Despite the fact that I don’t shy away from criticizing AEW, when the opportunity arose for me to get to go to an AEW taping for free, I was excited and didn’t hesitate to commit to it. When the day is over, going to a live wrestling show with good company is always welcome, and I was hoping that the live experience would be different in-person than what I see on clips of the internet because I don’t have the time to watch AEW or any wrestling for that matter anymore.
I’d heard from those who have gone to them before and general internet scuttlebutt that the events had the tendency to become long-winded, depending on the nature of the agenda; AEW has been known to tape multiple shows in one evening, and contrary to popular belief among wrestling fans, I do believe that there is such a thing as too much wrestling, especially the older one gets with responsibilities commensurate to age and state of life. But at the same time, if the show(s) were going good and the quality of the matches were strong, then it shouldn’t feel like such a drag, and considering AEW had made much of their name throughout the years of being a place where surprises and highlight matches happen fairly regularly, I was hoping that I would be privy to seeing some cool shit in person.
However, it would be just my luck that the show I went to was kind of a clunker, with no title matches save for one FTW Popeye’s Championship defense by Ricky Starks, despite the fact that the company has about 17 belts floating around. There were no trademark Tony Khan surprises at all, no shock debuts, no mind-bending swerves or former WWE guy appearances.
Mind you, this particular evening featured a taping of Dark: Elevation, followed by a live episode of Dynamite, which was then followed by a taping of Rampage, so there were plenty of opportunities for some interesting shit to happen, but like I said, it would be my luck that I would be at a show where basically nothing of any importance happened.
If I had to name any particular highlights, it was probably the really drawn-out squashing of Darby Allin, at the hands of Brody King; I kept telling my friends that Brody was getting all of the offense so he looked strong, but would still job to some surprise defeat because Darby is one of the protected pillars of the company, but then Brody would just beat the shit out of him and then pin him after a brutal looking Greetings From Asbury Park-looking driver move. And as someone who’s never been impressed with Darby or his accused deviancy, I was satisfied with that match.The main event of Dynamite was a painfully predictable blow-off match between Chris Jericho and Eddie Kingston, and I knew in two seconds after not seeing Sammy Guevara get put into the Discovery® Shark Week™ cage, that Jericho was 100% going to win with the assistance of Sammy.
I was really hoping to see guys like Pac and maybe a defense of the not-Intercontinental title, but nope no Pac. Cesaro Claudio Castagnoli cut a promo on Jonathan Gresham but didn’t wrestle. No Thunder Rosa and the women’s title, Jade Cargill and the TBS title were mired in tag-team action to further hide Jade’s green-ness, Keith Lee and Swerve the new tag team champions were in a comedy segment and didn’t wrestle, and the AEW interim champion Jon Moxley was also mired in tag team action, teaming with ROH Pure Champion, Wheeler Yuta. It really was astounding that a company that has so many titles in play managed to chew up four hours with not a single one of them actually defended.
And much like many have opined before me, by the time we got to the taping of Rampage, a third of the crowd had left, and my company was getting tired or bored or concerned over the time in which the show would be over, and we actually ended up leaving early. We stuck around for one more match as we were planning on leaving because it was Britt Baker, and she’s still relatively in a class of her own within the company as someone who can work, entertain and have presence, and it was a pleasure to see her live, but then we bounced immediately afterward, because most of us were dads, and we all had jobs, and staying out until midnight on a school night just didn’t seem like a very good idea.
One amusing-to-me observation I made, was that it really seemed like the event stacked all of the women’s action into Dark: Elevation, as the first three matches we saw that evening were all the women performers, working on their D show, even quality talents like Toni Storm. Owner Tony Khan got into a little warm water with accusations of his misogyny when he threw a poor-optics hissy fit over the money he invested into NWA: Empowerrr the women’s-only event, and front-loading his taping with all the women’s matches as if to get them out of the way doesn’t help the optics of his perception of women’s wrestling.
So overall, my thoughts on the AEW live experience weren’t that impressed. I think I caught a real dud clunker when the company has set a general bar that every episode of Dynamite should expect some surprises, bangers, and/or title matches. Either Atlanta isn’t as AEW rabid as the company hoped the home of WCW should have been for them, or they just got unlucky, but when I left that evening, I was kind of disappointed. Sure, the injury bug has hit AEW pretty hard, taking guys like Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole and ReDragon, Kenny Omega and other notable names off the table, but the promotion has a roster of nearly 120 talents, that someone should be able to grab a ball and run with it.
I was hoping that my friends and I would’ve experienced a killer show, to where I could gain a little better perspective of the charm and appeal of AEW, but as I walked out of the arena and to my car, I was left with no real change in opinion, and for a company that so many on the internet think is this savior of the business, I think they’re nowhere near as mistake-proof as the WWE is.
Would I go again if they’re in town and I’d have a hookup for free tickets again? Absolutely. But I definitely would temper my expectations a little bit lower, because even the fresh and supposedly mistake-proof AEW is more than capable enough of throwing up a clunker too.