Dynamite rolled into Atlanta this week, Cody Rhodes’ hometown and one of the most significant wrestling cities in America. That concept—individual cities being wrestling hotbeds—has largely been lost to the sands of time (the exceptions being New York and Chicago), but Atlanta’s roots run very, very deep, and the card AEW put out in their Atlanta debut was the kind of show you put together when you have something to prove. Did they succeed? Let’s find out!
The Young Bucks Win a Tag Team Battle Royal
My mom sent me a screenshot from early on in this match with the caption “WTF,” which, honestly, was a fair question. A *lot* happens here, both in terms of the sheer number of moves and in advancing the plots of several feuds forward. The Dark Order and SCU continued their issue when the Order cut a promo about Christopher Daniels not being there to support them, distracting Scorpio Sky and Frankie Kazarian enough for them to get eliminated. The Butcher, the Blade, and the Bunny apparently have beef with Best Friends and Orange Cassidy now, as Bunny kicked Orange in the Cuties (“Nothing tender about that,” said Tony Schiavone), leading to Trent’s elimination.
This match is the set-up for getting the Young Bucks a tag team title shot, but for drama’s sake Nick was eliminated early, leaving Matt to fend for himself at the end, where he was alone against Santana, Ortiz, and an interfering Sammy Guevara. Guevara got absolutely murdered by a superkick, a total highlight reel sell that’s only a little undercut by its setup being the Flying Nothing. Matt won, and we got AEW’s first shot of wrestlers standing turned 3/4 from the camera so they could watch TV, as Hangman Page forgot to be excited for his friends. Welcome to the big time, y’all.
Kris Statlander def. Shanna
Look, this match was good, but AEW knows it’s got something with Dr. Britt Baker, Doctor of Medical Dentistry, so she came out to join the commentary team, and the commentary really stole the show. Britt brought Tony a coffee (in a Starbucks cup bearing Tony’s likeness), and Jim Ross asked if she slipped any Blue Chew into it. How the hell am I supposed to focus on a wrestling match when one man is asking another if a dentist slipped mail order dick pills into his vanilla latte? Like, Statlander is an alien and Shanna was dressed like Goku, and all of that is super engaging, but Jim Ross goes on a full tilt rant at one point about liking cake, and suddenly all I can think about is what kind of cake Jim Ross likes. THAT SAID, I liked the match plenty—it did its job in making Statlander a contender again after the Nightmare Collective detour while continuing to build Shanna’s profile. Come for Britt bullying Tony into agreeing with her about everything, stay for the wrestling.
Promo: In case you missed it last week, Nyla Rose hit the stage to remind you that she is the AEW Women’s Champion. It’s a standard monster champion promo, one where she reiterates that she doesn’t care what the audience thinks of her and claims that she’ll be the champion forever, but she was interrupted by Kris Statlander and Big Swole. Statlander booped the title, and Swole nearly picked a fight. Based on presence alone, I’d love a Swole vs. Rose match, but Swole isn’t a ranked contender, so I don’t think that’s in the immediate future.
Jon Moxley def. Jeff Cobb
Dynamite kicked into another gear as soon as Mox’s music hit, transitioning from the inevitable (the Bucks winning their title match) and the unknown (the state of the women’s division post-Riho) to its white hot number one contender and a debuting monster with a legitimate Olympic background. Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle bought front row tickets for some reason (I imagine that, as employees of AEW, they’re encouraged to be at the show), so every now and again there’d be a shot of Jericho screaming himself various shades of pink and purple as Moxley either got his ass kicked or got one over on Cobb. This match was great. At this point, I don’t know if it’s possible for Mox to have a truly bad match on the strength of crowd support alone, but he’s a big man, and watching big men get thrown around with ease is thrilling stuff.
That said, this was the first of two matches where a hired gun was asked by a dickhead heel to beat the shit out of a vengeance-seeking babyface, and despite the difference in setting and stakes, they followed an extremely similar pattern. It made more sense here for Cobb to opt for more punishment on behalf of his employer than it did in the Wardlow/Cody cage match, since here Mox would presumably still challenge Jericho even if he lost, whereas Wardlow winning would have cancelled the Cody/MJF match at Revolution. Moxley sneaking a small package after getting superplexed was a nice way of putting over Cobb’s dominance and the threat he poses to everyone beyond the Inner Circle while maintaining Mox’s momentum.
As soon as the bell rang, the Inner Circle jump Moxley. Dustin Rhodes tries to make the save, focusing on Jake Hager, but the numbers are too much until the return of DARBY ALLIN, who gets an absolutely monster pop!
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) February 20, 2020
Yeah, it’s a little goofy that the Inner Circle stood around and watched Darby skateboard down to the ring to kick their asses, but when you’ve got Jim Ross screaming SKATEBOARD WIZARD it is very, very hard to care about the inconsistencies of wrestling logic. Darby hits enough people with his skateboard that Mox and Jericho are left alone. They punch each other up a bit, then Jericho thinks better of it and bails. Next week, both men will step on scales and we’ll find out how much they weigh! HOW EXCITING!!!
AEW Tag Team Championships: Kenny Omega and Hangman Adam Page (c) def. The Lucha Brothers
Look, the little rules are pretty important in wrestling. They’re meant to lend credulity to the proceedings, the idea that the referee is actually in control of the contest makes the contest seem legitimate. The way the Lucha Brothers have been above things like the tag rules has been an issue in AEW, to the point that Chris Jericho has talked about pulling them aside to talk about it, but man does this match take some liberties with the 10 second rule. The thing is, I absolutely wouldn’t have noticed had the commentary not pointed it out. So much happens in this match that half of my notes for it are in all caps, like “WILD MOTHERFUCKIN’ HURRICANRANA,” which is still the only way I can think of describing Fenix’s wild motherfuckin’ hurricanrana on Kenny Omega.
The finishing stretch of the match tries to tease out the dissension between Omega and Page, as Omega gets tagged in early while he’s still recovering from an assault by the Lucha Brothers and gets worn out a little as a result. They keep doing the all-time stupid move where Kenny holds someone for an Adam Page clothesline, which is only ever going to result in Kenny getting clotheslined, which is what happens. I bit a little on the possibility of AEW going with another Lucha Brothers vs. Young Bucks match, but Omega managed to kick out of the Penta Driver, regain the advantage, and hit the V Trigger/Buckshot Lariat combination for the win. After the match, the Young Bucks come out to celebrate with their friends, but Page doesn’t want to celebrate with his future opponents, which makes a lot of sense. In a way, he’s the Macho Man, the Bucks are Hulk Hogan, and Kenny Omega is Miss Elizabeth. Dude can’t so much as win a match without Matt and Nick coming out to grandstand and hot-dog, and Kenny is too naive to see why that’s an issue. It’s enough to get Hangman Page to the boiling point, which is probably coming soon.
Grade: HELL YEAH!
Steel Cage Match: Cody def. Wardlow
I’m just gonna be up front and say that I didn’t like this match. It was worked well and the fans were very into it, but the emotional high point of the MJF/Cody feud has already happened, and all this match serves to do is prove how incredibly dumb heels are. Remember how one of MJF’s stipulations was that Cody can’t touch him or the match is off? Well, since the stipulations were laid down, MJF has been thrown into a pool by the Young Bucks, hit in the face with a cage door by Arn Anderson, hit with a chair by Brandi Rhodes, and thrown over the guardrail by Anderson. If you’re a bad guy laying out a stipulation like “don’t touch me or the match is off” and your rival travels with elite wrestlers, his family, and a manager, how in the hell are you leaving them out of the stipulation?
Worse, I’m just generally repelled by MJF, and not for the reasons I’m supposed to be. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I found him the least compelling element of the match. While it wasn’t clear before the match, a graphic explained that Cody needed to win in order to get his match against MJF, which really begs the question of why Wardlow was fucking around with Rhodes when a ridiculous move like his super F5 could have sealed it. There’s stuff that I liked about the match, like the way Tony Schiavone put over the difference between AEW’s weird cage and others that’ve existed throughout wrestling history, Cody bleeding because that’s what the Rhodes family should do in a cage match, and Cody’s gorgeous moonsault and general fire, but I’m exhausted by this feud and can’t wait for it to be over.
Grade: Yeah, I guess?