AEW Dynamite – First 3 Episodes Review

Rather than dive into reviewing Dynamite prematurely and feeding into the ratings side of the Wednesday Night War, it was decided to let the dust settle. We were never going to understand everything after just one night, or two, but by three, we have a decent idea about what AEW is going to feel like on a weekly basis.

It was fitting that the debut fight saw Cody take to the squared-circle. He is a founder and face of the company. Unlike The Other Place, where connection to the powers that be buys unfair air time, Cody is legitimately a top tier star. He is World Champion level talent, he is recognisable as Mr AEW, he should be opening the first bout on TNT.

The match with Sammy Guevara helped build the stock of the youngster and storylines, with Chris Jericho entering the ring to give Cody a painful reminder of what to expect at the Full Gear PPV when the two face-off for the World Title.

It would take too long to cram all the matches from the opening three weeks into one article. Those have already been reviewed elsewhere. But to examine the tone and feel, we also need to consider direction. PAC against “Hangman” Adam Page gave us big hints. PAC made “Hangman” tap out, albeit after a low blow. It’s a sign the Geordie is well thought of in AEW. As for Page, is he destined to play the tortured nearly man for a period of time?

Of course, episode 1 saw Riho get the shock win over Nyla Rose. “Shock” is used sparingly there. Lots assumed Rose would get the strap first but that was based on the amount of media work and exposure. Riho, in many respects, was the safe choice. It builds another name and unleashes Rose as a person that wants to stomp through the division.

The first main event saw Jericho, Santana and Ortiz versus The Young Bucks and Omega. It was never a fair match. Moxley saw to that. He stole Omega from ringside, planted him through a glass table backstage, and the inevitable beatdown of the babyfaces ensued.

The Rhodes brothers ran to the ring, followed by Jericho’s newest buddies including the former Jack Swagger – MMA’s Jake Hager.

Which leads us into episode 2 and the best promo Jericho has cut in years. And that is saying something as Jericho doesn’t do bad promos. He derailed the crowd’s “We the People” chants, aimed at Hager. Jericho derided WWE and killed what could have become a career hindering, never going away chant in a simple but cutting line: “‘We the People’ sucks and it’s dead and buried. It was a stupid idea from bad creative and all that’s gone.”

The amusing thing is, the crowd lapped up the comment, Hager looked a little hurt. He’d been using the gimmick in MMA. Dense people of the Twitterverse, have remarked Jericho was a hypocrite in the promo. That he dogged WWE Creative while still hinting at his old gimmick, like The List. Jericho is his own invention. His creations did not require WWE Creative. He can recycle his old material to his heart’s content.

His latest creation is the stable now known as The Inner Circle. It looks like we’re heading for good authority figures trying to overcome an evil, dissident group that holds power.

The second episode allowed a few things to become clearer. Like, this is a wrestling show. The action goes at a faster pace. There are fewer segments than WWE. It’s in-ring action plus. I don’t want to say total, non-stop action as that would have a grossly unfair connotation. While we’re at it, the notion it’s WCW-lite is wrong too. This is new with a slight nod to the past.

Week two had a real sporting feeling. It wasn’t polished to within an inch of its life like The Other Place, to the point where a ring walk feels like a catwalk. This felt like combatants about to get it on. There was a big fight feel throughout. An atmosphere closer to a boxing arena than Vince McMahon’s circus.

AEW showed that shocks will come and not just for the sake of shocking. The Young Bucks – pre-tournament favourites – where eliminated in the first round tag match by Private Party. Also, expected results aren’t delivered with ease. Every win was worked for, from Moxley over Spears and The Inner Circle over Rhodes and Page.

The best compliment episode 2 received was from a friend who is a time lapsed WWE fan, he was genuinely enthralled and giddy with each and every match. This was without him knowing any of the characters beforehand. He took it on face value and said it was as good as WWE at its best.

Last Wednesday’s Dynamite completed the overview of how the show will run. The focus on in-ring action was underlined. It does seem to have a hard act on its hand of delivering top level matches, with its best talent, while avoiding over-exposure. Already, Moxley/PAC is announced for episode 4. That’s a PPV main event right there, given away on telly.

Mox went full Stone Cold and flipped a double-bird before delivering Paradigm Effect, setting up the beef. It’s also notable PAC undersold the finisher and needed a few more from the opponents of Omega and Page before swallowing the three-count. The win-loss record counts in AEW and PAC has a rep for not accepting defeats. Next week they need to avoid a convoluted finish to maintain integrity.

The Jericho/Allin Philly Street fight struggled with this. It was clear Allin was being put over during the inevitable defeat but it risked making Jericho look weak while giving the emerging star a 1 in his loss tally. Also, after WWE’s Hell in a Cell debacle, why risk the fans ire by having referee Aubrey Edwards call for a break during submission moves whenever Darby Allin reached the rope? The fans even shouted: “It’s a street fight”.

AEW has a great concept with Dark on YouTube. It needs to increase the length of that show and have jobbers fight one another more, building respectable records amongst themselves. These talents should then lose to big names on Dynamite, preserving the win-loss records of top tier stars. Otherwise, explicit jobbers will have records resembling 2-50, with the big names on the books having 50/50 stats at best.

AEW arenas have that big fight feel but big fights don’t happen weekly in UFC and boxing. Big stars need tune-up matches; in pro-wrestling context that means being fed jobbers.

This is a minor concern in an otherwise successful launch. Dynamite has a unique feel without being completely alien to lapsed fans. It satisfies those burnt by stupid ideas from bad creative. Now all it needs is time to build backstory and relax into not pulling out the big matches every single week. And that in itself shows how strong AEW has come out of the blocks: we’d be happy to see them apply the “less is more” rule.

Episode 1 – “Are You Elite” 2 Oct, 2019– 8/10

Episode 2 – “The Inner Circle” 9 Oct, 2019 – 9/10

Episode 3 – 16 Oct, 2019 – 7/10

Wednesday Night War: AEW’s UK TV Deal Own Goal

To use the term “own goal” is probably a very British thing to do. It derives from football (soccer for our North American cousins), another way to put it is: shoot yourself in the foot. In the build-up to AEW vs WWE in the Wednesday Night War, the new start up, instead of firing meaningful shots to Stamford, managed to create a PR nightmare. If NXT is counterprogramming, AEW has become counterintuitive.

Okay, a few things need to be cleared up first. There’s a misconception Brits like a good moan (okay, we probably aren’t scared of one) and we get a better deal than Americans when it comes to the cost of home entertainment. It’s true, boxing PPV prices appear ludicrous across the pond compared to the £20 mark we aim for. But people in the UK do pay through the nose for premium content. Aside from the mandatory TV licence (£154.50), to have a full Sky TV package – representative of US cable providers – it costs £840 a year. For full sports coverage you need to add BT at an additional £300.

So, we may sound similar to Ebenezer Scrooge but that doesn’t mean we’re tight with our disposable income. This week when AEW finally released solid details of its UK TV deal with ITV, followed by the subscription package with Fite, the outrage wasn’t purely the specific cost ($4.99 a month or $2.99 per episode of Dynamite), it was a mixture of failed expectation, frustration, and the feeling of being led down the garden path.

Cody, in a now infamous clip, stated the WWE’s UK TV deal sucked compared to AEW’s. That just isn’t the case, we now know. If he means from a corporate standpoint, perhaps it is: Three hours of telly for a princely sum. If he means from a consumer perspective, it’s the worst pro-wrestling deal the UK has ever seen. Even Impact, much forgotten in the big picture across the pond, has a sweet UK set up. One which has enabled them to secure a lucrative secondary market despite all their recent woes.

AEW had invigorated the UK wrestling audience. WWE has become stale, formulaic, its promising and most over talent misused or overlooked by a creative team that works only as an oxymoron. Jon Moxley’s frustrations and subsequent jumping of the ship became the symbolic cure to the current WWE problem. But one thing the UK fans never felt by WWE was cheated.

Sure, it was a major hassle having them locked behind Sky’s paywall. Even this situation was turned into a favourable light when they released the WWE Network. Sky – so easy to play the role of heel, with Rupert Murdoch the only man that can make Vince McMahon babyface in seconds – felt cheated that their multiyear deal, which included exclusive PPV access, would lose its importance.

Sky appeared like the money grabbers, still charging a few pence shy of twenty quid for each PPV when the Network offered them and so much more for half the price. It no doubt led to the divorce of what had been a long partnership. WWE came out of it looking like a better priced product for UK consumers.

Vince McMahon has never made promises to the UK audience he couldn’t keep or lied about a situation.

The same can’t be said for AEW. The heat here has to land on Tony Khan’s doorstep. Cody Rhodes can’t be expected to have read the Ofcom ruling. Had he done so, he’d have realised Khan’s false claims that ITV couldn’t run a live show were a badly delivered lie. Free-to-air channels such as the BBC, Channel 5 and Channel 4 have shown NFL and baseball live and applied local adverts, cut back to the studio or placed holding cards on the screen to comply with the law. A law that doesn’t actually penalise the timings for commercials within a given hour if receiving a foreign broadcast.

Tony Khan

UK fans can accept a disappointing deal (unless it’s Brexit), it doesn’t take too kindly to a lack of transparency leading up to a dishonest announcement.

In response to the backlash, AEW’s defenders have tried to turn the tables and make them the victims. As if the criticism has been too harsh or the analysis too intrusive.

You can’t be the loudest person in the room and not expect people to talk about you. AEW had to make waves but it was always going to cause deeper scrutiny. Fans desperately wanted an alternative, they were bound to place any saviour under the microscope – once bitten, twice shy. When wrestling gods fail you, it’s prudent to question the actions of those offering a road to paradise.

It’s also a two-way street. Bleacher Report – an affiliate of Warner Bros., thus TNT – draw attention to the AEW product at every possible opportunity. That’s been great considering the gaps between PPV’s. But it hasn’t uttered a single word about the UK TV deal. That isn’t balanced reporting. If WWE provides a performer with the wrong type of toilet paper, BR Wrestling is all over them like a bad bearhug. AEW has a bad press day and they are conspicuous by their absence.

The failed UK TV deal – make no mistake, it is a failure – became so vocal because Khan let people down before the first bell had even rung on a Dynamite bout. Had he explained from the start that Fite was the real home of AEW and ITV was aimed at a smaller audience (not their target audience), then Brits wouldn’t have lost their shit. They’d have had a few months to decide if they wanted the upstart bad enough to pay half the cost of the WWE Network for less than two hours of content a week.

If less than two hours a week was worth slightly more than half of a Netflix subscription, or more again when compared to the complete perks of Amazon Prime. Negative fallout makes it an argument of two hours versus thousands of hours. A better managed PR campaign, lead with honesty from the outset, would have sounded more like: get AEW every week for the price of a pint.

Instead, we are left with the former. Negativity rules. The idea of a Thursday Night Dynamite prime time show on ITV4 left in tatters. Access on the ITV Hub scrubbed. Admittedly, neither ever promised but when WWE’s TV deal is derided, it’s fair to expect something very close to those two outcomes.

AEW haven’t just shot one round in their foot, they’ve let off another. The bad PR and loss of faith is one thing, from a business point of view they’ve missed a chance to sky rocket to the big time. WWE views Britain has a valuable market. It has solid support and makes a tidy sum from these shores. I dare say, the UK has helped WWE remain in pop culture. All this, and they never had a terrestrial TV deal. AEW do but have chosen to underutilise the opportunity.

Instead of exploding into the British public’s psyche, it risks being the butt of jokes with its Sunday morning timeslot.

Personally, the initial shock and anger has been replaced with a calmer view of the situation. Is AEW worth $4.99 a month. On many levels, yes. It has already taken two PPV orders from me based on a leap of faith. It just feels like a bigger leap this time. The sense of everyone playing fair, pulling in the same direction, has evaporated. It’s hard to part with a cent when one feels hoodwinked.

I don’t want to join the army of people now saying the only way to go is illegal streaming. If you want to see AEW that much, pay them. They’ve worked hard and deserve it. If you still feel slighted Wednesday night (or Thursday morning) take a rain check. Hopefully by Monday night, we’ll have all calmed down and can enjoy the one-hour ITV highlights package.

 

WWE Battleground 2017 – Review

Let’s get a few things straight from the start here, this isn’t going to be the sort of look back that slates Battleground. There has been quite enough of that from different quarters already. Also, they’re wrong to do so. Nobody moans more than me when a show masquerading as a PPV is no better than the weekly programme. But it wasn’t the case here.

Likewise, it wasn’t the best example of a premier event either. It was average. But PPV average.

Picking out the highlights here should illustrate the point. Does this mean missing half the card goes against it? Perhaps. But we all need toilet breaks and stock up supplies when watching live, or parts to skip when watching on catch-up.

The most positive reaction from the crowd on the night went to The New Day taking gold from the Usos. A fine match lead to cheers and it shows how over and valuable the trio are.

The Fatal 5-way for the Women’s belt once again failed to live up to its name: not one person died. Nor did the women exactly kill it but the result was a fresh direction. Remember a while ago, yours truly moaned that Natayla should have been given the Money in the Bank briefcase, somebody in the halls of WWE must have been listening. Or thought so themselves or planned it. But the idea of WWE Creative planning so well in advanced is far-fetched. There’s more chance that Vince McMahon personally reads every word I write and follows my career avidly.

It means Natayla can use her experience to carry the SummerSlam match with Naomi.

Based on the 5-way on display here, the bar does need raising.

As does the United States Championship. The Miz, an often-derided Superstar, continues to elevate Raw’s secondary title (as he did with the belt on SmackDown), yet two of the most lauded wrestlers in the business have further devalued the gold in question.

It should be impossible for AJ Styles and Kevin Owens to be slightly above mediocre. It seems the Land of Opportunity can make anything happened and they’ve pulled it off.

Who now cares about the man holding the US Title?

Still, it was cool to claim Owens and AJ had a good match and slag off John Cena versus Rusev.

Sure, we all knew Cena had to win. Rusev has had solid pushes crushed by this opponent before, so he can absorb this defeat. What it does is highlight the regard Cena has for the Bulgarian. He knew they could put on a good match and they did.

The stipulation gave us a reason to go up the ramp which in turn meant we saw some big hits. Cena needing props to see off Rusev does the loser no harm. It was almost like John was putting someone over. Almost.

Jinder Mahal against Randy Orton in a Punjabi Prison match drew more groans than sounds of excitement from the WWE Universe. To be fair to the former jobber, WWE should have moved his story on from Orton by now.

Again, they proved to be good methodical workers but in a match already viewed as a crammed concept, it didn’t go down well.

Then the inevitable happened followed by genuine shocks.

As expected the Singh Brothers interfered. They’d been hiding beneath the ring and prevented The Viper from escaping. For their troubles Sami Singh took a bump from high up through an announce table. It was a bad landing, almost as bad as Tom Philips’ commentary.

Still, even when it looked like Orton would prevail, we knew he couldn’t. What prevented this was a shock. Down the ramp walked The Great Khali. In a time when we have to accept Mahal as WWE Champion, it’s not a stretch to pretend Khali is a threat again.

He placed his gigantic hands through the cage and choked out Randy – Indian Interference Outta Nowhere – to allow his kayfabe countryman slowly climb and ascend to victory.

Brace yourself for Cena squashing Jinder sometime soon.

5/10

WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017 – Review

Before we begin, apologies for delayed reporting. Currently in Tokyo and Danny Simms said my diligent output was putting him to shame. Top tip for site editors: don’t hire staff more talented than you are, you’ll only begin to feel inadequate. While in Japan, an eye has been kept on WWE, so here comes the first of two reviews.

After choosing the worst name for a PPV, WWE had its work cut out. It was either going to bomb in style or redeem itself on air. Overall, it kinda swung to the latter. Just about.

The theme of the night, for this fan, was how – finally – WWE Creative haven’t been scared to create the correct results. In the case of this PPV, for differing reasons.

First bout of note was Bray Wyatt versus Seth Rollins.

These two have been billed as the future but sold down the river with misdirection. But at this point, a Wyatt defeat would be like serving him his P45 (for non-UK fans, firing him). A man can only claim deity status so many times before it becomes white noise during regular defeats.

Okay, so this wasn’t a classic clash. Which is surprising given the talent on show. But it doesn’t matter. It was always going to be about the result here and they handed the win to Wyatt. He needed an eye gouge but it’s hardly the type of cowardly move that could condemns him.

The Kingslayer has enough in the bank to move on and seek revenge. Wyatt is fighting for his WWE career.

Cesaro and Sheamus against The Hardy Boyz in an Iron Match was further example of WWE investing in the Hardy’s legacy. The result was secondary to allowing them another type of bout added to a career retrospect that’s second-to-none.

The levels maintain throughout the bout were exemplary.

The brothers trailed by a deficit that appeared unattainable . . . until the final minutes. Cue the high-risk spots – one of which left Matt bleedy profusely – and last second drama.

It was the Swiss Superman and the faux Irishman that left with the gold but the Hardys are surely taking slow steps to a Broken story.

The best thing that can be said about Alexis Bliss and Sasha Banks ending in a count-out is that we’ll get to see it again. Nice to see an original gimmick as Bliss used her double-jointed nature to fool opponent and ref.

Dean Ambrose and The Miz is another match that needed the right result, regardless of in-ring quality.

WWE needs to move past these two; The Miz doesn’t deserve to drop a belt only he has made credible in the last year.

So, the only thing that matters, is to say WWE Creative got it right again.

Then they did the unimaginable. They let Braun Strowman beat Roman Reigns in their ambulance match.

It was a brutal bout and Reigns didn’t look weak (golden boy protection). If the shock of the fall wasn’t enough, Reigns did something that was pure heel: he attempted homicide on a live PPV.

After fighting out of the ambulance, he threw Strowman in the back, drove out of the arena into the parking lot and then reversed – at pace – into an overhanging trailer.

The ambulance was partly crushed, Strowman inside.

My beady eye noticed the stunt was pre-recorded but this can be forgiven.

Oh, and The Monster Among Men eventually walked (hobbled) away from the wreck.

Which leaves us the main event. Lesnar v Joe.

Some will say Samoa Joe deserved a chance with the strap. I can’t disagree with the sentiment but we have to remember, he was here through chance. Injuries to others, thus, changes to the programme, meant this was a placeholder.

But Creative allowed Brock to once again appear beatable. Joe took his best, and for a while, traded with Lesnar.

He attacked him before the bell and never let up.

Brock Lesnar left your Universal Champion but the seed has been planted that he can be overthrown.

Expect Joe and those involved in the ambulance match to make that come true at SummerSlam.

6/10

WWE Money in the Bank 2017 – Review

Think Money in the Bank and you think CM Punk leaving the WWE with the title after an epic match with John Cena. You think of Chris Jericho telling us how he invented the concept and its beginnings as a WrestleMania bonus. You think of men prowling for months with the threat of cashing in the contract.

After the Women’s Revolution (which WWE has largely mishandled) it was natural to offer them a ladder match with a briefcase suspended from the centre of the ring. Many called eventual winner Carmella for a few weeks. Heels run well with the case, and people like Charlotte Flair are too good – therefore wasted – to be kept on the side-lines when they could be fronting the division.

See how I just dropped the winner in from the start?

I did that because the ending undoes the credibility of the women getting a male gimmick match. That’s because James Ellsworth actually won the match. Not with a distraction or anything like that. He climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase.

So the first winner of the Women’s Money in the Bank was a man.

Way to go, Vince. Triple H must be cursing at his father-in-law’s handling of talented females.

The match was decent enough, if played a little safe.

For my penny’s worth: I’d have given Natalya the win. She can play the stalking heel, presents a credible wrestling threat, and has done her time many times over.

The tag title bout was another lacklustre affair until the final five minutes. It’s clear The Usos and The New Day have the potential to cut a decent programme but the cop-out count-out from the champs was something more befitting a SmackDown Live before a major PPV.

As was Lana versus Naomi for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Okay, to be entirely fair, Lana defied her critics and performed better than anticipated. She ran the match – some are claiming at too slow a pace, but that’s denying her props for technicality – and looked credible.

It was right to offer a distraction followed by a Naomi submission win. It was a way of putting Lana over and keeping the champ looking strong – a real win-win.

Next up was the WWE Championship with Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton.

If you follow sports entertainment (you’re reading this, so you must have a slight interest) you’ll have an inkling by now how it works. Mahal is a project for now. How long remains to be seen. It’s a way to make waves in the Indian market (yes, he’s Canadian, but still).

To keep the gold, he will have to cheat and use the Singh Brothers. How they keep this fresh is the only challenge WWE Creative face. The Miz had Alex Riley, then Damien Sandow, and now his wife Maryse to help keep the foul play feel fresh.

Mahal’s way at Money in the Bank was obvious when we saw legends at ringside sat with Randy’s father – Bob Orton.

What followed as a good match. It really was. The Modern Day Maharaja brings the best out of Orton, it’s the best the Viper has looked in years. And it came about by Mahal appearing so strong. There’s the problem – how can it be forgotten a man that now handles Orton with ease has been a jobber all his career.

It’s a suspension of disbelief that ranks up there with the best of them, like Sheamus having a charismatic personality or John Cena putting people over. Jinder couldn’t win a one-man raffle and suddenly he’s the pumped-up face of the company.

When the Singh’s inevitably attacked Bob Orton, it allowed Jinder to sneak another win. No surprise but the whole set-up sits uneasy.

This article’s Top Tip: WWE, when making a humorous Fashion Files (this time a Miami Vice parody with Michael Jackson song references) segment that leads to Breezdango facing their mystery attackers, do not use said segment and match if the team in question is The Ascension.

Again, another example of material not fit for a PPV escaping from TV land.

The closing bout was the title of the show – the Money in the Bank ladder match.

Baron Corbin took out Shinsuke Nakamura at the ramp entrance, so the majority of the bout was between five men, the others being Sami Zayn (the only one guaranteed not to win), Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler.

Nakamura was obviously bound to return, so he became a favourite, and it was easy to discount Ziggler. He’s had the briefcase in the past and a win for him would undo the idea SmackDown is the land of fresh opportunity.

AJ had a chance. Yeah, he’s figured heavily in the main event scene but WWE likes to give accolades to people that are seen as next level.

Without giving a move-by-move account – but mentioning powerbombs from the top of the ladder (Zayn on Ziggler); Styles hanging from the briefcase and falling the whole way to the mat; Phenomenal Forearm’s from high up; Owens being smashed onto horizontal ladders down low – it was a really good example of a ladder match.

A classic? Perhaps not. But noteworthy and the only true PPV grade bout on the card.

Corbin ended the match by pushing Styles and Nakamura off the ladder and climbing it to take the contract.

The Lone Wolf is the perfect prowler going forward. It means whoever takes the gold from Mahal (like Cena on 4th July?) will only hold it for minutes.

5/10 (Based on the overall show.)