Call Me By Your Name: AEW Recap and Review

Or: Fuck the Ones You Envy (Metaphorically, of Course)

I don’t want to spend too much space on the page adding to the discourse of the mostly imaginary Wednesday Night War. Starting next week, AEW Dynamite will run on Wednesdays with no direct competition from NXT, which is less significant than a lot of people are making it out to be. Neither World Wrestling Entertainment nor All Elite Wrestling had grandiose visions of putting the other company out of business, which makes the conceit of other wrestling publications putting up head-to-head ratings seem kind of frivolous. 

Only in pro wrestling is the very regular concept of counterprogramming compared to the idea of battling for one’s life. Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert have been running against each other every weeknight for years. Before they started building a light rail stop about 15 minutes away from my house, a McDonald’s and a Wendy’s sat across the street from each other for almost two decades. The so-called Wednesday Night War wasn’t all that serious.

That being said, NXT ran night one of a two-night Takeover event as their final Wednesday salvo, and scrolling through Twitter yesterday morning made me realize AEW loaded up their card—partly as a retort and partly to build a no longer fragmented pro wrestling audience. The matches announced for last night most definitely made my eyes widen a little as a fan who has yet to miss an episode of Dynamite in its 18-month run (Tay Conti vs. The Bunny and JD Drake vs. Darby Allin were likely to be sleeper hits, while Max Caster vs. Hangman Page felt like a certified banger in the making); the news of Mike Tyson returning didn’t do much for me but it was a smart move to draw in casual viewers. 

If anything, NXT moving to Tuesday nights will cease to split the wrestling audience and possibly increase viewership for both shows. I’m sure many wrestling fans are relieved they don’t have to choose anymore.

Last night’s episode began with a fleet of snazzy black vehicles marking the Inner Circle’s arrival. A Lamborghini, a Range Rover, a Chevy Silverado, a Dodge Ram, and a Porsche. It’s a fun twist from the rote babyface/heel binary to have the Pinnacle and the Inner Circle out-stunt each other with these vehicle and travel flexes. 

AEW

“Hangman” Adam Page def. “Platinum” Max Caster

As Caster spit his bars, Anthony Bowens was back from injury, playing hype man for Caster. This week’s battle rap features Joe Biden’s stair slip, calling Page a one trick pony and inviting him to do something Standards & Practices at TNT would shut the show down over, and the Lil Nas X video that I love, primarily because it has the Christian right and the patriarchal/homophobic rap contingent SO FUCKING MAD. 

Max Caster Battle Rap Rating: 3.5 Mics

A recent storytelling conceit of AEW programming has been to pad wins for their wrestlers via enhancement matches and non-consequential wins via Dark and Dark: Elevation. This is how Caster is 7-1 in his last eight singles matches and is apparently a highly enough ranked contender to where this match with Page had some actual stakes. I will say that Caster has been looking good in his singles matches while Bowens heals from injury; he’s savvy and does enough but not too much in matches, which will always work for me! 

The match was a good opening brawl, guided in the opening moments by Page whipping the brakes off Caster partly because of “High Horse,” his Hangman diss track (a solid 3 Mic effort). Bowens made sure to get involved in the match, giving Caster a temporary advantage in the match. Toward the end of the match, Caster went for a top rope move, to which Hangman knocks the shit out of him in mid-air; Bowens slid in the boombox, which Hangman got his hands on, which led to Bowens sliding Caster a pair of brass knuckles. Hangman kicked out, fought off both Bowens and Caster, and hit a Buckshot Lariat on Caster for the win.

To celebrate his win, Hangman passed out a couple brews, drank one of his own, and toasted a fan on National Beer Day.

In-Ring Interview: Tony Schiavone introduced Death Triangle and asked them about their shot at the Young Bucks next week. Before PAC, Penta, or Fenix said anything, Best Friends and Orange Cassidy came out. Cassidy expresses his happiness about all three members of Death Triangle being in the ring again (FORESHADOWING), playing clips of various matches between them. PAC knew what was up and called it out: They obviously want a shot at the new AEW World Tag Team Champions. PAC told them they have a lot of work to do, and Trent let Death Triangle know they’re down to do the work and “the boys (and the alien) are back in town.”

AEW

The Inner Circle Lays Down the Law

The recent pivot to babyface the Inner Circle has made sense at this point in their career, and not just because the Pinnacle replaced them as the top team of assholes on AEW programming. Sammy is good at playing the shithead, but also performs dazzling moves that bely his heelish characteristics. Jericho doesn’t have to do much to be a convincing babyface on screen (off-screen is a different matter); he’s engendered enough good will by being a 30-year veteran. With Santana’s impassioned promos and Ortiz’s comedic brilliance, they were never heels as hard as they tried. Jake Hager was a pretty great heel, for the sheer fact that he’s so easily to dislike in real life and, you know, gets a million chances to make the crowd feel any sort of strong response to him.

Jericho babyfaced it up by saying Jacksonville sounded great singing “Judas,” which was to be expected. He went over getting beat down by MJF’s group, which he mispronounced as “the Pineapple” before he was corrected (a classic Jericho insult). He talked about MJF outsmarting him and how he was never really good at chemistry. He mentioned not taking MJF under his wing, but putting him under his thumb. The Inner Circle knew they were going to be betrayed by Max, but he got the jump on them. Jericho cautioned MJF to have a little patience when it comes to his above average career and cautioned against gimmick infringement (mainly the scarf thing). He called out Max going to the back after every match for online feedback, changing the pejorative term from “mark” to “max.” 

Jericho then proceeded to run down each member of the Pinnacle one by one: There’s Wardlow, with “a million dollar brain and a 13 cent body.” There’s Shawn Spears, who for all his purported skill, is only memorable to Jericho because he once texted after getting fired from WWE asking for pointers. Tully Blanchard, a “third-string member of the Four Horsemen, ranking somewhere between Ole Anderson and Paul Roma.” (Damn, bro.) There’s FTR, who are great performers but totally interchangeable like the Jonas Brothers. “Are you Dax, are you Cash? Are you Ax, are you Smash? Are you Axel, are you Slash? I DON’T KNOW!” (Damn, bro.) 

Most importantly, Jericho finally—FINALLY—challenged the group to a Blood & Guts match! 

(Most weekly viewers knew it was coming, but I’m even more excited for the Inner Circle to take on the Pinnacle, basically an ersatz generational update of the Horsemen, instead of a then-fracturing Elite. This matchup most definitely emphasizes the grit and violence that a Not a WarGames Match should exemplify.) This was one of the better Jericho promos of the past number of years, full of passion and piss and vinegar, and I enthusiastically recommend watching it in full, in case you for whatever reason read these recaps before viewing the show or in lieu of it.

Backstage Interview: Dasha was backstage with Christian Cage, who passionately explained his year of grinding his way back to the ring and commended Frankie Kazarian for his toughness. Taz then came in to recruit Christian for Team Taz, which I doubt will go the way of when Taz recruited Powerhouse Hobbs. Taz has been relentlessly recruiting members for Team Taz over the past year; if he were working in AEW’s front office, WWE would have to close the PC!

AEW

Jurassic Express def. Bear Country

Monster movie conceit or no, I’m just so happy Jurassic Express are facing a team other than FTR. And as a nice change of style, Bear Country spent much of the match muscling Jungle Boy around. Of course Jurassic Express matches generally fall into easy tropes, but Boulder and Bronson made this particular one much more believable. Finally, Luchasaurus got the hot tag, cleaned house, and almost went for a double chokeslam on the massive duo. Jungle Boy broke up a pin with a top rope splash and hit a pretty springboard DDT. Eventually, Luchasaurus hit a chokeslam and a moonsault on Bear Bronson for the win.

Segment: QT Marshall called out Cody from the Nightmare Factory, saying Cody should have made his motto “Do the work for me.” Marshall walked through Cody’s inglorious WWE run, saying he had to work the indies and “surrounded [himself] with vanilla midgets” to finally make a name for himself. QT called his former friend “bargain brand Sting!” He then introduced each member of his new group: Aaron Solow, Nick Comorato, and Anthony Ogogo, who got a few seconds to cut a good introductory promo. I gotta admit that the idea of QT Marshall heading his own group of training school graduates even three weeks ago would have produced a very exaggerated yawn from me, but I’m actually kinda interested to see how this goes! 

Who knew of all people in AEW, QT Marshall would end up being one of the brand’s more compelling heels? A month ago, he was as bland as a glass of milk in a paper cup, and now he’s kinda tearing it up!

Tony Schiavone Interviews Sting (Again)

Before Sting could even get a word in edgewise, Jake Roberts came out and called Darby Allin Sting’s “gerbil friend” before explaining the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Lance Archer came out and expressed his frustration with coming into AEW on top, working main event after main event, and then disappearing. Sting took the mic and gave Archer a pep talk of sorts, basically telling him, “Okay, you can do better, then do better.”

Segment: Ricky Starks interrupted Taz again and offered the floor to Brian Cage sarcastically, and Taz jumped in and noted this was the same thing he did last week, telling his group to get it together because they’re trying to recruit a “blue chipper” in Christian Cage. 

AEW

Darby Allin def. JD Drake

Darby Allin’s somewhat ongoing open challenge has led to a collision with JD Drake, self-described as “the blue-collar badass,” and one of the few bright spots in the somewhat dull last months of EVOLVE — who happens to be aligned with Dolph Ziggler’s brother. Nemeth tried to get involved in the match early, but Sting chased him off, leading it to be a one-on-one contest. Naturally, Drake’s size advantage comes into play (as well as his heavy hands), dominating the match well into its runtime.

At one point on the outside, Drake sent Darby into the ropes from the floor and hit him with a huge lariat after he ricocheted off, and then sent himself into Darby with a cannonball senton into the guardrail. Moments later Darby dove from the top turnbuckle to the floor to nail Drake. Drake missed the moonsault press, leading Darby to hit an avalanche Code Red and a Coffin Drop for the win.

After the match, the Butcher and the Blade damn near pushed Darby off the stage as Matt Hardy’s corporate clique tried to jump him while the Bunny demanded the announcer’s table. The Dark Order came out and Sting came back to run them off as the Bunny was still trying to take the announce position. But then, Tay Conti double legged the Bunny as various referees attempted to pull her off.

Backstage Interview: Jericho complimented Alex Marvez (a first!) before immediately getting jumped by the Pinnacle, dragging him out to the ring and beating him down. FTR hit Jericho with the spiked piledriver, as the Inner Circle broke through the door which locked them inside their dressing room. As Wardlow was going to powerbomb Jericho through a table, Mike Tyson came out and pounded the fuck out of Shawn Spears, which might be my favorite thing he’s done since knocking out Mitch Greene at Dapper Dan’s shop in 1988. The Inner Circle came out to back Tyson and Jericho and ran the Pinnacle off.

Backstage Interview: Dr. Britt Baker humbly requested a championship match and savagely broke down AEW’s supremely flawed rankings system. The good doctor urged us to watch her on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights to see her win and climb up those rankings.

AEW

Tay Conti def. The Bunny

For the past long while I’ve been wondering why the Bunny was regulated to being the Butcher and the Blade’s valet instead of wrestling as well, and though my questions were never answered, I’m happy that slight has been rectified. Conti came out with -1 as the Dark Order stood in the background before this match started with fists flying. The match started off very strong, the Bunny leaning into that very lightly glossed over sadistic streak and Conti throwing suplexes like she’s being recruited for Team Taz.

The Bunny delivered snug knee strikes and stretched Conti nearly into oblivion. Conti mounted a short comeback full of judo throws and swinging backbreaker, but the Bunny quickly took the advantage back. Hikaru Shida came out to cheer on the #1 ranked contender. Matt Hardy tried to interfere, but it backfired, as Conti hit a Tay-KO flush on the Bunny, but only for the two count. The Bunny found her trusty kendo stick and nailed Shida with it and then Conti. A superplex into a DD-Tay earned Conti the win as she keeps her #1 ranking for a third consecutive week.

Segment: Red Velvet called out Jade Cargill for barely getting the job done in advance of their match next week, which is why Jade keeps coming after her. Velvet challenged Cargill to get the job done and be as bad as she keeps saying she is. 

AEW

Kenny Omega & the Good Brothers def. Jon Moxley & the Young Bucks

Though I have been a very vocal detractor of the Good Brothers as of late, I do have to admit their entrance theme is kind of a banger. I feel as though the rift between the decade-plus long friendship between the erstwhile Elite members was a bit less emotionally resonant with the audience than they thought it would be—as well as decidedly more midcard than they envisioned—but Mox (and Eddie Kingston) getting swept into the group drama brought it up a couple notches. 

The match began at a fast pace; par for the course when it comes to Young Bucks matches. They even got Mox to assist in a stereo dive onto their opponents; Mox being pleased about getting to participate in a high-flying move with the Young Bucks was pretty funny. Of course the pace slowed down eventually and Kenny & the Good Bros took the advantage. Mox was the wildcard when it came to the structure of this match, because every other participant in this match has either been on the same or opposite sides of the ring for weeks and it’s easy to plug in the formula. According to many, Mox’s style can’t be formulaic because he barely has a plan for the match before he enters the ring. That’s not to say he made this match so much better, but there were unexpected bright spots. Nick got one of his hot tag blitzkriegs, which was stopped by a Karl Anderson spinebuster. 

Omega tagged in as Matt got tagged in and backpedaled before Matt went after him with backdrops. Matt faked a superkick and stuffed Kenny with a DDT. Kenny was wobbly but the elder Jackson couldn’t bring himself to superkick his old friend, which led Omega to provoke him to mount and throw punches. Omega nailed Matt with a Snapdragon Suplex, and went for the V-Trigger before Mox clobbered him. The Bucks hit More Bang for Your Buck, but Anderson broke up the count. As Kenny writhed in the middle of the ring, Matt checked on Kenny’s safety, while Nick urged him to finish him off with the BTE Trigger. Neither of them could follow through and Mox yelled at them to do it. They tried a second time and were unsuccessful to pull it off. Mox tagged himself in and stuffed Kenny with the Paradigm Shift, nailed another, and put Omega in the rear naked choke. As he was in the choke, the Bucks superkicked Mox. Eddie Kingston tried to help and was stopped by a Magic Killer on the stage. 

The Good Brothers hit a Magic Killer on Mox and pulled Kenny on top for the win as the Jackson brothers pensively watched Omega record the win. 

After the match, the Good Brothers picked up Mox and demanded the Young Bucks to pull the trigger. And they did, hitting a superkick on Moxley to close the show. Finally, the Young Bucks pick a goddamn side! It only took them like six months!

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Martin Douglas

The unofficial poet laureate of Tacoma, WA, Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music (KEXP.org, Pitchfork) and pro wrestling (Seattle Weekly, quite a few online zines). He's also a hip-hop beatmaker, fiction writer, disposable camera photographer, and all-around renaissance man.

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