A Square in the Inner Circle: AEW Dynamite Recap

Or: Return of the Cleaner

Instead of offering a synopsis of what happened last week (things I’m sure I’ll reference later in this recap), I wanted to write a little about the match we will not be seeing tonight.

At last Thursday’s AEW Dynamite tapings, in a match between Tay Conti and Abadon, Abadon was accidentally hit in the throat, couldn’t breathe, and was hospitalized. Reports surfaced that she’s okay, but shit like this is scary. I know accidents happen, I know “this ain’t ballet,” but between this incident, Fenix landing on his neck in a spot on last week’s show, and an unconscious Alex Reynolds being pulled to the corner so he could be tagged out, the well-being of multiple wrestlers were put in pretty severe danger last week. Is the risk worth the reward? Are we fans to blame for the high spots being so high-risk?

Sometimes I feel as though we expect too much from wrestlers, who are putting their lives on the line stepping in between the ropes on top of wrestling during a global pandemic which has killed more people than World War II. I’m happy the wrestlers who experienced these scary accidents are fine now, and I’m hoping fans who clamor for high spots even when wrestlers are trying to tell different stories will shut the fuck up and try to enjoy what they’re giving to us.

Whew, okay. Let’s get on with the show.

All Elite Wrestling

This week’s Dynamite opens with an interview with MJF and Wardlow, the former noting Wardlow’s exclusive contract with him, which means the Nordstrom Rack suit-clad MJF will become champion if Wardlow wins the tournament. Max’s bodyguard doesn’t take this very well, but very begrudgingly agrees to the terms. Sammy Guevara interrupts the interview and Max is trying to play nice in his grossly condescending way, which Sammy wants no part of, throwing down his 3XL jacket and saying he’ll make sure Max will never be allowed entry into the Inner Circle. MJF gives some unfriendly advice about Sammy’s promo (“Don’t”), and says he looks like the guy who sells Adderall to middle schoolers. Sammy stares Max down, Max backs off, and he and Wardlow hit the ring for their tournament match against the Hangman.

All Elite Wrestling

AEW World Title Eliminator Semifinal Match: “Hangman” Adam Page def. Wardlow

Hangman, whose lower-third today reads “Emotionally Unavailable,” dropkicks Wardlow while his music is still playing, but Wardlow catches an early advantage. I’ve raved quite a few times about Wardlow’s upside in this space, and he looks very impressive against Page here, spearing him through the guardrail like a sack of wet concrete. His gutwrench powerbomb on Page is gorgeous, and he spends the bulk of this match clubbering the fuck out of the anxious millennial cowboy. Page channels his inner Minoru Suzuki — perhaps studying tape to prepare for Kenny? — by cinching in a hanging armbar off the ring ropes.

Hangman tries his power game on Wardlow but gets stuffed repeatedly. So he goes for his Orihara Moonsault to the floor, following up with a running Shooting Star Press. Wardlow kicks out at one and hits an F10, but Hangman smartly rolls out of the ring. Wardlow attempts an F10 from the top, but Hangman fights it off and hits his sidewalk slam from off the top turnbuckle. One Buckshot Lariat only takes Wardlow to a knee, but the second one does the trick. Hangman Page is officially going to the finals!

Grade: A fast-paced, if I may use a well-worn term here, slobberknocker.

More Pro Wrestling:

Segment: Mox is in an undisclosed MMA gym, speaking of the past year building the AEW Championship into the top prize in professional wrestling. But this I Quit match against Eddie Kingston isn’t entirely about the championship, it is very personal. He won’t be defending the title, he will be weaponizing the prize that has eluded Kingston for the past eighteen years. The AEW World Championship seems as much a weakness for Kingston as it is a motivator, as his ambition has made him fearless and ruthless, but also has made him miserable. Mox has been all business up until this point, but now he’s on a crusade to show Kingston the mirror and who is really to blame for all his failures. “Protect your neck, Eddie.”

All Elite Wrestling

Eddie Kingston def. Matt Sydal

I like the story of the Bunny returning to the Butcher and (her husband) the Blade’s side after maxing out QT Marshall’s credit cards. I knew something was fishy about their relationship from jump. Marshall seems like a nice guy but kind of a scrub, and Allie trading down just to wipe out his finances seems like a pretty realistic and palatable story. Kingston cuts a promo, saying he — unbelievably enough — is tired of talking. He wants to fight! And since the champ isn’t here, he’s gonna take it out on the man who “tried to steal [his] thunder” by pulling the Joker in the Casino Battle Royale. He again says he never lost, and gives a shoutout to Lance Archer.

Kingston repeatedly teases a test of strength against Sydal, but turns it into a waistlock. Kingston takes a while getting out of the blocks while Sydal goes for savvy pin attempts and high-speed cannonballs. But a stiff Uranage stops Sydal in his tracks and Kingston takes the advantage. Sydal had a good game plan to bombard Kingston with kicks and quick strikes as early as possible, because once Kingston gained the advantage, it was like watching a pit bull take apart a chicken drumstick. Sydal sticks to his initial plan and it temporarily works out for him until he gets a hard kitchen sink knee lift, a spinning backfist, and a bulldog choke (Mox’s ace in the hole). Sydal submits.

Grade: A solid affair that deftly plays to each wrestler’s strengths. Kingston winning with the bulldog choke was a nice touch.

Kingston refuses to let go of the choke; Bunny brings in a mic and Kingston demands for “Moxley” to say “I quit.” Sydal verbally acquiesces and Kingston comes out of his fugue state and apologizes to “Mox.”

Interview Segment: Excalibur interviews the Young Bucks (who he is sitting next to) and FTR (who are in a different room somewhere in Daily’s Place with Tully Blanchard). He asks about Matt Jackson’s ankle, which was injured in last week’s attack after the four-way #1 contender’s tag match. Matt stubbornly says it’s fine (“He’s hurt,” Nick half-mumbles in the background). Excalibur asks why FTR would put this match, years in the making, in jeopardy. Dax says more important than any one match are their titles. Matt addresses his change in attitude, noting the killer instinct of the Young Bucks have been missing for the past year. Excalibur goes to ask the Bucks another question and FTR call favoritism and show themselves out. Matt says the Bucks are winners because they bet on themselves, and they’re going to bet on themselves yet again: He pledges if he and his brother don’t win the AEW World Tag Team Championships, they will never challenge for them again.

All Elite Wrestling

The Inner Circle and MJF Engage in a Town Hall to Determine Whether or Not Max Will Be Let Into the Group

Tony Schiavone and Dasha Gonzales are introduced as the panelist for this Town Hall, and the two parties enter the ring. Luchasaurus asks the first question, for MJF. As someone who has a masters degree and apparently is a financial analyst even though his degree is in literature, so he asks how Max plans to continue the financial prosperity of the Inner Circle. MJF puts up a ludicrously speculative graph, projecting the MJF-era profits will shoot through the roof.

Question #2 is from Dr. Britt Baker, and a starstruck Reba (Rebel) fangirls out over Jericho. (“Stop being weird. You’re being weird,” Dr. Baker says as she scolds her hairdresser/bodyguard/understudy.) Dr. Baker asks how Jericho can trust Max given his very shoddy track record of friendship. Jericho throws a shot at Cody and says MJF isn’t being included in the Inner Circle for his friendship.

Peter Avalon steps up to the podium to shoot his shot. He asks if he can join the Inner Circle. The guys talk it over and have a good laugh.

All Elite Wrestling

Eric Bischoff is brought to the podium and says he has a three-pronged question (as delightfully longwinded as his responses and diatribes on 83 Weeks). He quotes John F. Kennedy for some reason and asks what MJF can do for the Inner Circle. MJF replies with one word, “friendship,” and a chorus of boos rain down on him. Bischoff asks what the Inner Circle can do for him. Max says the dent in his armor is that he’s not exactly what people would call a team player, and the group would be a great lesson in learning how to play well with others. Bischoff leads his third question by calling Jericho a prima donna, which Jericho vociferously protests until Tony screams at him to shut up. Bischoff says Max is also a prima donna, and asks how those two will coexist without killing each other. Max goes off and is prompted by Jericho to answer the question. Max assertively states he has given Jericho the greatest segment he’s ever had and the best segment pro wrestling has ever seen (“Le Dinner Debonaire” was no “Festival of Friendship,” but it was still pretty entertaining; I digress).

Jericho then says there is not much Max hasn’t done in AEW… except face him. He challenges Max to a match at Full Gear, and says if he wins, his entry into the Inner Circle will be accepted. Max stresses that he will do anything to win. Ortiz steps in and says he doesn’t want Max in, Sammy definitely doesn’t want Max in, and Santana is currently indifferent about it. He then challenges Max and Wardlow to a match with him and Sammy next week, saying he won’t even make it to Full Gear.

More Sports:

Segment: Taz once again explains why he has been trying to recruit Will Hobbs. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. Hobbs is huge, talented, hungry, and mean. He’s a bad dude, and would fit in well with the bad dudes in Team Taz, Brian Cage and Ricky Starks. Taz says time is running out on Hobbs’ decision.

All Elite Wrestling

TNT Championship Lumberjack Match: Cody (c) def. Orange Cassidy

The match starts off hot and heavy, with neither man getting an advantage. Cassidy then takes control by applying some great counter-wrestling, to where both men struggle to get a clear advantage. One of the interesting things about Cody’s TNT Championship matches is how he is focused and purposed against veterans and monster heels, but becomes cocky and distracted when he’s up against emerging babyface stars. Like he doesn’t think guys like Sonny Kiss, WARHORSE, and Orange Cassidy are on his level. Once again, Arn Anderson is yelling at him from ringside to get serious.

Things get heated starting from when Cody attempts a trust fall into the arms of Best Friends and they drop him. Inside the ring, Cody and Cassidy slug it out in a knock down, drag out battle of signature moves. When they make it to the outside, the lumberjacks aren’t shy to beat their asses. Cassidy hits a strong series of moves, finishing with the Beach Break for a two-count. After a fracas, JACKED John Silver hits Cassidy with a pump kick, Arn punches Cassidy in the face, and Cody hits Crossrhodes for the win.

Grade: Chaotic in a good way, the match really ramped up the energy from their match two weeks ago. Cody capitalizing (albeit possibly inadvertently) on some illegal interference is a nice touch that seems like it might be going somewhere.

After the match, chaos ensues while Darby Allin watches from the cheap seats. I like the vague “Sting in the rafters” energy Darby gives off by sitting in a closed-off section high in the arena’s seating chart.

Backstage Interview: Alex Marvez appears with Best Friends for half a second before Kip and Miro appear and apologize for overreacting, offering a present to Best Friends. A wild Penelope Ford appears, dressed in Orange Cassidy cosplay and hands off a package. She asks “trick or treat,” Best Friends answer “neither,” and Kip and Miro jump them. Miro says he’ll never forgive Trent and Chuck, and the package is revealed to be a new arcade console.

All Elite Wrestling

NWA World Women’s Championship Match: Serena Deeb def. “Legit” Layla Hirsch

Serena Deeb carries her newly-won NWA World Women’s Championship— still adorned with Thunder Rosa’s image in the center—into this match, as she won the championship just last night and immediately got on a plane to Jacksonville. Deeb and Hirsch start with a very strong collar and elbow tie-up and lead into some grinding chain wrestling. Hirsch nails Deeb with a lariat and follows it up with a hard double knee strike into the corner. Deeb hits a pretty brutal hanging neckbreaker across the middle rope. Hirsch works on Deeb’s arm; kicking it with both feet, using the ropes as leverage. She attempts a moonsault and misses, and Deeb wipes her out with two neckbreakers, tapping her out with a Tequila Sunrise.

Grade: A brief but enjoyable match. I am very much looking forward to seeing more of Hirsch in the ring.

Backstage Interview: Alex Marvez asks Hikaru Shida about Nyla Rose, #1 contender for months, refusing to wrestle again until she is granted an AEW Women’s World Title shot. Shida quickly accepts the challenge, basically saying if you want it, come get it.

Shawn Spears def. VSK

This one is over way quicker than it started, with Spears hitting VSK with a C4 (Death Valley Driver) seconds into the match.

Grade: N/A (I know they’ve invested a lot into Spears and can’t just have him rack up meaningless wins on Dark, but I don’t know how they’re going to make his character seem compelling. Everything he’s done since busting Cody wide open ain’t it.)

After the match, a person wearing a bull head throws candy at Spears, who drags the person into the ring, turns his back on them to grab the steel slug from Tully, and the bull unmasks and reveals himself as Scorpio Sky. I’m looking forward to Scorp getting a solid singles run, but they’re really doing the slow burn putting him in a feud with Spears, huh?

All Elite Wrestling

AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament Semifinal Match: Kenny Omega def. Penta El 0M

It is revealed Eddie Kingston convinced Fenix to give up his spot against Omega to Pentagon due to his injury, and his brother accompanies him to the ring for the match. Fenix goes for the high five but Penta puts his arm down, which I thought was a funny interaction between the siblings.

Kenny’s introduction is as appropriately obnoxious as it was last week, with another allusion to North Carolina, current home of “Hangman” Adam Page. His dancers are wearing the masks of the Lucha Bros, and he’s speaking unintelligibly to the camera in all his disingenuous hero glory — just like he did last week, before beating Sonny Kiss in seconds and very insincerely celebrating Sonny’s bravery. Here, underneath his AEW x Street Fighter collab tee is the AAA Mega Championship, the title he defeated Fenix for last year and hasn’t defended in months.

Penta and Kenny jaw-jack for a while; Penta prepares to chop Kenny’s chest into hamburger by taking off his glove. Kenny slaps Penta with the glove and we’re off to the races. In the early stages of the match, Kenny gets caught being a little cocky and the two opponents start laying their shit in. The match spills into the ringside area where a little cooler play is involved. Back in the ring, Omega and Penta are still laying their shit in. The match is a ton more aggressive than their All In encounter in the summer of 2018.

Penta catches Kenny with a pump kick right in the mouth and follows it up with a Slingblade off the ropes before hitting Omega with a diving foot stomp while he hangs off the turnbuckles. Kenny hits two Snapdragon Suplexes and goes for a third, which is countered by a hard back elbow. Kenny hits a V-Trigger and almost falls over, but only gets a two-count. Another V-Trigger hits flush; Omega goes for the One-Winged Angel but Penta escapes. Anothern few second pass and another V-Trigger connects solidly. Omega tries to suplex Penta onto the ramp, but Penta hits a Panama City Sunrise-style Destroyer there. Penta hits a Package Piledriver but only gets a two-count.

Kenny hits yet another V-Trigger, several feet off the ground. He goes for One-Winged Angel again, but Penta brings Kenny down and snaps his arm. Penta comes off the ropes and gets hit with one more V-Trigger, successfully hits the One-Winged Angel and gets the pinfall.

Grade: If Kenny vs. Penta at All In would have gone down like this, there’s a good chance we’d still be talking about it. (Honestly, this was the match I was expecting in 2018, but the match then was a little half-baked.) As it stands, it’s still one of the better Dynamite main events AEW has put on.

Kenny moves on to face Hangman in the tournament finals as he clutches the AAA Mega Championship.

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Martin Douglas

Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music and pro wrestling. He is the very unofficial poet laureate of Tacoma, WA and is starting to dabble in fiction.

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