos.  Even if he does need to move away from being mopey for a bit.

But no.  He might’ve been on a downer; now he’s not.  There, we’ve given you your story.

Some of which was mitigated by a strong promo battle Wednesday.  With Page talking about the clouds above him starting to lift, but Swerve explaining it’s too late, there’s too much ground to make up too fast; for a guy looking to escape the clouds – ‘it rains an awful lot in Seattle’.

Some more of this and we’d have had ourselves a hot one.  Perhaps this continues into Full Gear?  It’s a nice, fresh pairing featuring two guys who can drag each other up to where they belong.

Overall Score: 19

As per Miro/Hobbs last month, neither is in a great position to lose.  Considering he’s a former-world champion in his early thirties, AEW seem to forget about Hangman a lot.  Like a very lot.  Strickland’s a great talker, drips charisma and carries himself like a star.  But he doesn’t appear on tv enough and most importantly, never wins.

Suggesting this doesn’t end here.  Whoever loses can get their revenge in November.  Most likely Hangman after Strickland cheats and the former continues his quest back to prominence.

WINNER: Swerve Strickland

Aussie Open vs FTR (Tag Titles)

Star quality: 5 – FTR have not been a feature of tv since their buddy went bye-bye.  Probably purely coincidental since they aren’t the first AEW act to randomly have nothing to do.  Nonetheless, a lack of focus combined with weak opposition has diminished the act.

Aussie Open are about average.  They tend to lose against name talent.

Match quality: 9 – Essentially the entirety of this feud is ‘We had a MOTY candidate in England last year’.

Build: 3 – Last we saw of the Aussies prior to challenging here, they were losing to a team about to implode.  The time before that they were losing to a team we were supposed to think would implode.  Yet this match is being pitched as a top tier tag between two of the very best duos on the planet.  ‘365 days in the making!’.

It’s another of those weird AEW situations where they’re essentially telling the audience to ignore what’s happened on tv because (wink) these teams are genuinely really good in the ring and have good matches.

To the point Fletcher openly talked on Collision about taking ‘FTR to the limit in a five-star classic’.  Dax then called them ‘sacrificial lamb(s) to Max and his best friend and Jericho and his best friend’.  At best that means they were sent out against teams they had no chance against.  At worst that the bookers needed a team those teams could beat.

Yes they tried to bring it together by having the Aussies acknowledge that they haven’t hit their New Japan heights in AEW.  But it didn’t cover for an awkward attempt to balance story and reality.

‘‘People don’t want to know how much fun I had with my opponent that night in the ring… They want to be lost…’’, said Eddie Kingston recently.  Amen.

Overall Score: 17

It’s very hard to see Aussie Open winning here since they were given zero momentum coming in.


Bryan Danielson vs Zack Sabre Jr (‘Dream Match’)

Star quality: 6 – See Build

Match quality: 9 – Two great technicians, eighteen months in the making; billing it as a ‘dream match’ doesn’t exactly reduce expectations.  But Danielson’s talked about how much each match now takes out of him.  It’s part of why he’s cutting down soon.  And he had a physical match with Ricky Starks just last Saturday and wrestled on this week’s Collision.

That said, the Dragon had two belters with Ricky Starks.  Safe to say Zack’s a better performer.

Build: 2 – When Jade Cargill leaves AEW lamenting missed ‘dream matches’, the term no longer has meaning.  By definition they’re unlikely or impossible.  Usually involving top stars or all-time performers.  They’re Steve Austin vs Goldberg, prime Shawn Michaels vs prime Randy Savage.  If a single one happens each year, we as fans are doing well.

So more often than not when AEW use the term, what they really mean is Tony Khan gave it the ‘Dude, sick!’ treatment.  And when that happens, he assumes we’ll be just as excited as he is, so they need say no more.

Which is perhaps why they haven’t explained to us why it is one.  They haven’t even told us why it’s happening.  Zack mentioned he’d ‘surpassed’ Danielson during one of the rare packages.  Providing a simple reason for the match.  But it wasn’t taken any further.  And needed to be.

Because to the average AEW viewer, Sabre’s appeared on tv a couple of times and lost at both Forbidden Door shows.  Most notably, he even lost to Danielson’s replacement at the first.  Essentially, you have to forget wins and losses, forget placement on the card, and know that these two are legitimately among the best technical wrestlers in the world.

‘Dude, sick!’

Overall Score: 17

Sabre’s not being positioned for a big match in New Japan.  Danielson likely is.  Against Okada in January.

WINNER: Bryan Danielson

Young Bucks vs Lucha Bros vs the Gunns vs Orange Cassidy & Hook (Winner gets a tag title shot ‘at any time’)

Star quality: 6 – If you watch AEW these guys don’t all need a big explanation.  Outside of the Gunns who’re in a decent spot with BCG, all could be better used.  So let’s focus on Cassidy.  Since he’s a perfect example of why AEW fail to solidify guys at the top of the card.

A month ago, he was on a hell of a run protecting the most defended belt in the company.  He and Mox were the focus of company television leading to All Out.  He cut serious, big match promos.  Then was put over verbally in a way only Jon Moxley can.  Before giving the multi-time world champion everything he could handle on his way to losing a close one.

Then he did nothing for the rest of September except duel with Hook for ‘most chill dude’ while eating chips.     

He was right there.  An established-heel-coming-out-to-interrupt-him away from being made.  And they let him drift back into the mid-card.  As they have with so many others.

Match quality: 8 – Everyone here given the opportunity to show it (ie outside of Hook) is at least good.  Four of the eight had a MOTY contender two years ago.  There’s only one actual heel team but this is more like to be a ‘spot fest’ anyway since there’s no setup.  And few are better at those than the Bucks and Bros.

A slight caveat being Fenix’ status.  The flyer was only cleared late for Dynamite then got dropped painfully on his side by a Jarrett suplex.

Build: 0 – They got a graphic on Collision.

Overall Score: 14

The storyline calls for Cassidy and Hook.  Since they’re the only team that has one.  Cassidy’s been eyeing gold since All Out.  And ‘any time’ will probably be at the upcoming ‘Title Tuesday’ Dynamite.  I.e. an unestablished team who can lose is ideal.

WINNER: Orange Cassidy & Hook

Ricky Starks vs Wheeler Yuta

Star quality: 6 – Yuta’s been locked in the middle.  Starks is being established as a top guy on Collision.

Match quality: 6 – The only thing for sure about Starks in-ring is he can have good matches with Bryan Danielson.  Which means he doesn’t suck.  As for how good he truly is, here’s another chance to prove it.  Since Yuta’s talented, but he’s no Dragon.

Build: 2 – They tried to start the angle last Saturday but ran out of tv time.  So all we got was Yuta calling out Starks on his BS.  Since Ricky keeps trying to paint his losing by means other than pinfall as a victory.  But as Yuta pointed out, he couldn’t get back up after Danielson beat his ass last Saturday; Yuta always gets back up.

Nice little short story.  But too short to make this feel more than throwaway.

Overall Score: 14

This exists to give Ricky a W.

WINNER: Ricky Starks

Eddie Kingston vs Katsuyuori Shibata (ROH & NJPW Strong Titles)

Star quality: 5 – Kingston’s popular; Shibata has a certain status but comes and goes.

Match quality: 7 – A strange pairing, two babyfaces who were teaming recently.  More to the point, one’s a brawler who dumps people on their head while the other needs to avoid blows to that exact area so is better off grappling.  As the stuff he did with Sabre Jr and Garcia suggested.

Should be hard-hitting.  Hopefully not too hard-hitting.

Build: 0 New Japan Champ + Former New Japan Star + Inoki-related show = this

Overall Score: 12

The only slight doubt about the finish is Kingston’s hurting.  He’s cancelled all Indie bookings while he still has his belts.  Unlikely he’d have done so if he’s dropping them here.

WINNER: Eddie Kingston

Kris Statlander vs Julia Hart (TBS Title)

Star quality: 4 – Statlander’s a rare breed in AEW; she’s actually beaten two other ‘names’ on tv in recent weeks defending her title.  But we see Julia only when there’s space to fill on Collision.  Associating with the House of Black doesn’t help as much when they disappear all the time.

Match quality: 5 – Hart has plenty going for her; she’s still raw in the ring.  Unlike the Baker match, fans are unlikely to be intrigued by the outcome.

Build: 1 – A week before the show, Brody King cut a promo saying ‘the violence wouldn’t end’ until Julia got a shot against the only blemish on her record, the TBS champ.  After AEW realized Hart hadn’t lost since kindergarten.  Reminding us fans of when Dave Meltzer and Mike Tenay totaled up Goldberg’s wins and ‘the streak’ was born.  Right?

Also, Statlander called her a bitch.

Overall Score: 10

‘No more to discuss’, as Stat Quo rapped in about 2003.  I’m so hip.

WINNER: Kris Statlander

MJF vs the Righteous (ROH Tag Titles)

Star quality: 4 – We all know the score with the champ.  But even as a hardcore viewer of Dynamite and Collision, here’s what your writer knows about the Righteous: one’s called Dutch, the other says ‘Dig what I’m sayin?’ a lot, they dress in white and speak in esoteric blabber.

Match quality: 4 – ‘Second verse, same as the first…’.  The challengers wrestled on tv once, maybe twice?  It was not enough to get a feel for them as performers.  They certainly did not stand out.  This is likely going to be the world heavyweight champion selling for two guys most fans aren’t into and/or don’t know.  Since during last night’s go home promo, the challengers were serenaded with ‘What?’ and aggressive ‘STFU’ chants.  From the same fans they’ll be performing in front of during tonight’s festivities.

Build: 0 – Yet another multi-team for a title shot saw the Righteous emerge.  Despite the Kingdom being in that match and the obvious storyline fit.  Then they’ve spoken in riddles about fake friendship during a couple of promo packages; MJF did manage to squeeze in one line about them on Wednesday while out there for an hour.

If AEW are looking for a reason behind stagnant attendances, they might start with portraying the world champion as serious and his gold as something others want.  Rather than having him defend the secondary tag titles on pay-per-view against characters from Far Cry.

Overall Score: 8

MJF promised to hang on to the titles until Cole’s ready; that could be a long time.  Dynamite’s show-closing angle could play into things.  Perhaps the guys in black help Max; perhaps they cost him.  Jay White and BCG might interfere.  He absolutely should not be losing to the Righteous.  Even if they drive a fleet (pack/group/crash?) of tanks over him.  But he might.


Overall Thoughts

After All Out Tony Khan emphasized that he was sick of hearing about poor ‘build’ since the shows are always good anyway.  So wasn’t going to bother concerning himself with it.  Now, a businessman on his level can’t actually be that stupid.  It was surely said in the heat of the moment, in the afterglow of an excellent show, against heavy criticism.  Since there are always new fans to reach.

Yet, intended or not, AEW seem to have doubled down on that notion.  WrestleDream’s build isn’t any better than All Out’s.  Despite having weeks longer to sell the matches.

Partially that’s a product of Grand Slam which they treated like a big show and got the requisite reward in terms of viewership.  Partially it’s a result of featuring New Japan talent tied-up until the night itself.  But it’s also a result of using television time to show Mox facing AR Fox & Action Andretti; Statlander facing Emi Sakura & Robyn Renegade; and FTR vs the Iron Savages & Workhorsemen.  In among three rounds of a tournament only three guys were ever possibly going to win.

All precious tv time which could’ve been used to enhance feuds or at least ensure the talent about to be featured on the big show were beating wrestlers whose names the audience knew.  And gaining momentum so they felt hot going into the show (if anyone reading can name five wrestlers Takeshita or Swerve have beaten on tv this year, there’s a cookie with your name on it).

As usual, it’s likely the show will deliver.  It almost certainly will.  There are a lot of good matches.  But having good matches does not seem to be filling seats in arenas.  Wrestlers and feuds with momentum do.  I.e., ‘build’.

As for the ‘new era’ they leaned hard into last night, the company has a nasty habit of overpromising and underdelivering.  And those words are hard to live up to.  Even the debuts of Edge and Mercedes – fantastic in any other context – might struggle to justify them.  If, even worse, the guys in black who beat down White Wednesday are revealed to be some link to the Undisputed ‘Era’, that’ll be received like, well… the Righteous in Seattle.

As ever, enjoy if you’re enjoying.  Card looks very good indeed.

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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