AEW gave us three hours of Dynamite this week, a largely consequence-free hour of “Late Night Dynamite” tagged to the end of the NBA playoffs on Tuesday, and the regular two hour show on Wednesday night. “Consequence-free” is not a criticism—I was raised on weekend wrestling, one hour WCW shows on TBS and syndicated WWF shows where matches were essentially a garnish for talking about the comings and goings of the company’s more important programs, and I’ve been watching those a lot lately. They’re great, even when the wrestling isn’t, because they’re short and you don’t have to worry about their implications for the wider world of the promotion.
AEW doesn’t do that format, though, so Late Night Dynamite was a three match card, each given ample time and space to make meaning. It felt like a hybrid of AEW’s normal Dynamite show and Dark, the company’s highly regarded YouTube program where they utilize competitive but ultimately never in question matches to tinker with ideas like a singles run for Scorpio Sky and try out guys like Will Hobbs. In other words, it was really good.
Less good, however, is the news that Lance Archer tested positive for COVID-19. He was scheduled to face Jon Moxley on Dynamite for the AEW World Championship, so his absence from the show was a high profile one, and based on Archer’s statement on social media it appears that he’s asymptomatic and expected to recover quickly. While his testing positive and being pulled from the show is, I suppose, an example of How Seriously AEW Is Taking This, the fact that Archer was pulled from a Warrior Wrestling show after the announcement only served to renew my fears that neither they nor the indies are taking it seriously, as it’s within reason to suspect that the only wrestlers in the United States of America who are getting tested regularly enough to have their indie bookings affected are the ones working on television. Which begs the question of why, if AEW is Taking This Seriously, anybody working on television for them is allowed to book indie dates.
Don’t get me wrong; under normal circumstances, the fact that AEW lets its talent wrestle elsewhere is something worth applauding. But they’re walking a tightrope in running a wrestling promotion meant for global consumption during a pandemic to begin with, and Archer catching it from a friend after a show upset a much-hyped main event championship match/rematch from this year’s WrestleKingdom card. Though Archer’s replacement Eddie Kingston is truthfully far more interesting than Archer, the company’s ability to juggle is not the point. People keep slipping up, COVID-19 keeps spreading, but yeah, let’s let Joey Janela wrestle on every indie show in the midwest and the Atlantic coast. It’s a weird, unnecessary risk that continues to necessitate the question “is any of this worth someone dying?”
And, while typing this, word was just released that hot new prospect/Dark standout Ben Carter also has COVID-19. Speaking of Ben Carter, lets dig into Late Night Dynamite, which began with a match that may very well be his breakthrough.
Late Night Dynamite
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) September 23, 2020
Scorpio Sky def. Ben Carter
I confess to not being a regular Dark viewer/last week’s Dynamite still being in my queue, but ultimately that’s in my favor because there are few things as genuinely pleasurable to me as being completely surprised by a match and a wrestler. I had no idea who Ben Carter was before this match, and now that I want to see more he’s out for a few weeks on account of COVID-19. This installment of Dynamite was filmed a couple of weeks ago, so that really only hangs over what’s here in post. Beyond being a showcase for Carter, I also think it’s one of the best showcases Sky has had on main AEW programming to this point, as the “he’s a great athlete” stuff on the part of Jim Ross, largely an annoyance during Sky’s run as half of the tag team champions, has moved from the realm of “tell” to “show.” He’s incredibly good and engaging without the goofy old man cosplayers of SCU at his side, doing Bret Hart moves and conveying the frustration of a veteran who can’t put an upstart away. These two meshed very well, Sky’s more technical, measured high flying stuff managing to out think Carter’s flashier, more strike-heavy style, but just barely. More than any of Cody Rhodes’ matches of this style, Sky and Carter put on the kind of match Ric Flair used to when he’d travel from territory to territory, giving a lot of offense and hope spots to the new guy while still winning in convincing fashion. I loved it and immediately bought into the Ben Carter hype.
Grade: One of the best singles matches in AEW this year. Easily in the top 10, so far as that kind of thing is concerned.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) September 23, 2020
Anna Jay def. Brandi Rhodes
I am not a fan of Brandi Rhodes in general, but this match was surprisingly good, starting with the kind of brawl you’d like to see when a feud between factions gets as personal as the Dark Order vs. Nightmare Family one is. Anna Jay is going to go down as one of AEW’s best signings this year, which is saying a lot because they’ve made a lot of roster moves in 2020, a year that’s seen their competition pare down. She’s already a confident heel presence on a women’s roster that kind of lacks that, a woman who wrestles like she’s above the act of wrestling. She weathers a lot of babyface Brandi’s arsenal here, but when Brandi gains the advantage towards the end, Evil Uno and Stu Grayson distract the ref, which allows Jay to kick out of a pump kick and lock in her Queenslayer choke for the win. I hate when people say they were “surprised” that a match was good, but I’ll admit that I was. Brandi’s inconsistent booking of herself and the way the Nightmare Family still feels like Cody & Friends makes it very difficult for me to care much about her from week to week, but this match managed to do it.
Grade: A deft way to move the Rhodes/Dark Order issue further while showing off the skill of both women, particularly Jay.
Promo: Scorpio Sky says that he’s going for the TNT Championship. Matt Sydal interrupts and says that Sky is impressive. The two compliment each other because they’re friends, then Sky does a Ric Flair impression and asks if Sydal wants to go out for drinks after his match. I sincerely hope they did not go out for drinks.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) September 23, 2020
Shawn Spears def. Matt Sydal
During this match, I kind of had an epiphany that may tarnish my reputation as a critic, but I think is worth writing out: It’s hard to care about a certain type of WWE midcarder once their WWE run is done. This might seem obvious to you, but I didn’t get that until this match because I really, really liked Sydal when he was in WWE and just can’t get into him now. That has nothing to do with him slipping on his SSP at All Out and everything to do with how there’s a certain subset of guys who just get ground into paste on WWE TV to the point that it’s hard to remember what was good about them when you liked them. The same is true of Spears, who in my estimation has floundered since his brief feud with Cody Rhodes fizzled. AEW’s roster is riddled with WWE midcard talent, but outside of Sydal’s tag team run with Kofi Kingston and his taking an RKO out of a Shooting Star Press starting the whole RKO Outta Nowhere thing, he was just a guy, and you’d have to pay attention to ROH for proof to the contrary. Spears, beyond Full Sail making him the Ten Guy, was also just a guy. Together, they’re just two guys grinding out 15 minutes of airtime on television, 15 minutes that would have been seven on an episode of Raw. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t great, but where do you go from here to establish either guy as something more than being a guy? A loaded glove ain’t it, either. That’s a staple gimmick for guys who are just guys.
Grade: Fine but for the parts where it made me ruminate upon how a lot of wrestlers dream about making it to WWE despite the fact that making it often means that everything special about you is siphoned away to the point that you can throw everything you’ve got into a match years after your run and some dickhead like me watches it and goes “…and?” That said, I am down for the answer, supposing one exists!
Regular Night Dynamite
Kip Sabian and Miro def. Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss
Look, I get that you want to give your big new signing an impressive debut, but feeding him (and his partner) a team that you’re in the middle of building as odd duck contenders in a stacked tag division is not the way to go. Before the bell, Kip cut a pretty good promo about how good Miro is, and Janela cut a pretty bad promo about Kip making mistakes. In the ring, the story is one of delayed gratification, Kip not tagging Miro in until he’s too exhausted by Janela and Kiss to keep Miro out of the ring. When they do make the tag, Miro hits a bunch of gutwrench suplexes, one of the great wrestling moves, and get a taste of how calculating Miro will be in the ring, as at one point he steps on Sonny Kiss’ ankle while making a tag to Kip and stomps on it on his way out. I know that AEW’s opening segments are long and commercial free, but it didn’t really do this match any favors. the minute it started picking up steam, it kind of fell apart. Miro and Sabian are developing their team, Miro hasn’t wrestled in a hot minute, and Janela seemed really off his game due to the heat. There was a scary spot where Miro leapfrogged Sabian over the guardrail and Janela cut him off with a leaping forearm, leading to Sabian eating concrete and Janela audibly asking if he was okay. That was followed by Janela slipping on a springboard off the guardrail, but he was caught by Miro. there were some odd tag moves that didn’t really work, and a sense that the match was as long as it was because of Dynamite’s format, not because it was necessary. Truthfully, it should have been short and sweet, Sabian getting outsmarted, bringing the big man in, and bragging about winning without doing any of the hard work. I’m surprised that Miro is keeping his Rusev finishing sequence and think it’s hilarious that he yells “GAME OVER” before locking in a camel clutch, but I suck at FIFA and am nowhere near as jacked as he is, so he can have it.
Grade: Kip and Miro’s Shawn Michaels/Big Daddy Cool Diesel vibe works in theory but needs some work. I desperately want Kiss to break out of this tag team and go on a singles run. One of the only letdowns on Dynamite this week, but it didn’t have to be.
Promo: Never mind that shit, as Eddie Kingston is here. He demands and receives the hard cam, laying out why he’s getting a title shot in Lance Archer’s absence. The TL,DR version is that he didn’t get eliminated from the battle royal, and also he’s put in eighteen years, and that’s worth a shot. He goes in about how he and Mox were cut from the same cloth but Mox sold out and became a sports entertainer. Kingston has cut this promo before on the indies, but it’s a good one—nobody is better than he is at playing up his frustration, at making the pain of their journey evident. He asks Mox to come out so he can look him in the eyes before their match, yelling “WHERE ARE YOU, SPORTS ENTERTAINER?” and Mox obliges him, with a referee-separated staredown. This ruled and was an immediate signal that we were in for a killer main event. Real “fight forever” vibes, if that chant is still a thing.
Hangman Adam Page def. Evil Uno
One of those matches that looks like a slam dunk for the guy who wins it, but there’s just enough extracurricular stuff to cast a shadow of doubt. Kenny Omega is on commentary doing his high school drama routine, and Page is incredible—I have no idea how to gauge things like “momentum,” but he is by far the person in the Elite who I am most interested in seeing on a week to week basis in the aftermath of the group splintering. But what I really hope, coming out of this match, is that some eyes are open so far as Evil Uno is concerned. I have always liked him, going back to when I was buying CHIKARA DVDs with the Super Smash Brothers on it, and feel like the way the Dark Order was presented until the debut of Brodie Lee blunted how good he and Stu Grayson really are. He holds an advantage for much of the match, a combination of him being a weirdo and Page finding his leg as a singles wrestler after months of having Omega in his corner, but like I said, the end was never really in doubt—this is Hangman Page’s time to shine, and he did. What’s of interest, storyline wise, is that there was a moment when the Dark Order was about to pounce on Page, Omega was asked if he was going to do something, and he said that he trusted Evil Uno to do the right thing, which he did in ushering everybody to the back.
Grade: The kind of competitive, definitive win that does as much for the loser as it does the winner. Commentary put a lot of work into this match, noting that it was initially offered up as a tag match, and with the angle where Kenny did nothing for his friend. I just want to get to that match so we can move on and get Hangman in there against some of the big boys on the roster, but it, too, was good.
Promo: Tony Schiavone is backstage looking to talk to the Young Bucks, which isn’t an exciting prospect to him because they superkicked Alex Marvez. Matt Jackson joins him and doesn’t know the names of any of the people he and Nick have superkicked, but he apologizes for their attitude and promises to be better. Tony asks a few questions about FTR, and that makes Matt angry enough to smash Tony’s phone. Matt apologizes and throws a bunch of money on the floor so Tony can get a replacement. It’s all small ball stuff right now, but an official heel turn is coming for the Young Bucks, and it’s about damn time. This is the most interesting they’ve been since AEW launched.
TNT Championship: Mr. Brodie Lee (c) def. Orange Cassidy
Orange not caring about the Dark Order’s whole thing rules. He one ups the Order’s games, as Lee watches Orange throw his t-shirt on John Silver after Silver stomps on Cassidy’s jacket, then put his sunglasses on Anna Jay when she gets up on the apron to yell at him. This is enough for Lee to start things off in dominant fashion, responding to Cassidy’s weak shin kicks with a huge uppercut. Lee hits a massive tope into Cassidy and the Order early and beats on Cassidy until JR asks why the referee isn’t calling it off. Cassidy eats a lot of big shots from Lee until it’s time for the discus lariat, at which point he collapses on three straight attempts and goes for his comeback. Orange fights off the entire Dark Order, gets Lee up for a Beach Break, and looks like he has the whole thing won until Silver gets in the ring and takes the Orange Punch from Cassidy. That should have been a DQ, but instead he goes for a second, gets powerbombed, takes the lariat, and loses. Great match that continues making a case for both men as the most consistently exciting wrestlers on their side of the face/heel divide. I remember a few years ago when it was generally accepted that Daniel Bryan had the best comeback spot in wrestling. That’s Orange Cassidy now, and nobody else is remotely close. It’s a rare skill, establishing a desperation routine that feels fresh every time you break it out, but Cassidy’s is incredible, a whirlwind of energy and momentum that would give a methodical, powerful wrestler like Lee trouble. Short of going bonkers for it, I just want to see more Brodie Lee title defenses like this one.
Grade: Excellent stuff, minor quibbling about DQs aside. Legends only, baby.
Segment: Cody Rhodes is back. They go through Cody’s entire introduction, so it feels like an eternity before he emerges with jet black hair and a steampunk waistcoat and watch getup, looking like a minor Dracula from What We Do In the Shadows. CODY DARK has arrived. He beats up the whole Dark Order, as one does.
Promo: If that sounds like a snooze (and it kinda did, I won’t lie), Brodie Lee is backstage SCREAMING at Cody about the kind of man he is. He notes that Cody’s wife was posting thirst traps on Instagram while calling Lee daddy, something that almost made me follow Brandi on Instagram. He asks where he was for Dustin and Brody, he quotes that folk song everybody knows because Johnny Cash did a cover on American V, and he HAS TWO DOG COLLARS JOINED BY A LENGTH OF CHAIN. A dog collar match in 2020, a minor miracle. He insulted Cody’s tattoo, asked if he was a man or a coward, and, oh man, was clutching that chain like it was an instrument of salvation. I ate this up, y’all. Dog collar/strap matches are among my favorite things in pro wrestling. How could I not??
Promo: But after this, we start getting into territory where the promos are ponderous and feel like they’re taking away from the main event. Matt Hardy and Private Party are out to talk about how Hardy was attacked from behind and hit in the knee with a bat. His prime suspect is Chris Jericho. All of this is fine and dandy, but AEW kept cutting to signs that said stuff like “I flew from NJ to see Jericho” and “392 DAYS TIL JERICHO CRUISE” and it’s like … you guys, don’t do either of those things. Jericho rescues Hardy a bit here, noting that he’d attack Hardy face to face so he could see how much pleasure Jericho got out of doing the deed. Matt wants to fight but he’s injured, so Marq Quen calms him down. Isaiah Kassidy ultimately gets the shine though, noting that he nearly beat Jericho twice when Private Party wrestled him and Jake Hager, so he challenges Jericho to a singles match. this looks like it surprises Jericho, but it’s kind of rad that he’s at a point in his career where people are like “you wouldn’t expect me to win … but what if I did?” and it’s legitimate grounds for a match.
Promo: Oh no, it’s FTR. Tully introduces more new rules for FTR. See, there’s normally a 60 minute time limit on Tag Team Title matches, but since they want the fans to be able to see them, they’re instituting a 20 minute time limit on televised defenses. Why they can’t just endeavor to defeat their opponents in 20 minutes or less I don’t know—these dudes love old man grappling but have never heard of a stand-by match? Anyhow, next week they’re wrestling SCU. They mention their ranked challengers, including Best Friends, noting that they’re backyard comedy wrestlers. Earlier, I wrote about how I’m having a hard time seeing WWE midcard guys as anything more than WWE midcard guys, but that isn’t FTR’s problem. I have a blinding, legitimate beef with gimmicks that rely on smart fan bullshit, because the thing about smart fan bullshit is that it’s impossible to get an opponent over when you’re calling them out for being a spot monkey or a vanilla midget or a backyarder. People flayed the likes of Kevin Nash and Triple H for doing it—if you weren’t around for the “skinnyfat” discourse, I envy you—but FTR aren’t half as interesting as either of those guys and won’t stop going to that well. Best Friends don’t stand for that kind of thing and come out to challenge the champs for 20 minutes, but FTR demure, noting how banged up Chuck and Trent are. Chuck calls them weenies for running from a fight, and I guess we’re stuck with FTR vs. SCU for 20 minutes next week, a classic match-up pitting actual middle aged men against men who wish they were senior citizens.
Hikaru Shida and Thunder Rosa def. Ivellise and Diamante
I might still be a little sore from AEW not realizing the potential a Big Swole/Lil’ Swole Women’s Tag Team Cup victory had, but this match just felt disjointed. I was paying attention but felt like big chunks of what should have been clear momentum shifts were missing. That’s not because part of the match’s narrative was the inexperience of Shida and Rosa as a team, though it was nice that they had a spot of miscommunication that nearly cost them the match but didn’t result in the two coming to blows—you almost never see that in wrestling. This match continues a trend of Dynamite featuring incredibly talented women in matches that are underwhelming nevertheless. I don’t think the Ivellise/Diamante team is working as well as AEW does—they’ve been together for about two months now but every match feels like their first. It’s fine and this was fine, but it’s hard to know what they’re getting at exactly. Rosa beat Ivellise last week, now she and Shida beat the kayfabe best women’s tag team in the company—if this is how they’re building to a rematch, there are better ways to do it.
Grade: One of two outright skippable matches on Dynamite this week, the other being the tag team opener. Not sure what the deal was, but this just wasn’t it.
Promo: Chris Jericho accepts Isaiah Kassidy’s challenge. MJF steps into frame and says that he can’t believe Kassidy would just challenge him. They do the cloying compliments routine from a few Dynamite’s back until both note that they called each other a loser. Holy shit, folks—wrestlers actually watch TV. Both agree that they weren’t calling each other losers, just the limo driver and Tony Schiavone. They share a chuckle and walk off. Cool, more slow burn Jericho/MJF stuff that may/may not have a resolution, just chewing up clock while Mox and Kingston are waiting backstage.
AEW World Championship: Jon Moxley (c) def. Eddie Kingston
YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Look, friends, this is two dudes who love to hit people hitting each other on cable television. The *sound* of Kingston’s chops, my goodness. There’s not a ton to say about this, you know? Like, look: Kingston is a brawler with a ton of experience and a lot of influences in mean, tough old Japanese dudes who spent decades dropping each other on their heads. Mox is a brawler with a ton of experience and a massive chip on his shoulder whose every match feels like a special occasion. The chop battles here? Earned. The slap battles here? Earned. The submissions look snug. The suplexes and piledrivers and strikes look painful. If Chris Jericho’s championship reign was an exercise in crafty veteran nonsense, Moxley’s is an exercise in title matches feeling like fucking wars. I’m the one critic in the game who didn’t get a lot out of Mox/Archer, so this wasn’t just a suitable replacement, but a kind of gift to me specifically. It was booked excellently, too, as Kingston didn’t tap to Moxley’s Bulldog Choke—Bryce Remsburg called for the bell without King even passing out. That maintains his issue with the title anyhow, which began with his not being eliminated from the Casino Battle Royal and continues here with his not submitting. In typical Dynamite fashion, we end things with a clusterfuck brawl, as Fenix and Penta El 0M hit the ring, followed by Will Hobbs, followed by Darby Allin, followed by Ricky Starks. The momentum swings back and forth with each new body, but mostly I was excited for Taz’s new custom puffer vest and Moxley vs. King blossoming into a full blown feud.