Images: Jeremy Peeples
The first night of the Wednesday night wrestling wars is in the books and the DC market played host to history having the first episode of AEW Dynamite.
The Capital One Arena used to be the Verizon Center and in the WCW days, it was the MCI Center and became the home base for WCW's Starrcade events. Since then, there haven't been many major shows here, makining the Dynamite debut probably the biggest wrestling event held at the building since the final Starrcade.
The street in front of the building was completely blocked off on each side by police cars, making it seem like an even bigger deal. Outside the building before the show, it was a sea of humanity in black t-shirts with lines that snaked around the building with few exceptions.
One big exception was a man named Marcus dressed in Randy Savage's WCW debut attire that Jay Lethal paid homage to at All In. I had a chance to talk to him and he (seen below) not only did a dead-on Macho Man impression, but was a really chill dude. I was amazed in watching the show back on TV that he wasn't shown on-camera. Justin Roberts was the emcee and one of the few people who could be heard by the crowd throughout the evening. While he and Chris Jericho could be heard, the Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes interview and the Lucha Bros promo/brawl early in the broadcast, the live audience didn't heard anything. Thankfully for the latter, brawling is a universal language.
Roberts talked about dark matches after the show and the spacing out of them was a bit odd. There was one pre-show dark match with CIMA taking on Darby Allin and Allin winning with the coffin drop. Allin was over huge and it was cool to just see CIMA live. Having one pre-show match and three post-show matches is something I hope they don't do again. Having an even split of two before and two after the show is probably best because folks were either leaving or pretty tired for the post-show matches.
As an overall value, they provided far more for the money than I was expecting since none of the lineu-ps were announced beforehand. Going in, I bought my ticket not expecting to see the Lucha Bros. live, and not only got to see them, but also saw Private Party face off with them a bitt which is going to be a hot program one day. Live, Private Party is simply incredible and while they have rough edges, as an act, they're perfect for the younger demo that AEW is chasing.
The sheer amount of talent on the show was unreal and while the eight-man tag with the Lucha Bros and Evans/Angelico vs. Best Friends and Private Party was short, everyone had a chance to shine. The women's tag match between Bea Priestley and Penelope Ford facing Allie and Britt Baker was an iffy choice in theory that worked out in execution. Allie's ability to play a great face in peril while doing a fiery comeback makes her great to watch live as you just naturally get into the story of her matches. Priestley was a good opponent for her in that regard since she's such a stiff worker. Britt winning with what was basically PAC's finish earlier was a bit odd, but did help in the sense that it showed the move is a killer no matter who does it.
The show-closing Jurassic Express vs. SCU match reaffirmed something from when I saw SCU live at the ROH Fairfax tapings last year: they are the absolute best act in wrestling that doesn't need to be in any kind of title hunt to provide value on the card. Sky and Kaz fly around well and Daniels is a perfect base for everyone in this match. He worked great selling for Stunt as the least physically-imposing member of the team, and both Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus were over huge.
Luchasaurus was getting huge reactions for all of his athletic stuff and it is impressive to see this giant of a man who in a prior generation would just be doing tree slams and is instead doing flying kicks, spinning hook kicks, and standing moonsaults with ease. Thank god the Lucha Underground crowd chanted "Luchasaurus" at him or else he might have never had this run, but he and Jungle Boy have great chemistry and worked nicely with this veteran team. It's the kind of match that allows everyone to look good and with SCU being a glue team that can work with anyone, giving them a win here helps them out and doesn't really hurt the Jurassic Express.
Merch lines were at least three rows deep before the show and remained pretty long after the show and that's what impressed me the most. ROH had a lot of this same roster of core star power for the Fairfax tapings and there wasn't even a merch setup after the show. Here, they not only had things set up, but had plenty of merch available and should have made a killing. In the section I was in, people would leave during promo portions that couldn't be heard and come back with a bag or two of new merch and just put it in chairs nearby that were empty.
The buzz for the show was something you could feel throughout the event and having Cody start the TV show off was a perfect move. He was the singles star that people wanted to see the most and got a massive reaction. He ate up the cheers and was a perfect babyface. There's something that is just unlocked with him when he's got the blonde hair that just makes him click that doesn't work when he's a brunette. I think it's because his facial expressions shine more with the blonde than the darker hair and the blonde blends with his face better. He just gets the crowd on their feet doing anything and the attack on him by Jericho with the AEW belt let him be a great sypathetic babyface.
One thing that was made clear is that AEW needs to get replica belts out there ASAP because bootleg belts are already out there via Ebay and are shockingly good. There's a market for them and it's an area that can be quite profitable especially amongst the company's fanbase where money just isn't an object at all when it comes to supporitng the product. In my section, people talked about doing bulk orders of merch on PWTees and using things like Paypal Credit to pay for them. It's a fanbase that is willing to go into debt if need be to show their dedication.
The crowd was electric throughout much of the night and ticket resellers absolutely lost their asses. I originally had an obstructed-view seat for $30 that was a $20 seat normally. So, for $10 more than face value, I was at least able to get a ticket for the show. However, with bad vision, that just wasn't going to work so I grabbed another ticket on the day of and was amazed to see what you could get for so little. For only $40, I was able to get a ticket valued at $90 and be in a perfect spot to shoot photos of just about anything.
The company getting a deal on TNT tied it into history right away thanks to the Turner-run history going back over 30 years and instantly gave them a sense of credibility. TNT definitely poured some good money into the production too. Pyro was used and it looked great. TNA used pyro before, but never to this degree for its biggest shows. It was also used wisely as you didn't have random acts getting it, but only the biggest stars so it still seemed special.
As a live outing, AEW Dynamite was something I will never forget and it showed off just how much fun wrestling is in person. Acts like PAC shined so brightly because they worked for the crowd and in his case, he did so many little things to piss the fans off that it led to his match playing a bit flat on TV. Him just teasing a second rope taunt before the match got a reaction as did all the stalling to get in the ring. Riho vs. Nyla also played better live than it did on TV although even in the crowd, people were wondering why she was grabbing a chair if it was no DQ and it was hard to see her big bump live unless you were facing that section directly.
One great thing about the TV setup is that there were screens all over the place to see the action. You could have a cheap seat in the upper bowl and watch the ceiling-mounted screens or just be in a lower bowl and watch the two outer screens for backstage stuff. The Moxley/Omega brawl did make the actual main event of the show harder to watch and definitely hurt it.
Otherwise, the first episode of Dynamite was a solid foundation for the future and a satisfying night of action live. There's room for improvement when it comes to audio especially, but they are super-serving their fanbase and that's something I wasn't sure would continue with that mentality going from The Elite doing it to an entire company being framed around it.