Last week, Eddie Kingston challenged Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship, and that’s pretty much the best thing that’s happened in American wrestling this summer. You can read Martin’s recap from last week, listen to LB and Danielle talk about it on the Fanfyte podcast, and take a brief detour with me to see what makes Kingston such a compelling worker, if you’re still basking in the vibe of the moment. AEW doesn’t have time to bask, though: All Out is coming up, and it’s time to start building, however slowly, to that spectacle.
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Before we start, a general observation: The fact that AEW is taping these shows in batches in an outdoor venue in Florida is causing some obvious drag, despite this week’s show being live. This week, it’s the wrestlers at ringside who seem exhausted. AEW has been praised (rightly or wrongly) for its ability to maintain the facade of an active, engaged audience, and that just wasn’t there tonight, as the only guy really biting into everything on offer was the Taz, the Human Enthusiasm Machine, replacing Excalibur for the evening. As much as I miss Excalibur, who brings balance between Jim Ross’ somewhat jaded, business-oriented approach to the action and Tony Schiavone’s genuine enthusiasm, Taz has grown a lot on me, to the point where I’m voluntarily watching old episodes of ECW Hardcore TV to hear him huskily breathe into the camera about his desire to break Sabu. There’s some disconnect between his tone on commentary and his tone when he’s backing his charges Brian Cage and Ricky Starks, but he’s frankly fantastic in both roles, so I don’t mind. Am I less cool for enjoying the musings of middle aged men during my weekly dose of the youth-oriented alternative to sports entertainment? Perhaps. Do I care? When it’s working to get me invested in something I’d otherwise be treating like wallpaper, absolutely not.
Ten Man Tag Team Match: Best Friends and Friends (Orange Cassidy, Trent, Chuck Taylor, Jungle Boy, and Luchasaurus) def. The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Sammy Guevara, Santana, and Ortiz)
The story of this match is that Sammy Guevara is back from suspension and the Inner Circle is thus back to full strength, taking on its two foremost rivals in Best Friends and the Jurassic Express. This is where the lack of crowd enthusiasm comes into play, as the deal with ten man tags (really any tag match under the AEW umbrella) is spectacular, show-stealing spots, and without the ringside crew or a crowd to pop for them, a lot of the dives to the outside feel more like standing around and waiting to catch someone than they otherwise would. Still, there was a lot to like here: Orange Cassidy continues to prove that his style of wrestling can not only work on a big stage, but that it’s one of the most adaptable in the game, as his opening the match with Jake Hager was the most engaging Hager’s been in his AEW run thus far. Trent is a tremendous face in peril, though again, the series of hope and cutoff spots that tag matches are structured around work better when there’s an audience to buy into the drama.
Because Sammy’s been gone a month, we take our eye from the continuing Jericho/Cassidy situation to be reminded of Sammy’s strength, which is that he’s an annoying, frustratingly talented jerk with a ton of potential. More than Jericho, he’s the ringmaster of this match, which serves to restart the angle between him and Matt Hardy, who has also been gone for a month but looks to be resuming his role as a life coach for Guevara, making him a better person by being a thorn in his side. The storyline hits differently for me after Guevara’s suspension for making rape jokes at Sasha Banks’ success and the research I did on the Matt Hardy/Lita issue from 2005, but presuming that Cargo Pants Matt is there to finally give Guevara a nudge up the card beyond being the Inner Circle’s resident pin eater, I won’t object to the narrative.
Grade: Though it didn’t focus on the storyline stuff I’m interested in, this was a fine opener, a way to get everybody on the card in a way that’s more significant than saving someone from a beatdown.
Promo: Jon Moxley is backstage to talk about tonight’s tornado tag team match, where he’ll be teaming with “the little compadre” Darby Allin to take on Team Taz, Brian Cage and Ricky Starks. I feel like I say this a lot about Mox promos, but while he speaks with conviction and is an engaging presence, he tends to speak in cliche like “I don’t start fights, I finish them.” Because Taz is on commentary, he gets to rebut Mox, saying that he sounds like a terrified man. Their dynamic as opposing forces on the mic is very good, as Taz, despite his successes in the past, sounds like someone who has a lot left to prove in his industry, his intensity nowhere near diminished by his lack of in-ring time.
TNT Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) def. Warhorse
I’m not a massive fan of Warhorse or anything, but so much of the conversation around this match had to do with him or AEW or Cody Rhodes lowering themselves to pandering that I started coming around on the idea. Warhorse is a guy that a lot of people like, he’s a buzzy dude whose star is on the rise, and a match against Cody, even if the conclusion is never in doubt, is an incredible opportunity for him. Why not give him a shot? The Cody Rhodes who doesn’t give a shit about his opponent comes out to play in this match, meaning Arn Anderson is really frustrated throughout, grimacing and tapping his Waffle House menu of plays to run against the man who rules ass. But this Cody Rhodes, despite his ego nearly costing him the title a few times, is a smart, veteran wrestler who knows when to bail to the outside and regain his composure, which he does several times. When he does this, he’s able to pick his shots and focus on Warhorse’s leg, which has been his strategy during his run as TNT Champion, utilizing the figure four leg lock in a way that vacillates between the triumph of his dad’s employment of the hold and the calculating dickishness of Ric Flair. While Warhorse is able to slip it twice and nearly block it a third time, Cody kicks away the block, locks it on, and Warhorse’s leg gives out and he has to tap.
Grade: Probably more 50/50 than it should have been, but if the theme of Cody’s inaugural run with the title is giving opportunities to those who don’t normally receive them, it makes sense to be generous with the structure of the match. Warhorse wasn’t the threat Kingston or any other challenger for the title was, but he’s a kid on a big stage for the first time, and putting up a fight was rub enough.
After the match, Cody and Warhorse are attacked by Alex Reynolds and John Silver of the Dark Order, for reasons that elude me. Warhorse is swiftly knocked out of frame as Arn Anderson gets into the ring to dole out old man justice, but he doesn’t need to as the debuting Matt Cardona rescues Cody instead. The former Zack Ryder is juiced to the gills, and if I could put hand clap emojis between the words “juiced,” “to,” “the,” and “gills,” I would. There are a lot of WWE midcard projects floating around AEW at the moment, a couple of whom have big “Cody’s Friend” energy, so I can’t say the prospect of another one is particularly exciting. He’ll debut next week, tagging with Cody against the Dark Order.
Promo: The Inner Circle are out to address the run of bad luck they’ve had. Sammy Guevara calls Matt Hardy a son of a bitch a bunch, and Jericho, still wearing his orange-stained jacket, says that it’s probably gotten more orange since then because Orange Cassidy used a “demon juice.” In two weeks, we’re going to get what we want: A rematch between he and Cassidy. Before that, though? A DEBATE! What the issues are, I don’t know. What format the debate will be in, I don’t know. But Jericho wants a debate as one of the greatest orators of the sport, and, you know what? Wrestling debates are truly incredible, my favorite being a Chris Nowinski vs. Scott Steiner debate about, uh, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bring it on, baby. Also, Jericho’s jacket smells like cat pee now.
Segment: FTR are at a contract signing, having negotiated the terms of their deal after a month of being in the company. Arn Anderson is their representative, which doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but alright. One of the terms of their contract is strict enforcement of their preferred tag team rules, which is strictly for dorks only, and another is that they’ll be hosting Tag Team Appreciation Night on August 12, which I’m pretty lukewarm about. Hangman Page crashes the signing to celebrate with his pals, pouring himself far too much whiskey while FTR encourage him to drink up.
AEW Tag Team Championship: Kenny Omega and Adam Page (c) def. Dark Order (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson)
Colt Cabana is on commentary for this one, furthering the angle where Brodie Lee is grooming him by talking about what great guys the Dark Order are. This is the most disappointing Omega/Page title defense I’ve seen—for one, the teasing of Omega returning to his Cleaner ways is off the table, for two, it felt like the heat and humidity slowed this one down. Dark Order have quietly been one of AEW’s success stories, debuting with zero heat and building themselves into a legitimate threat for the titles without necessarily needing Brodie Lee. It makes sense, as they were both great on the indies for a very, very long time, and what they bring is a fairly unique style where one man is willing to sacrifice the other if it achieves the goal of hurting an opponent. There are some insane spots here, Dark Order’s pinball-esque pop-up into an electric chair into a Batista Bomb being the most impressive of them. But this wasn’t going to be Dark Order’s night, and the V-Trigger/Buckshot Lariat ends the match. Lee ushers Colt Cabana to the back before berating Uno and Grayson, which Page laughs at. Lee turns his psycho peepers on Page and says that while it’s good that Omega showed up for him, he’s finished playing games. A ton of Dark Order goons hit the ring, but Omega and Page are rescued by the Young Bucks and FTR. That sets up the incredible rare bird that is a twelve man tag team match for next week.
Grade: They weren’t going for something Special here, so it’s just a good match. “Just a good match” feels like a ridiculous thing to say, but think about how they’ve booked pretty much every Omega/Page tag match and tell me that’s not a little disappointing.
Promo: Britt Baker says that she’ll wrestle Big Swole, but only if she can beat someone of Britt’s choosing. It’s a brief aside, no big deal.
Hikaru Shida def. Diamante
I wasn’t clear whether or not this was a Women’s Championship defense until it didn’t get a special intro, which was for the best because this frankly was not a championship caliber match. Full of miscommunication and flat-out errors, this is the rare match in the COVID-era of wrestling that would have benefited from being pre-taped, so they could get another shot.
Grade: The first bad match I’ve seen Shida have since joining AEW, and doesn’t work towards solving the problem of its rudderless women’s division at all.
Promo: Nyla Rose and Vickie Guerrero make their draw in the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Cup tournament. It’s Ariane Andrew, formerly Cameron, who was one of the Funkadactyls with Naomi back when Brodus Clay was a thing. AEW has women on its roster that they’ve completely failed to build, but they’re debuting someone who hasn’t wrestled since 2016 and tagging her with the division’s number one heel. I am not looking forward to this tournament, nor am I convinced that the women’s division is headed in a positive direction.
MJF’s State of the Industry Address
Because it’s 2020, we’re running a presidential campaign gimmick, complete with a Burberry plaid podium. MJF starts us off by telling his female aide that she’d look prettier if she smiled. I get it, I guess, but I’m also … now isn’t the time for that kind of bullshit, you know? I’ve been a pretty big critic of MJF’s promos since I began covering AEW a year ago, and I’m still not into it. He starts by talking about how wrestling has disappeared from wrestling, replaced with acrobatics and flips—basically the promo Jim Cornette has been reciting for the past decade. AEW was supposed to change things, but instead it’s let someone run roughshod over it because he came “from Titan,” so now we get the prerequisite smirking references to Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin, neither of which are a good basis of comparison for the target of this address, Jon Moxley, but the winking and nodding in that direction probably plays as well to the people who are receptive to it as his usage of industry lingo. He begins calling Moxley “Dictator Jon,” which is as much of a brick as “Demo God,” and says that Mox is part of the old guard that brought us things like war, famine, and disease. Then he challenges Mox for All Out. The president stuff was completely unnecessary, and none of the points MJF made in his speech felt like they had any bite to them. When Moxley gets involved in the angle (presumably next week) this may pick up, but honestly this was a pretty big swing and a miss so far as major promo segments go.
Tornado Tag Team Match: Jon Moxley and Darby Allin def. Brian Cage and Ricky Starks
Darby Allin doesn’t come out, leaving Moxley alone. Backstage, Taz is with his men, and he starts taunting Mox. Taz then goes orgasmic about all of Brian Cage’s muscle groups. Deltoids. Pecs. Traps. They’re like cannonballs. They’re like pistons! PISTONS! It’s so goddamn good, and if Taz wants to whisper about Brian Cage’s biceps into a microphone for a few hours, I will enthusiastically listen. Ricky Starks cuts a good “cocky young shitheel” promo and he and Cage walk out and are immediately met with a Darby Allin Coffin Drop from the top of the entryway. Taz gets back on commentary and does his take on Bobby Heenan flop sweating about the success of his charges routine, just a genuine pleasure throughout the whole match.
The issue with tornado tags is that, with all four competitors in the ring, there’s really no way to build drama. The match is a succession of spots where one partner saves the other, with some light weapons play and Cage power spots along the way. Starks and Cage are new to tagging and have some moments where they don’t hit their marks, the worst of which was Cage belly-to-back suplexing Allin into Starks, who missed whatever they were trying to accomplish and had to go for an awkward pin. Mox and Allin work very well together in a way that suggests a future tag run in earnest, Moxley saving Darby from a buckle bomb, the two of them figuring out a tandem Coffin Drop/Paradigm Shift the way Omega and Page figured out a tag team finish and gelled from there. The finish sees Darby bring out his tack-festooned skateboard, which he ollies onto Starks’ back from the top rope. Mox stops Cage from getting into the ring with an armbar on the apron, and Darby takes the three.