It’s Thanksgiving Day in America, which used to be a pretty big occasion for professional wrestling. WWE’s Survivor Series began as a “Thanksgiving tradition,” running the day of from 1987-1990, and the day before from 1991-1994, which makes a certain amount of sense considering the day’s status as a national holiday marked by cornball parades and serious football games. Existing at the intersection of those two extremes? Professional wrestling and the halftime shows of the NFL’s Thanksgiving games.
With NXT and AEW running on Wednesday night, we get to live a little in the world where wrestling engaged with the holidays big shows used to be booked around, even if those shows, anticipating two big events in a week’s time, acted mostly as setup. There’s nothing wrong with set-up, though! AEW put on a good show last night, featuring a couple of bangers to open and close Dynamite and several good promos that, uncharacteristically for modern wrestling, acknowledge that its roster, particularly Eddie Kingston, has more going on than the main storyline they find themselves in.
Regardless, I find myself asking if it’s enough for AEW to put on a good show this week, or if, given the season, it should aspire to be more, to take things higher than mere grades can convey. To that end, this week the question I’m asking is this: Was AEW Dynamite better than Christian rock band Creed’s 2001 performance at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game?
Unfair as the question may seem, Thanksgiving Day halftime shows are wrestling’s real competition this season—something with a sense of levity despite how seriously its creators take the making of and performance of the piece they’re putting out there. Can wrestling live up to this high watermark for American culture? Let’s find out.
Hangman Adam Page def. John Silver
Almost immediately, AEW Dynamite came close to beating Creed in the game of Thanksgiving mirth by providing Jim Ross an opportunity to say “The Meatman” a few times while shouting out the fact that he’ll be making his first pumpkin pie today. I hope it goes well. This is an interesting match, as the promo beforehand was about how the Dark Order liked and respected Adam Page, so John Silver, one of the Order’s “recruitment specialists,” wrestled this like a recruiter might, were “wrestling recruiter” a thing. He’s not out there with the Order, and he’s wrestling like a nice guy for the most part, even complimenting Hangman’s biceps at one point. It’s also noted on commentary that Page appears sober and wasn’t carrying him a drink for the first time, so this had the feel of a friendly exhibition. It’s good, then kicks into gear when Silver counters a Buckshot lariat attempt with a rana. The sprint Silver goes on from there, the strike exchanges, and the certain, clean finish for Page were all very, very good. Not a match you have to seek out, but it all went down smooth.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: The match may have taken John Silver higher, but not to a place where blind men see.
After the match, Dark Order swarmed the ring, but not to jump Hangman. Instead, Evil Uno took to the mic, apologized for their past aggressions against Page, and posits that, in joining The Elite, a group that wouldn’t let him leave no matter how much he asked to, it was he who had joined a cult. The Order is there for Page should he need them.
Promo: Backstage, Kenny Omega is questioned by Alex Marvez. Kenny is pretty much back to my favorite version of himself, the wrestler who is simultaneously the least likely to have ever done coke while looking like the wrestler who has done the more coke than every other wrestler. He talks about last week’s botched contract signing, and how he won’t be able to reclaim his spot as the best in the world without the belt, challenging Mox to not bring any garbage wrestling into their match. While that has been a feature of previous Moxley title defenses, nobody insinuated that their dad could kick the shit out of Mox’s, so we’ll see where that leads.
Pre-tape: Darby Allin spraypainted “Survive if I let you” on the roof of the car that he was using to make art films about his desire to beat Cody Rhodes. He blows it up and stands moodily in front of the fire with his TNT Championship draped over his shoulder. It’s fine, the same way all of these are fine.
Powerhouse Hobbs def. Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson is a member of the Nightmare Family now, the Nightmare Family being one of the least imposing stables in the history of wrestling. Powerhouse Hobbs is a member of Team Taz now, wearing an orange and black singlet with font that looks like it belongs on a vintage ECW shirt. “That’s called branding, Schiavone,” Taz remarks of the new gear. We’ve got gear talk, we’ve got a big muscle dude doing big muscle dude things, and we’ve got a quick match that Hobbs wins without incident.
But that’s not the point, as Taz, of course, has some business to attend to, and it’s business important enough that he wants to do it on his own. In short, he wants his FTW Championship recognized as an official title in AEW. Why, I’m not sure. Like, the FTW Championship was founded due to Taz’s frustration that he couldn’t fight ECW Champion Shane Douglas, and he defended it as proof that he was actually the guy at the top of the promotion, not Douglas. That it was unrecognized was the point. But Taz is an older man now, a Gen X/Boomer cusp whose chip on his shoulder comes from being ignored and having his accomplishments go unacknowledged. On this occasion, he’s so mad about it that all he can say is that he wants his title recognized, which is enough for his mic to get cut. He gets another one, and that one gets cut, too.
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) November 26, 2020
That brings out Cody Rhodes, dressed like a banker in a movie about how callous capitalism is, production headset on his head so you know this is real. He says he’s out there as a show of respect, but he’s a real dick to Taz, saying that he’s wasting time and should be satisfied with the tag match his boys have against Cody and Darby next week, but Taz is out there to talk about making the title official. Cody, somehow more patronizing here than when he’s raising the arms of his slain opponents, says he’ll “run it up the flagpole.” Taz fires back asking if he’s going to say that creative has nothing for him, best of luck in your future endeavors, and that’s enough for Cody, who straight up starts yelling at Taz about how if the FTW lifestyle means so much, how come his son Hook is training with the Nightmare Family? Taz drops his mic and gets serious with Cody, saying that he’s gone too far, that his comment was pathetic and ultimately stupid. He turns to leave. Cody turns his back, signaling to cut away from the segment, and that’s when Taz strikes, locking in the Tazmission, the kata ha jime.
I fucking FLIPPED OUT for this, if the four paragraphs I’ve spent on a squash match and its fallout weren’t evidence enough. I love Taz. I love him so much. He’s so angry, and so righteous in his anger. He is the best manager on television by a long shot, and it’s because he’s simultaneously able to highlight the strengths of his charges while carrying his own grudges—his anger only makes the joy of watching Team Taz wreck people that much sweeter. He’s like a proud dad, and now that his actual son Hook is insinuated into this storyline, a mad dad. This whole segment was a delight.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: There’s this part in Creed’s medley is flying around with angel’s wings, right? The part that is most frequently cited as the wildest moment from the show? Taz put the kata ha jime on that dude, who cannot beat Taz and who survives at his mercy.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) November 26, 2020
Promo: Backstage, Eddie Kingston talks about how he’s not mad about Penta’s decision to betray him and reform Death Triangle, just really (really, really) disappointed. He’s quickly interrupted by Jon Moxley though, who is trying to figure out who attacked him last week. Their confrontation is brief but incredible, from Kingston flipping his hat backward when they square up to his saying “you know it wasn’t me” to Kingston flipping the hat back when Mox walks off. Great, great segment.
TH2 def. Top Flight
TH2 are insinuating themselves into the tag title picture, first by attacking Top Flight after their match against the Young Bucks last week, now by wrestling them on Dynamite. I am stoked to see TH2 on Dynamite, as they’re one of my favorite tag teams. Jack Evans’ high flying is incredibly fun to watch, and Angelico’s submission wrestling is almost soothing. Top Flight, at a decided disadvantage so far as experience goes, are most comfortable when they’re flying, which means there are a couple of hitches in this match here and there, particularly when they’re trying to figure out Angelico’s chain wrestling. Top Flight work hard, but TH2’s experience is ultimately too much for them. The Young Bucks hit the ring after the bell to stop Evans and Angelico from hurting their new buds, and it looks like there will eventually be a title match between the two.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: Top Flight saw their share of ups and downs and found how quickly life can turn around, but neither their sacrifice nor TH2’s triumph was enough to equal Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day performance.
Promo: Backstage, Vickie Guerrero and Nyla Rose gloat about Brandi Rhodes’ injury at the hands of Jade Cargill last week. I’m not sure if this is the way to get me into this strange mess of a feud, but good for AEW for actually having a women’s storyline on Dynamite.
Pre-Tape: According to FTR, losing the tag straps at Full Gear was the worst thing they’ve ever gone through. They say that the Young Bucks were the best team in the world for three seconds, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given that those three seconds were incumbent upon the cumulative action of a pretty goddamn long wrestling match, which they had a decided advantage going into. Nevertheless, they threaten to challenge for the titles again.
Chris Jericho and Jake Hager def. SCU
Apparently it’s a big deal that Christopher Daniels and Chris Jericho have wrestled for a combined 57 years and this match is their first encounter with each other. Outside of a brief stint in WWE developmental where he occasionally worked as a job guy, there was never the opportunity for a Daniels/Jericho match, but tenure itself does not a special moment to make. Beyond my general distaste for SCU, the match itself didn’t have any time to ruminate on this meeting between Jericho and Daniels, as it was mostly a show of force on the part of the Inner Circle. It was competently done, but I also don’t like the Jericho/Hager team all that much (they wrestling like two singles stars, where Jericho and Sammy Guevara had a mentor/mentee thing going on that worked well), so I was just waiting for this one to end. It did when MJF used the Dynamite Diamond Ring to punch Daniels, who ate a Judas Effect and the pin afterwards. The beef continued, however, as Kaz got a shot in on MJF and Scorpio Sky intervened to send the Inner Circle running.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: Maybe, if the L-tryptophan in your mom’s turkey put you to sleep before halftime. The first verse of “Higher” is about sleep, so I’m sure Scott Stapp would understand if you were dreaming of a place with golden streets.
Promo: Backstage, Miro and Kip are going to show us the Xbox Survivor Series sole survivor Lana bought him, but Orange Cassidy walks into frame and casually turns the system off. This sparks a light brawl between Miro, Kip, and Best Friends that ends when Miro throws the camera man down to the ground.
The Moxley vs. Omega Contract Signing
Tony Schiavone introduces Kenny Omega first, even though he already signed the contract, and his intentionally overlong introduction notes that the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame is not located in North Carolina, like the NASCAR one, which is true because the WON HOF exists as a Word Document on Dave Meltzer’s computer. There’s a really good shot here of Jon Moxley sneaking up behind Omega, as Kenny’s silhouette is still up so it’s one shadow beating up another. Mox beats Omega up through the entire segment, which, aside from being a good Mox promo, is the best feature for new Kenny Omega yet. There’s a bit where Mox puts the belt on the mat and Omega starts desperately grabbing for it before getting hit with a Paradigm Shift. Mox offers to hook Kenny up with some real killers in Philly next time he wants to pay someone for a hit, challenges him to find the Kenny Omega people think he is, and signs the contract. When he picks the title up, Omega makes a tiny, desperate lunge for it that I thought was great. Their tour of various deathmatch styles was great, and I’m really looking forward to next week’s championship match.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: Mox’s promos since his build with Eddie Kingston have been exceptional, so every time he gets on the mic I’m like “Hello my friend we meet again,” and then “when you are with me, I’m free.” I’d say this was equal to Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day performance. Next week’s match should exceed it.
Promo: MJF is real shouty about getting punched by Kaz. Jericho promises revenge as he will wrestle Kaz in a singles match for the first time next week.
AEW Women’s Championship: Hikaru Shida (c) def. Anna Jay
The promo video before the match does a pretty good job of laying this one out: Anna Jay debuted in a losing effort to Shida at the beginning of this pandemic, seven matches into her professional career, but things are much, much different now. She’s better, she’s a member of the Dark Order, and she has a friend! That friend, Tay Conti, accompanies her to the ring despite not being a member of the Dark Order or wanting to help Jay cheat. I like their dynamic a lot, particularly in the promo video, but it always comes off a little weird when it’s time for them to tug of war over a chair or something. While this is a title match, it’s more of a showcase for Jay to show how far she’s come at a point in her career and character’s development that a loss won’t hurt. She acquits herself very well here and has pretty much adapted to the challenge of wrestling on television without much experience. This is also one of Shida’s best matches on Dynamite of late, as a lot of those suffered from a lack of purpose. After her victory, she’s confronted by Abadon, bleeding from her mouth as she crawls towards a stunned, terrified champion. Abadon picks up the title and licks it, and she’s our next challenger more likely than not. HEY! It’s a storyline. And it starts with an NJPW-style post-match appearance and declaration of intent. Not bad, not bad.
Was This Better Than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day Performance: The AEW women’s’ division is still asking if AEW can take it higher, and brief flashes like this suggest that the answer is “maybe.” But no, this was not better than Creed’s 2001 Thanksgiving Day performance.
Promo: Matt Hardy is a heel now. If he isn’t, given how the Young Bucks were heels but aren’t, and how Cody frequently wrestles like a heel but isn’t, I’m gonna have to question whether anybody in AEW knows how faces and heels work. He calls himself iconic and innovative, an inspiration whose survival should inspire us to get through our own pedestrian challenges. Alright pal, slow down.
Promo: Ricky Starks, Powerhouse Hobbs, and Brian Cage talk about how Cody crossed the line and made things personal. They’re right! Absolutely 100% right! Starks is a very, very good promo and theoretically doesn’t need a manager, but there’s a reason why Taz steps back in group promos to let Ricky talk. Team Taz 4 Life, as the saying goes.
The Butcher and The Blade def. Rey Fenix and Pac
The reformed Death Triangle. The diminished Family. Kingston on comedy, Penta at ringside purely to cheer his pals on. This match was pretty damn good, y’all—Fenix and Pac are just different enough to really pop as a team, and Butcher and Blade have an extra edge (ha ha ha) to them since they’ve been moved into a featured role. Kingston, of course, is phenomenal on commentary, doing the same thing with Ross and Schiavone that he did with Penta and Fenix, praising one and slighting the other. At one point during the match he bellows “EVERYONE IS SUFFERING DURING THE PANDEMIC, GROW UP” at Tony while he talks about Pac’s eight month layoff. Kingston’s also able to keep up with Ross and Schiavone so far as their old man graps love is concerned, copping to his being influenced by Hot Stuff International and popping for Buzz Sawyer and whatnot, things I’ve noticed a growing annoyance for on Twitter when it’s JR doing it, though the work that does (perhaps unnecessarily) is to contextualize AEW’s place in the larger history of professional wrestling. I mean, I did it when I was an announcer, and I was in my mid-20s.
I’m getting a little distracted by old men talking about old wrestling, but there’s a lot to dig in this match. For all of the “old school tag wrestling” stuff FTR does, Butcher and Blade do it without making that the point of their gimmick, and it works for me because for the most part they’re aiming to be more effective than fancy about it. Butcher’s particularly fun to watch in this role, as I love seeing big boys throw cross body blocks. Like the opener, this is a nice, easy watch that isn’t necessarily essential on its own, but in the broader context of the Family/Death Triangle beef is part of one of the better angles in wrestling at this time. The finish sees Butcher take out Pac, Kingston interfere by crotching Fenix on the turnbuckle, and Butcher and Blade taking the win home with their finish. The three keep up the beatdown after the bell, but they’re run off somewhat mystifyingly by Lance Archer and Jake Roberts. Like, yeah, Archer’s got beef with Kingston, but I also don’t care about that beef, Kingston has three far more engaging wrestlers in his sights, and nothing about the Murderhawk Monster and Jake “The Snake” Roberts has excited me. Given how weak Roberts is on the mic these days (and he is, there’s no getting around it), I can’t even look forward to a Kingston/Roberts promo battle. I wasn’t really feeling Archer before he had to miss his title match due to the pandemic, so his appearance here just took the heat off of something that I was otherwise really into.