It is hard to know where to begin this review of AEW Dynamite. Fanfyte took last month off of regular coverage of televised wrestling as a means of responding to WWE and AEW’s decisions to shoot live shows during a pandemic. That pandemic is still a going concern, and watching wrestling under these circumstances still doesn’t feel right. Beyond that, we’re deep in the woods of a civil uprising in response to the slayings of black men and women by the police, night after ceaseless night of protests met with tear gas, rubber bullets, brutality, and further killings.
Wrestling, in its little pandemic bubble, looked and felt like a self-important alternative universe to begin with, a plane unconcerned with the petty inconveniences of sickness and death. You’re not supposed to think about those things while watching it. But now, in this moment where every brand in America is trying and failing to address the systemic oppression faced by black people by posting a brief statement or video expressing support that may or may not be there in the real, tangible actions of that brand, for that to be how an otherwise normal episode of AEW Dynamite begins feels so, so empty.
Maybe it’s not fair to judge AEW for this, but a statement from Shad Khan, one of the largest contributors to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and a brief video before the start of the show does not feel like an adequate response from a company that made a shirt to benefit heart disease research and started its pandemic era shows with a lengthy, heartfelt diatribe by the VPs of the company about how privileged they were to make their art for us. Maybe this show, which could not feel less important, was an admission that wrestling cannot heal or help—it can merely be. If that’s the case, then it’s up to wrestling fans to make something more of it. Take this episode of AEW Dynamite—I mean literally take it, download it in as high quality as you’re able to find—and upload it in full to one of the apps the police have created to identify protesters, the way K-pop stans are doing with fancams. It’s a more useful act than banning Linda Hogan from all future AEW events.
AEW Tag Team Championship: Adam Page and Kenny Omega (c) def. Kip Sabian and Jimmy Havoc
Look, y’all, I don’t want to come across as mean here, but AEW has about 400 tag teams and you’re telling me that the one closest in line for a shot was two British dudes unified by their lack of distinct personalities? Beyond Jim Ross trying to get across the menace of Jim Havoc by talking about his love of “certain metal music,” there’s really nothing to say about these two. By contrast, the Omega and Page tandem continues its weird magic of making Kenny Omega, a truly great wrestler who I cannot stand, more palatable while making an argument for Hangman Page being one of the biggest wrestlers in the world within the next year or so.
So far as the match is concerned, it was overly long. Like, unless Havoc and Sabian were taking the belts home, there’s no reason Omega and Page should need as much time as they took to put away a group where one of the members notably had a “big feud” against “Japanese deathmatch legend” Luther. Like, yeah, Havoc and Sabian are not the indie guys they bring in to get decked by the members of the Large Male Division, but the way the match just kind of breaks down until Omega fights off Sabian and Havoc without a hot tag before hitting the tandem finish with Page to end the thing? That’s a 10-minute showcase match where Sabian and Havoc get in a couple of spots, not the multilayered epic AEW is convinced every tag team match needs to be.
Grade: Fine in the sense that it happened and there’s nothing to complain about beyond its length. Not fine in the sense that it’s a match with a foregone conclusion that took forever to get there.
Promo: After suckering a bunch of indie wrestlers and weird fans to send in a bunch of video tapes, Tully Blanchard has selected a loaded glove as Shawn Spears’ tag team partner. The art of loading gloves and boots is a lost one in professional wrestling, and I’m not entirely sure that Spears is the right guy to bring it back. It’s 2020, not 1983, and while “black glove guy” sounds like a fun gentleman to cruise, 10 Guy does not.
Brian Cage def. Shawn Dean
My favorite thing about this squash match is how Taz looks like the sleaziest backwoods indie wrestling manager possible. Cage kinda struggled with his power moves towards the end, but these days I can’t tell if the error is on the wrestler executing a move or the one getting crushed by it. In a way, it doesn’t matter.
Grade: Standard AEW squash match. When are they gonna give Marko Stunt a squash match?
Promo: Taz gets on the mic. He’s also a really good manager promo, which isn’t an easy skillset for a wrestler to just acquire, but he’s been someone in a speaking role for a long time now and he was always underrated so far as his ability to get wrestlers over is concerned. He tells Jon Moxley that his match with Cage is serious business, which brings Mox out to cut his usual promo about how bad you’re gonna have to beat him to take his title away. I liked the undertones of Mox’s promo, about how Cage hasn’t earned the respect he feels is his due, quite a bit.
Promo: Lance Archer beats up a guy in a lucha mask by the river, which is pretty confusing. He talks about how one loss means nothing while Jake Roberts looks on concerned.
Promo: This very promo-heavy stretch of time ends as Private Party are chilling at the bar when Matt Hardy, looking very normal, comes in to tell them that they’re the future of tag team wrestling and offers his advice as a mentor, should they want it. Private Party freak the fuck out about Hardy, throwing up Hardy Boyz and Matt V1 signs like two kids who grew up loving Matt’s work, which was honestly very endearing. In the hallway, Matt encounters Sammy Guevara and says that the two of them are cool. Cool.
Chris Jericho def. Colt Cabana
Between Chris Jericho’s all lives matter tweets and Colt Cabana swooping in to defend the owner of Pro Wrestling Tees for his woe is me tweets about the protests in Chicago that’ve come nowhere near touching his store, you couldn’t have booked a less appealing match than this one, which was the kind of basic TV match you used to see in the 1990s. Colt Cabana is a very routine heavy wrestler, and I imagine that if you haven’t seen him before it’s cool, but I’ve seen a ton of Colt’s stuff and am way, way past it at this point. His second routine got interrupted by the Judas Effect.
Grade: Like, yeah, it was once impossible to imagine this match happening, but leaving it that way would have also been good.
Promo: Chris Jericho wants to fight Mike Tyson, which is also something I have no interest in. Like, Jericho’s a good promo, one of the best, but I don’t care about Tyson and right now I don’t care about Jericho either. I do care about Orange Cassidy, who comes out when Tyson doesn’t. He avoids the attacks of the whole Inner Circle, so expect a Cassidy vs. Jericho match soon.
Promo: Britt Baker is in rehab, and the video of said rehab is spectacular. Britt’s turnaround this year is one of the most unexpected things about wrestling in 2020, and I’m glad her momentum didn’t stop while I wasn’t watching.
Nyla Rose def. Big Swole
The story of this match, as it is with all women of size, is the strategy the smaller person uses to wrestle the larger person. Swole goes for a wrestling approach, with headlocks and takedowns, scoring a few near falls with pump kicks and cutters and the like, but it is the kind of match it is, meaning that Nyla’s power is constantly a threat to come out of nowhere, which it does here when Nyla counters Swole’s finisher with a sitout spinebuster for the win.
Grade: A good enough match that does the job of establishing Swole as a threat while also continuing to position Rose near the championship she recently lost.
Promo: Tony Schiavone goes down to the ring to talk to Swole, who is glad to be back. For some wildly tone deaf reason, Britt Baker tries to run her over with a cart when there are videos proliferating of that happening in major cities every goddamn day. Swole chases her off with a chair, but, like, really? Y’all don’t have a sense of optics?
Promo: Darby Allin is injured. He says that life is a joke and that he’ll get the last laugh. Darby is … a much more engaging presence when he’s not talking, to be honest.
Promo: Tony Schiavone has a sit-down interview with FTR in the concourse of the practice field they’re running Dynamite from. I don’t get the hype for them and never have, and, speaking frankly, they seem a little lost without the benefit of scripted promos. They almost seem nervous when they’re asked questions like “what does your name mean.” I agree with them when they say that a match against the Young Bucks is not a dream match, and not because they think they’d win in three seconds. Butcher and the Blade interrupt the proceedings, upset that they were attacked by FTR, and goodness gracious these teams are gonna have a confrontation. Maybe. Some day.
Promo: ANOTHER ridiculously long stretch of promos ends with Colt Cabana talking about how he’s tired of being impressive but coming up short. So the Dark Order attempt to recruit him by handing him a bottle of water. Colt, like a total fool, drinks something that a cult gave him, so with any luck he’ll be getting berated by Brodie Lee on a weekly basis soon.
TNT Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) def. Jungle Boy
With the open challenge stipulation and the promise of him cutting a ridiculous pace, Cody is getting booked like a candidate for best wrestler in the world. Given how few active wrestlers there are at the moment, he actually has a case. There’s a fair amount of discussion about high school athletics in the state of Georgia, which is something that I miss from my youth. Cody is wrestling very aggressively for a guy who just set a goal to wrestle every week until he loses the title, wrestling Jungle Boy like a complete jerk until Jungle Boy evades him while they’re brawling on the outside and Cody busts himself open on the wall. Instead of pressing the advantage, Jungle Boy gets into an argument with MJF, who actually wants to wrestle Cody all of the sudden, now that there’s a championship there.
It’s been a month since I’ve seen an AEW show, so I don’t know if Cody’s aggression when wrestling his fellow faces has been an aspect of his character, but it has the effect of making Jungle Boy extremely sympathetic. Like, it’s not time for him to win over a guy like Cody just yet, but it’s an Admirable Performance in a way that actually works. He kicks it up a notch because a win is always possible, and Cody kicks it up a notch to define his reign and test this young kid. There’s some overly contrived stuff where they fall through a ringside table, which leads to Cody’s win, but if Jungle Boy is the big star everybody (myself included) believes he’ll eventually be, it’s matches like this that will serve as the signposts towards whatever level he eventually reaches. Everybody’s entourage hits the ring to celebrate both men, and we have a feel good conclusion to a somewhat underwhelming episode of Dynamite.