Maybe I get too carried away with subtext. While Jon Moxley racked up days, weeks, months carrying the AEW World Championship, I watched raptly as being the company’s top star wore him down over the course of the past eight months. Mox as a character seemed to have a great time being the man until he faced Brodie Lee in a punishing match at Double or Nothing. For a while, he was battling monsters like Brian Cage and Lance Archer, not to mention quarantining more than once due to a deadly global pandemic and his wife working, at the time, for a “sloppy shop.”
As the summer crept into fall, Mox became grouchy and fatalistic while still reaping the rewards from being the world’s champion. At this point, those rewards were just bigger paychecks. He was preoccupied with looking over his shoulder for his next challenger to jump him from behind, and the general weariness and fatigue that comes with a lengthy title reign had set in. He didn’t necessarily look at the camera and say being the champ was a grind, but you could see the bags under his eyes and hear the cragginess in his voice. It was a fascinating perspective to articulate as a world champion, as the holder of this gorgeous title belt and the lifestyle every wrestler thinks they want.
Meanwhile, Kenny Omega has spent the bulk of the past year adventuring in tag team wrestling. His storied run with “Hangman” Adam Page ended with a whimper, not a bang – with a frustrated rant and a long tracking shot. When Omega made his return to singles wrestling, he drastically overstated his case as the most critically acclaimed wrestler in the world, a display that included dancers with brooms and weird references to North Carolina. (The latter references were informed by how the Chicago Bulls announced Michael Jordan during home games, not taking into account Jordan was born and raised and spent his college career in the Tarheel State.) On his journey to this week’s title match, Omega participated in a tournament in which he pretty handily made his way to the finals and got the win after being taken to the limit by his erstwhile tag partner.
Maybe I think too much about history, about the ways rival wrestlers go their own way and find each other again. Mox and Kenny have been spiritual adversaries since the close of All Elite Wrestling’s inaugural pay-per-view when the former DDT’d the latter on a stack of prop poker chips. They engaged in a tremendous war of words throughout the summer of 2019 and finally brought it into the ring in November of that year.
Not to undercut anything else happening on the show tonight, but we know what tonight’s episode of Dynamite was really about. Contrary to what we’re conditioned to believe from other wrestling companies, wrestlers are people and people tend to have long memories. This was about eighteen months of enmity, fired up and simmered down to volcanic proportions. The second head-to-head battle in what might go down in history as AEW’s most titanic rivalry. A battle to see who can truly lay claim to being the best pro wrestler on the planet.
Winter is here.
Orange Cassidy and MJF win the Dynamite Diamond Battle Royal
The show begins with wrestlers rushing into the ring for the battle royal, with Scorpio Sky and Shawn Spears staring each other down before entering the ring, and with MJF comparing himself in a pre-match promo to the very top repeat champions in sports. Marq Quen is eliminated — blindsided, really — by his mentor Matt Hardy. After Hangman eliminates Serpentico, Reynolds and SIlver celebrate with him and team up to eliminate Luther. Spears pays Matt Sydal back for eliminating him in September’s Casino Battle Royale, then gets eliminated by Sky. Spears comes back with the steel slug and knocks Sky out with it, and Sky is eliminated. Last night on Dark, Sky revealed hints of a dark side, so it’s safe to say someone’s gonna get over before AEW decides to end this Spears/Sky program.
Meanwhile, Page gets saved from elimination by the Dark Order, continuing their recruitment of an obvious future star who can’t seem to win the big one, only to be eliminated by Matt Hardy. The Inner Circle contingent sticks to a corner while Miro eliminates practically everybody left, then eventually triple-team the proverbial (and literal?) best man. That leads to a standoff between Wardlow and Miro (!), who throw bombs until Max and Sammy join in and they all eliminate Miro.
That leaves Jungle Jack Perry alone against Max, Wardlow, and Sammy Guevara. While Jungle Boy and Sammy are entangled on the top turnbuckle, Max shoves them off. Sammy is pissed and Max thinks he’s won, but Wardlow realizes Orange Cassidy was never eliminated. Try as they might, Orange evades elimination and ends up tossing out Wardlow. That means next week, MJF will defend his Dynamite Diamond Ring championship against Orange Cassidy.
Grade: It was a perfectly good battle royal and a great setup to Max vs. Cassidy. I don’t think battle royals are meant to be any more than a solid ten or twelve minutes of fun and storytelling garnish.
Chris Jericho def. Frankie Kazarian
Every time I see Frankie Kazarian come out for a singles match, I think about his low key barnburner with Mox a few months ago. He’s the type of player anyone would want on their team; a more than capable hand who can step up and deliver a banger performance whenever you really need one. Scorp might be the breakout star of AEW-era SCU, but Kaz has had far and away the best performance outside of the group.
Ortiz and Jake Hager (sporting a pretty snazzy topcoat from his local Big and Tall menswear shop) second Jericho as Kazarian gets the early advantage. Kaz keeps that advantage until Jericho pokes him in the eye. Jericho steps up his nastiness, dialing the clock back to a near-equivalent of his 2017-2018 iteration after a few months of finessing his comedy and merch salesman chops. Kaz comes back with big moves (including a top rope Flux Capacitor, a deep cut), but can’t quite get the three count. He turns over the Walls of Jericho while Ortiz stands on the apron with his sock full of baseballs.
MJF comes out with a big white towel in his hand — remember, this image is exactly why Cody can never challenge for the AEW World Championship again — until Sammy snatches it out of his hand to prevent him from throwing it. Jericho sees Sammy holding the towel and reacts with confusion, manages to kick out of a few pinning combinations, and finally puts Kazarian to rest with the Judas Effect.
Grade: If Kazarian vs. Mox is the ceiling of SCU singles matches, this was a little closer to the floor. But as a continuation of story it’s a great telling of the new conflicts within the Inner Circle.
Sammy goes after Max while Hager and Wardlow get into a shoving match. An irate Jericho tells them they have seven days to decide if they even want their shit together or the band is going to break up.
Backstage Interview: Alex Marvez interviews the Young Bucks, who take a trip down memory lane by reminding him of their superkick. They challenge The Hybrid 2 before the Acclaimed come out. Anthony Bowens talks some shit and then Max Caster starts kicking battle raps that wouldn’t get him out of the first round of Scribble Jam. They make way for TH2, who attack the Bucks from behind.
Dr. Britt Baker def. “Legit” Leyla Hirsch
Dr. Baker spends the first few seconds taunting Hirsch’s height only to get taken down immediately and put into an armbar. After chain wrestling for a bit, Hirsch (naturally) gains the advantage, getting Dr. Baker into another armbar, but Dr. Baker fish hooks her for the escape. This match goes a long way to showcase that the good doctor, for all her showboating and occasional chickenshit tactics, has in-ring savvy. Hirsch gets a solid comeback which includes a picture-perfect German suplex, to which Dr. Baker confers with Reba (Rebel) only to shove her bedazzled assistant in the way as Hirsch goes for the dive. After Reba (Rebel) distracts Rick Knox, Dr. Baker gets the upper hand with a twisting neckbreaker and a Lockjaw for the win.
Grade: I’ve been greatly enjoying Hirsch’s work and this was another good showing with one of AEW’s top women.
The bell barely even rings before Thunder Rosa attacks Dr. Baker and they get pulled apart by six or seven officials. Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker sounds like the perfect match to give AEW’s women’s division the shot in the arm it has needed since, well, the company introduced the women’s division.
Darby Allin & Cody Rhodes def. Powerhouse Hobbs & “Absolute” Ricky Starks
With a little less noise than the Inner Circle or the Dark Order, Team Taz has developed into AEW’s premiere alliance of killers. Armed with a new moniker, Powerhouse Hobbs has been ready to show people what he can do, and ain’t no betta tutelage for him to be under than this group. Ricky Starks almost feels too smooth to fit in here, but somehow it still works. On the other side of the matchup, it feels more like Cody took on Darby’s long-running feud with Team Taz simply by force of will and being unable to take a backseat to the man who usurped him for the TNT Championship and less like he has a legitimate beef for getting choked out by Taz.
(Even then, Taz was totally justified by Cody, without provocation, practically saying “your son calls me daddy” when he mentioned that Taz’s son Hook trains with him and not his father.)
I’m a longtime fan of Darby (Seattle represent!), but Hobbs muscling him around and doing pushups afterward is a big time delight. Hobbs has the sort of brashness you can’t communicate when you’re an up-and-coming babyface, so this heel turn is really bringing out his personality. Hobbs and Starks do a good job isolating Darby and grinding him down, the former using his outrageous weight and power advantage to keep him from tagging Cody in. Darby keeps fighting to Cody’s corner, and Hobbs has a hell of a time taunting Cody while manhandling the wiry skate-punk. Cody gets the hot tag, cleans house, withstands a Taz distraction, and Darby gets a blind tag during the Cody Cutter. Darby hits the Coffin Drop on Starks for the win.
Grade: Nothing too elaborate or complex, but that’s exactly what made this match good. A very simple and satisfying story to follow.
Hobbs attacks Darby, which brings Arn Anderson in to help, only to get beaten up. Dustin Rhodes joins in and Brian Cage follows. Cage hits Dustin with an F-5 and Hobbs goes to hit Cody with the FTW Championship when the lights go dark… and STING appears! He looks in outstandingly good shape for a 61-year-old man as he wields his signature bat and scares Team Taz off. Sting eyes down Arn, Dustin, and Cody before he takes a good look at both sides of Darby’s face.
Look, I know quite a few of you reading this didn’t watch wrestling in the 90’s and don’t really give a shit about Sting. But as someone who watched him fight Cactus Jack as a kid and became a diehard wrestling fan as he stalked the New World Order from the rafters in 1997, I popped. I don’t consider myself a nostalgic person, but seeing Sting stand in fake snow and interacting with AEW characters popped me for real.
In wrestling lore, even in the debut for his ill-fated WWE run, Sting has always served as the equalizer. Imagine being Cody, who idolized Sting even before his own father when he was a child. Imagine your dad being Dusty Rhodes and someone else being your favorite wrestler. That’s the presence that showed up this week in AEW.
Backstage Interview: Hikaru Shida speaks to Alex Marvez about Abadon licking the AEW Women’s World Championship and smearing it with her blood. Our champion says she’s not afraid, but then a ringing comes from the not-too-far distance. “Can we try this again?,” Shida asks. Marvez basically replies, “We’re live, pal,” and Shida abruptly excuses herself from the interview.
Segment: Mox says when he touched down from his flight, he could feel the tension in the air. He says today feel like a holiday, with everyone in pressed shirts and ties. Tonight’s the night. Mox is ready. He’s ready to prove without a shadow of a doubt he’s the number one wrestler in the world. A pretty great last minute hype promo from Mox, who drops in a Pat Patterson reference to close it out.
AEW World Championship Match: Kenny Omega def. Jon Moxley (c)
Don Callis is back on the call for tonight’s massive main event. No dancers tonight for Omega’s entrance, just a lot of reserved confidence (and, of course, the lengthy intro by Justin Roberts). Commentary plays up the fact that Omega has underachieved in AEW, coming nowhere close to his epochal matches against Kazuchika Okada, but Callis says Omega is confident that tonight is the night.
As the show goes to its final commercial break before the match, Mox and Omega exchange very tense words as Paul Turner tries to keep them apart.
The match starts with a staredown followed by a pit bull collar and elbow tie-up, and Mox immediately going for the rear naked choke. Kenny breaks the hold by getting to the ropes, and Mox lets him know he was this close to getting choked out. In such an important match between blood rivals, the early psychological advantage is clutch. Kenny gets in some hard chops, a clear signal of his intention to go toe-to-toe with AEW’s top brawler.
Kenny does well for himself on the outside against Mox until a suplex to the floor gives Mox the advantage again. Most of their past two matches so far have seen Kenny trying to beat Mox at his own game, which didn’t go well for him in their unsanctioned grudge match. The tables start to turn here when he hits a dragon screw leg whip into the ropes (after hitting Mox’s ankle on the guard rail during the break). Kenny continues to work Mox’s ankle, so while Mox can still hit moves like that vicious King Kong Lariat, he’s limping after. After slugging it out on their knees, Mox can barely hold the STF, so he transitions to a crossface.
Kenny tries for a springboard move and Mox hits a Paradigm Shift. Instead of going for the pin, he goes for chairs. He sets up two and takes one to sit in, inviting Kenny to sit in the other. An exchange of hard slaps degenerates into punches and the exchange ends with a hard V-Trigger.
Mox hits a second Paradigm Shift and takes a while to cover. Omega kicks out. Kenny counters a dive with a V-Trigger to the face, spending the next 30-40 seconds starching him with V-Triggers. He later goes for a Phoenix Splash, but gets pulled down off the turnbuckle by Mox. They make their way to the outside, and Mox hits a Paradigm Shift onto the ringside heaters. Doctors, referees, and Callis go over to check on Kenny as Mox anxiously paces around, ready to finish his rival. He eventually throws empathy to the wind and throws Kenny back into the ring.
Callis is arguing with the referee, holding a mic, saying Kenny is hurt and may not continue, and Mox pushes him down. Callis manages to slide the mic to Omega during the fracas, and Kenny picks it up and nails Mox with it. Blood starts to trickle down Mox’s face as Kenny pulls his knee pad down and starches him with V-Triggers. Kenny hits the One-Winged Angel for the win!
Grade: What the hell, man?! I know I predicted Kenny winning and turning heel too, but Don Callis being the agent of monumental change? That was a blindside.
Callis briefly celebrates with Kenny (sporting a very fresh black eye) before quickly making their exit. As they run out of the back door, everyone backstage from Tony Khan on down yells at them while they leave. Alex Marvez tries to get the scoop in the parking lot and Callis says to make sure to watch Impact Wrestling this Tuesday night!
What in the fuck?