Did AEW Dynamite Deliver a PPV?

Tony Khan had every right to tout the May 10 episode of Dynamite as a PPV on TBS. The match card was stacked. Ring of Honor World Champion Claudio Castagnoli faced off against ROH Tag Team Champ Rey Fénix, the AEW International Championship and the World Trios Titles would be defended, with a main event of Jon Moxley squaring off against longtime nemesis Kenny Omega in a steel cage. In between we’d get Anna Jay and Julia Hart in a No Holds Barred match and hear from Christian Cage and FTR.

On paper, it really did look like a PPV. But there’s a term in football: the game isn’t played on paper. Just because a card looks good, doesn’t mean it’ll stand up. One thing AEW does well is PPVs. Even when the company has had a rare dip heading into a PPV, it always delivers. So giving a nod to that standard for a TV show was adding pressure.

The opening bout between Fénix and Claudio had the stipulation that whoever won could challenge the other for their belt. Readers familiar with my opinions will know I’m not a fan of non-title matches where a champ can lose in order to serve as a qualifier (or “title elimination match”). It’s my view that if you’re fighting, the gold’s on the line.

Having said that, this was a smart compromise. It served as an eliminator, both could look strong regardless of outcome, and the Tag Titles being in the mix add another permutation. There’s more chance of finding a universe where Donald Trump is a quiet humble man, and Aqua followed up “Barbie Girl” with an album that surpassed Led Zeppelin’s excellence, than you are to come across one where Fénix and Castagnoli put on anything other than a high grade contest. If you don’t enjoy watching these two, you don’t really enjoy wrestling.

It started high tempo and never took a breath. Taz observed on commentary that they were only four minutes in, and there’d already been so much action.

Claudio winning is a shame in the sense it keeps Rey Fénix away from a big singles match but Khan is building the Swiss star into an indestructible force. It would be logical to assume he’ll choose Wheeler Yuta as his tag parter, and that’s who’ll eat the pin when the BCC face off against the Lucha Brothers.

The show definitely got off to a PPV-worthy start but this is where we should remember it is a television show. It would be remiss of Tony Khan to go all in [is that a pun? — Danny] on weekly programming as it’d make the big shows feel less grand. Unlike WWE PPVs that consist of extensive filler, AEW is more action packed which leaves little room for storyline expansion. With this being a TV show, there was need to punctuate the matches with developments.

We saw both Miro and Thunder Rosa return backstage and went to Tony Khan’s office. Both have been sorely missed. Yes, it’s a stacked roster but these two are world class talents. Thunder Rosa especially should be thrown straight back into the world title scene. Miro probably needs to earn some trust with Khan’s creative instincts before he’s main eventing.

Two different ways to progress a feud were also presented. FTR continued their troubles with Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett. Mark Briscoe came out to announce he would be the special guest referee at Double or Nothing when FTR’s AEW World Tag Title will be up for grabs. In what was supposed to be a drink to toast the creation of the match, Sonjay Dutt spat the spirit (I’m guessing a fine tequila) into Dax Harwood’s eyes. A blinded Harwood acted on instinct, and during the ensuing melee delivered a piledriver to Mark Briscoe. At this point, it should be mentioned Dutt must be a genius because there’s not a character I despise more in all of professional wrestling.

Dax could play the role of impetuous hothead well. They should lean into his unhinged, hit-first-ask-later side more often.

Christian Cage went down the other path to build his issues with Wardlow. He delivered a speech that begs the question: is Christian the best at cutting a heel promo in the world? MJF has a strong shout but Christian’s are delivered with such callous precision, it’s a close call. He managed to get a dead dad remark in too, just so you know the level he’s aiming for.

There are two types of people in the world. Those who prefer Coke over Pepsi. Those who think Edge is better than Christian. I am not in the Edge camp. Christian is a legend who delivers to a higher standard in every department.

The Trios match between House of Black and Best Friends and Bandido never really recovered from a stipulation that wasn’t fully utilised. It was an average part of the show where no one expected Malakai and his crew to lose. Even Julia Hart won in the match beforehand over Anna Jay. That probably was a better bout than the Trios Title defence, and the women sold the violence well, but it wasn’t on the level we’ve seen from other hardcore female matchups.

Slightly above the middling matches was the Orange Cassidy International Championship defence against Daniel Garcia. Again, no one would have expected OC to drop the belt here. It’s clear that Garcia is in some kind of holding pattern. He loses title matches but always looks strong. He put Cassidy through the wringer, his cockiness being the downfall. For a man who slayed the American Dragon, he needs another notable win soon.

Let’s cut to the chase on the main event. It wasn’t the best steel cage match we’ve ever seen in AEW. But it would never be like the Bucks and the Lucha Brothers. It was always going to be brutal. Bryan Danielson said on commentary that Mox doesn’t even wake up until he’s bleeding. And the blood flowed from both men.

You’d be surprised to hear that Jon Moxely became a top rope specialist, that most of his work was done from said rope. He wasn’t doing is best Rey Fénix impression though, he disassembled the top rope and proceeded to use its hook inside Omega’s mouth before choking him with the rubber covered steel.

Eventually both men went through the front of the cage following a V-trigger. Omega actually took the brunt of the damage, landing awkwardly on the lower portion of the cage.

Next, we entered swerve city. Moxley rolled Omega into the ring, both men now drained from barbwire wrapped chairs and landing on broken glass, and produced a screwdriver. Enter Don Callis, he snatched the tool from Moxley’s hand, pleaded not to be hit, which opened the door for Omega to launch Mox into a turnbuckle. Omega hit the One-Winged Angel, and well, nobody kicks out of that. Technically, Mox didn’t but he wasn’t pinned as Don Callis broke the three-count by  driving the screwdriver into Omega’s head.

The ultimate betrayal.

Was this episode PPV quality? Not quite, it lacked that unquantifiable ingredient that makes AEW PPV’s standout. This is okay. After all, it’s an episodic TV show and on that front we had storyline builds, returning wrestlers and still a couple of matches that were of the highest order.

The main event is one of those highly rated affairs. It wasn’t like the speed and art of the opening match, instead it was an exercise in violence and nuanced storytelling. Some may initially dislike the Callis turn but it is a masterstroke that fully opens up the rivalry between the BCC and The Elite. There is a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad, and it’s okay if you still want them all to win. With these two factions at loggerheads, the fans will never be the losers.

Moxley and Omega added another chapter to their rivalry and with this one, there will never be a thawing of the hatred. Mox has now broken up family. These two are AEW’s Batman and Joker, destined to square off forever, neither able to overcome the other in definitive fashion.


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.