After a fair-to-middling Dynamite of little consequence (featuring an awesome AAA Mega Championship match and Chris Jericho yelling at a drone), more state governments are fighting COVID-19 with shelter in place orders. Apparently before the shutdowns went into effect, AEW filmed a bunch of content to last the next few weeks, including presumably most (if not the entirety) of the very recently announced tournament for AEW’s brand new Turner Network Television Championship. With Coronavirus being a serious issue that, again, probably should have shut down all wrestling production earlier than it did, the past few weeks of Dynamite have been placeholder episodes. This week was not much different, but with another championship tournament filling the space of the next few weeks, business just might pick up.
Kenny Omega def. Trent
Trent gets the match going with an Okada-esque condescending clean break as the newly re-minted heel spectator section features AEW stars sullenly sitting and standing about six feet apart from each other. The match goes from technical to physical very quickly, while Cody notes the self-evident truth on commentary that every member of the Elite has a short temper. The group’s member with the shortest temper (“Hangman” Adam Page, of course) has been missing for two weeks, not that he would have seconded tag team partner Kenny in these competitive and exhausting singles matches anyway.
Trent stomps on Kenny’s recently healed hand and works on it throughout the latter half of the match. Their encounter escalates to a brawl, with Kenny powerbombing Trent into structure beams, which almost made me believe this has to lead somewhere. Maybe a Best Friends tag team title shot? It just feels like a very … heated match for two competitors with barely any history, recent or otherwise. But then again, Kenny and Trent exhibit good sportsmanship after this 19-minute barnburner, so who knows?
Hikaru Shida def. Anna Jayy
Though she is the number-one contender for the AEW Women’s World Championship and a boss in the ring, Shida is one of the many competitors in the women’s division who kick ass but have no character depth to supplement it. She briefly encounters Dr. Britt Baker at ringside and takes her hair tie out after Jayy pisses her off. Jayy gets a decent amount of offense in, making a respectable showing in her introductory match in AEW. Ultimately, Shida makes relatively short work of the newcomer.
After the match, Dr. Baker backs Shida up with a shoe while eating a chicken sandwich. See? It can’t be that difficult to give characters such delightfully specific grace notes.
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Segment: Jon Moxley describes himself as miserable because he’s constantly looking over his shoulder; everybody wants what he has because he’s the champion. As the cliche goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Jake Hager calls Mox a fool via the wonders of a pre-taped interview, while Mox thinks Hager is the fool for thinking he can take his title away. They each revisit Hager choking Mox out this past Tuesday on AEW Dark; Hager describing the delight of watching Mox lose consciousness. Mox describing knowing Hager from riding and up and down the roads listening to the Jerky Boys together.
I understand AEW wanting to build Hager by setting him up against the reigning AEW World Champion, but Hager desperately needs a style upgrade beyond a cool finisher. Hopefully, this will be the opportunity for Hager to implement more of his amateur wrestling and MMA badassery and less of the middling mid-2000’s WWE style which gave him a statement win over Dustin Rhodes at Revolution. We’re all aware it’s going to be an easy duke for the champ in his first defense; it would be nice if it were also a compelling match regardless.
Lance Archer def. Marko Stunt
Guest commentator Colt Cabana shouts out his mom before Lance Archer hits the ring for his debut match in AEW. On the way, Archer lays out a production assistant, presumably because there aren’t Young Lions in AEW. Marko Stunt is excellent at taking an ass whooping—the degree of which might be his most singular talent—and take an ass whooping he does as Archer vertical suplexes him clear across the ring. Colt mentions Archer’s “exile” from American wrestling and his reign of terror in Japan, which is great for fans watching this monster perform for the first time. (Although Colt is “also a wrestler” by personal definition, he’s so, so good at commentary. An Excalibur/Colt booth is such a good idea it makes me want to pull some old PWG DVDs off the shelf.) After an unsettlingly high chokeslam, Archer pulls Stunt up after a two count and hits him with the blackout.
After the match, Archer throws Stunt into Babyface Row. A very compelling introduction for a wrestler whose New Japan work kind of nonplussed me. Archer wreaking havoc (and literally murdering dudes in the woods) with Jake Roberts by his side (though it seems like Jake is still just getting warmed up) has definitely piqued my interest.
Segment: “The Exalted One” Brodie Lee holds another Vince McMahon-esque meeting, which can be taken either as a naked shot at WWE or sly commentary on how Lee was once in the position of an Alex Reynolds or John Silver in WWE—the sort of underachiever the Dark Order aggressively recruits, whether that failure is by circumstance or personal constitution—and now he is the oppressive, feared leader in an example of how the universe brings everything full circle. Perhaps it’s supposed to achieve both points at the same time.
The Natural Nightmares def. 8 & 9 of the Dark Order
Dustin Rhodes and QT Marshall, surprisingly undefeated as a tag team, showcase their chops against a couple of Dark Order Foot Soldiers, making quick tags and working with the sort of slow efficiency typical for a relatively new tag team. It’s a perfectly serviceable TV wrestling midcard tag team match, doing what it sets out to do, but nothing to write home about. Of course Dustin and QT win.
Grade: Big meh.
After the Exalted One faces off with Dustin, he heads to the ring and lays out one of the Foot Soldiers. I’m very much taking a “wait and see” approach to Lee’s abusive leader persona; it’ll be interesting to see if anyone in the group steps up against him.
Segment: Chris Jericho hangs out in a hot tub with a little bit of the bubbly as he celebrates April Fools’ Day, which apparently celebrates the worldwide contributions of the Elite. Vanguard One comes in from the distance, to which Jericho attempts to apologize, his longstanding speech impediment preventing him from doing so. Jericho extends an invitation to Vanguard One for Inner Circle membership, and the drone flies away with his shirt. Jericho sends his pack of cuddly dogs after it to no avail.
Segment: Matt and Nick Jackson are in Rancho Cucamonga with a ring in the middle of their basketball/tennis court, lamenting Jackson the Younger’s injury at the hands of the Inner Circle. Though they don’t say it outright, the Young Bucks have been slipping for months; success has made them complacent and they are using their current struggles (as well as those of the world) to try to get hungry again. But Nick is not quite physically ready to push himself to a return. So he settles for baby steps
Shawn Spears & Sammy Guevara def. Cody & Darby Allin
Sammy drops his prized cell phone during his entrance, as a tag team with Shawn Spears is obviously not vlog worthy. Darby and Cody continue their intensely competitive alliance as partners in this TNT Championship tournament preview tag. As we never fully escape our addictions, Sammy starts vlogging while the match is taking place and immediately tags out, tries to take some footage of Brandi, getting his phone stolen for his trouble. A grave failure of content production. Sammy’s phone is a tertiary character not quite on the level of Darby’s skateboard, but you can’t help but feel a little sad for it.
It’s kind of a brilliant stroke of matchmaking that two rivals who are legitimate favorites to win the entire tournament are placed against each other in the opening round. It supports my theory and hope of Darby and Sammy being at the beginning stages of a long and storied rivalry. During this match, they take constant swipes at each other in between the spaces of trying to win the match in order to gain a psychological advantage. Spears and Sammy hold an in-match wager to see who can hold Darby up the longest for a suplex (surprisingly, Sammy wins after a, heh, double or nothing bet). Cody gets the hot tag and cleans up, but Sammy breaks up a Figure Four with a standing Shooting Star Press. *chef’s kiss*
Cody is sent to the outside and the heels gang up on him, thus gaining the advantage again. Darby hits a double dropkick off the hot tag and ping-pongs around the ring in thrillingly expected fashion. Spears catches Darby and throws him against the rail bordering ringside. Darby scales the support beam and hits a Coffin Drop on both Spears and Sammy, insane no matter how many times you or I have seen it, to Colt’s point on commentary. Sammy gets a chair to use on Cody, gives it to Spears, Darby takes it away from Spears, Sammy takes it away from Darby, and Spears pins him for the win.
After the match, Cody tries to console Darby, who decks our cool boss out of frustration as the show closes. It’s a great shade of character work that we know this isn’t a “heel turn” for Darby because of his history with Cody. Darby Allin is the sort of competitor who quite obviously wants to win at all costs, who carries losing with the same disdain as dishonor. He’s not the sort of character who forgets things easily; in fact, it’s easy to say he’s tortured by the idea of coming up short. Whatever’s going on between him and Cody is far from finished, and has the possibility of resurfacing in the TNT Championship tournament.