FTR with Dax Harwood Live (March 30, 2023) — Review

In a weekend filled with wrestling, a live episode of FTR with Dax Harwood aired on Fite TV. It clashed with Impact and NJPW’s Multiverse United, so it speaks volumes about those involved that this writer believed it took precedence over a PPV crossover.

I’ve always been one for intrigue. I still slow down for car crashes. On some level, the FTR with Dax Harwood podcast offers a mix of these. You’re going to be afforded some insight, a look behind the curtain, and there’s a chance Dax will say something to anger either a fellow wrestler, the fans, or both.

He’s completely aware of this. Throughout, there were comments made about his tendency to rub people up the wrong way. It was good to see Cash Wheeler offer the sort of support most of us can only dream about receiving from our friends. It’s the strength of that connection which permeates into their on-screen characters. Fans want to fight for FTR.

The cloud of a WWE departure still looms large. Anyone hoping for hints here will be sorely disappointed. There were as many throwaway comments which support the idea as there were working against it. If they are leaving, they’re giving the job for The Gunns every service. The AEW Tag Champions appeared in the middle of proceedings, cut a generic promo, and were escorted out.

Gimmicks never take breaks, ask Mark Galloway.

Special mention for how good Matt Koon is live with an ad-lib.

What came across strong was how Dax has filled his life with good people. Powerhouse Hobbs appears to be the most genuine guy in the business. Despite personal tragedies that would have floored most people, he’s continued to develop into a main event player.

Shawn Spears is an honest speaker. Acutely aware that by not politicking, he’s probably placed a ceiling on his career. But I agree with the ethics of this choice: it’s better to have restrictions placed upon you that represent integrity, than sell your morals and float into corruptible purgatory.

With Wardlow on stage, they spoke of how good The Pinnacle should have been. FTR with Spears and Wardlow could still be repackaged, minus MJF, and cause havoc as a fan-favourite act. It would work because these guys have each other’s backs.

One thing that stood out for me was how this live chat inadvertently highlighted an issue affecting both AEW and WWE. In all fairness, it actually is a bigger problem for AEW. There were two moments in the show when it came to light. The first was when Cash and Dax took a question from a nine-year-old boy. He’d asked what their dream match would be and for what titles.

Dax, attempting to gauge the boy’s knowledge, asked for his favourite wrestler. Dax offered Cena from WWE, Kenny Omega from AEW. Cena probably hasn’t been around enough in recent times for a nine-year-old to appreciate. Kenny is beloved by wrestling purists and fans who have followed him elsewhere. But Orange Cassidy probably engages more with kids, and no disrespect – he is a special talent, and deserves all the success coming his way – OC isn’t a Cena, a Hogan, a Rock.

The silence of the nine-year-old made more sense when Shawn Spears spoke about how he loved the wrestling part but had always been driven by the character aspect. That characters pulled him into the sport. He mentioned Mr. Perfect. This rang so very, very true. He was the first character that pulled me into WWF. As a kid, my finisher of choice was the Perfect Plex. Not a fancy move (a fisherman’s suplex) but cool because I’d bought into the man delivering it.

Perhaps there are too many professional wrestlers nowadays too wrapped up in themselves. They’ve forgotten the goal to get over with the fans. Sure, many big names were notorious for backstage politics, but they used their drawing power to leverage the outcomes they wanted. Nowadays it seems wrestlers learn to politick an hour after learning their first hip toss.

FTR with Dax Live assured us there are genuine good guys in the business, we just need to give them a chance to shine.

FTR Risk a post-WrestleMania Backlash

The are they, are they not staying? situation regarding FTR’s AEW status drags on. On this week’s FTR with Dax Harwood podcast, his opening language seemed to lean toward an impending exit.

The title and premise of the show was former boss Triple H. This in itself, looked like a pointer of sorts.

That some duly criticised on Twitter. The podcast account even quote retweeted it with the blithe remark: Or, a podcast topic. It would be naive to assume Dax Harwood and Matt Koon don’t meticulously plan the podcast and how FTR aren’t aware of its implications on their career. It’s more than just a place for musing over things, it can be a tool to get things rolling or support the gimmick.

It was telling that Dax stated he couldn’t reveal their decision because they were still under contract. That, taken on face value, would indicate they can’t say anything that could be misconstrued as a breach of AEW terms. Technically, they won’t have been able to hold talks with WWE yet. If they were staying with AEW, there’d be no contractual restraint to making the announcement.

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the once lost art of kayfabe. Resurrected here to make us ponder if they are/are not resigning. As I stated on Twitter, it’s either a great swerve or Dax is trying his best to prepare AEW fans for disappointment. He goes on to ask for understanding in the podcast, that he’s done what’s best for his family.

This could either mean more money with WWE or less dates away from home by staying with AEW.

All the issues that made him leave WWE in the first place could resurface, but if I’d been lucky enough to live out the dream as a professional wrestler, I’d be lying if I said the idea of a big WrestleMania moment wouldn’t prove tempting. But not many will get the Cody Rhodes style perfect return on the Grandest Stage of Them All. And such moments are fleeting and fade fast if the rest of the run is a painful slog.

The uncertainty of their status risks alienating notable portions of their fanbase regardless. From a selfish point of view, this writer wants them to remain with AEW. Both weekly TV shows are watched and every PPV, sometimes the Dark and Elevation get added. As for WWE, it’s only the Premium Live events and the odd highlights package.

If they make the switch, I can’t see me coming along for every minute. Despite Triple H’s improvements to the product, WWE television still fails to match my expectations of what a wrestling show should be. Any spare time would go to NJPW first.

Aside from WrestleMania, there is still more they can add to their legacy in AEW. They could restore credibility to the Tag Team division. Quite how it’s gone from the strongest tag team pool on the planet to having The Gunns as champions is a mystery, a crime, and Tony Khan’s biggest failing since starting AEW.

Having FTR win the belts, and spend a significant amount of time overcoming all challengers, while reclaiming gold from elsewhere, holds more weight than a pop at a WWE event. By staying in, they can be accredited with any rise the company sees, perhaps one day filling a stadium under the AEW banner.

Still, the choice is theirs. But the extended wait risks causing more damage than any pay-off is worth.

Listen to FTR with Dax Harwood on all major providers of Podcasts and via Megaphone.

What AEW Needs To Do Next

This Saturday, AEW presents Full Gear, a PPV it hopes will help refocus the company after a turbulent few months. The infamous CM Punk media scrum, and the subsequent incident with The Elite, shed light on the company’s internal troubles. But the Punk moment was just the tip of the iceberg. Tony Khan did an excellent job—a service, in fact—providing professional wrestling fans with a real alternative.

While WWE unloaded, Tony Khan relentlessly recruited. Sometimes less, is more. In this case, it’s become the law of diminishing returns. The Punk episode was the epoch of the problem. Since then, weekly TV has become lacklustre. AEW always had a vibe, a feel—and even when it was finding its feet—a sense of direction. We were all pulling in the same direction. Now, it feels a little lost. 

AEW has always delivered when it comes to PPVs. These are the things that need to happen following Full Gear.

Get ROH Out of Here!

This writer was excited when Tony Khan announced he’d acquired Ring Of Honor. The pandemic made me venture to wrestling promotions (via streaming) I’d normally overlook. ROH being saved went well with that sentiment. It was good that their video library would be added to AEW’s (and not form part of the WWE Network).

Tony was obviously happy with his new toy and wanted to show it to his TV execs. That’s cool. Let’s help ROH get a TV deal. But that effort has become all consuming. Constant ROH plugging has suffocated everything that made AEW stand out. At one point, I’d have happily paid extra for a ROH Fite TV subscription. Now, I’m not sure I’d dive straight into a YouTube ROH stream. He’s over saturated his own product with another of his products.

If Ring of Honor had been the answer AEW fans were looking for, Tony would never have needed to create AEW.

Following this Saturday’s PPV, ROH needs to be quietly shuffled to one side and away from Dynamite and Rampage. Perhaps this means Chris Jericho should drop the title. He’s too big of a name to be pushing a promotion that doesn’t have a TV deal.

Make Dark and Elevation Relevant

Elevation isn’t the show we’d been sold. That’s long in the memory now, but the description from day one should have been: a slightly bigger version of Dark. The problem for casual fans is the Dark shows are primarily used to boost wrestler rankings (we’ll get to those in a minute) and help green performers get used to the industry. 

There’s nothing wrong with either of those pursuits.

But there needs to be separation and purpose added. Dark should be the pure training show. Where new talents expect a squash but are given time to breathe, learn, perform in front of an audience (the studio is especially good for newcomers), and get used to the feel of a big promotion.

Elevation should be the place the performers go to compete for—don’t groan—the Dark titles. Men, Women’s, and Tag Team belts exclusive to the Dark brands. I know, I know, people think there are too many belts in AEW already. There isn’t: they’re just mismanaged. And if we get rid of ROH gold on AEW TV, the number of AEW titles is okay.

We all begged for Trios Titles and the All-Atlantic has the potential to become something more than a simple secondary title.

Dark needs titles to give matches more meaning. And the rule can be added that once a wrestler has appeared on Dynamite or Rampage a certain amount of times within the last six months, they are ineligible to participate for the Dark belts.

Bring Back The Rankings

A simple one: just bring back the rankings. It was a unique feature that made every match mean something. Let’s not have eliminator matches or convoluted round-robin tournaments. Let’s just use the rankings ladder. (And start a separate rankings and match record for ROH so they can’t appear on AEW shows.)

Bring Back The MIA Talent

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is told: “Everything you were looking for was right there with you all along.”

Tony, everything you needed was with you all along. You didn’t need to sign every former WWE free agent (to be fair, he passed on a few), you didn’t need to buy another company [enough on the ROH digs —Danny], there were enough AEW originals that were ready to flourish. Some of them were, only to be pushed aside or allowed to stagnate. When Orange Cassidy beat Jericho, it should have made him headline a PPV by now. Hopefully, holding gold now is the start of that journey.

There could have been more Britt Bakers, MJFs, and The Acclaimed type natural breakouts.

The talent that saw AEW as the light and made the switch haven’t been rewarded. Miro and Malakai Black being the obvious examples. It’s time to get back to focusing on what made AEW great for the majority of its three+ years.

We want to see the AEW faces that have been sidelined because of over-acquisitions and meandering storylines. With the pool of talent at Tony’s fingertips, we shouldn’t have so many repeat matches. And we should never see Jeff Jarrett in front of the camera or Jay Lethal (who is a top talent) wrestle on what feels like every show, every week.

Spread the airtime, build new stories.

AEW will be fine.

There have been many positives, even in the turmoil. Jon Moxley has matured into the focal point and person capable of lifting a company onto his shoulders and running with it. He’s had help from Jericho and Bryan Danielson. William Regal (who will probably betray him this weekend 😂) has been stellar. Proving, some signings really have worked out. The women’s division keeps getting stronger and has a depth of talent now unrivalled anywhere.

Following Full Gear, AEW needs to get back to doing what it does best: simply being AEW.

Cagefighter: Worlds Collide – Review

The movie that Dean Ambrose announced he’d be featuring in when he left WWE, before becoming Jon Moxley again and appearing in AEW, dropped this weekend for a one night only Fite TV PPV. He’s billed here by his real name – Jonathan Good – and plays Randy Stone, a pro-wrestler turned MMA fighter. Was the one night gamble, Mox-risk worth it?

Fair play to director/writer Jesse Quinones for allowing Moxley to ad-lib and breathe authenticity into the role. And fair play to Moxley and Jay “Christian” Reso (who appears as an MMA podcast presenter) for facing the digs at pro-wrestling head-on.

The premise is five-time MMA light-heavyweight champion, Reiss Gibbons, is offered a big-money crossover bout. A Clive Balls Top Tip here, when appealing to a mainstream audience, saying the guy is “Five Time Champion” does not mean five successful title defences. It does here.

Head of MMA organisation Legends, Max Black – played by Gina Gershon whom men from a certain age will recall with misty, faraway eyes from Bound – sells the idea to Gibbons’ best friend and agent, the charismatic Reggie, played by Elijah Baker.

Baker may be too endearing for his own good, he comes across as more real and engaging than Alexander Tanikie-Montagnani who plays Reiss. That isn’t to say the lead is weak – he’s not – he just lacks some of the Rocky-esque humour needed to offset the troubles.

For those who need a crash course on the formula here, familiarise yourself with Rocky III. It does depart from that style but you’ll appreciate the general gist. Continuing the nod to Rocky, Georgia Bradner plays the Adrian character, known as Ellie. She’s a tad different, she wants her man back in the ring so she can get the horse she always wanted. She’s cute, but I wouldn’t want to annoy her. There’s enough council crey-crey lurking in her expressions to make me rather face a pissed Randy Stone in a cage than tell her no.

A special shout out should go to Chuck Liddell. He’s a pure MMA fighter, dipping his toe into the acting waters, and he came across as one of the most natural on screen.

The downsides of the movie would be some of the production values. It’s clear there is a staged audience during ring-walks and no stadium during the fights. But these are cancelled out by the intensity of the fight scenes. It’d be easy to be dismissive before the film of how the combat scenes will play out but each bout is gripping and hard-hitting.

It could have benefitted from more character work, something a sequel could explore and there’s no doubt the many AEW fans who flocked to see the PPV would have enjoyed more Moxley time. He proves that whether playing heel or face, he’s unmissable entertainment. His angst at not being taken seriously in the early movie is top drawer, reaching a climax when he draws on peak Mr T.

Mr T Clubber Lang Dreaming of a Real Man

Overall, a good film, well worth checking out when it gets a wider release.


Why I’ll Watch WrestleMania (by an AEW fanboy)

I haven’t watched a full WWE PPV since Evolution. I totally believe in the positive strides taken to recognise women in Sports Entertainment, and in that particular point in time, they deserved all the attention not because of the “Women’s Revolution” but down to the fact they were markedly better than the male counterparts.

I stopped watching WWE because of Bad Creative and the Saudi situation. Any company that can ignore murdered journalists and still collect a pay cheque is morally bankrupt. Evolution came at an unfortunate time for me to make that ethical choice. Once the PPV was over, the Network was cancelled.

On Saturday, I will again decide to become an active subscriber. (This will be on the back of one of my many personas who have yet to take a free trial.) Much has changed in the intervening period. I’ve become AEW – I’m All In. WWE has further morphed into the modernised version of eighties WWE that was trounced by an emergent WCW. If you can’t learn from history, you are destined to fail. Vincent K. McMahon doesn’t view history – he has a clearly defined end version he’s been trying to paint for years.

Starting Saturday, even Vince will be forced into parts unknown. Everyone around him advised it was best to have a WrestleMania delay. Vince refused. It could be he’s so stubborn, he needs to see WrestleMania chalked off his calendar on exactly the correct date.

It could also be that the most successful and influential wrestling promotor of all time knows how to make prosperity out of chaos.

WWE will always be able to say WrestleMania proceeded unabated. The pre-filmed nature means they can aim for a cinematic feel. Vince is on record saying he makes movies. This is his chance to make The WrestleMania Movie. The two-night affair is also a handy trial. The event has become too long. Now they have a chance to see if two nights, two main events, is palatable.

I’ll be watching WrestleMania this year because it’s a once in a lifetime experiment. If they get it right, it’ll be like nothing we’ve seen before – or will again. AEW has done a far better job with its crowd-less shows so far. It could be WWE has deliberately downplayed the Performance Centre so what we see this weekend blows us away.

The Showcase of Immortals has never been so intriguing.

Now, as long as The Fiend wins, Goldberg is exiled, The Man finishes looking strong, Charlotte Flair loses, Drew looks strong, The Undertaker comes as the American Bad Ass and Edge is retired with an RKO, WrestleMania will be a great success.