New Year’s Smash Night 1: AEW Dynamite Recap and Review

The Entity We Cannot Legally Call the Bullet Club Is Back Together

I’m going to acknowledge the weirdness of this moment and move on to wrestling. Back in May, I posed the following question: Why is wrestling satisfied with being a distraction? Yesterday’s double shot of wrestling amidst the storming of the U.S. Capitol was something of a reprieve from the wall-to-wall news coverage I’ve been watching now for a day and a half. New Year’s Smash Night 1 was wrestling in a bubble: no acknowledgement was made about the insurrection at the Capitol, and the worst people in the world were Kenny Omega and Don Callis.

Despite its PPV-level hype, the show felt like a normal episode of Dynamite. That, too, was a reprieve. One of the nice things about wrestling is that, once you’re used to its rhythms and patterns, you can just let it wash over you like waves on a beach. Sure, it featured one of the worst and one of the best title matches in company history, Snoop Dogg kinda flying off the top rope, and a segment where Taz got very excited about Brian Cage’s muscles, but this was wrestling as white noise—only a narrated meditation track would have been more calming.

So let’s talk about wrestling, y’all. The highs, the lows, the sad rafter clowns, the sadder callbacks to New Japan Pro Wrestling. Let’s get distracted. Let’s see what happened on Dynamite.

AEW

The Young Bucks and SCU def. The Acclaimed and TH2

It was probably explained on BTE or Twitter or something, but SCU’s “Your Rap Is Crap” is a reference to the late-era WCW faction the West Texas Rednecks, who banded together to fight Master P’s No Limit Soldiers. They had a (very) minor country hit with the song “I Hate Rap” and wore shirts that said “Rap Is Crap,” because as the heels in the angle it had to be made known that they hated all kinds of rap, not just Max Caster’s.

Those shirts were my favorite part of this match outside of a spot where Anthony Bowens stopped a Chris Daniels moonsault to the floor by hooking his legs mid-springboard. Considering who was in it, it felt sluggish, its big spots looking a lot less cool than they were probably envisioned. This was especially true of the finishing sequence, which was an awkward fakeout on a Meltzer Driver followed by the “Best Meltzer Ever,” Daniels’ moonsault assisting Jackson’s piledriver, but that being literally impossible without breaking some necks, an odd twist at the end that made it look like Daniels’ effort was completely wasted.

If the Bucks/SCU story is of interest, you’ll be happy to know that a build to an extremely consequential match between the two is underway, as Kaz took the mic after the match to make it known that he and Daniels had the Bucks’ backs, that they were going to split if they lost another match as a team, and that they’re going to challenge the Bucks some day. On the one hand, I’m glad they’re not hotshotting the “if we lose we break up” angle into an immediate title shot. On the other hand, I’m not into SCU or the longstanding Bucks/SCU feud, so the most interesting thing to me would be SCU losing early in their last run.

Promo: Jon Moxley stormed the ring for his first live appearance in AEW since Winter Is Coming. He started off doing his normal thing about being a tough customer who doesn’t whine and complain about setbacks. He took off from there, segueing into how, as someone who is “anti-shitty person,” he wanted to find Omega and Callis in the back and beat them up. But it wouldn’t be fair to Rey Fenix.

I loved that part of the promo, where Mox’s sense of honor compelled him to hype up the opportunity Fenix had, to hype him before a match he’d fought 13 years to get. Besides which, win or lose, Omega wasn’t safe from Mox. Promise of violence delivered, welcome back to television.

Promo: Backstage, Dasha tried to get the scoop about Trent’s injury from Chuck Taylor and Orange Cassidy. It’s a torn pec, at least four months off. Miro, Kip Sabian, and Penelope entered stage right, and this was all Miro. He told Chuck that it was a tragedy Trent got injured—a tragedy for Chuck, that is, who’d be lost without a leader. Miro offered to be Chuck’s leader, his friend, supposing he’d clean his house and do his laundry.

Chuck, instead, proposed he beat Miro’s ass, which Miro was glad to hear. He challenged Taylor to a match where, should he lose, he’d have to serve as Miro’s young boy until Kip’s wedding. This is another NWA special from AEW, and when Chuckie T. loses, there’s going to be a good couple weeks of promos where he’s scrubbing tiles in Miro’s bathroom and running his social media account. I can’t wait.

Wardlow def. Jake Hager

This match pit early-10s athletic big man Jake Hager vs. late-10s athletic big man Wardlow, the kind of style battle only a true freak for athletic big men could appreciate. I am that freak, but this match was middling stuff, even when Wardlow was hucking around Hager like he weighed nothing.

Hager is such a weird presence in wrestling, someone AEW was extremely high on when he came in, but has been put so far in the background that I honestly forgot that they established the head and arm triangle as his new finish. He’s a natural athlete and great pure wrestler, obviously, but he’s not a smart enough storyteller to work in his MMA experience. He is the very definition of a Project Wrestler, someone who companies invest in because of their size and athleticism and keep forever because there’s a chance something might spark. It hasn’t. He’s still the least engaging member of the Inner Circle, one of the least engaging members of the AEW roster.

So it’s pretty cool that he lost SUPER clean, giving Wardlow the biggest win of his AEW career. It’s smart booking, as Hager’s frustration at the end of the match, soothed by the rest of the Inner Circle, was further addressed by MJF, who told Hager in no uncertain terms that despite the loss, he was still a winner. This is the second week where MJF has told members of the Inner Circle that he’s there for them, and the second week the situation has resolved with MJF on good terms with his stablemates while Chris Jericho just kinda watches on, insisting that things are good in his group while it’s being eaten alive from the inside.

Promo: Backstage, Private Party did an extremely easy “gin and juice” set up so that Snoop Dogg could enter the frame to provide some juice as a punchline. Matt Hardy appeared with contracts for Private Party to sign, agreeing to his getting a 30% cut of their winnings, giving Private Party third party rights, and so on. This segment is mostly notable for how Snoop Dogg was just kind of there, completely ignored by everybody after Hardy acknowledged him, still working hard to look engaged.

AEW

The TNT Championship Weigh-In

Team Taz, Darby Allin, and Tony Schiavone met in the ring to get weighed on a scale before a championship match for a title with no weight limit. I love this kind of thing, the old-school medical scale and its weights that click when you move them. It’s a quasi-tactile experience. You are shown Cage’s 272 pounds. You are shown Darby Allin’s 170 pounds.

And then you get Taz, wisely pointing out that the 102-pound disparity is even worse given that Darby is wearing heavy clothes and Cage, to quote the Human Enthusiasm Machine, is SOLID MUSCLE, SOLID MUSCLE, SOLID MUSCLE. He was off his ass good here, as per usual, the football dad taunting the other team from the sidelines.

Darby took the mic to say that this match wasn’t nine months in the making, but 27 years, the long culmination of a struggle between him and every bully he’s ever met. That was enough for Taz to sic the team on him, but before they could, Sting emerged and did the thing where he scared Team Taz away from the ring and gave Darby the look a stepfather gives to the moody stepson he doesn’t understand when he’s proud of him. Like, stern but weirdly smoldering. If Sting hits someone with a Scorpion Death Drop next week, I am going to lose my mind.

Promo: After replying the Brodie Lee Jr./Marko Stunt segment from AEW Dark, Stunt and Alex Marvez talk about how Jurassic Express are trying to redefine themselves in 2021. Before that train of though left the station, FTR interrupted and called Marko a glorified mascot, which was bait enough for Marko to switch himself in for Luchasaurus when the two teams meet next week. FTR, for what it’s worth, continue to love car metaphors.

AEW

Cody Rhodes def. Matt Sydal

This was another “is Cody overlooking this” special, but like the majority of his TNT Championship defenses he was never in any danger of losing this match. Every ring apron and guardrail had Cody’s face on it, and Cody was accompanied to the ring by his Go Big Show co-star Snoop Dogg, who remixed his theme song. That’s not someone who is going to lose a wrestling match.

Early in this match, Sydal hit Rhodes with a meteora on the short walkway to the ring, which made Snoop jump out of the way. From that point on, my focus was on him. Obviously not a manager, Snoop Dogg’s natural charisma carried him through—he worked Arn Anderson’s Waffle House menu better than the Enforcer and was constantly engaged in the match.

But my eyes were on him because, with a non-manager out there, I finally saw the weird position AEW’s camera setup throughout the pandemic has forced managers into, largely restricting them to the tiny walkway due to the manager’s need to stay on camera to do their business.

The big spot of this segment had nothing to do with Sydal or Rhodes, except that Rhodes accidentally punching Serpentico was the set-up. After the bell, Serpentico and Luther jumped Cody for revenge but were quickly stopped by their betters, who set Serpentico up in the corner for Snoop Dogg to take out with a Superfly Splash. It was wonky, it was fun, and it wasn’t quite what I wanted after his frankly tremendous performance during Tyson/Jones Jr., but commentary isn’t going big and this was.

AEW

AEW Women’s Championship: Hikaru Shida (c) def. Abadon

I’m gonna be blunt: I thought this match was terrible, and I think AEW has largely failed its women’s champion. This was one of the most significant builds to a Women’s Championship match in AEW history, and at every turn it was a ponderous, slow-moving journey to a match that was built around even more slow biting spots than we’d already been given.

I almost feel bad about how much I dislike Abadon. She’s trying, but beyond looking weird and oozing blood from her mouth, she doesn’t inspire fear. There’s not enough behind her strikes, there’s no surprise when she sits up after taking a big move, and because she’s a zombie, everything she does is, intentionally or not, extremely slow.

I want better for her. I want better for Shida. Or, failing that, I want someone to explain to me why AEW’s women’s division has yet to figure out its identity, whether it wants to be high octane joshi-influenced wrestling or pre-Women’s Revolution era entertainment wrestling. There are fine points to both styles of wrestling (believe it or not), but what this match proved is that it is not possible for them to coexist in the same space.

Promo: As if to make it up to me personally, Tay Conti is getting a shot at Serena Deeb’s NWA Women’s Championship next week. In her promo, she laid out her advantages: MMA, Anna Jay, and the Dark Order. “IS SHE OFFICIALLY WITH THE DARK ORDER?” my brain screamed. I’m hype as hell, y’all.

AEW

AEW World Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega (c) def. Rey Fenix

Look, y’all: I don’t have to tell you that this match was good. It was great. It was the best straight-up singles match in Dynamite’s short lifespan. It was one of the best AEW matches period. It was also just a hair over 15 minutes, which is one more for the good guys.

It’s crazy how much I love Rey Fenix. The things he does are impossible, to the extent that I often hate it when other people try. When he takes to the air, nothing he does looks overwrought or poorly thought through. There is a logic to what he’s doing, however crazy it is, and it’s a joy to behold. A lot of that is the small touches he adds to his offense, like his knee to Kenny Omega’s face before hitting a gorgeous Fire Thunder Driver.

Like, here’s a guy who is capable of seamlessly transitioning from a missed moonsault to a German suplex effortlessly, authoritatively. Sometimes Rey Fenix is the best wrestler in the world. Tonight was absolutely one of those nights.

He was met by a Kenny Omega who decided to show that he was the best wrestler in the world rather than say it. During the match, commentary made the point that Omega’s friend Kota Ibushi wrestled two great matches at Wrestle Kingdom, so Omega was under pressure to perform at a similar level. That’s kayfabe, but it felt real and was followed through on by virtue of Don Callis really only coming into play once.

The finish was insane, with Omega catching Fenix in the middle of a somersault body attack to hit a Tiger Driver, a V Trigger, and, after two failed pinfall attempts, the One Winged Angel for the win. Omega has been making big claims about his finish being something nobody’s ever kicked out of before, but if you watch Kenny’s matches it’s pretty clear that it’s because the move is overkill, something he does after delivering a wild amount of head trauma. It’s also a great desperation move, and Omega used it out of desperation here—it’s possible to imagine Fenix kicking out of everything else Omega had.

Of course, Kota Ibushi kicked out of the One Winged Angel, but it makes sense that Omega would ignore that. It’s a security blanket, and when it’s ripped away, it will be an extremely significant moment in AEW history. Protecting finishes isn’t a priority in modern  American wrestling. Omega’s whole deal right now is an argument that that level of care and attention to detail should be more commonplace.

AEW

Biz Cliz F-f-f-for Life

More importantly, I guess, to someone, there was pressing Don Callis business to attend to. As a bonus to us, he asked Kenny to end Rey Fenix’s career, showing Fenix that Pac and Penta were otherwise held up by Eddie Kingston, The Butcher, and The Blade. Before Omega could do as his best friend requested, Jon Moxley came to the rescue with a barbwire baseball bat.

Omega was saved in short order by Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, the Good Brothers of Impact Wrestling, Kenny’s former compatriots in NJPW’s Bullet Club. Segments on Impact Wrestling teased towards this alliance, but man, now that it’s happening, I couldn’t be less enthused. I have SEEN this, y’all. I saw it in New Japan, I saw it when WWE put Gallows and Anderson with AJ Styles twice, and now I’m seeing it again.

I hate to keep going back to Winter Is Coming, but the much ballyhooed shake-up that was Kenny Omega’s AEW Title Win being a precursor to “the band getting back together,” which is how WCW referred to its failed nWo 2000 faction and how TNA referred to its various attempts to reform the nWo without the benefit of the copyright to the name, is one of the most disappointing narrative developments in AEW to this point.

The three beat up Mox and beat up most of the wrestlers sitting at ringside, which brought out the Young Bucks. Initially confused, the further interjection of the Varsity Blondes resulted in the Brothers and the Bucks tandem saving Omega. While they did so hesitantly, the Bucks Too Sweeted their former compatriots before the show went to black.

I know I’m supposed to find it interesting that the Bucks did this, but their character development has been all over the place. “How could they do this?” isn’t a question an announcer should ask about a pair of wrestlers who smashed his phone. It’s too early to say that I’m not interested, so I’ll say this: For this to work, everybody involved is going to have to do a lot more than have good matches and reference the past. It’s possible, but when it comes to the Bullet Club, why bet on it?

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Colette Arrand

Colette Arrand is a minor transsexual poet and nu-metal enthusiast.

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