Battle of the Belts is owned by All Elite Wrestling, Tony Khan, Shahid Khan, and TNT
AEW is not giving me a break, are they? I had a power outage for almost a week and am trying to catch up on all the shows, so why not put out one of their special episodes now!? Clearly, they were thinking of me when they made this decision (presumably they were unhappy with my less than favorable coverage of New Year’s Smash), but I will not succumb to their attempts at psychological warfare! I will do my darnedest to enjoy this special event! As long as the matches are good, of course! Is this an excellent start to the era of TNT special episodes, or are we trying to cram too much too quickly? Let’s find out!!
Dustin Rhodes Vs. Sammy Guevara – Interim TNT Title Match
Dustin is accompanied to the ring by Arn Anderson
I’m not the biggest fan of seeing Sting get in the ring at this point in his career, but I do understand where people are coming from as I feel very much the same way whenever we get to see Dustin! Thankfully he managed to deliver a great match here with Sammy Guevara that honestly puts into sharp relief a few of the issues I’ve had with AEW in the last few months. The match isn’t without a few slow parts here and there, but it feels unique to the style we usually get in a typical AEW match and feeling fresh can sometimes pay far more dividends than overwhelming skill or bloodletting. Things start off nice and easy with some good running spots as Dustin gets an Arm Drag and Sammy gets a Hip Toss, but both are still feeling each other out, and neither wants to make a mistake. After a few minutes of this and a fun spot of Dustin getting winded while Sammy is relaxing on the turnbuckle, Sammy finally hits one of those Uppercuts that Dustin likes to do and follows up with a Drop Kick that sends Dustin outside the ring. We then get some okay action as Sammy tosses Dustin around the outside while teasing Arn Anderson, but the turning point comes when Dustin manages to smash Sammy’s knee into the ring steps which he has to deal with for the rest of the fight. This is where things start to slow down a bit and it feels like the crowd is turning on the match as Dustin rolls in and leaves Sammy to be counted out but then they do it again a few minutes later when Dustin is the one outside and Sammy is waiting for the count-out. You can hear the crowd start to groan on the second one, but it ended up working for me as it set up the big spots that immediately followed it; bringing us from a low point to a high point which is an effective way to maximize tension and to get the crowd to pop. Sammy might just have this in the bag but he gets impatient and hits a Double Springboard Dive onto Dustin which hits its mark, but it only causes more damage to Sammy’s knee. He grits through the pain however and throws Dustin into the ring where he hits an Enziguri and goes for a Springboard Cutter. EXCEPT DUSTIN CATCHES HIM AND HITS A CROSS RHODES FOR A TWO-COUNT!! Things only get more ridiculous from here as Dustin gets a Code Red, and Sammy hits the GTH; both of which are kicked out of and the crowd cannot believe it! Then we get Fuego Del Sol who comes out from under the ring (presumably sensing his best friend being in trouble) and sets up a table on the floor. Arn isn’t happy about this, and while he doesn’t dismantle the table, he starts menacing Fuego and chases him up the ramp. Still, with the table in place, Sammy drags Dustin to the apron and tries to hit a Spanish Fly that would send them both through the table and assuredly win him the match. Dustin fights back however and he manages to hit a Canadian Destroyer through the table in what is one of the most impressive and safe-looking table spots I’ve probably ever seen. Dustin hits the table flat on his butt and is protecting Sammy’s head as the table gently falls to pieces, essentially carrying them on their way to the floor, and MAYBE Sammy hit his knees a bit hard. Still, the crowd is going wild and Sammy is in a bad state, so Dustin throws him in… AND STILL ONLY GETS A TWO COUNT! With all that though, it’s clear that the end is near and so Sammy tries for a Sunset flit that Dustin reverses and they keep going back and forth on pin attempts. Sammy manages to keep Dustin down for a split second over three, and wins the match as well as the interim TNT Title! Oh, but it’s not over yet as Daniel Garcia runs in and IMMEDIATELY gets into Sammy’s face which causes the two to start brawling and the refs have to run down to break it up! This was a very good match and I think the key to it, as well as Dustin’s overall success, is that he’s not overexposed and so the matchup feels fresh. AEW has the roster for people to rotate in and out on a regular basis, so we shouldn’t see Danielson six times in eight weeks. Punk is actually striking a better balance as he’s here almost every week but it’s more often for promos than matches. I know that AEW wants to give the crowds the stars they want to see, and I’m thankful that so many of them came out when I went to see them live, but they could get a lot more mileage out of people if they expanded their TV roster more often.
Ricky Starks Vs. Matt Sydal – FTW Title Match
Starks is accompanied to the ring by Powerhouse Hobbs
This is definitely a time filler match given that it’s sandwiched in the middle and is for a belt that is not even legitimate at AEW (not to mention the total lack of build for it), but despite its unenviable position it manages to be a solid fight! Sydal starts off very strong with lots of leaps and flips that leave Starks confused and flat on his back, but with Hobbs playing the intimidation game outside, it doesn’t take long for Starks to make a comeback. Sydal gets another serious offensive push with an Avalanche Hurricanrana, a Michinoku Driver, and a Lightning Spiral, but all they can get him are two counts as Starks refuses to give up the title in this match. A Meteora from the top rope would have won the match for Sydal if Starks didn’t reach the ropes, and this ends up being Sydal’s biggest mistake as Starks gets up and Spears him before hitting the Roshambo which is enough to pin Sydal and retain the FTW belt. That’s not enough for Team Taz though as Ricky and Hobbs start a beat down on Sydal which forces Lee Moriarty to run down and make the save… where he’s immediately crushed by Hobbs. Good job, Lee! It’s now Dante Martin’s time to shine as he runs down and takes out Starks immediately before facing off with Will Hobbs. Hobbs tries to pound him, but Dante is too fast and manages to knock him out of the ring with a well-placed Drop Kick; setting up a match between the two on the next Dynamite! Sydal and Starks are two guys who don’t really get enough credit for their in-ring skills, with the former on permanent Jobber duty and the latter transitioning to commentary work, but they brought their A-Game here and did what they had to for the timeslot that they had! Hopefully, the angle at the end will lead to more matches between the two in the near future; especially if Powerhouse Hobbs gets in the mix!
Britt Baker Vs. Riho – AEW Women’s Title Match
Baker is accompanied to the ring by Jamie Hayter and Rebel (Not Reba)
There’s one problem with this match, and it’s Baker’s cronies who have become more and more prominent with each title defense, and it just makes the match feel immaterial when so much of it is dictated by the interference of Hayter and Rebel (Not Reba). They start the match by immediately grabbing at Riho from outside the ring, and when that doesn’t succeed in stopping her, Baker pretty much bails and goes to the outside for a pep talk. I thought she was the women’s champion who had a legendary knock-down-drag-out fight with Thunder Rosa! Sure, Riho is a tough challenger and she’s technically never beaten her, but an ineffective champ is not one that’s easy to get behind, and it doesn’t take long for Riho to regain control of this match by taking out the cronies. Now that’s not to say that all of the spots don’t work as there’s a great moment where Jamie is trying to set up a table but Riho runs up it and Drop Kicks her in the face, but they end up killing the pace here as every hope spot for the Baby Face is just a set up for more interference. Things start to settle into a good match when Riho hits the Tiger Feint Kick, and she manages to put Baker in an Ankle Lock before forcing her to reach for the ropes. With Baker worn out, Riho goes to the turnbuckle to land a Top Rope Stomp, only for Rebel (Not Reba) straight-up shields Baker in full view of the ref. Without much recourse, because the ref sure isn’t doing anything, Riho hits the stop on Rebel (Not Reba) and has to go back up top to try it again on Baker. Baker of course is able to roll out by now and hits an Air Raid Crash for a two count, and now she’s back in control. Baker tries a few times to put Riho in the Lock Jaw and one attempt gets very close, but Riho musters up all her strength to roll over to Baker’s torso and pins her shoulders to the mat for a two count. Undeterred, Baker gets up quickly and hits a Curb Stomp on Riho which gets her a two count as well, and this almost becomes an interesting match again. AND THEN… Hayter lackadaisically tosses the belt in Baker’s general direction which Rebel (Not Reba) has to pick up and try to get it the rest of the way there. The ref sees this and FINALLY tosses Rebel (Not Reba) out of the match, and so Baker argues with Jamie about this stunt. This gives Riho enough time to get back up and kick them both before hitting a Crucifix Bomb and a Northern Light Suplex into a bridge! One… two… NOPE! Baker kicks out and the match is interesting again! Despite Riho getting the lead, Baker manages to rally and knocks Riho back with a series of kicks before landing a Curb Stomp. The pin attempt only gets a two count, but she transitions into the Lock Jaw and gets Riho to tap; winning the match and retaining her title as the AEW Women’s champion. There is some tension between Baker and Jamie after the match is over, but they manage to hug it outright as the episode comes to an end.
The show lost a lot of steam for me in the main event, but this was a decent show. I’m glad they didn’t try to blow it up to a two-hour affair, especially since the World Title and Tag Titles were just defended, but for an hour-long sizzle reel, I suppose it did its job. The Dustin and Sammy match was definitely the highlight for me, but Baker’s title run has never fully clicked and every time they get close to finding something that works, they manage to turn it in a negative direction. Hopefully, this feud between Hayter and Baker will amount to something soon, and perhaps a story with Hayter is just what the Women’s Title picture needs to elevate the belt.