Live from the Moon: AEW Dynamite Recap

Empty theater ballet inspires strange bedfellows

We are now in the thick of quarantine season. In the context of humanity, people are dying, people are still carrying coronavirus around without knowing it. Small businesses are temporarily shutting down (and preparing the worst-case scenario: permanent shutdown), my friends and acquaintances who are musicians have officially lost much of the money they would have made this year from touring. From bartenders to sex workers, people are relying on the kindness of Venmo donations because they can’t pay their bills. In the context of pro wrestling, independent wrestlers have lost a significant chunk of their annual income with events being canceled for at least the next eight weeks, even more for the performers who had bookings around Wrestlemania—now moved to a closed-set performance emanating live from an empty WWE Performance Center.

AEW has followed suit, broadcasting live from Daily’s Place; essentially the promotion’s home field. WWE’s empty arena shows have been surreal broadcasts with spectacularly mixed results. The fans of wrestling are the art form’s lifeblood; the performances in and around its rings are wholly tied to how its audience reacts. Wrestling in an empty arena is wrestling in a vacuum, wrestling on the moon.

Foreword: Hangman Adam Page’s Socially Cautious Alcohol Abuse is Officially Canon

In a pretty detailed public statement, Hangman Adam Page explained that because of COVID-19, he would be unable to accept beverages from fans, specifying he’ll “now be traveling with his own beverages to consume and looks forward to instances of conveniently-appearing unopened beverages.” The statement also notes he’ll be exclusively drinking whiskey in hopes that the higher alcohol content will reduce the risk of contracting the virus (though I’m pretty sure alcohol negatively affects a person’s immune system) and will no longer utilize holds which touch other people’s faces nor will he lick up other people’s spit to antagonize them.The statement also promotes Medicare for All (fuck yeah), putting pineapple on pizza (fuck no), and buying a six-pack of Corona (because it never did anything to anybody except cause mild hangovers). Just make sure you add some lime for the added benefits of Vitamin C.

Being based in the area considered as ground zero of the American outbreak of coronavirus, I can assuredly say this is nothing to take lightly (even though every single one of us have cracked a joke or two on Twitter out of self-quarantined boredom). But a wrestling character interacting with the real world highlights the creative properties of the genre, not to mention emphasizes the social responsibility of someone considered one of AEW’s top babyfaces. Pitch perfect for someone who describes himself in his Twitter bio as an “anxious millennial cowboy.” From one to another, I salute you, Hangman.

Our Cool Boss Cody Boosts Morale With a Very Touching Speech

Cody’s show-opening speech is very earnest from both real life and storytelling perspectives, attempting to bring fans together in these worrying times and rally the Elite together to gain the advantage in the Totally Not a WarGames Match. Pro wrestling (extending across all genres of art) is not only escape from the real world, but a conversation with it, a chance for us to communicate with our emotions—the very real feelings we carry with us throughout every situation, including a global pandemic.

It’s safe to say Cody with his acting class bonafides and Rhodesian emotional intelligence is much better at these empty theater monologues than his evil empire/parallel universe counterpart Triple H. While H’s speech was fine and served its purpose succinctly, Cody takes the opportunity to flex his orator muscles by bringing fans into the broadcast by correctly qualifying art as a service and imploring his closest friends to come together and step the fuck up against the Inner Circle while using years of character history to do so.

Matt Jackson and Kenny Omega appear in solidarity after Cody begs the Elite to become elite again—their individual and collective failures being the key narrative of Dynamite since its inception—each expressing that extensive character history to say they’ll do their best. Conspicuous in his absence is the Hangman, who saunters out to the stage wearing a Dixie Chicks t-shirt(!), pint in hand. After the elder Jackson asks for his allegiance, however temporary, Page wordlessly heads backstage.

Promo: Tony Schiavone interviews Maxwell Jacob Friedman at ringside, who sarcastically refers to the would-be coffee magnate as a talented journalist and explains he isn’t wrestling because he doesn’t have to. Apparently Tony Khan’s winner’s purse for empty arena matches is not enough to supplement his Nordstrom Rack budget. Instead Max has chosen to gamble some pocket cash on the matches with Shawn Spears (who has temporarily suspended his search for a tag team partner due to, you know, a global pandemic). After feigning incredulousness that two of the scummiest characters on the show are engaging in such an activity, Schiavone slyly asks for the entry wager. The one thing AEW has proven infinitely better than WWE at is having non-competing characters interact with each other as if they’re, wow, actual people!

Lucha Bros def. Best Friends

Orange Cassidy falls asleep as a randomly assorted collection of heels (along with MJF, Wardlow, Spears, and Tully Blanchard are Jake “the Snake” Roberts and Lance Archer) observe and heckle the contest going on between Pentagon, Fenix, Trent, and Chuck Taylor. Unlike some of the episodes from Friday’s episode of Smackdown, this match is performed at full speed and doesn’t much lack the intensity of a crowd of thousands would provoke. The match is quite predictably not as good as their matchup in November, but is surprisingly good for empty theater Shakespeare. (Special props to Chuck and Trent elbow dapping instead of of giving the [dozen] people what they want, being responsible in these uncertain times.) Pentagon hits Trent with a low blow while Bryce Remsburg is distracted by Fenix and Chuck on the top rope, and then the Lucha Bros hit him with the package piledriver/stomp combination for the win.

Grade: Yeah.

Promo: Schiavone interviews Best Friends after the match, where Taylor doesn’t get to say shit but does bemoan the Lucha Bros winning via “dick kick” and he and Trent challenge them to a parking lot brawl. This is All Elite Wrestling’s chance to go full WCW and recreate 1999’s Junkyard Invitational. Give me Silver King or give me death.

Hikaru Shida def. Penelope Ford, Riho and Kris Statlander

On Tuesday night’s episode of AEW Dark, Penelope Ford gained a huge upset victory over former AEW Women’s World Champion Riho, knocking her down to #5 in the division rankings, so to start the match, they pick up where they left off by unleashing new rivalry fury on each other. Riho having to bounce back from a couple of big losses adds a dimension to her character, which we’ve only seen perform Houdini-like wins while Jim Ross reminds us she only weighs 98 pounds. Shortly after the match starts, Kip Sabian engages in shenanigans and gets a healthy serving of comeuppance for it.

Riho doesn’t fall for Sabian’s interference at all, sidestepping her competitors to cut him off multiple times. The pace of the match is swift and pretty brutal, with Statlander showing her immense power advantage, Riho being typically elusive, Ford using her cunning (mostly in the form of Sabian), and Shida getting some good stuff in but mostly playing the background to serve her role in the finish. Ford misses the mark on a top rope headscissors but hits a pretty incredible poison rana on Statlander. Ultimately, Hikaru Shida hits a Shining Wizard on Ford and gains the (surprise) victory. Shida getting the win emphasizes AEW’s willingness to give each of the stars of their women’s division the spotlight, but it would still be served by giving these characters more, uh, character.

Grade: Yeah!

Promo: Schiavone interviews Colt Cabana, who acknowledges the weirdness of the empty venue show and refers to himself as the Bruce Springsteen of AEW because of his great record (with his golden voice, I bet he does a killer version of “Born to Run” on karaoke) before offering his analysis of the match with some very pointed feedback. (Being a broadcaster/announcer/former host of one of the few great wrestling podcasts probably helps with that.) Colt takes exception to Sabian cheating on behalf of Ford and Sabian overhears—hard to avoid in this format—and steps to Cabana, who slaps him like an annoyed auntie would a mouthy kid on Thanksgiving.

More Pro Wrestling:

Segment: Jon Moxley isn’t allowed in the arena because of unspecified injuries sustained at the hands of the Inner Circle, to which he smartly asks when in his career has he ever been healthy. Mox, for all his longstanding and prevalent reputation of being crazy, always has the most reasonable points. After issuing a warning to the Inner Circle about being in their blind spot while the quarter-million dollar car he stole from their leader runs in the background and gleams in the sunlight, he promises he will be in attendance for the party that is Blood & Guts, whenever or wherever it will take place (probably next week). I for one am all about Jon Moxley punching cops, but I’ll save those thoughts for an essay about N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police.”

Jurassic Express def. The Butcher and the Blade

Jungle Boy in the opening minutes of this match showcases some delightfully elusive lucha libre chops while Excalibur jokes about Blade’s tan, JR jokes about Luchasaurus’ mask, and Spears holds a $20 bill while paying rapt attention to the match. The Butcher, replete in Harley Race tribute facial hair, makes quick appearances while his partner anchors the match. Jungle Jack Perry spends the lion’s share of the match getting pummeled while the babyface cheering section (featuring Cabana, Joey Janela, and SCU with Frankie Kazarian looking like post-addiction Eminem) cheer for him to make the team’s first tag of the match. When it finally happens, Luchasaurus predictably cleans house. MJF tries and fails to coach the Butcher and the Blade and ultimately Jurassic Express pick up the win, complete with Jungle Boy’s accidentally anticlimactic jump to the outside to ensure victory. Karma for Max insulting Arn Anderson’s play card two weeks ago!

Grade: The space between Meh and Yeah.

Who is the Exalted One?

The Dark Order comes out to finally—fucking FINALLY—reveal the identity of the Exalted One, with Evil Uno (a very sharp promo, just want to note that) speaking to his followers before Kaz in Slim Shady cosplay and Christopher Daniels walk over to ringside to resume their role as Exalted One atheist truthers. They’re interrupted by a man speaking through a voice scrambler which eventually fades into the voice of Brodie Lee, who spells a prophecy of hell for CD before appearing behind the veteran members of SCU and taking them out. I have to admit, after all the months of speculation on both the Exalted One’s identity and Brodie Lee coming to AEW, it is kind of underwhelming both of these anticipatory rumblings have converged in this manner. At the same time, Brodie is such an excellent wrestler and I’m sure a match between him and Daniels will kick ass when they finally tangle.

The real question here is: where the hell was Scorpio Sky? Getting some popcorn? In the line for the bathroom?

Promo: Schiavone, the busiest man here tonight, interviews Lance Archer, or he tries to before Jake Roberts cuts in, saying all he wanted was attention from the mighty Caesar and it wasn’t afforded to him. The Elite is so focused on their blood feud with the Inner Circle and Hangman Page’s questionable allegiance that they did not heed the words of the Hall of Fame soothsayer. And now they will have to contend with the monster—who literally murders people in a backwoods/backyard wrestling group (talk about an outlaw mud show, am I right?) in a stylish vignette after this interview. Everybody dies, and Cody will be the first.

Jake Hager, Santana, & Ortiz def. Matt Jackson, Hangman Adam Page, and Cody Rhodes

In lieu of there being no crowd to sing along with “Judas,” Sammy Guevara takes over those duties (intentionally badly but full of enthusiasm) as Chris Jericho makes his way to the broadcast position. Jericho, who has obviously been on a tear as AEW’s top star, is in rare form with the insults here, cracking on Arn’s “Waffle House menu” and Cody’s tattoo which apparently looks like something a five-year-old Excalibur finger-painted. With Nick Jackson out indefinitely due to injury—an injury Jericho claims to know nothing about (“We tried to help him, the door was heavy”)—the Elite are one man down for the Totally Not a WarGames Match and need the entry advantage more than ever.

Santana and Cody start the match, the latter quickly tagging in his tag team partner. Products of the New York City school district, failing gym class because “they don’t care!,” Santana and Ortiz are the perfect tag team to bolster the ranks of the Inner Circle, camouflage jumpers and Timberland boots stomping out the self-absorbed members of the Elite. Hangman Page tags himself in, argues with literally everybody in the match, and hits Santana with a gorgeous bridging pumphandle suplex, a variation of a move I’ve never seen anyone try since Eddie Guerrero.

The story of the past dozen or so weeks of Dynamite has been the Inner Circle constantly getting the upper hand over the severely fractured Elite, broken now by both smoldering egos and injuries. When the Inner Circle first formed, they seemed thrown together to me and I doubted the chemistry of the outfit. Almost six months later and it feels like the group has been traveling together for years, arguing over whether to play Judas Priest or Max B in the car and grabbing bodega snacks. The immense talent of the individuals is no match for the fluidity of the team; Matt Jackson’s literal other half is watching this systematic dismantling from Southern California.

Cody makes the hot tag to Hangman, whose entry into the match is more successful than when he tagged himself in earlier. When Matt tags in, he delivers his signature series of Northern Lights suplexes, even getting Hangman to assist him on a suplex to Hager. Santana picks up a flash pin on Matt out of nowhere for the win after a failed Indytaker from Hangman and the elder Jackson brother. Hangman’s reluctance to pull the trigger on the move giving the Inner Circle the advantage.

Grade: Yeah!

Jericho closes the show by saying he is personally banning fans from shows from here on out and gloats about the Inner Circle’s massive advantage before Hager does a push up with Guevara on his back. After several more minutes of gloating (stalling for time before the closing minute of the show, a Dynamite specialty at this point), a white drone flies into the arena and onto the stage. Matt Jackson tells the story of a phone call he made to a friend who owed him a favor. Elegiac piano music plays, the camera pans on the man who will join the Elite at Blood & Guts … Matt Hardy. Wonderful?

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Martin Douglas

Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music and pro wrestling. He has resided in Tacoma, WA for over two decades, but give him twenty minutes and he can locate the best spot for chicken and waffles in any American city.

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