A Trip to the Potato Farm: AEW Dynamite Recap and Review

Last week’s Beach Break edition of AEW Dynamite was, among other things, notable for the debut of Kenta, the number one contender to Jon Moxley’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. This was a big deal because Kenta is contracted to New Japan Pro Wrestling, and his arrival in AEW, Mox carrying his US Championship around, and the abundance of Bullet Club references and logos seems to indicate that New Japan is now part of the expanding web of promotions collaborating with AEW.

It’s cool, in a way, but I am ambivalent about Impact Wrestling’s working relationship with AEW and am even more ambivalent about NJPW’s. Our own Emily Pratt was right when she noted that AEW and NJPW are two very different flavors of wrestling, and while I’m pretty sure I like AEW more than she does, I’m not particularly invested in how those flavors combine, especially when AEW’s idea of interpromotional storytelling thus far has been an attempt at making the most needlessly complicated stable in the history of professional wrestling a little bit more needlessly complicated.

None of this is to say that I don’t like Kenta or that I’m not looking forward to his singles match against Jon Moxley—I do and I am. But AEW is throwing around grandiose sentences like “the forbidden door has been kicked down” when everything the forbidden door has opened up to is (necessarily, given travel restrictions) a pocket universe of professional wrestling that feels regressive. If the forbidden door remains open in 2022 and Toru Yano, the eternal King of Pro Wrestling, wins the TNT Championship, I’ll be the happiest person on earth. Until then, I’m trapped where I’ve been with AEW since its debut: Endlessly tantalized by its potential, endlessly frustrated by its follow through.

All Elite Wrestling

TNT Championship: Darby Allin (c) def. Joey Janela

Before the bell a lot of attention was paid to the history these two men had with each other on the indies, and how hardcore those matches tended to get. It was a good tease, as Allin and Janela played it straight for the entirety of the match, working each other hold for hold, focusing on weakening each other’s limbs, and utilizing the ring ropes in a number of interesting ways. They found a groove early and stayed in it, Janela the de facto heel willing to take a shortcut or two, Allin, as ever, one of the most sympathetic babyfaces in the company.

I liked this a lot. Allin’s skills as a technician and a counter wrestler are well-established in AEW canon, but Janela hasn’t had as many opportunities to showcase himself. While an Allin win was never in doubt, Janela looked great when he was in control, and his chemistry/rivalry with Allin allowed for the kind of subtle intensity that makes title matches that aren’t potential title changes work despite the lack of real stakes. For my money, it’s the best Janela has looked in AEW since his Lights Out match against Kenny Omega on episode two of AEW Dark, the kind of match that hints at his star potential in a way that AEW’s massive roster and scant TV time allow for. The company didn’t utilize the momentum of that Omega match in 2019, but maybe this is the start of a good year for Janela.

Promo: Now that Jon Moxley gets to wear his IWGP US Championship on TV, he gets to make fun of Kenta for carrying around a dorky briefcase for a year. Trim out the fat about the tag match serving as the main event, and the crucial information here is that Kenta and Mox will finally wrestle for that title on February 26. That match was announced by NJPW late in January, but if I had to guess, the majority of the build for that match will happen on Dynamite due to the show’s larger profile as compared to NJPW Strong.

Segment: The collapse of the Inner Circle continued last night, as Sammy Guevara and MJF played a mutual game of entrapment behind the closed doors of their group’s locker room. Sammy, the only smart person in the Inner Circle, called Max out for wanting to take over the Inner Circle. Max fired back by saying that he thought that Sammy was jealous of him, when in actuality it was him who wanted to take the group over from Jericho. Sammy repeated those points sarcastically, asking if that’s what MJF wanted him to say. Max was recording the conversation on his phone, so yeah, it was. Sammy then smashed Max’s phone and punched him in the ribs before bailing. It was well done by both people, but given that MJF was already called out once for lying about something that was on tape, the writing should have reflected that.

All Elite Wrestling

Cody Rhodes and Lee Johnson def. Peter Avalon and Cezar Bononi

The story of this match was Arn Anderson’s son, who sat at ringside bringing mad beef and a 1980s Anderson x catalog model vibe to the screen, something that could singlehandedly revive Tumblr’s wrestling bear community. Er, the story of this match was Lee Johnson scoring his first win in AEW, snapping his long losing streak and coming into his own. I like this kind of story a lot, and I like how AEW manages to graduate the talent it’s truly interested in from Dark also-ran to featured performer. I like the Nightmare Family a lot less than I like Team Taz, so we’ll see where I am on Lee as a featured undercarder surrounded by proud dads in track jackets. I am less sold on Cezar Bononi, who has impressive size but an awkward sense of timing. His presence at least made Pretty Peter seem like more of a threat to one of AEW’s most dominant wrestlers, but he needs more seasoning.

Promo: The Young Bucks were eliminated from last week’s tag team battle royal due to the Good Brothers, so this week the two teams happened to occupy the same frame. The Bucks called the Good Brothers stupid since they were going to choose them as their handpicked opponents for Revolution if they won, the Brothers managed to convince the Bucks that they were there to handle Private Party and that their beef should be with the Inner Circle, so next week we’re getting Bucks vs. Santana and Ortiz for the titles. The Bucks were slightly embarrassed to Too Sweet the Brothers because Sting was totally out of frame laughing with them too, but the Brothers made the argument that Sting was in the Wolfpac, so he’d get it.

Promo: The Hangman Page/Matt Hardy storyline got a two-part segment this week. The first one was great because it involved The Dark Order. The second one was not as good because it didn’t. In the first, Page was asked if he wanted to team with Hardy further after their recent win. Page said no, which prompted Hardy to ask the Hangman out to a bar to discuss business, all drinks on him. On their way out the door, they passed the Dark Order, who acted, in unison, like the guy in the movie who gets kindly rejected by the hottest girl in high school and can’t stop embarrassing himself in front of her after the fact.

In the second, Hardy got Page good and drunk, pretending to drink himself, so that he could sell Hangman on the same 30% contract he got Private Party to sign. Hangman enthusiastically said yes, which prompted Hardy to look at the camera like Elmer Fudd and explain his clever ruse. Meanwhile, like Bugs Bunny, Hangman exchanged Hardy’s trap for a trap of his own, throwing out Hardy’s contract and taking one of his own out from the inside pocket of his denim jacket. Hardy didn’t notice, so he enthusiastically signed off on the deal, which we aren’t privy to.

All Elite Wrestling

Pac def. Ryan Nemeth

It’s really weird when you can watch a squash match and say “that man is the best wrestler in the world,” but that’s what I did at several points in this short, sweet affair. Pac is just so, so good you guys. Like, unbelievably good. Everything he does is so measured, so cooly executed. The Black Arrow is a spectacular move, and Pac is capable of some of the craziest flips in the game, but you can’t call him a flippy boi because even those moves have a brutal sense of purpose about them. There aren’t many people in wrestling to whom the cliche “no wasted motion” apply—it’s him and Toru Yano, as far as wrestlers I regularly watch are concerned. Totally different styles, but neither man does something just to do it. Each spot, no matter how small, advances the narrative of the match. If the forbidden door is really kicked open, I’ll get a Pac vs. Yano match sometime in this life.

All Elite Wrestling

Chris Jericho and MJF def. The Acclaimed

MJF spent the match playing up his “injured” ribs, so rather than something spectacular that cemented he and Jericho as a team capable of taking out the Young Bucks at Revolution, we got something slow, measured, and rife with Inner Circle interference. More importantly, Guevara came out after the match to tell Jericho that he quit the Inner Circle. MJF mugged to the camera as Sammy left the rest of the Inner Circle looking dismayed. On his way out of Daily’s Place, Guevara told Alex Marvez that he needed to take a break. As usual, good character work all around.

Promo: Sting came out to talk to Tony about his first wrestling match in nearly six years at Revolution, but was interrupted by Team Taz. Taz himself told Sting that he was taking a trip to FTW World and had a special friend riding in the back. That friend was Darby Allin, zipped into a bodybag tied to the bumper of the SUV. Taz hauled off at an appreciably moderate speed, dragging Darby through the parking lot and into the night. Sting responded to this by walking kinda slowly to the back. I’m just glad that the Darby Allin: Pain Freak stuff is coming out to play during an angle again, rather than in a pre-taped segment.

Promo: Before the show, Alex Marvez caught Kenny Omega at the golf course as he was trying to get his ball out of a sand trap. Marvez was flabbergasted that Omega would golf before a major match, but Omega asked why the greatest wrestler ever would need to prepare for a wrestling match? In the background, Don Callis picked up Kenny’s errant ball, dropped it into the hole, and congratulated him for making another eagle, giving the ball to Marvez before stranding him at the course. Tony Schiavone was as upset about this violation of the sanctity of golf as he was about how Omega won the championship.

All Elite Wrestling

AEW Women’s Championship Eliminator Tournament: Thunder Rosa def. Leyla Hirsch

I am extremely excited about this tournament, y’all. I’d be more excited if there were two tournament matches on Dynamite, mind you, and even more excited if there were some way to not relegate the Japanese portion of the tournament to YouTube (though I get it), but this, I think, might be the AEW Women’s Division’s breakout moment. Its opening match, featuring Thunder Rosa and “Legit” Leyla Hirsch, certainly whet the appetite, showcasing everything that makes Rosa one of the most compelling women on the scene and highlighting a lot of what makes Hirsch such an exciting prospect.

I like Hirsch a lot, but am (perhaps oddly) hoping she pares her moveset down to what she clearly excels at, which is a combination of mat-based and power wrestling. When she stuck to the mat, this match was fire. When she went high risk, it didn’t work quite as well. I think it’s impressive that she can do springboard moonsaults and top rope ranas, but that aspect of her game feels out of step with her suplexes, knee strikes, and submissions. There are stories about how the WWF took both Andre the Giant and The Big Show and got them to stop doing highly athletic things—Show could, at one point, do a moonsault. It may seem counterintuitive to a Good Match to limit an athlete, but it made both men seem more serious and, as a consequence, more dangerous. Same principle here, only Hirsch’s x-factor is how good she is at wrestling.

Promo: Jungle Boy ran down his beef with FTR and promised to make them his bitch as revenge for the kidnapping of Marko Stunt. I’ve got no real love for this feud, but I’m glad they’re developing Jungle Boy’s mic skills. This wasn’t great, but he’s really young and has time to grow in that aspect of the game.

All Elite Wrestling

No DQ, Falls Count Anywhere: Kenny Omega and Kenta def. Jon Moxley and Lance Archer

Okay. So. There’s a spot in this match where Kenta was brawling by Peter Avalon’s heart shaped bed, right? Avalon got really testy about it, so Kenta gave him the Go 2 Sleep…but Avalon didn’t fall into the bed. It was right there, immortality, and they didn’t go for it. So I hated this match, obviously.

I’m being facetious, but I do think this was the wrong way to introduce Kenta to AEW. It’s his first match in, so sure, let’s book him in a WWF Hardcore Championship match where there’s going to be some walking and brawling into one unique setting before heading back into the ring. As introductions go, it sucked. With the exception of an excellent spot where he hit Mox with a diving double foot stomp from the stage to the timekeeper’s table, there was nothing distinct about his performance, or the performance of Omega, Archer, and Mox. It was a flavorless, tepid brawl that wrapped with interference from the Good Brothers, who helped Omega lift Archer for the One Winged Angel while Kenta beat Mox up out of frame.

The Go 2 Sleep flub would be more forgivable if the segue to the kitchen weren’t staged around a box of potatoes that was left out specifically so that Archer and Mox could attack Kenta and Omega with the potatoes since “potato” is wrestling slang for a stiff punch. When I saw the box I was amped up to be furious about their not coming into play, “potato” being my favorite wrestling word, so when Archer burst into the kitchen and used the whole damn box I was extremely into it. I am, I admit, a total loser. But this was disjointed—so much so that the transition from the kitchen back to the ring was a full screen replay package—and bland to an extreme considering where No DQ matches involving Omega, Moxley, and Archer have gone in the recent past. And the Go 2 Sleep into bed was right there, too.