Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Is AEW back?

Ever so often nowadays, we hear the phrase “pro wrestling is back” when something cool happens. I’m a frequent user of the phrase. This morning, though, I had a different sentiment in mind. It’s more of a question than a phrase. 

Is AEW back? 

Many of you are probably retorting that question with more questions. Where did AEW go? Or… how could they be back? Next week’s Tuesday Dynamite taping hasn’t even sold 2,000 tickets yet. Both of these and many more are valid questions to ask. 

I can’t necessarily answer those questions with an affirming response. I can’t even answer the question that I titled this post with. What I can do, however, is explain the feeling I have coming out of Wrestle Dream and into tonight’s episode of Dynamite live from Stockton, California. 

When AEW first began, I didn’t miss an episode. I’d say all the way from 2019 to about September of 2022, it was appointment viewing for me. It was something I scheduled my week and day around every Wednesday and sometimes even Fridays for Rampage. There was a buzz. An excitement. A feeling that I hadn’t felt for wrestling since 2013ish. 

Somewhere along the way, that was lost. I am not going to blame the “Brawl Out” fiasco for it, but that was around the time where things changed for me. The product seemed to lose something following that incident for me. Peak AEW was a year prior, if we are being honest, but 2022 leading into All Out was still far from where it would fall afterward. 

Since All Out 2022, I would sometimes go weeks without watching Dynamite. It became less of an exciting part of my week and more of a “well, let’s check cagematch to see if any good matches happened”.. and that sucks to say and admit and realize. There’s been good matches in AEW in the past year. Jon Moxley is the best professional wrestler in the world right now and he has killed it at every turn. I sometimes wonder, though, if AEW putting everything on the ace’s back made them lazy. Or maybe they just lost their charm after Brawl Out and Mox, along with a few select others, have been the only ones to be able to maintain it since such a demoralizing moment in the company’s history took place. Not everyone can be the ace, so I get it. 

So, shit, now that I think about it. Was CM Punk’s petty drama the issue? I’m one of the minority that found a lot of humor and entertainment in the Punk saga. No one brings the realism and controversy to pro wrestling like he does. My only issue is that it never fully paid off. We never got the Kenny match, the Bucks match, the Hanger rematch, the Mox rematch. That’s where the money and momentum were. Instead, we got a broken company split by two brands based off some of the company’s biggest stars not wanting to get over it and work together. Is it Punk’s fault? The Elite’s fault? Tony Khan’s fault? I’m not sure, I’m not backstage, I’m a fan. So I don’t really care to find out, all I know is that it put the product into a weird funk completely. It was already headed there, don’t get me wrong. Things began to grow stale before this moment, but this is what fully spiraled things, in my opinion. 

Fast forward to this year and All In, the biggest show in company history and one of the largest attended wrestling shows ever takes place. And it’s fine. 80,000 people paid to see it so much how can you complain or critique, but in reality, it wasn’t even a Top 5-10 AEW PPV. The vibes were off and they’d been off for a hot minute. And how much can you expect from a show headlined by a World Title feud showcasing some of the most horrible traits of American sports entertainment. I left that event no more excited about AEW. I left that event saying “well, that happened” and not even caring to watch dynamite the following week. Hook/Perry and Joe/Punk are the only two matches from that show I’ll ever go out of my way to watch again. 

The following weekend, I traveled with some of my best friends to Chicago for All Out. It was a fun experience as always, and honestly a surprisingly better one than I anticipated. The episode of Collision was whatever, but the All Out event itself felt like a slight step up. I personally attributed that to getting the bullshit out of the main event spotlight and giving it to the two best workers in the company. And maybe that’s also an overarching theme I need to take a closer at, also. None the less, I didn’t leave that event thinking or feeling like we were headed toward better days. I felt like it was a diamond in the rough. The two workhorses of the company getting their deserved main event slot for the International Championship, one of the best of all time bringing even more out of Ricky Starks than CM Punk did, and a mixed undercard with an overrated Takeshita/Omega match and a match that overdelivered in the form of Hobbs/Miro. It seemed about par for the course for post All Out ‘22 AEW. 

That leads us to this past Sunday’s Wrestle Dream. All Out felt like one of the better AEW PPV’s in a while. The Dynamite’s that followed were once again mostly skipped by me. However, with this Sunday’s Wrestle Dream PPV, a true light began to shine through this darkness. 

Sure, you had throwaway matches like MJF/The Righteous and the clusterfuck (in a bad way) of a four way tag. But as long as you have the MJF’s (in his current form) and the Young Bucks & Lucha Bros around, their negatives will shine just about as often as the positives, so that’s a risk that has to be taken. The good thing is when you have things like Danielson/ZSJ, Swerve/Hangman, and Christian/Darby. It completely covers up those negatives. Having lowercard bangers like Kingston/Shibata and Stat/Julia definitely help also. I don’t want this to turn into a review of Wrestle Dream because that’s coming later this week once I finish re-watching, but those are my general thoughts. 

My main point in talking about Wrestle Dream is how elated I felt after the event and in the days leading up to Dynamite tonight, particularly today. The PPV closed with the much talked about debut of Edge, under his real name, Adam Copeland. Copeland saved Sting from an assault by Christian Cage, Nick Wayne, & Luchasaurus. 

I haven’t been a huge fan of Edge’s return run in WWE aside from the initial monumental moment at the Royal Rumble a few years ago. This is a huge acquisition for AEW, though and in that main event match and closing segment, a true line between good & evil was drawn. Christian Cage delivered one of the best matches of his entire career against Darby Allin and proved himself to possibly be the best thing going in AEW right now. You had the shocking betrayal of Darby at the hands of Nick Wayne and to follow it up with Copeland making his debut to save Sting and come face to face with one of his best friends inside and outside of the ring? Chef’s kiss. Good shit. 

That’s the stuff that leaves you dying for more. Wrestle Dream felt like a complete company reset outside of the fact that MJF is still World Champion. He doesn’t even feel like it anymore, in fact, the title feels extremely irrelevant which isn’t a good thing. Everything else is just so good right now. 

All day I’ve been thinking about how excited I am for Dynamite tonight. It reminds me of the 2013 days when Daniel Bryan & The Shield were on their tear of fantastic television and I was chomping at the bit every Monday because I needed to know what was next and on top of it, I knew the matches were gonna deliver. The latter part of that feeling is yet to be determined and this could be just a fleeting thing coming off the buzz of a PPV. 

Despite that, I needed to get these words out and document these feelings. I think Wrestle Dream set into motion a lot of new stories and character arches. Outside of the main event stuff, Swerve and Hangman in particular have me super intrigued. Not to mention what’s next for Bryan Danielson. Hell, even Ricky Starks and Wheeler Yuta made the absolute most of their time and I’m itching for what’s next for them both as well. 

A lot of people have stepped up recently and it’s showing in the overall vibe of the company. I just hope AEW can stick to it, accentuate and become what it at it’s core can be when they channel their energy in the right direction - the best pro wrestling company in the modern history of the business. Don’t get me wrong, I am no AEW apologist. I will give them just as much as raw honesty as I give the fed when it’s warranted. They stray far from the path sometimes and some consistency would be nice, but when this company is on, there’s nothing better and the best could be yet to come if we have more nights and stories like this past Sunday. 

Maybe this is what Tony Khan meant by it being a new era.. I sure fucking hope so. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Unforgiven Review - September 21st, 2003

WWE Unforgiven 
September 21st, 2003
Hershey, PA

World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H (since 12/15/02)
Intercontinental Champion: Christian (since 8/10/03)
World Tag Team Champions: La Resistance (since 6/15/03)
WWE Women's Champion: Molly Holly (since 7/28/03)

Commentators - Jim Ross & Jerry “The King” Lawler 

Video package hyping H/Goldberg airs. They make sure to show Bret Hart when H says a line about watching Goldberg in WCW beating a “bunch of nobodies.”

1) La Resistance (Rene Dupree, Rob Conway, & Sylvan Grenier) (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley) - Tables Match for the World Tag Team Titles

To win this, you have to put every member of the opposing team through a table. This was a decent little opener and went probably about how you’d expect. D-Von goes through a table a few minutes in and Bubba fights from underneath. Somewhere in here, Bubba throws some randomly sick overhand chops while fighting up. D-Von recovers and he & Bubba put every member of La Resistance through tables to become the new World Tag Team Champions. 

Match rating - **1/4

Video package highlighting the Test/Stacy/Steiner saga. This feud has sucked but the video pack with “Suffocate” by Cold as the soundtrack was HARD and nostalgic af. 

2) Test vs. Scott Steiner - Winner gets Stacy Keibler 

“When you go to Hooters, do you get takeout?” -Jerry Lawler 

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Smackdown Review - September 18th, 2003

WWE Smackdown 
September 18th, 2003
Raleigh, North Carolina - NC State University 

WWE Champion: Kurt Angle (since 7/27/03)
WWE United States Champion: Eddie Guerrero (since 7/27/03)
WWE Tag Team Champions: Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (since 7/3/03)
WWE Cruserweight Champion: Rey Mysterio (since 6/5/03)

The show begins with Mr. McMahon hyping up the iron man match main event. He is interrupted by The Undertaker. Taker says he knows that Vince orchestrated the interference in his title match, but he isn't gonna mess up the title match tonight. He just wants Vince to know that he doesn't forget... or forgive. Take says he respects the title, but not Vince himself.

1) Chris Benoit & Rey Mysterio vs. Tajiri & Rhyno 

This absolutely rocked. 5 minutes or whatever and not a moment wasted. Everything crisp and does its job to hype Rey/Tajiri for next week more and also touch on the bad blood between Benoit & Rhyno. I would watch this go 10-15 any day of the week. Benoit & Mysterio get the win and leave the heels reeling. Perfect little opener, I just wanted a little more time. 

Match rating - ***

TONIGHT: Los Guerreros defend the Tag Team Titles against Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin 

Backstage, it’s Stephanie, Big Show, Vince, and Sable. Vince is shocked Steph didn't quit last week, but he's not gonna fire her, he's just gonna make it even more rough on her since she wants to play it this way.

“From the GQ cover guy to the Playboy cover girl…” -Michael Cole’s transition from promoting The Rock on the cover of GQ to the following match 

2) Torrie Wilson & Nidia (w/ Dawn Marie) vs. Shaniqua (w/ The Basham Brothers) 
Another Shaniqua squash. She even destroys Dawn too after the match. 

3) Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (c) vs. Eddie & Chavo Guerrero - WWE Tag Team Title Match 

The review I had written this for match mysteriously disappeared so just enjoy my rating and know that it was really fucking good :) .. Los Guerreros win the straps too!!! YEAH!!!

Match rating - ***3/4


4) Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar - 60 Minute Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship

I have seen this match a handful of times. I loved it on first watch probably a decade ago. I watched it again a few years ago and I thought it was good, but not above a 4 star effort. I think my tastes are much different and more refined now, so I think my take on it in this moment will stand the test of time. Things can change, though. But as of this writing.. I fucking loved this match. Brock's dominance and control and the entire way he paced this match was just brilliant. You do see some of Kurt's flaws here in minor ways. Nothing big enough to hinder the match to a detrimental extent, and nothing Brock's strengths couldn't hide and make you forget. This is an all time Brock performance and one that everyone should see. Just absolutely phenomenal when on top and also when selling Kurt's comebacks. Kurt's selling is hit or miss as always, but he does a decently better job than you may expect. They made 60 minutes fly by and put Kurt down multiple falls due to some ref bumps and Brock blatantly cheating. Everything works, though. Somehow, it all fucking works and never drags or feels overbooked. I can't quite explain it and don't wanna try to break this down too much and over explain. I just know this was a ride. And that's what a match like this HAS to be. You can't run an exhibition for 60 minutes, you have to work these style of matches a certain way and god damn if they didn't lay out a phenomenal blue print for iron man matches to come. Kurt fighting from under almost the entire time and still coming up short at the end made the last stretch of this a fucking nail biter. At the end of this, I was still wanting more. 

Match rating - ****1/2

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Monday Night Raw Review - September 15th, 2003

WWE Monday Night Raw 
September 15th, 2003
University of South Carolina - Columbia, South Carolina


World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H (since 12/15/02)
Intercontinental Champion: Christian (since 8/10/03)
World Tag Team Champions: La Resistance (since 6/15/03)
WWE Women's Champion: Molly Holly (since 7/28/03)

The broadcast opens with Triple H walking backstage with his title over his shoulder. He runs into Eric Bischoff. Bischoff reminds H how much he supports him and knows he will win on Sunday. H says he needs one more favor from Bischoff.. he wants to throw a going away party for Goldberg tonight. Eric asks what they’re gonna do if Goldberg shows up, H says “…invite him to the party” as he smirks and walks off. 

TONIGHT: Last Man Standing Contract Signing between Kane & Shane McMahon 

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Smackdown Review - September 11th, 2003

WWE Smackdown 
September 11th, 2003 
Birmingham, Alabama 


WWE Champion: Kurt Angle (since 7/27/03)
WWE United States Champion: Eddie Guerrero (since 7/27/03)
WWE Tag Team Champions: Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (since 7/3/03)
WWE Cruserweight Champion: Rey Mysterio (since 6/5/03)

TONIGHT: John Cena vs. Eddie Guerrero in a Parking Lot Brawl plus Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno

In the parking lot, they’re setting up the garage for the Parking Lot Brawl later on. 

1) Rey Mysterio & Billy Kidman vs. Tajiri & Nunzio 

Golden era Rey continues. This is just a load of fun. It’s all about Tajiri looking strong as he gets the pin on Rey in this super short sprint. After the bell, he smashes Rey with the belt for good measure. 

Match rating - **1/4

In Vince’s office, he’s sitting with Sable. Big Show is behind them tearing up a magazine. Vince is on the phone about to send the family of Zach Gowen some flowers. Steph walks in and asks if he’s proud of himself for what he did last week. Vince says he’s not responsible for what Brock did to Gowen and Steph refuses to believe him. Steph says Brock deserves to be in JAIL. And up walks Brock behind her. Brock wants a warmup match for his Iron Man with Kurt next week. He suggests a handicap match against Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, & Zach Gowen. None of them are here tonight. Brock says he still needs a fight, but everyone in the room he’s wrestled already… except Stephanie. Vince says that’s a money match, but he gives Steph an option.. face Brock or step down as general manager. What the FUCK lmao. 

Torrie Wilson & Nidia walk up to Dawn Marie backstage about her match with Shaniqua coming up. Nidia says “it’s suicide, baby”.. but Dawn says she has to stop her tonight. 

2) Shaniqua vs. Dawn Marie 

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Monday Night Raw Review - September 8th, 2003

WWE Monday Night Raw
September 8th, 2003
Huntsville, Alabama 

World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H (since 12/15/02)
Intercontinental Champion: Christian (since 8/10/03)
World Tag Team Champions: La Resistance (since 6/15/03)
WWE Women's Champion: Molly Holly (since 7/28/03)

Commentators - Jim Ross & Jerry "The King" Lawler

1) Rob Van Dam vs. Kane - Steel Cage Match

This was a good cage match. Van Dam charges Kane at the bell and mounts an early flurry. Eventually, Kane overpowers him and this becomes just a straight up assault on RVD. Van Dam gets some color and bleeds a bit. This was just an awesome.. almost squash, but moreso just a complete annihilation of Van Dam. Kane chokeslams him off the middle of the top rope off the cage for the win. Cool spot.

Match rating - ***

2) Rico (w/ Jackie Gayda) vs. Lance Storm (w/ Goldust)

Rico cuts a promo on Storm beforehand and says he’s always gonna be nothing but BOOORING. Storm fires off at him and this match is pretty much about him trying to prove he’s not boring. Storm kisses Jackie on the apron and pins Rico soon after. 

Match rating - *

3) Trish Stratus & Jacqueline vs. Molly Holly & Gail Kim 

You think Jackie has to have a permit to carry those 38’s?” -Jerry Lawler 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Ruthless Aggression Era Project: WWE Smackdown Review - September 4th, 2003

WWE Smackdown 
September 4th, 2003
New Orleans, Louisana 

WWE Champion: Kurt Angle (since 7/27/03)
WWE United States Champion: Eddie Guerrero (since 7/27/03)
WWE Tag Team Champions: Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (since 7/3/03)
WWE Cruserweight Champion: Rey Mysterio (since 6/5/03)

TONIGHT: Kurt Angle defends the WWE Championship against The Undertaker plus The Bourbon Street Bikini Contest 

1) World’s Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) (c) vs. The APA (Bradshaw & Farooq) - WWE Tag Team Title Match 

Haas & Benjamin charge the ring and this gets underway as soon as the bell rings. WGTT get Farooq and isolate him from Bradshaw for a minute or two. Bradshaw gets a hot tag and cleans house. Things sort of break down from here and go back & forth for a bit before Benjamin uses the tights on a roll up to pin Bradshaw following a belt shot from Haas behind the ref’s back. 

Match rating - **1/2

Backstage, Eddie Guerrero is polishing up his US Title on the hood of his car. A limo pulls up and it’s Big Show, Sable, & Mr. McMahon. Brock Lesnar walks up and asks what the hell is going on because he hasn’t heard from Vince since SummerSlam. Vince says it’s because Brock tapped out. This pisses Brock off and Vince tells him to chill and come to his office so they can talk about it.