Last night’s AEW Dynamite started inauspiciously, with news that Joey Janela had been pulled from the show due to exposure to a wrestler who tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is not the tight net sports leagues believe it to be—the virus takes effect over a variable number of days, and even if all of Janela’s indie opponents get tested beforehand, there’s no guarantee that a first, second, or third test will yield positive results. The hope is that you catch it before something bad happens, but a wrestling show that’s broadcast live on a major television network just flat out should not be operating on hope.
[Ed. Note: The original version of this article used unclear wording that implied that AJ Gray had COVID when he and Janela wrestled. That wording has been removed.]
With that in mind, Dynamite needed to be great for me to be anything other than lukewarm about it, let alone overlook the fact that two other wrestlers who participated in the same event Janela and AJ Gray did the week before Gray tested positive were on the show. It wasn’t, mostly because AEW put on a show where all but one match had an obvious winner, and while competitive matches that have certain finishes are okay, four out of five of them had major title implications when they perhaps shouldn’t have. Like, I get what the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament is trying to set up, but instead of a tournament consisting of seven marquee matches, something they could easily accomplish, we had an opening round full of filler. That’s not an insult, but barring a swerve the point of this tournament is to get Kenny Omega and Hangman Page in the ring together at Full Gear with Kenny having the easier path and Page having the harder one, but it’s kind of a stretch asking that half the field be taken seriously for their success on Dark.
All of that and other issues with the show were glossed over by Le Dinner Debonair, an MJF/Chris Jericho segment that is justifiably the talk of wrestling-in-kayfabe this week, and two extremely good promos by Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston, hyping up their just announced I Quit match for the AEW World Championship. Wrestling fans haven’t scored many wins in 2020, but “Pay Per View Main Eventer Eddie Kingston” is a pretty big one. So let’s dig in.
AEW World Title Eliminator: Wardlow def. Jungle Boy
One of my frustrations with AEW is how they use their commercial free quarter hour at the beginning of the show. I understand that they have to structure Dynamite to compete with NXT on a moment by moment basis, but commercial free airtime should be treated like a main event, and it usually isn’t. Dynamite could have run Rey Fenix and Penta El 0M without picture-in-picture commercials, but instead we got this. I think Wardlow and Jungle Boy are very good for their level of experience, but their best work has come in matches where someone else is calling it. Without the in-built stories of the other Eliminator matches, this match just kinda happened in AEW’s typical 50/50 fashion, giving a member of Jurassic Express a little daylight before getting crushed. That’s fine, I guess, but what argument does that make for either wrestler? Why not give Wardlow a “surprise” win over a more established star in an effort to break him out a little and cast a shadow over his next match, you know?
Grade: I have seen this routine so many times and am very, very tired.
Promo: They show the post-show portion of Eddie Kingston’s promo last week, which was an absolute banger, the kind of thing AEW should take to TNT as an argument for getting an overrun instead of hard cutting to an encore presentation of The Misery Index. We go from this to a Jon Moxley promo where he dives into his history with and love of Kingston, how he doesn’t recognize him anymore, and how he asked for an I Quit match because he was either going to end King or get his friend back. I’ve criticized Mox promos in the past for piecing together Competitive Athletic Platitudes, which he manages to make into compelling television, but this was a departure from that, something that felt honest and real, probably my favorite promo of his this year.
AEW World Title Eliminator: Kenny Omega def. Sonny Kiss
Okay. So, Kiss was the substitute for Janela, which kind of makes sense since they’re tag partners. Also, Kenny keeps pushing his way towards being a full blown heel, as he has a new, obnoxious entrance with babes sweeping the entry way, Justin Roberts listing off accomplishments that both matter and do not (like, honestly, who gives a fuck about star ratings), and him standing in the tunnel in silhouette until all of that’s done. That entrance was longer than the match, which was a two move affair. Like I said in the intro, I get where this is going, the serious Kenny, the mean Kenny is back, blah blah blah. But Sonny Kiss didn’t deserve this, and between Omega once giving Alan Angels a competitive 10 and Kiss pushing Cody Rhodes to the limit for the TNT Championship, I would have preferred literally anybody else get crushed by the Cleaner. Also of note is the fact that Omega and Kiss are both held up as being incredibly important wrestlers so far as the progress queer people have made in wrestling over the last five years, and a serious, important wrestling match between the two of them would have been an incredible moment, even if the end was never in doubt. Instead, I’m left wondering why AEW put weeks into establishing Kiss as a player via those vaporwave promo packages with Janela, as both have pretty much spun their wheels since pairing up. Either build them or don’t—what’s the point in teasing a build?
Grade: Just because I got it doesn’t mean I can’t hate it.
Promos: Tony Schiavone tries to get Orange Cassidy’s reaction to his time limit draw against Cody last week, as well as his thoughts on next week’s TNT Championship rematch. It goes how you would expect. Before the show, Dasha got an interview with Cody, there in his capacity as an EVP, so it was kind of weird when he said he was surprised AEW pulled the trigger on a rematch so soon and heard rumor that there’d be a stipulation to the rematch, given that he’s presumably on the board that decides these things. He also talks about how he put on 14 pounds of muscle, prompting Arn Anderson to say that Cody is “swole’t up,” so it wasn’t a total loss.
Promo: Eddie Kingston got a chance to respond to Mox’s promo, and he agreed with him that he’d become bitter, deceitful, and hateful because he had to, because he didn’t get the same chances as everybody else. It goes without saying that Kingston’s promos are fantastic, so I won’t dwell on that much because I’d have to admit that I’ve heard the “I hate who I’ve become” conceit from him a few times … which I just did. I don’t mind that at all—it’s an endlessly fascinating, multi-faceted character Kingston has developed over the course of his career, someone who is obviously, earnestly in love with professional wrestling despite the pain and suffering it’s caused him. When he says that his ends justify the means, you know he’s not bullshitting. I’m looking forward to King vs. Mox more than I did the Rhodes/Lee dog collar match, so the two are really hitting it out of the park.
AEW World Title Eliminator: Rey Fenix def. Penta El 0M
The one first round match that could go either way, and with Kingston on commentary talking about how he once stabbed someone who attacked him with the broken end of a baseball bat, and how he’d love to face someone from his family for the title when he wins it. The Lucha Brothers have had a little trouble adjusting to the conditions at Daily’s Place—wrestling outdoors in heat and humidity is hard enough without the professional lighting rigs necessary to light the place for television, and that can be hard on high flying wrestlers—but this is wrestled at Penta’s pace in that “these two know each other so well” style that allows for a lot of counters and the “first one to make a mistake will pay” angle. The two have wrestled each other plenty, but given that the focus of their AEW run has been on their chemistry as a team, there were a lot of little things here—the way Fenix worked Penta’s hand after he hit the ringpost on a chop after chops were used to demonstrate how badly both men wanted to win, the way Penta’s concern for his brother after an awkward landing on a headscissors foreshadowed his losing the match—that really sang to me. There was also a completely ludicrous pop-up powerbomb here, and the finish, which saw Penta use the armbreaker, regret it, and end up eating a counter destroyer as a result, was excellent.
Grade: Unquestionably the match of the night. Not quite worth going out of your way to see, but one of those minor bangers that’ll stick out when reviewing AEW’s in-ring year.
Promo: Backstage, Alex Marvez was with Colt Cabana, Alex Reynolds, and John Silver. Silver was JACKED for the opportunity in the four team scramble later that night. Colt was happy to be with his friends and felt no pressure whatsoever about his match against Hangman Page, to which a JACKED Silver said that they weren’t friends and that the whole thing about the Dark Order was the pressure.
AEW World Title Eliminator: Hangman Adam Page def. Colt Cabana
It would have been nice to get a video package about how the people in this tournament were chosen for it, because while Colt Cabana has won his fair share of matches and is part of one of the larger storylines in the promotion, it’s not like the leader of his faction was busy this week. Supposing this was a tournament meant to choose someone Mox hasn’t defended the title against, fine, but Moxley does hold a victory over Kenny Omega, so beyond AEW attempting (and largely succeeding) to book the AEW Championship and the TNT Championship as equal in prestige and leaving your Brodie Lees, Darby Allins, Orange Cassidys, Lance Archers, and Brian Cages out of the tournament, I didn’t really understand the logic behind these first round matches. That said, I liked this, largely because it’s interesting to see how “serious” wrestlers work around “comedy” wrestlers’ routines. Few wrestlers in 2020 have routines as well established as Colt Cabana, and some of it working and some of it getting him caught was a nice twist on something I’ve seen dozens of times. Page having a harder time with Cabana than Omega did with Kiss also set up the classic tournament angle where one wrestler is more rested than the other, so that’d better be the finals otherwise I’m going to be holding a grudge over that Omega/Kiss match for awhile.
Grade: Pleasant. I’m not sure that “pleasant” is what I’m looking for in professional wrestling, but you know what? I’ll take it.
Promo: Taz (accompanied by Team Taz) has some problems with the way things are going in AEW. Will Hobbs won’t return his phone calls, and Darby Allin has a TNT Championship match because Darby beat Ricky, which is fairly logical except for the part where Tony Khan pulled Taz into his office to explain that to someone who has been around in wrestling since Khan was five years old. Starks, who is a great promo in his own right, said he was going to put Darby in the grave. The thing is that this feud, like too many of Allin’s feuds, has gone on too long, and I’d just like it to find some resolution so that both wrestlers can do something else.
Le Dinner Debonair
Alright, so. When this opened with MJF and Chris Jericho eating at a “restaurant” (you know, like the one Derek Bateman and Daniel Bryan took the Bella Twins on a date to once, only they were sitting like normal people) without masks on, I had visions of the nightmare world we live in where every restaurant in the country is flying a gigantic banner with the words “DINING ROOM OPEN” printed on it, especially since the waitress wasn’t wearing a mask. But that faded as the two tried to big dog each other by ordering progressively rarer porterhouse steaks until Jericho ordered his “blue,” or essentially raw. I thought this was just going to be a segment where the two of them talked about how much they disliked each other until they settled on bagging on someone else in the company, but the gigantic blue curtain behind them, right out of a 1940s movie musical, should have tipped me off that this was going to be something else.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) October 22, 2020
They hit that note, making fun of Orange Cassidy, and then began literally hitting notes, segueing into a song and dance parody of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “My Shadow and Me.” I’ve heard Jericho sing, obviously—he’s a prototypical one note nu-metal guy whose power replies on where he’s breaking lyrics with his breath, which is not an insult in my world—but I had zero clue that Max could sing (he was once a member of an a cappella group) and was frankly impressed. Like, I’m still not entirely convinced that pushing Jericho and MJF together is such a hot idea given how the other members of the Inner Circle already feel like afterthoughts most of the time, but their chemistry has moved on from being somewhat forced to being genuinely good. Words don’t really do the segment justice, and the punchline where both of their steaks were inedible was good if expected, but this was a genuinely nice surprise on a show that had otherwise lost me.
Dr. Britt Baker DMD def. Kilynn King
Another Dynamite, another instance where the only time the women’s division gets is a competitive squash between an important segment and the main event. It has been covered endlessly, but the way AEW has promoted its women’s division is beyond disappointing at this point. Everybody, including Baker, seems stuck in this endless hell where the only thing they can do is further establish characters that need no further introduction before disappearing to Dark or the void and coming back to do it again. Baker’s heel turn has been her breakthrough (though I’m not super hot on the comfort with which a commentary team that is 2/3 horny old men refers to her as a bitch), and she seems much more comfortable in the ring now that she’s added a lot of jerk offense to her arsenal. King, for her part, looked good too, someone who AEW should keep in the periphery because she’s talented and made Baker feel like a real danger to the Women’s Championship. But, uhh, is that where we’re going here? Like, seriously, I want and need to know, because if one of the ways AEW is going to fulfill its promise of being different than WWE is to suck at women’s wrestling, we’re going to have to really think about what that says about them.
Grade: I am the parent in the car where the children will not stop asking if we’re there yet. I am also the children asking the question. Trapped between two states of being, I find myself tortured and looking for a way out of this existence.
Promo: Steve-O is hanging with Darby Allin, so it’s time for an extreme stunt, Jackass style. I mean, Darby is way too serious for there to be any humor in the “bodybag drop-in,” but Steve-O is impressed with the idea and Darby gets to do the “Hi, I’m Darby Allin” intro before zipping himself into a bodybag and rolling down a halfpipe. It lacks that guitar part from the Minutemen’s “Corona” so it wasn’t quite all there, and given how Darby tends to lose his major matches despite doing this stuff I’m starting to wonder about the efficacy of his training routine, but he says he’s ready for Cody or Orange or whoever he’s challenging for the TNT Championship at Full Gear, and I guess I’ll go ahead and believe him.
The Young Bucks def. The Butcher and the Blade, Private Party, and Alex Reynolds and John Silver
Scrambles don’t do it for me, y’all. Not to sound like FTR, who were on commentary talking about The Belts and whatnot, but I just can’t go for matches that are spot after spot after spot after spot after spot until the finish. There were some nice things here, like the Young Bucks being the team that broke up a lot of pinfall attempts, but there were some things here that were also … less than nice, which we’ll get to in a second. First, however, is the theme of the night, which is how I’m supposed to get invested in this match when on the one hand you have one of the biggest acts in AEW looking to make good on a match they’ve basically promoted for three years against the secondary tag teams of two different factions and a team that’s largely been booked as a spoiler? Yes, theoretically the Bucks could lose, and if this was for a 20-minute title shot on Dynamite that might have been possible, but this is a 60-minute, PPV main event match that, again, has three years of build behind it.
Listen, I understand there’s a lot of moving parts and it’s live TV etc, but there’s no ways Alex Reynolds should have been able to lay out cold in the ring for that long. pic.twitter.com/2KrNqaBlqZ
— Alex McCarthy (@AlexM_talkSPORT) October 22, 2020
Worse, Alex Reynolds was knocked out cold by a flying leg drop towards the end of the match and it … just kept going. None of the reasons why that may have happened are good. Did the referee miss it? Did the ringside doctor? Did everybody need to get their shit in before the end of the match? It’s something that’s easy to miss amidst all the chaos of the scramble, and Reynolds did walk off under his own power after the show, but he was unattended to for far too long while the match wrapped up and we moved into the segment that served as the build to the official Dream Tag Team Match between the Bucks and FTR.
Grade: More than anything, an uncomfortable reminder of how far wrestling has to go on the issue of wrestler safety.
Segment: After the match, Dash and Cash made their way to the ring for a staredown segment with their rivals. The Bucks oblige, only to get attacked by the time keeper, who offers up some pretty weak chairshots. They hit a triple team spike piledriver and attempt to break Matt Jackson’s ankle with a chair. It’s Tully Blanchard, obviously. What fun. Let’s break the paragraph so I can gripe about this a little.
I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with the Young Bucks at this point. They’re heels. Once you’re attacking officials and announcers and literally throwing money on the ground because you’re rich enough that fines don’t matter to you, you’re the bad guy. That is how it works in wrestling and that is how it always will work. But the issue here is timing. Like, it’s time for The Elite to turn heel, but they did it in such a way that the Young Bucks’ beef with Hangman Page didn’t get resolved because outside of a few TNT Championship matches, AEW shies away from rematches. So they started turning heel after FTR won the belts at Kenny’s suggestion, and accelerated their heel turn far quicker than Omega has. The problem with that is that FTR tricking and taking advantage of Page pushed them from tweener to heel, and I don’t care how highly anticipated FTR vs. Bucks is, heel vs. heel matches are practically impossible without one team defaulting to babyface-for-a-night, and even then it’s pretty damn difficult. So yeah, FTR once again abdicating their schtick as the tag champs who love legitimate competition makes sense, but the Bucks have been fucking assholes, and even if I was a devoted fan of theirs, the logic of turning them heel only to try to get some sympathy for them because Matt got his ankle Pillmanized doesn’t scan at all.
Like, this is something that could have been sorted out by writing the trajectory of these two teams out on a legal pad, but now this dream match, this thing we’ve been waiting on for years pits an asshole team against an asshole team where one guy is nursing an injury. It was going to be hard for the two teams to live up to the hype in the first place, and I still think it’s pretty obvious that FTR are getting the hang of wrestling in AEW’s glossy superindie style after a career spent in WWE’s system, but barring something over the next couple of weeks making sense out of this feud, AEW’s never hurt a marquee match of this nature so badly before. The reasons why I want to get to this match already are the wrong reasons, and given how little time there is before Full Gear, I’m not sure they’ll find the right ones in time.