It’s not easy to like All Elite Wrestling at the moment. In fairness, it’s not easy to like wrestling at all in 2020, no matter how few fans are in the building or how many precautions a promotion takes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their staff and locker room, but beyond all of that, AEW had a major wrestler safety issue crop up at Saturday night’s All Out pay per view, and they totally blew it. Early in the Broken Rules match between Matt Hardy and Sammy Guevara, the two men found themselves on a scissor lift. Guevara tackled Hardy off of it, their momentum took them past the table set up to break their fall, and Hardy’s head smacked against the concrete. He was out cold, seemingly concussed, lucky, frankly, to be alive. The match called off by the referee, Hardy was disappeared to the back. Minutes later, he reemerged, winded and not entirely there, to finish the match by climbing a scaffold to punch Sammy off to a crashpad below for the win.
I didn’t watch it live, but I was still terrified watching Hardy try to walk after that fall, let alone climb some scaffolding to finish the damn match. It’s a weird thing to look at with an eye on wrestling history, when one of the most infamous matches of all time saw the Undertaker throw Mick Foley off of and through a cage, both spots severely injuring (and the later concussing) Foley to the point that he wrestled no small part of it while knocked out. But we’re 22 years removed from King of the Ring 1998, we know a lot more about head injuries now than we did then, and Hardy gutting it out for the sake of a compromised finish shouldn’t have been on the table. A man falls 10 feet and smacks his head on concrete. He’s pretty obviously knocked out. Do you listen to him when he says he can continue, or do you protect him? Does his consent to go on matter more than his safety?
AEW’s answers to those questions sucked, and seeing practically everyone on the roster, including heels like MJF, retweet owner Tony Khan’s report that Hardy went through a battery of tests that revealed he wasn’t concussed wasn’t much better. Hardy’s comments on the situation were the centerpiece of this week’s Dynamite, but watching that fall a couple of times has re-attuned my eyes and ears for stuff that feels off about AEW’s quarantine bubble. Commentary spends a lot of time talking about how hot it is in Daily’s Place, the humidity and perspiration being an issue for wrestlers who use top rope moves as a major part of their arsenal because the ropes are slippery, and yeah, high flying wrestlers have not had a good summer in the venue, Matt Sydal’s debut-marring shooting star press being the most obvious example. During their victory celebration, Tully Blanchard pumped up his men for wrestling 30 minutes despite the ring temperature being 117 degrees. If that’s true—if that’s even close to true—then AEW is compromising its wrestlers’ safety, to say nothing of its product, on a different scale than the evil empire they’re battling against. And yet, here’s Dynamite.
Promo: Before the show starts, Tony Schiavone is in the parking lot talking about what we’re going to see tonight. Two SUVs pull up behind him. It’s Chris Jericho and MJF. They meet, and Tony says that there was a match last night that everybody was talking about, both men assuming it was theirs. They thank him, then congratulate each other on their success and dog on their rivals. In doing so, MJF quotes a South Park episode that came out when he was nine, which made me want to die of old age. The gladhanding over, both men go their separate ways, followed by separate cameras. “What a loser,” they each say of the other. I guess that set up that both guys were at the building?
Jurassic Express def. Lucha Brothers
It’s honestly hard to believe that Penta El 0M and Rey Fenix are here, in 2020, losing clean to Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus in the opening match of Dynamite. Wins and losses don’t matter, obviously, but if you took all of the “they’re the best tag team in the world but haven’t won the titles” stuff that follows the Young Bucks around and applied it to the Lucha Brothers, that’s how I feel. Rather than looking at this as a kind of monkey’s paw wish fulfillment scenario (I’m always yammering about how the Express always put up a good fight and lose, and here’s the good fight that they won), I’m looking at this like Eddie Kingston’s arrival in AEW is meant to right a couple of ships that’ve gone extremely off course, those ships being the Brothers and the Butcher and Blade. The way the battle royal worked out, the way Penta accidentally hit Fenix with the destroyer that gave Jungle Boy the win? This is a group of killers who can’t even talk, and Eddie Kingston wants to make it so that they can. While the match was good, it’s King’s post-match promo that really shines, where Fenix and Penta look like they’re about to break up until King makes them shake hands. He does the whole drunk girl “you’re my best friend” routine with Penta, hypes everybody up for their potential as a unit, and says that he never lost the battle royal. You can look it up in the battle royal’s extremely convoluted rules, but I won’t.
Grade: A fine opening contest that creates some new possibilities for both teams.
Promo: Jake Roberts and Lance Archer stand around in the rain talking about how Jon Moxley is going to piss himself when he comes face to face with the Murderhawk Monster. I’m frankly thrilled that Roberts is famous for wrestling during the era he wrestled in, because I’m struggling to think of someone who ultimately benefited more from the thought exercise that was cutting a heel promo for an audience comprised of children. Without a filter, he’s just an old, cussy man, and I get enough of those at the record store I work at.
Matt Hardy, the center of controversy.
The evening’s fourth promo is the one everybody wanted, as Matt Hardy addressed All Out and his condition moving forward. It was pretty weird how Jim Ross kept calling Hardy the center of controversy when he wasn’t. If anything, the staff doctor and whoever else let him go back out were the center of controversy. He acknowledges how scary his fall was for a lot of us and says that he’s humbled by how much people care about him. He promises to make a 100% recovery, but from what we aren’t told. Reby and the newborn are there, so that beef apparently got squashed, and in saying how lucky he is Hardy puts to bed his feud with Guevara (it can’t keep escalating, after all), and rededicates himself to winning a championship in AEW. The whole thing was weirdly apologetic—at one point he actually did apologize for the match not going as planned. I didn’t like that tone, to be frank. Like, yeah, I get that athletes are tough people who play through the pain, but I don’t know, the issue was neither my concern nor Hardy’s ability to perform. The weird blend of shoot/kayfabe going on here was a real brick for me, though. The whole thing was set up like an angle was about to happen … then it didn’t. Just a strange segment.
Orange Cassidy def. Angelico
It’s 2020 and Orange Cassidy is getting squash matches, baby. “Squash” might be the wrong term—Angelico is a featured performer on AEW Dark, after all, and he does get his fair share of submission holds early. But once Orange’s momentum is in full swing, he’s impossible to stop. After an Orange Punch, he gets an honest to goodness 1990s WWF television squash match pin. After the match, he gets attacked by Santana and Ortiz, then rescued by Chuck and Trent. Next week, Trent and Chuck say, they’re not going to be nice. They’re just going to whoop Santana and Ortiz in the parking lot. Sick.
Grade: An entirely different look for Orange Cassidy, who is now the Goldberg of our time. 173-0 starts now.
Promo: Alex Marvez tries to get a word with the Young Bucks, who superkick him. Later in the show it’s announced that the Bucks have been fined $5000 apiece for doing so.
Kip Sabian’s best man.
The most exciting part of All Out was the announcement that Kip Sabian and Penelope Ford were getting married, his best man to be announced at Dynamite. Dynamite being here, Sabian dismisses Tony from the ring and introduces the best man … indie wrestling superstar PUF. Kip explains that PUF was merely the best for subscribing to his Twitch channel. He tries again, and out comes Brian Pillman, Jr. Kip explains that his text was “you’re the best COMMA man,” as Pillman wouldn’t stop texting him and they’re not even friends. Third time is the charm though, and out comes the real best man, MIRO. The former Rusev, hair dyed Slim Shady blond and wearing a Gucci x Disney tee, introduces himself as The Best Man, the best gamer, a devourer of men no longer beholden to glass ceilings and brass rings. I’m having a hard time taking this union seriously, probably because I’ve never had an eSports friendship, but Miro is an extremely good get for AEW, the one ex-WWE midcard guy on their roster from the company’s most recent purge who seemed like a no-doubt, slam dunk star. I just hope his AEW theme lends itself to trap remixes the way his WWE one did.
Where Hangman Page and Kenny Omega stand.
In separate sit down interviews—Page with Schiavone and Omega with Ross—the two discuss what happened at All Out and what’s next for both of them. These are, for the record, the eighth and fifteenth promo segments of the night, respectively. They’re both good, though. In his, Page is remorseful about what happened between he and his friends, taking the responsibility for getting kicked out of the Elite, buying into what the Revelation were saying to him, and costing the Bucks a shot at the titles. It’s his fault, he says, that the Revelation were even in that match, and that he hopes there’s a way for him to be forgiven so they can get back to those tag titles. Kenny Omega, on the other than, talks about how he was supposed to be the ace of the company and found himself kinda directionless until the team happened. He thought he was supposed to be a tag team guy and was happy to work with Page, someone who he didn’t always agree with but had great chemistry with. But now that they don’t have the titles, he’s not interested anymore. If Hangman has plans to regain the titles, he needs to do it with someone else because Kenny Omega is a singles wrestler again. Great work from both, particularly from Omega, who I’m not often won over by in promos.
No Disqualification: Jake Hager and Chris Jericho def. Sonny Kiss and Joey Janela
Jericho needs his heat back, Hager has something to prove after Kiss eliminated him from the Casino Battle Royal at All Out, so here we go. This is a no disqualification match, but the weaponplay is pretty light. There’s a chair and a table and, at the end, a fire extinguisher. What’s important about the match is this: Sonny Kiss is being positioned as AEW’s next breakout star. She holds up against both Jericho and Hager, respectively one of the biggest stars in wrestling history and someone we’re meant to buy as a big star. The circumstances of Jericho’s second match against Orange Cassidy aside, he’s reliably thrown himself into matches like this, giving a ton to the likes of Jungle Boy, Cassidy, and Kiss while never losing his edge. Joey is put through the table at one point, leaving Kiss to defend himself, and he does until Jericho sprays him with a fire extinguisher, leaving Hager with an opportunity to hit a big slam for the win. Kiss’ continued rise is more important than the aftermath of the match, wherein Chris Jericho says that he and Jake Hager are going after the Tag Team Championships. Like, cool, but you already have a tag team, and you already have a tag team partner. Have fun though.
Grade: Really exciting when it’s Kiss in there doing his thing. The Kiss/Janela tag team was always going to be a temporary alliance, but maybe it’s already time for Kiss to strike it out alone.
Promo: MJF, still doing the Dictator Jon thing, declares that his campaign was a failure and fires everybody involved, except Wardlow. The big man puffs out his chest when MJF dresses him down for not doing his job, but MJF reminds him that he’s the one signing his checks, not Tony Khan, so unless he wants to be out on the street he’d better stick with the only man who sees his potential. If this is the end of MJF’s presidential candidate gimmick, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Promo: Jon Moxley addresses Lance Archer’s battle royal win. I’ve said this before, but Mox is a good promo who always comes across like he’s saying football coach platitudes. It’s so weird. I should hate it, because it sounds so done, but I don’t because he has an undeniable magnetism. He doesn’t see Archer as a monster, is the point. Don’t bet against him. You know, same old thing, but with swagger.
All of the loser tag teams gather around the ring to listen to FTR and Tully Blanchard insult them. This is the promo where Tully mentions ring temp being 117 degrees, which is insane. Google whether or not it’s safe to work in 117 degree heat, y’all. Buy a fucking fan, Tony Khan. Anyhow, this goes exactly like you’d expect. What’s the cheapest thing you can say about SCU? They’re old! The Gunn Club? Nepotism! Jurassic Express? GIMMICK GIMMICK GIMMICK, TARZAN COSPLAY, DUMBASS DINOSAUR. I’ll be straight: I fucking hate that kind of thing when fans do it, and it’s even worse when wrestlers make it a part of their character. Like, y’all are supposed to be STUDENTS OF THE GAME and you’ve never heard of merchandising? The whole act, grumpy old man Tully included, is nails on chalkboard stuff for me, and I spend WAY too much of my downtime watching the kind of wrestling they’re meant to be a throwback to. Anyhow, the Jurassic Express won’t stand for that kind of taunting. They clear the ring, the other loser tag teams surround Dax and Cash, and the Express dump the foam cooler out onto them. We have a championship match for next week, folks.
Promo: Ricky Starks comes out dressed as Darby Allin while proud papa Taz laughs it up from commentary. After imitating Darby for a minute (“I can’t skate with my friends!”) he goes in about the difference between being reckless and relentless, and that being reckless is why Darby doesn’t have any friends. Next time Darby shows up, Ricky will be waiting. Good, short promo. But there are so many promos. Too many promos.
Nyla Rose def. Tay Conti
Signed out of the Women’s Tag Team Tournament, Conti gets in a good showing against Rose. That shouldn’t be happening, though. Rose is a monster, the number one contender for the AEW Women’s Championship, and she’s still figuring out what a relationship with a manager looks like—until she wrestles Hikaru Shida, pretty much every match she wrestles should be a total squash. Conti needs the shine because she hasn’t wrestled much outside of AEW’s YouTube shows, but maybe you can cut one of over a dozen promo segments and, I don’t know, have two women’s matches on the card? At the end of the match, Rose goes for an armbar but Rose’s power is too much and she counters with a Beast Bomb for the win. Vickie gets on the mic and says that she and Rose aren’t going anywhere. Rose looks to continue the punishment, but that brings out Shida with her kendo stick. She successfully wards Rose off, and will you look at that, we have a real feud for the Women’s Championship. A miracle.
Grade: Taken on its own, a fine match. I think Conti’s going to be a good signing. I think Rose is getting better all the time. Hopefully Rose/Shida is built up for a PPV and not a Dynamite.
TNT Championship: Brodie Lee (c) def. Dustin Rhodes
I love Dustin Rhodes but haven’t really had an opportunity to enjoy him recently, his tag team with QT Marshall leaving me more than a little flat. Throwing him up against Brodie Lee to avenge his brother and potentially win the championship? Yes, sir. Granted, the emotional weight of this match is undone a little by the BREAKING NEWS STORY that Cody is one of the judges on a new competition reality series filmed during the pandemic, but you can’t fault the wrestlers for the failings of corporate synergy. This is a minor banger, hitting all of the notes you’d like from the two—Lee’s sadism and Rhodes’ veteran guile, Lee’s ability to put over Dustin’s “old dog with new tricks” offense in a way that other recent opponents frankly couldn’t. There was never any question as to who would win this match, but the strike exchanges at the end were tense in spite of that, the destination not being the question so much as the way we got there. After the match, the Dark Order came out with QT on their shoulders. Lee shoved Colt Cabana around a bit before Uno ushered him to the back. QT eats a low blow. Brodie screams for Cody to come home. But he is, Brodie. Home in Macon, filming a competition reality show with $100,000 on the line. What could be more important than that?