AEW Dynamite is owned by All Elite Wrestling, Tony Khan, Shahid Khan, and TNT
We’re back with AEW, and there’s certainly a chill in the air as Winter has officially come! We’ve still got a few more weeks of shows this year, but this is the big one that they try to build up as a game-changer to start the New Year on a high note; especially with the AEW World Title on the line in a genuinely competitive match! Will this be as exciting as when Moxley lost the title to Kenny Omega on last year’s show, or will my enthusiasm drop faster than the temperature outside? Let’s find out!!
Hangman Adam Page Vs. Bryan Danielson – AEW World Title Match
A rather bold choice for AEW to start with the big match instead of saving it for the main event! Then again, given what’s about to happen it was probably the only choice they could go with as this match goes on for over an hour! That’s right, more than half the show is dedicated to this one match, and we’ll talk about what this meant for the rest of the show once we get there, but for now, we need to talk about what happened here. First and foremost, Danielson proves once again that he’s not just a great technical wrestler but a fantastic storyteller between the ropes as he’s very good at projecting the entirety of his thoughts through his movements and facial expressions. It’s clear at the outset that Danielson does not consider Hangman to be an insurmountable challenge. He’s certainly bigger and strong than him, but Danielson has faced those kinds of odds before and he has a plan for it. For several minutes of the match, he refuses to engage with Hangman to any degree by keeping his distance, avoiding any real contact, and using the ropes to keep Hangman at bay; all the while grinning from ear to ear as the frustration mounts in Hangman. He’s waiting for Hangman to get ahead of himself and to do something brash which Danielson can easily overcome, but Hangman is no fool and is keeping his cool just as much as Danielson is. After a while of this, Hangman gets a quick boot to the chest that catches Danielson off guard and there’s a moment of uncertainty before he collects himself and gets back on track. Still, Hangman has found his inch and he manages to force this into a proper match. Danielson has to start engaging with Hangman, but he’s also staying smart about it by going for submissions and trying to damage the limbs while avoiding big moves from Hangman. The strategy seems to be working, but Hangman manages to force Danielson into more direct confrontations and so Danielson starts using his chops and kicks that eventually send Hangman out of the ring. This is when things start to get more violent as Danielson and Hangman start to slug it out in a war of brutal attrition, and this is what we get for a good chunk of the match. Sometimes Danielson is in control, sometimes it’s Hangman, and they stick to their initial strategies as much as they can. Hangman is hitting a lot of big and flashy moves like the Moonsault from the top rope to the floor, but Danielson stays on track and keeps picking at Hangman’s limbs to neutralize their power. He also is keeping a sharp eye out for Hangman’s finishers, and so attempts at the Deadeye or the Buckshot Lariat are constantly avoided throughout the match despite the crowd desperately wanting to see it. The only thing about the match that doesn’t work very well, and is probably why they should have saved this for a PPV, is that they simply can’t run the show for a full hour without commercial breaks and so the pacing of the match feels a bit wonky. The worst of this is when Hangman goes for a Moonsault but is shoved off the turnbuckle by Danielson. He hits the apron on his way to the floor and Danielson bashes Hangman’s shoulder into the post; continuing his strategy of neutralizing Hangman’s offense. However, this also causes Hangman to bleed and so for an entire commercial break he’s being looked at by the doctors as Danielson poses in the ring. We saw this same spot used in the Guevara/Lethal match and I just don’t think it’s helpful to a match. If you need to fill a commercial break, then sure; have the doc look at the wrestler so that the TV audience doesn’t miss anything significant. However, this still creates the problem as to why the ref doesn’t call for the bell as soon as the doctor is out there, or why he stops the ten count while the doctors attend to him. It highlights the advantage that the champ has in title defense (titles can only change hands on pinfalls or submissions) which is great when you have a Heel champ, but it’s also not the kind of thing you want to advertise when it’s a Babyface with the title. In any case, Hangman finally starts to stumble his way to the ring once the commercial break is over and they keep going from there. We’re only at about the halfway point so the injury is kind of a moot point, but they do at least keep track of Hangman’s shoulder which is being brutalized by Danielson and is going to make it nearly impossible for Hangman to hit the Buckshot Lariat. Turnabout is fair play however and Hangman starts targeting Danielson’s leg after he misses a Yes Kick that sends his shin right into the post. This ends up playing into the rest of the match as we get closer and close to the time limit, and once we’re down to the final five minutes they have to leave everything they can in that ring to see who is still standing by the end of it! Danielson has Hangman on the match and grabs his arms to start stomping on his face, the same way he did to all the members of the Dark Order, but with the bad leg, it’s not hard for Hangman to escape. Danielson charges and Hangman catches him to at last land the Deadeye, but it’s only a two count. Undeterred however, Hangman is now the one to grab his opponent’s arms and stomp on their face; a taste of Danielson’s own medicine if you will! With Danielson sufficiently dazed, Hangman goes for the Buckshot Lariat with whatever strength he has left in the arm… BUT DANIELSON DODGES IT AND PUTS HANGMAN IN THE LABELLE LOCK! With just over a minute left in the match, this is Danielson’s last chance to come away the champion, but perhaps that eagerness left him open for Hangman to escape and Slingshot him into the ropes. Hangman hits a big lariat on Danielson which leaves him nearly dead on the floor, and Hangman goes to the apron one last time. He waits for Danielson to stumble back to his feet, and he FINALLY hits the Buckshot Lariat just as the time expired! Whether or not Hangman had enough in the tank for that hit to keep Danielson down for good is something we will never know, but it was about as satisfying an ending as you could get for a match that ends in a time limit draw! This was a good match and I thought that both guys put in an exceptional amount of effort here, but I don’t think it needed a full hour to tell this story; especially with the commercial breaks wreaking havoc with the pacing. Where we’ve seen PPV quality matches on TV before, this felt like a PPV match shunted into the TV format, but there’s very little doubt that the ending of this match is to set us up for a PPV main event, so as far as that goes it did its job brilliantly!
With such a big match upfront, the rest of the show feels like an afterthought and is mostly there to set up future storylines. To start with, we have the Super Clique (which I guess now includes Bobby Fish) who are bragging about how great they are and how bad the Best Friends are. They want an Eight-Man Tag match against them on Rampage… and they want to hurt Trent’s mom Sue? Well, that seems a bit mean, especially for the Holidays! Speaking of the Holidays, they have some sort of Secret Santa thing with a mystery box that they will open on Wednesday. It was a fun promo, especially with a kazoo rendition of Jingle Bells playing in the background, but The Super Clique still feel a bit aimless and are just kind of there to fill in whatever gaps there are in the show.
Wardlow Vs.Matt Sydal
Wardlow is accompanied to the ring by Shawn Spears
Yeah, with not a lot of time left and two high-profile matches to go, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for Sydal to get an upset victory here. Still, he’s not afraid and starts off strong by smartly going for the big guy’s legs! He gets in a lot of kicks, a bunch of flips, and manages to move around Wardlow’s immense body like he’s the wanderer in Shadow of the Colossus, but ultimately it just takes on Powerbomb from Wardlow to knock him out cold. A perfectly fine squash match if you ask me, but then things get a bit weird as Shawn Spears grabs the mic and starts telling Wardlow to pin Sydal instead of going for more Powerbombs. Wardlow doesn’t really listen to him, and eventually gets the pin after a few more Powerbombs; at which point Shawn Spears comes in to hit Sydal with a chair. Then MJF calls Shawn Spears and tells him that he and Wardlow need to pick up some Champagne? Yeah, I don’t know what the point of this was. Presumably, it’s yet another hint that Wardlow is going to rebel from MJF while also setting up Shawn Spears as his successor, but it just seems like an odd way to go about it.
Speaking of odd things, we get a Malakai Black promo that is so off the rails that it almost becomes laughable. He’s ranting about something and has this dude in a Dark Wizard robe who carries around Black’s scarf… and then he spits mist in the guy’s face? So is this the titular HOUSE OF BLACK, and he’s got a cult now? I have no idea but this nonsense reminds me of the early days of the Dark Order before they found their voice, and I hope we don’t dwell on this silliness for too long.
Hikaru Shida Vs. Serena Deeb
Thankfully things get back on track with this rematch between Shida and Deeb, and while it can’t possibly compare to the hour-long opener, it was still a good match. They’re certainly putting their all into it with Shida running in without any pomp or circumstance and Deeb attacking Shida before the bell can ring. Even after the match goes underway, it starts off rather scrappy with the two just tackling each other to the ground to rain down fists, but eventually, it settles into a more traditional back and forth exchange with Shida getting a small lead from a very cool looking Drop Kick. It doesn’t last long however as Deeb locks in a submission to work over the injured knee and she continues to get the heat during the commercial. Shida starts to fight back when we return and gets a few near falls with a Step Up Enziguri and a Suplex that aren’t enough to put Deeb away but are definitely turning the tide of the match back to Shida. Trying to press the advantage, Shida goes to the top rope but is quickly met by Deeb who keeps attacking the knee until Shida fall to the mat. Deeb hits a Neckbreaker on the turnbuckle which looked a little awkward and probably more than a little dangerous, and follows up with a Powerbomb into a high stack for a two count. Deeb continues the offensive and hits two more Neckbreakers back to back, but Shida manages to power through the third attempt and lifts her up to hit the Falcon Arrow. It wasn’t enough to put Deeb away, but it has evened the playing field and the two start trading moves back and forth. Deeb eventually takes the cover off the top turnbuckle and tries to throw Shida into it, but this turns out to be her undoing (as it is for every Heel that tries this) as Deeb is the one who ultimately gets sent into the exposed turnbuckle. Shida follows up with a Jackknife to get the pin and win the match which was a bit of an anti-climax as Shida didn’t win clean here, but still a solid match overall. Chances are this isn’t going to be the end of this feud since there’s not much else for Shida and Deeb to be doing, but it was fun for what it was.
Tony is interviewing the Varsity Blondes in the back where Griff is hot-headed and ready to fight while Pillman tries to calm him down. Griff doesn’t appreciate this and basically shoves him away as he declares his intention to fight Malakai Black for spitting the black mist in Julia Hart’s face. Seems like a pretty obvious trap, but I guess Baby Faces are destined to walk into those constantly.
Dante Martin Vs. MJF – Dynamite Diamond Match
The winner of this match gets the Dynamite Diamond Ring for a year
And so we come to what is technically the main event, and it starts with MJF coming out to start heckling the crowd. He goes on a rant about CM Punk for several minutes while Dante Martin is presumably checking his watch in the back waiting for his music to hit. Despite its awkward placement at the start of a match, it’s one of MJF’s better rants in recent weeks which have started to feel a bit stale and try-hard; especially with the insults to the crowd and the way he personally attacks wrestler’s real lives; stuff that should stay outside the ring. Speaking of outside the ring, MJF spends a lot of time there once the match finally gets underway as his strategy is somewhat similar to Danielson’s; keep his distance and wait for his opponent to make a mistake. Unfortunately for MJF, he’s not quite at Danielson’s level so Dante Martin manages to land several moves on him in the opening few minutes of the match; including a Standing 450 Splash that gets him a two count. Still, MJF keeps his cool and tries to dampen any momentum that Dante manages to build, and he finally sees his opportunity when Dante goes for the Double Springboard Moonsault which is now being called The Nose Dive. Dante jumps up on the ropes, bounces to the second set of ropes, but before he can jump backwards he’s shoved off by MJF; flailing his way to the floor until he lands on the barricade. With Dante practically dead after such a fall, MJF presses the advantage and gets the heat during the commercial. Dante starts to fight back when we return by reversing a Powerbomb into a Roll-Up for a two count, but MJF is not to be taken lightly and manages to hit that Powerbomb after catching Dante mid-Springboard. MJF goes for the pin, but Ref Remsburg doesn’t count the pin because MJF has his feet on the ropes, so instead, he drags Dante up to the turnbuckle. Whatever MJF was planning to do up there doesn’t end up working as Dante fights him off before landing a Missile Drop Kick, and he starts to get his second win with a series of impressive moves against MJF. He lands no less than three dives from in the ring to MJF on the floor and he goes for The Nose Dive again. He doesn’t hit it, but at least MJF didn’t knock him off the ropes, and Dante just goes to beat him over the head instead. MJF tries to fight back, including a Liger Bomb that gets him a two count, but Dante eventually lands The Nose Dive and goes to get the pin. It looks like we’ll have a new Dynamite Diamond Champion… BUT THEN RICKY STARKS RUNS DOWN AND PUTS MJF’S BOOT ON THE ROPES! It looks like things are about to heat up as Dante has to fight not just one but two cheaters… except not really, because MJF immediately locks in the Salt of the Earth Arm Bar and Dante taps out. It’s honestly not any better than the surprise roll-up finishes often associated with WWE, but I guess you have to pull shenanigans if you want MJF to win without making Dante look too bad. In any case, the show’s not over yet as FTR come out to celebrate with MJF when all of a sudden, the lights go out. They come back on and Sting and Darby Allin are in the ring to clean house! They do well against FTR, but MJF gets a low blow on Sting and tackles Darby. Which allow the Heels to regain control, but then Punk’s music hits and he comes out with a bat. The heels scatter and head up the ramp while CM Punk grabs a mic and challenges MJF and FTR to a Six-Man match against him, Sting, and Darby. And with that, Punk’s music hits again and the heels look perturbed as the episode comes to an end.
This was very much a one-match show (two at a stretch), and for that purpose, I do think that it worked. The Title Match wasn’t helped by the multiple commercial breaks that had to take place throughout it and the rest of the show was just kind of there, but Danielson and Hangman gave us a fight to remember which seems to have been the goal AEW was striving for. Obviously, they couldn’t recreate the magic of last year’s show where Kenny turned Heel and stole the title from Moxley, but for a big TV event, it got the job done. Perhaps it could have been one of the better TV event shows if the MJF/Dante match didn’t have such an underwhelming ending, but we’ve still got Rampage to pick things back up.