The NBA returned from its shortest offseason this week and the slam dunk contest its fans ran on AEW and Chris Jericho after the conclusion of the Milwaukee Bucks/Boston Celtics game is the story for a lot of the wrestling world at this moment. Is it mean to paunch-shame Chris Jericho? Is AEW screwing up by running a match featuring a 50-year-old man, legend or not, after the young man’s game of basketball? Is wrestling, you know, uncool?
I’m not sure any of this would have been a problem were it not for AEW’s continuing to remain in a holding pattern after its Winter Is Coming edition of Dynamite. For three weeks now, the hard reset promised by the conclusion of the Kenny Omega/Jon Moxley AEW World Heavyweight Championship match hasn’t really reset anything. Instead of pressing their advantage as a new, hip wrestling product with a buzzworthy champion, they’re re-running the same Sting angle, the same Omega/Callis angle, and matches that we’ve seen one version of or another before with the players rearranged.
It’s like the company took a gigantic leap forward only to forget about that leap a week later. Yes, there’s the two-week New Year’s Bash event coming up, but running immediately after an NBA game that came down to its last shot was an opportunity, and rather than giving this audience something new, they gave us another chance to collect ourselves from a shock that’s becoming harder and harder to remember as the weeks roll on.
Will that basketball audience come back? Probably, the next time there’s a basketball game on before an episode of Dynamite. What’s more concerning, at least from a critical standpoint, is how a company on the verge of breaking one million viewers for the first time has been content to rest on the laurels of an episode that changed everything and nothing at the exact same time. With the exception of Sting’s appearance, there wasn’t anything on Dynamite that would have felt too big for AEW Dark, and that’s pretty frustrating considering that new episodes of Dynamite still feel important in a way the competition is struggling with. But all of this will be in the rearview mirror by the time Kenny Omega and Rey Fenix wrestle for the title next week, so let’s get on with this show.
MJF and Chris Jericho def. Top Flight
The whole “is the Inner Circle falling apart?” aspect of this match was largely put aside from bell to bell, as Jericho and MJF worked well together once they figured out how to deal with Top Flight’s speed. My favorite part of this was Tony and Jim discussing why Wesley Morris left Chris Jericho out of his discussion of Le Dinner Debonaire, which he didn’t—it’s just that in this particular battle of theater jocks vs. hair metal jocks, the theater jock could actually sing.
The match itself functioned as a showcase of what an MJF/Jericho team is capable of, as well as a showcase of one of AEW’s newest tag teams. It works, though there are points at which it nearly falls apart, which has to do more with how AEW tag matches emphasize big, convoluted multi-man spots. The pieces connecting those big, convoluted multi-man spots are a lot harder to see when both teams have that as a regular part of their game. While it didn’t work for me, it did work to isolate MJF and Darius Martin, which allowed Jake Hager to set Max up for the Heat Seaker, which gave the Inner Circle the win. Always good to get a secondary finish established.
Speaking of Hager, he had something to say about Inner Circle unity after the match, namely that he’s not buying it because Wardlow is “taking care of family business” when the Inner Circle is the only family he should need. He called Wardlow an asset and an asshole, then announced that the two will wrestle next week. So far as largely-quiet musclebro matches go, that’s some real Ghost of Christmas Past vs. Ghost of Christmas Future booking.
Tony Schiavone Interviews Sting (Again)
If I put together a list of everything I love about AEW in December 2020, Tony Schiavone, Sting, Team Taz, and fake snow would be up at the top. But this week the territory is so familiar that Sting is back to calling TNT the jungle. Tony asked Sting what his purpose was in AEW, but that question was too deep, so Sting did a pretty decent Dusty Rhodes impression and told a historically inaccurate (but spiritually true) story about how Dusty put color on his face, tights, and boots, “glow in the dark, baby,” before putting him against Ric Flair. When he saw that it was the Rhodes family bringing wrestling back to TNT, he couldn’t stay away.
Things getting gushy and emotional isn’t really something Team Taz can vibe with, so they interrupted Sting’s run about the Rhodes family. Taz, himself a bitter old dude with an eye towards his legacy, said that Sting was really only in AEW for Sting. He and his hungry tigers advanced on WCW’s sad rafter clown but forgot about his sad rafter son, who appeared in the ring after hearing all he could stand of Taz’s angry soccer dad banter.
Brian Cage wanted to fight, but Taz decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He’ll have his chance at the TNT Championship on January 6, though. More important than that is the Sting/Darby staredown that ended this segment, continuing to tease one of the wilder young gun/ancient old man wrestling matches I can think of.
Pre-tape: Backstage, MJF had a cameraman follow him into catering, where Santana and Ortiz were playing cards. Both of them wanted to leave, but MJF wanted to bond, and did so by saying that both he and Santana had recently weathered loss. It worked.
Jurassic Express def. Colt Cabana, 5, and 10
I’ve been reviewing AEW for long enough to know that I’m never really going to get Jurassic Express. Outside of Jungle Boy, whose deal is that he’s going to be a major player when he fills out a little and gets some experience, AEW hasn’t really given me a reason to care about them as a unit, so I’m burnt out on their routine. Their match this week sees Marko’s size get him in trouble, Luchasaurus’ size bail the team out on a couple of occasions, and the quickness of Jungle Boy and Stunt work to frustrate their opponents. The big change-up here is that the Express pull one out on Dynamite, as opposed to taking a competitive L.
That’s because the competitive L is coming on January 6, when they face FTR. Teams like FTR are part of the reason I struggle to take Jurassic Express seriously, in case you were wondering. FTR’s gimmick being REAL TAG TEAM WRESTLING, they tend to look at guys in Tarzan gear and dinosaur masks and laugh at them, all before beating them in a match of consequence. Anyhow, Tully Blanchard calling them “Jurassic Park” without meaning to ruled, and even if it kind of screws Tully over a bit by making him look like a very old man, I’m glad they left it in.
Pre-tape: Alex Marvez caught up with Kenny Omega and Don Callis by creeping on their hotel. Don was extremely upset about Pac dictating matches, but Kenny wasn’t especially bothered. He did a little year in review action on Rey Fenix, his opponent next week, and revealed that Fenix choked a lot this year, especially when he was in the ring with Kenny Omega. This is the version of heel Kenny that I like, the one who talks about the wrestling aspect of wrestling and not the business aspect of it. He suggests that Fenix will need to look elsewhere for a job after his match at New Year’s Bash, but Don doesn’t want him in Impact because he’s too injury prone. At least Fenix will always have AAA.
Pac def. The Butcher
On paper, this is the kind of 1998 WCW cruiserweight vs. beefy midcard boi match I crave. In the ring, it started out that way, but couldn’t close.
The Butcher has grown on me a lot over the past several weeks; it’s a lot of fun to see big dudes hurl themselves at smaller dudes, and his crossbody block is the simplest, purest version of that kind of fun on television. It’s all Pac can do to kick at Butcher’s legs, which he did to great effect.
Given a chance to play out, I think I would have really liked this. But at the end of the match, Butcher knocked Pac out and… didn’t do anything with him while he was dead weight in his arms. Eddie Kingston was on commentary and screamed at Butcher to do something. He took off his headset to give that advice closer to the ring, but that brought out Lance Archer, who kept Kingston penned up at the commentary position. All of that stalling meant that Butcher looked like a big ol’ dummy when Pac kicked him in the face, hit the Black Arrow, and won. Why the Lance Archer thing has to keep getting in the way of the good time that Eddie Kingston vs. Pac should be is a mystery, but it’s not one I’m too keen on solving.
Pre-tape: Jade Cargill wished Brandi well in pregnancy, noting that she is also a great mother. She noted the convenient timing of the pregnancy, what with her and Shaq calling Brandi and Cody out, but doesn’t dwell on it long. She’s tired of waiting on a worthy opponent. At last, the prospect of a Jade Cargill match.
Interview: Kip Sabian, Penelope Ford, and Miro told Tony when the Sabian/Ford wedding would take place. Sabian said that the wedding would be the first “wrestling wedding” on TNT, which is unfortunately not true. Instead of revealing the date, the AEW Tron played Best Friends’ music, but it was all a ruse – Trent was being loaded into an ambulance. Anyhow, the wedding is on February 3 on the Beach Break edition of Dynamite. A beach wedding! Only it’ll probably be in an arena and not on a beach.
Dustin Rhodes def. Evil Uno
I tricked myself into being really into this match from the moment it was announced, but this was a brief night for the Dark Order as Dustin took Uno out without much drama, using his vintage bulldog finisher to do so. Uno got a little shine, but he’s in a weird place as a tag wrestler and stable mouthpiece, so he was shown as competent but a little out of his depth.
After the match, Uno tried to shake hands with Dustin, saying that he could make him better. He got flipped off for his trouble, which brought Stu Grayson in. After a failed save attempt by Lee Johnson, QT Marshall joined the fight, which allowed Johnson to clear the ring. My perfect world where Dustin Rhodes got a meaningful singles feud that wasn’t an advertisement for a track jacket I’m not interested in owning? In tatters.
Interview: In a pre-taped interview, Tony Schiavone sat down with Shawn Spears and began with a question many of us have asked at some point in 2020, “why am I here?” Spears asked Tony why he quit the business for 15 years, Tony said “burnout,” and Spears said that that’s why, because the two can understand each other. He tossed his black glove and said that he didn’t need it, and that while the letters on the marquee had changed, he found the same glass ceiling in AEW as he had in New York. Tony asked if Spears ever figured that the problem was him, but that’s a question that jerks ask, so Spears bailed on the interview and said he’d return to AEW when he felt like it.
Hikaru Shida def. Alex Gracia
Before the match, Abadon interrupted a Hikaru Shida interview with some light brawling. During the match, she appeared at ringside and nearly cost Shida by distracting her. After the match, Abadon bit Shida. There was also a match, an under five-minute affair that Shida was never in any real danger of losing, even by countout, in service to a title match.
On one hand, they’re building to a featured women’s match that will probably go longer than five minutes. On the other hand, here’s another week of women’s wrestling on Dynamite that makes me wish AEW had a P.O. Box I could send real, physical letters to about how angry I am about how Shawn Spears throwing away his glove is as worthy of my attention as women’s wrestling.
AEW World Tag Team Championships: The Young Bucks (c) def. The Acclaimed
I never thought about how difficult it must be to live rap about wrestling opponents until Max Caster dropped “the Bucks ain’t got balls / but they can play with ours” before this match. Up at the top of this recap, when I said that AEW is running similar matches with different players, this is what I meant: There’s not a lot separating this from the Bucks’ defense against TH2. Oh, sure, the style of wrestling is different, but we’re still establishing the Young Bucks as the no doubt, slam dunk consensus opinion best tag team in the world, and that requires tag teams like this, who talk a big game and bring a respectable gameplan, but who aren’t quite ready for the dance.
At least the structure of the match was different, and this not being a spotfest meant that Bowens and Caster were actually able to hold the advantage for longer than a blind tag or cheap shot, and often forced the Young Bucks to work from underneath. The finish – Nick superkicking Rick Knox, which led to a low blow and a boombox shot that incoming referee Paul Turner must have missed somehow – kind of sucked. It was a nod in the direction of drama, but the point of this match was that the Bucks’ days of taking occasional surprise losses are well behind them, so Bowens eventually wound up powerbombed through a table (again, no issue so far as the ref was concerned) and Caster ate a BTE Trigger, and that was that.
This week’s Dynamite delivered a solid night if you were looking for decent wrestling, but I got the distinct feeling that what AEW is most proud of this week is their reenactment of A Christmas Story. I want to read NBA fan Twitter’s reaction to that.