I don’t need to tall you about how amped I was for this week’s dog collar match between Brodie Lee and Cody Rhodes—I already wrote a whole article about it. Instead, lets place the focus of this week’s introduction where AEW wants it, despite booking a dog collar match on the same show—Chris Jericho’s 30th anniversary. Unless you follow wrestling from other countries (which all of you should, btw), the concept of a wrestler’s “anniversary” might seem a bit strange, if obvious. Every wrestler has a first match, and every year they make it to the date of that first match is, like any other date-based way of marking time, an anniversary. Why don’t we celebrate them in the United States? I don’t know, though I suspect that the way with which we regard labor under our particularly cruel version of capitalism places far more weight on a wrestler’s retirement, the point at which he or she or they is/are no longer able to produce, than it does on celebrating the merits of their artistic and athletic accomplishments as they occur.
But America is wrong about a lot of stuff, big shock, and while the whole show wasn’t done under “Chris Jericho Produce” style trappings (even though the credits that rolled over his celebration all read “Chris Jericho”), we did get a weird anniversary show style main event, as he and regular-ish tag partner Jake Hager took on Serpentico and Luther, the Chaos Project. Why? Well, because Jericho used to wrestle against and travel the roads with Luther on the regular, from their first match in 1991 to Jericho’s last tour with WAR (that’s Wrestling and Romance, in case you didn’t catch Excalibur’s shoutout) before he joined World Championship Wrestling full time. Given where the two find themselves in their respective AEW careers, one man a Dark stalwart, the other one of the focal points of the company, this was a particularly generous revisiting of one’s roots. Otherwise, all of the “Thirty Years of Jericho” stuff was kept to video tributes from human beings great (Hiroshi Tanahashi! Ultimo Dragon!) and miserable (Dennis Miller! Gene Simmons!), with the guys on the metal-and-celebrity side of Jericho’s life doing the whole “woah, 30 years in your undies??” thing. My favorite tribute was from Jericho’s dad, ex-NHL star Ted Irvine, who showed up with a prepared speech about how proud he was of his son, maybe the most real dad thing that’s happened in wrestling since Ted showed up on an episode of Thunder to tell his son to grow a pair. That happened when I was 10. I’m 32 now. Maybe we skip anniversary shows in this country to avoid reminding people like me that they’ve been watching wrestling for literal decades? As if I’m not acutely aware…
FTW Championship: Brian Cage (c) def. Will Hobbs
Early on in this match, noting the amount of beef in the ring, Tony Schiavone just gasped “My gosh,” and that’s why he’s the best in the business. Previously in this space, I’ve wondered if wrestling outdoors under the lights has led to a compromised in-ring product, the already extant heat and humidity only getting worse with the lighting rigs necessary for the kind of production AEW is putting on, and watching these two gigantic men start hot and slow down considerably has me thinking that, yeah, it is an issue. It’s the most easily fixable issue in the world, mind you—just shorten the segment—but given that we’ve had months of guys slipping on ropes or running out of gas 3/4 of the way through a match, it’s not one that AEW seems determined to learn anytime soon. This being a match between two big dudes, their fatigue came across as being a consequence of bumping meat, so it still does its job of making it known that Will Hobbs is a star in the making for AEW, who’ve really struck out and found a lot of nice pieces for their roster during the pandemic. He gets some nice nearfalls on Cage and kicks out of big power displays that would have ended it for him a few months ago, Taz on commentary pumping him up as much as he hypes Cage. Their mutual exhaustion adds a nice touch to the finish, as Hobbs, in disbelief at a Cage kick out, made the ill-advised decision to go for a frog splash, missed, and got jacked. After the match, Taz tells Hobbs that he’s impressive, so much so that he can either join Team Taz or get his ass beat. This brings out Darby Allin, so Cage and Ricky Starks make an extremely slow retreat. This is absolutely how someone like Taz should build a stable.
Grade: Despite its hiccups, a good match that further establishes Cage’s main event potential while continuing to build up Hobbs. The winner was never in doubt, but that’s wrestling, and good wrestling does something despite that certainty.
AEW World Tag Team Championships: FTR (c) def. TH2
I know that I’m out on an island when I criticize FTR, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had the whole “best ______ in the world” narrative shoved down my throat harder than with them, and I’ve been watching wrestling for more than 2/3 of my life. They’re fine, but they’re also an NXT product that feels like they’ve gotten a much, much longer leash than any Full Sail Legend act that’s left the studio, the beneficiary of the long-running idea that WWE would be better off with Triple H in charge. The thing about being an NXT product means that they’re stuck working the NXT style, and while it’s something you have to be very good at to get right, it’s also something you have to be in the system to really nail down. So while Kenny Omega and Hangman Page are better wrestlers than American Alpha, you didn’t get a Revival/American Alpha classic out of Page, Omega, and FTR because, speaking frankly, FTR are still putting in the work that goes into being something more than a WWE tag team. They’re trying, but it’s kind of hard to get into it when the best tag team in the world are fumbling an opening sequence with Jack Evans. Like, at one point commentary even makes a point about how FTR isn’t experienced against teams like TH2, meaning world-traveled teams who utilize a variety of wrestling styles, and I’m sitting there going YEAH, THAT’S THE WHOLE GODDAMN PROBLEM, HOW IS A 1990s WRESTLING CHALLENGE TAG TEAM BEATING MEXICAN SUBMISSION WRESTLING? Well, with a 1990s Wrestling Challenge finish: The ol’ Power and Glory superplex/splash combo. Jim Ross wonders if this throwback to Coliseum Home Video, which FTR have done every week since their debut, is intended as a shot at the Young Bucks.
Grade: Calling these matches “a brush with greatness” is an attack on me personally.
Segment: Oh, the Young Bucks were watching the match by standing at a weird angle to the television, and when they notice that a camera caught them doing this strange behavior only known to professional wrestlers, they superkick the camera man. FTR look really confused about all of that, and then a little angry when they appear on the Tron, photoshopped onto a couple of hot dogs. That brings out Best Friends, who explain the joke, and announce that they’ve got a tag title match on Dynamite’s one year anniversary show next week. They brawl a bit, as you do, but yeah, next week Best Friends are probably going to lose for the sake of a heel/heel Bucks/FTR match. Hell yeah!
Promo: One of the Jericho tribute videos is by MJF, who says that he’ll be there to celebrate with Chris later on. The Jericho/MJF friendship-or-feud is one of the slowest burn things the company has done, as it started the Dynamite after MJF cost Cody the title. It’s also been some of MJF’s best work on AEW to date, as it’s subtle, which isn’t his usual mode.
Dog Collar Match For the TNT Championship: Cody Rhodes def. Brodie Lee (c)
I was worried when the Thirty Years of Jericho match was announced as the main event, but then Greg Valentine was shown all alone in the crowd and all of that worry melted away because there’s no way you bring in the guy from the first dog collar match if you’re not planning on meeting him at his level. I will say this, though: If AEW is getting commercial free segments to lead the show, this has to be your commercial free segment. The picture-in-picture commercial breaks felt like they went on for an eternity during this match, and a spot where Cody drilled Brodie with a package piledriver off of the ring apron and through a table was minimized and soundtracked by commercials for prescription medication and apartment hunting. Obviously leading with this match means that you risk losing viewers to NXT later, but Hobbs and Cage probably could have used the break, and this should have been presented in full screen the whole time.
Production notes aside, I admired this match. Its gimmick is a tough one, as, despite its rarity, there is a lot to live up to. The blank canvas I mentioned in my look at dog collar matches can be as intimidating as it is freeing. I got everything I wanted though: chain tug ‘o war, chain low blows, chain punches, chains being used to pull someone out of their move, chain whipping, chain choking, chains across the eyes, chains, chains, chains, chains. As good as Brodie Lee was as the villain here, this match was all about Cody. Like, watch the match again and pay attention to how he holds the chain when he’s using it. It’s so close to the collar, so tightly wound—a man willing to give up his body if it means landing a shot on his enemy. He is a great babyface, which isn’t how I’ve felt about him since the start of his run with Dustin against the Shield a trillion years ago. Everything that could have been a contrivance—the John Silver stuff, Arn getting involved (his spinebuster is still poetry)—instead added to what was already happening, Lee’s mad king deal running aground because it reminded his opponent of who he was. I think a bigger build to this match would have been more cathartic, but I won’t complain about getting to see a dog collar match on free television. It ruled, and I can’t wait until the next one.
Grade: The best AEW match of 2020.
Promo: After his victory, Cody gives a very emotional speech about how he’s sticking with the fans forever. This ruled, because he did the old school wrestling thing of calling a heel turn “taking a dark path” because his hair is black and he got too many pocket watches for his birthday. To show us how much he loves us, he’ll be defending the title next week … AGAINST ORANGE CASSIDY. Given that both men have had issues with the Dark Order lately, it’s not improbable that Mr. Brodie Lee will involve himself in the match, but whatever. Here’s to Cody getting dunked on by the true ace of All Elite Wrestling.
— HANGMAN PAGE (@theAdamPage) October 8, 2020
Promo: With the announcement of the rest of the field for the tournament to determine a number one contender to the AEW Championship, we go to the back where Alex Marvez is hanging with Kenny Omega. He asks about Hangman Page’s addition, and while Kenny says that it doesn’t bother him (and only references him as a tag team wrestler), it’s pretty clear that it does. More than anybody currently transitioning from face to heel, it’s Omega’s turn that I’m most looking forward to, his heel persona being “the moment of insanity a human in Resident Evil experiences the moment before a hideous boss monster bursts forth from its former meat prison.” And Sephiroth, I guess, but it’s more exciting to imagine him throwing his head back in a horrible fit of laughter before his head falls off and reveals a giant eye or some shit. Also, chainsaw arms. GIVE ME THOSE CHAINSAW ARMS, KEN.
Big Swole def. Serena Deeb
I haven’t been fortunate enough to cover any of Serena Deeb’s AEW matches, but she’s a serious dark horse candidate for the best signing AEW will make this year. I was a huge fan of hers, both from her indie stuff and her WWE developmental work—not bragging or anything, but I was watching her matches against Naomi when they were both in FCW and knew they both had potential to be something big. For whatever reason, WWE never quite saw big star potential in her, and her brief run on television as a head-shaven member of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society was cut short when she was let go for not living the gimmick. She went to Japan, wrestling primarily in Tajiri’s Smash promotion, where her rival was Kana. When WWE signed her again, it was as a trainer in the Performance Center, so when she was released as part of the promotion’s “cost saving measures” earlier this year, I kind of figured that was it. I am so, so glad that I was wrong, because watching her is a delight. Like, she’s establishing herself as a wrestler again after a long, long time off of television, but she’ll break out soon enough. In the meantime, she and Big Swole put on a very good match, the best that I’ve seen from Swole since her AEW debut. Like, nothing crazy happens here, but it’s a very effective showcase of two women who make an argument for the future of AEW’s women’s division being extremely bright supposing they figure out how to feature it for more than one segment per Dynamite.
Grade: Not a classic, but exactly what I’ve been asking for out of the limited amount of time given to women on AEW’s programming. It has a different feel than anything the men are doing in the other divisions, and that’s a good thing. The lack of storylines or tangible momentum from what few storylines there’ve been is notable, but progress is progress.
Promo: Jon Moxley and Lance Archer both did promo videos hyping up their match for next week’s AEW Championship match. Both of them are good, hinging on how both have changed since their encounter at Wrestle Kingdom back in January, but seeing as how I’m the one person who didn’t think that match was spectacular, I’m stuck on the outside looking in on this one. Like, the videos were good, particularly Mox’s, and I like how AEW found a balance between WCW/Lucha Underground style “cinematic” promo packages and something more grounded in reality, but I’m just not very excited about the match.
Thirty Years of Jericho: Chris Jericho and Jake Hager def. Luther and Serpentico
They kept talking about how this match was “thirty years in the making,” but, like, that’s absolutely not the case for the match specifically. I get the importance of Luther to Jericho’s career, and like I said earlier I absolutely love that Jericho’s anniversary match was a weird deep cut, but it’s still a match between two featured stars of the promotion and two stalwarts of AEW Dark, the one whose historical significance to Jericho was mired by an aborted storyline and a lot of flailing around to impart his significance in Japan. With a lot of practice under their belt, the commentary team does a much better job of putting Luther over, and he tries to bring it on a higher level, but he got extremely blown up about halfway through the match, which became more and more noticeable the more he took to the top rope, where he was on extremely wobbly legs the whole time. Since this was about Jericho and Luther, their tag partners faded into the background for the closing stretch, where Luther’s offense began verging on dangerous. It was fun until it wasn’t, but thankfully by the time it wasn’t fun it was time for Jericho to hit the Judas Effect for the win.
Grade: Not the best way to celebrate 30 years in the business, but probably better than a book that’ll require Jericho to write hundreds, perhaps thousands of words about how much he liked Chris Benoit, as if we haven’t had enough of that already.
Promo: With the business of wrestling out of the way, it’s time for Chris Jericho to thank everybody for making this possible. It not quite being time to turn Jericho heel, MJF interrupts with a gift under a sheet. It’s a clown. The clown is carrying another gift, which is a framed portrait of MJF. Jericho smashes this over the clown’s head and hits the Judas Effect, says that he hates clowns, and squares up with MJF, only for both of them to go “ahhhhhhh, you almost got me!” before signing off. It’s fine, but Dynamite has leaned into other, ultimately less important things than Jericho’s 30th year in the business a lot harder than they did here, and teasing a major angle before doing nothing was kind of a letdown.