AEW’s first weekly television show, Dynamite, is in the books, and the wrestling has already been changed for the better.
I’m old enough to have watched Nitro on TNT (and WCW Saturday Night on TBS, and ECW Hardcored TV on MSG), which is not a brag — being old sucks — but something about watching wrestling on TNT just feels right. The set and the production felt professional enough without being overproduced. The camera work showcased the action in the ring and didn’t give me whiplash. And I dare say that AEW Dynamite had the perfect blend of past, present, and future. Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone are twenty years past their prime years, and yet, with the addition of Excalibur, who actually knows the names of all the new wrestling moves, the commentary team felt like a breath of fresh air compared to… what we’re used to.
I don’t want to frame my enjoyment of AEW completely in contrast to WWE. Yes, WWE has made it tough for its fans over the past two decades, but I’ve still watched all of their shows during that time period and made the best of it. And I’ll continue to watch it. But in all the ways that WWE feels boring, predictable, and sanitary (cuck angles aside), AEW delivered a true alternative on a major league scale on U.S. national television, which is something that’s been missing since WCW and ECW went out of business.
The matches were good tonight. Cody vs. Sammy Guevara did a lot to establish Guevara as a star. Cody won the match, and a sneak attack by AEW Champion Chris Jericho afterward furthered the storyline heading toward their championship match at the next PPV, Full Gear. Hangman Page vs. Pac turned Page’s previous loss to Jericho in the first AEW championship match into a losing streak storyline while continuing to prove that Pac always deserved to be treated more seriously than he was in WWE. MJF vs. Brandon Cutler was the shortest match of the show, and served mainly as an exhibition for MJF’s heel character and an introduction for Cutler. Riho vs. Nyla Rose was a classic David vs. Goliath fight, with Riho’s stature and bumping ability making up for Rose’s inexperience. Both women looked great, and Riho’s post-match attack continued this feud and restored Nyla’s heat as a monster heel. Dr. Britt Baker was also showcased on commentary.
The Elite vs. Jericho and Santana and Ortiz worked on multiple levels. It showcased the talent of the Young Bucks and Santana and Ortiz as tag teams. It continued the Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley feud when Moxley interrupted the match to drag Omega into a backstage brawl that ended with a DDT through a glass table. Speaking of that attack, a disqualification here would have felt too cheap for the debut show, so I’m glad that the referee allowed the match to continue with the Bucks at a numerical disadvantage, and I’m thankful the commentary team mentioned the leeway referees have at multiple points in the night to explain this. Finally, the post-match brawl after Jericho, Santana, and Ortiz was the perfect ending, giving the crowd something to pop for as Cody ran out to save the Bucks and get revenge on Jericho for his earlier attack, followed by Guevara coming out to get revenge on Cody, followed by Cody’s brother Dustin Rhodes running out to save Cody, followed by Jake Hager (formerly known as Jack Swagger in WWE) making a surprise appearance to an even more surprising crowd reaction. And just like that, AEW established its first heel stable and its first major storyline, and perhaps most importantly, a good reason to tune in next week.
I don’t know what the future holds for AEW. Nobody thought Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks could sell out a ten thousand seat arena for All In, but they did. Nobody thought they could do it again, but they did. Nobody thought they could turn that into an ongoing, wrestler-owned wrestling promotion, but they did. Nobody thought they’d get a killer TV spot on TNT, but they did that too. Can this momentum be sustained? Will they still sell out shows six months from now or even three months from now? Will the fans remain as excited (and as willing to brush aside flaws and missteps) by that time? Will I continue to mark out like it’s 1998 again?
All of that remains to be seen, but for now, it’s a great time to be a wrestling fan.