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.