AEW Dynamite Review – 9th Dec 2020

Ahead of this week’s edition of AEW Dynamite, Brandon Bethune looks back at last week’s show and gives his thoughts on wrestling’s latest major promotion and its rapid success. 

We’ve all had to make do with what 2020 has thrown at us, and professional wrestling has been no different. However, I don’t feel that any company has accomplished more, despite the current global circumstances, than All Elite Wrestling. The company’s blend of detailed weekly storytelling, in-ring work of the highest standard, and pure creativity has made 2020 a banner year for AEW on Wednesday nights (or Thursday mornings for us unfortunate UK fans).

AEW’s year built to an appropriate crescendo with the ‘Winter Is Coming’ special episode on December 2nd, headlined by Kenny Omega’s controversial World Title victory over Jon Moxley, which ignited inter-promotional implications that sent the wrestling world into a tailspin. Of course, there is also the small matter of the AEW debut of wrestling legend Sting, who made his first appearance on TNT since WCW’s closure in 2001. The buzz surrounding ‘Winter Is Coming’ made the December 9th episode of Dynamite must-see, with the promise of appearances from the aforementioned Sting and Omega, as well as a plethora of brilliant in-ring action. And it’s safe to say that AEW delivered once again.

Kicking off the show was AEW World Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks battling TH2, with the latter’s attack on the champions at ‘Winter Is Coming’ setting up this match, which had the stipulation of TH2 receiving a title shot with a win. A win is not what Evans and Angelico found however, as Matt and Nick Jackson emerged winners after the type of fast-paced, PWG-style tag match that viewers have come to expect from AEW’s tag division.

The actual meat of the match was brilliantly performed, with The Young Bucks giving the often underrated TH2 more than enough shine in the match while executing the usual barrage of fun spots and counters. The match also rewarded AEW fans’ attention to detail with Matt Jackson’s continued ankle issues, and the ongoing storyline with ‘The Acclaimed’ who were sat at ringside. The only outstanding criticism this match could face was that it potentially overstayed its welcome, with false finishes such as a double superkick from The Bucks and a knee bar from Angelico having the potential to end the match earlier while accomplishing the same task. A post-match attack from ‘The Acclaimed’ was thwarted by SCU (Daniels and Kazarian), setting up a match for this week’s episode. While seemingly setting up a Young Bucks vs The Acclaimed tag title match for down the line, I’d personally be more intrigued by a prolonged Young Bucks vs SCU programme, given the approaching anniversary of SCU dropping the titles to Omega and Hangman Page.

Promos from MJF and Darby Allin came next, with MJF promoting his main event bout with Orange Cassidy over the Dynamite Diamond Ring, while Darby Allin took part in a Rorschach test depicting the differing members of Team Taz. Specifically mentioned was Brian Cage, the number one contender to Allin’s TNT Championship, setting up a future title match and long-awaited singles bout between the pair. The final ink blotch shown was Sting, something Allin simply laughed at.

The legendary Sting made his AEW debut last week, making his first appearance on TNT since his days in WCW, the promotion where he first became a star of the wrestling industry. Photo Credit – Gilbert Carrasquillo via Getty Images

The highly anticipated Sting segment followed after he interrupted an unadvertised in-ring promo from Cody Rhodes. Arn Anderson quickly departed the ring, as did Tony Schiavone, but not before a heart-warming reunion with Sting himself, reciting his epic ‘IT’S STING’ call from the week prior at The Icon’s request. The joy on the face of each member of the segment was a highlight, specifically Sting, who seemed happy to just be back in the ring again. Even better however, were the layered teases for the future sprinkled throughout, with Cody eager to make his intentions clear that he seeks to share a ring with Sting, nodding towards a potential dream match. Sting’s focus however (without being given away outright) seemed to be on TNT Champion Darby Allin, who watched from the rafters in signature Sting fashion. Sting himself departed, after telling Cody the way he plays is his business, and that he’d see him around. While some may be frustrated that Sting’s intentions remain unclear, the benefit of this is the long-term storytelling at play that AEW has more than earned my trust to deliver. The teases of Sting’s involvement with Cody and Allin are more than enough to wet my appetite for now. 

Team Taz quickly responded to this segment before an FTR match against The Varsity Blondes duo of Griff Garrison and Brian Pillman Jr. While not reaching anything beyond an extended squash, the match served as a pallet cleanser for FTR after the temporary parking of their programme with The Young Bucks. Wheeler and Harwood scored the win with the Goodnight Express, before a post-match run-in with Jurassic Express teased FTR’s next feud.

Hangman Page was at the bar as always, and was seeking partners ahead of a six-man tag team match against Matt Hardy and Private Party. Dark Order’s John Silver and Alex Reynolds emerged from behind the bar in cowboy hats for a hilarious visual, pushing Hangman to be his partner for the tag match. He reluctantly accepted following pressure from Reynolds in what was a solid continuation of the Hangman/Dark Order story, one which I hope kicks into high gear with the pending return of leader Brodie Lee, potentially leading to some terrific singles battles with Hangman.

The next Dark Order segment didn’t stick the landing however, with ‘10’ coming up short against Dustin Rhodes in singles action, before Evil Uni sought to recruit Dustin afterwards, to no avail. While I feel Evil Uno has done a solid job as Dark Order’s make-do leader in Brodie Lee’s absence (and Dustin being recruited as ‘7’ would’ve been funny at most), the Dark Order’s more serious recruitment strategies only works if it feels significant in storyline weight, like Hangman, and even Taya Conti with Anna Jay for instance. Dustin and The Nightmare Family’s history with Dark Order make it unlikely for Dustin to join, and therefore ineffective in engaging audiences in the story. Nevertheless, the segment didn’t drag and did serve its purpose, even if such purpose was slightly misguided. Waiting to see where the story goes next is likely best. 

Shaq’s interview with Tony Schiavone was well-done barring Brandi’s opening complaints at Schiavone, which threatened to undermine everything that followed. While not overtly damaging in isolation, Brandi Rhodes has always seemed like a character AEW don’t know what to do with; the constant shifts in tone and alignments making it hard to invest in her. She’s clearly still a babyface, but I feel a better job needs to be done in blurring the lines of her character (similar to Cody) if they’re to continue to try and push her as an on-screen figure. The interview otherwise went off without a hitch. Shaq’s arrogance and blind support of Jade Cargill saw him disrespect Brandi, which led to her throwing Schiavone’s drink in his face and storming off to close the segment. With AEW currently in its stage of slowly building stories after last month’s Full Gear and the Winter Is Coming special, the continued teases of Shaq vs Cody and Brandi vs Jade (or both in one) are strong, and will make for a fun celebrity bout and smart attraction to the product when the time comes.

Four-time NBA Champion Shaquille O’Neal is making an impact in the wrestling world, teasing a potential rivalry with one of AEW’s Executive Vice Presidents, Cody Rhodes. Photo Credit – Rick Ker via Getty Images

The theme of strong interview/promo segments on this episode became clear with The Inner Circle Ultimatum, which built on the recent tensions within the group. The segment played off the group’s various strengths, with strong comedy elements like Wardlow and Jake Hager’s relentless staredown, to serious character moments like Ortiz stealing MJF’s catchphrase and Sammy Guevara standing up to Jericho and MJF, something Jericho sold tremendously with his facials. The standout moments were again the teases for the future however, with the eventual split of the group making way for so many avenues, such as Wardlow/Hager, MJF/Sammy, MJF/Jericho 2, Sammy/Jericho, and even MJF/Wardlow down the line. The segment closed with the group acting as one again despite the tensions, which is best for now. This was perhaps the best promo segment of the night on a show chock full of great ones, and led nicely to the MJF/Cassidy main event that would come later.

After a short FTR backstage interview, a six-man tag took place between Eddie Kingston, Butcher and The Blade against Lance Archer and The Lucha Brothers. The match started with a brawl after Archer dove from the ramp onto The Family in the ring, before Pentagon was quickly taken out by a suplex through a table, leaving Archer and Fenix at a disadvantage. This played into the story of the match with Rey Fenix taking the majority of the punishment and the commentators noting that Archer, usually a lone wolf of sorts, was competing in his first tag match in AEW. This made Archer’s eventual hot tag more impactful as he fought in what was essentially a three on one after the punishment Fenix had taken, before then having to work together with Fenix later to combat the numbers game. This numbers game did eventually catch up with them though as Fenix took the pin following a powerbomb/neckbreaker combo from Butcher and The Blade. The Family would escape a beatdown from Archer after the match.

While the action in the match was solid, I’m not sure I’m enjoying where this story is going right now. Given the excitement surrounding PAC’s return and the battle between The Family and Death Triangle, the inclusion of Lance Archer into the storyline makes it feel a bit cluttered. This, of course, could be due to travel restrictions for PAC if he has returned to the UK, but if not, I feel the shift in focus to Archer vs Kingston has definitely undermined what was a hot start to the story. Hopefully, the direction of this story can be cleared up in the coming weeks.

Two women’s division segments came after, and while AEW often receives flak (rightly or wrongly) for their failure to push its women’s division, the current gang warfare being waged by Jade Cargill and Nyla Rose, as well as Abadon’s presentation and her feud with Hikaru Shida over the AEW Women’s World Championship, should be commended. The first segment saw Cargill and Rose ambushing Red Velvet backstage, before Big Swole and Serena Deeb made the save, only for Ivelisse and Diamanté to run in, with officials forced to break them up. The current slow build towards Cargill vs Brandi Rhodes through the inclusion of the wider division is going well so far, and is a refreshing difference to the division’s usual presentation. 

Abadon dominated in a squash match next, helping to continue build her aura ahead of the eventual Hikaru Shida title match. Shida didn’t back down after the match however, running down to whack Abadon with her trusty kendo stick, only for Abadon to sit up and send Shida packing. This presentation was much better than Shida shying away from Abadon right away, as while maintaining the fear around Abadon is important, it’s not worth sacrificing Shida’s legitimacy in the process, so this nice blend of the two was the best way of going about it.

Nyla Rose became the first openly trans wrestler to win a title in a major American promotion, defeating Riho on the February 12th edition of Dynamite to become the second AEW Women’s World Champion. Photo Credit – Noam Galai via Getty Images

Two final interview segments took place before the main event, with a quick Inner Circle backstage promo followed by Kenny Omega and Don Callis lavishly and arrogantly showing up in a helicopter before heading to the ring for their interview. While the presentation of Omega and Callis remains top notch, akin to that of a classic Heenan/Bockwinkel duo, the detail of the promo suffered from its over-promotion. While being strongly delivered, Omega and Callis largely repeated what they said on their Impact Wrestling appearance the day before. With their partnership being fresh however, and given not all Dynamite viewers may have watched Impact, a retread can be partially forgiven, even though a simple replay of the highlights of the Impact interview would’ve served the same purpose. This doesn’t at all detract from the excitement surrounding this duo however, with Omega as champion and his new belt collector gimmick more than fitting with his new relationship with Callis, as well as the impending continuation of the Jon Moxley feud sending many AEW fans abuzz. 

The show’s final segment was the main event matchup for the Dynamite Diamond Ring between MJF and Orange Cassidy, and again while the work in the match was good, the story implications were a little underwhelming. While furthering the Best Friends vs Miro and Sabian storyline and showing The Inner Circle are back as a unit was good, the question should be brought up as to why this needed to involve the Dynamite Diamond Ring. MJF has held the ring for the last year and made it feel important, but giving it to him for a second year feels like too much of a retread, while Orange Cassidy simply doesn’t need it, as his lackadaisical character would devalue the ring. The Inner Circle’s infighting on the show could’ve been exactly the same if not more intense and meaningful if MJF and Guevara had both been eliminated from the battle royal two weeks ago, instead of having both crammed together. Honestly, giving the ring to Miro was probably the best idea in my opinion, as it would’ve allowed for that storyline to be elevated above the lower mid-card, especially because of how much Miro impressed in the battle royal to begin with. The finish of MJF/Cassidy ended up being a vehicle for that feud anyway due to the interference, which was cluttered among the Inner Circle story rather than receiving its own main event spotlight.

Nevertheless, MJF winning the ring, despite being repetitious, still holds merit, as his work with it has been strong and will make next year’s Dynamite Diamond Ring bout even moremore important with MJF boasting two straight runs with it. As mentioned, the actual match was a very good main event, with MJF working his traditional heel style by working on Cassidy’s hand after he missed an Orange Punch. Cassidy’s babyface fire was a highlight also, but I can’t help but feel that the match was a little marred by excessive interference and a messy post-match angle.

This represented an issue with the overall show and AEW in general, as sometimes with every match comes a consistent amount of overbooking that fails to allow the storylines to breathe. Namely, TH2’s performance against The Young Bucks being overshadowed by the run-in afterwards between SCU and The Acclaimed, and the main event mess of the ring, the Inner Circle, and Best Friends vs Miro and Sabian were all highlighted in a way that made of none of them stand out in a memorable fashion. 

On the whole however, the show absolutely delivered enough for the smaller elements to be ignored, with the teases surrounding Sting, The Inner Circle and Kenny Omega promising an abundance of excitement for the present and the future of AEW, which is a feeling I leave with every time Dynamite comes to a close.

Hopefully Dynamite continues the trend this week, with Kenny Omega vs Joey Janela, Cody vs Angelico, SCU vs The Acclaimed, and more being set for the show.

Bring on 1am this Thursday.  Staying up that late for wrestling is better than it sounds. Give Dynamite a try this week and see for yourself!

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