AEW Dynamite is owned by All Elite Wrestling, Tony Khan, Shahid Khan, and TBS
We’re back with another week of AEW action, and we are creeping slowly but steadily back to relevance here on the site! We’re still a little bit behind, but the gap is growing closer just as we start to build towards the next AEW PPV. Will this be another solid episode full of great matches and interesting storylines as we head to the big event, or will my quest to catch up on the slow be an unending slog of tedium? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with MJF and his cronies in The Pinnacle coming to the ring to celebrate his win last week against CM Punk. To say MJF is good at being a Heel is overwhelmingly redundant at this point, but he can still surprise you with how clever he can be in being a hateable tool. While everyone else comes down wearing suits and clutching drinks, he is carried out on a throne to an unimpressed and vocal crowd. After several minutes of milking his entrance, he finally starts talking about how he’s better than the best in the world and how the next step is obviously to crown him as AEW World Champion. Now I would have expected Adam Cole to come out since he made his intentions for the title clear on Rampage, but instead, it’s CM Punk who answers MJF’s tirade. Tony Schiavone is more than happy to meet him with a microphone, and Punk calls into question the win he had last week. More importantly though, he learned the lesson that no man is an island, and he brought some friends along to back him up this time; namely, Darby Allin and Sting who come out with baseball bats. Now this is where Punk gets clever, and this segment goes from good to great because he starts demanding a rematch… but NOT against MJF! Plot twist! He wants it against the person who was ACTUALLY responsible for his loss last week, namely Wardlow. This is brilliant because it’s an unexpected turn that puts The Pinnacle on their back foot while also hitting MJF right in his overinflated ego. In fact, it works so well that MJF proposes a different match and puts himself up as the prize; if Punk and a partner of his choosing can beat FTR tonight, then Punk can get a rematch against him. The catch is that Punk cannot choose Sting or Darby Allin as his partner; assuming of course that everyone in the back hates Punk as much as he does. Punk naturally accepts and leaves us in suspense as to who he will choose to be his partner. This was not just a solid Heel promo for MJF, but a great example of a Baby Face trying to get a rematch without looking desperate. Punk looks genuinely smart in the way that he’s manipulated MJF into giving him exactly what he wants, but MJF also doesn’t look like a total irrational fool because he managed to get the stipulation he wanted into the tag match, so both walk away with something which makes the feud that much more interesting!
Sadly, the same cannot be said for Andrade who finally gets his meeting with Sting. It goes about as well as you’d expect with Sting reiterating that Darby doesn’t work for him, and Andrade is essentially clowned out by the two guys in face paint. I was hoping that Andrade would have something clever in his back pocket, but I guess not as the only thing he does is get somewhat more threatening in his tone as he assures us all that Darby will be working for him at some point. Hopefully, this amounts to something, but Andrade’s stories just haven’t been up to par since he finished his feud with Pac.
Wardlow Vs. The Blade
Wardlow is accompanied to the ring by Shawn Spears
Oh hey! It’s a Wardlow match against an ACTUAL guy instead of a jobber! That means that the match is going to go slightly longer than a minute, right? Then again, it’s a Blade match without Butcher (or Bunny) at ringside, so he’s probably just doing Tony Khan a favor here by filling this role. Blade manages to hit a Chop Block while Wardlow’s back is turned which allows him to get some offense in, but all he can manage is a few Knee Strikes before Wardlow catches him and starts hitting Powerbombs. One, two, three, and then four before going for the pin and winning the match. Nothing much to it, but I guess we don’t want Wardlow getting pulled in two different directions when he’s been a rather integral part of the CM Punk feud. Still, I could see him feuding with AHFO once he breaks away from MJF, and a match between him and Butcher would certainly be interesting!
The Inner Circle’s Group Therapy Session – Can their bromance be saved!?
The possible break-up of the Inner Circle has been looming for a few weeks now, and it all comes to a head here as Jericho, Sammy, and the long-absent Jake Hager are the first to come out. Santana and Ortiz naturally come out separate from the rest of the group and do so to their own music instead of Judas, but once everyone is in the ring they can start airing their grievances and hopefully come to a mutual understanding! Yeah… no. It doesn’t actually go all that well as Santana starts blaming Jericho for holding them back and Jericho says that he should have gotten the other two guys in LAX to join his group. Not exactly off to a great start and Sammy tries to play peacemaker which just makes both sides angry at him. Having heard enough of this, Sammy takes off his jacket and leaves the ring; threatening to leave for good if they don’t settle their differences. Ortiz grabs the mic and tells Jericho that they don’t settle their problems with words but with FISTS, and so next week it’s Santana and Ortiz Vs. Jericho and Hager; the latter of whom has just been standing there like a stone statue as all of this goes down. You could argue that The Inner Circle has run its course and it’s time for them to go their separate ways, especially with Sammy holding the TNT title and Hager barely showing up anymore, but you want to have a really solid plan for everyone involved before pulling the trigger on something like that, and it feels like Santana and Ortiz could easily get lost in the shuffle given how overcrowded the tag team division is already.
Tony is in the back interviewing Rocky Romero and Trent about their upcoming match against the Young Bucks when the two actually show up and distract Trent and Rocky while Cole attacks from behind. A pretty simple backstage segment that would hardly be worth talking about… except that none other than Jay White shows up to kick Trent while he’s down! Okay then! I don’t watch New Japan but even I know that this is a pretty big deal and I’m interested to see him wrestle. Still, that’s not the BIGGEST surprise on the show because next we get…
Isiah Kassidy Vs. Keith Lee – Face of the Revolution Qualifier Match
Kassidy is accompanied to the ring by AHFO
Yes, you read that right. KEITH FREAKING LEE is All Elite and the crowd cannot believe he’s here! He gets a huge ovation as he makes his way to the ring and he puts on an awesome match to remind everyone why he was so great at NXT! The dude is an unstoppable and charismatic powerhouse that throws Kassidy all around the ring and looks darn good doing it! He shows off his great athleticism as he hits a Slingshot Cross Body on Kassidy, he’s built like a brick house as Kassidy’s insignificant offense is like throwing peas at a freight train, and the crowd is loving every bit of it! Kassidy does eventually get some offense in when Quen grabs Keith’s leg which allows him to hit a Cutter and a Corkscrew Dive over the ropes which is enough to knock Keith Lee to the ground, but that’s the closest he would get to beating Keith as the guy recovers quickly and works him over in the ring a bit more before going to the finish. Kieth Lee tosses Kassidy REALLY high into the air and catches him on his shoulders into a Fireman’s Carry before slamming him into the mat; turning him into a human pancake that Keith gets the cover on to win the match. Oh, but it’s not over yet as Quen attacks Keith after the match and Kassidy joins in to knock him out of the ring. Kassidy tries another dive, but Keith catches him and smashes him to the floor; soon followed by Quen who tries one as well and is caught by Lee. He Powerbombs Quen into Kassidy and then onto the apron before turning back to the crowd and relishing the adulation! This was a great first match for the guy and it’s still astonishing that WWE couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Seriously, BEARCAT!?
CM Punk & Jon Moxley Vs. FTR
FTR is accompanied to the ring by Tully Blanchard
If it wasn’t awesome enough that we got to see Keith Lee show up at AEW, we get a match with CM Punk and Jon Moxley, and frankly, MJF should have seen something like this coming. Even if he was right about everyone in the back hating CM Punk, he had to have realized that there were plenty of people back there who hated him more, right? Now as great as the reveal was and as awesome as these guys can be in the ring, I kinda felt that the match didn’t quite live up to it. For me, it comes down to the length as this was easily the longest match on the show and I would have cut it in half. We get a really strong ovation from the crowd when they realize that Moxley is the mystery partner, but then a lot of that momentum is lost in a solid but still rather slow opening few minutes where the guys are doing good work but nothing of particular note is happening. It’s not until we come back from the commercial break that things start to get interesting as FTR manage to put Moxley through the timekeeper’s table and he has to survive an onslaught from them to try and make his way to his corner to tag in Punk. FTR are immensely skilled as tag team wrestlers however and manage to keep Punk out of the corner, so Moxley has to eat an Assisted Leg Drop and somehow find the strength to kick out. After avoiding an Elbow Drop and hitting Cash with a King Kong Lariat, he finally tags in Punk, and the two land a Doomsday Device on Dax for a two count. A very solid attempt from the Baby Faces, but Cash manages to drag Moxley out of the ring and spike him with a DDT which means it’s now Punk’s turn to eat a bunch of offense all on his own; including a Bell shot from Cash, a Brain Buster from Dax, and Big Rig from both of them. Moxley manages to make it in time to break up the Big Rig pin attempt, and everyone just starts slugging it out in the ring. We of course get the required Tully Interference Spot where he runs in and starts hitting Punk with his jacket, so he lifts him up and hits the GTS. Cash and Dax try to rush Punk, but Punk manages to catch Cash while Moxley catches Dax, and the two hit their signature movies; a GTS and the Paradigm Shift. Punk is finally able to get the pin and has earned his rematch against MJF. I’ll give the match credit for making FTR look like a credible threat again given how sporadic their recent output has been (I still can’t believe they almost lost to Brock Anderson and Lee Johnson), but this felt too much like a time filler match; like the episode ran a bit short and they figured the star power here would be enough to take on an extra ten minutes. I’m curious if Moxley will have more to do with this feud or if this is a one-off thing to stick it to MJF, but either way that rematch should be amazing and I can only assume it will take place on the PPV in March.
Jade Cargill Vs. AQA – TBS title Match
Cargill is accompanied to the ring by Mark Sterling
I don’t know who this AQA is, but she must be someone AEW is interested in as she gets an entrance and gets to fight Jade for more than a minute. Still, it’s not like she has much of a chance against her as Jade flings her around the ring and keeps her under control with a wristlock, and even when AQA manages to flip her over and starts working over the arm, Cargill just stands right back up and slams her down. See, this is why you always go for the legs against big wrestlers. You let them stand up, and they will just smash you back down. This is how most of the match goes, but AQA does show some solid skill here as she manages to turn a Pop-Up Powerbomb into a Drop Kick, and even lands a Shooting Star Press on Cargill for a two count. She tries to go up top again, but Jade catches up to her and starts hitting big strikes. Her last Hail Mary move is a Cross Body from the middle rope, but Jade catches her in mid-air and spins her around to hit a slam of some kind. Whatever it was, it ended up being enough for Jade to finally lock AQA into position for the Jaded. Jade hits the Jaded and gets the pin to win the match and retain her title. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Jade Cargill match at this point, but I’m glad they are using these to give some genuine new talents some airtime as AQA looked VERY impressive here! Even if she didn’t beat the TNT champion, I hope that she sticks around shows us even more of what she can do!
Serena Deeb Vs. Katie Arquette
Less impressive is what they do with Deeb in this match as she comes out and issues the Bonesaw Challenge to anyone who wants to take it; namely that her opponent has to survive five minutes in the ring against her. Katie Arquette is unfortunately no Spider-Man, and so Deeb manages to beat her with a Single Leg Crab within the first minute of the match. The difference between Deeb and Cargill is that while Deeb is definitely a better wrestler, she doesn’t have the win record or the gravitas to make this kind of shtick work in her favor, and the fact that she didn’t give Arquette anything here means that it didn’t help her either. I don’t know where this Deeb angle is going, but I haven’t been very fond of her since she turned Heel several months ago and I’m not sure what it would take to turn things around.
Hangman Adam Page Vs. Lance Archer – AEW World Title Texas Deathmatch
The only way to win is by Knockout, Submission, or a ten count
I think it’s fair to say that the Hangman title run has relied a bit too much on blood spots given that the dude busts himself open every time he gets into the ring, so while a Texas Deathmatch does perk my interest a bit (especially given how good the match was between Archer and Moxley), it feels a bit redundant and almost like something AEW is relying on to keep Hangman from feeling like a lesser champion. Heck, the two are fighting in the back and Archer is thrown through glass before the match can even begin, just so you know how hardcore these dudes are! Page gets a pretty decisive lead early on by hitting the Buckshot Lariat as soon as they get into the ring, but Archer makes it back up before the ten count and manages to even the odds a bit with the help of a garbage can lid. While those two are slugging it out in the crowd, Dan Lambert and Jake Roberts are removing the top rope of the ring as an insidious plot to keep Hangman from hitting yet another Buckshot. After all, how can you pull it off if you don’t have the rope to vault off of? With that string effectively removed from Hangman’s bow, Archer has a chance to end it early with a Blackout Slam through a few tables he set up, but Hangman is no chump champ and manages to fight him off by… getting thrown into the post instead. Hey, if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, go for the one that will hurt slightly less, but this does send Hangman to the floor where Jack Roberts hits him with a Short Arm Clothesline in a bizarre yet rather awesome spot! Feeling himself a bit, Jake sets up for a DDT, but Archer is not too pleased with this and starts arguing with him which allows Hangman to hit a DDT on Archer. It goes back and forth for a bit with Hangman using kendo sticks and Archer using his massive size advantage until we get to the most terrifying spot in the match which is where Archer moves the steel steps and hits a Blackout Slam from the apron that sends Hangman crashing into it! That is a spot I wouldn’t take if I had any aspirations of a long career in this industry, but Hangman took it and is now putty in Archer’s hands. However, Archer makes a fatal mistake here in that he doesn’t let Hangman lose to the ten count; rather he keeps interrupting it so that he can inflict more and more damage on the guy. This eventually gives Hangman a chance to fight back with some barbwire and leads us right into the ridiculous finish that ends up being pretty darn awesome! With Hangman and Archer separated, Ref Turner bends over to pick up some barbwire and Hangman manages to vault off of him to hit the Buckshot Lariat; sending him and Archer over the ropes and into the tables set up below! Hangman manages to get up before the ten count but Archer does not which means that Hangman has won the match and has retained his AEW World title! Hangman cannot rest easy just yet however as Adam Cole comes down while Hangman’s music plays. He rips the belt out of Ref Turner’s hands and puts it on Hangman himself; making his intentions for the belt clear as the episode comes to an end.
AEW can sometimes feel like a chore, especially when I fall behind as much as I have recently, but it’s episodes like this that remind me why I love this show in the first place. Even if I would have cut some time out of the tag match and would have cut out the Deeb match entirely, the quality of the in-ring work remains a level above what you’ll find on any other wrestling show (at least here in the US), and the storylines have some genuine weight to them. Even if I’m not overly thrilled with Santana and Ortiz possibly leaving the Inner Circle, they are great at cutting promos and I’m curious if nothing else to see what happens next. We’re getting close to the PPV so it makes sense for them to start pulling out all the stops with great angles involving CM Punk, the promise of an Adam Cole title match, and none other than Keith Lee showing up, so while I’m sure this momentum can’t be sustained indefinitely, it’s great to see this show when it’s firing on all cylinders.