Nothing is Over Until You’re Underground: AEW Dynamite Recap

The TNT Championship Tournament rolls on with a competitive rivalry continued and a brutal main event

As the world keeps spinning, everything stays in place. Although we’ve had a few key debuts in AEW over the past several weeks, its entire creative world seems in stasis. Blood & Guts has been indefinitely postponed—which is most certainly not a complaint—so the show’s main storyline has been put on ice for six weeks. More than half of AEW’s on-air personnel live either in the Northeast or the West Coast (not to mention Jim Ross in Norman, OK). AEW has been trying to inject life into its closed-set programming by making the TNT Championship Tournament mean something, but so far no fan’s bracket has even been scratched, let alone busted. Last week, Dustin Rhodes put his career on the line in a match literally no one anticipated he’d lose. (Narrator: He didn’t.)

But now, with both semifinals matches taking place this week, we might be getting somewhere as far as actions of true consequence happening on a show which spent its first few months patting themselves on the back about their storytelling prowess. With Double or Nothing happening on the 23rd, pandemic or no (place my bets on the former)—as well as semi-regular live shows returning next week—will we finally start to see some forward movement in AEW’s storylines?

More Pro Wrestling:

TNT Championship Tournament Semifinals: Cody def. Darby Allin

The show begins with a vignette starring Darby Allin and Our Cool Boss Cody, stating their reasons why each can and should win their semifinal match, drawing on their history and representing opposing ideologies (to paraphrase Darby, corporate sheep vs. a man willing to do anything to win). Their continued rivalry might be the most organic AEW has produced: competitive, but not exactly friendly, building and pushing and pulling since the time limit draw that made Darby an instant rising star.

After some savvy early groundwork, Cody tries to bridge out and clutches his hurt knee; Darby goes right after it. The match plays to and against both competitors’ strengths strategically, as Darby goes balls to the wall and knocks down Brandi accidentally. Chris Jericho suggests Cody used his wife as collateral damage against Darby’s reckless styles as Cody kicks Darby in the face after a rare moment of care, checking on Brandy after he waffles her against the guard rail. Much of the match fittingly consists of our cool boss muscling around our wiry skate-punk hero, and the latter only occasionally being able to slip out of the power moves and wrenching submissions. Darby continues to work the leg and Jericho, whose commentary these past few weeks has easily been the best thing in mainstream American wrestling since the pandemic started, gives him props for it. Dr. Britt Baker, seemingly without a rooting interest in this match, hits Cody with her sandal anyway.

Darby hits a CrossRhodes on Cody and immediately goes for the Figure Four (two signature Cody moves in a row). After being slipped a water bottle by a returning Brandi and getting hit with it, Cody hits a Rainmaker. (I still give the style points to Jimmy Havoc as far as Bootleg Rainmakers go.) Cody tries a Coffin Drop and misses. Darby hits one of his own, but Cody uses Darby’s momentum to pin Darby off of his own move. Very well played, cool boss.

Grade: Gotta give this one a hell yeah. Can’t wait to see how the Cody/Darby rivalry shifts and grows over the years.

Segment: With Private Party, most of the women’s division, and Scorpio Sky wisely being sidelined during the pandemic, these past few episodes of Dynamite have been dramatically whitewashed (with the exception of squash matches, I guess?), so it was cool to see Sky receive the vignette treatment this week. It wasn’t too long ago when he was the first man to pin Jericho in AEW. Sky speaks on his experience linking up with Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian and his show-stealing catchphrase on Being the Elite. All in all, it’s paints Sky in a golden babyface light, which will be awesome when he breaks out into singles competition.

Segment: MJF offers another serious health update, cleared by his prolific nail doctor via a miraculous recovery. Then, he runs into more bad luck, nicking his neck while shaving. “A normal man would have bled out and died, but I didn’t, because I’m a warrior,” MJF says with the bravest face he can muster. These sarcastic babyface promos are so much better than when he suggested pools are for fat people. Cheap heat is boring and heels should always stay away from low-hanging fruit while they’re fucking with people.

Wardlow def. Musa

These out-of-necessity AEW squash matches have a gleefully retro feel; big stars and huge motherfuckers making mincemeat out of young talent looking to make a name for themselves has historically been a welcome component of weekly television. Musa gets a few good shots in, but Wardlow makes short work of him, courtesy of a hard shot to the face and an airplane spin. Might be time to renew my subscription to Big Muscle GQ magazine; long live print media!

Grade: Yeah. (It serves its purpose, and out of the scores of big guys AEW has been recruiting, Wardlow is a serious sleeper.)

Segment: The Bubbly Bunch returns! Jericho is protesting his FlimFlam Challenge defeat to Sammy Guevara while on the exercise bike in full gear. The group is split on votes, so they decide to participate in something called a Manitoba Melee, featuring over a dozen cameos (my favorites being Vickie Guerrero laughing off a shot at the end, Lou Ferrigno with a taser, and Ted Irvine wearing his game jersey and championship ring in his backyard).

Best Friends def. Jimmy Havoc and Kip Sabian

Best Friends take on Perfectly Adequate Roommates in a no-count-out, no DQ brawl, with the latter getting the early jump on their opponents. Jimmy Havoc as PROGRESS World Champion was one of my favorite runs in modern independent wrestling, and while I deeply respect anyone with the guts to make a go of it as a wrestler, Kip Sabian is like Vanilla Lio Rush to my personal sensibilities. The match descends into chaos early, with Havoc smashing Orange Cassidy in the head with a chair. Metal objects litter the ring after not much longer, and Trent looks heroic getting pummeled by the opposing team. The match is not too long and full of plunder, a wild brawl suitable for a midcard weekly TV slot.

Trent takes a brutal back bump on a latter set up in the corner, and two more on some chairs set up on their sides. Chuck eventually hits and Awful Waffle on Havoc onto a stack of chairs for the win.

Grade: Yeah! (I was really into the car crash aspect of this match. Swift and merciless.)

Segment: Dr. Britt Baker gives a BTS look at her “How to Be a Role Model” segments, a very nice office full of photos of her and noted frenemy Tony Schiovane and a guest spot from “Reba,” her hair and makeup stylist (her name is actually Rebel). After a first pass as a talking head, Rebel gets some direction from Dr. Baker (mainly making sure she gets the “doctor” distinction right, she didn’t go to all those years of dental school for nothing). For the rules proper, Rule #2 is “not everybody gets to be a role model” and proceeds to savagely body-shame visually altered jpeg images of Schiovane. Dr. Baker continues to earn high marks with her heel work.

Shawn Spears def. Baron Black

Jericho once saw Baron Black at a death metal festival in Norway in 2009 and apparently he sucked. Black gets a few good shots in on Spears, but Spears shakes it off with … [checks notes] … some butt flexing? (Some content is only suitable for Instagram Stories.) Tony claims Gainesville is a very international town while Spears taps Black out with a surprisingly good-looking Sharpshooter.

Grade: Meh.

Mr. Brodie Lee def. Marko Stunt

The smallest member of the AEW roster cuts a brave promo in the face of getting oblterated, saying he can take a lot more than the beating he took from Lance Archer in his AEW debut. Mr. Brodie Lee looks at Marko like Michael Jordan looks at a Make-A-Wish kid before a game of one-on-one. And then the bell rings. I like Marko as this generation’s Mikey Whipwreck, as it’s easy to feel sympathy for him when he’s being tossed around by someone three times his size. The powerbomb that ends the match looks like it could have killed him.

Grade: Yeah! (As mild as I am about his Exalted One gimmick, Brodie is so good in the ring. And Marko is as good as it gets at being bludgeoned to near-death.)

Promo: Jon Moxley is out in the desert, reminiscing about his title win. “That feels like a lifetime ago,” he says. “What the hell happened?” In the midst of this global pandemic we’re suffering through on many levels (including when we watch wrestling), we have a lot to be thankful for. Props to Moxley being one of a very small handful of wrestling characters actually acknowledging COVID-19’s impact on the world. He’s thankful for Old No. 7 whiskey, his patient wife, steel chairs, and the fact that AEW is live next week. He urges us all to call our grandmothers, and gives a warning to the AEW roster that the champ will resume his warpath.

TNT Championship Tournament Semifinals: Lance Archer def. Dustin Rhodes

As Lance Archer barnstorms the ring, Pineapple Pete backs waaay the fuck off; I love the presentation of Archer in AEW thus far. Dustin is so quick on his feet it’s easy to forget how big he is, almost standing eye to eye with Archer as they square up. In the early minutes of the match, Dustin is getting pummeled while Archer isn’t even breaking a sweat nor breathing heavily. Archer opens Dustin up and continues the beatdown. Word to Jericho, Archer’s got Dustin beat in the size department and the lunacy department. This entire match is complete domination and destruction. There’s a reason why Dustin didn’t put his career on the line in this match; facing Lance Archer is borderline career suicide on the face of it.

Grade: Yeah! (Death to 50/50 booking. This was a massacre in its best possible iteration.)

There was no doubt the finals of this tournament was going to be Cody vs. Archer, mighty Caesar going face to face with his inevitable downfall. It was so predictable it felt like destiny.

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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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