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AEW Dynamite Grand Slam review: a live fan's perspective

Pro Wrestling

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam review: a live fan’s perspective

We were there live for AEW’s wildest show yet. Here’s what we found.

This Wednesday, All Elite Wrestling made their Queens debut with AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam. Featuring huge matchups like Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson and Britt Baker vs. Ruby Soho while also busting out a legend like Sting and the returning CM Punk (not to mention the Rampage card being taped after the show), Grand Slam was such a huge show that I decided to make my Queens debut as well!

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Today’s review is based entirely on what I saw in the arena, so if you’re looking for anything regarding commentary, at-home audio, or specific camera angles, this one won’t have those facets. But, from the little bit I have seen of the televised show, I can tell you this: the crowd didn’t come off nearly as nuts on TNT as we were in person.

This review also won’t have any Rampage spoilers for anyone who’s trying to avoid those. Fortunately, there MIGHT be a project in the works if you want more info on how CM Punk vs. Will Hobbs, The SuperKliq vs Jurassic Express & Christian Cage, and Suzuki-Gun vs Moxley & Kingston played out for the live crowd. Keep an eye on AIPT’s social media (@AIPTcomics and @AIPTwrestling) this weekend to find out more about that.

For now, grab an overpriced hot dog and prepare to chant for CM Punk and Adam Cole for 9 hours as we dive into this week’s edition of AEW Dynamite!

Bryan Danielson & Kenny Omega go to a time-limit draw

The three-match Elevation card prior to Dynamite got us pretty excited for the big show (wink, wink), but as for what the opener could possibly be, the people in my area were at a loss. My money was the lights dimming for Malakai Black’s entrance, but as we watched wordless match graphics pop up on the huge Khan Tron above the ring, I felt the whole crowd start to buzz as Omega vs. Danielson continued to go unaddressed.

And then, after all four matches and the interview were announced, Omega and Danielson’s faces popped up with a big old “UP NEXT” sign under it.

The crowd went nuts for Danielson’s entrance as a fifth of us tried for the first time to chant “You’re going to get your f*cking head kicked in!” to the beat of the song, but it got drowned out by “Yes!” chants, and all of us ROH fans slowly started jutting our fingers up with the rest of the audience. Omega’s entrance was next and gave us our first pyro of the night, and after the bell rang, the arena just felt DIFFERENT.

Before the two even locked up, we were all buzzing, and after the collar-and-elbow got cinched in, we were just hyped, going from chant to chant and ooh to ahh as Bryan and Kenny began chopping and kicking the mess out of each other.

Their chests were bright red and raw ten minutes in, and they hadn’t even kicked into second gear by then — it was just kicks and chops and some chain wrestling. Omega focused on the neck and Danielson focused on everything he could grab, popping the crowd when he held up a hand and motioned that “I have until five!” to the ref when he wouldn’t let go of one hold.

Omega and Danielson were the first two wrestlers to slide down the Grand Slam-specific LED ramp after Omega hit a dragon sleeper, which was fun to see, and when Omega walked all the way up the ramp to charge up for his V-Trigger into the ring onto Danielson (where he hit him so hard he flipped into the ring), it was even wilder to me since I was sat behind the entrance, so I didn’t even see Omega until he reappeared, already sprinting at Bryan full speed before kneeing him.

While people at home had Excalibur and them reminding them of the time limit, all we had was Justin Roberts mumbling a five-minute warning in the middle of Omega setting up for a top-rope-dragon-suplex, which meant no one in the crowd knew what he said since A) it was very muffled under our crowd noises, and B) did you not read what I wrote about that dragon suplex? Then, when Omega HIT the suplex instead of just teasing it, everything about Justin Roberts left our minds.

Omega went for a rare Phoenix Splash and missed. Bryan continued to kick Omega’s head in, this time getting a third of us to chant his ROH chant, though it still didn’t catch on fully. Omega hit a billion V-triggers but got his O.W.A. reversed into a Poisonrana. Bryan tried to get a LeBell Lock in, but Omega wouldn’t let Danielson get his arm around him and eventually made his way into the ropes.

The bell finally rang in the middle of a striking contest, and a little bit of booing began, but we were still along for the ride as Bryan kept trying to get his submission on even after the 30-minute call. The SuperKliq coming out consoled the crowd for a moment, but when Roberts finally announced the draw, the majority of the crowd finally started booing hard, which was booked well into heel heat since as soon as we started booing, Adam Cole and the Young Bucks superkicked Danielson so that we were booing THEM. Then we were brought back to cheers as Jurassic Express and Christian Cage ran down to fight off the Elite.

Though I’ve previously enjoyed Omega vs CIMA at AEW Full Gear ’19 and Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens at WWE Battleground ’16, I’m pretty sure that this is the best match I’ve ever seen live, and it was the first match that the whole crowd was here for. It was insane to put that on first, and that would reflect throughout the rest of Dynamite.

CM Punk addresses Team Taz

In the only other part of Dynamite that I’ve seen televised, I can safely say that the TNT footage was way toned down compared to the crowd’s live sound. Though we were definitely tired after the opener (a bunch of people really did leave to go grab a cigarette after that), CM Punk still got one of the loudest crowd reactions of the night, though it did sound muted on TV.

Punk stated the obvious: “I’m glad that I’m not wrestling on Dynamite tonight, because how am I supposed to follow that?” It was funny for two reasons, since not only was a Punk promo EXACTLY how you follow that match, but for us in the arena, Punk was wrestling in like two hours.

Punk said that he gets that some people want the old, angry CM Punk back, and he even tried to mean-mug on the way to the ring, but every time he hears the crowd cheer and sing along with his entrance, he can’t help but crack a smile. He can’t stay angry.

But then he remembers what Team Taz is doing. They tried to injure him last week with the table because they don’t want him to be happy, they don’t want to hear his music, they don’t want him to have this second chance. THAT is what pisses Punk off.

As Punk got fired up, so did the crowd (which did come across well on TV), and he announced that he’s not here to wake Hobbs up. He’s here to tuck him in. On Rampage, Hobbs will go to sleep.

I’ve seen CM Punk before (specifically at Money in the Bank ’12 and Royal Rumble ’13), but this was the first time I’d ever heard a promo of his live, and it was insane. Punk is my third favorite wrestler of all time (behind Omega and Jericho, who were also in the arena), so getting to see this side of him in person was something I’ll always cherish.

MJF def. Brian Pillman, Jr.

And now, we get hit by reality.

Since there were literally zero “potty break” matches on the show until MAYBE Rampage, I used this opportunity to miss both MLW alumni’s entrances and the first 10 seconds of the match, but even if I saw all of it, I feel like the crowd was gassed here. The only person in my section who seemed passionate about their cheers was the grating fan two rows behind me who needed everyone to know that he wanted MJF to win, and because we screwed around and laughed at his yelling this time, he was emboldened to do this for the rest of the match and the rest of the night.

MJF did have genuine heat, though, with Roberts reading crowd signs before the show and pointing out the “We’re MJF’s parents and we think he sucks, too” sign, and I know I personally booed him so loud that I lost my voice in this, the second match of Dynamite.

The beginning of this match was really basic from both men, which I believe was on purpose since they knew we weren’t really there for it, but as soon as MJF used Julia Hart as a human shield against a dive from Pillman, the crowd finally had a reason to go wild on him.

Julia was really effective in this one. Though her cheering at ringside did nothing to get people on Pillman’s side beyond the floor seats, she’s as over as a face with the crowd as MJF is as a heel, so MJF trying to get a kiss from her gave the perfect amount of babyface heat to Pillman as he finally hit his diving dropkick to MJF.

Pillman went for Air Pillman as people started chanting, “Brian Pillman!” but it wasn’t long before MJF had Pillman locked in the Salt of the Earth, making Pillman tap and giving MJF a winning record once again after taking a rare singles loss at All Out a few weeks ago.

This match was fun towards the end, but it definitely was in a dead spot after Omega, Danielson, and Punk.

Promo Break: Jericho and Hager

Real talk, I have no idea what Hager said because the audio in the arena wasn’t ready for a backstage promo, so we didn’t hear what Hager was saying until his last word or two. Then, because Jericho is super over, all I could hear over the cheers from the crowd was “Pumpkin-headed Dipsh*t,” which isn’t the worst nickname he’s given an AEW opponent (*cough* My Jerk-off Friend *cough*), but it’s still not a great one. That being said, anything Jericho does is golden, and Hager at least gets the lightest of praise just for being associated with him.

Malakai Black def. Cody Rhodes

I didn’t expect to say this: I liked Cody’s entrance a lot more than Malakai’s. I think I was just in the wrong spot for Malakai’s, though, because I was seated sort of behind the ramp and thus couldn’t see him when he was between the tunnels, though it WAS interesting watching him go from spotlight-to-spotlight in the dark since it doesn’t go pitch-black in the arena like it does on TV. As for Cody, his extravagant pyro has the same charm in person as a 4th of July display.

(Also, when the arena lights went out and phone lights came on, the older Hispanic man in front of me yelled that it was Bray Wyatt, then argued with his daughter about it until Malakai’s face popped up on screen. It was really funny in the moment.)

In fact, Cody was really over with me during this match, and it created a really weird dichotomy within my body as I felt myself wanting to cheer for him but I kept booing because I knew it was part of the match’s story. As soon as the bell rang, “Cody sucks” chants began, and I could see Cody look around on the Khan Tron and mouth “Okay, okay,” while Malakai smiled and welcomed Cody to the House of Black, so I knew I couldn’t start cheering Cody, especially since I did want Cody to win. But man, watching Black wrestle 100% like a heel and Cody wrestle 100% like a face all while the crowd cheered the opposite way was so backwards to be a part of, and it was one of the most interesting crowd experiences I’ve felt in my 11 years as a wrestling fan.

That’s not to say Cody didn’t play into how much the crowd isn’t into him. Cody’s entrance featured the return of Brandi Rhodes, who’s also self-aware of the crowd’s feelings towards her (see the latest Shot of Brandi for proof of that), and she did unabashed heel work. Malakai kicked at Cody’s legs and sent him cowering out of the ring, and after Black did his moonsault into a cross-legged sit, Brandi came into the ring, sat across from him, and flipped him off while the crowd booed. (Note: I had no problem booing this time.)

Arn got on the apron at one point and started yelling for Cody to do better moves since he was pretty soundly losing the match by then, and then, as Arn tried to round the turnbuckle (which I know is hard from experience), Arn legit fell off the apron. I couldn’t tell at first if this was part of it, but then Arn scrambled back onto the apron and stood there until Black whipped Cody into him, knocking Arn off again.

Cody threw Malakai out toward the ramp, then got out of the ring to check on Arn. I assume Arn yelled at Cody and told him not to check on him, but without being able to hear them, I (and a lot of the crowd) thought Arn was straight-up turning on Cody, but then Arn resumed his position beside Brandi and didn’t leave, so we were all confused.

Cody made his way over to the steps by the ramp, where Malakai had hidden himself, and I thought Malakai had crawled under the ring until the cameras proved otherwise. I then wondered why Malakai was over there for so long, but I got my answer soon enough.

After dragging Black back into the ring, Cody started punching him in the corner, which ref Paul Turner tried to stop. Cody then shoved the ref out onto the canvas, garnering intentional boos and opening himself up for a black mist spray from Malakai, which got the roll-up victory after an early Black Mass and a Cross Rhodes both failed to win the match earlier (the former due to a roll-out and the latter due to a kick-out).

This wasn’t a technical classic, but the crowd dynamic was definitely fun to live through, and though I’ve heard mixed reviews from people who watched at home, I loved this one.

Promo Break: Guevara & Miro

In another promo I couldn’t hear (this time because we were still booing Cody), Sammy Guevara says Miro went too far with bullying Fuego, and now he’s coming after Miro and the TNT Championship next week. Miro questions why Guevara took so long since he’s been attacking Fuego for ages. He thinks Guevara’s going after the weak neck, but God and his hot wife put his neck back together for his wife’s pleasure (or pain, if she wants). Guevara of course can’t answer to that, but he does say he’ll buy Fuego a new car if he wins next week.

Sting & Darby def. FTR

I’m glad to see that not only are FTR over with the crowd, but they weren’t THAT far behind Sting and Darby in terms of crowd reaction (even if it was a lot of boos). Sting and Darby stole the stage theatrically, though, entering with messy face paint since both of them got their paint wiped off by the Pinnacle last week.

My key takeaways are 1) Darby is super over with the fans and has a banger theme song, 2) Sting is in incredible shape and can did not look like he was over a decade older than Christian Cage, and 3) FTR are the perfect bad guys for a match like this.

Whether it’s bullying the small babyface or cutting off the comeback of a legend, FTR’s ability to cut their opponents off, cheat with a distracted ref, and use the legendary Tully Blanchard as their third were all key to getting the crowd back into the show. I’ve been in love with FTR’s “double punch barrage in the corner” and “fake tag into an abdominal stretch” spots since their NXT days, so seeing those live was insane. Watching Dax do a Deadman taunt and go for a tombstone on Sting was also insane, and the tease of Darby Coffin Dropping onto Sting’s Scorpion Death Drop on Dax got us to rise to our feet.

Cash, of course, pushed Darby out of the way and gave FTR one last mad dash for an attempted victory, but Sting switched tactics and locked Dax into a Scorpion Deathlock. Cash tried to grab for Dax’s hands to pull him into the ropes, but Darby Coffin Dropped onto Cash while he lay on the apron, allowing Sting to pull Dax fully into the ring to make him tap.

I saw Sting wrestle, man. The fact that the match was good and featured three of my other favorite performers in AEW is just a bonus. The crowd was still reeling from the opener and wouldn’t fully recover until Rampage, but this match reached some of the highest highs outside of Danielson vs Omega.

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam review: a live fan's perspective
No video for this one, so just look at this blurry photo of my seat prior to Dark: Elevation! It was wild watching this place fill up.

SECRET Promo Break: Taz

While Santana & Ortiz and Eddie Kingston had huge matches set up for Rampage, Taz didn’t really have anything he could do for his hometown on TV, as he would be on commentary for Punk vs Hobbs on Rampage. So, while we were in commercial break, Taz, Rick Starks, and Hook came out to respond to CM Punk.

He didn’t say anything too spectacular, and he couldn’t say anything related to his hometown since he’s very much a heel, but Taz did get to tell CM Punk that, with Team Taz, he must “Beat us if you can. Survive if we let you!” in front of a Queens audience, which was neat.

Britt Baker def. Ruby Soho to retain the AEW Women’s Championship

Unlike with Cody Rhodes, I had no problem cheering for who I wanted in this one. I was firmly in camp “Ruby Soho!” and frowning at the “DMD” chants (though I did have to chant along with the “D-M-D” taunt during the ring introductions).

This match was really over during the entrances since people love to see both women, but after the bell rang, I felt us die a death. Putting the women in the main event was a really great choice for appearance’s sake, but booing Cody, cheering for Sting, and doing both for Omega and Danielson finally tuckered my section — and I believe most of the arena — out.

That being said, it was still really cool seeing a lot of Ruby’s big moves in person, as she hit that double-knee driver in the corner and followed it up with a barrage of corner superkicks, which split the crowd. Britt’s own Slingblade-focused comeback also split the crowd, as Britt only had the crowd favoritism edge by a 55/45 split.

These women brought out their biggest moves for sure, with Ruby busting out her always stiff-looking senton while Britt hit her leg-sweep-neckbreaker, a superkick, an avalanche Air Raid Crash, a sort of ankle-locked facebuster, and a curb stomp on Ruby in fairly quick succession, none of which put her away (though I promise it wasn’t poor booking for Ruby; ample time and multiple pin attempts were given here, so it wasn’t egregious).

Ruby’s response to this onslaught was an attempted roll-up that didn’t get the job done, but as soon as Britt was on her feet again, she hit her former Riott Kick (now known as “No Future”, according to Excalibur) to knock Britt out. Before she could capitalize, though, she ran to the apron to fend off Jamie Hayter and Rebel, giving Britt just enough time to recover, drop toe hold Ruby, and get her in the Lockjaw to finally retain her title.

This match was good, but it has the same caveat as the last three matches: it would have been way better received if not for the opener. The crowd was able to chant for both women repeatedly, and we gave them our all, but our all was just a lot less than 100%.

The only thing is, Rampage DID get the whole crowd back for at least a handful of its matches, including the last match of the night, but I feel like all of those matches would have suffered if Bryan vs. Omega happened right before them.

But here’s the thing: when the complaint is “Man, that good wrestling happened before all the other good wrestling,” the ending note is still that we got a lot of good wrestling.

MJF vs Pillman Jr. was a great showcase for how despicable MJF is. Cody vs Malakai played heavily into how much Cody wants to be the good guy and how much Malakai revels in Cody’s boos. FTR made Sting and Darby look incredible, which is awesome since Sting and Darby are already incredible. And the Women’s Championship main event was an all-out war between two of AEW’s best women’s wrestlers.

And also, a match took place that was so great even WWE wrestlers were liking tweets that proclaimed that it was the greatest free TV match in wrestling history.

Crowd stamina be damned, Dynamite: Grand Slam was one of the best shows in AEW history, and it was only half of the live show. And, if I may be so bold, I’d even say Dynamite was the weaker of the two shows (though it did have the higher high in Danielson/Omega).

With 1.28 million watching at home and over 20k watching in the arena, it’s great that so many people got to view AEW on their best day. And while I know for certain that they’re making magic again on Friday’s Rampage: Grand Slam, I can’t wait to see how AEW capitalizes on this show in the weeks to come.

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