The most impressive thing about All Elite Wrestling is that AEW has convinced me to hate my favorite wrestler.
Kenny Omega has been hard to cheer for throughout the year — whether it’s because he’s dunking on tag partner “Hangman” Adam Page or entering the ring after a solid minute of praise from Justin Roberts. But now, after he’s screwed Jon Moxley out of the AEW Championship, he’s gone full-on turbo heel. Watching the champ and Don Callis do commentary during Omega’s own match last night on Dynamite against Joey Janela was equal parts annoying and ingenious (even if it’s just mixing the gimmicks of Abraham Washington and TNA-era Booker T).
But I’m not left without a favorite wrestler to root for, as on the opposite end of the card, “Hangman” Adam Page opened the show with his new buddies, the cowboy hat wearing John Silver and Alex Reynolds. While I’m not going to pretend like the Dark Order are genuine good guys — I mean, they’re clearly just preying Hangman’s weak state — they’re still making Hangman smile, and after the year he’s gone through, I’ll cheer for that any day of the week.
I’m compelled to boo Omega, Callis, Eddie Kingston, and the Inner Circle. I’m compelled to cheer for Hangman, Janela, Sonny Kiss, and Best Friends & Friends. And while I’d probably go nuts for all of the Dark Order guys if I were there in person, I don’t think that’s a mistake; the thing that makes cults work is that they don’t always come off as the bad guys.
Yesterday on Wrestling Observer Live, Bryan Alvarez said that AEW’s competent storytelling trumps having the greatest roster in history (WWE), and I agree. It feels like everyone in AEW gives you a reason to care about them one way or another, and that doesn’t mean Jake Hager’s killing the game. He’s just being used right — in this case, being a quiet brute who stares at Wardlow.
Instead of breaking down last night’s Dynamite match-by-match, let’s tackle the show by looking at the separate heroes, villains, and everyone else who played a part in putting together an all-around solid show.
The Good Guys? The BEST Guys!
A great running bit within AEW’s tag team division is this idea of The Best Friends & Friends, a super stable that can be called upon at any moment, usually to face off with the Inner Circle.
Back in July, the first instance of BFF forming was when Orange Cassidy, Chuck Taylor, and Trent? teamed with the Jurassic Express to take on the reunited Inner Circle. And, in what constitutes as an upset in my book, Taylor’s team won with interference from Matt Hardy.
Then last week, when the Inner Circle were ganging up on Cassidy during his match against MJF, the Best Friends were able to just run to the back and grab some new teammates in the form of Brandon Cutler, the Varsity Blondes, and Top Flight, all because the Best Friends are just upstanding guys (something I gushed about in last week’s review). Though Cutler and Wardlow stepped out, we still got to see how each of those good guys operates within their unit.
Brian Pillman Jr. is headstrong and willing to take on veteran Chris Jericho. Dante Martin uses his natural athleticism but is held down by his inexperience. Brother Darius (like the name) is a bit more graceful with his agility, and both he and Griff Garrison showed off that intangible babyface fire during their separate hot tags.
And, of course, Best Friends are best friends, bringing the gang together for group hugs but still turning on the intensity when faced with the hoodlums who defaced Sue’s van.
They lost the match — which is to be expected when facing a genuine stable — but it wasn’t without putting up a good fight and making it fun for the folks at home.
Another team brought together by common decency was the tandem of Big Swole and Serena Deeb, who fought Ivelisse and Diamante to do their part in the women’s locker room civil war.
Personally, I’ve always had a mental rule where I always like to see established tag teams go over makeshift teams, so I’ll admit that I was sort of rooting for Las Sicarias here, if not on an emotional level. That being said, I still got hyped up watching Deeb dive on top of Ivelisse while Swole locked the Clearwater Cloverleaf. With Nyla Rose and Vickie Guerrero coming out to attack after the bell, and Red Velvet coming out for the save, it’s safe to say that this story is far from over, and the honor of Brandi Rhodes is still being defended.
Speaking of Brandi Rhodes, she and Cody had huge news to announce, the pair are expecting a baby next year! Even if it’s the third baby announcement this year after Becky Lynch and Renee Paquette’s, there are no diminishing returns there. Huge congratulations to the Rhodes family.
And hey, being a new daddy means that, at least for the night, Cody is an undisputed face — especially when his opponent is Angelico of TH2. There’s not much more to say about the match itself (other than the fact that I’m amazed at Excalibur’s ability to remember all of Negro Navarro’s moves), but we will talk about the aftermath here in a bit.
Of course, we have to end this section by talking about the biggest babyface in AEW, “Hangman” Adam Page.
Hangman is a complex figure, as acts like screwing the Young Bucks out of a title match are questionable at best, but he’s not a lost cause. He’s a character you want to see climb out of the funk he’s in.
But because of that funk, you have to wonder if HE believes that he’s a lost cause — and then you have to wonder what measures he’ll take to get out.
Hardy and joining the Dark Side
Like Best Friends, Hangman also lost tonight. Unlike the BFF stable however, Hangman is still susceptible to turning toward the dark side — more specifically, the Dark Order. Even if he didn’t win with their assistance, he still lost in general, which is still something that their totally-not-cult can work with.
One man with the opposite problem of Hangman is Matt Hardy, who is more or less suffering from success. He’s done a total 180 on the veteran mentality that he entered AEW with, as instead of setting himself aside as a mentor for the future generation, he’s now murdered the original Sammy Guevara on PPV and is stealing wins from Private Party.
During the Dynamite Diamond Battle Royale, I realized that Hardy was gaining the quickest, most effective heat of all when he personally eliminated Hangman, Silver, Reynolds (kind of), and Isiah Kassidy from the match. In a company all about the future and what the fans want, Hardy is out here to snuff all of that out to make sure he stays on top. I both hate and love that.
An act that’s already deep into their change is the Inner Circle, whose recent additions of MJF and Wardlow altered the dynamics and added new flavors of villainy. Sure, they all cheat, and MJF and Jericho are equally braggadocios, but MJF’s sudden angry outbursts and Wardlow’s underlying good nature are certainly new twists.
Tonight was the first taste of the group’s new in-ring chemistry, and watching MJF stand at Ortiz and Hager’s side against BFF felt fresh. And, like the other team, they showed off some new personal quirks.
Santana & Ortiz are gritty when playing with the numbers advantage. Guevara is a little extra show-off-y to protect his spot with MJF around. Jericho — unlike Hardy — still appreciates the future and is watching Pillman Jr. Hager, surprisingly, cares about Wardlow enough to hit an F-10 in his absence, and then he went and let the ever-opportunistic MJF get a free pin afterward, which doesn’t fit Hager like it does Wardlow, but at least shows growth.
On a smaller scale, Team Taz is also growing as a unit, both literally and figuratively. Though Taz’s son Hook isn’t wrestling, standing with the pretty boy Starks, the athletic monster Cage, and the raw powerhouse Hobbs, makes the ranks feel well-filled out. And with them already borrowing a few vibes from nWo — namely all backing down because Sting with a bat = 40 men — I can’t wait to see them eventually bring in Jeff Farmer (not Jumpin’) to play Team Taz Sting.
Another dastardly duo showing growth — and rapidly at that — is The Acclaimed, and not just with Caster’s rapping (or at all with Kazarian’s). If you watch them every week on Dark, you can see their characters settling in, with Bowens and Caster’s chemistry getting better while they also add more props, like headphones, chains, and now their boom box.
It turned out, AEW was setting up a Chekov’s Boom Box play, as Caster used his speaker to knock Daniels out and let Bowens hit his new, dope finisher. There’s a fun dynamic here; Caster’s the mouth and potentially the brains, while Bowens is the face (in terms of beauty, not character) and DEFINITELY the body.
Finally, we have to address the biggest heel: Eddie Kingston. He’s a man whose list of enemies include two heels and a deity, as Kingston started his big enemy address by taunting God before going in on PAC and Lance Archer. It’s a trio I’d be terrified to have coming after me, especially when all three seem to agree on the importance in showing that everybody dies.
A Conclusion with shades of gray
But here’s the thing about Kingston and his Family taking on Archer and Death Triangle: none of them are great people. In fact, my family looked at the screen during this segment, laughed, and asked, “Who here is the bad guy?”
And to answer their question: whichever side Eddie Kingston is on. By default, PAC and the boys are the side we’re probably supposed to root for.
But then again, Death Triangle found themselves once more on the side of good as Dynamite went off the air, because right after Kenny Omega spent 10 minutes bullying Joey Janela, PAC and the Lucha Brothers arrived at the top of the ramp to announce that Kenny’s next match will be against Fenix on December 30. Fenix is clearly the good guy there, and not just because he’s a natural top face.
Death Triangle — and to a lesser extent Archer — are within this middle ground of the face/heel spectrum where they’d be the bad guys against better people (e.g. Best Friends and Friends) but would be the better people when facing other ne’er-do-wells (e.g. The Inner Circle). They’re like a walking, talking Hardy Party match where the whole trio are simultaneously “Hardy” and “Party.”
Is there anything wrong with that, though? I’d actually say it’s an amazing position, one that I remember enjoying when I followed L.I.J. in NJPW. Evolving the idea of faces and heels in pro wrestling doesn’t require doing away with the terms or archetypes; instead, it just means doing more within those limits.
I’m excited by characters like Thunder Rosa, who can be prideful to a fault when facing the heroic Hikaru Shida while also being outshined in that regard by Britt Baker, whose pride is always a fault. Forget all the other weeks, all it takes is one segment of Baker rubbing off Rosa’s face paint, and my heart knows who to boo out of the building.
Last night’s Dynamite was great TV, and I could just leave it at that. But I also want to recognize when wrestling seems to be changing for the better, and while these types of character alignments aren’t exclusive to AEW or even today’s wrestling, it’s still something I love to praise.
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