Editor's Note: This preview was submitted before the removal of Fenix and Britt Baker from the card. Also, note this is an opinion-based preview.
AEW is back tonight with a pay-per-view, live in the middle of a global pandemic. Wrestling, like the rest of the world, has been a strange, strange place over the past few months. This preview won't dive into the pros and many cons of running live events while a pandemic is happening because that topic has already been exhaustively documented just about everywhere.*
With nine matches (including the pre-show), I’m tired just thinking about how many words I’m going to have to hammer into this Google doc having just started a new job this week. But don’t worry: I will never abandon you, whomever is reading this. Thanks for letting me yell into the abyss about wrestling whenever I feel like it. I certainly need it now more than ever, so let’s run through this exhausting card and try to make sense of it.
Pre-Show: Private Party (Isiah Cassidy and Marq Quen) vs. Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Trent) in a no. 1 contenders match for the AEW Tag Team Titles
I, a professional wrestling writer, forgot about the AEW tag team division. No matter how big you get, you are never too big to fail. I think most of that comes from the fact that the only team that has consistently been around during the pandemic has been Best Friends, who are great. But, the real champions haven’t been around; the champions of my heart, the Lucha Bros, haven’t been around; and the Young Bucks have been gone (and not really missed, honestly). Trent and Chuck really have been holding down an entire division for nearly two months.
Private Party have technically been around on Dark the past few weeks, but they sure haven’t been top of mind. Remember all the momentum they had from upsetting the Bucks in the tag team championship tournament? That is long gone, a cloudy memory in an already hazy brain. You can sort of remember what happened, but you can’t quite remember how it made you feel -- you just know that something noteworthy happened. I guess that’s my problem with Private Party in their current state. They don’t make you feel anything...but they will, just not now.
I’d love to see Trent and Chuck get rewarded for keeping the tag division alive. I predict Best Friends will get the win and get to have a delightfully weird program with Kenny and Hangman.
MJF (w/Wardlow) vs. Jungle Boy
If all goes according to plan, this match could be run back for a major title in a year or so. It features two of the youngest competitors in the company that have the most upside, one a charismatic babyface and a loathsome heel. It’s not a complicated story, but sometimes, it doesn’t have to be.
Once again, I ask is MJF good? Sure, this is written to be a hot take but is he good at wrestling? He’s great at creating moments and getting a reaction, which, to be fair, is like 90% of wrestling, but has he had a standout match? Honestly, what is your favorite MJF match? Let me know as this is an honest question I would love the answer to. We remember his betrayal of Cody and recognize his abhorrent actions, but what has he done in the ring that has made any kind of impression? I guess my actual question whether MJF is good or if he is just a noisy boy.
Jungle Boy falls into the rare category of wrestler that has it, the it that can be explained. Nothing about the gimmick should work as he’s not overly big, fast, or strong. It doesn't matter as it all works. He just works. His 10 minute match with Chris Jericho got a better reaction than just about anything on WWE television this year. It’s kind of wild that he and Darby Allin both have that it, and could not be more different.
MJF seems destined for more than this and he's closer to realizing his ceiling than Jungle Boy so he takes this one. And remember, Luchasaurus is still terrible.
Shawn Spears vs. Dustin Rhodes
I don’t care about this match, so I’m not writing about it. Maybe Spears wins? I certainly don’t care. Take your dog for a walk during this. Tell your parents you love them. Anything, really.
Penelope Ford vs. Kris Statlander
Statlander is cool and good at this, freakishly good for someone so early in her career. The edges that need polishing might show up Saturday more than anyone would like, but she is capable of some seriously impressive things in the ring. Ford's addition likely means Statlander goes over here.
Darby Allin vs. Colt Cabana vs. Orange Cassidy vs. Joey Janela vs. Scorpio Sky vs. Kip Sabian vs. Frankie Kazarian vs. Luchasaurus vs. TBD in a Casino Ladder Match for a future AEW World title shot
AEW makes their cards way too long and I already write too many words as it is, so let’s keep this short. Here is a super official power ranking of everyone in the match:
504. Luchasaurus: I’d rather watch an actual fossil try to wrestle
8. Colt Cabana: LOL
7. Joey Janela
6. Kip Sabian: lol
5. Francis Kaz: whatever
4. Scorpio Sky: sure
3. Orange Cassidy: please yes
1. Darby Allin: the real king of the goths* (I originally had Fenix as no. 1 before he was pulled)
The unnamed entrant is now predicted to win.
AEW Women's Champion Nyla Rose vs. Hikaru Shida
Do we actually know anything about Shida? Does she have any definable characteristics as a wrestler? What’s the hook? What’s the gimmick? The talent isn’t in doubt as she can absolutely work, but there’s something missing that makes it hard to connect with her. I always enjoy her matches, but they all blur together. It’s only 5% that’s missing, but that 5% boldly stands out.
To me, this is more of an AEW issue than a Shida issue. They are still really focusing on one or two women at a time. Right now, Rose and Baker are getting the shine, but did we really need the lame Spears news segment on Dynamite? How many gimmicks does he get to try at the expense of others? Couldn’t we get more character development for Shida or Big Swole or Statlander instead of him?
Rose gets her character. The Native Beast nickname is cool and the handlicking is weird but cool. This is the right way to do things with her. She’s great in promos and backstage segments, and does things in the ring that no other females can. She's a good champion that should not be losing the belt here. Let her get into a real feud with an actual build before she loses it.
I talk about the builds a fair amount in these previews because there is a clear distinction between those that have a build, the feuds that don’t, and my level of interest in them. A Venn diagram of that would be two circles pretty much side by side. Rose retains here.
TNT Championship finals: Cody (w/Arn Anderson) vs. Lance Archer (w/Jake Roberts)
It's another AEW PPV and another Cody match I care about more than I should. The builds to his matches are so thoughtful and have so many layers that I can't help but care. Look at the build to this: Archer showed up and wanted a match with Cody. Cody said that’s not how it works but that’s exactly how it works! That’s how it always works! Brodie Lee just showed up and already has a championship match! If Cody was really interested in Archer, there would have been no hoops to jump through.
All of this goes to say Cody is the bad guy. MJF has been telling us that for months and it’s actually true. Cody is, both in kayfabe and reality, an Executive Vice President of AEW. He makes the matches, he books the card, and decided not to give Archer what he wanted. He decided not to throw in the towel for his brother against Archer when he was bloodied and broken. Maybe he really was keeping MJF under his thumb all along.
AEW has done a lot of things in its short existence, but the one thing I can trust them to do is pay this off or at least make us think about the true direction that Cody’s compass is pointing.
Archer is the goods though -- a dude who danced just outside the biggest spotlights for a long time is very deserving of one. He should get that here. Roberts provides him with validation from those who might not be aware, and enhances his mystique to those who are familiar. I’m not really sure what Anderson is doing though. "Head Coach of The Nightmare Family" is one of the cringiest things in all of wrestling. Archer wins here, and everybody, most assuredly, will die.
Stadium Stampede: Matt Hardy and The Elite (Tag Team Champions Hangman Page and Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) vs. The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Jack Swagger, Sammy Guevara, Ortiz, and Santana)
I have no idea what this is going to be, but it’s going to be fun. Here are some things I’m excited about:
- Chris Jericho fighting at least one drone.
- Hangman Page’s perfect weirdness making a return
- Wrestling in an actual empty football stadium
- Matt Hardy with total creative freedom and a budget
- Kenny Omega wearing knee pads over weird jeans. Why does our man Ken look so strange in anything but wrestling gear?
- The Jacksonville Jaguar (Jaxson de Ville if you're nasty) getting involved
Here are some things I’m not excited about:
- The Young Bucks coming back and being extremely on their bullsh*t
As you can see, there isn’t that much to hate on in this match. It will mean nothing and will be a whole bunch of fun. I joked about the Bucks coming back and being in full Young Bucks mode right away, but there truly isn’t a team more suited for a match like this. Maybe they’ll even bust out a Meltzer Driver off the goalpost or something.
I hope this isn’t meant as a replacement for the cancelled Blood and Guts match. I hope that they use Saturday to formally restart the full Elite vs. Inner Circle angle that has been in stasis since March. Who knows: maybe they can pay it off in the fall or the winter and maybe they’ll never pay it off because we all just exist in our homes for the next 18 months. This is the first big faction feud in AEW and it deserves time to heat back up.
Normally, this is the type of match the heels win, but since the Bucks and Hangman are making fairly triumphant returns, The Elite take this one.
AEW Champion Jon Moxley vs. Brodie Lee
The fruit could not be hanging any lower, but my god, Jim Ross on commentary is atrocious now. It’s more glaring after Jericho’s outrageously good performances filling in. Going from Jericho to the old pervert version of JR is such a downgrade that I can’t even find an apt comparison for it. The recent line that made me think of this when he said he "hasn’t looked forward to a main event like this in a long time." My eyes just about rolled out of my head when I heard that. This isn’t even the best match on this card, let alone a can’t miss main event.
This match feels hollow because there was no real build. The Undertaker has been making the podcast rounds this week and constantly talks about how no matter how good a match is, the story and the build are what makes it. This just doesn’t have that, especially compared to the build to Jericho vs. Moxley. That was given time to simmer and time to build while this all kind of happened within a few weeks. Lee just decided he wanted the belt and he took it. Mox is down to fight anyone, so here we are. Maybe if this had more time, this would be worth more than one paragraph of exposition.
Of all the matches on the card, this has the most certain outcome. Mox is still flaming hot, close to untouchable as it gets, and wins a match that turns out to be far better than the build.
Mike DellaCamera is tired of his couch. Get in touch here.
*An additional thought now that the preview is done as it is worth discussing how the two major wrestling companies are handling this staggering situation, and how one has done so much more than the other.
While WWE acts as if their audience is made up of people who only watch wrestling and nothing else, AEW treats them like, you know, human beings. By saying, "Yes, this is an unprecedented time in human history and we are just figuring it out", they elevate the audience to the same level of humanity. People are going through a shared experience, one that, no matter how terrible, can bring us closer together. We relate, we empathize. The experiences can resonate more deeply.
That's why AEW has been relatively successful in this time compared to WWE. Their simple act of showing humanity does that. It makes the escape they are trying to provide us with actually succeed, even in small doses. That’s really all we can ask at this point. This is actually an event I’m looking forward to, which is the first time I’ve said that in a long time. In a time when most of us vacillate between being numb from feeling nothing to being numb from feeling everything. I’m not asking anyone to forget anything or marginalizing the suffering of so many, but a brief, mindless, respite from that can just be nice.
Enjoy the show.