Bud Matt & More | Best of the Rest #11

At long last, Buddy Matthews Week is here. With three ‘televised’ matches across three days, ‘The Australian Nightmare’ has well and truly arrived, appearing across multiple territories in just one week. Two of those three matches are included in this project, finally explaining why I originally opted to do this anyway. Elsewhere, NWA has their Crockett Cup build to complete and IMPACT Wrestling is headed towards another show I’m sure, probably a couple of them honestly.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Buddy Matthews vs. Ren Narita – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/19/22

One of the best NJPW Strong bouts in recent memory, this exceeded my already lofty expectations. Buddy Matthews is my focus here and usually is, but Ren Narita had a standout showing, confirming what most already believed regarding his potential. This was a simple story told expertly, with the domineering veteran becoming increasingly frustrated at his younger foe’s unwavering confidence. In the end, Matthews closed the show with spite, scoring an emphatic win but elevating Narita in the process.

2. TJP vs. Buddy Matthews – MLW Fusion 3/17/22

Though overly long and stretched to its limits in terms of content, this was just so well wrestled that I can’t have it fall any lower. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why this could bore some but as one of the twelve people invested in babyface Buddy, I was engrossed even throughout the lulls. Not a particularly dynamic or interesting match, but just rock solid pro wrestling, with the kind of pacing and selling that pops me and me only. Also, Bud Matt.

3. The Motor City Machine Guns vs. BULLET Club – IMPACT Wrestling 3/17/22

While slightly hurt by a bizarre, likely botched finish, this was a tremendous television opener and delivered on the relative hype. Sabin and Shelley are always a delight together and that never changes, but they were paired with compelling dance partners on IMPACT. Chris Bey and Jay White have a really fun chemistry within BULLET Club and were very good here, combining with the tag team legends for an exciting tag team tilt.

4. Chris Bey vs. Blake Christian – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/19/22

Moves, moves and more moves, this was nothing if not fun. Warts and all, these two worked so hard that I needed to get them on here somehow, swinging for the fences throughout and really thrilling the live LA crowd. Bey is the more charismatic half of this match but I must say, Christian has been awful prolific as of late. He’s not only everywhere but he’s working with a real motivation also, just desperate to steal every show he’s on.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. All Access: Hammerstone – MLW Fusion 3/17/22

One of the oldest plays in the wrestling playbook, I love stuff like this. Here, MLW took Alexander Hammerstone, their babyface champion, and simply told his story. Along the way, they added depth to his on-screen persona, humanising the hulking ace and giving the audience different reasons to root for him. I will say that unfortunately, I thought this was slightly out of place considering last week’s angle but nonetheless, I love the simplicity and thought that Hammerstone came across wonderfully.

2. Matt Cardona vs. Nick Aldis Head-to-Head Promo – NWA PowerrrSurge 3/15/22

I know that Nick Aldis can be incredibly divisive online, but I really liked him here. Adding a more straightforward edge to proceedings, he was a nice contrast with the more theatrical NWA World’s Champion. Don’t get me wrong, Matt Cardona was solid here also, but Aldis was the driving force in my view. Folks can laugh, but Aldis’ sheer sincerity when talking about this brand’s history is palpable, and it’s perfectly positioned in this particular programme.

3. Richard Holliday Pre-Tape Promo – MLW Fusion 3/17/22

Standing over Alexander Hammerstone’s blood, Richard Holliday cut a strong heel promo to kick off MLW Fusion. Holliday is trying admirably to add a sadistic edge to his character and thus far, I’d say the results have been mixed. Even still, it’s well worth trying, especially as Holliday’s familiar arrogance remains unmoved. This programme has been impressive so far, simple pro wrestling storytelling done well, with Holliday proving his worth as the promotion’s potential top heel.

4. Josh Alexander Backstage Interview – IMPACT Wrestling 3/17/22

Nothing much here, but it was a slim week in terms of strong segments, so here it is I guess. Nonetheless, I always enjoy Josh Alexander’s conviction in these promos, bringing that steady delivery each and every week. Alexander isn’t playing a character or trying anything extravagant, he’s just being a badass pro wrestler and with that, comes an authentic charisma and confidence.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Chris Bey

Shining bright in two of the week’s top four matches, Chris Bey was a lock for the top spot. Bey’s talent is and has been obvious, but he showed encouraging range here, leaning in two different directions for each match. The more traditional bumping heel on IMPACT, Bey spread his wings on Strong, matching Blake Christian’s acrobatics and impressing once again. I wish these showings meant more in terms of Bey’s overall position on the card but even still, he never fails to catch my eye.

2. Ren Narita

Producing a polished, mature performance against Buddy Matthews, Ren Narita further cemented an already widespread belief on Strong. Many have handpicked Narita as a future star and showings like this make that awful understandable, bringing such wonderful fire and physicality to each outing. That was especially present here, matching Matthews’ familiar intensity and producing one of my favourite NJPW Strong bouts thus far.

3. Nick Aldis

This is maybe a strange selection, but I’ve enjoyed Nick Aldis in this brief programme with Matt Cardona. Honestly, I liked much of his work opposite Thom Latimer too, so maybe I’m just a stan now or whatever. Seriously though, Aldis takes things seriously and does have a presence, so while he may not need another 1000 days as NWA World’s Champion, he clearly does have a role to play on Powerrr.

4. Blake Christian

More of the same from Blake Christian honestly, I just thought I’d feature him while I can, as I sense that before long, he’ll be ineligible for this category. Christian’s sheer output has been spectacular since returning to the indies, with this Strong match just one example of the style that’s earning him such high praise.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

Back in the top form that we’ve come to expect, this was one of the year’s best episodes of NJPW Strong. Featuring an immense main event with AEW star Buddy Matthews, Strong wasn’t just a one match show either, actually going three for three in that regard. The opening trios bout was entertaining from start to finish, with Blake Christian and Chris Bey then doing every move imaginable, only raising that bar along the way. An absolute hit, from first bell to last.

2. IMPACT Wrestling

Bookended by strong action to open and close, this was a solid outing for IMPACT Wrestling. The main event, Josh Alexander vs. Matt Taven, was unlucky to miss out in the best match category and the opening tag tilt obviously delivered. Unfortunately, there were some lulls in the middle, which is usually the case with this product. In this particular case though, they kept things moving and nothing truly overstayed its welcome, so I think it’s a worthy 2-seed.

3. MLW Fusion

Though I loved the main event, I’m aware of its limitations from a ‘television’ perspective and unfortunately, there wasn’t much else here to enjoy. That’s not fair, as I clearly liked two of the programme’s promo segments but even still, this product struggles far more with its pacing than you’d expect. That runtime should be a feature, not a flaw. Instead, I’m often checking how long is left and to me, that suggests a lack of quality control that with only an hour to fill, is particularly frustrating.

4. NWA PowerrrSurge

No need to explain this really, as PowerrrSurge wasn’t an actual show. I mean, it had some matches but ultimately, was a way to steal a week before the PPV. That’s fine, it’s what PowerrrSurge is supposed to be I guess? Honestly though, I can’t be too spiteful as I was glad to see them do some kind of PPV build at all, as I’m used to them just sort of turning up and throwing some match graphics out there. Low bar I suppose, but at least I enjoyed the main event segment.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 42 Points
  2. Chris Bey – 21 Points
  3. Matt Cardona – 20 Points
  4. JONAH – 19 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 111 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 95 Points
  3. MLW Fusion – 70 Points
  4. NWA Powerrr – 54 Points

Actual Good Wrestling, From Everyone | Best of the Rest #10

You know, I usually come up with a snappy title for these. I’ll take a hit or miss of the week, sprinkle some alliteration and call it a day. Well, that wasn’t possible this week as somehow, all four wrestling shows were good. I know, I know, it startled me too. In fact, I’m so startled by this competence that I forgot to write this intro as though I haven’t watched the shows yet. Indeed, shook to my core by some actual good wrestling. Seriously though, this was fun, let’s get to it!

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. World Heavyweight Title: Alexander Hammerstone (c) vs. Davey Richards – MLW Fusion 3/10/22

My favourite of three genuinely excellent television main events, this was MLW’s best Heavyweight Title bout in some time. Thus far, Alexander Hammerstone’s reign has been very much hamstrung by circumstance, matched with limited opposition and/or in front of uninterested fans. Here though, even if for only that twenty minutes or so, this was actual major league wrestling. With Davey Richards as his challenger, Hammerstone turned in a career-best performance, taking the genuinely invested audience on a ride and giving Fusion its strongest match in many, many months.

2. Eddie Edwards vs. Rich Swann – IMPACT Wrestling 3/10/22

This was shockingly good, honestly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of what both guys remain capable of but in this setting, I expected something more solid than borderline spectacular. The physicality here was immense, with both guys bringing their A-game in a lengthy television main event. Even with the extended run-time though, these two pushed an incredible pace, especially considering how deep they are in their respective careers. This woke the live crowd up and had a real spirit to it, excellent work from both Eddie Edwards and Rich Swann.

3. Jay White vs. SW3RVE – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/12/22

On any other week, this would feel like a lock for the top spot but somehow, here it is as my 3-seed. Honestly, I could change my mind on another rewatch but there was a lot of good wrestling this week, so you get what you get, etc. Jay White is on fire right now and this match continued that trend, with SW3RVE’s sheer charisma and presence providing the perfect opposition. Upon thought, this is honestly about as big a match as Strong can reasonably host and it certainly delivered. Ideally, we’ll even get a sequel eventually.

4. I Quit Match: Nick Aldis vs. Thom Latimer – NWA Powerrr 3/8/22

While a level below the three bouts listed above, this was genuinely good and even had some solid competition for the final spot. I remember being torn on this pair’s prior PPV match, as they themselves seemed torn between potential stories to tell. Here, that problem was erased, as the stipulation forced Nick Aldis and Thom Latimer into a hateful, vicious brawl. They pulled it off in my view, even showing some creativity while producing a gif-worthy highlight or two. The finish will be divisive but like the match itself, it worked for me.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. BULLET Club – Motor City Machine Guns Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 3/10/22

Generally speaking, I don’t usually enjoy these extended live promo battles but incredibly, this week’s IMPACT went two for two on that front. This particular segment featured one exchange that even went wrestling viral, but that wasn’t the only hit here. Instead, this was kicked off by a strong Good Brothers promo, reacting to their title loss with an overdue edge. Things then transitioned to that aforementioned exchange, as Jay White and Alex Shelley had an awesome back and forth, setting the stage for an enticing tag match.

2. Josh Alexander In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 3/10/22

There were other people in this segment but honestly, they were simply there to feed Josh Alexander’s hot hand. That rules to be clear, as they made their top babyface look good here, actually. It’s been fun to watch Alexander steadily fill this role honestly, growing in confidence with each in-ring promo and by this point, becoming a consistently good talker. This was just the latest example of exactly that, as Alexander commanded the crowd with ease.

3. Nick Aldis Interrupts Matt Cardona’s Post-Match Promo – NWA Powerrr 3/8/22

The above title aside, this segment’s strongest portion was actually Matt Cardona’s solo effort, as he quite openly gave his own take on Shane Douglas’ famed NWA Title win victory lap. Ideally, you’d save Nick Aldis’ interruption for a separate segment but if you’re going to do it, at least do it well and thankfully, they managed that quite comfortably here. Fair or not, Aldis certainly has his critics but his presence and promo were unsurprisingly up to the task in this setting, neatly setting up his title shot.

4. Richard Holliday Attacks Alexander Hammerstone – MLW Fusion 3/10/22

After his impressive title defence against Davey Richards, Alexander Hammerstone’s night wasn’t yet complete, then advancing his programme with Richard Holliday. Sitting at ringside for the television main event, Holliday swiftly took advantage of the situation, covering his white suit in Hammerstone’s blood. There’s been a clear effort to add an edge to Holliday’s game and with segments like this, he’s been positioned to succeed in that regard. This was simple, old school pro wrestling done well, an effective way of heating things up as Holliday is quite visibly relishing this opportunity.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Jay White

With another excellent in-ring showing alongside his latest triumph on the microphone, Jay White’s hot streak only continued this week. White’s sheer visibility helps of course, but his performances are so consistently good that it’s hard to keep him off these lists. Clearly, circumstance is the only thing making White such a regular on these shows but as one of the world’s most complete wrestlers, he’ll be featured as long as things remain this way.

2. Alexander Hammerstone

This was a big week for Alexander Hammerstone. More specifically, this was a vital week for his MLW World Heavyweight Title reign, as Hammerstone produced his first truly impressive title defence, delivering in a major way opposite Davey Richards. Naturally, the credit will probably go in the other direction but Hammerstone was genuinely good here, matching his challenger’s performance and proving his worth as MLW’s centrepiece.

3. Davey Richards

The less surprising half of MLW’s captivating World Heavyweight Title tilt, Davey Richards still deserves immense credit for his part in the Fusion main event. Richards has been the promotion’s most reliable performer since arriving in the alleged ‘major leagues,’ bringing a believability that’s frankly absent elsewhere. These major matches are actually treated as such, returning MLW to in theory at least, its sports-based roots.

4. Rich Swann

Since losing the IMPACT World Title almost a year ago, Rich Swann has quietly returned to a mostly midcard role. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s hard to argue, as Swann has been just another babyface after six months as world champion. With this match against Eddie Edwards though, Swann made a real statement, performing at a level that simply demands better from creative. Swann remains one of this promotion’s finest performers, and this match reiterated exactly that.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling

If IMPACT had continued in its recent form, they’d have come in dead last this week. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case though, as IMPACT Wrestling hosted two standout talking segments as well as one of the week’s best matches. Most importantly though, there was hardly anything on this show that I deemed actually bad, not allowing a lack of quality control to lower this episode’s ceiling. On a stacked week, IMPACT’s depth gives them the impressive win.

2. NWA Powerrr

As good as Powerrr can be while also featuring a Tyrus match, this was a mostly worthwhile hour of wrestling television. Nick Aldis’ brawl with Thom Latimer delivered and honestly, so did Matt Cardona’s title win over Trevor Murdoch. The latter missed out on a best match ranking but was enjoyable nonetheless, followed by a strong post-match segment. For this roster, Powerrr was pretty much stacked and best of all, the two important matches exceeded my expectations, too.

3. NJPW Strong

Though I enjoyed Hikuleo’s surprisingly back and forth opener with Kevin Knight, this was basically a one-match show. That’s fine and on most weeks, would be enough as the main event was borderline excellent. For me though, it wasn’t quite good enough to overcome this show’s relatively thin undercard, which hurt it on such an unusually stacked week. Either way, SW3RVE vs. Jay White was very much worth your time and this placement speaks more to the competitors than Strong itself.

4. MLW Fusion

This all feels terribly unfair, as this week’s Fusion probably featured the promotion’s best match in this project so far. Unfortunately, that closing portion was about all it had to offer me, as I just didn’t enjoy much else. 5150’s pre-tape aside, this episode was without depth, again hosting a match or two that I could’ve done without. The opening triple threat never quite clicked and nZo is nZo, so you get what you get, I suppose.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 40 Points
  2. JONAH – 19 Points
  3. Matt Cardona – 17 Points
  4. Steve Maclin – 16 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 105 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 86 Points
  3. MLW Fusion – 59 Points
  4. NWA Powerrr – 50 Points

Powerrr Prevails, Daniels Delivers | Best of the Rest #8 & #9

Last Monday, I was taken out of the game slightly, streaming for 12 hours as we raised $2000 for Voices of Children. As a result, I opted to delay the eighth Best of the Rest, pairing it with the following week for a double-header of sorts. With that in mind, we now have a lot to catch up on, as NWA gets a new set of tapings under their belt while New Japan’s New Beginning tour concludes, then kicking off their Rivals event. Elsewhere, IMPACT is headed to Sacrifice and MLW has an alleged superfight on the way, so let’s get started.

Best of the Rest #8

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Colby Corino vs. Rhett Titus – NWA Powerrr 2/22/22

Though not always silky smooth, this was the kind of pro wrestling match that quite frankly, has become far too infrequent on NWA Powerrr. Competitive and spirited from start to finish, Colby Corino and Rhett Titus worked harder than the norm, producing a strong television bout. Corino has really impressed me as of late, both on NWA and elsewhere, and he was opposite a real pro here, combining impressively with Titus. Just good pro wrestling, exciting action but yet still totally at home in this setting, imagine that!

2. Openweight Title: Tom Lawlor (c) vs. Taylor Rust – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/26/22

The first NJPW STRONG Openweight Title match of this process so far, Tom Lawlor and Taylor Rust had a solid television main event. If I was being critical, I’d say that the content wasn’t quite up to this somewhat bloated run-time but they got their in the end and produced a worthy title tilt. Lawlor certainly doesn’t feel like this programme’s centrepiece but in this title match at least, he delivered when necessary.

3. Digital Media Title: Matt Cardona (c) vs. Jordynne Grace – IMPACT Wrestling 2/24/22

Genuinely fun and action-packed, this was the ideal television plunder match, especially considering the circumstances. This whole programme has hit honestly, with Matt Cardona spotlighting Jordynne Grace at every time. Though she dropped the title in this feud, Grace leaves it feeling like an even bigger deal than she entered, often dominating Cardona and always fighting with that admirable babyface fire. Really good stuff and a reminder of what’s possible with some commitment and creativity.

4. Chelsea Green vs. Kenzie Paige – NWA Powerrr 2/22/22

This is maybe the best in-ring performance that I’ve ever seen from Chelsea Green, packed with energy and polish. She felt like a star in this setting, neatly guiding Kenzie Paige to a really enjoyable television match. Paige was up to the task too of course, maximising the spotlight that Green offered and making a real statement opposite such a familiar face. Green’s work hasn’t gone without criticism but with showings like this, she has genuine value to brands such as this.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Steve Maclin Pre-Tape Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/24/22

Reacting to Eddie Edwards’ heel turn, Steve Maclin continued his unexpected babyface turn in encouraging fashion here. This has actually been really well-booked, giving a logical reason for Maclin to switch sides, positioning him in a role that he can easily maximise. Maclin can talk too, which helps, extending his ceiling with promos like this.

2. Eddie Edwards In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/24/22

I don’t think anyone would accuse Eddie Edwards of being Eddie Kingston on the microphone, regardless of what Chris Jericho says. With that being said, Edwards did a good job here, assisted by some solid content along the way. Explaining his heel turn from the weekend prior, Edwards paired a decent delivery with understandable complaints, adding some heat to this whole angle.

3. Jacob Fatu vs. Mads Krugger Pre and Post-Match Brawls – MLW Fusion 2/24/22

The match itself was too short to be anything much but before and after the bell rang, this was a blast. Jacob Fatu and Mads Krugger brawled through the crowd and did some insane stuff in the process, concluding things with a spectacular dive from the former champion. Fatu’s presence really stands out on this show and for all his limitations, Krugger tried his best to match that striking intensity.

4. BULLET CLUB Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/24/22

Fresh off a genuinely surprising switch at No Surrender, BULLET CLUB entered a new era on IMPACT Wrestling. That new era of course includes some familiar faces, with Gallows and Anderson now alongside Jay White and Chris Bey. With White leading the way, these four were present for a neat group promo, nothing crazy but even still, they neatly set the table for the brawl that followed.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Colby Corino

I don’t want to understate Rhett Titus’ performance on Powerrr, as he always delivers once the bell rings. With that being said, this was all about Colby Corino in my mind, who was just fabulous as the match’s antagonist. Corino’s scrappy style is really at home in this setting and I mean that as a compliment, he needs to be a go-to guy when Powerrr needs some legitimately good wrestling. The star of NWA’s first match category leader, Corino is a worthy week winner.

2. Jordynne Grace

Though it’d be easy to look elsewhere with so many fresh faces, Jordynne Grace’s value to IMPACT Wrestling can’t be overstated. Grace has been immense against Matt Cardona, the energy and power behind some of the NWA Champion’s most enjoyable matches in fact. Whether it’s in this role or back as the women’s division’s top babyface, Grace is one of IMPACT’s most consistent, reliable acts.

3. Chelsea Green

Appearing on two of our weekly programmes regularly, Chelsea Green hasn’t been a constant in this particular format, especially inside the ropes. That’s not to say that Green is bad, just somewhat uninteresting at times. That wasn’t the case against Kenzie Paige though, as Green really shined and led her less experienced opponent to an exciting television tilt. Hopefully this isn’t an outlier and instead, will be more of the norm moving forward.

4. Eddie Edwards

Tasked with following up on his frankly overdue heel turn, Eddie Edwards exceeded my expectations. Closing an episode of IMPACT with his in-ring promo, Edwards delivered on the microphone and kept this thing moving forward. The Honor No More angle needed a jolt and in theory, Edwards can provide exactly that. Clearly, it’s too early to say for sure but through one week, Edwards was thankfully up to the task.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NWA Powerrr

Well, who saw this coming? NWA Powerrr is back I guess, whatever that means. Seriously though, this new set of tapings got underway in style, taking the refreshing atmosphere and actually not immediately killing it. Instead, they gave the people something to enjoy, including two strong television bouts and barely a miss along the way. Inside the ropes, this is about as good as this programme has ever been honestly which granted, is telling in its own right but even still, thumbs up.

2. IMPACT Wrestling

Though without much of note from a bell to bell perspective, I thought that IMPACT produced a solid television show. This episode had multiple segments that I enjoyed and alongside Cardona’s plunder title defence against Grace, that was enough to secure it the 2-seed. Must say, I’d love to see this product confined to the run-time of its competitors, as I think some quality control could improve this programme immensely. The pieces are there, they just need to be more picky.

3. NJPW Strong

While Strong usually goes three for three in terms of matches, I only really enjoyed the main event this week. Don’t get me wrong, Karl Fredericks – ETHAN HD and El Phantasmo – Matt Rehwoldt were far from bad, they just didn’t do much for me unfortunately. Combine that with a main event that was good but not an absolute homerun and you have the weakest Strong in recent memory. Again, not bad, just somewhat bland and lacking the quality that I’ve personally come to expect.

4. MLW Fusion

One step forward, and two steps back. Indeed, after a strong edition of Fusion that suddenly felt full of life, the follow-up was a swift return to the disappointing norm. With just two matches, Fusion lacked anything of real substance on that front and unfortunately, only had extended video packages to offer elsewhere. It just wasn’t good television, and I say that as someone that limitations and all, still thoroughly enjoyed Jacob Fatu’s presence. Disappointing outing, a real shame.

Best of the Rest #9

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Christopher Daniels vs. Karl Fredericks – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/5/22

On a week without much of note inside the ropes, leave it to Christopher Daniels to show the kids how it’s done. Continuing his recent return to form, Daniels looked great on strong, combining seamlessly with late-notice opponent Karl Fredericks. This wasn’t Strong’s main event but it comfortably stole the episode, with that familiar Daniels polish shining through once again. Fredericks was good here also, even if he’s still finding the other puzzle pieces beyond his physicality.

2. Bad Dude Tito & JONAH vs. FinJuice – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/5/22

Though not quite as compelling as Christopher Daniels’ prior effort, Strong’s main event still very much delivered. I must say, Bad Dude Tito and JONAH have really connected as a team here. It’s early days obviously and they’re working with a polished team but even still, I’ve been really impressed by their chemistry and cohesion. This was nicely done, just good tag team wrestling and armed with a surprise finish too, as Shane Haste emerged to help the bruising antagonists win.

3. Steve Maclin vs. Eddie Edwards – IMPACT Wrestling 3/3/22

This wasn’t anything much, hamstrung by a short run-time and throwaway finish but yet, I thought the work here was just excellent. Two of IMPACT’s most reliable in-ring performers, battling away with a raw intensity that’s too often missing from this programme’s more bloated bouts. I’ve loved just about  everything Maclin has done in IMPACT and for all his prior struggles as a character, Edwards always brings it once the bell rings. More of these two together please, ideally with some time and better yet, an actual finish too.

4. World Middleweight Title: Myron Reed vs. Bandido vs. Matt Cross vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri (c) – MLW Fusion 3/3/22

The modern multi-man match that you’ve come to expect, but one well-executed enough to comfortably earn a spot here. Bandido was a nice addition to increase the star-power, relatively speaking of course and the right guy won too, with Myron Reed regaining his MLW World Middleweight Title. Matt Cross and Yoshihiro Tajiri were solid veteran glue guys also, in their own contrasting fashion anyway, with the latter’s brief, unexpected title reign coming to a swift end.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. JONAH Flattens Brogan Finlay – NJPW Strong: Rivals 3/5/22

I adored this, old school pro wrestling. With Shane Haste by their side, JONAH and Bad Dude Tito were continuing their assault on FinJuice when suddenly, young Brogan Finlay arrived. Attempting to make the save, Finlay was not even an hour removed from his earlier loss and within seconds, JONAH only saw an opportunity in his presence. While Tito and Haste forced his older brother to watch, JONAH flattened Brogan Finlay, with the announcers putting it over perfectly in the process.

2. Guerrillas of Destiny Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 3/3/22

Though it can be divisive at times, Tama Tonga’s delivery still stands out and in this context, it really worked for me too. Responding to Jay White’s betrayal, Tonga paired pain with pressure, threatening all involved and setting the stage for this feud that’s placement still remains somewhat unclear. Tanga Loa’s confidence has been striking in this particular run also, very much belonging alongside his fiery brother.

3. 5150 Pre-Tape Promo – MLW Fusion 3/3/22

I’ve been consistent on these because honestly, they’ve been consistent too. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nothing ground-breaking in terms of concept or format, but Rivera’s charisma packs a genuine punch. The content usually isn’t much either, but it’s trash talk done well and in pro wrestling, there’s always a place for that. This isn’t a stacked tag division by any means but in 5150, they at least have worthwhile champions.

4. Gnarls Garvin & Budd Heavy Vignette – MLW Fusion 3/3/22

These are dumb and probably not what you’d call “funny” but once again, they have some life and personality so here they are, wandering into the 4-seed.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. JONAH

If you know me, you’ll know just little I expected to enjoy JONAH. Honestly though, he’s genuinely impressed me, working with an edge and finally maximising his size. He’s having really nice runs in both IMPACT and NJoA right now, with this week being a neat encapsulation of what he currently brings. JONAH was my favourite part of the Strong main event, pairing that with the week’s best angle for a comfortable category win.

2. Steve Maclin

After his work opposite Trey Miguel, I was all in on Steve Maclin getting a consistent television presence. Even still, I’d have probably hesitated if you told me that along the way, he’d become a de facto babyface. That just felt like a challenging transition but I have to say, credit to creative and Maclin himself, who have made all of this feel impressively organic. Maclin’s work seamlessly adjusted too, operating with his own brand of babyface fire against Eddie Edwards.

3. Eddie Edwards

In many ways, see above but simply switch things around. Eddie Edwards has been a babyface for years now, the go-to babyface at times and yet, he immediately feels at home in the heel role. Granted, this is slightly different as it definitely felt overdue but nonetheless, it speaks to Edwards’ experience that he adjusted his game so swiftly. I’m intrigued by how far they go with this version of Edwards, who’s very much become the internal status quo as of late.

4. Karl Fredericks

Though he doesn’t pop quite like some of his peers, Karl Fredericks is a good pro and was a worthy dance partner for Christopher Daniels on Strong. Fredericks showed polish and poise as Daniels’ late-notice opponent, performing admirably in the week’s best match. I don’t really know how high Fredericks’ ceiling is but with showings like this, he’ll always have a role to play in some form or fashion.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

With the week’s best two matches and perhaps even more impressively, its best angle too, this was a lock. I usually like Strong but this week was particularly fun as nothing overstayed its welcome which admittedly, isn’t always the case. The main event was good and Christopher Daniels again rolled back the years against Karl Fredericks, with a sound opener not undoing that good work either. Just rock solid pro wrestling and on this occasion, even a touch better than that, an encouraging start to the Rivals event.

2. MLW Fusion

The return of Fusion has definitely improved my enjoyment of MLW. The energy is up and warts and all, I mostly have fun. The main event wasn’t exactly my thing but it was enjoyable enough television and Myron Reed standing tall is always a win for me. In addition, Alex Kane’s opening title tilt with Calvin Tankman didn’t quite connect but they’d built that match some and so, I had good reason to actually pay attention. Sprinkle some entertaining vignettes in along the way and you have a fun episode of TV.

3. IMPACT Wrestling

I’ve seen some love for this episode of IMPACT but I don’t know, it just didn’t really work for me. As usual, it wasn’t bad or anything, just without many hooks in my view. The roster lacks genuine depth in terms of actual quality and the result is a television with somewhat bloated bouts and just a general usage of lacklustre acts. It’s hard, as they’re clearly operating under a different set of parameters but even still, I can’t hide my relative disinterest.

4. NWA Powerrr

In fairness, this wasn’t really bad either but unfortunately, it just wasn’t what you’d traditionally call good. Built around three longer, for Powerrr standards at least, matches, this episode needed one of those to truly connect and for me anyway, they all fell just a little short. Again, they were all solid enough but just didn’t really go beyond that unfortunately, greatly limiting this show’s ceiling. Not a complete momentum killer, but a reminder of the roster’s limitations.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 30 Points
  2. JONAH – 19 Points
  3. Steve Maclin – 16 Points
  4. Jacob Fatu/Matt Cardona – 15 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 91 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 82 Points
  3. MLW Fusion – 53  Points
  4. NWA Powerrr – 44 Points

Davey Delivers, Powerrr Plods | Best of the Rest #7

No Surrender is the focus in IMPACT Wrestling while elsewhere…well no, that’s actually about it honestly. Strong actually earned some buzz last week, but that won’t air until August and so, we remain in the midst of ‘The New Beginning.’ Seriously though, spoiler alert: MLW Fusion is good this week, so there’s a hook I guess. No such thing will be found in NWA, unless you count the Team War final. In which case, hello Mr Corgan, thanks for reading.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Jay White vs. Jay Lethal – NPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/19/22

This was quite clearly the week’s best match, even though its mere existence reminded me of why these projects suck. I mean, each show already has enough guys that I don’t want to see, let alone securing extras via loan. I don’t know man, wrestling sucks but Jay White remains great or whatever, another very good match in the latest Strong main event.

2. Ace Austin vs. Blake Christian vs. Laredo Kid – IMPACT Wrestling 2/17/22

Whether it makes sense or not, the X-Division feels well and truly back in 2022, now regularly featuring these familiar multi-man sprints. The final building block before No Surrender’s enthralling fatal four way opener, this was Ace Austin’s route, also spotlighting Blake Christian and Laredo Kid. This current division is an admirable love letter to the ranks’ glory days, featuring an impressive talent pool that frankly, probably should be battling for world honours at this point.

3. Davey Richards vs. ACH – MLW Fusion 2/17/22

Two guys that in theory, peaked years ago but yet, appeared strikingly sharp on Fusion. Honestly, the work here was levels above Fusion’s usual standard, with Davey Richards and ACH combining seamlessly for a dynamic television affair. This was paced with a refreshing poise, two veterans that knew how to make their expansive spots count, maximising the still impressive degree of athleticism and explosiveness left. It’s worth noting of course that ACH is still only 34 so hopefully, he has many ‘major league’ chapters left.

4. Fred Rosser vs. Gabriel Kidd – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/19/22

Though I sense that I’m slightly lower on this than the consensus, there was still an awful lot to like here. A bruising, gruelling affair, Gabriel Kidd brought that familiar physicality to the fight, mostly matched by Fred Rosser’s own admirable effort. If Kidd’s match with Eddie Kingston had one flaw, I’d say that it was some slight pacing issues, which were even more apparent here. No big deal, it’s still very much worth watching but once Kidd’s battles find that natural ascension, he’ll be an even better pro wrestler.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Gnarls Garvin & Budd Heavy Pre-Tape Skit – MLW Fusion 2/17/22

I don’t know man, this category was aggressively slim and so, here we are. Look, I chuckled at this, even if it set the stage for a quite frightening bout against The Saito Brothers. With that being said, this was genuinely entertaining and had some life which apparently, was enough to secure its place at the top of this week’s segment standings.

2. Jay White Post-Match Promo – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/19/22

Again, this wasn’t much but at the end of the day, it’s a Jay White promo and in this process, I guess that’s enough. White is incredibly charismatic and it feels like he’s more confident with each outing, increasing his presence at every turn. On Strong, White was basically just playing around again after another main event win but frankly, it was more compelling than the candidates below, so here it is.

3. Richard Holliday Post-Turn Promo – MLW Fusion 2/17/22

A tale as old as time: the post-heel turn promo, as a villain takes the time to explain himself, maybe even offering some truth along the way. Though the content isn’t (yet) anything particularly captivating, I thought that Richard Holliday did a nice job here, again utilising his refreshing confidence in this arena. I liked last week’s angle and thought that while nothing mind-blowing, this was a neat follow-up that kept the emerging programme trending in the right direction.

4. Davey Richards Post-Match Promo – MLW Fusion 2/17/22

Didn’t think I’d ever find myself writing these words but well, here we are I guess. Davey Richards was a genuine highlight on Fusion, kicking things off with that aforementioned thriller opposite ACH and then even taking the microphone afterwards. Richards was good here, adding a straightlaced sports feel to the Alexander Hammerstone build that unfortunately, was later impossible with Cesar Duran standing between them.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Jay White

What is there left to say about ‘Switchblade’ Jay White? Fresh off his best week since having his momentum halted by the most unforeseen circumstances, White was immense on Rampage and produced similar efforts elsewhere. That includes last week’s IMPACT main event, as well as a captivating PPV bout with Eric Young that he isn’t even credited for in this format. White is just about as good as it gets right now, and it shows at every turn.

2. Davey Richards

Overproduced pre-tape aside, Davey Richards honestly felt like a cut above the rest on MLW Fusion. Now, that can be more indicative of the talent or territory depending on your perspective, but it still speaks to Richards’ quite admirable return. On sheer focus and know-how alone, Richards stands out on the independent scene but perhaps more impressively, he still seems far more deserving of television time than almost all of his Major League peers too.

3. ACH

As a long-time ACH fan, I was delighted to see him perform with such spirit on Fusion. Granted, his placement here could be accused of being slightly sentimental but I enjoyed the match with Richards and think, or least hope, it was a real statement as far as ACH’s current status. This is a guy that physically, remains in (or at least close to) his prime and still has an awful lot to offer, comfortably separating himself from the pack on Fusion.

4. Gabriel Kidd

I really love the simplicity within Gabriel Kidd’s matches. He’s a gutsy, rough fighter who brings that energy to every showing, winning fans with each defeat. Kidd will only get better as the years go by but as is, he’s a pleasure to watch. Just raw physicality, packed with passion and that rare ability to transcend the current setting or circumstance. Kidd was the driving force in his match with Rosser and all things considered, that’s a major compliment.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. MLW Fusion

Indeed folks, it’s only February but here we are, already crowning the upset of the year! MLW Fusion was genuinely good this week, bookended by enjoyable in-ring action and not completely failed by goofy, ill-conceived skits along the way. Granted, it did feature an alarmingly rough tag team bout in the middle but even still, the good greatly outweighed the bad and with this run-time, that’s always a formula for success. More of this please, a genuinely enjoyable experience.

2. NJPW Strong

The opening match didn’t do much for me and so, this was a tier below the Strong norm. With that being said, the main event probably exceeded expectations from a match quality point of view, so this was still a good episode of Strong. Two matches very much worth your time, even if both weren’t without bloat but even still, more than enough to earn this episode the 2-seed. Clearly, this product is the project’s most reliable, remaining my lead suggestion for those looking to expand their wrestling diet.

3. IMPACT Wrestling

Nothing much here unfortunately, but still solid enough to comfortably outscore the show below. IMPACT Wrestling shows flashes of being a tier or two above the other alternatives but seldom maintains those promising standards. This week was another good example of that, again far from bad but just a little less interesting than you’d like, especially for a go-home show. Unfortunately, it’s a show that while competent, lacks headlines and X-Division triple threat aside, this show was without highlights in general.

4. NWA Powerrr

There was lots of wrestling on this show, six matches worth in fact. Unfortunately, not much of it was good, even less worth your attention and some downright bad. Pair that trend with an episode lacking any segments of note and you have a dull, impressively un-Powerrr episode of Powerrr. What does that mean at this point? No idea really, but it’s definitely intended as an insult, which speaks volumes considering my consistent issues with Powerrr itself.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 29 Points
  2. Deonna Purrazzo/Jacob Fatu/Matt Cardona – 13 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 71 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 62 Points
  3. MLW Fusion – 43 Points
  4. NWA Powerrr – 34 Points

Barnett’s Battle, Pope’s Promo | Best of the Rest #6

MLW Fusion is back, the NWA Title has a new era ahead and NJoA’s New Beginning has begun. In addition, IMPACT’s No Surrender event is fast ahead so depending on your perspective, things are heating up, or whatever. Before we get started, I wanted to quickly apologise for the delay on this week’s edition. Unfortunately, my hands were tied by the biggest wrestling story in recent memory, as Buddy Matthews reportedly began his road to All Elite Wrestling. Also, Cody left or something like that.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Josh Barnett vs. Ren Narita – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/12/22

I have to be honest, this is one of the weaker weeks so far in terms of in-ring results but even still, I’m happy with this as the category victor. Stylistically, this is the kind of range that should define NJPW Strong, bringing in a guy like Josh Barnett and just letting him do his thing. As you’d expect, Ren Narita was a natural fit for that matchup too, allowing Barnett to neatly colour within the lines. This was ten minutes used well, leading with tight mat wrestling and increasing the intensity with each and every second.

2. FinJuice vs. Bad Dude Tito & JONAH – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/12/22

This looked like a relatively weak main event on paper but I actually liked it quite a bit. Structurally, they had some fun with this, building the match around an extended heat segment but opting to leave out the theoretical third act. Juice Robinson’s hot tag never came but his involvement did allow Finlay to score the pinfall win, catching Bad Dude Tito out of nowhere and genuinely popping the live crowd. This wasn’t anything must-see but that particular choice was a nice way to separate a steady outing from the pack.

3. Strictly Business & El Rudo vs. The OGK & Victor Benjamin vs. La Rebellion & Homicide vs. The Fixers & Colby Corino – NWA Powerrr 2/8/22

I feared this match very much, but it actually exceeded my admittedly low expectations. The concept seemed like something that NWA’s talent and general production would struggle with but they managed well, producing something rather worthwhile. Again, nothing special but not a disaster by any means, which feels like a win. Seriously though, there was some genuinely nice work in here, with the match’s actual pros leading the way to produce an enjoyable first portion of Powerrr. The rest? Well, you get what you get, I suppose.

4. Hikuleo vs. Cody Chhun – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/12/22

I’ve seen some relatively low reviews for this, but I actually thought it was a job very well done. Hikuleo remains an understandably polarising prospect but looked good here in my view, helped greatly by a strikingly confident Cody Chhun. This was my first time seeing Chhun outside of the Dark setting and I thought he thrived, filling offensive gaps with ease and bumping with venom for his towering foe. Hikuleo has his flaws but was almost perfectly produced here in my view, kicking off Strong in style.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Pope Interview – NWA Powerrr 2/8/22

Getting just about as much buzz as a segment of NWA Powerrr can, this was fabulous. Coming back from his injury at Hard Times, Pope paid homage to that very promo, producing a powerful return to NWA TV. Pope’s delivery has been strong for years but here, he had the kind of content that quite frankly, isn’t feasible without such unique circumstances. There’s a window here, an opportunity to tell a story about this man’s frustrating, often puzzling career. The pieces are perfectly in place and with promos like this, so is Pope.

2. Jacob Fatu Vignette – MLW Fusion 2/10/22

The final chapter of these quite remarkable vignettes, this honestly may have been the best outing yet. Overcome with emotion, Jacob Fatu still felt cooler than ever at this effort’s close, perfectly setting the stage for his live return on the very same episode. I don’t love this product and in some ways, I actually think it’s struggling immensely but this whole thing has been immense, an absolute homerun.

3. Josh Alexander vs. Scott D’Amore In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/10/22

I usually avoid segments that lean so heavily on non-wrestlers, as they won’t be rewarded accordingly but man, this was too good to ignore. Full of fire, this was strong wrestling TV, adding depth to a story that by hook or by crook, certainly earned some eyeballs this week. Whether that interest cares or not, this was compelling work, with D’Amore again going through the gears in admirable fashion.

4. BULLET Club vs. Violent By Design & Good Brothers In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/10/22

This was too long, and could’ve been quite neatly split into two separate segments. With that being said, there was more than enough good to overcome that flaw. BULLET Club were over strong as babyfaces and their heel counterparts fed them nicely on the microphone, allowing the faction to look about as important as they possibly can here in 2022. Again, not perfect but the talent was up to this task, with Jay White’s presence again stealing the show.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Pope

This is really very simple. After his promo on this week’s episode of Powerrr, I think that Pope should eventually dethrone Matt Cardona, becoming NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion and completing an arc that in my view, could return this promotion to relative relevance. I know that sounds insane, but there’s a story to tell here and with Pope, they have the perfect promo for exactly that task.

2. Josh Barnett

Second match, same story as simply put, Josh Barnett just fits on NJPW Strong. I get why that isn’t exactly surprising, but it’s still impressive, as I thought that Barnett looked great against Ren Narita. I understand that Barnett isn’t necessarily a consistent focus for this brand but if we can get bi-monthly Warmaster matches, that’ll very much work for me.

3. Jacob Fatu

Completing his return to MLW in style, Jacob Fatu continues to be that programme’s absolute outlier. Fatu’s physical presence is striking, bringing an intense charisma that’s frankly absent from Fusion’s norm. Either way, it’s great to have Fatu back in any role but I’m especially happy to see him armed with this increased depth, set for a fresh run in the babyface position.

4. Josh Alexander

This one could age poorly if Josh Alexander is indeed done with IMPACT Wrestling but for now, I thought that he delivered on this ‘angle’s latest step. Alexander’s promos have become increasingly reliable, packed with passion and the kind of thing that this programme can build around as its top babyface. Whether that’ll happen or not…well, I guess time will tell but either way, Alexander’s performance speaks volumes.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

In fear of repeating myself, this show’s format allows it a consistency that’s simply absent elsewhere. This week’s episode of Strong made up three of my four favourite matches, swiftly locking it in as the best show. Good pro wrestling across the board, featuring a range of talent and styles without anything overstaying its welcome, which is one flaw that’s present at times. Not this week though, really fun edition of Strong, topping an admittedly slim week.

2. NWA Powerrr

I know, I know. Well, you could sway me on this and IMPACT Wrestling, but Powerrr is shorter and did feature the week’s best segment. Pope’s promo stole the show here and they also produced two multi-team matches with any great disaster, so that’s victory in my opinion. Honestly though, it’s a shame that Kamille’s title defence against Kiera Hogan had such a strange finish, as this episode probably could’ve been actually good.

3. IMPACT Wrestling

Strange pacing and lacking on in-ring action that I enjoyed, this was a disappointing outing for IMPACT Wrestling. Not bad by any means, just somewhat bland and uninteresting, Alexander’s fiery promo segment with D’Amore aside. That was strong television and through sheer emotion, felt alive in a way that the rest of this didn’t. I really think this promotion can do better, but perhaps that’s just naivety on my part.

4. MLW Fusion

Fusion is back but unfortunately, it didn’t come with an uptick in quality. On the contrary, I’d say this was actually quite noticeably worse, with a real slog of a main event title match. To be fair, I did like the post-match angle with Richard Holliday’s heel turn and of course, Fatu’s portion was perfection. The rest though? Not much to see unfortunately, with certain pieces being worth active avoidance. I think they could’ve entered this ‘era’ much more impressively but again, maybe that’s on me.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 18 Points
  2. Deonna Purrazzo/Matt Cardona/Jacob Fatu – 13 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 66 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 51 Points
  3. NWA Powerrr – 33 Points
  4. MLW Fusion – 30 Points

New Beginnings, Familiar Flaws | Best of the Rest #5

For some reason, I thought that last week was the MLW Azteca finale. Indeed, that’s probably indicative of my focus or lack thereof but you get what you get, I suppose. Anyway, NWA is building to a PPV of sorts this week while elsewhere, IMPACT’s No Surrender event is quickly approaching. NJPW Strong’s The New Beginning event begins this week also, featuring a TJP main event because for better or worse, good or bad, this is still professional wrestling.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Lio Rush & Rocky Romero vs. West Coast Wrecking Crew – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/5/22

On a show certainly not short on good pro wrestling, this was my personal favourite. Where the episode’s other two bouts stretched their content to its limits, this one was just about perfect in that regard. Fitting considering Rocky Romero’s presence, still one of the world’s most reliable in-ring performers. Elsewhere, Lio Rush looked as electric as ever while the West Coast Wrecking Crew shined. I’ve seen those guys a handful of times but never in a role like this and thankfully, they certainly delivered.

2. BULLET CLUB vs. Jake Something, Mike Bailey, Ace Austin & Madman Fulton – IMPACT Wrestling 2/3/22

Nothing ground-breaking in terms of content but an unsurprisingly well-executed multi-man match nonetheless. This formula has become awful familiar for Bullet Club members but in this setting, it felt somewhat fresh, also leaning on the relative star-power of Jay White and the Guerrillas of Destiny. Speaking of such, I really liked what this did for Chris Bey, who was brought up to their level after some recent TV losses. On the other side, ‘Speedball’ looked great and in an extension of recent trends, Jake Something wasn’t far behind him, either.

3. Clark Connors vs. TJP – NJPW Strong: The New Beginning 2/5/22

I know, I know. Not only TJP, but TJP in a long main event match, sorry to hear that, etc. Honestly, agreed but as is often the case with TJP, I can’t pretend that this was bad, though it certainly was a little bloated. Seriously though, Clark Connors was great here and had the people firmly on his side. This was a nice main event and depending on your taste, could warrant an even higher position in truth.

4. Jonathan Gresham vs. Steve Maclin – IMPACT Wrestling 2/3/22

The sequel to their prior Pure Rules ripper, this was more of the same in a lot of ways, just without that predecessor’s all-time finish. Instead, this had a flat but fitting disqualification conclusion, though I still very much enjoyed the meat of the match. Gresham is in rare form right now, everything is clicking and looking slightly ahead, ROH couldn’t ask for a better centrepiece upon their return. As for Maclin, his consistently speaks for itself.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Jacob Fatu Vignette – MLW Azteca 2/3/22

Once again, this was superb. I don’t really have much to add, I’d just say that of all the pro wrestling content I’ve watched through this process, there’s not a thing that I’d confidently recommend over these vignettes. Again, it’s nothing unique or staggering, it’s just good storytelling, adding depth to a character at exactly the right time. This could fit on any show at any time, actually good in a way that much of this content simply isn’t.

2. Kiera Hogan Sit-Down Interview – NWA Powerrr 2/1/22

Not dissimilar to the segment above, this was the basics done well. Now granted, it’s not quite as spectacular as Fatu’s effort but it’s still effective, packed with sincerity and once again, adding some depth. This was the kind of segment that adds momentum to a babyface chase, especially necessary when for better or worse, the end result seems obvious. Hogan reminded me of her value in this role here, returning to a presentation that seemed increasingly distant as she flourished as a villain in IMPACT.

3. Kenny King Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 2/3/22

Finally adding some edge to the mostly goofy Honor No More presentation, Kenny King was immediately worth his addition. With just one promo, King grounded this thing in ways that for all their efforts (or lack thereof), the others simply couldn’t. Before last Thursday, this whole programme felt awful prelim and while King isn’t the answer in terms of star-power, he quickly offered some solutions in terms of content. It wasn’t even anything different or new, the execution just made it feel as such.

4. Matt Cardona Post-Match Interview – IMPACT Wrestling 2/3/22

This was only brief, probably not even a minute long but while that may limit its ranking here slightly, I ultimately mean that as a compliment. This was good pro wrestling TV and while I rolled my eyes slightly at the match itself…or the finish at least, this filled in the gaps seamlessly as far as Cardona’s character. Dismissing any questioning of his wildly questionable tactics, Cardona quickly brought his GCW/NWA presentation forward, a necessary step for his IMPACT stint.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Jay White

There really isn’t much left to say about Jay White that frankly, more qualified onlookers haven’t already said. I will add though that once again, White’s presence in IMPACT continues to prove another point. If somehow, there were any doubts about how White would translate to traditional US TV, he silences any and every doubt in this setting. For all its strengths, IMPACT’s product isn’t a place where star-power shines through and yet, White doesn’t feel even slightly minimised. An absolute star, through and through.

2. Rocky Romero

Indeed, even in a match with three younger, fresher pro wrestlers, one of which being the spectacular Lio Rush, Rocky Romero remains outstanding. Why? Well that’s the thing really, it’s not quite as you’d usually expect. Romero shines in the most subtle of ways, he won’t wow you with acrobatics or innovation, especially not these days but he’s just so smooth, sound across the board. Those skills are timeless and ensure that even in 2022, Romero is an absolute pleasure to watch.

3. Clark Connors

The victor of this week’s NJPW Strong main event, Clark Connors made a real statement opposite TJP. His performance wasn’t perfect but that was part of the charm, especially considering his current status. Connors was aggressive, bringing fire and spite to a match that demanded exactly that, ticking all the boxes and maximising the audience’s already encouraging interest. I don’t know what Connors’ overall ceiling is but with efforts like this, he certainly belongs as a featured figure on Strong in 2022.

4. Kenny King

Look, there are probably more qualified wrestlers for this final spot but honestly, I don’t care. To me, what King did was more impressive, even if not as obviously great as some of the other candidates. Why? Because King got me even slightly interested in this programme which beforehand, had been an almost complete miss for me unfortunately. Kenny King isn’t going to be World Champion in IMPACT but as has been the case for some time now, he’s good TV and very much warrants his spot.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

Just over an hour of neat pro wrestling, featuring three good matches and some star-power along the way. As I’ve said beforehand, the format’s simplicity is a strength for me but even if you’re looking for something more dynamic, the range of talent is a major selling point. Granted, this week’s main event probably isn’t the finest example of that but any show featuring Brody King and Lio Rush is worth at least some of your time in my mind. I will say that with some trimming, this episode could’ve been even better, but it was impressive nonetheless.

2. IMPACT Wrestling

Honestly, many of Strong’s strengths were present during IMPACT also, as this week’s show certainly wasn’t short on solid wrestling. With that being said, it has an obvious increase in fluff and filler which depending on your taste, could be an advantage or disadvantage compared to Strong. Clearly, it’s the latter for me but in fairness, it does allow a variety show element for IMPACT which undeniably increases its potential (key word) reach. In addition, Bullet Club certainly added some momentary spice to the main event scene.

3. MLW Azteca

Honestly, it could reasonably argued that I was a little harsh on this week’s MLW Azteca. Simply put, it probably depends on your response to their TV main event, a real mixed bag of a trios bout. There was lots of good here and depending on your stylistic preference, that could quite understandably outweigh the bad. For me, not quite but I still enjoyed the match, warts and all. The pacing was a problem for me personally, which isn’t surprising considering the runtime but elsewhere, there just wasn’t enough to make up the difference.

4. NWA Powerrr

Just a whole lot of nothing unfortunately. Perhaps I should’ve watched NWA USA again, which featured an enjoyable match between Darius Lockhart and Ariya Daivari but honestly, I’m not sure that changes the overall ranking much. After all, this week’s episode of Powerrr was headlined by an NWA Worlds Title match and that couldn’t have felt less apparent, a fittingly uninspired affair for the programme it concluded. It’s a shame, I just wish there was more to watch here as if there was, it’d be a wonderful piece of my weekly wrestling puzzle.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Jay White – 17 Points
  2. Deonna Purrazzo/Matt Cardona – 13 Points
  3. Chris Bey – 10 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 61 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 39 Points
  3. MLW Azteca – 26 Points
  4. NWA Powerrr – 24 Points

Azteca Rebounds, Nemesis Concludes | Best of the Rest #4

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the final week of both MLW Azteca as well as NJPW Strong’s Nemesis event. With that will obviously come change but first, we have an NWA problem. No, not the lack of talent, exposure or buzz but rather, the fact that this week, there is no episode of Powerrr. Instead, PowerrrSurge takes its place. After looking at both line-ups, I’ve decided to cover NWA USA for just one week only as quite frankly, the alternative feels like an absolute lock for last place…hmm, I’m sure that’ll age well.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Jake Something vs. Chris Bey – IMPACT Wrestling 1/27/22

Just like two weeks ago against Laredo Kid, Chris Bey kicked off IMPACT in style, sharing a tremendous opening match with Jake Something. It’d be unfair to say this was a surprise considering the talent involved but I must say, I was delighted to see them given so much room to fill. This didn’t feel contained or measured and instead, was an explosive, daring opening bout. Must say, I’m not sure how I feel about Bey taking another loss but his performance speaks for itself, with Something not far behind him in that regard.

2. AAA Mega Title: El Hijo del Vikingo (c) vs. Aramis – MLW Azteca 1/27/22

After three frustrating editions, MLW Azteca finally fired back this week, with El Hijo del Vikingo’s AAA Mega Title defence stealing the show. Battling Aramis, this was a showcase of the spectacular, with both men making the absolute most of their relatively brief runtime. This wasn’t a restrained teaser either, as they pretty much swung for the fences, including an especially insane dive from Vikingo. This was the series’ best match by a distance and for those unaware of Vikingo in particular, a great glance at his immense ability.

3. Alex Coughlin vs. JR Kratos – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/29/22

The final bout in the Alex Coughlin Challenge Series, this embraced the matchup’s natural story. Without a win thus far, Coughlin shocked the world in his final attempt, toppling the destructive JR Kratos. This was an easy dynamic that they conveyed comfortably, with both parties very much playing their part. Coughlin’s fire was palpable and if nothing else, Kratos is a believable fit as the villainous monster. This did the trick for me, also armed with a runtime that allowed this one to remain simple without overstaying its welcome.

4. Jay White vs. Christopher Daniels – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/29/22

I think there’s a world in which this is trimmed some and the result is a better match but even as is, this was a hit for me. Though Jay White’s control segment dragged slightly, this was simple pro wrestling done well, telling that familiar story of yesteryear’s contender trying to roll back the years. For the most part, Daniels did exactly that too, breathing life into proceedings with an awesome comeback that set the stage for a dramatic second half. In some ways, this almost felt out of place but personally, I found that to be more of a feature than a flaw.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Bullet Club Attacks – IMPACT Wrestling 1/27/22

For all its strengths, IMPACT Wrestling’s television very rarely feels truly alive. It has its moments of quality, both in-ring and out but overall, everything feels strikingly sterile. That’s the case for a range of reasons, some of which are out of the promotion’s control but this post-match angle swiftly separated itself from the pack. I think that in some or fashion, we all roll our eyes slightly at Bullet Club’s continued existence but this thing certainly got over live. Jay White and the Guerrillas of Destiny received star reactions and for a moment, this programme’s limitations felt irrelevant.

2. Jay White In-Ring Promo – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/29/22

In recent years, Jay White has quite emphatically announced himself as one of the industry’s most compelling promos, really embracing his villainous persona. In truth, this wasn’t even a particularly strong effort but on that unique delivery and star-power alone, comfortably earns the 2-seed here. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much competition this week in terms of segments but either way, I liked White’s promo and think that at this point, his skill-set speaks for itself.

3. 5150 “Play Some Dice” with Cesar Duran

Nothing much here really but I’ve seen enough now to be confident in my initial appraisal of 5150. Their act certainly has some personality and that shone through here, overcoming the production’s scale (or lack thereof) and coming across as genuinely engaging characters. It’s not much but on these shows, it’s been very much appreciated.

4. Colby Corino Promo – NWA USA 1/29/22

I’ve always liked Colby Corino and though this was fleeting, it neatly encapsulated what he can bring. In the midst of a multi-man argument with second and third generation wrestlers, Corino felt an awful lot like his father here, bringing that familiar cockiness to the screen and for a moment, escaping his surroundings. Naturally, he was then attacked by George South while Raven looked on, but you get what you get, I suppose.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. El Hijo del Vikingo

Whether you’ve watched a lot or a little, I’d imagine that by now, El Hijo del Vikingo’s reputation has reached you in some form or fashion. If not, this match is a good starting point, packing an awful lot in just nine minutes of action. Vikingo is spectacular, one of the world’s most eye-catching performers and a star that in many ways, felt greatly above this particular setting. He certainly didn’t wrestle that way though, producing a performance worthy of the sizeable hype.

2. Alex Coughlin

As someone relatively new to the Strong product, Nemesis has been an interesting event. Clearly, this product has ongoing arcs and stories but frankly, it appears that many of them are lost on this admittedly small live audience. That’s fine, an almost inevitable result of so much wrestling but even still, that trend only made Alex Coughlin’s effort more impressive. Over on arrival, Coughlin had the crowd on his side throughout, still telling the story well enough that his eventual win had the necessary gravity.

3. Jay White

Bringing his striking star presence to two shows, there’s probably an argument that Jay White belongs even higher but interestingly enough, he wasn’t my favourite half of the Strong main event. Perhaps that’s a compliment considering White’s commitment to the heel role but it doesn’t change what I saw, as ‘Switchblade’ turned in a steady but in my view, unspectacular showing against Christopher Daniels. Even still, his appeal is obvious in any and every setting at this point, charismatic enough to feel a constant cut above.

4. W. Morrissey

With his IMPACT World Title shot on the horizon, W. Morrissey won a handicap match that pit him against eight (or nine, depending on who you ask, apparently) men. Look, no matter how complicated this game can feel at times, I can only ever fall so far on plays like this. It’s a babyface contender slaughtering a whole army of goons, can’t argue with that really, and it earns Morrissey the final spot here.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

Though undeniably dry, I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy NJPW Strong. This format won’t be for everyone but I really do like it, three rock solid pro wrestling matches featuring a range of wrestlers. Better yet, this week’s episode featured two bouts that actually well exceeded the description of ‘solid,’ even if falling short of anything must-see or great. I don’t think this show is anything close to a necessity but again, it’s the most watchable hour that’ll exhaust you the least, an ideal addition to any fan’s week.

2. MLW Azteca

Honestly, much of the above description would probably work here too, but there is a slight difference. For the first time, I actually liked all three of this week’s matches but in-between, MLW does MLW things. For some, that’ll catapult it above Strong, adding some colour and spice but for me, it’s a distraction more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the effort and actively enjoy 5150’s entries but ultimately, the goofiness detracts more than it adds for me. Even still, this was a great improvement for MLW, the best Azteca episode by a mile.

3. IMPACT Wrestling

After two borderline great episodes, I thought that unfortunately, IMPACT came back down to earth this week. This wasn’t bad by any means, but my issues with the Honor No More angle probably hamstrung my personal enjoyment of this particular show. To me, that stuff is an example of the product’s continued struggles in terms of format, relying on backstage skits that just aren’t for me. With that being said, this episode wasn’t without highs, absolutely nailing the opening segment or two.


Oh dear, I don’t know why I expected anything different. In all seriousness, NWA were slightly unlucky here, as MLW Azteca rebounded in a major way while Strong probably produced its most well-rounded week yet. NWA USA wasn’t awful or anything, neatly featuring Darius Lockhart and even hosting a sound main event but once again, the lack of quality control proved limiting. Whether it’s Powerrr or USA, there’s just too much bad on these shows for them to be reasonably described as “good” unfortunately.  

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Deonna Purrazzo – 13 Points
  2. Matt Cardona – 12 Points
  3. Jay White – 10 Points
  4. Jonathan Gresham – 8 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 51 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 29 Points
  3. NWA Powerrr/MLW Azteca – 20 Points

Grin About Them: Roderick Strong

Almost exactly one year ago, I posted this series’ first and until now, only entry. At the time, I was struggling for motivation on this side of things, my written content feeling awful redundant after four years of features on Fightful. I wanted to do something slightly different, a piece divorced from analysis or logic and instead, something sincere. Basically, it’d be my biased, subjective perspective alone, gut feeling without the more measured counterpart. Silly as it may sound, it had been awhile for me in that regard.

Last year, I wrote about Samoa Joe, perhaps my all-time personal favourite. At the time, Joe’s career was shrouded in mystery which indeed, I guess some things never change. It’s been quite the year for Joe since then, including two releases, an authority role, a return to the ring and even an NXT Title win. Well, this series remained a sole effort for almost a year but at last, I’m finally ready to produce a sequel. Ideally though, this entry will come with a better outcome but then again, perhaps some patience will fix the original also.

Either way, today I’m writing about Roderick Strong, a wrestler that I talk about so much that frankly, it’s become just another bit. That’s fine with me, as it’ll probably pay off before long but I guess that for once, I wanted to express some more genuine thoughts on the matter. This is going to sound weird, but I honestly take a bizarre pride in Strong’s recent return to relevance. After all, I felt on an island mere months ago but as always, things change awful quick in the increasingly wild pro wrestling landscape.

With the trio of Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly shocking AEW’s system in recent months, Strong has been a natural topic of conversation. Alongside those three, Strong earned great success in NXT, the workhorse of that brand’s most dominant faction. For me though, that particular lane of investment is always slightly confusing. I mean, not really, it makes perfect sense actually but it’s just not the root of my personal fandom, so I often play dumb. Either way, it’s only natural to ponder Strong’s potential return to those ranks.

In the meantime though, Strong has been producing his best work in years, thriving as Diamond Mine’s centrepiece. Few suggested otherwise anyway but just in case there were any doubts, Strong has emphatically proven that he’s still very much the man that almost stood alone in the mid-2010s. In 2015 especially, Strong appeared to be the world’s best wrestler, delivering in multiple promotions, somehow maximising two differing roles. In NXT, Strong has been sublime but for a range of reasons, it’s been easy to forget that at times.

General lack of exposure aside though, that’s not been the case in recent weeks. Instead, Strong is front and centre, working main event matches and reminding the world of his capabilities. Ultimately, Strong has been on the losing end more often than not, which brings a slightly saddening reminder of its own. In this case though, at least its transparent, as NXT 2.0 looks towards the future, putting a very obvious ceiling above Strong’s head. That’s fine, it’s a role worth playing but for me personally, it’s impossible not to consider what still could be.

To be clear, that isn’t a reference to reuniting The Undisputed Era either. This isn’t about the ongoing wrestling war, it’s about Roderick Strong but trust me, my grand alternative isn’t exactly Strong standing in the background during snappy pre-tapes. I don’t know what it is really, it’s certainly nothing particularly realistic but in my mind, there’s still a world of possibilities for Strong, even after almost two decades of world class performance. It’s hard not to believe that considering Strong’s efforts as of late, again showing the familiar form of an ace.

Unfortunately, those performances come in a setting that simply can’t sustain Strong, or certainly not in this fashion at least. That’s confirmed by Strong’s recent presence at main roster television, working dark matches before both RAW and SmackDown. I don’t know how such a stint would go but like you, I have an understandable concern or two. That’s fine though which in many ways, is the point. Somehow, Roderick Strong feels completely safe from the company’s wild mood swings, an obvious home now within reach. That’s guess work of course, but it doesn’t feel like much of a reach.

That takes me back to the slightly puzzling pride that I referenced earlier. Sure, I personally hope that before this story reaches its end, Strong is trusted to truly reach his actual ceiling on the national stage. Indeed, I still wish that in some form or fashion, the ultimate role player could bring his greatest hits to the wider wrestling world’s eyes. In truth though, I want that for me. In some ways, I feel like Roderick Strong has two identities, which is hilarious considering the straightforward consistency of his work.

To most, Strong is The Undisputed Era’s midcard good match merchant. He’s a guy without much personality but a hard worker, reliable in the fleeting big match. To those of us that watched him go to war with Bryan Danielson though, he’s something slightly different. To those of us that watched the classic (yes, classic) with ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey or the often staggering feats against ROH’s many chosen ones, he’s more than that. To us nerds or more specifically to me, he’s one of the generation’s finest in-ring performers, deserving of a mention among the absolute greats.

If I’m being honest with myself, that belief will probably fade away in wrestling history. Though Strong’s performance hasn’t waned, his role as a supporting act has almost certainly been set in stone. I can live with that though because while not as glamourous or triumphant, it still represents a fitting legacy. In many ways, that’s indeed who Roderick Strong is, the wrestler who doesn’t need your attention or spotlight, because he’ll be great regardless. There are few safer bets than a Roderick Strong match, almost always worth your time and money.

Strong is the guy that through ups and downs, can be trusted to deliver when it matters most because simply put, he seldom misses when it matters least. It’s all the same to Roderick Strong, another chance to do what he does best. Another night to bring that energy, that physicality and intensity that has breathed life into even the dullest of shows. Though I’d love to say otherwise, I don’t relate much to Roderick Strong in that sense. I mean clearly, this is only the series’ second entry and this project started almost a year ago.

With that being said, I sure do admire that element of Strong’s career, a defining trait that’ll always keep me watching, regardless of the promotion playing host. Whether it was ROH, NXT or something in-between, Strong was, and continues to be, a constant source of entertainment. Whether the arrogant bully of PWG or the fiery young babyface in FIP, Strong’s core ingredient remains unchanged: that unwavering commitment to make the most of every night, a palpable desire to make it work, no matter the opponent or opportunity.

After all these years, I sense that truth won’t fade and so, I’ll keep watching. Whether it’s Monday Night RAW or perhaps even AEW Dynamite, I’ll stay on this ride until the wheels fall off because simply put, I know that once the bell rings and all things are equal, Roderick Strong won’t let me down.

Pure Rules, Powerrr Problems | Best of the Rest #3

After the best week in recent memory for IMPACT Wrestling, the polarising promotion has a familiar hurdle ahead. With relative momentum suddenly on their side, IMPACT simply has to build on this, rather than squandering it as we’ve seen in years past. Granted, that’ll be tough in some ways but in terms of quality, they at least appear positioned for success this week. Elsewhere, Strong’s Nemesis event makes its least appealing stop yet while MLW and NWA continue to struggle for their piece of this promotional pie.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. ROH World Title: Jonathan Gresham (c) vs. Steve Maclin – IMPACT Wrestling 1/20/22

As good as Jonathan Gresham’s PPV bout with Chris Sabin was, it didn’t make much of the admittedly divisive Pure Rules. By contrast, this match maximised that, with Gresham producing an unsurprisingly spectacular showing against Steve Maclin. Tactically outmanoeuvring Maclin throughout, Gresham scored a memorable victory, further proving this presentation’s worth elsewhere. Speaking of such, Maclin’s consistency in IMPACT has been immense, with this maybe his finest hour yet. One of the world’s best battling one of the scene’s most underrated, this was a guaranteed hit.

2. Josh Alexander vs. Charlie Haas – IMPACT Wrestling 1/20/22

Though physically, Charlie Haas’ decline was apparent, he performed admirably in the IMPACT main event. Wrestling the promotion’s best in Josh Alexander, Haas delivered in my view, combining with the former champion for a gruelling, physical affair. Haas’ effort was especially impressive considering the concussion he apparently sustained along the way, perhaps enough to even earn him a sequel of sorts. Alexander’s work continues to speak for itself, the company’s centrepiece regardless of the top belt’s current owner.

3. Juice Robinson vs. Bad Dude Tito – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/22/22

This was my first time seeing Bad Dude Tito and with that in mind, I’d say that he was positioned to succeed. Wrestling Juice Robinson, Tito had a foe of some stature opposite him, allowing a style that suited both while sprinkling some star power along the way. It’s nothing new of course, but Robinson’s appeal is especially apparent in settings such as this. Armed with that unique charisma, Robinson’s in-ring range always separates him from the pack, right at home here as he traded strikes with Tito.

4. Fred Rosser, Rocky Romero & Taylor Rust vs. Team Filthy – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/22/22

Fuelled by the unwaveringly brilliant Rocky Romero, the latest Strong main event concludes this week’s best match listings. Romero’s connection with the live crowd put him on an alarmingly shortlist frankly, but it helped this match, as the long-time Junior Heavyweight stalwart took the heat and seamlessly got the audience involved. This one wasn’t without flaws, featuring a few messy moments but ultimately, achieving what it needed to as the main event of a show that probably exceeded my relatively low expectations.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Jacob Fatu Vignette – MLW Azteca 1/20/22

On yet another dismal show, this was the sole highlight. In fact, this may not even belong in the top spot but considering what surrounded it, I was without any real choice. This had to be rewarded as the programme’s lone hit, with Jacob Fatu telling his story as a return to action approaches. This was superb, humanising the savage that dominated this promotion for years. Simple pro wrestling done pretty much perfectly, adding depth to a destroyer that after losing his title, now needed exactly that.  

2. Tasha Steelz In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 1/20/22

I’ve always been high on Tasha Steelz but now more than ever, it’s increasingly feeling like her time. Steelz opened IMPACT with an emphatic win over Chelsea Green, then cutting an in-ring promo as Mickie James watched on from commentary. The next Knockouts Title challenger delivered in a major way, bringing the confidence that’s made Steelz stand out since arriving on the national stage. Whether she’s the next champion or not, it’s hard to watch efforts like and not conclude that either way, gold is in Steelz’ future.

3. Matt Cardona Interview, Trevor Murdoch Interruption – NWA Powerrr 1/18/22

More of the same for Matt Cardona, who continues to lead the way on a programme lacking in genuine quality. Cardona is genuinely great here, dismissing NWA tradition and telling enough truths that his arrogance packs a punch. Unfortunately, Trevor Murdoch’s retort wasn’t without a stumble or two but overall, it sufficiently got the key point across. Look, this pairing obviously has its limitations and doesn’t exactly scream Starrcade but even still, they’re building it decently enough and in Cardona, NWA finally has a light at the end of this tunnel.

4. Juice Robinson In-Ring Promo – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/22/22

Again, there’s just something a little different about Juice Robinson. Bringing that wonderful weirdness to his every move, Robinson is a real outlier on these shows that at core, are mostly defined by sound but slightly dry pro wrestling. That’s fine, and basically the point, but it sure allows Robinson to stand out in terms of perceived star power. This particular promo wasn’t anything special, especially in terms of content but Robinson’s confidence spoke volumes, calling out JONAH as quite frankly, only he could.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Jonathan Gresham

Though not an IMPACT talent, Jonathan Gresham certainly isn’t signed to the top two either, so he’s a natural fit for the top spot here. Simply put, Gresham’s performance on IMPACT was just another example of his excellence, further cementing this still emerging ROH Title reign as something significant. Every single time that I watch Gresham wrestle, it’s impossible to have any conclusion beyond the obvious: this is one of the world’s finest pro wrestlers and right now, he’s in the absolute form of his life.

2. Tasha Steelz

In an opening act of IMPACT that was almost exclusively designed to heat her up, Tasha Steelz quickly proved herself to be very much worth that creative attention. The relatively short match with Chelsea Green made the absolute most of its time and as I said above, Steelz follow-up promo was an absolute home run. This division has been dominated by Deonna Purrazzo for eighteen months and honestly, rightly so but with this programme, Steelz threatens to break out of the pack and join that increasingly sparse top tier.

3. Steve Maclin

Further announcing himself as one of IMPACT’s most reliable workhorses, Steve Maclin again made the absolute most of his opportunity on Thursday. That’s been a trend, with this maybe the most obvious example yet, as Maclin adjusted to the Pure Rules and combined seamlessly with Jonathan Gresham. As expected, Maclin didn’t become the ROH World Champion but with the X-Division behind him, performances like this will be pivotal in bridging the gap for Maclin as he looks to maintain a featured role on IMPACT TV.

4. Juice Robinson

I don’t have much else to say about Juice Robinson other than simply put, it’s easy to forget just how much a guy like this has to offer. For a range of reasons, Robinson has somewhat lost his place in terms of overall wrestling relevance but in this setting especially, he can quickly remind you of his value. Frankly, I’m still not sure that Robinson has even scratched the surface in terms of his actual ceiling and depending on his career choices, that may remain the case but either way, he was thoroughly entertaining on Strong.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling

Well folks, so far, so good. Though this week’s episode of IMPACT wasn’t quite as triumphant as the last, it was still a clear cut above the rest. Frankly, it increasingly feels as though if IMPACT even somewhat maximises its resources, they’ll be dominating this process. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, but the results of a direct comparison haven’t been lost on me personally. These shows aren’t perfect, especially with those often ineffective backstage vignettes but there’s an awful lot to like along the way, including some great in-ring action as of late.

2. NJPW Strong

Honestly, this was an almost completely unremarkable edition of Strong but it was inoffensive which this week, secured them the 2-seed. Three fine pro wrestling matches, featuring a few familiar faces and perhaps more importantly, nothing of great frustration along the way. Instead, it was simply solid, the Nemesis event’s weakest episode so far but still more than enough to beat out Powerrr and Azteca. If nothing else, this show feels consistently watchable but I do think some quality control could produce higher peaks.

3. NWA Powerrr

In fear of repeating myself, there’s just not much here unfortunately. I enjoyed Cardona’s latest and thought Kylie Rae vs. Allysin Kay was a nice opener but overall, it’s hard to watch this show and leave it with any great interest in what’s next. Even the emerging World Title programme, it’s passable and at times, even enjoyable but there’s no hook, it’s just an hour of uninspired pro wrestling in a setting that admittedly, I love. I don’t hate this incarnation of Powerrr, I just wish it tried harder to be worth my time.

4. MLW Azteca

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, as you probably know the deal by now. MLW Azteca is a programme with bad and/or unmotivated wrestling, also built around segments that at their absolute best, feel like cheap imitations of a prior product. It’s just not any good unfortunately but if nothing else, at least this episode featured the fabulous Jacob Fatu vignette. More of that, less of everything else.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Deonna Purrazzo – 13 Points
  2. Matt Cardona – 12 Points
  3. Jonathan Gresham – 8 Points
  4. Charlie Haas/Gabriel Kidd/Josh Alexander – 7 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 41 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 19 Points
  3. NWA Powerrr – 18 Points
  4. MLW Azteca – 12 Points

IMPACT Impresses, Honor Lives | Best of the Rest #2

Last week, an Eddie Kingston masterclass guided NJPW Strong to victory in the series premiere but this time, we should have a slightly fairer fight. After all, one of the world’s best isn’t being borrowed this week…well, not in my book anyway but I’ll leave that there. Instead, IMPACT Wrestling has a PPV to build upon while elsewhere, the Azteca and Nemesis brands fittingly reach their own episode two. In addition, NWA Powerrr’s return to YouTube enters its second week, headlined by Matt Cardona’s in-ring promotional debut.

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. AAA Reina de Reinas & ROH Women’s World Titles: Deonna Purrazzo (c) vs. Rok-C (c) – IMPACT Wrestling 1/13/22

The comfortable victor for this week’s best match, Deonna Purrazzo and Rok-C actually exceeded my expectations. At just 20 years old, Rok-C’s skill is already immense but in fear of understating her effort here, this was the Deonna Purrazzo show in my view. Guiding the match, Purrazzo paced this perfectly, working with the poise that’s made her such an impressive IMPACT centrepiece. Rok-C isn’t far behind her though and regardless of where she lands in 2022, it’s hard to have anything but high hopes for the now former ROH Women’s World Champion.

2. Laredo Kid vs. Chris Bey – IMPACT Wrestling 1/13/22

The kind of match that makes IMPACT’s lead in stature all the more obvious, this was the ideal television opener for any brand. Action packed but not short on time either, this was a showcase of two spectacular wrestlers having the modern match, adding their own individual flair along the way. Chris Bey is a fascinating one in terms of IMPACT’s big picture because it feels like for at least a year now, maybe more, I’ve been waiting for him to escape this tier but nonetheless, he certainly made the most of that role against Laredo Kid.

3. Kiera Hogan vs. Christi Jaynes vs. Jennacide vs. Kenzie Paige – NWA Powerrr 1/11/22

Armed with just a smidge over five minutes, I thought this was a real triumph in both execution and production. Tightly sequenced and built around each woman’s (at times literal) strength, this left all four parties in a better spot than they entered. Kiera Hogan is on some kind of AEW deal but remains a relative regular on NWA Powerrr, with performances like this serving a swift reminder as to her often cited ceiling. She wasn’t alone in this one though, as all four women rose to the occasion and produced a strong television opener.

4. JONAH vs. David Finlay – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 1/15/22

Though not trying to be anything particularly epic or special, this was still efficient pro wrestling action. JONAH is quickly growing on me with showings like this, working with an increased edge and finally packing a punch befitting his physical stature. Finlay was really just the victim here, offering a hope spot or two but little more. Naturally, that limited this match’s quality but hopefully, will prove to be a worthwhile sacrifice, as JONAH won emphatically, battering Finlay in the Strong main event. These two can have a better match, but that doesn’t make this one any less effective.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Charlie Haas & Josh Alexander In-Ring Promo & Brawl – IMPACT Wrestling 1/13/22

I have to say, I had my reservations about this one when the news broke, but this segment was far stronger than I’d imagined. Firstly, Josh Alexander continued to impress in this setting, cutting a fiery in-ring promo and setting the stage for Charlie Haas’ arrival. Haas surprised me though, really bringing his A-game and verbally at least, maximising an opportunity that he clearly relished. We’ll see how the match goes but so far, so good, even including some encouraging physicality.

2. W. Morrissey In-Ring Promo – IMPACT Wrestling 1/13/22

I’m not sure how I feel about this potentially becoming a regular occurrence but I have to be fair and once again, W. Morrissey impressed on IMPACT. Opening the post-PPV edition, Morrissey stood in centre ring and with a microphone in hand, convinced the live crowd that he’d suddenly became the promotion’s top babyface. Well, the name above this may disagree with that but either way, Morrissey’s emerging connection with this audience is worth noting, his promos a key reason why.

3. Jax Dane Interview, Rodney Mack Response – NWA Powerrr 1/11/22

I know, I know, I couldn’t believe that I typed those words either. Look folks, these shows aren’t exactly packed with good non-wrestling content but honestly, even if they were, I’m ranking this. Here, Jax Dane cut a solid promo, continuing his apparent issue with Anthony Mayweather and/or Mims. Then though, Dane took a shot at Jazz’s tribute from Hard Times 2. This brought out Rodney Mack…yes, Rodney Mack, who punched Dane in the face and got me to yell, showing human emotion in a fashion not familiar when watching this show.

4. Homicide, La Rebellion & OGK Interview – NWA Powerrr 1/11/22

This wasn’t even anything good really, but it at least had some life so here it is I guess. Perhaps I’m forgetting something but who cares? This gets Homicide another point and that’s usually what I’ll do if I don’t see an alternative. Basically, these five guys argued with each other and one of them may have raised their voice a little. It wasn’t boring or embarrassing, so a home run in that sense.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Deonna Purrazzo

2021 was a great year for Deonna Purrazzo but only weeks into 2022, this may have been her finest showing yet. Personally, this was probably my favourite Purrazzo performance and considering her consistency in IMPACT, that’s no mean feat. Against Rok-C, Purrazzo produced an effort befitting the original Ring of Honor identity, sharing a sublime television main event with Rok-C. Purrazzo continues to improve, even after so long as champion, showing more and more skill as her confidence climbs.


Dominating the NJPW Strong main event and slaughtering poor Raj Singh, JONAH had a dominant week. It’s always fun to see talent contributing to multiple territories at once and unless they miss dramatically on either side, such a feat will probably always earn a placement of some kind. Here though, JONAH’s candidacy speaks for itself, impressing on both shows with an overlapping performance and presentation also. Whether it’s IMPACT or Strong, JONAH feels like a player and weeks like this one are why.

3. Rok-C

The other half of that aforementioned IMPACT main event, Rok-C was a more than worthy dance-partner for Deonna Purrazzo. An absolute prodigy, Rok-C is skilled far beyond her years, showing astounding technical acumen and wrestling with a raw enthusiasm that screams through the screen. It’s staggering to consider just how good Rok-C will be in a 5-10 years but frankly, she’s already special. If this particular chapter of Rok-C’s career concluded on Thursday, it was an ideal start to what should be a wonderful career.

4. Mike Bailey

Indeed, it’s a clean sweep for IMPACT and frankly, comfortably so. Even if I was to replace ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey, the alternatives would probably be Chris Bey or Laredo Kid, maybe even Charlie Haas. That should give you a clue as to the next category but anyway, I’ve decided to give Bailey the last spot here, shining bright in a showcase match with Jake Something. Bailey’s reputation speaks for itself, but it was wonderful to see his act translate like this to television, unsurprisingly connecting with ease.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling

Honestly, the category triumph alone doesn’t quite capture just how comfortably IMPACT led the way this week. In fact, their show was such an obvious victor that this week, IMPACT felt more comparable to the big two than the three below. Now, that’s not always the case, far from it unfortunately but this was an example of what the promotion can produce. Days removed from a critically acclaimed PPV, IMPACT actually added to their hype, producing an objectively impressive episode of wrestling television.

They can’t all be like this but with the current roster, they can be close and in 2022, that’s the goal for IMPACT Wrestling.

2. NJPW Strong

Though it didn’t feature anything even close to must-see, NJPW Strong’s format gave it the nod over NWA Powerrr. This show is just incredibly watchable, not overstaying its welcome and almost exclusively sticking to what’s advertised. In fact, they may even go too far in that direction at times, with barely a segment in-between but overall, this approach makes for a product that’s inoffensive at the very least. This episode’s actual highlight was Brody King’s mauling of Dave Dutra, a delightful extended squash.

3. NWA Powerrr

Once again, I didn’t hate NWA Powerrr and indeed, I still like this format. In fear of repeating myself any further though, the system’s effectiveness is simply limited by the wrestlers filling these roles. They have something with Matt Cardona as a potential top heel and perhaps Kiera Hogan’s upcoming chase of Kamille but outside of that, there’s not much to watch for. It’s a shame, as I don’t think any great optimism is required to see this product’s potential. Sadly, it’s just a wrestler or twelve away from that right now.

4. MLW Azteca

Through two weeks, MLW Azteca just isn’t any good, unfortunately. Now, it’s early days of course and again, this isn’t their flagship programme but I can only cover what’s in front of me and sadly, it’s pretty rough. The Lucha Underground style vignettes may appeal more to others but the production limits those and once the (digital) bell rings, the product’s just without any real quality. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind the tag title match but that wasn’t nearly good enough to make up for the rest.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Deonna Purrazzo – 13 Points
  2. Matt Cardona – 10 Points
  3. Gabriel Kidd – 7 Points
  4. Rok-C – 6 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 27 Points
  2. NWA Powerrr – 14 Points
  3. NJPW Strong – 12 Points
  4. MLW Azteca – 7 Points

King vs. Kidd, Cardona Contrast | Best of the Rest #1

In 2021, the gap between US wrestling’s top two and the rest widened, with the industry’s current runner-up producing their strongest year yet. As many of you will know, I covered much of that in Fleet Files, a series that tracked the second half of AEW’s monumental 2021. Now though, my focus shifts elsewhere, examining the other ‘national’ promotions. Now, let’s stop right there and clear some things up. Indeed, GCW is the actual third promotion in more ways than one, this series is not suggesting otherwise.

Instead, I am simply focusing on the weekly TV products as that’s what’s best for this particular format. Basically, consider this a slightly loose guide to the other promotions producing weekly TV, one that’ll ideally allow you to add an hour or two of wrestling to your week. Our four promotions, for now, are IMPACT, MLW, NJoA and NWA. Now, those four brands are clearly in very different predicaments and in fact, there will be some talent crossovers along the way too.

Either way, each week I’ll list the top four matches, segments and stars before settling on the best show itself. In the end, one promotion will stand tall and so will one talent but that’s a long way away so let’s get started with a series that seems destined for failure! Indeed, let’s find the Best of the Rest!

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Eddie Kingston vs. Gabriel Kidd – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 8/1/22

Number one with a bullet, this is about as watchable as pro wrestling gets. In not even thirteen minutes, Eddie Kingston and Gabriel Kidd achieved a whole lot here, going to war and trading violent strikes until the former closed the show. In fear of being hyperbolic, this is the kind of match that in an ideal world, you’d build a territory around. The bruising veteran, Kingston battered Kidd but ultimately, elevated him greatly along the way. An unsurprising triumph from one of the world’s best, and an impressive showing from Kidd too.

2. Deonna Purrazzo vs. Mercedes Martinez – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

The much discussed and debated IMPACT women’s division came through nicely here, featuring a strong television match between Deonna Purrazzo and Mercedes Martinez. The latter has recently signed with AEW but closed out her brief IMPACT stint in fitting fashion, producing a typically fiery performance opposite the cerebral former champion. Purrazzo was excellent here, working with an edge that sold the Hard to Kill main event better than any promo ever could. These two got some time and maximised it, producing the standout match on in-ring at least, a steady episode of IMPACT Wrestling.

3. Aramis, Black Destiny & Myzteziz Jr vs. Arez, Dinamico & Skalibur – MLW Azteca 6/1/22

The opening match on the premiere of MLW Azteca, this swiftly set the tone. In fact, this actually set a standard that I thought the rest of the show failed to match, but it was a hit nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t perfect and had its issues but ultimately, was a smart stylistic choice that quickly gave this programme its own flavour. Six young wrestlers showing what they can do in a chaotic trios match, with Aramis and Arez shining brightest.

4. La Rebellion & Homicide vs. Jax Dane & The End – NWA Powerrr 5/1/22

Relying on Homicide’s somehow unfading popularity, this week’s NWA Powerrr main event did the basics well enough to earn the final spot here. This wasn’t anything spectacular but frankly, had some life to it that unfortunately, wasn’t exactly present beforehand. This was spirited, I guess is my point, with Homicide mostly selling and giving the heels some room that thankfully, they quite competently filled. That portion set the stage perfectly for La Rebellion’s dynamic comeback, sprinkling some tandem offence in and confirming this bout’s place as the week’s fourth best.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Matt Cardona Interview – NWA Powerrr 5/1/22

The only true triumph on a show that should be filled with promo standouts, Matt Cardona was the clear highlight of NWA Powerrr. This was perfect, with Cardona dismissing the nostalgia-fuelled NWA and ideally, setting the stage for his oncoming NWA World Title reign. Cardona is fresh off a remarkable 2021 and seems perfectly positioned to build on that moving forward, featured prominently in a range of roles.

2. 5150 Pre-Tape – MLW Azteca 6/1/22

The outlier on a programme packed with bad attempts at recapturing that famed Lucha Underground magic, this was effective pro wrestling. I always loved the LAX act and it probably goes understated just how well the last revival went but I must say, this was certainly encouraging regarding the latest incarnation. This was produced in a fashion befitting the gimmick’s origins and Rivera especially showed enough personality to set himself apart also. Good stuff from the tag champs.

3. Chelsea Green & Matt Cardona Sit-Down Interview – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

Though not nearly as brilliant as his effort on Powerrr, this was still another win for Matt Cardona. With Chelsea Green by his side, Cardona played the traditional babyface, combining with Green for a strong sit-down interview. I think this act is infinitely more interesting on the other side of things but even here, they’re effective, especially when armed with some worthwhile content like they were on IMPACT. Nice segment, neatly assisting a match that probably needed the help.

4. W. Morrissey – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

While I understand the ongoing dismissal of W. Morrissey as a national promotion’s top guy, I think his general performance has been undeniably impressive. Namely, his promos, a puzzle piece that Morrissey showed flashes off in WWE. That’s been truly cemented in IMPACT though, being a consistent strength that is steadily separating Morrissey from the pack. Divisive as his overall ceiling may be, Morrissey can really talk and this was a nice example of that, adding genuine depth to this character.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Matt Cardona

This speaks for itself, with Matt Cardona earning two of my three favourite segments of the week. Better yet, Cardona is portraying completely contrasting personas on these shows, but feels like a standout star on both. I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them just how impressive this run of Cardona’s career has been, but his effectiveness can be lost in a vacuum. Truly, watch the content surrounding him, especially on Powerrr, and you’ll see why Cardona is trending in the right direction.

2. Gabriel Kidd

A worthy dance-partner opposite one of the world’s absolute best, Gabriel Kidd had a breakout performance against Eddie Kingston. Don’t get me wrong, he was impressive against Jonathan Gresham too but stylistically, this was something else. The oldest play in the book really, giving a talented but raw young wrestler a chance to show his heart, bravely challenging the older, wiser warrior. Hopefully Kidd can build on this, he’s certainly up to the challenge once the bell rings.

3. Deonna Purrazzo

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Deonna Purrazzo’s work since losing the IMPACT Knockouts Title. Purrazzo has added a real edge to her game, temporarily distancing herself from the pure wrestling stylings that she’s known for. This week’s match with Mercedes Martinez was rough and physical, but stayed close enough to Purrazzo’s comfort zone to showcase her strongest skills. That was most clear in the finish, spotlighting Purrazzo’s slick grappling as she scored the sudden submission win.


While I didn’t actually love the match with Jake Something, I thought I’d give a nod to JONAH here in the final spot. I’ve never been a big fan but I must say, his general presentation has impressed me in IMPACT. In this role, JONAH finally feels like an actual monster and thankfully, his performance is mostly up to the challenge thus far. There’s an aggression to JONAH, a confidence that’s been previously absent in my view. Combining the match with the brawl that followed, I’d say this was a nice episode for JONAH.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

In fear of being negative, this particular placement is probably telling. Outside of the main event, NJPW Strong was around 30 minutes of fine pro wrestling. Not bad, don’t get me wrong, just steady stuff that didn’t do much to excite or inspire. Then Eddie Kingston arrived and transformed the whole programme, cementing it in the top spot with just over twelve minutes of pro wrestling excellence. ‘The Mad King’ and Gabriel Kidd deserve the credit here, producing something a tier above the rest, singlehandedly securing this position for NJPW Strong.

2. IMPACT Wrestling

If nothing else, IMPACT Wrestling was a pretty effective go-home show and with some solid wrestling too, that was more than enough to earn it the second spot. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t really expect too many swings in quality from IMPACT, who have their playbook and generally produce consistent television, for better or worse. Deonna Purrazzo vs. Mercedes Martinez wasn’t alone either, with a handful of neat enough television bouts around it. Throw in a Masha Slamovich squash match and ultimately, you have a success.

3. NWA Powerrr

Finally making their return to YouTube, NWA produced a…well, vaguely inoffensive edition of Powerrr. By that I mean, there really wasn’t much embarrassingly bad content and deep down, I still enjoy the format in a broad strokes sense. Unfortunately, there aren’t many impressive players left onboard and so, the familiar system isn’t quite as effective as you may recall. Worst of all, this was a rather bloated episode, taking away NWA’s always appealing shorter run-time. I don’t know, maybe I’m being harsh but there just wasn’t much here, barely a hook in sight sadly.

4. MLW Azteca

To be clear, I understand that this isn’t totally fair. This isn’t MLW’s full-time, flagship programme and as far as I know, Fusion or something resembling it will soon return. If and when that happens, I’ll be covering that as the MLW product but for now, this is what I was working with. Now, it also doesn’t help that I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with much of the talent featured here, so hopefully those disclaimers make this placement an easier pill to swallow. With all that being said, I thought this was quite bad, unfortunately.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Matt Cardona – 10 Points
  2. Gabriel Kidd – 7 Points
  3. Deonna Purrazzo – 5 Points
  4. Rivera – 3 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 9 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 8 Points
  3. NWA Powerrr – 7 Points
  4. MLW Azteca – 6 Points

The Fleet Files Finale

Fleet Files #23: Christmas with Cody

It’s Christmas, or it was anyway and as is tradition, Tony Khan is resurrecting another tradition. Indeed, Christmas wrestling is back and better yet, it has Cody Rhodes front and centre, too. Christmas with Cody huh? It doesn’t get any better than that…well, I suppose an unspoiled title match would’ve been slightly better, maybe one involving a better title reign too but whatever, it is/was Christmas! Elsewhere, an all-star trios match leads the way on Dynamite so with only one Fleet File ahead, let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. CM Punk, Darby Allin & Sting vs. MJFTR – Dynamite #116

A warm and fuzzy but ultimately physical throwback to simpler times, this was a slightly expanded cut of yesteryear’s main events. The main conflict was protected, with CM Punk not even touching MJF while FTR almost stole the show. I only say almost because Sting was there too, again rolling back the years and continuing to perform with that endearing enthusiasm and spirit. This was an absolute treat, the perfect main event for this show in this setting, simply wonderful stuff.

2. TNT Title: Cody Rhodes vs. Sammy Guevara (c) – Rampage #21

As divisive as the end result may prove to be, this was another triumph inside the ropes. Continuing his recent big match hot streak of sorts, Cody Rhodes was quite brilliant here, working with a real intensity that neatly contrasted Guevara’s acrobatics. Though his reign wasn’t exactly perfect, Guevara always delivered once the bell rung and that was no different here, shining bright in his final bout (for now) as TNT Champion.

3. Adam Cole vs. Orange Cassidy – Dynamite #116

Featuring Kyle O’Reilly’s expected but exciting debut, this match resulted in perhaps the week’s biggest AEW headline. Unfortunately, the match itself very much played second fiddle in that regard, which is a shame considering its genuine quality. Opening the show to a typically hot crowd, this was a safe bet and indeed delivered, including an especially enthralling closing stretch. I understand the concerns of overexposure, but personally maintain that it’s always a pleasure to see Cassidy in matches of this ilk.

4. Kris Statlander vs. Leyla Hirsch – Rampage #21

This match came out of nowhere, but thank goodness it did. This was every bit the treat that you’d expect, with Leyla Hirsch further cementing herself as one of the promotion’s most underutilised stars. Hirsch is immense, the tenacious grappler that wrestles with a truly endearing spirit and in that sense, she had a real dance partner here. Honestly, Kris Statlander’s constant improvement is an understated story in recent months, and she closes 2021 as one of the division’s strongest performers.

5. Jungle Boy vs. Isiah Kassidy – Rampage #21

I honestly don’t think this got enough love, which isn’t surprising considering the rampant rest of Rampage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no classic but this was strong television wrestling in my view, and another reminder of Isiah Kassidy’s development. I don’t blame anyone for missing it, with Marq Quen’s absence and the lack of television exposure limiting things but genuinely, Private Party enter 2022 with all the tools for serious contention. Good match and hopefully, a sign of things to come.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. 10 vs. Leroy Patterson – Dark #122

This probably belongs on the squash list, but I simply refuse that cowardice. Instead, I’ve decided to list it here, ensuring that Leroy Patterson is not only ranked, but actually outscores Brian Cage in the Fleet Files database. There are many great matches in AEW history and then there is this, a clear cut above them all. Also, Howdy!

2. Matt Sydal vs. Serpentico – Dark #122

Sound pro wrestling from the master of exactly that, as Matt Sydal produced another impressive performance on Dark, this time against Serpentico. In different ways, these are two of the promotion’s more unheralded hard workers and so, this effort was no surprise honestly.

3. Isiah Kassidy vs. Carlie Bravo – Dark #122

I’ve wrote about it a lot, or as much as possible anyway, but again, it’s been an absolute treat to watch Isiah Kassidy’s development as of late. This was a real triumph in that regard, as Kassidy looked great, with Carlie Bravo again no slouch either.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Hangman Adam Page – Dynamite #116

In recent months, Hangman Adam Page has emphatically ticked the box that before, he’d only lightly grazed. After previously showing promise in that regard, Page has transformed into one of the industry’s finest babyface promos. He didn’t have it easy here either, opposite an unsurprisingly brilliant Bryan Danielson and yet still stealing the show. Page continues to rise to the occasion, a worthy AEW Champion.

2. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #116

The aforementioned counterpart to Hangman Adam Page’s fiery effort, Bryan Danielson continues to relish his role as AEW’s lead antagonist. Granted, it may be nearing its end in some ways but Danielson is making the most of every minute, including just enough truth to make each and every lie all the more infuriating. Fabulous stuff from the GOAT, as to be expected.

3. Britt Baker – Dynamite #116

Must say, I’ve grown somewhat tired of this format, with Britt Baker seemingly living in these backstage pre-tapes. With that being said, this particular one worked for me, with Baker making the absolute most of her time and bringing an even better delivery than usual. I wish this programme with Riho had more momentum but on this occasion, Baker tried her absolute best to remedy that.

4. Sammy Guevara – Rampage #21

It’s frustrating that just minutes before losing his TNT Title, Sammy Guevara brought his personality back to the fore. Guevara was great here honestly, with his less than pure babyface slant working considering the circumstances. Moving into 2022 without the workhorse title around his waist, Guevara needs to make moments like this the norm, a reminder of his initial success.

5. Miro – Rampage #21

You know the story by now folks, it’s Miro, in a pre-tape. The most reliable hit in AEW, even in purgatory.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Hook vs. Bear Bronson – Rampage #21

The ultimate Christmas gift, this was simply incredible. The match graphic alone got me fired up and indeed, this more than delivered. Hook launched big Bear Bronson around, still maintaining that extraordinary presence along the way and just further building on the already immense hype. Seriously, the potential is palpable but even as is, what a star!

2. Wardlow vs. Shawn Dean – Dynamite #116

You know the deal by now folks…or you should at least, I’ve wrote it enough times, especially recently. This is WAR, and things of that nature.

3. Red Velvet vs. Madi Wrenkowski – Dark Elevation #42

Maybe a slightly unconventional pick here, but I just loved this performance from Red Velvet. Everything looked good and had a snap to it, showcasing the kind of polish that frankly, hasn’t always been present in Velvet’s work. Neat squash match, even if obviously different from the candidates above.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Sting

Just the latest triumph in Sting’s remarkable AEW stint, this may have been his finest outing yet. At 62, Sting is again extending his legacy, performing admirably and somehow stealing the show in a star-studded trios match. This was an easy choice honestly, pushing Sting up even further on any self-respecting fan’s Fleet 50 ballot. Over thirty years after breaking out in that very building, Sting remains iconic, an absolute legend.

2. Kyle O’Reilly

Though he didn’t work a match or cut a promo, this was a big week for Kyle O’Reilly. Only weeks removed from his final match in NXT, O’Reilly made a major impact on arrival, setting the stage for a blockbuster trios main event to close out 2021. O’Reilly immediately feels at home in AEW, reprising a role that brought him great success on the other channel.

3. FTR

I’m sorry, but I refuse to split these two after Wednesday. Of course, Dax Harwood was as brilliant as ever, even getting busted open as he went toe to toe with CM Punk. Cash Wheeler belongs alongside Harwood in regards to glowing praise though, bumping around wildly as together, FTR produced an absolute masterclass. This is an all-time great tag team, and performances like this only make that more obvious.

4. Cody Rhodes

The polarising execution perhaps limits Cody Rhodes’ placement slightly but even still, his ranking feels undeniable. After all, Rhodes became TNT Champion this week, winning the title for a third time. Previously, this belt was present for some of Rhodes’ strongest in-ring efforts, adding intrigue to its return to the original owner. Also, this belt only puts more eyeballs on Rhodes’ character work, which could be a major story in 2022.

5. Leyla Hirsch

Finally back on AEW television, Leyla Hirsch delivered in a major way against Kris Statlander. Better yet, this feels like the start of some kind of extended story, providing Hirsch with potential character development if nothing else. That’s long overdue considering Hirsch’s efforts inside the ropes and even though I’m hesitant on a possible heel turn, I’m open to anything that keeps her consistently on TV.

Fleet Files #24: And the Winner Is…

Well folks, we’re finally here. Months removed from this series’ debut, Fleet Files has come to an end. Indeed, at this edition’s conclusion, we’ll have crowned the first and final Fleet Files winner. It’s been an incredible year for AEW, featuring a summer that I’ll truly never forget. With 2022 now here though, I’ll be spreading my focus more broadly, hopefully debuting a similar series on this very platform in the coming weeks. For now though, let’s finish this thing off with a flourish, sending AEW to TBS in style.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. TayJay vs. The Bunny & Penelope Ford – Rampage #22

Living up to the hype and then some, this was an absolutely insane conclusion to an admittedly polarising programme. Not to lessen the performances of Tay Conti and Anna Jay, but this felt like a real statement from The Bunny and Penelope Ford. Covered in blood, The Bunny gave this match a visual or two that’ll live long in the memory while Ford wrestled with an almost frightening reckless abandon. To their credit, TayJay were more than willing dance partners too, making this one of the promotion’s more unique TV thrillers.

2. TNT Title: Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Ethan Page – Rampage #22

Just rock solid, sound pro wrestling, a reminder of what both Cody Rhodes and Ethan Page truly excel at. These two are probably capable of better, ideally with Rhodes operating as the more defined babyface but even still, the mere fundamentals did the trick. Page is honestly one of AEW’s most underrated assets in my view, a guy that consistently maximises every opportunity and this was no different, a really strong TNT Title bout. Rhodes’ reign has some hurdles ahead, but this was certainly a good start.

3. Adam Cole & reDRagon vs. Best Friends – Dynamite #117

The conclusion to a relatively subpar Dynamite, this was Kyle O’Reilly’s debut and ultimately, the episode’s clear highlight. I don’t think that it ever quite reached the heights probably possible but as is, this was an exciting TV main event that delivered while spotlighting O’Reilly decently enough. Trent Beretta was great in this one too, building on his already impressive return with an outstanding performance here. Mostly though, it was about O’Reilly and more specifically, the reuniting of reDRagon.

4. FTR & The HFO vs. Christian Cage, Jurassic Express & The Lucha Bros – Dynamite #117

Wednesday’s dynamic opener, this was a wild mix of factors both on-screen and off. On the babyface side, it was a matter of can they co-exist? Well, they couldn’t but elsewhere, it also reignited FTR’s memorable feud with Jurassic Express. In the land of inside baseball though, this was also a chance to have Christian Cage head to head with Cash and Dax while in addition, pairing the FTR duo with Private Party, a team that if they get their way, they’ll be working regularly in 2022. Anyway, the match was good, which I think was my point.

5. Darby Allin vs. Anthony Bowens – Rampage #22

Ever since Max Caster’s absence a few months ago, Anthony Bowens has become a regular of sorts in this role. The workhorse of that team, Bowens has even wrestled a couple more major singles bouts since Caster’s return, with this perhaps being his strongest individual showing yet. Darby Allin generally gives the heel he’s working room to fill and Bowens did so with ease here, producing sharp and snappy offence throughout in yet another standout performance.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. No Disqualification: Joey Janela vs. Sonny Kiss – Dark #123

Recapturing and even increasing the ferocity of their last match, Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss produced a Dark classic to close out 2021. This was chaotic and wild, but also wrestled with a genuine intensity, absolutely packed with violence in a way befitting Janela’s recent promo. Much like its predecessor, another real triumph for a feud that creatively, probably didn’t get the attention that the performers’ efforts deserved.

2. Shawn Spears vs. Lee Moriarty – Dark Elevation #43

This wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined and hoped for, but I still liked what we got. Visibly having fun and gaining some heat in the process, Shawn Spears guided this one as the willing heel, still showcasing Lee Moriarty neatly along the way. Worth noting that Moriarty is very much getting over, so that’s another factor to watch re: his upcoming ascension.

3. Matt Hardy vs. Darius Lockhart – Dark Elevation #43

This probably wasn’t the next best match in truth, but I wanted to list it as I love Darius Lockhart and more than that, really appreciated the effort that these two made outside of the ring. With promos, Lockhart and Hardy added some intrigue to what ultimately, was a throwaway three minute match. Credit to Hardy for being as selfless as ever too, happily allowing Lockhart to lead the first couple minutes. 

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. MJF – Dynamite #117

On an unfortunately thin week in terms of well, even vaguely competent promos, this feels like a pretty comfortable victor. I much prefer MJF in this setting, not lost in his pursuit of cheap heat and instead, getting the point across much more swiftly in these effective pre-tape promos. These have been a trend as of late, am very much hoping they stick with them.

2. CM Punk – Dynamite #117

This was long and without the content to make it worth the runtime but at the end of the day, it was a live CM Punk promo in front of an adoring crowd. For Punk especially, not one for the ‘best of’ compilation but considering the start alone, it’s an obvious fit for the 2-seed here.

3. Ricky Starks – Dynamite #117

See above in terms of the content but Ricky Starks confidence usually makes up the difference and that was probably the case here. Either way, let’s hope that 2022 is Ricky Starks’ year, as his stop-start return to action has been a frustrating piece of this last six months or so.   

4. Powerhouse Hobbs – Dynamite #117

Honestly, I’m not even sure that Hobbs said much here, but he has that great intensity and presence so who cares at this point, we’ll slot him in here. Hopefully the eventual rematch with Dante Martin clicks more as last time, I seem to recall Hobbs getting his bell rung somewhere along the way.

5. Max Caster – Dynamite #117

Sure, man.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Colin Delaney – Dynamite #117

You know the deal by now folks…or you should at least, I’ve wrote it enough times, especially recently. This is WAR, and things of that nature.

2. Skye Blue vs. Ashley D’Amboise – Dark #123

An absolute slaughter, as Skye Blue only took thirty seconds or so to dispatch Ashley D’Amboise. This was somewhat hilarious, feeling completely at odds with Blue’s usual demeanour but I’m for it, no reason not to play around with these things.

3. Thunder Rosa vs. Dani Mo – Dark Elevation #43

Motivated by Jade Cargill’s presence at the commentary desk, Thunder Rosa was even more aggressive than usual on Monday, battering poor Dani Mo en route to an unsurprisingly emphatic win.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. The Bunny & Penelope Ford

I’m not splitting these two here as with blood and guts, I thought they silenced a lot of doubters on Rampage. The division’s go-to undercard heels, The Bunny and Penelope Ford have been criticised often but in just ten minutes, made this lengthy programme more than worthwhile in my view. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a feud of the year candidate or anything but I absolutely believe that especially with this final piece, it’s helped TayJay as television stars. Credit to The Bunny and Penelope Ford, immense team players and this was their best work yet.

2. TayJay

The other half of Friday’s enthralling bloodbath, TayJay scored the kind of signature win that creatively, AEW can hang their hat on heading into 2022. Clearly, both Tay Conti and Anna Jay are intended to be major players in this division and in that regard, I don’t think efforts like this can be overstated in their effectiveness. TayJay were already connecting but this is the kind of showing that catapults talent up the card. Ideally, the promotion will capitalise accordingly.

3. Joey Janela

As AEW enters its third year, there’s naturally lots of discussion about the promotion’s original roster. Who still fits, where they fit, so on and so forth. Well, Joey Janela made his loudest statement yet here, perfectly concluding a quietly impressive year in my view. Clearly, Janela is slotted in this role, a C-Show constant that’s seldom given the chance to steal a show but I must say, I think he’s very rarely missed in 2021, especially since turning heel. Considering that, it’s fitting that Janela ended on such an emphatic note, producing another strong spectacle with Sonny Kiss.

4. Sonny Kiss

From the outside looking in, it’s been a frustrating year for Sonny Kiss. Completely absent from AEW TV, Kiss’ genuine progression has been hidden from the masses and hopefully, that’ll change in 2022. Either way, Sonny can be very proud of both performances against Joey Janela, producing her finest matches yet in AEW. This tops that list in my view but also likely concludes the feud so now it’s a matter of following up, even if only in the C-Show setting for now.

5. Ethan Page

Six months ago, Ethan Page concluded his blood feud with Darby Allin in brutal, violent fashion. It was fabulous, one of AEW’s standout rivalries of the year for my money, regardless of how distant a memory it may be. Since then however, ‘All Ego’ has simply been Dan Lambert’s laughing track and if it wasn’t already clear, this performance showed just how wasteful that is. Page has a whole lot to offer, both in-ring and on the microphone, with this match just a timely reminder of exactly that.  

League Leaders – The Final 50

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your final top 50, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is categories scored in. If that doesn’t split them, it’s my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 111 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 91 Points
  3. CM Punk – 87 Points
  4. Dax Harwood – 74 Points
  5. Miro – 71 Points
  6. Penta El Zero Miedo – 65 Points
  7. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  8. MJF – 62 Points
  9. Nick Jackson – 62 Points
  10. Hangman Adam Page – 61 Points
  11. Rey Fenix – 61 Points
  12. Adam Cole – 60 Points
  13. Cash Wheeler – 59 Points
  14. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  15. Darby Allin – 55 Points
  16. Matt Jackson – 55 Points
  17. Jungle Boy – 52 Points
  18. Orange Cassidy – 49 Points
  19. Christian Cage – 46 Points
  20. Pac – 46 Points
  21. Cody Rhodes – 42 Points
  22. Sammy Guevara – 41 Points
  23. Daniel Garcia – 40 Points
  24. Andrade El Idolo – 39 Points
  25. Luchasaurus – 38 Points
  26. Dante Martin – 36 Points
  27. Malakai Black – 31 Points
  28. Britt Baker – 30 Points
  29. Matt Sydal – 29 Points
  30. John Silver – 28 Points
  31. Chuck Taylor – 28 Points
  32. Wardlow – 27 Points
  33. Kris Statlander – 26 Points
  34. Hikaru Shida – 23 Points
  35. Lee Moriarty – 22 Points
  36. Emi Sakura – 22 Points
  37. Riho – 21 Points
  38. Santana – 21 Points
  39. The Bunny – 21 Points
  40. Lance Archer – 21 Points
  41. Evil Uno – 21 Points
  42. Tay Conti – 20 Points
  43. Stu Grayson – 20 Points
  44. Alan Angels – 20 Points
  45. The Blade – 19 Points
  46. Dustin Rhodes – 19 Points
  47. Nyla Rose – 19 Points
  48. Isiah Kassidy – 19 Points
  49. Ethan Page – 18 Points
  50. Sting – 18 Points

Category Winners

Match of the Week: Nick Jackson – 55 Points

C-Show Stealer: Emi Sakura – 19 Points

The Promo Pack: CM Punk – 38 Points

Squashes to See: Wardlow – 23 Points

The Fleet Five: Bryan Danielson – 29 Points

The Final League Leader, Fleet Files Winner: Bryan Danielson – 111 Points

Fleet Files #22: Winter is Here

With only three Fleet Files ahead, ‘The American Dragon’ looks to secure his lead, entering perhaps his biggest match yet. Taking on Hangman Adam Page for his AEW World Title, Bryan Danielson is battling for wrestling’s greatest prize: the one and only Fleet Files victory. Elsewhere, multi-man matches lead the way while Dante Martin and MJF close out Winter is Coming, vying for the Dynamite Diamond Ring. Clearly, there are many titles to claim but as Fleet Files nears its conclusion, only one that truly matters.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. World Title: Hangman Adam Page (c) vs. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

One of the greatest matches in AEW history, this was pro wrestling excellence, a simply beautiful 60 minutes of magic. Bryan Danielson’s latest masterpiece, this was also Hangman Adam Page’s finest showing yet, battling the full distance in an epic world title bout. Naturally, the result itself will be polarising but the work beforehand was undeniable, two of the world’s finest at their absolute best. If nothing else, a draw ensures the eventual sequel and based on this effort, that can’t come quickly enough.

2. Hikaru Shida vs.  Serena Deeb – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

The rubber match after their first two enthralling entries, this lived up to the high expectations. It’s been great to have Hikaru Shida back on AEW television and matches like this are exactly why, again combining seamlessly with Serena Deeb. Still the division’s best worker mechanically, Deeb is at her best in matches of this ilk, building things neatly and opposite Shida, impressively regaining this audience’s previously wavering attention. Another strong match, perhaps only a closing stretch and finish away from the promotion’s absolute top tier.

3. CHAOS vs. Bobby Fish & The SuperKliq – Rampage #20

The natural next step in The Elite’s war with Best Friends, this was almost certainly just a bridge to the presumed destination. Thankfully, that’s still very much minutes to maximise for the performers involved, guaranteeing this as unquestionably worthwhile television time. It was great to have the original trio of Chuck, Trent and Orange back together but with Rocky Romero alongside them too, this is an immense quartet, perhaps only outdone by their opposite here. Another Bucks multi-man match, another hit.

4. Dynamite Diamond Ring: MJF vs. Dante Martin – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

One of Dante Martin’s longest singles matches in AEW so far, this was an interesting case study. As expected, the eventual results were encouraging, even if not without an asterisk or two. Ultimately, Martin shined, producing his usual thrills opposite MJF. Unfortunately, it did appear that Martin tired some as the match neared its conclusion but all things considered, this has to be deemed a success. MJF was a good leader here, producing something solid even if slightly messy at times.

5. 2point0, Daniel Garcia & The Acclaimed vs. Santana & Ortiz, Eddie Kingston & Lucha Bros – Rampage #20

The wild alternative to Rampage’s aforementioned 8-man, this show of range was certainly appreciated. With that being said, it did result in something weaker, even if clearly still worthy of top five placement. Honestly, the finish’s execution knocks this down a notch or two for me, almost undermining Daniel Garcia’s upset win by surrounding it with such clunky chaos. Everyone performed well here though, even if they combined for a lesser version of what I had personally imagined.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Riho & Ryo Mizunami vs. Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga – Dark #121

I very much enjoyed last week’s match between Emi Sakura and Ryo Mizunami but honestly, this was a level above. Riho made for a fabulous face in peril here early, building to a strong hot tag from Mizunami and setting the stage for an awesome closing stretch. Standout Dark match, one of this era’s best.

2. Kris Statlander vs. Marina Shafir – Dark #121

Dark’s strongest opener in some time, this was a real statement on Marina Shafir’s part. Greatly outperforming prior projections, Shafir looked completely at home against Kris Statlander, who continues to cement herself as one of AEW’s strongest in-ring performers.

3. Daniel Garcia & 2.0 vs. The Dark Order – Dark #121

Nothing ground-breaking here, just six solid pros doing their thing, with Daniel Garcia unsurprisingly stealing the show. Ideal Dark main event, getting some time and relatively speaking, featuring some star-power too.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Joey Janela – Dark #121

Indeed, I questioned this one too but after honest review and rethink, I’m pretty sure it’s real. Yes, Joey Janela produced this week’s best promo, setting the stage for his upcoming clash with Sonny Kiss. This wasn’t just believable content delivered well, but it was a genuine triumph in the sense that Janela had a clear task to complete: reminding fans of this feud. After a down month or so, Janela got things where they needed to be with an impressive pre-tape promo.

2. Griff Garrison – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

I know, this is pretty weird huh? Well, I’m sticking by it, as Griff Garrison conveyed palpable fire and emotion in this throwback babyface promo. Granted, Dynamite was really about one match but even still, this was the A-Show’s strongest verbal offering and that feels worth crediting. Garrison has always been the star of The Varsity Blondes in my view, and this only made that more obvious.

3. Malakai Black – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

I have to be honest, my enjoyment of this promo probably isn’t totally sincere. I mean, it was well done and all but I did chuckle, which I’m not sure was the intention. Seriously though, I did like this and always admire Malakai’s conviction, bringing standout confidence and delivery every time. In addition, this seemingly set up something genuinely exciting, so obvious bonus points for that.  

4. Austin Gunn – Dark #121

Must say, Austin Gunn’s raw energy certainly captured my attention earlier this year, but I never truly considered its actual greatest strength. Now as a heel though, I see that Gunn’s whole personality works best as an obnoxious, grating antagonist. Don’t get me wrong, the content was throwaway but Gunn’s comfort was striking, easily creating a conflict with Brock Anderson and Lee Johnson.

5. Eddie Kingston – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021/Rampage #20

Neither of these were anything much really but Eddie Kingston spoke twice on AEW TV and so here he is, closing out the promo category on an admittedly quiet week in that regard.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Matt Sydal – Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021

It’s always hard to ignore an A-Show squash, especially considering Wardlow’s always expanding expertise. This is an obvious choice for the top spot but honestly, I found myself slightly disappointed, quietly hoping for an extended version of this matchup.

2. Nick Comoroto vs. Dean Fleming – Dark #121

Though I understand that Nick Comoroto is probably rightly slotted at a certain level on the card, I do wish that we got more of these squashes. They’d probably be a waste of time in truth but I don’t care, this fella has elite squash match potential.

3. Anthony Ogogo vs. Jaden Valo – Dark Elevation #41

This was hilarious, flat enough that not only were the announcers surprised, but so was Jaden Valo based on him inexplicably fighting off the three count. I don’t know if Ogogo is actually good, but I appreciate his return’s range of results thus far.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Bryan Danielson

Generally, I’d drop Bryan Danielson down a spot here as if we’re being honest, his performance couldn’t have been less surprising. On Wednesday, Danielson went sixty minutes with ease because of course he did, still seemingly performing within himself, as he’s the greatest wrestler of all time. Greatness is the norm though and so perhaps, this was more about Hangman but in my mind, Wednesday was the last line of a historic chapter for Danielson, the perfect conclusion to his award-worthy year.

2. Hangman Adam Page

Second or first, Hangman Adam Page’s performance warrants the same extensive praise, an all-time great babyface showing. On Wednesday, Page stepped up in a major way, producing a showing that frankly, I wasn’t totally sure he was capable of. That’s not a slight either, I knew he was great but this was something different and Hangman emphatically rose to the occasion, completing mission impossible and somehow matching Bryan Danielson over sixty spectacular minutes.

3. Hikaru Shida

If this was a one-match week for AEW, Hikaru Shida and Serena Deeb certainly came the closest to standing directly alongside Bryan Danielson and Hangman Adam Page. There’s going to be obvious overlap in these next two selections, but Shida gets the nod for me as this triumph simply felt more vital for her career. After all, Shida entered 2021 as champion and this feud has brought her dramatically closer to regaining that status, recovering from an almost silent summer.

4. Serena Deeb

What’s left to be said about Serena Deeb? Perhaps the greatest AEW recruitment of all considering the circumstances, Deeb continues to shine. This career revival has been an absolute treat to watch and with this feud seemingly complete, we can only hope that Deeb finds another rival in the coming weeks. If not, there’s a clear destination now anyway, as Deeb’s inevitable TBS Title reign only gets more enticing with each and every match.

5. Trent? Beretta

Scoring the win in a match filled with effort and creativity, Trent? Is the obvious choice for a placement here. After almost eight months off, the Best Friend’s workhorse was back and looked better than ever, performing admirably in his return to the ring. In addition, Trent? got the well-earned victory and better yet, he even got his last name back too. Don’t get me wrong, the other seven men deserve credit but for me, this was about Trent?

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 107 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 91 Points
  3. CM Punk – 78 Points
  4. Miro – 70 Points
  5. Dax Harwood – 64 Points
  6. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  7. Penta El Zero Miedo – 63 Points
  8. Nick Jackson – 62 Points
  9. Rey Fenix – 59 Points
  10. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  11. Hangman Adam Page – 56 Points
  12. Matt Jackson – 55 Points
  13. Adam Cole – 54 Points
  14. MJF – 52 Points
  15. Jungle Boy – 49 Points
  16. Cash Wheeler – 49 Points
  17. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  18. Pac – 46 Points
  19. Christian Cage – 44 Points
  20. Orange Cassidy – 43 Points

The Sinclair Saga: September 2011

With the recent news about Ring of Honor, I had an urge to create some content. Against my better judgment, I’m an Honor Club subscriber and so, let’s hop in the time machine. Now, I could relive the classics but let’s be honest, that’s too easy. In addition, I kind of already do that, watching ROH’s greatest hits every week on The Distraction Channel. Instead, this ‘series’ will be a look back at Ring of Honor TV, an element of their model that always fascinated me.

Though the weekly product consistently featured action worth watching, I think you can reasonably argue that they never quite figured this thing out. With that in mind, I’ve decided to find out for myself, going back to the very start…well, kind of anyway. Rather than revisiting the HDNet programming, I’ll pick up where this streaming service allows: their Sinclair debut. Indeed, September 2011, mere months after the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition.

This moment follows a tumultuous time for Ring of Honor and unsurprisingly, they’re a distance away from steadying the ship again too. Jim Cornette has allegedly been at the helm for a year, booking alongside Delirious who replaced Adam Pearce. As you’re probably aware, this regime has already been impressively divisive but let’s see how they handle broadcast TV, a step that was expected to transform ROH business or something like that.

To be clear, this is intended as an informal look back and nothing more. I’ve decided to watch this stuff anyway, this content will simply accompany the ride. I’ll generally go month by month, writing in broad strokes but for this particular entry, we’ll bleed over some and also cover the October 1st 2011 edition of ROH TV. That’ll still leave four episodes for next time but allow this premiere to expand beyond the…well, premiere itself.

September 2011

As we go here, I intend to keep track of the programme’s production, presentation and overall feel. Famously, this time was defined by a throwback vibe, as Ring of Honor looked to provide a grainy, rough alternative to the flashy mainstream scene. Those visuals carry over to the product itself, with traditional formatting that’d prove incredibly polarising among ROH’s established fanbase. In fear of oversimplifying things or pointing the finger in any particular direction, it feels like old school territory TV but with Ring of Honor talent.

Now, if your response to that is “all hail,” I understand. As many of you will know, this take on television is a personal grin for me too, but that’s not really the point. In this case, the question is about whether or not this approach maximises this particular product at that particular time. History suggests no, absolutely not but I can only judge things one month at a time and thus far, I don’t have much negative to say. Unquestionably, this thing feels dated, even for a decade ago but there are absolutely elements I appreciate.

For example, this product feels immediately episodic through two weeks and I seem to recall that being an ongoing occurrence in this initial era. It sounds silly, but that was far too uncommon as ROH TV evolved, simply feeling like an hour of content at times rather than a genuine showcase of the current angles and arcs. That part of the puzzle feels like an undeniable triumph, I’m just unsure if it locks them into some other stylistic choices that we’ll get into here shortly.

The Voices of Honor

Look, I’m all for grittiness, but the initial visual of this product isn’t exactly flattering. Unfortunately, gritty would be the generous description of this opening shot and that’ll be a never-ending challenge as these tapings unfold. Cornette claims that his plan was a television studio, avoiding such violent swings in presentation but even a decade later, that never came to fruition. Don’t get me wrong, this particular look isn’t even bad by the promotion’s own relatively low standards, it’s just not exactly ideal.

Regardless, episode one starts with Kevin Kelly in centre ring, swiftly introducing his new colour commentator: Nigel McGuinness. This team would soon become awful familiar for wrestling fans, with McGuinness really improving tremendously in the coming years. McGuinness had been released from TNA only months prior, bringing a merciful end to his frustrating time as Desmond Wolfe. Unfortunately, McGuinness’ in-ring career was basically over, concluding things with a retirement tour shortly thereafter.

Clearly, the ROH audience is delighted to have McGuinness back, reacting raucously to his standard in-ring promo. Unfortunately, the sound of said promo isn’t great, a problem that’d somehow worsen in episode two, when Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team opens things up. They’re interviewed by Cornette himself, progressing their programme with The Briscoes and giving the ‘executive producer’ an ultimatum.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team Division?

With episode one featuring two tag matches, the promotion’s tandems were an immediate focus here. That begins with Future Shock, the combination of a young Kyle O’Reilly and an even younger Adam Cole. I’ve always loved this team but I must say, the comedy of their presentation here was somewhat lost on me beforehand. When Kyle O’Reilly is described as “an outdoor adrenaline junkie,” it’s impossible for my brain to go anywhere but those infamous Thrillseeker vignettes from almost two decades prior.

Ultimately though, Future Shock make the most of their time, defeating The Bravado Brothers in a nice tag team opener. This is a case where I completely understand the logic behind this choice, but wonder if it immediately tells a tale of some kind. Whereas this was slightly restrained and more of a neat, steady introduction, I wonder if the real play was the modern tag sprint that left nothing to spare. Clearly, that’s not what Cornette wanted then, now or forever, but it crossed my mind considering where we’re at these days.

In truth, those options probably produce the same results as commercially, true growth would be limited regardless. Ring of Honor was chasing the very few wrestling fans that’d ever be interested in their product and if the last decade has taught us anything, that number may be frustratingly low. Don’t get me wrong, things get better and as the promotion heats up, their television allegedly gains success but it’s just worth noting: this isn’t me saying that if someone else had the book, ROH is on NBC in primetime right now.

Either way, episode one is headlined by Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, defending their titles against The Kings of Wrestling. This would be Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli’s final time teaming together in ROH, with the latter signing for WWE and staying there ever since. As you’d expect, this was objectively good but unfortunately, it was also my first reminder of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin’s slightly weird ROH work. I actually like much of it, but their presence is symbolic of the ongoing styles clash.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Teams work in a way that was somewhat at odds with the promotion’s prior house style. Personally, I seldom have a problem with it but when paired with the change that this regime had brought in the year before, it made them the faces of that transition. This match encapsulates the conversation really: enjoyable, well-executed stuff that never explodes into the kind of crazy action that you’d want to truly define what this brand is. It’s good, but is that enough?

Pacing & Prodigy

I must say, even with two relatively lengthy TV main events, I’m stunned that neither episode featured three matches. Honestly, I remembered the exact opposite, recalling three matches as the consistent format. Instead, these shows are packed with video packages, explaining the promotion’s stars as well as things like the ‘Code of Honor.’ It’s hard to dismiss such ventures, doing the detail work that admittedly, I do think that modern wrestling lacks at times. These packages aren’t perfect, but I’d say they’re generally effective.

With the ‘Inside ROH’ pieces, fans get an insight into things as throwaway as Eddie Edwards’ nickname as well as the main event dynamic between Davey Richards and Roderick Strong. It’s all engaging enough, even if not executed expertly by the performers in question. Again though, was this the correct choice overall? When trying to sell a product on hard-hitting, exciting in-ring action, are so many pre-tapes really the play? It’s hard to say but the lack of wrestling stood out for me, weakening the programme’s most obvious strength.

Speaking of such, poor Mike Bennett is at the peak of his infamous Prodigy push here, an apparent personal project for Cornette. It’s hard, as I really do like Bennett but not unlike the above example, he just didn’t make sense as a focal point of this particular product. In truth, that’s the answer, as the plan was to use talent like Bennett to alter the identity of said product, but live crowds were understandably reluctant to accept that change. Bennett isn’t bad here, but immediate “you can’t wrestle” chants probably aren’t ideal.

That doesn’t change the direction however, as Bennett beats Jimmy Jacobs who alongside Steve Corino, is in the midst of his recovering babyface act. It’s worth noting that each episode features a ‘Tweet of the Week,’ with one gentleman claiming to be Batman. It was a different time, maybe, not really though I guess.

TV Time Allowed

Like most, I remembered that early on here, Jay Lethal dethrones El Generico, claiming the ROH Television Title. Indeed, that’s the main event of episode two, an immediately divisive decision that set a precedent for that kind of thing re: Generico. Lethal had returned to the promotion only months prior, rebuilding after years as a comedy character in TNA. An obvious priority of this new era, Lethal’s win made sense and set the stage for a decade of dominance but in this case, perhaps wrongly came at Generico’s expense.

Though I recalled the result, I had forgotten this particular presentation, as the pairing initially reached a time limit draw. Naturally, the live crowd groaned and I made a note to myself that this was another case of an outdated playbook and philosophy. I must say though, that when Cornette restarted things, the place suddenly exploded into action, making their most noise yet as Generico and Lethal went back and forth until the eventual conclusion.

I remembered a red hot finishing stretch and that’s what I got, but I’d forgotten how in this case, the booking actually enhanced that. At least there was an actual winner I suppose, even if the choice itself caused a conversation or two at the time.


Well, that was September, a fine start to Ring of Honor’s time on television. Early days of course and we’ll see this develops but my initial read is that this product is better in hindsight than in real time. Basically, it has many elements that objectively, you can appreciate but ultimately, were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time will and actually did tell, but I’m looking forward to what’s next, as Davey Richards defends his ROH Title against Roderick Strong in episode three.

Fleet Files #21: Winter is Coming, Hook is Here

Another week, another Fleet File and folks, winter is coming. This edition included, we have only four entries left, soon deciding the first and probably only Fleet Files victor. First though, Bryan Danielson has one last stop before his shot at Hangman Adam Page, taking on John Silver in Long Island, New York. Speaking of such, MJF’s homecoming is here while elsewhere, the world famous Hook makes his in-ring debut. Lots to cover folks, so let’s get this show on the road.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. Tag Team Titles: The Lucha Bros (c) vs. FTR – Rampage #19

This pairing’s best match together, FTR and The Lucha Bros completed the mission that they got well underway at Full Gear. That match was enthralling, but stumbled in the finishing stretch, righting that wrong here. This matchup is honestly fascinating as I don’t think there’s much chemistry but yet, the match quality can only fall so far for me personally. Granted, I’m ready for these teams to move on now but overall, I liked this series and thought this entry was especially enjoyable.

2. Riho vs. Jamie Hayter – Dynamite #114

My favourite match on this week’s Dynamite, Jamie Hayter and Riho produced something special on Wednesday. This dynamic is honestly perfect, two skill-sets and styles simply made for each other. Hayter’s powerhouse potential is truly unlocked by Riho’s desperation to sell, creating a natural babyface/heel scenario. Riho really is immense, the division’s best babyface and frankly, one of the promotion’s finest too. Credit to Hayter too, immediately improving on her promotional personal best against Thunder Rosa.

3. The Young Bucks vs. CHAOS – Dynamite #114

It’s always great to have Rocky Romero on AEW TV and on paper, combining that with The Young Bucks’ return to tag team action was an obvious winning formula. The execution ensured that to be the case as after a somewhat slow start, these four unsurprisingly managed something more than worthwhile. The final portion was classic Bucks, rolling back the years some with their exchange opposite Rocky Romero. Chuck Taylor deserves a mention too, maximising his minutes as usual.

4. Bryan Danielson vs. John Silver – Dynamite #114

The penultimate stop on Bryan Danielson’s latest ride, this was the perfect bridge towards next week’s mega-match. As you’d expect, John Silver was Danielson’s most competitive Dark Order foe yet, shining bright before ‘The American Dragon’s inevitable and ultimately emphatic win. I’ve really appreciated Danielson’s approach to this story, offering engaging in-ring action but really maintaining the aggressive edge that’ll make next week’s title tilt even more special. That’ll be great but this delivered in its own right, a strong television main event.

5. Nyla Rose, Penelope Ford & The Bunny vs. Ruby Soho & TayJay – Rampage #19

This exceeded my expectations honestly, an extended cut of the recent C-Show trios bouts. With slightly increased star-power and a tight structure, these six women took a throwaway bout and made it genuinely engaging. After two (!) heat segments, Anna Jay delivered a worthy hot tag, setting the stage for an expansive finishing stretch. Everyone stepped up here and the audience’s legitimate fandom of the babyface trio shouldn’t be ignored, a real factor in what made this work.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Emi Sakura vs. Ryo Mizunami – Dark #120

I’m not as educated on these two women’s careers as I should be, but this had big ‘greatest hits’ energy. My brief research suggests that in truth, they haven’t actually wrestled much at all yet even still, this felt like a condensed version of what they have or at least could produce elsewhere. As is, it was strong, packed with physicality and just wonderfully well-executed TV wrestling.

2. The Nightmare Family vs. The Wingmen – Dark Elevation #40

This was some nice C-Show content right here, an ideal usage of The Wingmen. My main takeaway is simple though: give me Dustin Rhodes vs. JD Drake and give them six minutes or so in a Dark Elevation main event. The rest is a bonus, ‘Pretty’ Peter and all.

3. Abadon & Ryo Mizunami vs.  Emi Sakura & The Bunny – Dark Elevation #40

Though too short to rank any higher, this beat out more mechanically sound matches by being fun, plain and simple. Abadon is polarising to say the least but is genuinely improving and in this setting, her character was absolutely maximised by the match’s other participants. That dynamic carried things honestly, across the board.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Ricky Starks – Dark #120

Must say, I’d forgotten just how at home Ricky Starks feels in a setting such as this. Looking down the camera, interviewer by his side and a small crowd in the palm of his hand, Ricky Starks only needs a minute or two to remind the world of just how great a promo he is. Starks nailed this, and seemed at absolute ease along the way.

2. CM Punk – Dynamite #114

‘The Best in the World’s version of an MJF promo, CM Punk produced a similarly familiar heel promo on Wednesday. Long and in terms of content at least, perhaps a little lazy but in many ways, that was the point. Punk certainly takes joy in playing this side of the game, relishing the heat and offering a complete role reversal in his feud with MJF. Not his best, but strong nonetheless.

3. Cody Rhodes – Dynamite #114

I don’t care how fleeting this was, I only needed one line. “From one good guy to another,” enough said. Cody Rhodes is doing his own take on the medium right now and I honestly change my mind on it every week. I don’t know if it’s what you’d call “good,” but it’s entertaining me personally as of late.

4. Lio Rush – Dark #120

A vast improvement on his effort from last week’s Dynamite, this was the Lio Rush that wrestling fans have come to know. Confident and always armed with an answer to every question, Rush’s presence far exceeds his diminutive stature, allowing him a sense of genuine star power. Rush and Starks combined for a nice promo segment on Dark, more of that in the studio please.

5. The Men of the Year – Dynamite #114

This wasn’t really positioned to be anything more than it was, but I liked the delivery quite a bit. Ethan Page is always good and honestly, Scorpio Sky has been consistently right alongside him as of late. Circumstance assured that this segment had a clear ceiling but I liked The Men of the Year’s piece of the puzzle and so, they share the fifth spot here.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Hook vs. Fuego Del Sol – Rampage #19

One of the most unique, striking debuts in AEW history, this was an absolute smash hit. Hook has arrived and more on that later but for now, major props to Fuego Del Sol. The wrestling definition of ‘a star in his role,’ Fuego is the perfect talent for this position, an incredible pro that spotlighted Hook perfectly.

2. The Pinnacle vs. Jay Marte & Richard King – Dark #120

I just love this Shawn Spears – Wardlow team, and am glad that their time together didn’t come to an end on Wednesday. It’s a great dynamic that in any other tag team division, could be utilised far more on the A-Shows honestly. Not sure that day will ever come in AEW, but I’ll accept these squashes for now.

3. The Factory vs. Baron Black, JD Munoz, Shawn Hoodrich & Tony Vincita – Dark Elevation #40

This was kind of a mess so naturally, I’ve rewarded it accordingly. In his brief appearance here, Anthony Ogogo looked both awesome and lost in one fell swoop, the ideal wrestling return if we’re being honest.  

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Hook

From the outside looking in, this may seem like the latest attempt at capitalising on a meme, but I can’t overstate its sincerity. In just a few minutes, Hook stole the show, AEW’s biggest talking point by far at the week’s close. Technically perfect and soaked in a slick charisma, Hook’s in-ring debut couldn’t have possibly gone any better. All jokes aside, Hook is a genuine prospect and after just one match, his ceiling already feels unfathomable. Time will tell obviously, but you couldn’t ask for a stronger start.

2. MJF

On any other week, MJF would’ve been a lock for the top spot, rising to the occasion and then some at home. MJF was simply wonderful on Wednesday, entering to a spectacular video package and soaking up the ovation in fabulous fashion. I don’t always trust MJF’s instincts and think he certainly misses at times, but he was absolutely perfect here. The Dynamite Diamond Battle Royale was fun TV but in truth, a mere backdrop to MJF’s greatest hit yet, a masterclass in character work.

3. Riho

Once again, this week was a triumph for anyone that had rightly demanded more Riho on TV. The Britt Baker match was a success but this was a level above, continuing the women’s division’s recent bell to bell hot streak on Dynamite. Riho is making a statement with this little run, the glue that’s now led two top heels to their strongest showings in some time. More Riho vs. Hayter please, as this is a natural title programme down the road.

4. Jamie Hayter

Honestly, Jamie Hayter could be very reasonably argued as the star of Wednesday’s bout. Selfless as ever, Riho gave her so much space to fill and thankfully, Hayter was more than up to the task. Hayter’s offence here was a perfect blend of impressive physicality, showy but not in a way that undermined Riho’s role. As I’ve said before, Hayter’s initial outings post-return were slightly shaky but she’s shaken the rust and now finally looks back at home.

5. Cash Wheeler

Maybe this is slightly unfair but as I said, this week’s best match was a weird outlier. Due to the slightly strange chemistry, this wasn’t a bout for individual brilliance, even if the overall product absolutely connected. With that in mind, I thought I’d spotlight the match’s best piece in my personal view, the too often underrated Cash Wheeler. Unfortunately, Dax Harwood’s brilliance usually earns the plaudits but on this occasion, Cash stole the show.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 97 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 89 Points
  3. CM Punk – 78 Points
  4. Miro – 70 Points
  5. Dax Harwood – 64 Points
  6. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  7. Penta El Zero Miedo – 62 Points
  8. Nick Jackson – 59 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  10. Rey Fenix – 58 Points
  11. Matt Jackson – 52 Points
  12. Adam Cole – 51 Points
  13. MJF – 50 Points
  14. Jungle Boy – 49 Points
  15. Cash Wheeler – 49 Points
  16. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  17. Hangman Adam Page – 47 Points
  18. Pac – 46 Points
  19. Christian Cage – 44  Points
  20. Orange Cassidy – 40 Points

Fleet Files #20: Cody’s Back?

Another week, another Fleet File, even if a touch later than usual. Sorry folks, was rather poorly over the weekend and so, this project momentarily suffered. Better late than never though of course, so let’s get this thing’s final chapter headed in the right direction, locking in as we near the year’s close. We aren’t without major events on that path either, with an almost certainly blockbuster ‘Winter is Coming’ fast approaching. The league table is heating up and there can only be one Fleet Files victor, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. Cody Rhodes vs. Andrade El Idolo – Dynamite #113

I’m sorry, but I just loved this. For better or worse, this was Cody Rhodes at this most Cody Rhodes, bleeding everywhere and brawling around the building before going through literal fire. It felt forced at times, unearned at others but ultimately, I can’t pretend to care. Simply put, this was an enthralling television main event, featuring Cody’s craziest antic yet alongside a spectacular Andrade El Idolo performance. Flawed? Certainly but this won’t be forgotten anytime soon, an absolute blast in truth.

2. Tony Nese vs. Sammy Guevara – Rampage #18

In many ways, this was a Tony Nese showcase and so, your mileage may vary. For me, it ensured that this’d be a hit, as Nese finally got the spotlight that frankly, he’s deserved for some time. Though not a top guy, Nese is a truly dynamic in-ring performer, a stylistic hybrid that perfectly encapsulates the modern junior heavyweight. It helped that he was opposite Sammy Guevara too of course, the TNT Champion who again, hasn’t missed in a title defence yet.

3. FTR vs. Death Triangle – Rampage #18

As the great Oracle of Wrestling has pointed out before, TV FTR are different from PPV FTR and in my view, this was the latest case of exactly that. It’s a likely divisive adjustment as in this setting, FTR produce a more restrained effort, colouring within the lines of a much tighter structure. Pac co-signed that approach too, really committing to the sell of his injured eye and setting the stage for a typically explosive Penta hot tag. Not a classic, but unsurprisingly strong TV wrestling here.

4. Ruby Soho vs. Kris Statlander – Dynamite #113

I’m frustrated with my own ranking here, as I really did love this match live but after a rewatch, this is where it’s staying unfortunately. With a couple more minutes, this could’ve exploded into something truly special but as is, it was still one of the TBS Title Tournament’s standout matches. Ruby Soho is at her best when paired with a powerhouse and Kris Statlander fills that role seamlessly, launching Soho around on the way to a superb finishing stretch.

5. CM Punk vs. Lee Moriarty – Dynamite #113

Visibly taking some time to adjust early, CM Punk eventually got this where he wanted it to be: emphatically spotlighting Lee Moriarty. On sheer talent alone, this could only fall so far and indeed, they produced something very much worthwhile here, even if slightly round around the edges. Moriarty really is a special talent and that’s what this was about, even if the commentary somewhat muddied those waters. CM Punk’s selflessness continues and that debate rages on but personally, I’m just glad that we got this one in the books.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Adam Cole vs. Anthony Greene – Dark #119

I don’t want to say this was surprisingly competitive as I definitely expected a real match here but even still, this nearly touching ten minutes did catch me slightly off guard. Anthony Greene made the most of that time though, delivering again as Adam Cole eased his way to another engaging television bout. Strong C-Show main event.

2. Ethan Page vs. Fuego Del Sol – Dark #119

In some ways, see above as this itself went almost nine minutes, it wasn’t far behind in terms of quality either. Ethan Page really is made for this setting, which I mean as an absolute compliment, just a wonderful heel who happily interacts with every fan filling a seat. Fuego Del Sol’s part in this deserves credit too, really the perfect talent for this particular role.

3. The Pinnacle vs. Bear Country – Dark #119

A neat television tag, this match jumped off the page and ultimately, delivered as Dark’s opening bout. Nothing crazy or must-see, but sound stuff between two teams I like. Must say, wish we got more of Shawn Spears and Wardlow in major tag matches but honestly, that window seems set to close in the coming weeks. Oh well, glad we got this one at least.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Miro – Dynamite #113

Renewing his already iconic feud with god, Miro was in purgatory this week, finally responding to his Full Gear defeat. I remain truly fascinated by this direction and its wrestling endgame but on delivery alone, Miro earns the top ranking here. Few segments this year have been a more consistent hit than Miro armed with a brief pre-tape promo, a Dynamite centrepiece honestly.

2. Christian Cage – Rampage #18

Really just an extension of the prior week’s offering, this was delightful. In his most intense promo since joining AEW, Christian Cage continued to speak on Jurassic Express’ behalf, only further alarming anyone on heel turn watch. Cage’s range as a promo is immense and though nothing that’ll be remembered down the line, this really was quite the effort.

3. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #113

More of the same from the unparalleled ‘American Dragon,’ as Bryan Danielson continued his masterful heel work on Dynamite. Following a neat opening match with Alan Angels, Danielson built on his already impressive groundwork, talking trash and further heating up his eventual title match with Hangman Adam Page. Danielson’s content isn’t ground-breaking but his confidence is absolutely palpable.

4. Pac – Dynamite #113/Rampage #18

Nothing outrageous here but on a relatively quiet promo week, Pac’s double dip earns him the fourth spot. Pac’s delivery isn’t always my favourite but I know I’m alone in that sense, so this could probably warrant a higher ranking in truth. Either way, his intensity speaks for itself and with two backstage efforts, Pac helped bridge the gap between his match and the originally advertised version.

5. Eddie Kingston – Rampage #18

By Eddie Kingston standards, this was an incredibly understated promo but it did reiterate a familiar message: no one needs as little time as Kingston to stay over. 30 seconds will do the trick, just let ‘The Mad King’ be and on authenticity alone, he’ll stay special.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. AC Adams – Dynamite #113

An absolute destruction, this was again Wardlow at his fleeting best, swiftly battering poor AC Adams. This is headed to the major moment we’ve been waiting for in my view but honestly, I’ll always accept these squash matches in the meantime.

2. The Butcher vs. Michael Martinez – Dark #119

Bless The Butcher, wrestling’s love letter to a simpler time. He’s clunky and messy, rough in every way but yet, it’s charming because frankly, he doesn’t move and work like everyone else. Instead, The Butcher feels genuinely wild and this singles squash was an absolute treat as a result.

3. Infinito vs. Ray Jaz – Dark #119

I don’t need to explain this, earns a point through insanity alone.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Andrade El Idolo

This is far from an objective pick as honestly, Andrade El Idolo wasn’t exactly in the headlines on Wednesday night. Indeed, the story was Cody and his flaming back but on rewatch especially, my appreciation for Andrade greatly increased. He was incredible on Dynamite, once again showing his almost unparalleled versatility and in my view, making a real statement as to his status. Andrade El Idolo is a player folks, and his recent showings deserve a massive 2022.

2. Cody Rhodes

Though not the standout half of his main event match, Cody Rhodes could only fall so far here, fighting through literal frames on Dynamite. Cody Rhodes is self-indulgent to say the least, an obviously flawed top guy but yet, an immensely entertaining one nonetheless. I don’t know where this whole thing is going and frankly, don’t even care anymore but I can only judge him segment to segment and this week, Cody Rhodes hit an absolute homerun.

3. Tony Nese

While his signing may have caused some debate, I never questioned whether or not Tony Nese belonged. Quite the opposite in fact, as Nese had proven himself as an absolute workhorse on 205 Live, simply waiting for an opportunity exactly like this. Nese shined on Rampage, showcasing his most varied skill-set against Sammy Guevara. I don’t know what Nese’s ceiling is in AEW and honestly, my guess it that it’s probably not far above this but that doesn’t lessen his performance here, stealing the show in my mind.

4. Kris Statlander

It always felt obvious to me that unfortunately, Kris Statlander’s time in the TBS Title Tournament would be short-lived. With her performance on Wednesday though, Statlander reiterated what most already believed: that she’s an undeniable main event player in this division. After all, Statlander was the other half of Britt Baker’s best title defence yet, delivering again here as she powered Ruby Soho around to a strikingly positive reaction. Long pencilled in as a star of tomorrow, Statlander is proving herself as one of today.

5. Lee Moriarty

Though the bout with CM Punk didn’t quite match my admittedly high expectations, this was still an almost unfathomable week for Lee Moriarty. Not even two months removed from officially signing, Moriarty went over ten minutes with Punk, taking much of the match and even scoring an onslaught of near-falls. Moriarty isn’t quite there yet but that’s the point, as matches like this will only accelerate his ascension. AEW’s rampant rotation has strengths and weaknesses but matches like this are undeniably the former.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 95 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 89 Points
  3. CM Punk – 74 Points
  4. Miro – 70 Points
  5. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  6. Dax Harwood – 59 Points
  7. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  8. Penta El Zero Miedo – 57 Points
  9. Nick Jackson – 56 Points
  10. Rey Fenix – 53 Points
  11. Adam Cole – 51 Points
  12. Matt Jackson – 49 Points
  13. Jungle Boy – 49 Points
  14. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  15. Hangman Adam Page – 47 Points
  16. Pac – 46 Points
  17. MJF – 46 Points
  18. Christian Cage – 44 Points
  19. Cash Wheeler – 43 Points
  20. Orange Cassidy – 40 Points

Fleet Files #19: Bringing Back Tradition

Thanksgiving is here and just like the good old days, so is pro wrestling with it. Indeed, Tony Khan has resurrected this great wrestling tradition…well kind of anyway. I mean, a cynic would argue that instead, his shows simply air on Wednesday and Friday every week, inevitably bookending Thanksgiving rather than doing anything specific but again, I don’t have time for such cynics. Seriously though, it’s always nice to have good pro wrestling, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. Eddie Kingston vs. Daniel Garcia – Rampage #16

Two of AEW’s finest doing what they do best: producing magnificent pro wrestling. This was a wonderful clash of styles, overlapping enough to make the contrasts even more striking. Physically outgunned, Garcia struggled early but soon took advantage of Kingston’s injured knee, assaulting his ear along the way. For all his technical brilliance, Garcia is equally vicious, a spiteful soul simply made for battering someone like King. This was just about perfect, featuring immense selling throughout.

2. Andrade El Idolo, FTR & Malakai Black vs. Cody Rhodes & Death Triangle – Dynamite #112

The ideal ‘Road To’ main event, this was a natural main event for the Thanksgiving eve edition of Dynamite. Big stars, great workers and ongoing stories, just a fabulous mix of major league television wrestling. Cody’s part in this remains understandably polarising, but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment here, surrounded by enough excellence that skill-wise, he can still hang with also. That being said, it’s probably time to move Malakai Black on, even if this match was an undeniable smash hit.

3. Thunder Rosa vs. Jamie Hayter – Dynamite #112

The strongest showing of Jamie Hayter’s AEW stint thus far, this exceeded my sizeable, even if slightly cautious, expectations. As physical as advertised, this was an intense, gruelling affair, packed with aggression. Hayter finally felt truly at home here, stylistically suited to this kind of bruising battle. As for Rosa, what is there left to say? Few are better in the world, just an absolute force of charismatic and engaging pro wrestling magic. Whether TBS or not, gold needs to be around Rosa’s waist in 2022.

4. Riho vs. Britt Baker – Rampage #16

 A rare non-title singles loss for an AEW Champion, this match was good enough that honestly, the whole thing felt more than worthwhile. Frankly, Riho has been criminally underused as of late, unforced error or not. Clearly, this’ll be a title programme now but afterwards, I really hope that Riho remains visible on TV, as she offers a whole lot as this division’s babyface underdog. Baker was good here too, producing her most poised performance in some time, one-half of a really neat television bout.

5. Adam Cole & Bobby Fish vs. Best Friends – Rampage #16

I’m seemingly a touch lower on this than the majority, but I did like it quite a bit. The Adam Cole – Bobby Fish team certainly won’t blow you away with their heat segments but when the action escalates, they were quite the combination. Wheeler Yuta was the star of this match though, obviously there to take the fall but maximising his minutes and leaving the ring stronger than he’d entered. Orange Cassidy was there too, he’s great huh?

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Lee Moriarty vs. Nick Comoroto – Dark #118

In a promotion packed with prospects, Lee Moriarty may stand out the most for me personally. Beyond the charisma and flash, Moriarty is just a wonderfully mature performer, showing that here as he seamlessly structured a match around Comoroto’s quite literal strength.

2. Kris Statlander, Leyla Hirsch & Ryo Mizunami vs. Emi Sakura, Penelope Ford & The Bunny – Dark Elevation #38

Again, they’ve done an awful lot of these trios matches on the C-Shows as of late but I continue to enjoy them, so it’s hard to complain much. Going for this particular rendition was the fact that it felt like we hadn’t seen Leyla Hirsch and Penelope Ford for a while, which only helped the final product.

3. The Dark Order vs. Carlie Bravo & Shawn Dean – Dark #118

I must say, I’ve always enjoyed the pairing of Carlie Bravo and Shawn Dean. I don’t think they’ve teamed up often, but obviously enough to impact me in some form or fashion. In addition, it was nice to Alex Reynolds and John Silver back together, combining for a neat Dark opener.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. CM Punk – Dynamite #112

For me at least, the victor of Wednesday’s blockbuster promo segment, CM Punk continued his hot streak on Dynamite. Opposite MJF, Punk may not have spoke the most, but his words hit the hardest in my view, cutting through the filler and dealing some knockout punches along the way. Punk’s authenticity stole the show I thought, bringing that palpable confidence which transcends any on-screen performance. For better or worse, he’s a real person and as though it wasn’t already confirmed, CM Punk is back, folks.

2. MJF – Dynamite #112

Though the above may suggest otherwise, I actually thought MJF performed admirably on Dynamite. Not every sentence was a hit, but some connected in a major way and more than that, MJF truly belonged and at his age, that’s no mean feat. The sheer conviction of MJF is and always has been immensely impressive, not budging an inch in front of the promotion’s biggest star. In many ways, MJF is a modern version of what Punk was almost two decades ago, creating the natural clash that caught fire on Wednesday.

3. Bear Country – Dark #118

I didn’t want to split Boulder and Bronson here, as their tandem offering was a genuine hit on both sides. This was eye-opening honestly, an old school pro wrestling promo that perfectly fit Bear Country’s whole aura and appeal. Unfortunately, they followed this effort by losing to The Gunn Club, which I’d recommend against. If this level of promo is a part of Bear Country’s game, they should be climbing the depth chart sooner than later. Also, more of these promos on Dark please, they give the show its own flavour.

4. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #112

Fresh off another Dark Order destruction, Bryan Danielson continued his recent shift in direction, operating as a heel with Hangman Adam Page ahead. Danielson’s smug cockiness makes sense considering his success, but his absolute passion for violence remains the highlight. This promo followed an extensive victory lap with Colt Cabana’s tooth in hand, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Danielson has been a good promo for some time but in this role, he’s at his absolute best.

5. Tony Nese – Rampage #16

This is probably generous but who cares, I’m here to simply say that yes, Tony Nese can talk. He’s not Dusty Rhodes, nor will he knock you over with charisma but Nese doesn’t have to be some mute either. We already know Nese’s role, he’ll rotate in and out for television losses and mostly dominate on the C-Shows, but these promos in-between really won’t be the challenge that some suggest. Nese is a natural fit for this position, and steady promos like this will only make that more obvious.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Rolando Perez – Dark #118

A genuine contender for the greatest squash match in AEW history, this was a masterpiece. Poor Rolando Perez was grossly outmatched and with this sacrifice, professional wrestling’s life has been extended. I don’t even care about the big singles push for Wardlow, just give me these squashes forever, please.

2. Bryan Danielson vs. Colt Cabana – Dynamite #112

Look, last week may have been a stretch but this one? No way, this thing was a squash, folks. I have to say, I adore this recent shift, as Danielson has gone from aggressively selfless to an absolute destroyer since turning heel. As a fan, I honestly wanted something more competitive here but after seeing it in action, this was absolutely the correct call.

3. Riho vs. Trish Adora – Dark Elevation #38

This wasn’t quite long enough to be listed as a C-Show stealer, but it’s one of the better two minute matches that you’ll see, so I’ll list it here for the sake of my personal grin. Sign Trish Adora, because obviously.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Daniel Garcia

Though the loser of this week’s best match, Daniel Garcia felt more like a star than ever on Rampage. Kingston’s selflessness is a tale as old as time, but Garcia was more than worthy of that treatment, filling every gap with ease. Garcia is such a focused, refreshing in-ring performer and unsurprisingly gelled seamlessly with Kingston. Thus far, Garcia has gained an awful lot in defeat on AEW TV, but this was his finest showing yet.

2. Eddie Kingston

The other half of that Rampage classic, Eddie Kingston continued to cement himself as one of the promotion’s tippy top guys against Daniel Garcia. Kingston’s connection with the AEW audience is special, and it allows his matches to stand out but first and foremost, so do his performances. This is an all-time great pro wrestler at the peak of his powers, maybe not physically but he’s just got the answers right now, rising to the occasion at every turn.

3. Riho

After months on the sidelines, Riho was back in a major way this week, returning to television and even pinning the AEW Women’s Champion. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for Riho, who should stay present after this upcoming title shot comes and goes. On Rampage, Riho reminded the world that she’s one of the division’s strongest workers, producing a really nice television bout with Britt Baker. More Riho please, we’re all better for it.

4. CM Punk

My personal highlight of the week’s signature segment, CM Punk’s brilliance continues to amaze me. Simply put, Punk is pro wrestling and even after seven years off, that hasn’t changed a bit. Honestly, Punk would be ranked even higher if not for the match that followed. Punk’s bout with QT Marshall was steady to be clear, not bad by any means but in my view, it was a tactical error of sorts. Punk probably didn’t need to be working that match at that time, though it certainly could enhance the story moving forward.

5. Jamie Hayter

After fleeting flashes of brilliance since arriving in AEW, Jamie Hayter produced her best effort yet on Wednesday. This was a signature showing for Hayter, matching the immense Thunder Rosa for a gruelling tournament bout. Hayter’s sizeable ceiling and potential have been discussed often since her August return and for me, this performance was the best sight of that thus far. Indeed, Jamie Hayter is a name to track in terms of title contention and with efforts like this, that could be here sooner than later.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 91 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 88 Points
  3. CM Punk – 73 Points
  4. Miro – 65 Points
  5. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 56 Points
  8. Dax Harwood – 56 Points
  9. Penta El Zero Miedo – 54 Points
  10. Rey Fenix – 53 Points
  11. Matt Jackson – 49 Points
  12. Jungle Boy – 49 Points
  13. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  14. Adam Cole – 48 Points
  15. Hangman Adam Page – 47 Points
  16. MJF – 46 Points
  17. Pac – 41 Points
  18. Christian Cage – 40 Points
  19. Orange Cassidy – 40 Points
  20. Cash Wheeler – 40 Points

Fleet Files #18: New Room, New View

With Full Gear complete, AEW looks towards a new era, even heading to TBS in the new year. First though, they have another month or so to navigate, concluding some stories while getting the pieces in place for others. Some of the promotion’s top stars suddenly have a clean slate, awaiting the emergence of a new arc or conflict in the coming weeks. As I said last time, this series will be ending at the year’s close but there’s still time for the league table to shift as we look for our first and only Fleet Files winner.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. TNT Title: Sammy Guevara (c) vs. Jay Lethal – Dynamite #111

Considering last week’s introduction, I’m not really rushing to praise one half of this match but again, I’ll conclude this series in the fashion that I started it. With that in mind, this was indeed a strong television main event and furthermore, an excellent debut for the challenger. With the American Top Team bickering now surely nearing its end, hopefully Guevara can continue his TNT Title reign with more matches of this ilk.

2. Nyla Rose vs. Hikaru Shida – Dynamite #111

A timely reminder of their established chemistry, this was a real triumph in my view. It’s been great to have Hikaru Shida back on TV and though she’s lost two of her most recent matches, the former champion feels more compelling than ever in my view. Though it’s been overstated elsewhere, wins and losses certainly aren’t everything and Shida’s recent vulnerable only makes her fighting spirit more engaging. Opposite her, Nyla Rose really delivered here in my view, restating her credentials for the division’s top tier.

3. Jurassic Express vs. Adam Cole & Bobby Fish – Rampage #15

The main event of an admittedly frustrating Rampage for me personally, this built on the base that Jade Cargill vs. Red Velvet provided, producing an impressive main event. The story itself wasn’t exactly necessary, just reiterating last week’s conclusion but overall, the execution made it worthwhile. Again, Bobby Fish has been tremendous since arriving in AEW, really bringing his own rough and tough edge to the role of veteran gatekeeper.

4. Dante Martin & Lio Rush vs. The Acclaimed – Dynamite #111

After a merely steady first half, this exploded into something quite spectacular down the stretch. The Acclaimed are an interesting team, as they appear to wrestle somewhat with their stylistic approach. As a stooging heel team, I find them rather unremarkable but when it’s time to trade moves and up the pace, Bowens’ natural assets really come to the fore. In truth though, this was about Dante Martin and Lio Rush, an already wonderful act that I’d like to challenge the Lucha Bros as soon as possible.

5. Orange Cassidy & Tomohiro Ishii vs. The Butcher & The Blade – Dynamite #111

This wasn’t anything special, but man did I have fun. Tomohiro Ishii has been one of the last decade’s most reliable in-ring performers, New Japan’s bruising but brilliant mainstay. Overall, this was a nice showcase of who he is, even if slightly restrained for obvious reasons. Even still, I loved Ishii’s portions of this match, especially as he backed down The Butcher from one corner to the other. Just good TV wrestling, all with the twist of a Tomohiro Ishii sighting, strong stuff.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Kris Statlander, Riho & Ryo Mizunami vs. Emi Sakura, Nyla Rose & The Bunny – Dark #117

This was honestly awesome, which is no mean feat considering my admitted fatigue with these matchups. It’s strange, I enjoy them all but they’ve definitely been excessive as of late and yet, this one still managed to stand out. Just a wonderful mix of styles on display, with all involved maximising their minutes.

2. The Hardy Family Office vs. The Dark Order – Dark Elevation #37

I’m already a sucker for these trios bouts but I must say, this has to be The Dark Order’s strongest trio without using John Silver himself. Angels, Uno and Stu were incredible here, especially late, and had the ideal C-Show foes in the infamous HFO.

3. The Acclaimed vs. The Dark Order – Dark #117

To me, this is the ideal version of AEW’s C-Show programming. Here, we have a steady television match that due to the promotion’s loaded roster, doesn’t really belong on television. Perfect, with Alan Angels and Colt Cabana proving themselves to be an unsurprisingly entertaining Dark Order duo.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #111

What a treat this was, ‘The American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson being a big ol’ dick on national television. Armed with a new champion and his home crowd, Danielson relished the opportunity to heel it up, cutting a wonderfully arrogant promo. I don’t think this presentation is here to stay beyond the Page programme itself, but I’ll love every minute while it’s here.

2. MJF – Dynamite #111

Though his work live was good also, this rating is really earned by MJF’s post-match promo after the clash with Darby Allin. AEW seldom airs these kind of efforts but thank goodness we got this one, as it was one of MJF’s finest outings yet. The content can be divisive and has limited my enjoyment previously, but MJF has been quite remarkable as of late.

3. Hangman Adam Page – Dynamite #111

Though not quite as aggressively brilliant as his counterpart in this particular segment, I still loved Hangman Adam Page’s fire on Dynamite. It was all simple stuff, AEW’s take on the standard TV opening and yet, the execution on both sides ensured that this got rave reviews. Page’s confidence is striking, almost as palpable as the connection he shares with this audience.

4. Eddie Kingston – Dynamite #111

As I’ve said before, Eddie Kingston doesn’t need much TV time, just a constant presence will do the trick. This week, ‘The Mad King’ took about 30 seconds to establish a new conflict, capturing our interest in a brief but fiery promo exchange with Daniel Garcia. When you have Kingston’s authenticity and commitment, the content can range in quality, but the result stays the same.

5. Malakai Black – Dynamite #111

I really do love these Malakai Black pre-tapes, which makes my relative disinterest all the more frustrating. Black’s delivery is honestly immense, and these always have their own flavour completely but yet, the actual story itself lost me long ago. It’s a real shame and for everyone involved, this thing will finally conclude in the coming weeks.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Evil Uno – Dynamite #111

Yes, this is probably cheating, but I think it’s worthwhile. After Dynamite’s opening segment, this wasn’t the time for Bryan Danielson to have a friendly wrestling match with Evil Uno though in truth, I feared that he still would anyway. Instead, Danielson basically battered Uno, all with a spiteful nastiness too. Not really a squash, but Danielson’s most one-sided match yet and that’s enough for me.

2. Ruby Soho vs. Hyan – Dark #117

Though I’m very much ready for her return to big time television wrestling, I can’t overstate how content I am watching Ruby Soho in this setting. This match was basically just Ruby hitting her signature moves, soaking up another hero’s welcome and kicking ass. Ideal, this formula still works for me.

3. Powerhouse Hobbs vs. Jaysin Strife – Dark #117

The usual from Powerhouse Hobbs here, and the usual will always be enough for some kind of squash match ranking, especially considering his new Torture Rack finish.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Sammy Guevara

Though he’s yet to miss inside the ropes, Sammy Guevara has had a slightly frustrating TNT Title reign thus far. The Inner Circle reunion took centre stage for ultimately, an inconsistent PPV feud with American Top Team. That’s fine, but Guevara now needs to stand alone and with that in mind, this week was an absolute smash hit. Guevara isn’t often listed as one of the promotion’s standout workers but he sure is consistent, again proving on Dynamite that he can reliably close any AEW show.

2. Bryan Danielson

At Full Gear, Bryan Danielson certainly delivered opposite Miro but overall, I thought he took a relative backseat. There were many headlines, and Danielson wasn’t a major one but it didn’t take long to change that, as he immediately stole the show on Dynamite. Danielson’s promo was perfect, combining that with a dominant win over Evil Uno and perfectly setting the stage for his upcoming title shot.

3. Nyla Rose

For all her efforts on AEW’s C-Show programming, Nyla Rose’s last TV outings weren’t her strongest. That’s not even a criticism really, as some of those circumstances were limiting to say the least but either way, Rose felt slightly demoted in recent months. That made her performance on Dynamite all the more validating, as Rose returned to form on the promotion’s biggest stage, producing an impressive performance against Hikaru Shida.

4. MJF

Leaving Full Gear with his best bell to bell effort yet, MJF’s momentum didn’t slow for a second, pairing great promos and then arguably securing the week’s biggest story. Moving forward, MJF will seemingly be working opposite CM Punk and considering their comparable skillsets especially, there’s no bigger spot in truth. That development was almost certainly this week’s biggest, positioning MJF to continue his recent hot streak in the coming months.

5. Hangman Adam Page

The chase is one thing, but with its conclusion always comes a challenge. Now the champion, Hangman Adam Page looks to stay red hot and through one week, he couldn’t be better positioned to succeed. With just one segment under their belts, Hangman Page and Bryan Danielson cemented the belief that this was a blockbuster bout, heating things up with ease and immediately establishing a competitive, fiery dynamic.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 87 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 79 Points
  3. CM Punk – 66 Points
  4. Miro – 65 Points
  5. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 56 Points
  8. Dax Harwood – 52 Points
  9. Penta El Zero Miedo – 50 Points
  10. Matt Jackson – 49 Points
  11. Rey Fenix – 49 Points
  12. Jungle Boy – 49 Points
  13. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  14. Hangman Adam Page – 47 Points
  15. Adam Cole – 47 Points
  16. MJF – 42 Points
  17. Christian Cage – 40 Points
  18. Orange Cassidy – 39 Points
  19. Pac – 37 Points
  20. Cash Wheeler – 36 Points

Fleet Files #17: End of an Era

Just over two years removed from their television debut, AEW is finally ready to conclude its opening chapter. Lots has happened, especially as of late but in a big picture sense, the promotion’s ultimate arc ends at Full Gear, cementing an era of The Elite in pro wrestling’s history books. This Saturday, Hangman Adam Page finally becomes World Champion, headlining the brand’s best PPV line-up. For most though, it’s all about Page’s pursuit of gold, attempting to topple his old tag team partner in the process.

Now, before I go any further here, I feel that it’s important to cover another occurrence at Full Gear. On Saturday, AEW announced a brand-new signing that to put it lightly, immensely disappointed their ardent viewer. That includes myself and so, from now until this series’ conclusion at the end of 2021, I’ll probably be including some sort of disclaimer or note. In an ideal world, I could cover a whole wrestling roster without feeling grimy about it, I wouldn’t have to pull praise at every turn.

Unfortunately, AEW further proved that it isn’t an outlier on Saturday. Now more than ever, it’s difficult to trust their decision-making elsewhere and as a fan alone, that’s immensely frustrating. I’m saddened by how easily this ‘drama’ will likely go away and would rather not contribute to that by immediately ignoring the topic for the sake of this project. If I’ve done that before, I’m sorry, because it isn’t fair to prioritise how comfortable my content is when stories like this go so quickly forgotten.

Any praise below does not negate the very real allegations against a performer’s name. Instead, it is simply my way of continuing this project in its current form for another six weeks. With that being said, I will include an abbreviated version of this note moving forward, as it’s important to me that I don’t naively look the other way for the sake of, ultimately, much less important matters. Granted, that isn’t much but I just wanted to tackle this immediately because in truth, it means more than any title change ever could.

There is no way to neatly transition from that to match reviews but again, the comfort of myself or any content creator isn’t the priority here, plain and simple.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston – Full Gear 2021

From what I can gather, this isn’t the consensus match of the week which in many ways, speaks to the quality of Full Gear. With that being said, it really isn’t particularly close for me personally, as this could very well be my match of the year. CM Punk and Eddie Kingston only needed two weeks to build this match, telling a backstory packed with emotion and hate. Together, they’d set the stage for a fight, a brawl that stood separate from the athletic, exciting pro wrestling contests alongside it.

To say that Kingston and Punk delivered would be an immense understatement, as the pair produced an absolutely enthralling 11 minutes, reaching ‘classic’ status within about 90 seconds. The blunt brutality spoke for itself, but it was the match’s atmosphere and energy that made this truly magical. This thing felt alive, enriched by the raucous crowd and paced to perfection. Simply put, this was two absolute masters of the craft, controlling the crowd with ease and pairing a perfect match with its perfect build.

This promotion has hosted many great matches, but this stands alone as a visceral fistfight, one completely divorced from the era surrounding it.

2. MJF vs. Darby Allin – Full Gear 2021

Full Gear’s opening match, this exceeded even my expectations, perhaps a career-best effort for both parties. Though slightly overshadowed by the card’s other blockbuster matches, this one actually had a good build in my view, with the match utilising that beautifully. Sharing elaborate sequences for much of the match, this was about two of AEW’s young pillars proving a point to the other, with MJF eventually taking the easy way out because of course, he’s MJF. Seriously though, his in-ring has been underrated for some time honestly, with this match being the best evidence yet of exactly that.

3. World Title: Hangman Adam Page vs. Kenny Omega (c) – Full Gear 2021

This is hard because all things considered, I totally understand having this in the top spot. There was a lot of moving pieces here and so, it’s a very reasonable pick for best and/or favourite match. For me personally, it fell slightly short of that as an actual match, but it doesn’t really matter. In the moment, this was a breathtaking route to the ideal destination: Hangman Adam Page as World Champion. Both men performed admirably and produced a match befitting this story, bringing Omega’s wonderful world title reign to a close.

This was a homerun, regardless of the actual match’s placement on my personal rankings. Thankfully, AEW did the right thing, which was the other story within this grand on-screen tale.

4. World Title Eliminator Final: Bryan Danielson vs. Miro – Full Gear 2021

Trying to follow two dynamic, explosive ‘sprints’ that also went around twenty minutes a piece, this wasn’t exactly positioned to succeed. Of course though, it did exactly that, giving the audience a chance to breathe before going into an immense closing stretch. The selling on display here was unsurprisingly magnificent, pairing two of the world’s best in that regard. Danielson’s eventual triumph wasn’t obvious which helped, adding drama to the whole thing and allowing those false finishes to pack an even bigger punch.

5. Pac vs. Dax Harwood – Dynamite #110

This one jumped off the page and indeed, proved to be every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. Gritty and intense, packed with physicality, this was a gruelling television match to close Dynamite’s in-ring portion. Pac is obviously one of the world’s best but in my view, Dax Harwood belongs on that list also. His singles resume doesn’t compare for obvious reasons but with every outing, the FTR man makes it clear that few are better. The aggression in this one was just wonderful, a truly refreshing stylistic choice.

6. Tag Team Titles: The Lucha Bros (c) vs. FTR – Full Gear 2021

Speaking of Dax Harwood, he was great again on Saturday, challenging for the AEW Tag Team Titles alongside his partner Cash Wheeler. FTR and The Lucha Bros gelled seamlessly here in my view, producing some spectacular false finishes before unfortunately, settling on an admittedly anticlimactic close. That flaw limits this match’s placement somewhat, but I loved the meat of the match too much for it to fall far. Considering the thought process behind that finish though, I’m hopeful for a rematch.

7. Christian Cage & Jurassic Express vs. The SuperKliq – Full Gear 2021

This match entered Full Gear in an interesting place, becoming a supporting match due to its slightly uneven build. Even still, it seemed inevitable that all involved would deliver and they certainly did, even if perhaps slightly overstaying their welcome. There was so much good here though, it’s hard for me to be anything but positive, as this thing felt truly chaotic from start to finish. In addition, I personally loved the finish, and have thoroughly enjoyed the Jungle Boy character’s progression throughout this programme.

8. Dante Martin & Lio Rush vs. Lee Moriarty & Matt Sydal – Dynamite #110

Creating the feel of a 90s Cruiserweight thriller on Nitro, this really was something quite special. In an era where in-ring acrobatics certainly aren’t uncommon, these four still produced something that stood out and then some. This really felt like a group of guys pushing the envelope, exploring and innovating on a major, international stage. Martin and Sydal have delivered all year but it was great to see Moriarty and Rush deliver alongside them, both of which reiterated their immense futures in AEW.

9. Bryan Danielson vs. Rocky Romero – Dynamite #110

This was AEW at its slightly weird best, announcing a match out of the blue and giving it the time to succeed. There is nothing left to say about Bryan Danielson really, quite possibly the greatest of all time. With that in mind, this one was about Rocky Romero in my view, once again proving himself as one of his generation’s most underrated in-ring performers. This was just masterfully executed pro wrestling, two wonderfully skillful peers combining for a tremendous television opener.

10. Women’s World Title Britt Baker (c) vs. Tay Conti – Full Gear 2021

Hurt by the lack of substantial build, I thought that this match did an admirable job of making up the difference. Even though the audience was given no real reason to buy Tay Conti as a title contender, the match itself actually convinced me otherwise down the stretch and that was no mean feat. Conti was great here and though it got off to a slightly shaky start, her and Britt Baker willed this into the final spot. The finish didn’t feel as earned or organic as I’d like, but that’s much more on the promotion than Conti or Baker.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Dante Martin vs. Frankie Kazarian – Dark #116

On an especially loaded edition of Dark, this was my personal favourite offering. A generational clash of sorts, this was a neat television bout that didn’t need much time to do the job. Kazarian’s in-ring versatility is a real asset, making him a natural dance-partner for any and all foes.

2. Darby Allin vs. QT Marshall – Dark #116

Again, I know that his time as a television focus was divisive, but QT Marshall is consistently good on these C-Shows. He was perfect here, preparing Darby Allin for the PPV and producing a competitive match without taking away any of his foe’s shine.

3. Christian Cage & Jurassic Express vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dark #116

This was a steady house show trios match, which is understandable considering Christian Cage’s surprising Dark debut. This was still enjoyable though, a pretty star-studded affair for the C-Show world.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Hangman Adam Page – Dynamite #110/Rampage #14

The star of Wednesday’s contract signing and absolutely immense in Rampage’s backstage segment, Hangman Adam Page couldn’t have proven himself more ready for the role of AEW World Champion. Page is authentic at every turn, an increasingly perfect top babyface.

2. Kenny Omega – Dynamite #110

A worthy adversary in that aforementioned contract signing, Kenny Omega brought his A-game on Dynamite. Omega gets a lot of criticism for his wackiest moments but as champion, I think he consistently showed that he can be just as serious as the moment requires. Omega was great here, conveying his character’s frailties perfectly.

3. Miro – Dynamite #110

The latest entry in Miro’s ongoing collection of incredible pre-tape promos, this was as great as usual. Miro’s next step as a character fascinates me honestly, because this return to action obviously wasn’t planned, but feels like it could only accelerate his path to another stint of domination.

4. CM Punk – Rampage #14

By design, Eddie Kingston dominated their memorable in-ring promo segment, but CM Punk made the most of the following week’s pre-tape. Separated on Wednesday, Punk continued to twist the knife on Rampage, brilliantly pondering how Eddie Kingston will continue his “life story” of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  

5. Orange Cassidy – Rampage #14

Bless Orange Cassidy. He probably won’t appear in this category often but his pre-match disinterest spoke to me honestly, I can relate.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Wheeler Yuta – Dynamite #110

My instinctual response to this graphic was “why?” but then I watched the thing and couldn’t help but grin. This was a brutal battering, the second in only a few weeks for poor Yuta. That’s an interesting choice, but Wardlow looked immense here.

2. Jade Cargill vs. Santana Garrett – Rampage #14

I’m cheating slightly, because this is really just my way of crediting the post-match angle, which I thought was executed refreshingly well. Jade squash matches are nothing new but this was one of the stronger ones and better yet, actually served a worthwhile ultimate purpose also.

3. Andrade El Idolo vs. Warhorse – Dark #116

Not even a particularly good squash, I just want to acknowledge C-Show Andrade finally arriving. Thank goodness, here’s to many more!

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Hangman Adam Page

Owner of the week’s best promo and a top three match, Hangman Adam Page is an unquestionably worthy category winner. With that being said, this particular ranking works best when its about more than just the numbers above, and that’s what makes Page such a lock. After two years, Page finally fulfilled his destiny at Full Gear, producing a wonderful main event in the process. This week is Hangman’s, always and forever.

2. Dax Harwood

With immense showings in two great matches, Dax Harwood continued to solidify himself as one of the wrestling world’s most watchable workers. Harwood is incredibly consistent, bringing that innate aggression and physicality to every outing. FTR finally feel truly at home in AEW as of late, and I’m hoping that results in more signature singles matches for Harwood, as well as the inevitable tag team classics of course.

3. Eddie Kingston

The man that got an arena to boo CM Punk, Eddie Kingston continued to silence any doubts about his in-ring performance. Even after over a year in AEW, Kingston continues to battle this puzzling “and then the bell rang” perception, even after producing multiple promotional classics. Eddie Kingston is a special professional wrestler but he’s surprising even me with just how brilliant he’s been as a main event player for AEW. This is an all-time run, and pro wrestling is better for its existence.

4. Kenny Omega

Credit to Kenny Omega, who quite visibly battled through a whole lot of pain to get this belt where it needed to be. Omega was a fabulous world champion and remains a brilliant pro wrestler but for his own sake, it’s probably time that he sits the bench for a while. If so, it’s important that his contributions aren’t forgotten as AEW looks towards a new era of sorts. No doubt, Omega will still be featured in some form or fashion but as champion, this was a wonderful swansong if that’s indeed what it was.

5. CM Punk

If somehow, any questions remained about what CM Punk was able to produce after returning to pro wrestling, they should’ve been answered for good on Saturday. Punk’s ability to command and manipulate a live crowd is almost unparalleled, and that hasn’t wavered an inch in his absence. I loved Punk’s initial in-ring offerings but this was his first programme and he couldn’t have been more brilliant. He’s just brilliant, an absolute natural, a master of this strange craft.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Eddie Kingston – 77 Points
  2. Bryan Danielson – 75 Points
  3. CM Punk – 66 Points
  4. Miro – 65 Points
  5. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 56 Points
  8. Dax Harwood – 52 Points
  9. Penta El Zero Miedo – 50 Points
  10. Matt Jackson – 49 Points
  11. Rey Fenix – 49 Points
  12. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  13. Jungle Boy – 46 Points
  14. Adam Cole – 44 Points
  15. Hangman Adam Page – 43 Points
  16. Christian Cage – 40 Points
  17. Orange Cassidy – 38 Points
  18. Pac – 37 Points
  19. Cash Wheeler – 36 Points
  20. MJF – 36 Points

Fleet Files #16: Fight Me

The penultimate week of AEW’s Full Gear build is here and with it, some work to do. Though this has been one of their most cohesive routes to PPV thus far, some big matches remain unmade. This week, that almost certainly changes, as AEW’s blockbuster roster finalizes its path to what on paper, could be the promotion’s best line-up yet. It’s been a monumental year for AEW and after a somewhat shaky start, they’ll look to make it three hits in a row with Full Gear.

NOTE: Friends, this week’s Fleet Files will be bare-bones, as I’m currently on vacation. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned that anywhere by the way so yeah, I’m on vacation. Feels important to keep this project rolling though so even while on vacation, I’m going to keep the league table updated. Thanks folks, I’ll be back next week…you know, from vacation.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Adam Cole vs. John Silver – Rampage #13
  2. Miro vs. Orange Cassidy – Dynamite #109
  3. Bryan Danielson vs. Anthony Bowens – Rampage #13
  4. Andrade El Idolo vs. Cody Rhodes – Dynamite #109
  5. Kenny Omega vs. Alan Angels – Dynamite #109

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Tony Nese vs. Fuego Del Sol – Dark #115
  2. Pac vs. Tiger Ruas – Dark #115
  3. Emi Sakura & Nyla Rose vs. Kris Statlander & Ryo Mizunami – Dark Elevation #35

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. CM Punk – Dynamite #109/Rampage #13
  2. Eddie Kingston – Rampage #13
  3. MJF – Dynamite #109/Rampage #13
  4. Miro – Dynamite #109
  5. Dax Harwood – Dark #115/Rampage #13

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. FTR vs. Waves & Curls – Dark Elevation #35
  2. Tay Conti vs. LMK – Dark Elevation #35
  3. Riho vs. Kayla Sparks – Dark Elevation #35

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Miro
  2. Eddie Kingston
  3. CM Punk
  4. John Silver
  5. Andrade El Idolo

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Bryan Danielson – 66 Points
  2. Eddie Kingston – 64 Points
  3. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  4. Miro – 54 Points
  5. CM Punk – 53 Points
  6. Nick Jackson – 52 Points
  7. Matt Jackson – 45 Points
  8. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 44 Points
  10. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  11. Jungle Boy – 41 Points
  12. Adam Cole – 40 Points
  13. Darby Allin – 38 Points
  14. Orange Cassidy – 37 Points
  15. Dax Harwood – 37 Points
  16. Christian Cage – 35 Points
  17. Pac – 31 Points
  18. Cash Wheeler – 31 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 28 Points
  20.  Luchasaurus – 28 Points

Eddie Kingston: The Unwanted Moral Victory

Now more than ever, great matches aren’t uncommon, especially in AEW. Even with those increasingly high standards though, outliers remain. They may not be unanimous examples of course, as taste will vary but regardless, I think we all have an internal playlist that fits the description. For whatever reason, there will always be matches that hit you a little harder, stories that strike a step deeper. It doesn’t have to be one genre or style either, that’s the beauty of this nonsense in truth.

Unsurprisingly, the latest addition to my collection came on Friday, as Bryan Danielson and Eddie Kingston painted a masterpiece on AEW Rampage. Physically, this match spoke for itself, a brutal affair packed with a violent brand of drama. Two of the promotion’s top stars fighting for every inch, combining their contrasting styles and so seamlessly existing in the middle ground within. The audience’s raw reaction told the tale, as Danielson and Kingston earned a stunning show of respect, a spontaneous standing ovation to be exact. 

Beyond that though, there was an emotional weight to this war that for me at least, followed Kingston through the ropes. Before the bell, Danielson questioned Kingston’s work ethic, drawing a predictably emotional response. Kingston’s short fuse is central to his identity, but the content in this case was a little different. Disrespected by Danielson’s dismissal, Kingston cited his battle with depression, bringing that always present backdrop to the fore. Kingston’s mental health message certainly wasn’t muted before, though there was a certain anguish to his presence here.

Eddie Kingston is beloved, no matter where AEW goes, no matter who he’s fighting or why. Part of that is his unwavering vulnerability, wearing his heart on his sleeve at every turn, even in the heat of battle. In this scenario though, Kingston wasn’t opening up for anyone but Danielson himself, delivering each admission with that familiar rage. Kingston didn’t need or even want Danielson to understand, he just had to counter that concern. Win or lose, he wouldn’t be outworked, he’d have to be outfought.

A self-proclaimed master of self-sabotage, Kingston’s physique wouldn’t fail him, any frailties far outweighed by the fight within him. If there was any doubt before, this segment cemented the reality that on Rampage, Kingston would be bringing a frightening aggression, excessive even for him. This wouldn’t be a case of Kingston failing to prepare, it’d be a case of the brave gunslinger giving everything against his generation’s greatest. In many ways, the result always felt inevitable, but Kingston wouldn’t give himself, or Bryan, an easy way out.

With that brief but powerful pre-match context, Kingston’s arc felt like the hook here, even against Danielson. As usual, Kingston wasn’t just fighting the man opposite him. In fact, he wasn’t even sharing another round with himself, there was an idea that stood in front of Kingston here. After all, though their careers have run a comparable length thus far, Danielson is the antithesis of Kingston. The ultimate pro, Danielson is above critique at this point, an industry mega-star that could even qualify as a celebrity.

The irony of that of course being that Kingston doesn’t really want any of those things, it’s just the shining example he’s so often contrasted with. Danielson is the standard, a headliner in any setting and the era’s artistic centrepiece. On the other hand, Kingston is a rugged throwback, until recently struggling to stick in a major league setting. With those struggles came inevitable evaluations, as onlookers questioned Kingston’s attitude, commitment and style. Against Danielson, he could erase every doubt, with this pre-match exchange only the first example of exactly that.

Kingston’s performance never lacks intensity, his matches seldom without violence. This was a visible tier or two above the norm though, as Kingston swiftly made a mark on Danielson’s chest. Within the overarching narrative that I was so fervently following, Danielson’s brilliance was obviously integral. The only wrestler more selfless than Kingston, Danielson’s lack of ego allowed this to stand alone from his usual outings. Here, it was Kingston on the attack, not battling uphill but instead, the unusually dominant aggressor.

At one point, it was almost discomforting, as Kingston maintained offensive control in a fashion that’s hardly ever been the case throughout his incredible career. Kingston has made a living as the often overly charitable punching bag, selling for every foe, generous to a fault. In this match though, perhaps the biggest of Kingston’s career, it was quite the opposite. Danielson fits that same description and as a result, Kingston suddenly spread his wings on offence, absolutely brutalising the legitimately iconic WrestleMania headliner.

Even with that trend though, the endgame still felt set in stone, unbeknownst to Kingston of course. There was a focus to Kingston that even at his most intense, usually feels wavering. Though the aggression could’ve suggested otherwise, this wasn’t even desperation, it was a committed pursuit of victory. This was Eddie Kingston at his most professional ironically, producing a performance befitting Danielson’s status. Though it was absent both before and after, the respect was palpable, Kingston acknowledging his opponent’s excellence by maximising his own famed potential.

The Eddie Kingston story has familiar beats though, no matter the circumstance. In the end, that would be his undoing but not before an incredible visual that got Kingston in trouble along the way. In complete control, Kingston refused to relent on his ascent of the top rope, climbing up only to be knocked back down. Twice though, Kingston gathered himself and defiantly fought Danielson off, heading back up against his better judgment. On the third occasion, Kingston paid the price, as Danielson’s counter shifted the match’s momentum.

Though on the surface, it was just a fleeting sequence of action, it felt more significant than that within this particular story. In many ways, this minute or so was symbolic of the match itself, Kingston gallantly pursuing the industry’s mountaintop. No matter what came in response, Kingston kept climbing and ultimately, it was all for nought anyway. I don’t know, there’s something to that for me, both regarding this story but beyond that, within Kingston’s career journey too. On every rewatch, that transition carries more weight.

A few minutes and many strikes later, Kingston finally landed his signature Spinning Backfist, falling to the floor as the arena rose to its feet. Finally, Kingston was on a level playing field with Danielson, proving himself as ‘The American Dragon’s absolute equal. Though not the conventional headline act, Kingston quite clearly belonged on this night, and that couldn’t have been clearer as he crawled toward his hard-fought advantage. Not for the first time though, Kingston seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, or something like that anyway.

Suddenly caught in a Triangle Choke, Kingston was swiftly choked unconscious, offering a rebellious middle finger before the lights went out. I’ll always remember Handwerk Reviews’ description of Kingston as “the greatest and most captivating loser of a generation.” Certainly, Kingston’s role on Rampage couldn’t fit that any more perfectly. As Danielson stayed frozen in exhaustion though, this finish appeared to be conveying a different conclusion altogether. Kingston had lost, clearly, but this was very much a case of Danielson winning.

With a point to prove, Eddie Kingston had produced an effort that would’ve conquered almost any titan of his or any generation. Unfortunately, Bryan Danielson was the outlier, because of course he was. I suppose that in some ways, that’s as Eddie Kingston as it gets, saving his best night for the one man that’d still be just a touch too good. Kingston didn’t feel much like a loser as they both laid lifeless though, the momentary moral victor before inevitably taking himself back to square one.

Clearly, this story is incomplete, hopefully still quite a few chapters from its conclusion too. Perhaps the ultimate triumph remains ahead of Kingston, or maybe this is just the latest example of a never-ending curse. Time will tell but on Rampage, Kingston validated his whole career. For two decades, Kingston has showed signs that he’s worthy of this spotlight and against the world’s best, he couldn’t have felt more at home. There’s glory in that, it’s just that as usual with Kingston, it’s never quite as visible as his hand high in victory.

Fleet Files #15: Working Hard

With the World Title Eliminator tournament heating up, AEW continues its trip towards Full Gear, returning to Wednesday nights along the way. This week though, Friday is the focus…or mine at least, as Bryan Danielson meets Eddie Kingston in the ultimate “it’s been a strange few years” scenario. It’s also the bracket’s first semi-final bout which admittedly, is much easier to advertise. Elsewhere, Jon Moxley’s rematch with Preston Vance concludes the quarter final clashes while Ethan Page challenges Sammy Guevara for his TNT Title.

NOTE: Friends, this and next week’s Fleet Files will be bare-bones, as I’m currently on vacation. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned that anywhere by the way so yeah, I’m on vacation. Feels important to keep this project rolling though so even while on vacation, I’m going to keep the league table updated. Thanks folks, I am hoping to write something of substance for Danielson vs. Kingston but if so, that’ll probably be when I’m back…you know, from vacation. Thanks for everything though friends, happy Halloween and all that good stuff!

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston – Rampage #12
  2. Hikaru Shida vs. Serena Deeb – Dynamite #108
  3. The Dark Order vs. The Super Elite – Dynamite #108
  4. TNT Title: Sammy Guevara vs. Ethan Page – Dynamite #108
  5. CM Punk vs. Bobby Fish – Dynamite #108

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Aaron Solo – Dark #114
  2. Too Fast Too Fuego vs. Dean Alexander & Kidd Bandit – Dark #114
  3. Leyla Hirsch & Ryo Mizunami vs. Diamante & Xtina Kay – Dark Elevation #34

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Eddie Kingston – Dynamite #108/Rampage #12
  2. Cody Rhodes – Dynamite #108
  3. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #108
  4. Malakai Black – Dynamite #108
  5. CM Punk – Rampage #12

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Jon Moxley vs. 10 – Dynamite #108
  2. Tiger Ruas vs. DJ Brown – Dark #114
  3. Paul Wight vs. Arjun Singh, Carlie Bravo & Cole Karter – Dark Elevation #34

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Eddie Kingston
  2. Bryan Danielson
  3. Hikaru Shida
  4. Serena Deeb
  5. Cody Rhodes

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  2. Bryan Danielson – 63 Points
  3. Eddie Kingston – 56 Points
  4. Nick Jackson – 52 Points
  5. Matt Jackson – 45 Points
  6. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  7. CM Punk – 45 Points
  8. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 43 Points
  10. Miro – 43 Points
  11. Jungle Boy – 41 Points
  12. Darby Allin – 38 Points
  13. Christian Cage – 35 Points
  14. Adam Cole – 35 Points
  15. Orange Cassidy – 33 Points
  16. Dax Harwood – 33 Points
  17. Pac – 29 Points
  18. Cash Wheeler – 28 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 28 Points
  20. Luchasaurus – 28 Points

Fleet Files #14: Bracketology

After months of chaos, it finally feels as though things are settling down. Well, kind of anyway as this week, Saturday Night Dynamite returns but with a hard act to follow, as Rampage hosts the rematch between Andrade El Idolo and Pac. They’ll give it their best shot though, offering two enticing tournament tilts as well as of course, the long-awaited blockbuster clash between Anthony Greene and ‘Mr Dynamite’ Bobby Fish. Seriously though, Full Gear is fast approaching folks, so let’s get this show on the road.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Pac vs. Andrade El Idolo – Rampage #11

Quite comfortably topping its enthralling predecessor, this rematch was immense, as Andrade El Idolo and Pac again showcased their quite palpable chemistry. Two of the wrestling world’s most dynamic in-ring performers, this pairing produced another spectacular offensive display, one packed with physicality and variation. With each outing, Andrade distances himself further from any doubters, finding his feet in outings that frankly, demand a greater output. Pac’s efforts speak for themselves, one of the promotion’s safest bets in a substantial singles match. Excellent main event, perhaps Rampage’s best yet.

2. Bryan Danielson vs. Dustin Rhodes – Dynamite #107

An intriguing matchup on paper, this actually exceeded my relatively high expectations, as Dustin Rhodes did what Dustin Rhodes does. Battling perhaps the world’s best in Bryan Danielson, Rhodes more than belonged, remaining as smooth as ever as in many ways, he brought ‘The American Dragon’ into his world. That felt like a direction taken by choice in many ways, as Danielson continues to adjust accordingly, matching the stylistic preferences of his varied foes thus far. This overdelivered, a very much worthy usage of Danielson.

3. Cody Rhodes vs. Malakai Black – Dynamite #107

Though the eventual finish will be understandably polarising, I really have nothing but praise for the match itself. Cody Rhodes and Malakai Black’s third bout was the former at his best and/or worst depending on your perspective. It was dramatic, overbooked and of course, covered in blood but for me at least, I can’t hide my enjoyment. This thing had me immersed, living and dying on every near-fall as the increasingly outrageous layers emerged. Clearly, Rhodes’ passion for the epic isn’t for everyone but here, it more than worked in my view.

4. Britt Baker vs. Anna Jay – Rampage #11

One of my favourite Britt Baker matches in recent memory, this was a really neat television bout in the middle of Rampage. Though the champion inevitably came out on top, this really felt like a showcase of Anna Jay, who came surprisingly close to an upset win. Jay is poised beyond her years, displaying increasingly impressive instincts and timing. That’s nothing new, but it was particularly striking opposite the champion, who looked great in her own right, showcasing an obvious improvement on the mat.

5. Ruby Soho vs. Penelope Ford – Dynamite #107

The TBS Title Tournament’s very first match, this got things off to an encouraging start, as Ruby Soho and Penelope Ford gelled nicely. Ford is frustrating at times, as she’s previously shown real flashes of top tier potential but can be somewhat inconsistent. Here however, I thought she produced her most complete performance in some time, also enhanced by Soho’s selling brilliance. In recent weeks, Soho has looked increasingly comfortable and that progression continued on Saturday, all as her star reaction rightly refused to fade.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Diamante, Emi Sakura & Nyla Rose vs. KiLynn King, Red Velvet & Ryo Mizunami – Dark Elevation #33

The stronger of two engaging trios matches in the women’s division, this was a great example of what I hope becomes a common play on the C-Shows. Diamante, Emi Sakura and Nyla Rose are a wonderfully wacky group, and they scored the win here before taking a step up in competition the night afterwards.

2. Frankie Kazarian vs. Aaron Solo – Dark #113

Though this may not have exactly jumped off the page, it was predictably steady. Frankie Kazarian is consistently sound and it’s always neat when he gets an even slightly substantial bout, gelling nicely with Aaron Solo here. While not the most charismatic or flashy performer, Solo is certainly solid, and Kazarian showcased that nicely on Dark.

3. Kris Statlander, Red Velvet & Thunder Rosa vs. Diamante, Emi Sakura & Nyla Rose – Dark #113

The more star-studded sequel to this week’s C-Show leader, this didn’t quite get the time I was hoping for, but I still enjoyed what we got. It’s always a treat to be reminded just how over Thunder Rosa is and honestly, Kris Statlander isn’t far behind her either. Fun match and again, a tactic that I’d like to see employed more often.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. MJF – Dynamite #107

If last week was a step in the right direction for MJF, this was a complete return to form. Though indeed, the usual shtick remained, he paired it with a genuine intensity here. It’s strange as even when I was down on MJF before, his delivery was never my concern but yet, it’s noticeably levelled up in recent weeks. The final portion of this latest effort was MJF at his best, almost overcome with emotion but still carrying that unwavering arrogance. For me at least, he’s got this thing back on track, all just in time for Full Gear.

2. Jon Moxley – Dynamite #107

One of the industry’s most compelling personalities, Jon Moxley only needs a minute or so of time to tell his tale. A truly magnetic presence, Moxley added depth to his already captivating persona, talking himself both in and out of the world title eliminator tournament. Moxley is especially intriguing right now, as he feels like an increasingly likely candidate to turn heel. This promo led you a step or two down that path, but equally offered the alternative that instead, he’s simply evolving at the moment. Time will tell, but this was Moxley at his best.

3. Miro – Dynamite #107

A familiar triumph here, as Miro’s own brand of pre-tape produced another smash hit. Honestly, this whole presentation is becoming borderline iconic within our nerdy bubble, a more recognisable and striking production with each outing. One of AEW’s greatest strengths is keeping the roster visible via these brief promos and even within that subgenre, Miro stands almost completely alone. Continuing his suddenly emerging feud with God, the former TNT champion only increased the hype for his looming in-ring return.

4. Ethan Page – Dynamite #107

Seemingly armed with an unexpected increase of time, Ethan Page swiftly steadied the ship, offering a confident and engaging promo as always. This wasn’t a particularly impressive display in terms of content and that wasn’t really the point, especially in this feud. It was, however, another example of Page’s comfort on this stage, the ingredient that’s allowed him to so seamlessly cement himself as one of the promotion’s most reliable antagonists. Personally, I look forward to this feud’s conclusion but even still, the recent increase in ‘All Ego’ talking time has been very much appreciated.

5. Lio Rush – Dynamite #107

Once again, Lio Rush earns himself a spot on sheer confidence alone here, even in another relatively brief backstage interview segment. These don’t have the unique personality of those pre-tapes above, but Rush’s charisma comes close to making up the difference, comfortably telling this story with an almost solo effort on the microphone. Rush’s presence is such that even on this roster, he really stands out and I’m looking forward to seeing how this angle develops.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Jungle Boy vs. Brandon Cutler – Dynamite #107

When this one was announced, I was slightly concerned. Brandon Cutler is capable but this current presentation isn’t one that needs to be going back and forth with Jungle Boy. Thankfully, that wasn’t what happened here, as Jungle Boy rightly closed the show almost immediately.

2. Jamie Hayter vs. Tiffany Nieves – Dark #113

Ever since Jamie Hayter returned to AEW, I’ve been waiting for her first entry in this genre, finally taking the role of squash match victor against Tiffany Nieves. Unsurprisingly, it was as natural a fit as you’d imagine, as Hayter slaughtered Nieves with her impressively physical offence.

3. Bobby Fish vs. Anthony Greene – Dynamite #107

A benefactor of the rare two-squash Dynamite, Bobby Fish continued his recent streak on the promotion’s A-Show, making quick work of Anthony Greene. On paper, this actually appeared like a potentially competitive match but instead, it set the stage for CM Punk’s Dynamite debut.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Dustin Rhodes

It’s been a pretty quiet year for Dustin Rhodes and so naturally, I could only be so confident about his performance prior to Saturday night. Rhodes swiftly rendered my doubts misplaced though, once again proving that even at 52 years old, he very much belongs. The theme of this week’s Fleet Five is one half proving a point while the other maintained their already high standards, and that explains Rhodes placement here. He wasn’t the best wrestler in the ring on Dynamite but he wasn’t far behind and all things considered, that’s more than enough to earn him this position.

2. Andrade El Idolo

Though not thirty years into his career, Andrade El Idolo certainly had his own point to prove on Rampage. After encouraging performances in his last two outings, Andrade finally felt at home this week, producing his best match in years. Better yet, Friday’s post-match angle helped too, as well as Saturday’s follow-up. Since targeting Death Triangle, Andrade has felt isolated to his own little Cody-esque world but ironically, it was an interaction with the man himself that finally changed that this week.

3. Pac

The trusty other half of this week’s best match, Pac did what Pac does, delivering an enthralling pro wrestling match. Pac is such a unique bell to bell talent, still very much one of the world’s best and a protected puzzle piece too, constantly presented as a major player. I sense that a rubber match may be ahead of Pac and Andrade which is obviously enticing to say the least. Must say though, I am personally excited for their respective next chapters, as both feel like natural title challengers for the inevitable championship reign of Hangman Adam Page.

4. Bryan Danielson

The ultimate victim of his own brilliance, Bryan Danielson probably belongs even higher than this, but he’ll probably appear frequently regardless. Danielson is proving each superlative accurate in AEW, producing classics at every turn. It was barely a month ago that Danielson made his wrestling debut for the promotion but yet, ‘The American Dragon’ feels firmly cemented as their in-ring centrepiece. These matches have brutality, intensity and ultimately, even variety, as Bryan continues to solidify his simply unparalleled range and versatility.

5. MJF

After losing my faith for awhile there, MJF is firmly back in the Files’ good books as of late. Keeping this Darby Allin programme on track in his foe’s absence, MJF is reminding the wrestling world of why indeed, he’s a promotional pillar for the next two decades and more. Though perhaps frustrating at times, MJF’s delivery alone warrants television time but when he has a conflict to truly sink his teeth into, the Pinnacle leader quickly recaptures the feel of a genuine main event heel. That’s been back as of late, and AEW is better for it.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 60 Points
  2. Nick Jackson – 49 Points
  3. Bryan Danielson – 48 Points
  4. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  5. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  6. Miro – 43 Points
  7. CM Punk – 43 Points
  8. Matt Jackson – 42 Points
  9. Eddie Kingston – 41 Points
  10. Jungle Boy – 41 Points
  11. Kenny Omega – 40 Points
  12. Darby Allin – 38 Points
  13. Christian Cage – 35 Points
  14. Orange Cassidy – 33 Points
  15. Dax Harwood – 33 Points
  16. Adam Cole – 32 Points
  17. Pac – 29 Points
  18. Cash Wheeler – 28 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 28 Points
  20. Luchasaurus – 28 Points

Fleet Files #13: The Friday Night War

With the emerging wrestling war heating up, a seemingly uneventful week has been suddenly transformed. For the first time in a long time, all eyes are on Friday night for AEW, as Tony Khan offers Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki, as a rib. Combine that with CM Punk’s latest outing and you have quite the night, followed by a Saturday Night Dynamite also featuring Danielson. In the end though, it’s a familiar cowboy that’ll once again steal the headlines, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki – The Buy In

Booked on only three days’ notice, this was AEW at its boldest, weirdest best. Offering an absolute dream match just because, these two industry titans thrilled a YouTube audience for almost twenty magical minutes. This was pro wrestling history, more than a mere match and instead, a collective celebration of two genuine greats. Less than a month removed from his promotional in-ring debut, Bryan Danielson’s brilliance goes without saying while in his third appearance, Minoru Suzuki finally felt truly at home here.

This was something special, an experience that’ll stay with me forever, a truly unique wrestling rollercoaster. They had a clean slate and together, painted a masterpiece: a brutal, violent masterpiece.

2. The SuperKliq vs. The Dark Order – Dynamite #106

In terms of sheer entertainment value, there may not be a safer bet in pro wrestling than The Elite in some kind of multi-man tag. Here, it was The SuperKliq, as Adam Cole teamed with The Young Bucks, producing an enthralling trios bout opposite The Dark Order line-up of Evil Uno, John Silver and Alex Reynolds. This had it all, comedy, excitement, personality and of course, those famed modern sequences that the Bucks have become so expert at. Tremendous piece of television, packing a whole lot in just over ten minutes.

3. CM Punk vs. Matt Sydal – Rampage #10 #106

Arguably his new personal best since returning to the ring, CM Punk delivered again on Rampage, this time against Matt Sydal. After battling the daredevil flyer, the literal powerhouse and the technical wrestling prodigy, Punk now met a direct peer, someone that wouldn’t be fooled by his veteran tricks. The result was perhaps his toughest test yet, as Sydal came stunningly close to the upset. Punk’s work thus far has been immense, but Sydal was superb here, one of the world’s most underrated performers.

4. Malakai Black vs. Dante Martin – Dynamite #106

Though his overall presentation has been almost flawless, Malakai Black’s bell to bell product hasn’t wowed me thus far. That’s more a matter of circumstance than any lack of skill though, and this was easily my favourite match of his in AEW thus far. Black was great here, guiding the always electric Dante Martin, who paired his stunning acrobatics with encouragingly committed selling. These two gelled seamlessly, combining for something easily exciting enough without hurting Black’s aura at all. Strong opener for Saturday Night Dynamite.

5. Junior Dos Santos & Men of the Year vs. The Inner Circle – Rampage #10

Though the content itself has certainly been polarising online, I can’t accuse this programme of being anything but over. By hook or by crook, Chris Jericho makes things work, using his still unwavering connection to keep this feud afloat. Add in the physical excellence of Sammy Guevara and Scorpio Sky, you suddenly have a Rampage main event worth watching. Credit to Junior Dos Santos also, whose energy and excitement was palpable. In truth, that was the key overall, as this crowd’s enthusiasm allowed this to dramatically exceed expectations.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. FTR vs. Lee Moriarty & LSG – Dark Elevation #32

This one immediately jumped off the page and indeed, it certainly delivered, as FTR continued their emphatic return to form. This match featured Dax Harwood going head to head with Lee Moriarty and on that alone, was a lock for this spot, let alone with the additions of LSG and of course, Cash Wheeler.

2. Ruby Soho vs. Emi Sakura – Dark Elevation #32

Though certainly deserving of more time, what we got here was nice, only enhanced by the crowd’s continued support of Ruby Soho. It feels as though she’s been swiftly erasing any ring rust, with this week her smoothest yet, as that process was only helped by the reliable veteran presence of Emi Sakura.

3. Evil Uno vs. Anthony Greene – Dark #112

The only match of any substance on a tiny edition of Dark, this was the ever-elusive solo effort from Evil Uno. Taking on Anthony Greene, Uno again reminded me of just how sound he is, one of the promotion’s more quietly reliable performers. Speaking of such, Green has been good in these cameos, I sense he’ll be sticking around.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Hangman Adam Page – Dynamite #106

One of the best promos in AEW’s short, but decorated history, this was an absolute moment. With a microphone in his hand, Hangman Adam Page detailed his journey thus far, confidently looking ahead to the match of his life. Page managed to catch up new viewers without patronising those that have been with him all along. Instead, he rallied those troops, giving a direct nod to their unwavering support. This silenced any somehow lingering doubts about Page’s top guy qualifications, an old school money promo from the babyface title challenger.

2. Miro – Dynamite #106

Armed with not even 90 seconds, Miro produced his best effort yet, finally responding to the TNT Title loss. On almost any other week, this would’ve quite comfortably topped the category but even still, Miro’s work continued to speak for itself. In terms of content, this was probably Miro’s most daring outing since finding this persona, setting the stage for what’s certain to be an electric return to action. In recent months, Miro has become an increasingly unique piece of this roster, with promos like this the central reason why.

3. MJF – Dynamite #106

For me at least, this was a much-needed return to form for MJF. Though not exactly high art, the content here served a more worthwhile purpose in my view, but perhaps it was my attachment to the core idea itself. This was old school pro wrestling, the cowardly heel taking advantage of a situation that with numbers, he created himself. Tony Schiavone captured that identity with ease, and MJF’s delivery was up to the task, enraging this Miami crowd until Sting’s triumphant arrival.

4. Lio Rush – Dynamite #106

Honestly, this ranking may be more about the outcome than anything else. Why? Well, the conclusion here was that moving forward, Dante Martin would be teaming with Lio Rush and frankly, that sounds electric and then some. That being said, Rush’s delivery is always filled with charisma and confidence, with this role already feeling like a natural fit for his skill-set. The endgame here feels like an inevitable match between the two but until then, I hope that Rush’s promos remain a regular feature on Dynamite.

5. Anna Jay – Dynamite #106

“Excuse me, they’re not losers.”

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Jon Moxley vs. Wheeler Yuta – Dynamite #106

On paper, this looked like a TV sprint but in reality, it was more of a TV execution. Jon Moxley’s increasing edge was only strengthened by last week’s Casino Ladder Match, taking it out on poor Wheeler Yuta, destroying the prospect in mere seconds. Talent of Yuta’s calibre is seldom vanquished this way on Dynamite, but Moxley is and always has been a unique case.

2. Santana & Ortiz vs. Adrien Soriano & Matthew Omen – Dark Elevation #32

Granted, I’m biased but even personal fandom aside, Santana & Ortiz have really proved themselves to be world class squashers in recent months. Here, Adrien Soriano and Matthew Omen were the victims as to an always supportive reaction, the former IMPACT Champions slaughtered their opposition.

3. Wardlow vs. Darian Bengston – Dark #112

It wasn’t the strongest C-Show week in any way, shape or form, but a Wardlow squash remains one of the promotion’s safest bets. That was no different here, as The Pinnacle powerhouse battered Darian Bengston.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Bryan Danielson

Wrestling two matches in just over 24 hours, Bryan Danielson continued to re-establish himself as one of the world’s greatest performers. Though his match with Bobby Fish just barely missed the cut for match of the week, it only helped his case for this position. Against both Fish and Minoru Suzuki, Danielson looked great, continuing to combine the two halves of his career and appearing more motivated than ever along the way. Danielson on YouTube always felt inevitable to me, but The Buy-In was something truly special.

2. Hangman Adam Page

The new number one contender, Hangman Adam Page proved himself more than worthy of that role this week. Even with the blockbuster signings since his last appearance, Page’s connection with the audience hadn’t wavered a bit, but any lost momentum was regained on Dynamite. Page cut the promo of his life, silencing any lingering doubts as to his qualifications for next AEW World Champion. On a stacked episode of Dynamite, Page’s promo stole the show with ease honestly, setting the stage for Full Gear perfectly.

3. Minoru Suzuki

A mere guest on Friday’s one-off Buy In programme, Minoru Suzuki left Miami feeling like a pivotal piece of AEW history. Before his match with Bryan Danielson, Suzuki had certainly been entertaining in AEW but due to circumstance more than anything else, it hadn’t fully clicked. Friday was quite the opposite though, as Suzuki produced his most inspired performance in some time. Even if Suzuki never wrestles in AEW again, this match belongs somewhere in their story, a celebratory credit to the king’s greatness.

4. Matt Sydal

Just another opponent for CM Punk on paper, Matt Sydal’s performance was worthy of a far grander description than that. Sydal’s skill speaks for itself, one of the industry’s most underrated in-ring talents but even for his high standards, this was a striking effort. In the biggest match of his AEW stint thus far, Sydal delivered and then some, combining beautifully for a gripping Rampage opener with CM Punk. I don’t know what Sydal’s ceiling is in AEW but his consistency commands respect, a truly great acquisition.

5. FTR

It’s been a great month or so for FTR and that didn’t change this week, as FTR paired the C-Show match of the week with a strong piece of business on Dynamite. Appearing as Las Super Ranas, Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood stole one from The Lucha Bros, shockingly becoming AAA World Tag Team Champions. Though the execution of that old school play was somewhat questionable, the action it allowed was immense, as these two teams produced sheer excitement, setting the stage for a must-see sequel.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 56 Points
  2. Nick Jackson – 49 Points
  3. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  4. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  5. CM Punk – 43 Points
  6. Matt Jackson – 42 Points
  7. Bryan Danielson – 42 Points
  8. Eddie Kingston – 41 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 40 Points
  10. Miro – 40 Points
  11. Jungle Boy – 38 Points
  12. Darby Allin – 38 Points
  13. Christian Cage – 35 Points
  14. Orange Cassidy – 33 Points
  15. Dax Harwood – 33 Points
  16. Adam Cole – 32 Points
  17. Cash Wheeler – 28 Points
  18. Luchasaurus – 28 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 28 Points
  20. Dante Martin – 26 Points

Fleet Files #12: Cowboy Shit

After a spectacular few months, it’s time to celebrate an anniversary. Two years removed from Dynamite’s debut, AEW’s increasingly all-star roster looks to mark the occasion with a week to remember, as the promotion’s best share centre stage. On Wednesday, the Casino Ladder Match makes it’s television debut while elsewhere, The Super Elite finally form fully for an 8-man tag team bout. On Friday, CM Punk is back, continuing to cement Rampage as his show. Quality shows result in heated competition here at Fleet Files, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Casino Ladder Match: Hangman Adam Page vs. Orange Cassidy vs. Pac vs. Andrade El Idolo vs. Matt Hardy vs. Lance Archer vs. Jon Moxley – Dynamite #105

An absolute masterclass in modern television wrestling, this concept was the perfect Dynamite main event. Combining established rivalries with fresh matchups, this was a star-studded match with its very own fairy-tale finish. Indeed, Hangman Adam Page is back and AEW’s almost inevitable ace has reclaimed his place in title contention. Page’s interactions with Jon Moxley set the stage for a blockbuster title programme down the line while elsewhere, everyone delivered while progressing their own arcs. This was an absolute home-run, with Hangman’s return one of Dynamite’s finest moments yet.

2. CM Punk vs. Daniel Garcia – Rampage #9

My favourite CM Punk match in AEW so far, this was simply excellent pro wrestling. Battling Daniel Garcia in a clash of generations, Punk looked truly at home, once again working with clear focus and intent. Punk’s outlook is refreshing, and so is Garcia’s sheer intensity, combining immense aggression with his obvious skill. Together, these two told a fabulous story, with the poised veteran outhustling his relatively inexperienced foe, taking advantage of each and every ill-advised show of arrogance. Great match, Punk’s best yet.

3. The Super Elite vs. Bryan Danielson, Christian Cage & Jurassic Express – Dynamite #105

Though not without a misstep or two late, this star-studded 8-man tag delivered in a major way, matching expectations after the stage was set at All Out’s iconic close. Especially early, Adam Cole actually worked the brunt of this one which was a nice surprise, showing strong chemistry with every opponent he encountered. The rest honestly speaks for itself, with everyone playing the role expected of them en route to an enthralling, engaging opening match. On talent alone, this was a great example of AEW’s ascension.

4. Serena Deeb vs. Hikaru Shida – Dynamite #105

Even without a strong story between them, the work itself here was too good to ignore, eventually capturing a conflict that’ll hopefully extend over the coming months. Preventing Hikaru Shida’s 50th win, Serena Deeb reminded the world of what we’ve been missing, assaulting the former champion’s leg with that famed technique and tenacity. Opposite her, Shida had a reminder of her own to offer, returning to Dynamite with an impressive performance that frankly, demands far more creative focus than has been the case as of late.

5. Sammy Guevara vs. Bobby Fish – Dynamite #105

Making an impact on arrival, Bobby Fish looked truly revitalized on Dynamite. Challenging Sammy Guevara for the TNT Title, Fish failed to become champion but left with a contract, now officially onboard with the All Elite Fleet. Especially after his final showings in NXT, Fish deserves immense credit for his effort here but Guevara is right there with him, producing his best showcase of selling yet. Guevara is obviously electric on offence but in recent weeks, he’s nailed a traditional babyface portrayal that was previously absent and as champion, could prove pivotal.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Eddie Kingston vs. Anthony Henry – Dark #111

In an extended cut of his memorable outing with JD Drake, Eddie Kingston was absolutely at home here, showcasing Anthony Henry with ease. Taking most of the match, Henry was worth the spotlight, looking immense as he battered Kingston’s leg. Once again leaning on his famed selling, Kingston simply survived Henry, not losing an ounce of credibility along the way.

2. The Pinnacle vs. Fuego Del Sol & Marko Stunt – Dark Elevation #31

One of my favourite C-Show exclusives, this Shawn Spears – Wardlow dynamic continues to deliver, on this occasion absolutely mauling Fuego Del Sol and Marko Stunt. Wardlow’s brief, but violent interaction with Marko stole the show here but there was actually more meat on the bone than you’d expect, including an enjoyable comeback before the inevitable result.

3. The Pinnacle vs. Aaron Frye, Austin Green, Baron Black & Dean Alexander – Dark #111

After being mostly disconnected in recent months, this was a big week for The Pinnacle, finally back together with one goal in mind. That mostly took place on Dynamite, but Dark was a start, as the Spears – Wardlow connection teamed with FTR for a surprisingly competitive 8-man tag. They were rather giving here, had Horsemen on Crockett TV vibes honestly.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Jon Moxley – Dynamite #105

Short but sweet, this as usual, did the trick. Even if only armed with a brief pre-tape promo, Jon Moxley consistently manages to stand out, perhaps the promotion’s most captivating personality. Here, Moxley set the table for Dynamite’s Casino Ladder Match main event, once again bringing that unique mix of aggression, comedy and intensity. Now almost a year removed from his time as champion, Jon Moxley still feels as significant as ever.

2. Darby Allin – Dynamite #105

After restraining himself while MJF made things personal last week, Darby Allin’s retort steadied the ship in my view. Though not a standout promo by any means, this is clearly the setting for Allin, a much more generous presentation than the week prior. In-ring, Allin’s performance speaks for itself but as a character, his consistent ability to be authentic is arguably where the true money is, which makes this programme all the more intriguing. Allin aside though, more JR sit-downs in general please.

3. Ricky Starks – Dynamite #105

Though very much limited in terms of content, Ricky Starks’ sheer confidence and charisma tells a tale in itself. This programme with Brian Cage hasn’t done much for either man, but Starks’ efforts suggest that big things are still very much ahead. I’m looking forward to Starks’ next true rivalry, and am hopeful that it’ll contain the kind of verbal showdown that his skill-set certainly seems capable of. As is though, this was a good minute or so of TV, which was all it ever could be honestly.

4. Britt Baker – Dynamite #105

Though it was only the usual outing, Britt Baker shouldn’t be punished for consistency. The content and delivery may be familiar, but it speaks volumes that Baker is such a constant presence on AEW TV. Within the women’s division however, she’s almost completely alone in that sense, which unfortunately limits the heat and weight of her eventual title programmes. Either way, hopefully the TBS Title will help with that, which was Baker’s wonderfully dismissive focus here.

5. Dante Martin – Dynamite #105

I don’t know if this actually belongs here but as a moment, it stands out in my mind and so, Dante Martin completes a strange week in the promo category. Setting himself up for an attack from Malakai Black, Martin showed an encouraging confidence, speaking with a conviction that should earn more microphone time moving forward. Already penciled in for major things over the next decade and more, this segment was just another step in the right direction for Dante.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. FTR vs. Elijah Dean & Zach Nystrom – Dark Elevation #31

After a bizarre 2021, FTR have felt well and truly back as of late. Only weeks removed from their standout week of the year, here Dax and Cash were on Elevation, entering to brand-new nostalgic theme music and winning in mere seconds. If I’m not getting five minutes or more of these two, give me something with this comedic value every time honestly.

2. Kris Statlander vs. Zeda Zhang – Dark #111

Two months ago, Zeda Zhang made her AEW debut in pretty rough fashion, quite visibly struggling opposite Thunder Rosa. Here though, she looked much better, producing a nice little match against the always wonderful Kris Statlander. These two gelled quite seamlessly in my view, with an impressively competitive match considering the runtime.

3. Lance Archer vs. Louis Bruno – Dark Elevation #31

Facing the rare challenge of someone genuinely taller than him, Lance Archer maintained that usual aggression and physicality on Elevation, vanquishing Louis Bruno in swift fashion. Archer made the big man pay for going after Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, which was a nice way to include the legend after his time away.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Hangman Adam Page

Everyone’s favourite anxious millennial cowboy, Hangman Adam Page is undeniably the standout story of AEW’s week. Closing Dynamite’s anniversary edition, Page only took one outing to reclaim his position as the promotion’s top babyface, winning the memorable main event. The Casino Ladder Match was pitch perfect, with Page the centrepiece, standing tall as the rightful number one contender. Cowboy Shit is back in AEW and the wrestling world couldn’t be happier about it.

2. CM Punk

Though clearly, I didn’t love his promo on Dynamite, CM Punk leaves this week somehow stronger than he entered. Silencing any lingering doubts, Punk produced his best AEW match yet, combining beautifully with Daniel Garcia. In addition, Punk projected pure stardom in the pre-match faceoff. It wasn’t even a promo really, just a way of setting the table and providing this bout with some context and story. In that setting, Punk achieved more than in his prior in-ring promo, following it up with an immense piece of pro wrestling.

3. Daniel Garcia

After matching the immense hype in his initial television showings, Daniel Garcia actually exceeded it here, producing his best performance since arriving in AEW. Garcia is a precocious talent and clearly, that’s nothing new but in this match, he showed a poise and polish beyond his years. This was a major league, main event match, the kind that could reasonably accelerate Garcia’s progression. No rush obviously, especially on a roster of this quality but against Punk, Garcia again proved that he very much belongs in the top tier.

4. Jon Moxley

The most memorable roadblock to Hangman Adam Page’s Casino Ladder Match win, Jon Moxley continued his steady progression to insanity on Wednesday. Moxley is increasingly intense, more and more enraged with each and every week. Regardless of opposition, Moxley’s spite is unchanged and I think that’ll be important when and if Page is champion but for now, Dynamite was just more top guy things from Moxley, the promotion’s prior centrepiece. Whether heel, babyface or somewhere in-between, there’s only one Jon Moxley.

5. Serena Deeb

Three months removed from her last match, Serena Deeb didn’t miss a beat on Wednesday. I suppose in many ways, I shouldn’t be surprised, as Deeb entered AEW after three years out, so this was a walk in the park by comparison. Either way, it only took one match for Deeb to re-establish herself as the division’s in-ring leader, delivering an unsurprisingly strong match with Hikaru Shida. On skill alone, Deeb is world champion material but if not, the TBS Title seems like a natural fit in the new year.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 53 Points
  2. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  3. Nick Jackson – 45 Points
  4. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  5. Eddie Kingston – 41 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 40 Points
  7. CM Punk – 40 Points
  8. Jungle Boy – 38 Points
  9. Matt Jackson – 38 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 38 Points
  11. Miro – 36 Points
  12. Christian Cage – 35 Points
  13. Orange Cassidy – 33 Points
  14. Bryan Danielson – 32 Points
  15. Dax Harwood – 29 Points
  16. Adam Cole – 28 Points
  17. Daniel Garcia – 28 Points
  18. Luchasaurus – 28 Points
  19. Cash Wheeler – 24 Points
  20. Dante Martin – 24 Points

Fleet Files #11: Sammy! Sammy! Sammy!

Finally arriving in Rochester, New York, it’s an emotional week for the All Elite Fleet. Paying tribute to the great Brodie Lee, AEW looks to produce a show worthy of the 18-month wait while elsewhere, the All Elite Zone hosts another anticipated studio clash. Bryan Danielson’s second match is on its way and Adam Cole’s biggest bout yet is already here but at core, it’s about Brodie and even with all this immense talent on display, I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Nick Jackson – Rampage #8

This week’s Rampage opener, Bryan Danielson scored his first AEW win, submitting Nick Jackson after 15 minutes of immense pro wrestling. At some point within that runtime, I think it dawned on everyone that indeed, we’re going to be getting these matches almost weekly. ‘The American Dragon’ is back and opposite him here, Nick Jackson reminded the wrestling world of his own singles qualifications, producing another magnificent solo effort. Jackson doesn’t appear often in this genre but when he does, he remains can’t-miss.

2. Adam Cole vs. Jungle Boy – Dynamite #104

Continuing the incredible start to his AEW run, Adam Cole hit another home run on Wednesday, producing another enthralling television opener opposite Jungle Boy. More than perhaps any other signing in the promotion’s short history, Cole just feels at home, an absolute player on arrival. As for Jungle Boy, his progression continues to stun me, showing an improved execution in every outing. Sense that these two are going to wrestle relatively often over the next few years and based on this showing, I’m all for it.

3. TNT Title: Sammy Guevara vs. Miro (c) – Dynamite #104

The perfect conclusion for a show dedicated to Brodie, this TNT Title match certainly delivered. Miro’s reign has been critically acclaimed and rightly so, one of the belt’s best and considering it’s brief, but prestigious history, that says more than you’d think. After a quiet few months, Sammy Guevara has to match this title’s famously high standards, catapulted into action with his triumphant victory here. Strong match with an electric finish, hooking an audience that seemed initially weary, a very effective main event.

4. Cody Rhodes & Lee Johnson vs. Dante Martin & Matt Sydal – Dynamite #104

Though the graphic itself earned a groan from me, I actually loved this, especially on first watch. The ongoing Cody Rhodes discussion is certainly earned, but I still enjoy what he brings once the bell rings and thankfully, he was surrounded by absolute talent here. Matt Sydal is one of the promotion’s most efficient pros and of course, Dante Martin and Lee Johnson could feasibly battle for the next three decades. Really exciting stuff and best of all, a finish that stunned me too. Good for Shotty Lee, I loved this presentation for him.

5. The Dark Order & Orange Cassidy vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dynamite #104

The elusive 16-man tag, this was wonderful. With so many bodies, it was inevitably messy at times, but this match was basically beyond analysis or critique. It was for Brodie, a piece of television to mark this occasion and in its own quirky way, AEW at its wholesome best. That’s a strange thing to say about any pro wrestling promotion, but it fits here and frankly, anytime that AEW’s babyfaces unite. For obvious reasons though, this particular example connected even more than usual. It goes without saying but indeed, Brodie Lee forever.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Ricky Starks vs. Darius Lockhart – Dark #110

The week’s C-Show standout by a distance, this match almost felt like a formal try-out. Armed with nearly ten minutes, Darius Lockhart was framed as genuine competition to Ricky Starks, absolutely shining along the way. If this didn’t get Lockhart signed, it certainly didn’t hurt his chances, assisted by another stellar performance from Starks.

2. Dante Martin & Matt Sydal vs. The Factory – Dark #110

The Dark main event, this was a neat addition to Dynamite honestly, as Dante Martin and Matt Sydal scored a respectable win before battling Cody Rhodes and Lee Johnson on Wednesday. Aaron Solo and QT Marshall are a nice team, unsurprisingly sound opposition for Martin and Sydal’s usual excitement.

3. Private Party vs. Carlie Bravo & JDX – Dark #110

Though a touch too competitive to be deemed a squash, this was a fabulous Private Party performance. I don’t say that to dismiss their dance partners either, as both Bravo and JDX delivered but wow, this was honestly one of my favourite Private Party showings yet. The spectacular tandem offence is still there, but it now comes with all the heel trimmings too.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Ethan Page – Dynamite #104

Taking a backseat in their Dark Elevation pre-tape, Ethan Page watched on as Scorpio Sky cut the promo of his life. His response was obvious, genuinely fired up by the passion of his tag team partner. Well, that felt present on Wednesday, as Page produced perhaps his finest effort yet, absolutely refusing to relent as the ‘WHAT?!’ chants commenced. Page halted those chants in an instant, talking without pause or hesitation and confirming this segment as much more than merely worthwhile. Brilliant villainy from ‘All Ego.’

2. Scorpio Sky – Dark Elevation #30

Though his Dynamite promo was good in its own right, this was the week’s big hit for Scorpio Sky. On Wednesday, he was trying to pull them out of the hole that Dan Lambert had dug but on Elevation, he was working with a clean slate. Pacing furiously, Sky unlocked a level of intensity that had seldom been seen before, visibly impressing Ethan Page as he stood alongside him. These two already deserved more promo time but after this week, it’s requisite and would immediately position The Men of the Year as top contenders.

3. Bryan Danielson – Dark Elevation #30

What a treat Bryan Danielson has been since arriving in AEW. In his Elevation pre-tape, Danielson continued to cement this increasingly serious side of his persona, offering an almost sport style post-match promo. With a red chest and forehead, Bryan was seemingly in heaven, talking about the magic of pro wrestling before setting the table for an inevitable sequel. His Dynamite offering was fun, but also easy for a star of Bryan’s calibre whereas this was perfectly American Dragon, a simply wonderful piece of business.

4. CM Punk – Rampage #8

Looking forward after his scrappy Grand Slam victory over Powerhouse Hobbs, CM Punk did CM Punk things, producing yet another impressive pre-tape promo. Though Punk’s main focus was the potential excitement of what’s next, he enhanced Hobbs in the process. Punk said that he simply survived the Team Taz destroyer, using his experience to catch a quick victory and little more. It’s hard not to be intrigued by Punk’s next move, especially when he’s been so consistent thus far, elevating foes as he goes.

5. MJF – Dark Elevation #30

As his continued reliance on cheap heat proves increasingly divisive, MJF’s talent remains unquestionable. In a brief post-Grand Slam promo on Elevation, MJF proved just how easy this is for him, cutting a strong promo in barely a minute. Granted, it still had the cute VKM chatter which is very on-brand but nonetheless, this thing was focused, assisted by its brief runtime. MJF’s delivery remains elite, it’s just the content that concerns me and that’s a shame, as he’s clearly capable of so much more. Either way, I very much liked this promo.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston & Jon Moxley vs. Anthony Green & Bear Country – Dynamite #104

An unusually late addition to the Dynamite line-up, this was a perfect piece of pro wrestling television. Three of the top babyfaces, well four including Sting, looking awesome and beating dudes up. Nothing complicated, just a simple formula that was actually assisted by its brief runtime. I don’t know what the endgame is with this trio, but I’m absolutely along for the ride.

2. Paul Wight vs. CPA, RSP & VSK – Dark Elevation #30

On a promo-heavy Elevation, Paul Wight was the marquee match, battling three men and nine letters. This was about what you’d expect, and not an unfamiliar concept for Wight I’m sure but in this setting, I couldn’t have had more fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ‘good’ but it wasn’t supposed to be, it was Paul Wight being treated like a legend at Arthur Ashe Stadium. All hail.

3. Thunder Rosa vs. Kayla Sparks/Nikita Knight – Dark Elevation #30/Dark #110

Opening both C-Shows, Thunder Rosa’s squash match formula stayed steady, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Rosa’s YouTube bouts have a real roughness to them, seldom flowing as we’re used to these days but in many ways, that’s the charm. Rosa just sort of systematically beats these victims up, eventually ending things with a sudden jolt, all consistently to a raucous reaction too.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Sammy Guevara

The new TNT Champion, Sammy Guevara has now reached the first accomplishment that so many previously predicted for him. Guevara always felt like an inevitable fit for this belt and after a strong main event, he’s perfectly positioned to make this reign special. With forbidden door openings seemingly on the way, Guevara’s future is brighter than ever but for now, he seems already secure as one of AEW’s major players. On paper, a potential babyface turn once seemed vaguely challenging but yet, the switch couldn’t have been easier. Sammy is the story this week, and that’s well-deserved.

2. Bryan Danielson

With a classic already under his belt, Bryan Danielson is now in the thick of things, claiming his first victory in my personal match of the week. In a promotion filled with in-ring brilliance, Bryan still stands out with ease, swiftly reclaiming his standing as one of the world’s absolute best. Danielson’s match with Nick Jackson was immense, the perfect sequel to last week, relatively restrained by comparison but yet still completely compelling. Pair that with his wonderful Elevation promo and you have another outstanding week for ‘The American Dragon.’

3. Miro

Though naturally, he took a selfless backseat to the new TNT Champion, Miro deserves his own headlines this week. His title reign may have ended, but those memories aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, the run that officially steadied this ship. It was as TNT titleholder that Miro truly found his AEW persona, shaping it perfectly over his almost five-month reign. It’s a credit to Miro that I honestly believe bigger things are coming but in the meantime, it’s worth acknowledging this reign, one of the promotion’s most captivating, unique efforts yet.

4. Nick Jackson

Stepping up to the plate for Bryan Danielson’s second AEW match, Nick Jackson couldn’t have been more worthy of that role. Prior to Friday, Jackson was without a singles match in 2021 but yet, he delivered in grand fashion, absolutely belonging opposite Danielson. The Young Bucks are an all-time great duo and so naturally, their potential as singles stars isn’t highlighted often. That’s understandable and on this roster, even logical but as a result, it’s easy to forget just how capable these two are in this setting. For Nick, this week was a reminder.

5. Adam Cole

The winner of this week’s Dynamite opener, Adam Cole stole another show in my view. Gelling seamlessly with Jungle Boy, Cole maintained his already solidified status as an industry mega star, coming across like a polished pro as he outsmarted the still inexperienced Jungle Boy. That was the obvious story here and they told it neatly, establishing a dynamic that can extend to AEW’s main event scene in the coming years. I’m repeating myself weekly but it’s the truth, Cole couldn’t have transitioned more smoothly, with this match just the latest example.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  2. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  3. Nick Jackson – 42 Points
  4. Jon Moxley – 41 Points
  5. Eddie Kingston – 38 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 37 Points
  7. Miro – 36 Points
  8. Jungle Boy – 35 Points
  9. Matt Jackson – 35 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 34 Points
  11. Christian Cage – 32 Points
  12. CM Punk – 32 Points
  13. Bryan Danielson – 29 Points
  14. Orange Cassidy – 28 Points
  15. Dax Harwood – 25 Points
  16. Adam Cole – 25 Points
  17. Luchasaurus – 25 Points
  18. Dante Martin – 23 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 21 Points
  20. Britt Baker – 20 Points

Fleet Files #10: Grand Slam

Finally arriving at Arthur Ashe Stadium,  AEW has another history book to write. With a blockbuster four hour event spread across two episodes of weekly TV, the brand’s best talent takes centre stage, sharing the promotion’s biggest spotlight yet. More than that though, it’s Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega week, bringing a dream match to life in the most idyllic setting imaginable. That’s not the only headline though, as CM Punk also returns to television action, alongside a fairy-tale finale for Eddie Kingston. It’s a PPV card, and a great one at that, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega – Dynamite Grand Slam

One of the greatest television bouts of all time, this was an instant classic, the dream match that everyone had imagined and somehow, even more. Bryan Danielson and Kenny Omega are two of the most impressive, influential wrestlers in history and together, they unsurprisingly combined for absolute magic. This was beautiful professional wrestling and for me, a top three match in promotional history. Opening Dynamite, these two produced a portion of wrestling television that I’ll never forget, one that’ll likely define an era that eventually, the next generation will almost certainly long for.

2. FTR vs. Anthony Greene & Stallion Rogers – Dark #29

An immediate C-Show classic, this was FTR at their very best. A reminder of how we fell in love with this team, FTR rocked the studio setting, building things steadily with tight, compact pro wrestling. Fundamentally sound, beautifully paced action, reaching an enthralling crescendo that honestly exceeded my relatively high expectations. There was buzz surrounding this one and it delivered, with admirable performances from Green and especially Stallion, who was totally at home against Harwood and Wheeler. Excellent TV wrestling, on YouTube of course.

3. Darby Allin & Sting vs. FTR – Dynamite Grand Slam

A crown jewel in FTR’s already impressive legacy, Cash and Dax relished every minute of this match. Absolutely launching themselves into every moment with Sting, this was a blast, exactly what it needed to be and honestly, much more. Sting worked incredibly hard here, surprisingly taking most of the match and better yet, looking great along the way also. That’s a credit to FTR, but it’s also yet another triumph in this usage of Sting, which continues to be one of AEW’s greatest feats.

4. The SuperKliq vs. Christian & Jurassic Express – Rampage Grand Slam

The undisputed kings of this match genre, The Young Bucks were up to their usual antics again here, anchoring yet another enthralling trios bout. All action stuff, packed with personality and as usual, filled with innovation as the more elaborate sequences took center stage. Everyone benefitted from this match, with Adam Cole coming across like the industry’s biggest star while opposite him, Christian and Jungle Boy looked immense. Sprinkle an impressive Luchasaurus hot tag on top of all that goodness and you have a smash hit.

5. Sonny Kiss vs. Joey Janela – Dark Elevation #29

One of the most exciting matches in AEW’s illustrious YouTube history, this absolutely stunned me. Don’t get me wrong, I expected something sound and had heard good things, but wow. The sheer energy of this thing really packed a punch, all executed brilliantly too. Sonny Kiss’ performance here was honestly staggering, signalling immense improvement that due to inactivity, had honestly gone under the radar. Speaking of such, Janela continues to impress on these shows, so credit to him also. Wonderful stuff that’d rank even higher on an ordinary week.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Daniel Garcia vs. Alan Angels – Dark #109

For those clued in, this jumped off the page and indeed, it absolutely delivered. Daniel Garcia is one of the industry’s hottest prospects right now and this match neatly encapsulated why, with crisp execution guided by that unique pacing and poise. He had a perfect dance partner here though, with Alan Angels continuing to cement himself as one of the promotion’s most underrated workhorses.

2. Eddie Kingston vs. Bear Bronson – Dark #109

The big, bruising main event of an honestly stacked edition of Dark, this was Eddie Kingston at his restrained best. Giving Bear Bronson most of the match, Kingston sold, sold and sold some more, battling back in spurts and keeping the people engaged throughout. Bronson leaves this looking better than ever, an Eddie Kingston tradition.

3. Dustin Rhodes vs. QT Marshall – Dark Elevation #29

Restricted by a runtime that you wouldn’t expect to suit them, Dustin Rhodes and QT Marshall still very much delivered in this C-Show grudge match. They maximised those six minutes, even producing a genuinely exciting closing stretch. Marshall continues to impress inside the ropes and honestly, I wish these outings were more frequent for Rhodes.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. CM Punk – Dynamite Grand Slam

Confronting the critics, CM Punk produced an absolute masterclass on Dynamite. Still very much friendly Phil, Punk explained his happiness, but slowly lost his smile as the promo unfolded. Responding to Powerhouse Hobbs’ attack, Punk steadily upped the aggression, eventually concluding with a much more traditional pro wrestling promo. The value of CM Punk was encapsulated here, the only feasible follow up to Dynamite’s greatest match, building a bout with fresh talent along the way.

2. Miro – Dynamite Grand Slam

Confronting a different very kind of criticism, Miro finally conceded the suspected weakness of his neck…well, kind of anyway. He referenced a prior neck injury, but in classic Miro fashion, dismissed it’s relevance today, crediting god and his wife for the immense recovery. Either way, this was another case of Miro’s ongoing effectiveness in these brief vignettes, enough to earn him the 2 spot here.

3. Sammy Guevara – Dynamite Grand Slam

Though the weaker half of this aforementioned vignette, Sammy Guevara was much more than just along for the ride here. Guevara has always been a confident personality but since turning babyface, he’s actually seemed increasingly comfortable as a promo. Don’t get me wrong, small sample size and I’d like that to change, but I appreciate that Guevara hasn’t lost his cockiness, it’s just a little more relaxed these days.

4. Thunder Rosa – Rampage Grand Slam

Fiery as ever, Thunder Rosa is a promo that I consistently enjoy and again, one that we don’t see nearly enough honestly. That’s another topic for another day though, but this did the job for now, as Rosa extended her emerging conflict with Jade Cargill and Nyla Rose. Strange programme that needed a jolt and relatively speaking, this promo provided exactly that, it requires a follow-up now though.

5. Jake Hager – Dynamite Grand Slam

“Men of the Year? More like Boys of the Week!”

I don’t know man, not many promos this week and frankly, Hager felt like the funniest option.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Hikaru Shida vs. Masha Slamovich – Dark Elevation #29

Honestly, this wasn’t even a squash really, but it was a very enjoyable little match so I’m ranking it anyway. Shida walks that line beautifully, which often hurts her in this format unfortunately. She’s so selfless, but the matches seldom go long enough to reach the tier above. This was different though in my view, just limited by a particularly stacked week.

2. Santana and Ortiz vs. Avery Good & JT Dunn – Dark Elevation #29

This isn’t even here for the action really, but instead for the moment itself. This reaction was something special and as I’ve said before, we’ve been starved of Santana and Ortiz squash matches this year. That changed this week and I couldn’t be happier about it, feed me more.

3. Thunder Rosa vs. Kaia McKenna – Dark Elevation #29

A consistently physical squash match victor, Thunder Rosa is always fun in this setting, but she very much has her formula. Structurally, there isn’t much experimenting but in this particular case, who could possibly care? Rosa kicked ass, ramping the intensity up a notch above her already formidable norm.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Bryan Danielson

One half of an all-time great match, Bryan Danielson absolutely relished this moment. Out of the ring for months and making his promotional debut, Bryan produced one of his finest efforts yet, swiftly securing this week’s number one spot. Bryan is a genuine GOAT candidate and fifteen years removed from what many deemed to be his artistic peak, he somehow remains one of the world’s best. Incredible, let’s appreciate this man while we can folks.

2. Kenny Omega

On any other week, Kenny Omega is the obvious category victor here, producing yet another stunning performance under the bright lights. Frankly, he’s only second to Bryan due to circumstance, as he was every bit as brilliant once the bell rang. Omega is an all-time great in his own right and with every match of this ilk, he further cements that truth. Beautiful bout, Omega’s best in AEW yet, or of the singles variety at least.

3. FTR

Unfortunate to come up against a match of the year candidate, FTR had a truly fabulous week. Pairing a C-Show classic with an electric Dynamite thriller, Cash and Dax reminded the world of just how special they still very much are. It’s been a somewhat frustrating year for this team, but with efforts like this, it’s hard to dismiss their place among the world’s best. Regardless of the setting or show, FTR are a team that I just want to see wrestle, plain and simple.

4. CM Punk

Cutting the week’s best promo by a distance, CM Punk paired that performance with a strong match opposite Powerhouse Hobbs. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty, but I liked it very much and thought Punk kept himself strong while truly elevating Hobbs. That was no mean feat, as after seven years off, Punk tackled a complete contrast to his comeback opponent. Punk produced in a major way though, almost totally erasing any ring rust that appeared present at All Out. This week more than ever, CM Punk felt well and truly back.

5. Eddie Kingston

The hometown hero of Grand Slam, Eddie Kingston closed AEW’s biggest show yet. In many ways, this was the fairy-tale finale of a promotional best story, as Kingston completed his journey from that iconic Dynamite debut. Only fourteen months or so removed from that initial showing, here Kingston was: on top of the world, battling a legend alongside his best friend. The event’s sentimental story, Kingston was too selfless to shine as you’d traditionally expect, stepping aside so that Homicide could take center stage. That’s fitting, and didn’t prevent the Lights Out main event from being immense fun anyway.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  2. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  3. Jon Moxley – 37 Points
  4. Kenny Omega – 37 Points
  5. Eddie Kingston – 35 Points
  6. Matt Jackson – 35 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 35 Points
  8. Christian Cage – 32 Points
  9. Jungle Boy – 31 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 31 Points
  11. Miro – 30 Points
  12. CM Punk – 30 Points
  13. Orange Cassidy – 27 Points
  14. Dax Harwood – 25 Points
  15. Luchasaurus – 25 Points
  16. Daniel Garcia – 21 Points
  17. Cash Wheeler – 20 Points
  18. Britt Baker – 20 Points
  19. Adam Cole – 20 Points
  20. Dante Martin – 19 Points

The Spirit of Sting

On paper at least, the current concept of Sting isn’t particularly unique. The headliner of yesteryear, an icon that remains active, bringing some star power to his brand of choice. That’s mostly familiar, with Sting stepping through the ropes for a single match every few months, protected in a tag setting and ultimately standing tall, still the conquering hero that once inspired a generation. That’s a simple formula and certainly, Sting ticks all of those boxes and more, but it just feels different to me.

At 62, Sting is a physical miracle and it’s impressive to see him remain so capable, thirty years removed from his athletic prime. To me though, that’s not the story here. Indeed, even after Sting worked the majority of a match with one of the industry’s greatest tandems, my focus is elsewhere. Unquestionably, his execution is absurd for a man that’s been deemed finished multiple times in recent decades, his ability still formidable for any man, let alone a legend of his age.

Personally though, that’s not the true charm of Sting in AEW. To me, his painted face encapsulates the story better than any Stinger Splash ever could. Stoic on arrival, there’s this palpable sense that Sting doesn’t want to be the star of the show, he just wants to help it along the way. Coming out first as the calm and collected counterpart to his chaotic, frenetic ally, Sting is a supporting character, refusing to leave that role no matter how much his peers’ respect demands otherwise.

Those efforts don’t limit Sting’s energy though, as before long, he’s swept up in the emotion once again. With the passion of the audience and frankly, the gravity of these moments fueling him, Sting’s energy is endearing, one of AEW’s most consistent bright spots. That energy is what made last night so special in my view, as Sting refused to be a mere novelty act, producing an admirable effort and with some assistance of course, very much belonging opposite two of the world’s best.

There was a desperation to Sting’s showing, a sense that he wouldn’t let anyone down, an obsession with keeping this thing on track. When Sting steps through the ropes, he strives to perform at a level befitting his presentation. Since arriving in AEW, Sting has been treated with reverence, positioned proudly as the promotion’s ultimate legend. With each outing, he looks to validate that, providing himself to new fans and not letting anyone down along the way. Sting’s presence brings pride to long-time fans, not that familiar sadness or shame.

This stint has been spirited at every turn, packed with pride and while perhaps, that’s no feat worth celebrating, there’s an emotional weight to this particular case. Twenty years ago, Sting brought an end to one of wrestling’s most exciting eras, standing tall in Nitro’s final main event. For more than a decade, Sting had been a constant in that setting, long before Nitro, long before the nWo. Sting was the heart and soul of that promotion, so often the victim of betrayal, so often the brand’s sole moral compass.

There was a symbolism to that, as Sting’s many efforts were consistently undercut by things above his famed paygrade. After all, there was only so much he or any other individual could do, but for better or worse, Sting was WCW. Within the collection of calamities, there was usually an essence of hope, one very much defined by Sting’s calming presence. That identity was eventually solidified on-screen, as Sting protected WCW from the greatest threat of all, producing some of the industry’s most moving television.

As always, the happy ending came with a gut-punch in the process though and only three years later, the end was nigh. For much of the decade following WCW’s demise, Sting led TNA uphill, but that magic was never truly recaptured. That’s not to dismiss Sting’s lengthy stint in the IMPACT Zone, it just wasn’t that or this, unfortunately existing in a frustrating tier below. Sting’s infamous WWE run followed and that was all she wrote, seemingly bringing a somewhat sad end to his illustrious career.

If that was indeed the case, I don’t think anyone would’ve lost sleep over Sting’s final chapter but after seeing this extension, I’m so thankful it’s here. In WCW, Sting was a symbol of justice, an embodiment of everything good and in the end, an almost tragic victim of all the bad surrounding him. Now, two decades later, Sting doesn’t have to fight uphill, he doesn’t have to complete mission impossible, he just has to play his part on a winning team.

With each week, wrestling slowly regains the balance that was lost over twenty years ago, returning the industry to an enthusiasm and excitement that once seemed cemented as a mere memory. It’s a different time with different talent, but it’s still Sting, back on TNT and inexplicably, somehow as spirited as ever. I don’t know where this story is going and after the last two years, who could? I’m sure Sting doesn’t know either, he just knows that he can’t let history repeat itself.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this, I probably am in truth. To me though, Sting’s performance suggests otherwise. I truly believe that he’s here to right wrongs, he’s here to fix the problems that his peers produced. Sting isn’t the star of the show, he’s its spirit, an example that regardless of age or experience, you can reinvent yourself in this setting. Sting is the promotion’s central tribute to one of its most obvious inspirations, a nod to what was and a sincere signal towards what they hope will be.

That’s a beautiful thing, whether you’ve watched Sting for 35 years, 6 months or somewhere in-between. AEW is proud of pro wrestling history but with each outing, Sting feels increasingly like their own history, tying the promotion with its predecessor, the brand that he so famously led. Right or wrong, Sting stands for something to me, and that’s a credit to his pristine reputation as well as his enduring on-screen presentation. Either way, there’s still an optimism to Sting and in AEW, that hope finally feels at home.

“When a man’s heart is full of deceit, it burns up, dies and a dark shadow falls over his soul. From the ashes of a once great man has risen a curse, a wrong that must be righted. We look to the skies for a vindicator, someone to strike fear into the black hearts of the same men who created him. The battle between good and evil has begun. Against an army of shadows lies a dark warrior, the purveyor of good with a voice of silence and a mission of justice. This is Sting.”

Fleet Files #9: The Go-Home Week, Again

With Arthur Ashe only days away, AEW has some work to do. Well, to put it more simply, they have some matches to make. Luckily, they certainly aren’t short on options though, so perhaps they’ll produce the greatest television line-up in recent memory. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll tape a four hour block of wrestling excellence, splitting the footage into two episodes of enthralling action. Well, guess we’ll have to wait and see in that regard but first, it’s off to New Jersey for Adam Cole or something.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Adam Cole vs. Frankie Kazarian – Dynamite #102

Continuing the flawless start to his AEW stint, Adam Cole delivered again, this time producing Dynamite’s best match opposite Frankie Kazarian. Cole feels like a major star in this setting, finally surrounded by a degree of spectacle befitting his physical charisma. In-ring, Cole may not be for everyone but he’s consistently for the crowd in attendance, which was again the case here. Credit to Kazarian also, who remains an immense pro that’s absolutely perfect for these particular scenarios.

2. Daniel Garcia vs. Lee Moriarty – Dark Elevation #28

AEW’s first entry in a rivalry that could define the next decade and more of pro wrestling, this was wonderful. With only six minutes or so of ‘TV’ time, Garcia and Moriarty made the most of their opportunity, combining beautifully for a standout C-Show bout. Now seemingly signed, Moriarty joins AEW’s increasingly impressive line-up of prospects, quickly taking his place at the top of that list. Alongside him? Garcia, which says it all honestly.  

3. Leyla Hirsch vs. KiLynn King – Dark #108

The first main event of AEW Dark’s studio era, this match overdelivered and then some. Leyla Hirsch is steadily cementing herself as one of the division’s most dynamic, versatile performers. There’s a palpable sense of competition to her every move, it really packs a punch regardless of opposition. KiLynn King was no passenger here though, once again proving that she very much belongs in matches of this variety. This was Dynamite-worthy pro wrestling, plain and simple.

4. FTR vs. Dante Martin & Matt Sydal – Dynamite #102

After a weird year or so, it’s great to have FTR back in the picture. To me, this is currently the ideal usage of Harwood and Wheeler, using them to produce compact, engaging television bouts that keep the show moving seamlessly. Granted, I’d rather they just be champions but in AEW, they are somehow equally awesome options for that role, so I’m content with this. The whole Dante Martin – Matt Sydal dynamic is tremendous by the way, just a perfect fit that helps both parties.

5. Tag Team Titles: The Lucha Bros vs. The Butcher & The Blade – Rampage #6

The first title defense for AEW’s new tag team champions, this was Rampage’s latest marquee match. Though not an exactly natural clash stylistically, these two teams have history and actually gelled quite well, with The Lucha Bros getting their reign off to a steady start. A contrast from one another mechanically, The Butcher & The Blade have a real charm, with the former adding a roughness that’s sometimes absent in the champions’ work. Good match, even if nothing more.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Best Friends vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dark #108

The latest version of an increasingly familiar match, this bout at least had the new studio setting to set it apart. Other than that, more of the same really but that’s enough to earn a placement, especially with the focus on the less established Wheeler Yuta, and especially Jora Johl. Fun match.

2. Nyla Rose vs. Skye Blue – Dark Elevation #28

This week’s Dark Elevation main event, Skye Blue’s recent emergence continued here, even in a slightly different fashion. On paper, this looked like another squash match victory for Nyla Rose and at less than four minutes, I suppose it almost was but in execution, Blue again made the most of her time.

3. Shawn Spears vs. Khash – Dark #108

Previously impressed by his effort against Darby Allin, Khash delivered again here, sharing a nice little studio bout with Shawn Spears. This was compact, sound pro wrestling and on a week without too much A-Show excellence, these two earn the final spot, as actual C-Show standouts belong in the category above.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Ruby Soho – Rampage #6

The first babyface to truly trade insults with Britt Baker, Ruby Soho not only belonged here, but she truly thrived. Granted, the content may not be for everyone, well not all of it at least but Soho’s delivery alone spoke volumes. On arrival, Soho’s scouting report positioned her as one of the division’s most well-rounded talents and after just two weeks, that already feels undeniable. Strong promo, and a major triumph for this programme with Grand Slam only days away.

2. Britt Baker – Rampage #6

Though probably not the headline due to the segment’s sheer importance for Soho, Britt Baker was still excellent on Rampage. The other half of this week’s standout segment, Baker’s confidence and conviction remained palpable, not wavering at all opposite verbally, her most dynamic rival yet. As always, Baker had some snappy verbiage to share, again owning the increased spotlight and ideally, ensuring that this kind of segment becomes far more commonplace moving forward.

3. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #102

Setting the stage for next week’s blockbuster match with Kenny Omega, Bryan Danielson had a simple task to complete. Opposite Omega for an in-ring promo, Danielson had to make sense of the champion’s eventual willingness to fight. Basically, he had to not-so-obnoxiously bait him into battle, maintaining his identity along the way. Oh, he also had to capture the gravity of this moment, making a genuine dream match feel like exactly that. Suffice to say, he did all that with ease, because that’s what Bryan Danielson does.

4. Powerhouse Hobbs – Rampage #6

In what was, effectively, a mere recap of his attack on CM Punk, Powerhouse Hobbs absolutely shined on Rampage. Hobbs always carries himself like a star, exuding the aura of a destroyer at every turn but here, he provided the promo to go with it also. Though nothing elaborate or extensive, Hobbs was immense here, once again maximizing a major moment. In truth though, this is his biggest moment yet and frankly, one that could define the next year and change of his career.

5. Christian Cage – Dynamite #102

Though it was effectively just two shots at ‘the other channel,’ this was good TV. In around thirty seconds, Christian Cage made some headlines and added a little heat to his part in this whole thing, which was necessary in my view. Best of all though, Christian also cut off Jungle Boy, planting the seeds for his inevitable turn that frankly, could be coming sooner rather than later. Either way, it’s been great to see Christian re-find his old charm and charisma, he’s been a great get for AEW.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. The Butcher & The Blade vs. The Outrunners/Hunter Knott & Rosario Grillo – Dark Elevation #28

Cheating again here, but whatever. This Monday and Tuesday, The Butcher & The Blade murdered four men, somehow emerging from the crimes as number one contenders. Honestly, it’s just great to have Butcher back, but the immediate reminder of his status as an elite squasher only makes it sweeter. Two matches, maybe three minutes of action, all hail.

2. Penelope Ford vs. Layna Lennox – Dark Elevation #28

As of late, there’s been a real uptick in aggression from Penelope Ford. For awhile there, Ford had all the tools athletically but didn’t quite project the villainy that she seemed capable of. That’s changed in recent months, with the process only accelerated by this current pairing with The Bunny. Everything was sharp and snappy here, good stuff.

3. 2point0 vs. Erik & Andrew Lockhart – Dark #108

I think that we‘ve all loved the addition of 2point0, but C-Show viewers will know that they’ve really become an underrated squash match act. They aren’t killing local lads like Butcher and Blade, but they’re so wonderfully obnoxious, almost always making momentary babyfaces of their opposition. Good pro wrestling, plain and simple.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Adam Cole

Entering to another raucous reaction, Adam Cole is an obvious choice for this spot, validating the hype with my personal favourite match of the week. His post-match promo didn’t make the cut for that category, but it certainly didn’t hurt his case either, as Cole set the stage for next week’s blockbuster trios match. Once again, Cole feels completely at home in this setting, picking up exactly where he left off and quickly cementing himself in AEW’s main event scene.

2. Leyla Hirsch

Stealing the show with KiLynn King and guiding Jade Cargill in one of her longest matches yet, Leyla Hirsch again proved her value here. Though not always the first name listed when pondering the future of this division, Hirsch absolutely belongs in that conversation. Hirsch isn’t the conventional choice perhaps, but that’s what makes her so intriguing, bringing genuine ‘role model’ potential to these ranks. A wonderful babyface, Hirsch should be a real priority moving forward.

3. Ruby Soho

On a relatively quiet week, Ruby Soho earned her place and potentially more with just one promo. More than anything, that segment just felt like a statement for Soho, reiterating the immediate impact of her Casino Battle Royale win. After all, this category is increasingly intended to capture the names most on your mind at the week’s close, and Soho certainly managed that. Again, the segment in question may not have been perfect, but it sure packed a punch.

4. The Butcher & The Blade

With two squash match triumphs and an engaging title match loss, The Butcher & The Blade have officially returned after this week’s efforts. This is a fun team, even if one that I don’t expect to appear especially often in this particular category. With that being said, this was a strange week and after three matches that all earned some rank or another, this feels like a deserving nod in my view. Simply put, it’s great to have them back together.

5. Powerhouse Hobbs

An unconventional choice on an unconventional week, Powerhouse Hobbs barely beats out Britt Baker for the fifth spot here. I know, I know, Hobbs’ only offering was that sole promo on Rampage but honestly, that says it all. By hook or by crook, Hobbs leaves this week’s TV at the forefront of my mind, perfectly setting the stage for his Grand Slam bout with CM Punk. The intangibles matter and on confidence, intensity and sheer physicality, Hobbs continues to climb the ranks.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Penta El Zero Miedo – 45 Points
  2. Rey Fenix – 44 Points
  3. Jon Moxley – 38 Points
  4. Matt Jackson – 33 Points
  5. Nick Jackson – 33 Points
  6. Eddie Kingston – 32 Points
  7. Christian Cage – 30 Points
  8. Jungle Boy – 29 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 28 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 28 Points
  11. Orange Cassidy – 27 Points
  12. Miro – 26 Points
  13. CM Punk – 23 Points
  14. Luchasaurus – 23 Points
  15. Britt Baker – 20 Points
  16. Dante Martin – 19 Points
  17. Chuck Taylor – 19 Points
  18. Adam Cole – 18 Points
  19. Daniel Garcia – 18 Points
  20. Santana – 16 Points

Fleet Files #8: Writing History Books

It’s the first PPV edition in Fleet Files history and so, I have some explaining to do. In order to place more emphasis on these very special weeks, the best match category will be expanded, now featuring 10 bouts. Though not an exactly perfect adjustment, this is intended to reward the lofty honour of PPV match of the night. Without spoiling things, this week’s best bout deserves more than just your standard five points and now, it’ll rightly receive ten.

Anyway, as we all know by now, All Out 2021 was a very special show. An event that felt iconic on arrival, the kind of PPV that’ll be remembered forever. With that in mind, let’s make this File count, all hail.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Steel Cage Match for Tag Team Titles: The Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks (c) – All Out 2021

One of the greatest matches in recent memory, The Lucha Bros and The Young Bucks made magic at All Out. It was awe-inspiring at times, brutal at others and spectacular throughout, a marriage of ideologies that all involved adapted to perfectly. This was a moment and while wrestling fans have grown to resent that term, it truly fits here. From their entrance to the emotional post-match celebration, this was a career-defining night for The Lucha Bros. Special stuff, and an electric end to an immense title reign.

2. TNT Title: Miro (c) vs. Eddie Kingston – All Out 2021

Exactly as advertised, this was an enduring, grueling battle to open All Out. With the crowd firmly behind him, Eddie Kingston was the ultimate babyface here, bravely fighting uphill against the seemingly unbeatable Miro. Like all great monsters though, the champion now has an established chink in his armor, and they used that beautifully here. The whole thing was great, but that closing stretch’s many ups and downs, that’s peak pro wrestling to me. They had the people truly hooked on the finish, and it doesn’t get better than that.

3. CM Punk vs. Darby Allin – All Out 2021

An engaging, entertaining and ultimately encouraging return to action for CM Punk, this actually exceeded my expectations. Though working a babyface match without any real conflict behind it, this told a wonderful story, quite outwardly drawing from Bret Hart’s famed clash with the 1-2-3 Kid. Punk’s gameplan was simple, slowing things down and using brute force to wear on Allin, who’d gain momentum with every acceleration. That built steadily, eventually reaching an enthralling conclusion as out of nowhere, Punk put his foe to sleep. Great match.

4. World Title: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Christian Cage – All Out 2021

With almost every possible circumstance going against them, the All Out main event had only two advantages. Thankfully, it was still a match between Kenny Omega and Christian Cage and with those pieces in play, you can only fall so far. Though the work here was more daring, I preferred their Rampage prequel but even still, these two did an admirable job in a seemingly impossible scenario. The world was waiting for the post-match and thankfully, that obviously delivered but these two produced something far too substantial to be forgotten.

5. Women’s World Title: Britt Baker (c) vs. Kris Statlander – All Out 2021

With an underwhelming build, this didn’t enter All Out with great hype but yet, it felt very much alive by the bout’s conclusion. In perhaps her best straight singles match yet, Britt Baker finally scored an in-ring homerun as champion, combining seamlessly with Kris Statlander. On arrival, Statlander had all the raw ingredients, connecting with ease and sporadically showing flashes of brilliance. Since returning though, she’s added a real poise and polish to her game, which was incredibly evident here. A contained but exciting title match, just what the doctor ordered.

6. Andrade El Idolo vs. Pac – Rampage #5

Two of the wrestling world’s most dynamic and explosive offensive wrestlers trading bombs for fifteen minutes? Sign me up. This was great television, again kicking off Rampage in style and absolutely wowing the live crowd before an admittedly flat finish. That hurts this some, as does the structure (or lack thereof) itself but even still, it was a much-needed hit for Andrade. Though not quite there yet, this was far more reminiscent of the man that stole shows at every turn in NXT, which is another massive triumph for AEW.

7. Jon Moxley vs. Satoshi Kojima – All Out 2021

Though perhaps slightly hurt by the stylistic overlaps with the match that came before it, this still climbed above my personal expectations. No doubt, Kojima remains capable but he was truly inspired here, producing a spirited effort that married neatly with Jon Moxley’s quite obvious motivation. There wasn’t much meat on the bone here and the result was never in doubt, but a cold match between Kojima and Moxley is still exactly that, a match between Kojima and Moxley. Not perfect, but a fun ride nonetheless.

8. Best Friends & Jurassic Express vs. The Hardy Family Office – All Out 2021: The Buy In

The absolute perfect buy-in bout, this set the tone beautifully, showcasing two of AEW’s most beloved acts. Everyone looked good here, each man able to shine in their own way while warming the live audience up in an almost house show fashion. In many ways, this was AEW at its absolute best, a uniquely joyous experience. Wholesome is probably a step too far for anything pro wrestling but this is as close as you’ll get, pairing two babyface units that consistently bring a certain brightness to these settings.

9. The Final Fight: Chris Jericho vs. MJF – All Out 2021

I don’t think anyone had this pencilled in as match of the night and certainly, they got off to a slow start but for me at least, they absolutely got there in the end. Though the restart finish will always be divisive, it seemed to work quite emphatically here, adding an extra layer of emotion to this thing and allowing them to build on an already engrossing closing stretch. Honestly, MJF was excellent throughout, selling his back brilliantly and injecting the athletic dynamism that frankly, modern Jericho matches need.

10. Jon Moxley vs. Minoru Suzuki – Dynamite #101

Must say, this ranking stings. After a rewatch or two, I liked this more than initially but even still, it’s hard to shake that first experience. From a presentation point of view, AEW simply missed, failing to capture the gravity of last year’s classic. In their short runtime, Jon Moxley and Minoru Suzuki tried their best to recapture that match but unfortunately, they just didn’t have the time to do so. This felt like a lost moment in some ways, which limits my enjoyment of a still very much engaging match.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Joey Janela vs. Lee Moriarty – Dark #107

For all his critics, Joey Janela is absolutely capable and here, he had the perfect opponent to prove exactly that. Lee Moriarty is immense, one of the wrestling world’s most exciting performers and he shined here, thankfully being positioned to succeed by Janela who was certainly very giving. Really strong match.

2. Three Strikes Match: Big Swole vs. Diamante – Dark #107

The conclusion to their C-Show exclusive feud, Big Swole and Diamante ultimately delivered, producing an intense and physical affair. This wasn’t the cleanest or smoothest match and at times, it almost felt hurt by the stipulation, but the sheer effort involved was more than enough to get this thing over the line. More of this please, regardless of the setting.

3. Riho vs. Skye Blue – Dark Elevation #27

Continuing to impress, Skye Blue once again maximised her minutes here, taking on Riho in a strong little C-Show thriller. While Blue is the hot topic right now though, Riho was the story here for me, returning to singles action and almost immediately reminding me of just how valuable she can be. Nice match that achieved a lot for its runtime.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Adam Cole – Dynamite #101/Rampage #5

Whether in-ring on Wednesday or backstage on Friday, Adam Cole made a statement this week. Known as one of the industry’s most confident promos, Cole swiftly positioned himself high on the talker territory’s verbal power rankings. Cole has genuine charisma that’s especially evident when armed with a live crowd like this, taking charge of things swiftly and for some, even earning an Elite leadership role on arrival. Great start.

2. Bryan Danielson – Dynamite #101/Rampage #5

Though far less elaborate with his words, I just loved what Bryan Danielson brought this week. In just a few sentences, he separated himself from the pack on Wednesday, solidifying his status as the no-nonsense, straightforward grappler. Better yet, he sold the eventual Omega match in seconds, adding a raw competition to things that Omega’s persona doesn’t always achieve. Add in the pre-tape that ultimately, put the promotion over also, and you have a strong introduction.

3. Sting – Rampage #5

Responding to Tully Blanchard’s hilariously strange callout, Sting basically popped himself for a minute or so, and that popped me. Sting’s energy is honestly outrageous, he seems more excited than anyone and after 35 years of wrestling relevance, that just shouldn’t be the case. His efforts here weren’t enough to get me fired up for Darby Allin vs. Shawn Spears, but it did convince me that at some point, Sting should beat up Tully himself.

4. Eddie Kingston – Dynamite #101

Once again, Eddie Kingston didn’t need much time to do his job. Seemingly advancing the Miro programme one step further, Kingston called out the TNT Champion’s cowardice, also clearing up his dismissal of Miro’s god. That’s not a joke either, he actually did that here, which wasn’t even out of place after Kingston’s prior promo. As AEW’s roster expands and the star power increases, Kingston’s ability to deliver like this is priceless.

5. MJF – Dynamite #101

I’ll be honest, I didn’t particularly like this promo. It was long and consistently opted for the cheapest of heat, but objectively, this was too effective for me to dismiss it totally. The content was a disappointing step backwards in my view, but MJF’s delivery remains immense, bringing this up about as high as it could go all things considered. Some quality control would’ve helped this one, but MJF’s actual performance certainly wasn’t lacking in that regard.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Lance Archer vs. Jason Hodge – Dark #107

With his opponent literally running away from him in Dark’s opener, Lance Archer continued to innovate within his already flawless formula. Once the bell rang, this was as swift as ever, but I did like the slight alteration first, as Hodge got the jumpstart on Archer with some dives of defiance.

2. Kiera Hogan vs. Blair Onyx – Dark Elevation #27

Scoring her first win in AEW, Kiera Hogan produced a crisp, sharp outing here, swiftly vanquishing Blair Onyx. Closing the show with an impressive Neckbreaker finish, Hogan audibly won Kingston over, who emphatically endorsed her performance. Hogan is seemingly here to stay, and rightly so.

3. Red Velvet vs. Queen Aminata – Dark Elevation #27

Since a shaky showing opposite Jamie Hayter, Red Velvet has bounced back in admirable fashion, barely missing since. This match was no different, even with its brief runtime as Velvet ticked every box, hitting her signature offence with a snap en route to the rapid victory.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. The Lucha Bros

The obvious winners here, The Lucha Bros entered this week as stars and left it feeling almost iconic. Though the above has a more cut and dry description of “best,” this category is more about tone in my view and as the week comes to a close, no act is more on my mind than the new tag team champions. Long may they reign, all hail The Lucha Bros.

2. The Young Bucks

The other half of All Out’s classic, The Young Bucks deserve immense credit for their part in Sunday’s magic. In Chicago, they had real heat, or as close as one gets by ‘proper’ means in 2021. Their performances didn’t have to weaken to get there either as physically, they remained one of the industry’s most spectacular tandems. In fact, they’re probably top two in that category also, with the same team above them.

3. Adam Cole

On a week where things were so spread across AEW’s all-star roster, Adam Cole refused to leave his place as the promotion’s leading headline. Strange as it sounds, Bryan Danielson’s debut was basically expected and as a result, Cole’s arrival felt almost earth-shattering by comparison. Sprinkle the promo work since and you have an ideal start for Cole, who feels immediately at home which as we’ve seen, isn’t always the case.

4. Andrade

Frankly, this is probably a touch high for Andrade, but it just feels fitting. Coming into this week, Andrade’s AEW run felt increasingly snakebit but after Friday’s thriller with Pac, that memory seems just as likely to fade. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not quite there yet but it’s hard not to be encouraged, as Andrade slowly reminds the wrestling world of just how special he is.

5. Eddie Kingston

The heart and soul of AEW, Eddie Kingston did it all this week. He had an excellent PPV match, opening up the All Out main card in style. He then commentated Dark Elevation, leaving the desk to take part in the programme’s main event. Finally, he produced yet another standout promo on Dynamite, once again within a snappy pre-tape offering. With many deserving candidates, Kingston barely closes out our Fleet Five.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Penta El Zero Miedo – 44 Points
  2. Rey Fenix – 43 Points
  3. Jon Moxley – 38 Points
  4. Matt Jackson – 33 Points
  5. Nick Jackson – 33 Points
  6. Eddie Kingston – 32 Points
  7. Jungle Boy – 29 Points
  8. Christian Cage – 29 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 28 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 28 Points

Fleet Files #7: The Go-Home Week

The biggest PPV in promotional history is ahead, and AEW only have five shows to remind the wrestling world. I know right, a mere five shows, across six nights? Talk about pushing your luck. Well anyway, there’s some major matches along the way also, as a couple rivalries continue in their own lane while elsewhere, All Out continues to take shape. It’s a PPV dream card but this week, it’s all about the build, as some of AEW’s biggest personalities take center stage.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Santana & Ortiz vs. FTR – Dynamite #100

Though for a range of reasons, it still felt like a slightly lesser version of their ultimate match, this remained absolutely immense. Two of the best teams in wrestling, these two tandems combined for an excellent television tilt, even if not quite the heated conclusion that some expected. Perhaps that’s still ahead but as is, this was a hit, and one that’ll hopefully position both units to re-enter title contention. It’s been an unusually inactive year, but this was quite the reminder of their capabilities.

2. The Super Elite vs. The Lucha Bros & Jurassic Express – Dynamite #100

One of AEW’s most familiar plays, the go-home Dynamite concluded with an all action multi-man thriller. In some form or fashion, The Super Elite are usually present for these but here, they were opposite two of the promotion’s most beloved pairings. Those two teams stand alongside the Bucks in terms of consistency honestly, both delivering across all four of AEW’s shows. In a tag team territory, those three have claimed the top tier as of late, with the champions months removed from any miss at all.

3. Darby Allin vs. Daniel Garcia – Rampage #4

A clear improvement on their initial effort, this was some impressive TV wrestling. Granted, it was a little scary at times too, as Darby Allin unsurprisingly tempted fate with the PPV only 48 hours away. That’s to be expected though, and it didn’t make the match any less compelling, as Daniel Garcia produced his best performance since arriving in the promotion. Sprinkle some excellent CM Punk commentary along the way, and you have a strong Rampage main event.

4. QT Marshall vs. Evil Uno – Dark #105

This was just good pro wrestling, as I’ve come to expect from QT in particular. Question his usage, criticise his character but bell to bell, Marshall is smooth, a truly sound in-ring performer. To his credit, Uno is no slouch either and in truth, is probably underrated due to his partner’s more outward dynamism. In a rare singles showing here though, Uno certainly proved a point, really thriving opposite Marshall. Peak C-Show wrestling for AEW, so good that it (unfortunately) escaped that category.

5. Tay Conti vs. Penelope Ford – Dynamite #100

After a somewhat shaky start, Tay Conti and Penelope Ford were struggling for the audience’s full attention. Only minutes later though, they’d got the people onboard and then some, even earning a few ‘this is awesome’ chants. Though not exactly consistent, Ford is certainly capable and she showed that here but for me, this was all about Tay Conti. Her offence really is something to see, genuinely explosive and spiteful in a way that stands out a mile. Good match.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Pac vs. Matt Sydal – Dark #105

Hindered by circumstance and frankly, some incredibly shaky commentary, this was an objectively lesser version of what it could have and probably should have been. Even still, it was too well executed to fall any lower than this, as these are still two of the promotion’s best bell to bell performers. With that in mind, I’d really like to see them run this back when Andrade is in the rear-view mirror.

2. Red Velvet vs. Skye Blue – Dark #106

A complete C-Show anomaly, this was a match enhanced by its audience, as the Chicago crowd absolutely embraced Skye Blue. Thankfully, she was up to the task too, performing admirably in a match that truly maximized its minutes. Red Velvet’s swift adjustment helped also, embracing the role without losing her usual identity, just like she did in Brittsburgh. Good match, a potential career-altering one for Blue.

3. Diamante & Nyla Rose vs. Big Swole & Julia Hart – Dark Elevation #26

This programme has been a great usage of the C-Show setting but honestly, this match was an example of what’s been far too absent on TNT. There’s something to this formula, just an engaging tag match that got time without overextending itself, featuring four performer in their best light along the way. Everyone shined here, and I couldn’t be happier to type that.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. MJF – Dynamite #100

Sitting alongside Tony Schiavone, this may have been MJF’s best promo yet. Wow, this was immense, scathing and spiteful, but still so grounded in raw reality. The Ali comparison was easy heat, but its execution couldn’t have been better, an absolutely perfect encapsulation of who MJF is. On an episode of Dynamite filled with promo brilliance, this claimed the top spot by a distance in my view. Incredible stuff.

2. Eddie Kingston – Dynamite #100/Rampage #4

In under thirty seconds, Eddie Kingston produced one of the wrestling year’s best quotes. “Take my hand, we’re gonna walk through hell together and then maybe, if you survive that, you’ll get to go to your god’s heaven.” Two days later, he also said “redeem deez nuts.” My point? I don’t even know really, those sentences should paint a good enough picture though, there’s really nothing more Eddie Kingston than that. Along with Miro, Kingston heated this thing up dramatically in just two segments.

3. Chris Jericho – Dynamite #100

Since turning babyface, Chris Jericho has actually been somewhat revitalised in my view. He’s working hard in-ring but physically, the limitations there are increasingly obvious, so Jericho is more and more reliant on his promo. Thankfully, that element has stayed strong, rebuilding after a few shaky moments earlier this year. Sharing the ring with Jim Ross, Jericho added the final touches to this build, providing it with exactly the emotional weight that was previously missing.

4. Dustin Rhodes – Rampage #4

After making the save and going face to face with Malakai Black, Dustin Rhodes reminded the wrestling world of exactly who he is. Even still, Rhodes is one of my favourite promos in AEW, an absolute throwback and by that I mean, he was actually there back then too. I was excited for this match anyway, but his promo sealed the deal, as Rhodes got all kinds of fired up, setting the stage for next Wednesday’s clash.

5. Malakai Black – Dynamite #100

Responding to Lee Johnson’s slightly bizarre save from the prior week’s Dynamite, Malakai Black continued to confirm my developing read on his AEW ceiling. Contrary to my initial belief, there isn’t one, he’s really clicking here and it’s honestly a sight to see. These promos are immense, still featuring their own unique presentation but not lacking in content or delivery, both of which have been absolutely top notch thus far.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Emi Sakura vs. Laynie Luck – Dark #105

Though her Elevation bout with Ashley D’Amboise just barely missed out on a C-Show ranking, this squash match was too good to ignore. Emi Sakura absolutely battered Laynie Luck here, to an almost uncomfortable degree. Sakura was physical in the most arrogant, nonchalant way, a perfect extended squash.

2. Tay Conti vs. Heather Reckless – Dark #105

After being jumped before the bell, Tay Conti absolutely mauled Heather Reckless, quite literally questioning her foe’s poor decision-making. Happy Tay is one thing but fired up, may actually murder someone via pump kick Tay? That’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

3. Daniel Garcia vs. Tylor Sullivan – Dark Elevation #26

There’s something truly sadistic about Daniel Garcia, and it’s perhaps his most intriguing trait. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed by the rest, immense technical acumen paired with a certain physical presence. That edge though, it’s palpable, a real nastiness that if handled carefully, can make Garcia special, all without losing his core identity.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Eddie Kingston

It’s impressive to have a top promo, but to produce two in one week, all while adding heat to a programme that previously, hadn’t featured any Kingston promo at all, that’s levels. Coming into this week, Kingston’s response was an obvious box to tick and with ease, Kingston showed why. There was some comedy, some action and beyond that, genuine substance that’ll help Sunday’s match. Kingston gained the most from this week’s AEW TV, and he didn’t even wrestle.

2. Santana & Ortiz

With a spectacular opening shine, Santana & Ortiz positioned themselves for a star-making performance on Wednesday. In the end, they probably fell a touch short of that acclaim but fortunately, felt like stars upon arrival anyway. It’s been a strange year for this team, turning babyface six months ago and having no real chance to capitalise in a tag setting. At long last, this was that for them and thankfully, it connected in a major way.

3. Daniel Garcia

Once again trusted in a major, main event match, Daniel Garcia looked more at home than ever this past Friday night. I think that sooner than later, Garcia will need to reset some and work his way up the card but for now, he couldn’t have validated Tony Khan’s confidence more. Over and over, he’s been given the chance to sink or swim and he’s consistently done the latter, going head to head with some of the promotion’s biggest stars.

4. FTR

Though not quite to the degree of their babyface counterparts, this was an important match for FTR also. Either hampered by Cash Wheeler’s genuine injury or to his credit, an impressive commitment to selling, they weren’t quite in full gear here but even still, this was a strong performance from the former champions. Also, yes I’m now just ranking almost every team together, simply seems like the correct play to be honest, obvious outliers aside of course.

5. Tay Conti

With a hilarious squash match on Tuesday, Tay Conti then made an emphatic return to Dynamite on Wednesday. Last Friday’s match with The Bunny wasn’t quite as impressive, but this was a tremendous recovery, both in performance and perception. With so much focus on All Out, this was a unique week, as most only offered a single segment, seldom ranking twice. Alongside Daniel Garcia, Conti was the exception to that rule, which earns her the final slot here.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 33 Points
  2. Penta El Zero Miedo – 29 Points
  3. Rey Fenix – 28 Points
  4. Jungle Boy – 26 Points
  5. Christian Cage – 22 Points
  6. Orange Cassidy – 21 Points
  7. Kenny Omega – 21 Points
  8. Eddie Kingston – 20 Points
  9. Darby Allin – 20 Points
  10. Luchasaurus – 20 Points

Fleet Files #6: Linear Eyeballs

After the biggest week in their short, but eventful history, AEW has quite the task on their hands. Indeed, it’s now time to produce a worthy sequel to the week that was, by hook or by crook. I’m sure it’ll be fine, entertainment never struggles to maintain those high standards after a critical peak. Seriously though, you know the deal by the time you’re reading this, but you may not know the truth. This was week one of TK’s new initiative, prioritizing digital eyeballs over their linear counterpart, as the C-Shows take the shine.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. The Lucha Bros vs. Jurassic Express – Rampage #3

With daylight second, this was the week’s best match by an unfathomable distance. In fact, this tag team tournament final was one of AEW’s best in-ring offerings since returning to the road, an absolute thriller. Opening Rampage, these two teams continued a trend, starting the Friday night show in a fashion that was almost impossible to top. Jungle Boy gets better every week and The Lucha Bros…well, when they’re on, they are a wrestling experience unlike any other.

2. Dante Martin vs. Anthony Bowens – Dark Elevation #25

Starting AEW’s week as the Elevation opener, Dante Martin and Anthony Bowens reiterated their recent message. Martin is obviously a unique talent, one for the promotion’s present and future while Bowens is quickly making his own case for a similar description. Since being forced into the role of singles wrestler, Bowens has really shined, unlocking a level that physically, I’d only seen hints of in AEW. His ceiling shouldn’t be slept on, especially in this current form.

3. Death Triangle vs. The Dark Order – Dark Elevation #25

When The Lucha Bros and Pac actually combine, it’s always a sight to see. Frankly, AEW should probably get far more out of this faction in trios matches, but I understand that circumstances haven’t helped on that front. The Dark Order were worthy adversaries here also, as Colt Cabana especially shined, really belonging opposite Fenix in particular. Best of all, this match advanced The Dark Order’s recent dissension, providing the perfect final note to an all-time episode of Elevation.

4. Best Friends vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dark Elevation #25

The first of a two match series of sorts on YouTube, this was the Best Friends better effort opposite The HFO. Though it took a little while to truly get going, Orange Cassidy went through the gears in an instant, ironically enough. His hot tag kicked this up a notch and they went into an incredibly fun closing stretch. I understand why folks don’t like the HFO, but they really are an enjoyable piece of these C-Shows. They don’t fit and that’s the point but bell to bell, I enjoy them all, especially Angelico.

5. Orange Cassidy vs. Matt Hardy – Dynamite #99

Speaking of The Hardy Family Office, they conclude our week’s top five matches here, as Matt Hardy again completely exceeded my expectations on Dynamite. This looked like a weird match on paper and in execution, it was even weirder, with house show antics early and then eventually, a gory scene as Hardy was busted open. The result was a legitimately good pro wrestling match though as for all of his physical struggles, Hardy remains ahead of the game enough to produce engaging television bouts. Not a classic by any means, but sound stuff in my view.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. The Lucha Bros vs. The Factory – Dark #104

Indeed, what a week for The Lucha Bros! Battling Aaron Solo and Nick Comoroto, they were immense here again, allowing The Factory duo to really impress me along the way. Solo is sound obviously but Comoroto, he’s the money here. Don’t get me wrong, the big man remains incredibly raw but even still, unquestionably one to watch.

2. Best Friends vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dark #104

The lesser of these factions’ trios bouts, this was still an incredibly enjoyable C-Show bout. Matt Hardy isn’t The Blade in terms of aggression and intensity, but this United Center crowd loved him so that was an extra wrinkle to embrace. Other than that though, same deal really, just fun pro wrestling.

3. Dante Martin vs. Alan Angels – Dark #104

Frankly, this would very seldom rank at all but this week, the A-Shows were so weak inside the ropes, that I’m left seeking even more C-Show alternatives. I will say though that Alan Angels is legitimately good, which feels like an incredibly understated truth. He can really go, and was excellent here.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. CM Punk – Dynamite #99

Though nothing close to his debut effort, CM Punk remains one of wrestling’s best promos. In fact, he apparently remains one of wrestling’s biggest stars also, and is already truly at home in AEW. This was CM Punk on Nitro, and I loved every minute of it, standing alongside Tony Schiavone to once again explain his return to wrestling. Great stuff, I can’t wait for All Out.

2. Miro – Dynamite #99

I mean, it was around 30 seconds long but who cares? Miro said the line “bring me The Mad King before I burn this place to the ground,’ that’s enough for me.

3. Christian Cage – Dynamite #99

If you couldn’t already tell, this wasn’t a particularly strong week for AEW, neither in-ring or on the microphone. As a result, the mere charisma of Christian Cage is enough for me, continuing to sell his upcoming title match with a palpable confidence and conviction.

4. Jon Moxley – Dynamite #99

Though far from his strongest outing, Jon Moxley was still good on Dynamite even if admittedly, I sensed a noticeable difference in his delivery. It was almost desperate, trying to inject some substance into a match announcement that caught most off guard. That’s a shame, but I still liked the content.  

5. Britt Baker – Dark #104

Standard stuff here from Britt Baker, making a rare C-Show appearance and doing Britt Baker things. On this week, standard Britt Baker fare was enough to complete the top five and I must say, I’d actually like these segments to occur more often. Not with Britt necessarily, just top stars in general.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Powerhouse Hobbs vs. Shawn Dean – Dark #104

Losing an all-time sprint, poor Shawn Dean’s homecoming was short-lived, flurrying briefly before Powerhouse Hobbs’ inevitable destruction. I love Hobbs in these matches, as they only make me more excited for his fleeting A-Show outings. Job done.

2. Malakai Black vs. Brock Anderson – Dynamite #99

Though completely misplaced as the Dynamite main event, this was a compelling, effective squash match. Perfect? No, not quite but it served its purpose and Black was certainly vicious, legitimately busting Brock up before swiftly closing the show.

3. Dark Order vs. Isaiah Moore & Kal Herro – Dark #104

Giving Dark Order a big man/little man dynamic, the rare combination of John Silver and Preston Vance was a treat here. In a brief showcase match, both parties shined, spotlighting their contrasting styles but showing some overlap along the way.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Rey Fenix

The star of four different matches this week, it’s fair to say that Rey Fenix is now well and truly back. Before his injury, Fenix was becoming AEW’s standout in-ring performer and with a few more weeks like this, he’ll quickly reclaim that title. Fenix is special and though that’s not news, it was great to get a reminder as emphatic as this.

2. Penta El Zero Miedo

Though not quite Fenix, Penta was certainly present for all of the above. Especially on the C-Shows, Penta is far more picky than his partner, but that doesn’t make him any less entertaining. Penta is a presence regardless and when the time comes, he can be seriously exciting in his own right. A great week for The Lucha Bros, an all-time effort in Fleet Files history honestly.

3. Orange Cassidy

Not dissimilar to the two men above him, Orange Cassidy had his own standout week. With three straight days of match-stealing showings, Cassidy reiterated his case as one of AEW’s genuine top guys. Any doubts about Cassidy’s in-ring range were misplaced anyway, but weeks like this only further silence those increasingly muted concerns.

4. Dante Martin

Pairing the strong Anthony Bowens bout with a nice sprint opposite Alan Angels, Dante Martin continues to build momentum across AEW’s programming. You can see and feel his progression, it’s palpable, both in terms of skill as well as his standing with the audience. Martin is a case of when, not if at this point.

5. Jungle Boy

Compared to those above him as well as his own high standards, it was an unusually inactive week for Jungle Boy. With that being said, he certainly didn’t miss in his sole opportunity, producing an incredible performance in this week’s match of the week. Jungle Boy is such a sure-fire option for AEW at this point, it really is a sight to see.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 33 Points
  2. Penta El Zero Miedo – 25 Points
  3. Rey Fenix – 24 Points
  4. Jungle Boy – 22 Points
  5. Christian Cage – 22 Points
  6. Orange Cassidy – 21 Points
  7. Kenny Omega – 21 Points
  8. Miro – 17 Points
  9. Dante Martin – 17 Points
  10. Darby Allin – 17 Points

Fleet Files #5: The First Dance

It’s the biggest week in AEW’s short but eventful history, as the United Center awaits. CM Punk looms large but first, Judas is in Chris Jericho’s mind, looking to finally vanquish MJF. On the same night, Sammy Guevara comes home and Sting returns to the ring, his first match on TNT since 2001. Let’s be real though, this week is only about one man, it’s only about one moment. This is about the rare chance at pro wrestling magic, it’s about Rampage. It’s about Chicago, it’s about The First Dance.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. The Young Bucks vs. Jurassic Express – Dynamite #99

This was electric, just enthralling pro wrestling TV. Jungle Boy gets better every time I see him, and he had two perfect dance partners here. Down the stretch, you could accuse this match of being overbooked but honestly, it worked for me. This thing was exciting and once again, The Young Bucks proved themselves almost undeniable as tag team champions. They just aren’t missing right now, and any tag title defence is a lock for this category.

2. Sammy Guevara vs. Shawn Spears – Dynamite #99

Out of nowhere, this became something quite special. Don’t get me wrong, it was always certain to be solid, as Spears is an admirable pro and at home especially, Guevara is a beloved protagonist. They were striving for more than that here though and even if you rolled your eyes at some of the false finishes, they personally achieved it for me. This thing was wild, their take on an epic in the second match of an already under the radar Dynamite.

3. Jurassic Express vs. Private Party – Rampage: The First Dance

Two nights removed from their thrilling title tilt, Jurassic Express did it again, producing an action-packed bout with Private Party. For my money, Private Party’s constant improvement hasn’t gotten enough credit over the last year or so, and perhaps that’s due to their relative lack of presence on Dynamite. Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know but let me tell you folks, this team is figuring things out in a major way. The shtick is more entertaining than ever and their work is tightening without losing its innovation.

4. Darby Allin & Sting vs. 2point0 – Dynamite #99

This was an absolute blast. Good? I don’t know man, who cares? It was Sting, in action on TNT, wrestling 2point0 of all teams. They brawled through the people, did a stunt or two and just rocked the place. I mean come on, Sting took a damn table bump, no-selling it and rolling back the years in real time. This was AEW at its best, allowing two generations of fan to enjoy their favourites, celebrating yesterday and tomorrow all at once, with both sides lifting each other up.

5. Daniel Garcia vs. Matt Sydal – Dark Elevation #24

On an unexpected, frankly insane addition to AEW’s already loaded week, Daniel Garcia and Matt Sydal stole the show on Thursday. This episode of Elevation came out of nowhere and so did this match, with Garcia upsetting Sydal after eight simply excellent minutes of action. This thing was just incredibly tight, build on immense execution and having some fun with the rookie-veteran dynamic too. Sydal is such a great pro but it’s in this setting that you see Garcia’s skill most, as he was right there with him technically.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Lucha Bros vs. TH2 – Dark Elevation #23

If we’re being honest, Monday’s episode of Elevation was about Eddie Kingston, who legitimately lost his mind on commentary. Aside from that though, we also got a tremendous main event, which was the least surprising thing ever. I adore this role for the Lucha Bros, providing C-Shows with their one actually good bout.

2. Dante Martin vs. Lee Moriarty – Dark #103

I can’t believe that this thing didn’t even hit five minutes. Lee Moriarty is special, folks. I mean, Dante Martin obviously is too, but that’s already well-established in this series. Moriarty? Well, most know the deal but man, seeing him on this stage, that really told a tale. What a unique piece of talent, and he showed why here in again, just under five minutes.

3. Pac vs. Anthony Bowens – Dark Elevation #23

Before, during and after, this was about Anthony Bowens for me. Now operating as a singles wrestler (for now), Bowens had the chance to make a statement here, opposite one of the promotion’s finest in-ring performers. Personally, I thought he managed exactly that, really belonging in a relatively brief, but sound C-Show bout.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. CM Punk – Rampage: The First Dance

Receiving one of the greatest reactions in wrestling history, CM Punk once again found himself in centre ring, microphone in hand. Unsurprisingly, he delivered, producing an iconic promo, setting the stage for what could be an industry-shifting, legacy-defining return. Punk is back and based on this outing, he hasn’t missed a beat as a promo, either.

2. Jon Moxley – Dynamite #99/Rampage: The First Dance

On Wednesday, Moxley cut a promo of the year contender and on Friday, he gave it a worthy sequel too. On any other week, he’s topping this category with daylight second, but this wasn’t any other week. Unfortunately, Moxley comes in second to CM Punk this time, but I sense this could quietly become quite the competition in Fleet Files.

3. Chris Jericho – Dynamite #99

Looking reinvigorated by the sheer completion of his latest mission, Chris Jericho seemed inspired on Wednesday. That first announced itself in this pre-match promo, in which for me, Jericho rolled back the years a little. In terms of energy and honestly, the delivery itself, this felt like a promo of Jericho’s past and in this case, I very much mean that as a compliment.

4. Paul Wight – Dynamite #99

I don’t care man, I love me some Tall Paul. This segment was way too long and definitely not what you’d call good, but I enjoyed Wight here. He had some babyface fire and kept the people engaged, making the most of admittedly, an uncomfortably WWE segment. It could’ve fallen apart in less experienced hands, but we’re safe with Tall Paul.

5. Miro – Dynamite #99

Oh, go away! I know, I know, it’s a 30-second promo or whatever, but let me grin. Miro called out Eddie Kingston and my mentions filled in an instant, setting the stage for in my mind at least, a genuine dream match. Kingston’s eventual retort feels like a lock for this list but until then, Miro completes The Promo Pack.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Santana and Ortiz vs. Warren Johnson & Zack Mason – Dark Elevation #24

Man, this was fun. Santana and Ortiz are one of my absolute favourite tag teams, and they never appear on the C-Shows, so this was a real grin. It wasn’t a particularly hilarious squash or anything, but PnP were aggressive and sharp, which was more than enough for me.

2. Jade Cargill vs. Kiera Hogan – Rampage: The First Dance

This wasn’t really much of an impressive squash at all, but it was a relatively rare A-Show squash, so here it is. Bonus points for being on an especially iconic episode too of course, as Jade basically gave Kiera the match before winning in an instant. That works, sure.

3. Private Party vs. Edge Stone & Will Allday – Dark Elevation #24

See the above description for Santana and Ortiz’s squash, then lessen the excitement a tad and you have the answer here. Honestly, not a great week for truly meme-worthy squash matches, so I’ve settled for personal grins.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. CM Punk

With all due respect folks, this goes without saying. After weeks of speculation, CM Punk’s return was everything that we ever could’ve imagined. Sure, it appears to have been genuinely impactful too but even beyond that, confined to its 20-minute block of television, this was magical. Punk in Chicago is something truly unique, a genuine anomaly in wrestling history. This moment lives forever, and it’s the undeniable Fleet Five victor.

2. Jungle Boy

The star of two top three matches this week, Jungle Boy continues to cement himself as a genuine headline act. He was immense here, again, and is progressing at such a rate that frankly, his overall ascension may require an acceleration. Jungle Boy has always been rightly pencilled in as one for the future, but he’s increasingly become a major player for today.

3. Jon Moxley

Closing Rampage: The First Dance in a brief, but engaging bout with Daniel Garcia, this week was all about the promos for Jon Moxley. With two of my personal favourite verbal offerings of AEW’s 2021, Moxley reminded the wrestling world that on the microphone, he’s almost without peer though again, that may have slightly changed this week.

4. Sammy Guevara

Producing an unexpected thriller with Shawn Spears, Sammy Guevara came across like an absolute megastar at home. Guevara has really connected as a babyface, which wasn’t unexpected but the sheer pace of that development has been striking. Also, he got engaged, which isn’t actually relevant here but well, feels very relevant all things considered.

5. The Young Bucks

Yes, I’m breaking the rules. Indeed, I suck, you should know this by now. Look, I’m not splitting Matt and Nick for the fifth spot, they were both excellent in my favourite match of the week, and they’ll both leave this category with a point each. This is an all-time run, and I’m not going to let the format’s technicalities limit the tag champs’ standing.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 31 Points
  2. Kenny Omega – 21 Points
  3. Christian Cage – 19 Points
  4. Darby Allin – 17 Points
  5. Jungle Boy – 16 Points
  6. Matt Jackson – 15 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 15 Points
  8. Miro – 13 Points
  9. Orange Cassidy – 13 Points
  10. Malakai Black – 13 Points

Fleet Files #4: This is Rampage

Months removed from the announcement of Rampage, it’s finally here! Indeed, the third hour of AEW TV has arrived and it needs to be cherished before inevitably, it becomes the fourth hour also. That’s another conversation for another day in another format though, as this is Fleet Files and until next week, perhaps the biggest one yet. Brittsburgh is the host and somehow, IMPACT’s World Title is central, as the All Out ‘main event’ receives its  prequel. This isn’t the place to decide if that makes sense, it’s the place to arbitrarily rank things. Either way, let’s get to it!

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. IMPACT Title: Christian Cage vs. Kenny Omega (c) – Rampage #1

Silly as it may sound, to me, this was pro wrestling. Hot crowd, world title in the balance, two industry titans with a clear contrast between them. The action was athletic and dramatic, perfectly paced for the feel of an epic without ever veering into self-indulgence. Just immense pro wrestling and ultimately, a Christian Cage match, which is a compliment in my book. Credit to Omega though, who continues to prove himself as an in-ring chameleon, putting out excellence at every turn.

2. The Elite vs. Top Flight & The Sydal Brothers – Dynamite #98

Plain and simple, the industry is better for top guys that think like The Elite. Here, they built a match around their opposition’s 20-year-old centrepiece. Dante Martin was this match and best of all, it was better for it too, as the rising star filled our feeds with gif-worthy goodness. Credit to The Sydal Brothers also, who honestly deserve more but it is what it is, there’s just so much talent in these tag ranks. Matt has been great for years, but Mike is one my favourite under the radar tales of 2021. The Elite? Well, they are elite, obviously.

3. QT Marshall vs. Alan Angels – Dark #102

This was the best kind of C-Show bout. To translate, it was one of those matches that slowly but surely, brought you a little forward, muttering to yourself “hmm, this is pretty good.” Now, that’s already a triumph but this particular match didn’t stop there, it kept going and honestly, is one of the best Dark matches that I’ve seen. Angels is criminally underrated due to the talent alongside him in Dark Order but Marshall was immense here, proving his value as a bell to bell leader.

4. The Lucha Bros vs. The Sydal Brothers – Dark Elevation #23

On a show that otherwise, didn’t pack two minutes between bells, this was a real treat. After six squash matches, we simply needed a main course before heading home and here came The Lucha Bros. In fact, I’ll be more specific, here came Rey Fenix. Penta is a wonderful presence, don’t get me wrong and again, I enjoy the Sydal Brothers but I can’t overstate the effort that Fenix puts into these matches. He’s not even really trying either, just having fun and in his hands, that’s an immaculate watch.

5. Darby Allin vs. Daniel Garcia – Dynamite #98

Weirdly enough, this was basically a Daniel Garcia showcase. After his exciting effort in last week’s electric six-man tag tilt, Garcia had a chance to produce something more substantial here. The result was solid, good even, if not great. In a more back and forth form, this could be something quite special but as is, it was some poised work in control before Allin’s brief, sudden comeback. Even still, Garcia impressed, with a polished performance in again, an unquestionably sound pro wrestling match.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Private Party vs. Best Friends – Dark #102

I love Private Party’s development in recent months. Sincerely, all silliness aside, I think that Matt Hardy’s guidance has improved them immensely and perhaps most importantly, they’ve become immense C-Show thrillers. Strong shtick + legitimately cool offence = category domination, plain and simple.

2. Bear Country vs. Chaos Project – Dark #102

Once again, it is the mere novelty of seeing Chaos Project in vaguely traditional tag matches that pops me most. This was Boulder’s return after four months on the shelf and so, they actually had some time, getting him back into the swing of things. The match was fine, solid work and wacky enough for a grin. All hail.

3. Darby Allin vs. Invictus Khash – Dark #102

Probably a somewhat unconventional pick here, as this was a short little bout that on paper, appeared to be one of many squash matches. In reality though, this was an engaging story across its 3-minute runtime, as Khash looked to prove that he can hang with his old training partner. In the end, he knew enough to virtually dominate things, but not enough to win.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Malakai Black – Dynamite #98

Maybe I’m getting lost in the hype here, but I just loved this. In a relatively brief pre-tape promo, Malakai Black was more sinister than ever, finally backed by the actions to match his demeanor. Black is really clicking here for me, and these personas aren’t usually my thing either. This man is money, lore and all.

2. Britt Baker – Dynamite #98

Listen, I’ll eat my words every week if these results continue. I was wrong! Britt Baker really is one of wrestling’s best promos, armed with an unparalleled confidence right now. In her hometown, Baker felt like the industry’s biggest star. She’s not, but she’s closer than anyone would’ve guessed two years ago.

3. Christian – Dynamite #98/Rampage #1

Announcing his shot at the IMPACT Title, Christian built on last week’s effort, again rolling back the years a little on the microphone. Christian is really re-finding his personality as of late, which I think is actually a credit to his chemistry with Jurassic Express, again prevalent in his post-match promo on Rampage.

4. MJF – Dynamite #98

Irate at Chris Jericho’s latest triumph, MJF was again wonderfully villainous at Dynamite’s close. This wasn’t an epic promo or anything crazy, as that wasn’t the intention. Instead, it was a fiery announcement of next week’s big stipulation, putting the final touches on that build and setting the stage for a main event match.

5. Pac – Dynamite #98

Must say, I don’t love Pac on the microphone but he popped me here, even if somewhat ironically. Questioning if Andrade is “ard” and all that good stuff, Pac once again added some intensity to a feud that thus far, couldn’t feel colder. That’s not ideal, but the match itself can quickly erase those flaws.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. TNT Title: Miro vs. Fuego Del Sol – Rampage #1

Not a traditional squash match here, to say the least. Honestly, it’s not really a squash match at all, but it simply needs recognition and is most fitting here. This was electric, with two immense false finishes before the sudden completion of Miro’s inevitable murder mission. Wonderful, what a piece of business!

2. Shawn Dean vs. Peter Avalon – Dark Elevation #22

Only the show’s second match, this one really set the tone for an epic episode of Elevation. After sustaining about 10 seconds of offence, Dean swiftly rallied, legitimately hitting every move in his arsenal in one fell swoop. His finish came last, giving Dean the win in under a minute. Competitive matches? Who needs ‘em!

3. Jade Cargill vs. Amber Nova – Dark Elevation #22

Ideally, you use these shows to get Jade some genuine experience but clearly, this wasn’t your ordinary C-Show. With that in mind, I’ll happily accept the 45-second squash we were given, as it was good to have Jade back in-ring at all.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Christian Cage

Your new IMPACT Champion, Christian Cage is well and truly back. In what was surely one of his career’s most validating weeks, Cage produced a television classic with Kenny Omega, becoming the first man to pin him in some time. Honestly, Cage hasn’t missed a beat and with his recent increase in personality also, he remains a major player, very much worthy of PPV main events.

2. Kenny Omega

An integral part of the week’s two best matches, Omega is topping the five on any other edition. Unfortunately for him, this was Christian’s week but even still, Omega again proved himself as one of the industry’s most versatile in-ring performers. Right now, there’s nothing Omega can’t do, in the midst of a truly historic run.

3. Matt Sydal

An impressive piece of two top five bouts, Matt Sydal earned his place in this category. Granted, it may be a rare entry but nonetheless, Sydal remains sublime, the glue of that enthralling 6-man and providing a similar role during this week’s Elevation main event. Sydal was a signing that didn’t mean much to me initially, but has proved increasingly shroud in recent months.

4. Dante Martin

The undeniable star of that aforementioned Dynamite opener, Dante Martin could feasibly deserve even more here, but that speaks to this week’s standard. Martin’s athletic ability is genuinely awe-inspiring and The Elite spotlighted his every strength, making a star of the 20 year old. One for the future? Sure, but Martin is clearly one for the present, also.

5. Britt Baker

Though her match with Red Velvet wasn’t much more than decent, Britt Baker deserves a seat at this table. Operating with a broken wrist, Baker performed admirably, pairing that effort with an excellent promo and just general star presence. Baker is over everywhere nowadays but at home? That’s something different altogether. That dynamic brought a wonderful spectacle to both A-Shows, can’t miss pro wrestling television.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 24 Points
  2. Kenny Omega – 21 Points
  3. Christian Cage – 19 Points
  4. Darby Allin – 15 Points
  5. Orange Cassidy – 13 Points
  6. Malakai Black – 13 Points
  7. Miro – 12 Points
  8. Lance Archer – 12 Points
  9. Eddie Kingston – 11 Points
  10. Nick Gage – 11 Points

Fleet Files #3: AEW 2.0

It’s the first week of AEW’s future, producing four different episodes of pro wrestling TV. Well, they’re easing into their future at least, adding an additional edition of Dark as they prepare for next week’s Rampage premiere. For now though, Jericho enters a time machine, Lee Johnson gets his first title shot and Dark celebrates 100 episodes. Big names are coming and surprises are expected but first, an in-ring debut also awaits, as Malakai Black finally faces Cody Rhodes. He’s not the only debut either, as is quickly becoming tradition.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston & Jon Moxley vs. Daniel Garcia & 2.0 – Dynamite: Homecoming

Just on concept alone, this was AEW at its best. Three outsiders coming in and being themselves, uniting three of AEW’s top babyfaces along the way. This isn’t one for your year-end list and in fact, you may not even consider it good but frankly, I don’t care. This thing was a delight, just heroes kicking ass. Wild Thing is the industry’s best entrance, Kingston is beloved and they got to share their grin with Sting too, ideal. Can’t ignore their opposition here either, three debutants that maximized their every minute.

2. TNT Title: Miro (c) vs. Lee Johnson – Dynamite: Homecoming

It can’t be overstated just how good Miro is right now. Framed as the unbeatable champion, Miro gave Lee Johnson an awful lot here and yet, barely took a bump. Instead, he’d arrogantly march forward, staggering and stumbling like Yokozuna in 1993. He was immense here and rightly so, because Johnson deserved that performance. While still raw, Johnson is one of the promotion’s top prospects and he delivered here, flying around as usual but really selling too.

3. Pac vs. Jack Evans – Dark #100

This one jumped off the page immediately and after a steady start, these two swiftly showed why. Setting the table with a brief pre-match promo, Evans referenced their history and added some weight to their eventual back and forth. The finishing sequence of this was enthralling, and it was physical throughout. C-Show Pac isn’t the same as A-Show Pac but he can still hit the high notes, especially against someone like Evans, who needed this performance in my view.

4. Christian Cage vs. The Blade – Dynamite: Homecoming

The Blade always appeared to be a natural fit for Christian and indeed, that proved to be the case. This wasn’t anything special and wasn’t trying to be either but mechanically, probably has an argument for match of the week. Just sound pro wrestling, fundamental-heavy TV action. Cage is now the number one contender which long-term, I’m hoping will lead him to the dark side, where he can have these same matches opposite some of AEW’s more unheralded babyfaces. Either way, I’m happy for The Blade, who deserved this show of faith.

5. Leyla Hirsch vs. The Bunny – Dynamite: Homecoming

This Dynamite’s sole women’s match, Leyla Hirsch and The Bunny made the absolute most of their moment. Though tied to the NWA Women’s Title, this wasn’t an immediately interesting pairing but I actually thought they gelled rather well. The Bunny isn’t particularly exciting on offence but she can really sell and when matched with Hirsch’s sheer intensity, that’s more than enough to make up the difference. Would like to see more of Leyla on the A-Show frankly, and hopefully this win is the start of that progression.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. The Best Friends vs. The Wingmen – Dark #100

Though it may seem ironic, the love for The Wingmen in honestly well-deserved. With JD Drake as the workhorse, this group’s silliness is particularly palatable, perfect for C-Show wrestling in truth. As a result, this was an obvious hit, matching Bononi, Drake and Nemeth with The Best Friends trio of Cassidy, Taylor and Yuta. That’s a stacked team and inevitably, one of the top contenders for eventual trio gold, but The Wingmen were worthy foes, providing an ideal C-Show Stealer.

2. Darby Allin vs. Bear Bronson – Dark Elevation #21

It’s a simple formula really: pair Darby Allin with a big brute and you’ll get something watchable, especially when that brute is as capable as Bronson. There’s a more dynamic, elaborate version of this match that in AEW at least, we’ll probably never see but in the C-Show setting, this ticked the boxes nicely. Strong main event for a relatively weak edition of Elevation, taking a backseat to Dark’s 100th episode.

3. The Lucha Bros vs. Chaos Project – Dark #100

Yes, of course I’m biased, leave me alone. Seriously though, the mere novelty of this earns it a spot, as for a minute or two, this was an actual tag team bout. Like, conceptually, structurally, it was a tag team match of the professional wrestling variety. Take that spectacle, add some Lucha Bros goodness as well as Serpentico’s palpable enthusiasm and finally, sprinkle a little Luther lunacy. The result: a bronze medal in the C-Show Stealer.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Dax Harwood – Dynamite: Homecoming

Enraged by the injury to Cash Wheeler, Dax Harwood was an angry, desperate man this week. In the midst of a video package, Harwood was as believable as any promo in recent memory, adding real depth to last week’s result. Santana and Ortiz promised to leave a mark and Harwood’s tone matched that thought, just overcome with emotion. Harwood’s passion is his greatest strength and when rooted in reality like this, it’s unbeatable.

2. Britt Baker – Dynamite: Homecoming

At one point, I thought that people were getting carried away with Britt Baker’s promo progression. Honestly though, I was wrong, as she’s levelled up again as of late. Confident as ever, Baker came across like a superstar on Dynamite, going back and forth with Red Velvet and truly feeling like the champion. Baker gets more comfortable every week and the result is a performer that on the microphone at least, just doesn’t miss.

3. Cody Rhodes – Dynamite: Homecoming

I know, I know, it was too long and Cody is awful dramatic. Yes indeed, both those things are true. With that being said, I can only be honest here and so, I’ll admit it: Cody worked me. Now, did I expect an actual retirement? No, but he had me on the edge of my seat, just waiting for the tale’s twist. Don’t care how unpopular it is, that’s a credit to Cody in my view, who spoke with a sincerity that added genuine uncertainty to the whole thing.

4. Christian Cage – Dynamite: Homecoming

The wily veteran hunting one last title win, Christian has been a pretty straight-laced character in AEW. Personally, I’ve enjoyed that presentation quite a bit, but I sense that it’s been somewhat divisive. I get that, as it can be rather dry but here, Cage finally showed a little more personality, having some fun as he secured number one contender status. I don’t need this approach weekly, but it was a nice reminder of Christian’s range.

5. Red Velvet – Dynamite: Homecoming

Opposite the division’s best talker by a distance, Red Velvet stepped up to the challenge on Dynamite. Velvet’s confidence has been there since day one and though the content wasn’t anything impressive here, that trait certainly kept her afloat in my view. With more experience, Velvet can become a strong promo but for now, she’s a charismatic presence that doesn’t back down from the moment.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Malakai Black vs. Cody Rhodes – Dynamite : Homecoming

Probably cheating here but who cares? For a few minutes, this was just excellent pro wrestling and then, it was over. Black sent Rhodes flying through a table and then in the flattest fashion possible, put his lights out, winning with ease. Cody should probably get points for this too, but that’s a slippery slope so credit to Black, who nailed this presentation and left Dynamite feeling like a killer.

2. Aaron Solo & Nick Comoroto vs. Hunter Knott & Rosario Grillo – Dark Elevation #21

It’s nothing special or spectacular, but I like this team. The Factory duo of Solo and Comoroto makes a lot of sense, pairing polished fundamentals with raw firepower. Comoroto is perfect for the squash match genre, impressive but not good in a traditional sense, making you wince in fear with every outing. Ideal.

3. Lee Johnson vs. Marcus Kross – Dark Elevation #21

His last stop before that aforementioned battle with Miro, Lee Johnson won in the blink of an eye on Elevation. Perhaps that was just a result of time constraints, but it was nice to see Johnson win emphatically, especially against an opponent as hilarious as Kross.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Malakai Black

The beauty of this category is that without limitations or specifics, it can get straight to the point. This was Malakai’s Black week, plain and simple. He nailed this whole presentation and left Dynamite looking like a genuine superstar. Massive triumph, exactly what the doctor ordered.

2. Miro

Though fun as a simple destroyer, Miro’s greatest strength is that within the physicality, he’s actually a very intelligent, nuanced worker. This match encapsulated that perfectly, as Miro elevated Johnson without losing an inch of credibility. Check out his entrance on Elevation too, this is a main event act.

3. Darby Allin

Main eventing Elevation with Bronson and then stealing the show in Dynamite’s six-man tag, Darby Allin is one of AEW’s most consistent performers. If indeed, CM Punk is ahead, Allin continues to prove himself as the perfect choice for that role. Daniel Garcia is first though, which is exciting in its own right.

4. Christian Cage

Cementing his status as the number one contender, Christian turned in another strong television bout, pairing it with an engaging, colourful promo too. The inevitable Omega match may not have immense hype, but considering Cage’s form, you’d be a fool to dismiss it.

5. Cody Rhodes

Opposite Black, Cody did the right thing and then some, going out on his back. As always with Rhodes though, there was more but thankfully, that more actually hit for me here. Though flawed, Cody’s promo worked in my view and best of all, Black still stood tall in the end anyway.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 24 Points
  2. Orange Cassidy – 13 Points
  3. Darby Allin – 13 Points
  4. Lance Archer – 12 Points
  5. Eddie Kingston – 11 Points
  6. Nick Gage – 11 Points
  7. Miro – 9 Points
  8. John Silver – 9 Points
  9. Kenny Omega – 8 Points
  10. Malakai Black – 8 Points

Championship Crossroads, Post-PPV Problems | Takes, Takes & More Takes #23

Yes indeed folks, ‘Takes’ is back…again! Though maybe not quite as consistently as before, I do want to keep this series around, for better or worse. AEW has its own weekly project now so alongside that, I intend to use this format to cover the other products and promotions that interest me. This week, that has me analyzing ROH and IMPACT’s post-PPV efforts as well as NXT’s divisive build towards TakeOver. Three different shows, all chasing eyeballs and running into brick walls along the way. In fairness, I can relate, so let’s get this show on the road!


Less than a month removed from their critically acclaimed Best in the World PPV, ROH finds themselves in a familiar position. Moderate buzz was gained and then immediately lost, as the promotion’s television product remains a non-factor in the industry’s daily discussion. Wrestling is red hot right now in that sense, with shocking news every other day and yet, ROH couldn’t feel further distanced from the excitement. They just feel isolated, which is a complete contrast to their prior place as the wider wrestling world’s US home.

That’s a real shame too, as the product itself continues to impress. I’ve actually been out of the loop slightly and so, this most recent return was my first viewing of the TV in a few months. Once again, I found myself engaged by the palpable contrast between Shane Taylor Promotions and The Foundation. I don’t think this has been an actual story really, just an obvious clash that they’ve used for some good TV content. It works, could just probably be more, though I understand that story-wise, Violence Unlimited have been The Foundation’s more direct opposition.

That’s fine, as they appear to be an awesome act also but I must say, Shane Taylor Promotions is something special. This is the act that makes ROH’s lack of traction most obvious, as this thing should be an absolute smash hit across the board. It isn’t just Taylor either, as Kaun and Moses, the Soldiers of Savagery, are a money tag team too, one that’ll make a lot of money for years to come. They are an imposing, visually striking tandem but there’s range between them also, with Kaun the more flashy counterpart to Moses’ brute force.

In this particular 8-man tag, STP’s championship trio were joined by their own O’Shay Edwards, who eventually scored the win here. Edwards is a potential star in his own right, making this one of the more complete ‘acts’ around, a truly can’t miss pro wrestling faction. That’s not to take away from The Foundation either, who I still love even if admittedly, this whole thing seems to have been less interesting than it probably could’ve been. I do love the usage of those on the outskirts though, like ROH Dojo product Joe Keys here, established as Jonathan Gresham’s student.

In other news, ROH dedicated this week’s television to the Women of Honor title tournament, featuring three first round matches. This wasn’t a home run or anything, but it was a good start for a revived division that’s previously been infamous. Up first, Miranda Alize advanced opposite Alex Gracia and I probably would’ve placed this in the middle, as it wasn’t the strongest start to proceedings. Gracia has had better showings and for now at least, Alize’s base style is a little rough around the edges. Her strikes looked great at times though, and there’s certainly promise on both sides.

Perhaps my personal favourite performance of the night came second though, as Nicole Savoy defeated Mazzerati. The latter has some raw ingredients for sure but this was the Savoy show, which is telling as I actually think she was working well within herself here. Savoy is a building block for this division, the kind that should be a constant as this project takes shape. Finally, ROH established Rok-C as a ‘Prodigy’ indeed, eliminating a former champion in Sumie Sakai. Guided by a veteran, I thought Rok-C mostly lived up to the hype, producing this episode’s best match in my view.

Either way, credit to ROH for actually committing to the women this time around, which was the main issue last time. We can analyse the many prior problems, both unavoidable and self-inflicted but at core, that’s the reality. They just didn’t care enough and it showed, whereas this already feels different on intention alone. I’m quietly confident honestly, as this line-up looks promising but more than that, this thing has Maria Kanellis behind it internally which thus far, appears to be a positive for all involved. Rooting for the women and rooting for Ring of Honor, important months ahead.


Suddenly tasked with a momentary return to taped television and on a different network also, NXT’s time isn’t getting any easier. After years of being almost protected from the pressures of pro wrestling, this brand is now dealing with an onslaught of issues, many of which are out of their hands. For example, it’s not ideal that their unbeatable champion is losing flat on Monday Night RAW, nor is it helpful that multiple key players in the women’s division were called up overnight. It’s a struggle now, things have changed.

With that being said, this product remains steady, a cold, but competent contrast to the discussion surrounding it. In fact, I enjoyed this particular show quite a bit, but perception is reality and unfortunately, that’s NXT’s biggest hurdle right now. Either way, I’m happy to see Hit Row turn babyface after all, as this was a potential issue that I circled only a few weeks ago. Well, think they’re babyfaces at least but if not, they’re certainly framed that way opposite Legado Del Fantasma. That programme opened this week’s show, with a tag match excluding the respective leaders.

Ashante Adonis isn’t there yet but I must say, he’s incredibly striking. I vividly recall first seeing Adonis on 205 Live, as I found myself befuddled at his lack of buzz and hype. Relatively speaking, that’s since changed, or by NXT standards anyway. He’ll improve on his already impressive base in-ring but in terms of star quality, it’s already there, he’s just got something. By contrast, I’m waiting for Top Dolla’s magnetism to translate in-ring but I sense that’s a confidence thing, which will fix itself before long. Nonetheless, he offered an encouraging hot tag here.

Assuming that ‘Swerve’ will eventually retain his North American Title, I’d imagine that this is LDF’s send-off, right? That feels like a main roster act to me, can churn out strong TV action if nothing else. Speaking of such, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong certainly did that here, producing an unsurprisingly engaging affair. Considering their history, this would ideally mean more than it did but at the end of the day, it’s 3 vs. 4, with Fish now firmly cemented on the tier below even Strong. Regardless, that didn’t stop these two from doing their thing.

It was a bruising battle, intense and physical throughout in a fashion that felt alive in a way that modern TV matches seldom do. This wasn’t following a playbook, it was unfolding in front of your eyes, even in picture-in-picture. That’s not to say it was a special match or even anything beyond “good,” just thought it was worth crediting them on that front. Strong vs. Kushida is the endgame here and that’s a positive, plain and simple. Honestly, I think both guys could be higher on the card but if you want the Cruiserweights to matter, this’ll help.

This may surprise some, but I even like Cameron Grimes’ ongoing antics with LA Knight. I don’t think that any product should be exclusively one thing and with the 2-hour runtime, NXT especially needs variety. I mean, even those glory days that I so often reference had comedy, Bull-Fit comes to mind. It helps that I think both guys are genuinely good in this silliness and the result is something that doesn’t feel a million miles away from your usual wrestling nonsense. Put it this way, I’d much rather turn talent this way rather than just having them work heels.

With that in mind, I’m stunned to see Dakota Kai as the apparent heel of this women’s title programme. Raquel Gonzalez is a bigtime prospect and I get the fascination but your audience isn’t rushing to cheer her at all. Kai on the other hand? She was and still could be a natural babyface, embrace her prior arc and use this feud to complete it. That’d be my play anyway but as is, Kai cut a strong promo here, explaining herself with conviction. I don’t know, just think the match itself has a far lower ceiling in this form.

As the de facto babyface (I think), Raquel will inevitably sell for a lengthy heat segment that if roles were reversed, could be transformative in Kai’s hands. No good crying over spilt milk though I suppose, this is what they’re seemingly going with and thus far, they’ve made a good start in that direction. Elsewhere, Trey Baxter continued his own good start, defeating Joe Gacy and advancing in the NXT Breakout Tournament. This was an effective enough formal introduction for both men, an immediate styles clash that allowed both guys to show their own potential.

Combine much of the above with a decent main event and you have a good television show, but there’s a looming sense of uncertainty to the product’s future. Clearly, NXT’s place in this ‘universe’ is changing and that’s fine, but it’s making for a weird few months. The brand’s main male title is attached to a guy that’s beaten almost everyone, yet already finds himself in the RAW midcard. The answer is seemingly Samoa Joe and well, as much as I love the man, that doesn’t feel like much of an answer at all really.

That’s another topic for another day though, as in a vacuum at least, I still enjoyed this latest edition of NXT TV.


It’s been an eventful month or so for IMPACT Wrestling, producing the encouraging Slammiversary and a range of headlines since. Three TV episodes later, there’s been an onslaught of news and notes but yet, you’re the blink of an eye away from missing them all. If you had any doubt after the viewership boom and then immediate bust of Kenny Omega’s presence, this show feels stuck, even if the many promotional partnerships have provided their PPVs with an extra punch. The TV though? Well, there’s a lot of options and unfortunately, too few people are picking IMPACT.

That’s frustrating as when you actually tune in, you’ll generally enjoy the experience. It’s been especially engaging in recent weeks, with fans finally back also, adding an energy that had been absent for well over a year. I apologize if much of the above overlaps with my earlier ROH opening, but I will say, there is an obvious difference here. I thoroughly enjoy Ring of Honor’s weekly television product, but I’m not delusional, it has no real hook to the modern wrestling fan. In fact, it often feels disconnected from the promotion’s main angles and ideas.

It’s dated in that sense, a complete contrast to the increasingly common approach to US television. They rotate things like AEW but in a far more formulaic fashion, all over just one hour too. I love that, but it’s not particularly exciting, especially for those further distanced from the product. By contrast, IMPACT follows a far more familiar formula, built around its main characters every week and developing their central arcs with each outing also. You’ll be caught up almost immediately, you’ll see at least a couple recognisable faces weekly.

Now, I do think that sometimes, IMPACT’s creative lacks a big picture outlook, mostly specializing in giving purpose to potentially purposeless talent. With that being said, that’s a complaint that I’ll often return to as the major PPV cycles reach their conclusion, but it’s not relevant here. Perhaps it’s just the return of fans, but I really think that over the last three weeks, this product has been consistently interesting in a way that’s seldom been the case. Granted, much of that is fueled by these promotional partnerships but for now, that’s a feature, not a flaw.

Jay White is the obvious example of that, an absolute revelation thus far. Everyone already thought highly of White but wow, he’s made a statement in my view. I knew that the raw ingredients were there but his transition to this style of product couldn’t have been smoother. On arrival, he was one of IMPACT’s most compelling characters and frankly, I don’t think that’d be any different elsewhere either. He’s just got the answers at this point, has figured things out and is the kind of top guy that can successfully slot in anywhere.

This week though, White was a mere plot device really, providing the bridge for Chris Bey’s entry to the Bullet Club. Obviously, that’s a great fit for Bey, who can eventually tour Japan as a premier junior heavyweight. Not only that, but it guarantees a certain protection too, which has been absent from Bey’s booking at times. Most of all though, this is a win for Bullet Club, finally adding an exciting fresh face to their ranks. That faction isn’t untalented of course but the line-up itself certainly isn’t exciting. Bey changes that and tellingly, beat Juice Robinson here.

Elsewhere, IMPACT crowned a king and queen last weekend, with Matthew Rehwoldt and Deonna Purrazzo coming out on top at Homecoming. That was an ideal bonus show for your subscribers by the way, just fun pro wrestling that could easily exist in a vacuum, but felt newsworthy enough too. Either way, Purrazzo is headed to the NWA’s Empower show, with Mickie James revealing her opponent as Melina. This is a strong poster and on name value alone, an understandable play but I do question the match quality element as naturally, Melina isn’t what she was physically.

Ideally, this whole saga leads to Mickie James herself working Purrazzo in IMPACT, as the champion still needs intriguing opponents. Then again, Tasha Steelz may have just joined that list, now backed up by Savannah Evans as Fire ‘N Flava becomes a thing of her past. That’s a real shame by the way, as they’d become a legitimately great team but Kiera has been there for some time now, so it does feel like a logical time for her to climb the promotional ladder. Steelz can be a player in IMPACT either way, teaming with Evans or as a singles.

Honestly, Steelz is one of the promotion’s most underrated performers. Fundamentally sound, versatile and armed with real personality, Steelz should flourish if her spotlight increases, which would help the Knockouts Title scene tremendously. Upon thought though, the division’s tag titles may need her more. Speaking of such, IMPACT’s obsession with multi-team tag matches refuses to relent, now booking a triple threat in which Violent By Design and the Rich Swann/Willie Mack tandem challenges The Good Brothers. I just don’t get it, these matches come with such a ceiling, all following that same tired formula.

Speaking of The Good Brothers, Karl Anderson played fall down man here, taking the pin in this week’s 6-man tag main event. That’s fine, as the champions beat Bey and White last week and frankly, the babyfaces needed this win. Namely, Frankie Kazarian needed this win, taking his Elite hunting antics to IMPACT. That was a natural fit and showed how with even the smallest shift, these partnerships can provide momentum. Ideally, Eddie Edwards and Sami Callihan aren’t your two top babyfaces alongside him, but such is IMPACT.

At some point, you’ve got to let things evolve in that sense, catapulting a few of these newer names forward. That day feels as though it’s coming sooner rather than later but for now, IMPACT television is three for three in my view, yet to miss since the return of fans.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

Fleet Files #2: The Domino Effect

One of the biggest stars in wrestling history is on his way but first, Chris Jericho has a date with death. Elsewhere, Eddie Kingston is now the industry’s premier colour commentator and a promotion-long arc nears its apparent conclusion. Juvi be damned, no new signing can take my eyes off this week. Fleet Files folks, let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. The Super Elite vs. The Dark Order – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

For me, this was bliss. Though I find so few of them truly fulfilling, I simply love the idea of Survivor Series matches. This was exactly that, but armed with a powerful narrative and stakes too, a morality play of the highest order. For all the moves, for all the sequences, this was a matter of drama and emotion. Don’t believe me? Know that the result alone broke people’s hearts enough that they’ll probably never revisit this match. That’s pro wrestling at its best, what a ride.

2. No Rules: Chris Jericho vs. Nick Gage – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

For about five minutes, this wasn’t the horror movie I expected. Instead, it was the very scary thought that had been lingering in the back of my mind since last week. As just a mere brawl, this was pretty bad, plodding along until the match found its home: Nick Gage’s world. Bless his heart, Jericho lived in that land willingly, allowing Gage to guide things with his (almost) typical violence, producing an absolute spectacle in this week’s Dynamite main event.

3. Jungle Boy vs. Marq Quen – Dark Elevation #20

On an edition of Dark Elevation that bell to bell, produced better results than the norm, this stole the show. Opening the programme up, Jungle Boy did his thing, having an engaging C-Show bout but I must say, Quen amazed me here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so genuinely comfortable, let alone in a singles setting, he really struck a balance here though. It’s something I’ll try to look for moving forward but either way, Jungle Boy certainly brought the best out of Quen in this one.

4. Lucha Bros vs. Alan Angels & 10 – Dark Elevation #20

No need to overcomplicate things here, as simply put, I must’ve forgot. Rey Fenix is just different folks, he moves unlike any other wrestler on earth and wow, was that evident even here. It may be just another C-Show for everyone else but for Fenix, it was a chance to be back where he belongs, flying around in his latest thriller. To their credit, the Dark Order duo were worthy adversaries also, making this an exciting showcase of moves, which is all it needed to be.

5. FTR vs. Santana & Ortiz – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

This was a real shame. Following the 10-man tag as well as an appearance from Hiroshi Tanahashi, this one already felt as though it was fighting uphill but just as they found their way, an untimely injury stopped them in their tracks. I’d love to see this thing’s natural conclusion and think we’ll get that before long also, as thankfully, Cash Wheeler appears to be okay, relatively speaking of course. Either way, what we got here was good, I just want more.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Kris Statlander & Tay Conti vs. Madi Wrenkowski & The Bunny – Dark Elevation #20

To be totally honest, I didn’t really expect anything much here, but it steadily emerged as a strong little tag match. The dynamic with Kris and Tay was wonderful, with the latter’s sheer energy being a constant delight on these shows. Honestly, this is the kind of match that I’d like to see on the eventual Rampage, just with some storyline depth of course.

2. Dante Martin & The Varsity Blondes vs. Ryan Nemeth & The Acclaimed – Dark Elevation #20

I’ll be honest, I don’t really want to list this here. The category’s description tells me that Scorpio Sky’s sprint with Fuego Del Sol actually belongs, but this match has Dante Martin. Listen, it’s a steady six-man tag but in the closing seconds of this match, Martin exploded into an onslaught of offence that left even Taz speechless. He’s outrageous, give it a look.

3. Angelico vs. Marko Stunt – Dark Elevation #20

Listen, I’ll defend Marko Stunt’s role in AEW forever, I’ll die on that hill. He’s peak C-Show wrestling, allowing for such wacky dynamics as he unlocks almost everyone as an 80s WWF big man. Sometimes at least, Angelico was no different, sparking the hilarity that you’d expect. Basically, Angelico just kicked ass though, stretching Stunt for a much-needed win. Loved it, don’t care that it wasn’t ‘good.’

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Jon Moxley – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

Almost introduced as an analyst before Chris Jericho vs. Nick Gage, Jon Moxley had different plans. Dismissing Hiroshi Tanahashi, Moxley pushed the forbidden door even further open, remaining as charismatic as ever after last week’s rare loss against Lance Archer. Moxley only needs a minute or two to stay over, that’s the beauty of him here.

2. Ricky Starks – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

It wasn’t an especially AEW segment, but Ricky Starks made the most of his Dynamite talking time. Further distancing himself from Brian Cage, Starks showed the charm and wit that’s catapulted him to the top of so many big boards. In another format on a different show, with a more memorable conclusion, this promo would’ve truly stuck but even as is, Starks’ delivery can’t be doubted.

3. Darby Allin – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

I know, I know, this obviously wasn’t a great promo in truth. It didn’t intend to be though, it was thirty seconds for the sake of a hint and after two crazy hours, this still commanded a headline or two. Allin’s delivery was fine, the content as basic as could be but the audience’s reaction, both live and at home ensures that this belongs in The Promo Pack.

4. Nick Gage – Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

Credit to AEW, this whole presentation just worked. It was simple and direct, establishing Nick Gage with ease. Gage himself deserves the plaudits though, both for fitting the bill once the bell rung but also for maintaining that famed authenticity. In his pre-tape promo here, Gage set the tone perfectly, the outlaw assassin, a mercenary there to murder.

5. Miro – Dark Elevation #20/Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

Definitely cheating here, but don’t want to feature King again just for his efforts on commentary. Instead, I’ll avoid the allegations of bias, opting for Miro’s double dip, offering two promos this week. In both cases, it was just standard Miro content really, but that’s more than enough for me, earning him the final spot in this edition’s Promo Pack. Lee Johnson is next for Miro, but I’m desperate to find out his eventual PPV programme.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Luchasaurus vs. Jora Johl – Dark Elevation #20

It was a quiet week in terms of hilarious squash matches, so this was a no-brainer. While not as incredibly blunt as a Wardlow special, this had its own appeal, as I didn’t actually expect a complete squash match. Johl is like, an actual roster guy seemingly, so this caught me off guard and as a result, locked up an uncompetitive 1-seed.

2. Eddie Kingston vs. Serpentico – Dark Elevation #20

Spending most of the night on commentary, Eddie Kingston was a real highlight of Dark Elevation. This match was no different, including a wonderful chop sell from Serpentico. It’s Kingston though, so it strayed from a straight squash slightly, costing it the top spot but remaining funny enough to remain ranked.

3. Thunder Rosa vs. Myka Madrid/Julia Hart – Dark Elevation #20/Dynamite: Fight for the Fallen

Yes, I’ve done it again, more cheating unfortunately. Look folks, I’ve already conceded that in terms of squashes, it wasn’t a week loaded with grins so let’s just take the Rosa combo, especially considering that she’s now officially All Elite. In terms of the actual matches, the first one was a cleaner effort, but she kicked ass either way.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Nick Gage

I don’t even care man, this was Nick Gage’s week. He may never reappear in this series but in many ways, that proves my point. What Gage did this week will live forever, a feat befitting his already legendary status in the death match domain. On Wednesday, Gage brought that to the wider wrestling world, sharing the ring with a hall of famer along the way. MDK.

2. John Silver

Months removed from his last outing, John Silver was back and better than ever on Wednesday. What a hidden gem Silver has proved to be, now not only one of the promotion’s most dynamic workers, but also a beloved character. Great to have him back, and his performance here was immense.

3. Kenny Omega

Even in a 10-man tag, Kenny Omega’s continued brilliance is impossible to ignore. The more he was involved, the better this thing got, bringing that familiar combination of high octane action and rich, palpable drama. He’s a special performer in special form, a pleasure to watch.

4. Chris Jericho

This wasn’t a great Chris Jericho performance, it was a great showcase of what’s made him so special. Even after three decades, Jericho remains selfless as ever, still accepting the industry’s never-ending evolution. He didn’t need to give Gage so much, but he did, because that’s the Chris Jericho way.

5. Hangman Page

Mostly hidden until the final portion, Hangman Page could only climb so high here. With that being said, he was the match of the week’s heart and soul, utilizing that emotional investment for an enthralling closing stretch. Page is immense, over as ever and this week, even receiving the star presentation that his popularity demands.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 19 Points
  2. Lance Archer – 12 Points
  3. Nick Gage – 11 Points
  4. Orange Cassidy – 10 Points
  5. John Silver – 9 Points
  6. Chris Jericho – 8 Points
  7. Kenny Omega – 8 Points
  8. Eddie Kingston – 6 Points
  9. Hangman Page – 6 Points  
  10. Marq Quen – 6 Points

Fleet Files #1: Our First Death Match!

On a week where outside the ring, AEW reportedly transformed the wrestling world, the content kept coming. Granted, it took a backseat to the rumours and such, but it continued nonetheless, with all three of AEW’s weekly shows receiving the live crowd treatment. With that in mind, I thought this was the perfect time to start a brand-new series: Fleet Files. This is a special moment folks, so let’s embrace it, tracking Tony Khan’s often insane promotion each and every week.

I’ll explain each category as I go but basically, we have five different honours, collecting each triumph as we go. With this, we can finally find the All Elite Fleet’s leaders after all, so let’s get to it.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s five best matches. 1 point for the five spot, 2 for the fourth and upward from there.

  1. Texas Death Match for the IWGP US Heavyweight Title: Lance Archer vs. Jon Moxley (c) – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

The best match of their over eighteen month trilogy, this was as violent as television wrestling gets. Operating as the bout’s de facto heel, Moxley took most of the match, setting the stage for Archer’s heroic comeback. It was bloody and brutal, jampacked with action from start to finish. This thing had real urgency to it, a desperation to match the stipulation. Archer’s eventual victory was shocking but in an instant, made perfect sense, giving the big man a moment that at times, seemed increasingly unlikely.

2. Orange Cassidy vs. The Blade – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

Though longer than expected, especially considering the setup, this became a worthwhile investment of time. It wasn’t a feud that anyone asked for or expected but with his tag partner inactive, it shined a light on The Blade. Clearly, Cassidy was always going to be the victor but that didn’t stop Blade from maximising his minutes, really delivering a performance of note here. Strong match, Cassidy remains pretty prolific, a just consistently watchable puzzle piece.

3. The Acclaimed & Private Party vs. Alan Angels, 10 & The Varsity Blondes – Dark #98

In terms of action, this was almost nothing but moves. Look at the line-up though, that’s what the doctor ordered, especially on this show. They kept things moving without losing anyone’s personality, having some fun with the different dynamics along the way. For example, The Acclaimed were a cowardly counterpoint to Private Party’s arrogant acrobatics, ensuring that there was always something to watch. Pillman’s popularity didn’t hurt either, quickly becoming the audience’s focus.

4. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Spears – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

By contrast, this was a far steadier outing, as expected in truth. Jericho’s physical decline has altered the pace of his matches and Spears always felt like a foe to compliment that, not combat it. Spears is a traditional, sound pro and using the audience’s investment, they produced an engaging, dramatic affair. Nick Gage will be a far more challenging test for Jericho but here, he delivered and in fairness, this could reasonably sit at #2 on the list. Spears may not be an electric personality, but his usage here was perfect.

5. Jungle Boy vs. Angelico – Dark Elevation #19

There’s a more dynamic version of this match I’m sure, but this was some wonderful C-Show wrestling. They started slow, easing into some tight grappling exchanges, then using Jungle Boy’s comeback to accelerate things. This is the kind of match that’s really allowing Jungle Boy to flourish, just figuring it out and trusting that the audience will be with them for the ride. Angelico is quickly becoming the centrepiece of that genre, offering these almost weekly on either Monday or Tuesday, sometimes both.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Chuck Taylor & Orange Cassidy vs. Chaos Project – Dark Elevation #19

Oh, this was perfection. Of course, we all wanted some Orange – Luther antics and we got them, but this had a finish for the ages too. Honestly, it’s a year-end list worthy conclusion, the perfect finale to a harmless comedy match. Ideal C-Show wrestling.

2. Eddie Kingston & Penta El Zero Miedo vs. The Wingmen – Dark Elevation #19

These King/Penta matches, what a treat. They aren’t good or anything, just hilarious. Penta doesn’t bump, he doesn’t need to while King is the opposite, exclusively selling and refusing to run through anyone. It’s an incredible dynamic, only enhanced by the pair’s popularity. Add some JD Drake too, and you have a fitting show-closer.

3. Dustin Rhodes vs. Solo – Dark #98

Back in his hometown, Dustin Rhodes was the obvious choice for a C-Show main event. Rhodes used that investment to help Solo, selling for the first half and giving his foe a genuine shot at gaining some heat. Solo didn’t shrink under the spotlight, producing solid results before things naturally heated up with Rhodes’ comeback. Nothing special, but as always with Rhodes, an easy watch.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Jon Moxley – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

On a week of many B+ promos, I’m going to get a little controversial here. Chopped up within a tiny little video package, Jon Moxley secured victory for me, setting the stage seamlessly for this show’s main event. AEW seldom produces recaps like this but it worked well here, with Moxley getting Archer, himself and their history over in one fell swoop.

2. MJF – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

By MJF’s standards, this wasn’t anything special, but I do think he deserves some credit. Nick Gage got a huge pop and that speaks to his reputation but for anyone uninitiated, MJF ticked every box. With both his content and delivery, MJF answered any questions with ease, positioning Nick Gage perfectly. That introduction was a fitting first note for those still awaiting their first experience of Gage, and what an experience it’ll be.

3. Santana – Dynamite: Fyter Fest 2

This was the week’s actual best promo but unfortunately, it had two issues. Firstly, they’ve probably gone to this well too many times now, lessening its impact unfortunately. In addition, this was edited, limiting it even further. That’s a shame, as what we saw was immense, with Santana continuing to climb the promotion’s packed promo rankings.

4. Dustin Rhodes – Dark #98

Opening AEW Dark before his eventual main event, Dustin Rhodes established the match’s rookie – veteran dynamic immediately. More than that, Rhodes maintains that familiar charm and in fact, it’s only more palpable as he ages. Rhodes is the promotion’s lovable papa, overseeing all right and wrong with his very bold face paint. Honestly, the C-Shows are worthwhile for Rhodes alone.

5. Eddie Kingston – Dark Elevation #19

This is probably cheating but who cares? In the name of Eddie Kingston, I’ll bend my own rules a lot, so here he is, sneaking in the top five. Once again asked to send the people home happy, Kingston gave the rabid crowd exactly what they wanted, even signing off with a somewhat hostile, but ultimately harmless message. Kingston is beloved and could do this forever: sell some, win and upset Twitter. Easy.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Chad Lennex – Dark #98

Though not without competition, Wardlow just escaped with the victory here. In-ring, it only took him 31 seconds but in this category, things were much more contested. It’s Wardlow though, you know the deal.

2. Lance Archer vs. Zachariah – Dark Elevation #19

Honestly, Archer could reasonably claim robbery here. I mean, the man literally dragged his opponent to the ring with him, that’s immense. Even still, Wardlow’s finisher is a cut above in my view, so there’s that.

3. Powerhouse Hobbs vs. Lucas Chase – Dark Elevation #19

Blunt as ever, Hobbs is a master of the unspectacular squash. I mean that as a compliment to be clear, he rules. Also, Hobbs offered a genuinely good promo on here too, which earns placement in a fair world.

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Lance Archer

Winning the week’s best match by a mile as well as an immaculate squash, Archer earned this on his in-ring efforts alone. Add a decent little promo within that aforementioned Dynamite video package, and you have a clear winner in my view. The hometown hero getting his moment, that’s what it’s all about!

2. Jon Moxley

Still the face of this company in my mind, Jon Moxley is swiftly reminding the world of what we missed. Since returning, Moxley hasn’t wasted anytime, this week leading one of his best AEW bouts yet. That plus the promo creates a special week for the former champion.

3. Orange Cassidy

Funny against Chaos Project and fiery opposite The Blade, Orange Cassidy’s range in this role continues to impress. It’s a very simply gimmick in truth, but Cassidy’s performance constantly catapults it towards something really quite special. Oh, and he also got Sting in on the act, which was perhaps the week’s standout gif or whatever.

4. Dustin Rhodes

Bookending the illustrious Dark, Dustin Rhodes was a hometown hero in his own right this week. Nothing spectacular from Rhodes here of course, just another reminder of how much he still has to offer. Want more matches of note really, but I understand that it’s hard with such a crowded crew.

5. Eddie Kingston

I’ve already told you, I just don’t care. On Elevation, Kingston wrapped up a five-hour set of tapings beautifully, receiving an incredible reaction along the way. He’s the territory’s heart and soul and a year removed from his debut, somehow finds his way onto my obviously biased top five.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 10, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Jon Moxley – 14 Points
  2. Lance Archer – 12 Points
  3. Orange Cassidy – 10 Points
  4. Dustin Rhodes – 5 Points
  5. Eddie Kingston – 4 Points
  6. MJF – 4 Points
  7. The Blade – 4 Points
  8. Luther – 3 Points
  9. Serpentico – 3 Points
  10. Santana – 3 Points

Fyter Fest Thrills, SmackDown Shines | Takes, Takes & More Takes #22

Well folks, it’s been awhile. Four months ago, this series abruptly ended after what I thought was a decent little existence. Simply put, I couldn’t keep watching the wrestling at that rate, and that may be the case moving forward. If so, this’ll be a short-lived comeback but with fans returning, it feels like a good time to start fresh. NXT, AEW and SmackDown are the focus today so with that in mind, let’s get this show on the road, quite literally.


Since the rehiring of Samoa Joe, I’ve made my own return to NXT. No longer losing a wrestling ratings war, NXT’s move to Tuesday has been a positive step critically, even if a lateral move commercially. I do agree with the consensus though, that this is a good show that’s already benefitting from standing alone each week. At times, I still struggle with an overarching emotional investment but there’s barely a babyface in sight, so that feels inevitable regardless of their new night.

Either way, I can always embrace a wrestling match to start a wrestling show and NXT delivered that here, giving Dakota Kai and Ember Moon some time to set the tone. I feel like I’ve seen this match a lot but Kai and Moon are honestly two of my personal favorite television workers right now. That may sound hyperbolic but I really do think the world of both, just incredibly watchable and able to produce sound matches of this length without exhausting me.

Now without Shotzi Blackheart, Moon’s safety net is gone and admittedly, I do fear for her. To me, she’s a prime candidate for the classic NXT heel turn and I’m just not sure that’s what this brand needs. Then again, perhaps it’ll be more feasible when/if Kai and NXT Champion Raquel Gonzalez split. Ideally, Kai chases Gonzalez as a babyface but whatever form or fashion they choose, that programme feels inevitable after Dakota’s win here. Moon will always be valuable, I just hope that creative has her back.

Speaking of Gonzalez, she’s now set for at least a mini-programme with Xia Li because again, babyfaces, who needs them? The match sounds like an interesting case study at least, a real look at what those two obviously talented women can do without a clear leader involved. I’m intrigued, even if from a more analytical perspective than anything tangible. The women’s division is in transition right now, losing three names last week and apparently gaining Mandy Rose in return. Frankly, I’m very much for this as a trend.

Some talent just gets stagnant on the main roster and stylistically, RAW and SmackDown are too similar to make a shift matter. NXT feels like a genuine clean slate though, especially for Rose, who never really had a proper run on the brand. Rose is someone that clearly, they want to use but it’s just never really worked in my opinion. The raw ingredients are there but not quite to the extent necessary, she’s not incompetent by any means, just lacking a standout skill-set based her main roster usage at least.

Elsewhere, a logical direction was taken with the NXT North American Title, as Legado del Fantasma headed in Hit Row’s direction. This makes sense on numbers alone but again, I have questions. Are we doing an actual babyface turn for Hit Row here, because that’s what should probably happen. Look, ‘Swerve’ is a wonderful villain but this is a money act, just embrace it and try to get something over. The shades of grey stuff remains my biggest issue with this product, though I’m admittedly excited for that eventual match.

The NXT Breakout Tournament got underway also, as Duke Hudson defeated Ikemen Jiro in a pretty short affair. Personally, I wouldn’t have started this tournament with a virtual showcase match, but that’s a bigger picture thing. Am happy for Duke Hudson regardless, who was over a year removed from the ring. Then Brendan Vink, Hudson was a brief RAW regular, teaming with Shane Thorne under the tutelage of MVP. With a big frame, Hudson jumps off the page, armed with a unique charisma too.

Hudson can talk and has a palpable confidence, but it’s not traditional wrestler stuff. He’s almost dry, bringing a different delivery and no, I don’t just mean his accent, which also rules. Simply put, he was an intriguing signing, an intriguing add to RAW and now, an intriguing piece of this tournament. I doubt he’ll win it, but this victory alone suggests that there’s some sort of plan, which bodes well if nothing else. I do worry about these ‘prospects’ though, as the main event scene seems so set in place.

Speaking of such, Adam Cole still isn’t going anywhere and indeed, remains completely miscast as a heel. I know, I know, it’s annoying and you want me to move on but seriously, know your viewer. The NXT audience loves Adam Cole and after such a sustained stint as top heel, that may as well be embraced. Cole still stands out on this roster and for all his faults, that’d probably be the case in any promotion, on any brand. Build around him as the lead protagonist I say, at least that’s fresh.

Finally, Karrion Kross retained in the main event, vanquishing genuine contender Johnny Gargano. A title change seemed possible here but in the end, Gargano was a mere afterthought, as Kross left Joe laying to close the show. I actually liked the match though, able to produce an engaging title tilt without having to fill half an hour along the way. That helped Gargano as much as Kross, simplifying things and getting right to business. It was a very simple match really, with Gargano playing the de facto babyface.

Though it’s a distant memory now, few are better at that, fighting from underneath and sprinkling hope spots throughout. The Kross saga fascinates me, as he’s not even uh, bad? I mean, he’s not particularly good I guess but like, he’s mechanically fine, just kind of flat. That’s whatever, but he’s now been framed on-screen as a bell to bell disaster and with this audience, that’s hard to shake. I feel for him really, as this level of skill can be worked with, it’s not Kross’ fault that he’s immediately won the title, twice!

Nonetheless, Samoa Joe is seemingly next up for him and that’s exciting news, I think. I mean, I’m excited anyway, very excited in fact. To me, a return to NXT signaled the likely end of Joe’s in-ring career but this angle suggests otherwise. I think that Joe has been used rather well thus far but as a wrestler, his value is obviously multiplied. Now, another title reign? I’m less sure. Joe is wonderful, an all-timer but he’s been NXT Champion and going backwards will seldom lead anything forward.

I’ll watch either way, of course, as Joe is king but you get my point. It’s time for a new era in NXT or at the very least, fresh ideas for familiar faces. Joe is Joe, he’s an attraction certainly but a centerpiece in 2021? Probably not the best placement. I enjoyed NXT though, it’s consistently good and slowly but surely, they’re earning my attention.


For over a year, AEW was operating without its special ingredient. That was easy to forget at times, especially as Dynamite went from strength-to-strength but after two weeks on the road, it’s impossible to imagine a product without these crowds. Across the country, wrestling fans are just desperate for this release, infinitely more invested than they even were before the promotion’s ‘pandemic era.’ The roster is stronger, the matches are neater, the promos are better, and the result is great television. This week in particular, those factors produced an all-time episode of Dynamite.

As all shows should, it started with Wild Thing and somehow retained that pace, just two hours of nothing but hits. Moxley’s opener with Karl Anderson shouldn’t be ignored though, an engaging TV bout reminiscent of Anderson’s many G1 undercard bouts. Moxley is just special, bringing a raw energy to this show that’s not possible with anyone else. The entrance is just icing on the cake really, the final touch to one of wrestling’s great thrills. Next week, Moxley’s got Lance Archer in a Texas Death Match too, so he’s certainly making up for lost time.

Speaking of such, Ricky Starks is back, and he still feels as certain for stardom as ever. He and Brian Cage produced an exciting bout that in opting against a surprise, actually surprised me. The story throughout has been that Cage is distancing himself from Team Taz and indeed, they finished the job for him, helping Starks and switching ‘The Machine’ babyface. This feud aside, I don’t really know about Cage’s usefulness in that role, especially as a singles. Perhaps Jake can bring him and Archer together, as the latter’s own direction feels in doubt after Wednesday.

Starks staying heel is interesting, as I did feel that for the sake of balance, he could be used on the other side. As a cocky, but charming babyface, Starks felt like a natural fit opposite MJF or Ethan Page, but this route definitely helps Team Taz. This way, the faction maintains its variety and Powerhouse Hobbs can now fully fill the position of group monster. Elsewhere, Cody Rhodes is back apparently, as reliant on fans as we all recalled. This feud with Malakai Black is off to an encouraging start, just a matter of keeping things simple.

AEW has my trust in that sense too, with ‘Hangman’ Page’s pursuit of Kenny Omega continuing to set the standard for modern wrestling storytelling. This is one of the industry’s great arcs, and the emotional weight of Dark Order’s involvement is truly staggering. That act isn’t just in this story, they are its heart and soul, bringing the fans to life with their support of ‘Hangman.’ The audience is just ready for this, they are ready for Page as champion and when that match arrives, the big fight feel should be striking.

This show always seemed set to deliver, but Christian’s renewed rivalry with Matt Hardy was a common critique. That’s fair enough but in reality, they just had a good wrestling match, one that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. It’s amazing what happens when two pros are protected enough and then left to their own devices, truly shocking stuff. Once again though, this show may have been a home run, but it was still light on development for the women’s division. Yuka Sakazaki vs. Penelope Ford was enjoyable enough, but Britt Baker remains the focus.

At least this week, that resulted in something good, as Baker cut a simple in-ring promo that breathed life into this feud. I’ve long thought that at times, fans are slightly hyperbolic with Baker’s ability on the microphone but no doubt, this one fit the bill. Baker spoke with great conviction and the content was good also, just a strong short segment to steady the ship after a few rough weeks. Even still, I’d like to see a secondary women’s feud in some form or fashion as without that, this thing can only climb so high.

Finally, Darby Allin and Ethan Page provided the perfect conclusion to their violent conflict. Some dynamics just work, and this is one of them, two rising stars simply made for each other. Allin’s passion for bumping like a wild man brings something seemingly psychotic out of Page, adding an edge to his ‘All Ego’ persona. Page is a player, and this feud should be just the start, but I must say, it’ll be hard to make him look as dangerous as Allin has as of late. It’s something special, a feud that could and should be revisited through the years.

After this, Allin’s next step should be interesting, as history suggests that he and Sting have to find another pair to fight at All Out. Personally, I almost expected a student vs. teacher direction but Allin’s victory here makes that even more unlikely, so I guess we’ll see. Either way, this was an all-time outing for AEW, one of the greatest editions of Dynamite yet. Next week looks strong too, even if not quite to this level but special names aside, this just feels like a new norm really, simply extreme examples.

This roster is such that the quality should be consistently high, especially with their almost rotational approach to wrestling television. Simply put, enjoy the ride folks, it rules.


After over a year without live crowds, the blue brand was back in front of fans this week. The first step of WWE’s long-awaited return to touring, SmackDown was a triumphant occasion, also concluding the build to Money in the Bank. As expected based on the advertisements alone, it was a good show but with this energy? It felt like much more than that. After a hilariously understated welcoming by Vince McMahon, an onslaught of entrances occurred, preparing to open the show with a blockbuster 6-man tag.

This ten minutes or so stole the show in truth, and I don’t even mean that as a criticism of the rest. The whole thing was truly epic, a collection of ‘moments’ that after everything, felt truly earned. Reigns was out first, setting the tone for an electricity that peaked with Edge, entering to an unfathomable reaction. For all the talk of fickle crowds swaying opinion, Edge was a case of the opposite, suffering from the ThunderDome’s silence. Regardless of creative, this guy was always getting cheered, whining or not.

Edge probably shouldn’t beat Roman, like ever but his overness is such that I’m no longer dismissing it. Unnecessary? Yes. Short-sighted? Probably but a complete misstep? No, the audience suggests otherwise. Either way, this was a very good 6-man tag, with Rey and Dom Mysterio taking Edge’s side opposite The Bloodline. Mysterio continues to connect with Jimmy and Jey as perfectly as you’d expect, and that tag title tilt is a potential show-stealer on Sunday, even on the pre-show. This was about Reigns and Edge though, with the latter eventually standing tall.

That particular degree of momentum just wasn’t being sustained in this show’s current state, but it had a segment left in it yet. As was widely hinted at beforehand, Finn Balor is back on the ‘main roster,’ returning to SmackDown and silencing Sami Zayn. Obviously, Balor is a wonderful talent and on the babyface side, the rich get richer. Reigns has always had interesting opponents available and Balor may now top that list, especially with their history. That’s been a magical pairing before, so I can only imagine its potential now.

Also, for all the criticisms of NXT’s most recent form, Balor is a credit to it. That brand allowed Balor to refresh his persona, reminding the world of his ability and rejuvenating his own brand in the process. That should be far more common than it is, even if Balor is an extreme example, considering his skill and popularity. WWE has the structure to utilize a global territory system and yet, their desperation to keep everyone on the red and blue brands result in mass overexposure. Keep things fluid, it’s best for all involved.

Inevitably, things did dip some from there, transitioning to another tag match between the champions and the team of Shotzi and Nox. As far as I know, Natalya and Tamina lost this exact match last week so heading into Money in the Bank, a match they’re inexplicably in, a repeat felt puzzling. I do understand the urge to feature the NXT call-ups in front of live crowds though, as this particular audience seemed mostly uninitiated. Unfortunately, even in victory, Shotzi and Nox were an afterthought. The whole match was really, with Liv Morgan and Zelina Vega on commentary.

On the bright side, Morgan’s reaction was very encouraging and though it’s nothing new, they certainly have something with her. Morgan connects and is genuinely likeable, now earning the more cynical viewer’s respect over the years too. People like Liv, and quite naturally root for her which silly as it sounds, is increasingly rare in this division. I don’t think that Morgan needs to win on Sunday as that doesn’t seem like the story to tell here but based on the current line-up, I’m struggling to see a stronger alternative.

Frankly, I don’t think the actual winner is even booked yet. I personally expect either Doudrop to take out Alexa Bliss, or Sonya Deville to replace Liv Morgan. In the former scenario, a Becky Lynch return feels in play but then again, perhaps it’s just these eight. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a talentless group, far from it. Unfortunately though, it is an uninteresting line-up as sadly, most of the performers involved are simply positioned poorly on weekly TV. If it stays as is, Morgan jumps off the page as an ideal victor.

Whoever wins, they aren’t likely to dethrone Bianca Belair anytime soon. Receiving an absolute superstar reaction, Belair felt like a face of the company level figure, just exuding charisma. Belair gets better every time I see her but credit to Carmella, the challenger in this replacement matchup. For the longest time, I had gripes with Carmella’s in-ring efforts but this year, she appears to have really smoothed out those rough edges. Her bump and feed here was better than ever, showing actual aggression when the time come too.

Together, Belair and Carmella combined for a strong title match, convincing me that a proper programme is worthwhile. Sasha Banks is the obvious choice for SummerSlam though, which will probably take shape next week. Before I move to the main event, it’s worth mentioning Baron Corbin, who was absolutely tremendous here. This shtick is awful silly but I was thoroughly entertained, securing this as Corbin’s peak in my mind, even though I’ve only seen one segment. I like Corbin too, but this was actually good in a way that fleeting multi-man matches aren’t.

That led us to our aforementioned headliner anyway, as Kevin Owens dropped Corbin before the fatal 4-way main event. It was a showcase of SmackDown’s Money in the Bank participants, ultimately meaningless but an exciting sprint nonetheless. Rollins eventually won, which I hope erases him from the shortlist of actual contenders. Look, I’m not going to dance around this situation as it’s simple, Big E should win this match. In fact, Big E should also beat Bobby Lashley at SummerSlam. I’m tired of waiting, it’s been a year now, get on with this before it’s too late.

Regardless, this was a strong show, packed with excitement and feel-good fun. That sounds goofy, but it’s true, the audience was happy and WWE didn’t actively upset them. Three good matches and nothing that offended me, that’s a great night at the office, especially under these circumstances. I will say though, the ThunderDome crowd noise making momentary returns is very bad for my brain, as it results in me fearfully watching the fans, still hiding my many scars from those horrifying screens.

Oh well, very good show, seriously.

‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson

Last Wednesday on Dynamite, an incredibly AEW match was announced. With the IWGP United States Title on the line, AEW’s own Jon Moxley would return, taking on IMPACT Wrestling’s Karl Anderson. Naturally, the response to this was rather one-sided, as AEW’s lead protagonist officially back. Armed with ‘Wild Thing’ as live crowds returned, Moxley’s own return had been discussed and debated, now simply being announced in the midst of Dynamite chaos. Personally though, I experienced a slightly different thrill.

Watching on delay, I was off social media, avoiding spoilers and unaware of the triumphant return awaiting me. Naturally, my social media was filled with one very real message and indeed, it wasn’t a celebration of Moxley’s re-emergence. Far from it in fact, which speaks volumes about my brand considering how thoroughly I’ve enjoyed Moxley in AEW. That wasn’t the focus here though as instead, my collection of lunatic followers united, proudly reiterating a simple, solitary thing: ‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson.

You know, people really think that is some kind of bit. It’s understandable I suppose, I’m surrounded by performance artists in this game, can’t really question the cynicism. I can confirm though that this is no bit, I just love ‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson. Over the last decade, the industry’s in-ring style has certainly evolved or at the very least, changed. Much of that development was hosted by New Japan Pro Wrestling, with Karl Anderson present in exactly that promotion until 2016.

Now, I’m all for that evolution. I can enjoy the modern trendsetters, I can appreciate those pushing bell-to-bell boundaries. With that being said, there’s something to be said for tradition, those timeless offerings that could belong in any era. At his best, Karl Anderson was an often underrated example of that, bringing a no-nonsense, meat and potatoes style built on simple, solid fundamentals. Granted, Anderson wasn’t one-dimensional, pairing those features with electric finishing stretches too, the kind that NJPW has become increasingly famous for.

Slick as Anderson was in those moments though, it was seldom the appeal for me. Instead, it was his now unique style adapting to a setting that due to the era, had become home. Karl Anderson didn’t have a WCW and without WWE credentials or outrageous acrobatics, he barely had a TNA back then either. Instead, Karl Anderson was a throwback, traditional worker existing in a pro wrestling world that was appreciating those less than ever. Anderson was certainly dynamic, just not in the fashion that his generation expected or at times, even required.

At a time of almost ground-breaking independent excellence, Anderson was a sound, polished television performer without the television to host him. In 2008, that led Anderson to NJPW instead, a rare chance at the relative big time. Though it soon became the norm, that fit was always interesting to me. Naturally, there was a very pronounced element of Anderson tradition to Karl’s work. Arn Anderson in particular, even beyond the famed spinebuster itself. Rough and tough, Karl was a burly brute that with conviction, talked for himself.

In fact, Karl was very much the Bullet Club’s Arn, enough of a leader to not require the spotlight of leadership itself. World Championship Wrestling’s long-standing relationship with NJPW meant that Arn appeared in the Japanese promotion semi-regularly during the 90s, but it never felt quite right. Arn was a classical US workhorse and that just never matched with the audience experiencing his usual antics. That’s not necessarily a criticism either, not every place is optimal for every performer, that’s what makes this stuff interesting.

By contrast though, Karl Anderson managed to become a constant, the promotion’s most reliable gaijin in years. Versatility helped, as Anderson unlocked those aforementioned finishing sequences, rich with flash and fluidity. He also benefitted from an emerging era though, as the company’s house style began to expand. With Hiroshi Tanahashi as the unmatched ace, NJPW’s in-ring offerings were more Americanized than ever, proudly wearing the influence of Steamboat and Michaels in his many classics. Though polarizing, that shift would eventually prove pivotal in my view.

It allowed NJPW to become that true major league alternative that western eyes had been waiting for. These grand, sport-centric main events always had immense appeal but now, they were far more palatable for the uninitiated, uneducated eye. These were the modern extensions of those NWA Title masterpieces, allowing attention to detail and emotional investment to make magic even within the simplest structures. Karl Anderson is one half of a personal favourite in that genre, as he challenged Tanahashi for his IWGP Heavyweight Title at New Beginning 2012.

Anderson and Tanahashi combine for what effectively, is an NWA Title thriller that’s not only taking place in Osaka, Japan but more than that, it’s thriving there too. This was Karl’s take on the matches that he grew up on, a title tilt rich with competition and intensity. The stakes were palpable, looming over proceedings with each and every momentum shift. Anderson wasn’t a mere foreign villain being fit into Tanahashi’s formula either, he was the match’s heart and soul, as the audience rooted him on with not only admiration but at times, a raw desperation.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know, I know. How awful cliché to cite this match but it’s a classic in the best way, as it encapsulates all of Anderson’s most brilliant, intriguing strengths. In truth though, the beauty of Anderson is his ability to use those assets in tighter, more restricted roles. It was his ability to make a 12 minute G1 match stick night after night, hooking people by the finish even if he wasn’t necessarily the focus. He’s just immensely watchable, an engaging, enduring in-ring presence.

I was happy to see Anderson on the WWE stage and remain thankful that it happened. In terms of legacy, that stuff is worthwhile in my view, even if it obviously received an extension too many. When Anderson re-signed in 2019, I was admittedly frustrated because simply put, that just felt like the end in some ways. Selfishly, I wanted another chapter of this ilk, a return to the form that made Anderson so revered. That wasn’t happening on RAW and SmackDown but now two years later and clearly, the wrestling world has changed.

That leads Anderson to next week’s Dynamite, representing IMPACT Wrestling in a match for New Japan gold. This clash with Moxley was pencilled in for eighteen months ago, January 4th, Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome. We can never recreate that possibly, it’s a lost moment that in terms of Anderson’s homecoming, we’re still waiting for. For now though, this is a decent alternative, as Anderson and Moxley get their match on global television, the industry’s hottest show in fact.

It’s been a year folks but now more than ever, ‘The Machine Gun’ feels truly back and after all that’s happened, this chapter is still only just getting started.

Double or Nothing 2019: The PPV of Possibilities

As much as I enjoy the current version of AEW, I really have very little memory of the promotion’s first show. Just over two years ago, a rabid crowd entered the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a range of possibilities on their mind. Don’t get me wrong, the card was announced but in the grand scheme of things, this was a clean slate. Not just that, it was a major league clean slate, selling tickets out of the gate, arriving to anticipation. Upstart promotions come and go monthly, but clearly, this was something different.

This was no longer just an idea, nor was it a mere toe in the wrestling water. Instead, this was a project of serious scale, one with bold, broad ambitious. For me personally, it was hopeless. That probably sounds silly now and rightly so, but it’s true. I was pretty out of the game at that juncture, not enthralled by the industry’s trends and bored by my bread and butter of RAW and SmackDown. For whatever reason, I’d slowly but surely been dropping my alternatives of choice, uninterested in the scene itself.

To me, AEW was too good to be true, and all shaped by a movement that I wasn’t a part of anyway. I hadn’t watched Being The Elite and I wasn’t watching them at all by their end of their stints elsewhere. That wasn’t my thing, I liked those promotions beforehand but they now felt increasingly one-dimensional. Reliant on this single act, this one wrestling superpower that was taking over, regardless of my personal preference. It just didn’t seem sustainable in my view, building a promotion around such unknown commodities.

From the outside looking in, the online metrics weren’t particularly encouraging either. Being The Elite was performing impressively for a wrestling vlog series, but as the base for a whole company? Doubtful. Indeed, I was that wrong! I mean, we all are sometimes, but this was impressively off. I remember thinking that Dynamite would hover around 300k viewers each week, so please try your best to ignore me when I’m pondering the industry’s landscape. Either way, I was watching Double or Nothing, cynicism and all.

This was still a special moment, the birth of a brand new promotion. That’s worth embracing, even if only for the moment itself. You never know, this could be important one day, maybe the wrestling world will look back at this as the start of something magical. Well, the buy-in battle royal could’ve fooled me in that case, as I pessimistically rolled my eyes for sixteen minutes. Wasn’t really impressed in general to be honest, you won’t be if you’re watching through the lens of “prove me wrong, dorks!”

If I rewatched now, I’d probably enjoy myself much more but again, 2019 was a different time in my fandom. Anyway, I did have one match to truly anticipate: the battle between Cody and Dustin Rhodes. This one intrigued me for a range of reasons, some sincere, others slightly underhanded. Firstly, I’m a Dustin Rhodes fan, always have been, and always will be. In that sense, it was great to see him in a major PPV match, especially one that had effectively eluded him in WWE.

It must be said though, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Dustin’s performances the year prior, eventually vanishing from television as he had surgeries on both knees. Without a match since last June, a now 50-year old Rhodes would try to share a classic with his brother who while capable, wasn’t exactly known for those either. I was genuinely intrigued as to what they’d manage, especially on a show so inevitably stacked with physical thrills and excitement. My instincts were that Cody and Dustin wouldn’t belong.

If you’re reading this, you’ll probably know just how wrong I was. Natural indeed, the Rhodes brothers combined for one of the most moving matches that I can recall, an immediate personal favourite of mine. It was an emotional, passionate affair, drenched in blood and drama. They didn’t pander to the perceived product of this brand-new promotion, they just had their perfect match, a true tribute to their name’s legacy. On a show that didn’t fit in my constantly shrinking lane of likes, this match had almost brought me to tears.

Now over two years later, I’m happy to say that I’ve loosened up some, and realised that not all wrestling can or should be just one thing. I may have a certain flavour of choice but that doesn’t mean that I should resent the alternatives. Some variety is necessary and I can enjoy a range while still cherishing my favourite most. This match opened my mind in that sense regarding AEW, the idea that this could be a true variety show, allowing each performer to operate within their own expertise.

In that world, there’d almost always be something for me, as it’s a genuine buffet. It took me awhile to get fully onboard with the AEW product, but that match and the later Moxley moment sent a message my way. In my heart, I knew that this was different and one day, could be something special. My cynicism wasn’t erasing overnight but Cody and Dustin had forced it to fade, showing that though I’d grown tired of their building blocks, that didn’t mean they couldn’t build something worth seeing.

Since then, AEW has reiterated my initial conclusion each and every week. Dynamite is a collection of opposing genres, all under one banner and each striving to maximise their individual potential. It’s not a disconnected world, it’s just one rich with range, allowing the talent to do what brought them to the dance. More than that though, AEW has shown just how desperate the wrestling fan was for a major league alternative. In truth, I was as hungry as anyone, just too proud to sit down and eat.

I didn’t accept The Elite as the answer, I didn’t want them as the answer but looking back, I sure am thankful that they had the answers. Through ups and downs, AEW has breathed life into the wrestling world and best of all, they’re only just getting started.

Rey Mysterio: Appreciating What We Have

I love Rey Mysterio. It’s a bit embarrassing really, but I’ve conceded this before. Look, no sane human should idolise fake fighters and I’m not here to suggest that Rey is any different but as far as fake fighting goes, he’s King in my view. I think that everyone agrees on Mysterio, he’s not only great but iconic, armed with increasing longevity too. Must say though, I sense that some don’t quite grasp the grandeur of his significance, the lengths that his legacy covers.

He’s incredibly influential but also timeless, setting a standard before perfecting so many other pieces of the performance. As Mysterio’s first WWE stint came to a merciful close in 2015, his career could quite reasonably be split in half. For a decade, Mysterio was the industry’s most spectacular acrobatic, blazing a trail as WCW’s standout Cruiserweight. That division hosted a squad of sparkling skill but on arrival, Mysterio was something a little different. He pushed the boundaries to their limits, the furthest feats, the highest highs.

That’s an impact that commands respect, a memory worth cherishing. In many ways, those times shaped the decades that have followed, as Nitro’s Cruiserweight exploits influenced a generation that’d soon dominate the wrestling landscape. The eras that followed WCW’s demise eventually featured a range of would-be Cruiserweights that were now headline acts. WCW’s fleet of flyers never managed that ascension in their own system but Mysterio was and is one of those names, doing much more than just setting the tone.

That half of Mysterio’s career was very different to the first though. After arriving in WWE, Mysterio adapted, steadily evolving to suit his new surroundings. In bursts, Mysterio was still as stunning as ever but his game had changed, finding a form that’d prove far more sustainable. Mysterio’s magic was now deeper than the physical thrills, deeply rooted in an authentic emotional investment. As the ultimate underdog, Rey was able to make people truly care, adding gravity to his each and every flurry.

Mysterio never felt truly backed by the WWE’s creative forces but his greatness was above that. If anything, it was a fitting side-plot, the giant-slayer that with each and every epic, came closer to slaying the biggest giant of all. He always had a point to prove, a statement to send. Though he may not have fit the mould of any stateside world champion that came before him, Mysterio could be the exception to that rule. His skill-set said so but more than that, his place in the audience’s hearts said so too.

Famously, Mysterio would reach that mountaintop at WrestleMania 22, but it wasn’t quite what it could’ve and probably should’ve been. That didn’t stop Mysterio’s mastery though, returning to form time and time again, producing immense work years later. In 2009 especially, Mysterio was arguably at a personal best in terms of balance, with that chapter or two being the last before his inevitable decline. Those years weren’t as loaded with daring thrillers that’d live forever but the consistency was unparalleled, cementing Mysterio as a historically great television wrestler.

Mysterio was just so watchable, able to find something of substance in the most aimless of offerings. Against uninteresting opponents with uninteresting setups, Mysterio would have interesting matches. They wouldn’t last long in the memory perhaps, not the classic world title epic but even still, such compelling television in a time that bell to bell, wasn’t always rich with that. After a run of that calibre, Mysterio’s time in WWE deserved a better conclusion, instead painfully stumbling to his 2015 departure.

At the time, Mysterio wasn’t inspiring much hope for a career revival. Instead, he was widely considered finished, physically decimated and just a spent force in general. As usual though, Mysterio soon proved otherwise though, rejuvenated in a world tour before eventually returning to WWE in 2018. Weirdly, things felt genuinely different in Mysterio’s case, as though he’d missed a whole generation’s entry. Due to injuries and such, he basically had, inactive for much of his original stay’s final portion.

Now though, Mysterio was ready to right those wrongs, combining with a new crop of talent to create clashes that’d only enhance his legacy. The most obvious opponent being Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, a third-generation Mexican star that seemed set for stardom. In the end, Mysterio would somehow outlast Andrade within that system but that didn’t stop them from together, producing some of the most electric matches in recent main roster memory. Andrade allowed Mysterio to display something striking, something almost new.

In those matches and honestly, the best bouts since Rey’s return to relevance, he was an incredible combination of his prior-selves. In broad strokes, Mysterio spent one decade as a daredevil and the next as a more traditional, restrained protagonist. That’s an incredible career, certainly but since then, Mysterio has found this mix of the two. Physically, Rey came back with a dynamism that just wasn’t present beforehand, lost along the way as schedule and style had forced him to slow.

Now though, Mysterio was innovating again, doing things that if silhouetted, would’ve seemed like Nitro throwbacks. He still had that emotional connection though also, an innate ability to earn sympathy with the simplest of sell. That’s an incredible blend for any talent at any time but for Rey to find it after already producing over two decades of ground-breaking brilliance, that’s something for the history books. Honestly though, that’s where Mysterio belongs in general at this juncture, even as he continues to produce, adding another highlight each and every month.

In fear of being presumptive, we’re likely in the homestretch of Rey’s in-ring career. I mean, he could prove otherwise, he has before but at 46, it feels as though even in his current form, the end is surely near. Naturally, that forces a sense of clarity when watching someone’s work. It’s hard to ignore the inevitable, difficult to get as lost on the weekly rollercoaster of wrestling television. Instead, everything has this grander meaning, an acknowledgment that this is all worth embracing.

After all, this can’t last forever, we won’t always have Mysterio matches every other Friday. He’s been so accessible for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of that, the reality that the time to enjoy this ride is running out. Though his performances have suggested otherwise for as long as we can remember, Rey Mysterio is human. This isn’t a never-ending comic book, though it may look that way at times. Personally, I’m going to appreciate Mysterio while I can, I’d recommend that you do the same.

Ethan Page: All Ego Indeed

Even in a promotion of world-class talent and constant surprises, ‘All Ego’ Ethan Page continues to impress. Currently battling with long-time rival Darby Allin, Page is quickly becoming one of AEW’s standout antagonists, cementing himself as a character of note. Since its debut show just over two years ago, the promotion has had many a fresh face, but few have found their feet as swiftly as Page. Though a respected talent and worthy acquisition, that prediction wasn’t particularly common, almost lost within the sea of speculation.

Page arrived at Revolution, the mystery member of a multi-man ladder match. The same night, a hall of fame calibre signing was advertised and eventually delivered, as Christian Cage came onboard. That displaced Page from the headlines, as did an immediately infamous conclusion to the event. All things considered, that was no disaster, as Page was in it for the long haul anyway. This was a signing for tomorrow as well as today, though the latter seemed as though it would have to wait a moment or two first.

An experienced pro, Page certainly had something to offer but with so many moving pieces, didn’t feel like an immediate priority. After all, even established names entered with a necessary delay ahead, simply getting comfortable until a vacancy emerged. Page wasn’t a shocker either, as his debut instead confirmed the widespread assumption. AEW always felt like a natural step up the wrestling ladder for ‘All Ego’ but admittedly, I was somewhat unsure of his ceiling. Valuable? Certainly but a potential gamechanger? I wasn’t so confident.

Part of that was the promotion’s existing depth chart. AEW wasn’t short on villainy, already featuring a loaded line-up of monsters and mouths. As a result, the opening for Page wasn’t immediately apparent, but a very different route would soon be taken. Within weeks of his debut, Page was paired with Scorpio Sky, forming the team that’s now known as The Men of the Year. To Page himself, it was a puzzling choice, putting a newcomer alongside the original tag champs’ potential star.

Stepping away from SCU and eventually turning heel, Sky seemed set to finally explore a sustained singles stint. Instead, he found himself in another tandem, one without an obvious connection or chemistry too. It didn’t make much sense for Page either, who himself was only months removed from an extended tag run. In IMPACT Wrestling, the combination of Page and Josh Alexander were The North, a record-breaking unit that cemented themselves in the promotion’s history books. That’s quite the act to follow, regardless of tag team acumen.

In hindsight though, those initial fears were misguided and more, as major plans were in place. Not only that but almost immediately, this thing just worked, connected by an innate chemistry that shined through in every setting. Seemingly throwaway tag tilts were elevated by their dynamic, compelling in the most standard of showcases. That set the tone and once armed with a direction, The Men of the Year were quickly climbing the card. This wasn’t any old direction either, as Page and Sky targeted Darby Allin and Sting.

Sharing a violent history prior to AEW, Allin was a natural choice for Page, simply exposing their conflict to the wider wrestling world. Allin really brings the bully out of Page, and he doesn’t take much convincing either. Page is a brute opposite Allin, battering the already established top guy with such a raw resentment. That element was even explored on last week’s Dynamite, as Page admitted that he hates how much he inadvertently helped Allin’s career, irate at the pace of his own ascension by comparison.

There was a truth to his frustration too, always and forever framed as a future star. The assumption was that Page would inevitably make his way to international relevance, though that reassurance didn’t stop the wait. It may have been a formality to everyone else, but Page’s decade-plus of patience wasn’t erased. By contrast, Allin skyrocketed to the top while Page continued to crawl, now lashing out with each and every opportunity. That attention to detail is lost on the scouting report, but they are the intangibles that connect.

In many ways, that’s been the main lesson to be learnt from Page’s success thus far. On paper, Page is impressive but when positioned this prominently, he can produce performances that far out-weight his perceived pros and cons. Page has immense instincts, projecting something especially special when left to his own devices. He’s not doing this alone of course, paired with a great partner and two unparalleled rivals but even still, it really feels as though Page is organically making this story his own.

Not in a showy, selfish way either, he’s just incredibly compelling. This version of Page is everything that the ‘All Ego’ persona could ever hope to be, a virtually unmatched villain. Page is obviously arrogant, the obnoxious archetype that his nickname suggests. He’s more than that though, as there’s a very pronounced nastiness to his motivation. This isn’t just another cocksure antagonist, it’s a truly spiteful soul, as bitter as he is brash. Physically, Allin makes that particularly pronounced but it’s present in Page’s every act.

This character lives within him, which allows a certain conviction, a presence that packs a far heavier punch than the performative norm. It’s that rare ingredient that allows Page to so outwardly belong, even when surrounded by excellence. At Double or Nothing, Page stood alongside one of the promotion’s most versatile grapplers, a silky smooth performer that brings a unique sense of danger to his impressive dynamism. Together, they stood opposite a perennial main eventer and future world champion as well as his mentor, ‘The Icon’ Sting. Clearly, that last name speaks for itself.

In less than three months, Page had earned his place in a genuine PPV attraction, shining brighter than ever among a squad of stars. I assumed that Page would be featured in some form or fashion initially, maybe even prominently but at this level? Not now, maybe not ever in truth. With each outing though, Page proves another point, further distancing me from that bizarre prior perception. Ethan Page isn’t just a part of this roster, he’s a major player, set to make a difference for the next decade and more.

‘All Ego’ isn’t another character in AEW’s story but instead, he’s the main character of his own. At the moment though, there are few stories more interesting than that, Page’s sinister pursuit of success. In his mind, it’s revenge for a simple wrong: not just getting out of his way.

Roderick Strong: A Diamond in the Rough

Believe it or not, Roderick Strong is almost five years removed from his NXT debut. In October 2016, Strong entered in relatively under the radar fashion, setting the tone in a fashion that wasn’t unfamiliar to Strong. One of Ring of Honor’s focal points for over a decade, Strong was seldom the star. Instead, Strong was the reliable glue, a consistent show-stealer even within a squad of skill and star potential. Franchise players came and went, one by one, colleagues receiving the chance to change their lives.

Clearly, Strong had to wait a little longer, never quite jumping off the page like his most prominent peers. Strong wasn’t showy or theatrical, he wasn’t outwardly charismatic in a way that separated him from the rest. Instead, the beauty of Roderick Strong was and is that in theory, he shouldn’t stand out at all but yet, he only needs the bell to ring in order to do exactly that. There’s an intensity to Strong, a sense of competition that’s so authentic, always projecting an unparalleled physicality.

That truth may not separate Strong on a scouting report but it does so immediately when put into use. Strong’s consistency earns him a confidence, trust creatively that in any spot, he can and will deliver. That allowed Strong to swiftly stick in NXT, even if not in a grand, glaring fashion. Instead, Strong just earned his role on the roster and expanded it with each and every showing. Though he wasn’t initially involved in anything particularly enticing, Strong quickly established himself as a name of note.

One of the brand’s lead babyfaces before long, Strong soon pursued Bobby Roode, the NXT Champion. Though not a natural fit in that role, Strong again made the most of every in-ring possibility, producing some of the more energetic outings that the title scene had seen in years. In hindsight though, that was a mere introduction for Strong, laying the groundwork for his eventual betrayal. Around a year after opening up about his road to pro wrestling success, Strong sold his soul at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.

By joining The Undisputed Era, Strong effectively conceded defeat, desperate for a sure-thing after such constant heartbreak. As is probably too often the case on that brand especially, Strong was proven right but in this case, at least it was for something worthwhile. The Undisputed Era became the ultimate NXT act, a defining constant during the product’s critical peak. Strong was the supporting single at times, one-half of a staggering team with Kyle O’Reilly at others. The role was so incredibly Roderick Strong, an encapsulation of his career perception and productivity.

That’s a credit to Strong too, not a criticism. For all his immense skill, Strong is selfless, able to spotlight others without losing a piece of himself. The move alongside Cole and co benefitted both sides, allowing Strong to quietly compile yet another collection of TV thrillers. The focus was usually elsewhere but that didn’t make Strong any less valued, quite the opposite in fact. On a brand of prospects awaiting opportunity and stars requiring protection, Strong provided a necessary bridge between both.

Strong isn’t finding himself, he’s a known commodity that provides quality in any and every match imaginable. That position not only suited Strong, but it expanded his impressive legacy. As a part of The Undisputed Era, Strong had the run that he’d probably be known for, the workhorse among workhorses, an integral piece of a famed faction. Nothing lasts forever though, not even The Undisputed Era, abruptly disintegrating earlier this year. With Cole and O’Reilly now feuding, Strong and Fish were left without a clear direction, suddenly spare parts.

On-screen, Strong soon ‘resigned’ from NXT, legitimately putting his future in even greater doubt. I don’t think anyone expected Strong to retire or even leave, but a cross-brand move felt feasible, especially with such speculation surrounding NXT’s own rumored developmental programme. Instead, Strong returned in emphatic fashion, unveiled as the centerpiece of Diamond Mine, a faction built on straightforward, no-nonsense aggression and brutality. In many ways, that describes Strong’s style, the only thrills coming when firmly packed within the violence. After one match, the fit proved as seamless as it sounds.

Now armed with Malcolm Bivens as a mouthpiece, Strong gets a chance to do something that under the WWE banner, seemed unlikely at best. In Diamond Mine, Strong seems set to the star of his own show, the almost sole focus of his own faction. Strong’s already set his sights on Kushida, the NXT Cruiserweight champion. That possibility presents the chance to complete an incomplete venture, a reminder of Strong’s small stint on 205 Live. Entering a tournament for the brand’s vacant title, Strong seemed perfectly at home in his three bouts.

In fact, Strong felt like a long-term solution for the Cruiserweight division, a contender to build around as his NXT run neared completion. Only weeks later though, Strong’s aforementioned turn changed everything, not only keeping him in NXT, but tying him to its central act. Even still, there was certainly something to Strong in that role, pairing his own athleticism with that special spite, explosively grounding the brand’s flashiest acrobatics. Now over three years later, such an opportunity can be revisited, all without Strong even leaving his home brand.

Either way, Strong’s legacy is secure, one of his generation’s great pure workers. Few have been more watchable, as consistently exciting and worth your time as Strong. With Roderick Strong, there are no off-nights, just another chance to steal the show.

TNA Wrestling: Chasing the Casual

I love TNA. By that of course, I mean Total Nonstop Action, but the need for a clarification captures why I love it so much. What a puzzling promotion, perhaps the most divisive ever in terms of legacy. Some will tell you that at its best, TNA was the world’s finest pro wrestling, an exciting alternative that with a better play-call or two, could’ve been a contender. Opposite them, you’ll find cynics like myself, convinced that it was always disappointing and in fact, an often impressive waste of its immense resources.

TNA walked a strange line in which they wasn’t the underdog but yet, never looked or felt like they truly belonged. The presentation never quite held up, the product’s quality struggling to make up the difference. No doubt, TNA gave exposure to world class talent and offered them consistent pay too but for me at least, their memory is drenched in what could’ve been. Now, that conclusion isn’t uncommon, far from it. I sense that for most onlookers though, their timeline is different to mine.

For many, it’s a cut and dry issue, all centred around January 2010. In this version of history, all was well and the sky was bright, but then Hulk Hogan. The product was red hot and their momentum unparalleled, but then Eric Bischoff. That may just be your memory of things, perhaps it’s even your more objective view of them, and that’s fine. For me though, it feels awful generous to the promotion that had consistently mishandled the ascension of their most staggering talent.

This is the promotion that burned through the Kurt Angle – Samoa Joe trilogy in just three months. The promotion that delayed Joe’s coronation eighteen months only to produce an uninteresting reign that ended with a Kevin Nash betrayal. This is the promotion that in the name of range and versatility, positioned AJ Styles as a bumbling fool while Monday Night Warriors of yesteryear dominated the title scene. More than those individual errors though, it’s the promotion that plain and simple, people never trusted with their money.

Was it exciting? Absolutely. Hectic? Definitely. Fun? In its own weird way, sure. It was also infuriating though, managing to make an all-star roster about as effective as the original core that followed them to Spike TV. After all, they still didn’t move tickets, they still didn’t sell PPVs. I think it’s worth revisiting the general conversations back then, as trust me, they weren’t particularly positive. TNA wasn’t WWE and at times, that’s a win in itself but it seldom came even close to its potential, before or after Hogan.

In fact, the acquisition of Hogan was fairly framed as a final roll of the dice for Dixie Carter and co. They needed a gamechanger, a needle-mover and history led them in Hogan’s direction, for better or worse. All my criticisms aside, I’d definitely lead towards the latter, with 2010 being TNA’s tamer but tragically comparable take on WCW’s 2000. Personally, I think that one of TNA’s most complete ‘eras’ came after that initial embarrassment, as they steadied the ship and produced a genuinely encouraging 2012.

That product was consistent in a way that TNA rarely was, multiple pieces clicking at once. I often wonder what changes if that Aces & Eights angle just includes a different finale but in my heart, I know the truth. A more satisfying, blockbuster reveal certainly could’ve had the wrestling world talking but by then, the book had already been written on TNA. People had made their minds up and slowly but surely, the promotion was fighting a losing battle.

Though it was lost within the car-crash TV rooted in the triumphs of a decade ago, TNA had steadily lost its soul. They were so desperate to compete, so desperate to grow that they’d lost the audience that cared most. Perhaps they were still watching, they were probably still following but it didn’t matter, their trust had been lost along the way. Once it’s gone, that’s not easily recovered and it certainly wasn’t present in the fleeting television viewer attracted by a familiar face or two.

It’s ironic really, as the industry now trends further and further in that direction. Television really is almost everything these days, so perhaps timing was TNA’s biggest rival after all. I’ve previously said that to me, TNA was WCW’s disappointing little brother. It had the same story really, many of the same strengths and weaknesses but yet, it never had the highs to make it worthwhile. WCW is an epic, dramatic tale, a wrestling rollercoaster of the highest order whereas TNA is just one bad runner’s never-ending race.

I’m probably being unfair if we’re being honest, and I understand that many will disagree. TNA was my first experience of an alternative too, so I very much appreciate what those three letters symbolise to so many. Again, in the wrestling context, of course. To me though, TNA is a cautionary tale and a pretty tragic one at that. Even still, it keeps kicking out and with that trend, it’s latest legacy has emerged. TNA, or now IMPACT Wrestling, is ‘hard to kill’ and in fairness, its most recent era could be its strongest creatively.

The roster isn’t there and nor is the relevance but since rebuilding in 2018, the promotion has maximized its assets in a way that TNA’s peak never did. There’s certainly something to be said for that, as IMPACT’s mere existence remains an opportunity of value. It’s still a promotion for people to produce visible work in, still a route for reinvention and most of all, still a place to get paid. More than anything, that’s what TNA has been for almost two decades now and no doubt, the industry is better for it.

The Powerrr of Studio Wrestling

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my discovery of studio wrestling. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually very young and so, wrestling television was really just one thing to me. It was a 2-hour show in an arena, unless you couldn’t sell tickets anyway, featuring matches and in-ring promos that were inevitably interrupted. There was a set or ‘titantron,’ whatever, it was all very loud and big matches would happen, even if often without their eventual PPV finish. That was wrestling television.

In fact, I’d often find myself confused at the calls for some variety. Onlookers would want something different from TNA, a more defined identity but to me, there was no alternative. Very simple situation, you just do RAW but in a smaller building with a different roster, easy! Well, that format is now probably furthest from my personal preference, as slowly but surely, I explore more and more of wrestling television’s roots. Perhaps this process sounds familiar to you and if it’s not, it probably will be one day.

For me, World Championship Wrestling was the route. Naturally, I hoped to experience the nWo and all that good stuff, wanted to feel that Monday Night Wars magic. Opting for insanity though, I decided that I’d start a little further back, leading me to WCW Saturday Night. You can’t really experience that programme without being inspired to travel another chapter or two though, as it’s a strange show. Saturday Night is indeed studio wrestling but it’s a cold product, one reliant on its famed past.

That time slot was wrestling history, with WCW’s flagship simply being the continuation of that tale. It started twenty years prior, with Georgia Championship Wrestling, eventually branding the programme World Championship Wrestling. That title was famously bought by Vince McMahon, failing to impress the already existing audience and then selling the time slot on to Jim Crockett Promotions. In terms of studio wrestling, that’s my personal comfort zone. That era especially encapsulates WCW’s beginnings, the red hot territory that’d soon become an ice cold national promotion.

Even still, it’s hard to explore one without the other. Some of those elements never erase, even if they fade through the many shifts in regime. The Four Horsemen being an obvious example, WCW’s iconic faction that remains relevant over thirty years later. Even if you’ve seldom seen studio wrestling, you’ve probably caught a Horsemen promo or two, their influence is too widespread to ignore. They aren’t just four, or in some cases three, elite talents though, they are an idea in general.

That faction embodied an era, a style and philosophy that’s so often referenced in reverence. Attempts at recapturing it never end either, though some are far more enduring than others. Nonetheless, that narrative never truly vanishes from WCW, as at least one puzzle piece is always present. It represents the promotion’s roots, even during times of change as the entire industry evolves, or devolves depending on your stance. That act drew me to those Crockett TVs, a truly magical product that considering what followed, still feels connected to more familiar times.

Stylistically, it’s just the latest version of traditional wrestling TV, but add Dusty Rhodes’ own special sprinklings and you already have something special. More than that though, it’s this fascinating dynamic in which the wrestling world is about to change and things are so good that really, none of these people could ever know it. Soon, Crockett’s glory days will conclude and its successor will pursue the grand, glossy nature of Vince McMahon’s WWF. In that sense, Saturday Night is a mere halfway house.

Nonetheless, my fascination with that time really was eye-opening but considering the landscape, it felt firmly cemented as a thing of the past. Then in 2019, the NWA changed that, resurrecting studio wrestling with their throwback flagship: Powerrr. Yes, awful name indeed but Powerrr would be the centerpiece of the promotion’s planned rebuild, a weekly studio show built on promo and personality, just like the good old days! Matches? Yes, there’d be some of those too but that wasn’t really the point, there are good matches everywhere these days.

Less than two years later, that above description probably feels mocking and perhaps it is. The NWA has lost so much goodwill since then, just making blunders at every turn and almost certainly sealing their likely fate as an industry afterthought. That doesn’t change my fleeting experience with Powerrr though, an incredibly flawed programme that based on season 1 and change alone, I’ll always remember fondly. For me, that was a reminder of how simple pro wrestling can be, or at least how simple I like it to be.

In any other setting, Nick Aldis vs. Tim Storm isn’t going to capture my imagination much but armed with a studio sincerity, that thing carries some weight. I know, I know, that’s awful silly considering the inevitable result but they hooked me, it was a classic tale that I could understand, enhanced by some fiery promos along the way. The two real stars of that show are now AEW standouts though: Eddie Kingston and Ricky Starks. Credit to Corgan and co for shining on light on those two, even if their usage may have caused more frustration than joy.

Kingston was a well-known veteran of course but I’ve realised since that in truth, many discovered him through Powerrr. The same certainly goes for Starks, who was much newer to a stage of even that scale. Those two sent a message in that setting though, absolutely stealing the show with every opportunity to talk, let alone wrestle. Honestly, their efforts left me wanting more elite talent at the podium, but I’m glad that they both ended up on international television, where they quite obviously belonged.

Powerrr seemed increasingly reliant on not only nostalgia but also, an overt self-awareness. It felt like they were regularly winking at the audience, as though this was some attempt at actual time travel. I don’t think that changed their path as frankly, this destination was coming regardless but even still, it did feel rather wasteful. Kingston, Starks and others showed that studio wrestling can still pack a punch, it just takes some commitment, no different to any other wrestling arena or scenario.

Strange take really, as I’d imagine that financially, the show has been an abject failure but for whatever reason, Powerrr only proved to me that the genre still has its place in pro wrestling. Does it have a firm ceiling above its head? Absolutely, but so does almost every brand, especially in a landscape as loaded as this. That doesn’t change my point though, which is that Powerrr struggles for many reasons and in my view at least, the format isn’t really one of them.  

Unfortunately, I doubt that we’ll ever see another roll of this particular dice. Powerrr still lives of course but it just feels set in place now, devoid of any momentum and without a solution to solve it. Outside of that though, hard to see any other studio wrestling reinventions on the horizon. It seems as though AEW Dark could be headed in a comparable direction and that’ll certainly scratch an itch but it’s also the D-Show, we all know the reality of that situation.

I suppose that NXT is the actual answer, and has been for years now. It doesn’t quite feel the same but perhaps that’s the point, it’s an evolution of the concept and in NXT UK’s case, barely even that. Either way, we’ll always have the archives or I will at least, and my American friends will when the folks at Peacock finally want to add some good wrestling to their service!

Banks vs. Belair: One Goal in Mind

At WrestleMania 37, history was made. Headlining night one, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks combined for a match that’ll live forever, a rare modern moment that felt like exactly that, a moment in time. This wasn’t forced and unearned, it was entrancing, a completely immersive experience that took fans on that familiar rollercoaster. They hit every emotion, never even threatening to overstay their welcome. Together, Banks and Belair provided the perfect conclusion to what’ll be an iconic three hours of WrestleMania, back in front of fans at last, a collective sigh of relief.

For Banks, that was always the goal and by 2021, it certainly felt overdue. Arriving on the main roster six years prior, Banks entered as the audience’s elected figurehead, soon being forcefully cemented below that position. Banks was featured and prominently too, but it never quite felt as it could, and perhaps should have. She wasn’t the centrepiece, still pursuing the potential that was so pronounced in NXT. On RAW and SmackDown, Banks had produced in a major way but it always felt in spite of the creative forces at hand.

By contrast, this was Belair’s first WrestleMania as a main roster member, being called up immediately after 2020’s empty arena edition. Following a slow start, Belair found her feet after being drafted to SmackDown, winning the Royal Rumble only three months later. A feud with Bayley was Belair’s only real preparation for such a scenario, performing exclusively without fans since leaving NXT. Before that, Belair did shine in the 2020 Royal Rumble, which boded well but even still, this was a serious sign of faith if nothing else.

Though the obvious destination as soon as Belair triumphed, her feud with Banks wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed. That didn’t lessen anyone’s confidence in the match itself though, even with Belair’s relative inexperience. Frankly, this felt really quite simple, Sasha Banks wasn’t missing in a WrestleMania main event, she’s probably not missing in any match of that magnitude. Banks is one of the most creative, prolific in-ring performers on earth and underwhelming build aside, she now finally felt positioned to succeed.

Not only was Banks central on ‘the grandest stage of them all,’ but she was opposite an opponent that represented unique possibilities. Simply put, Belair is an athlete unlike any other, almost certainly the best that this women’s division has ever seen. That unlocked opportunities that just weren’t feasible against anyone else, as Banks had an opponent with incomparable raw ingredients. Even though Belair didn’t have a decorated match catalogue yet, this felt like the perfect place to start, an immense mix of factors coming together at once.

Going in, the match felt can’t-miss, an inevitable match of the night candidate. In execution though, they strived for something far different, taking a bold detour that catapulted this beyond any year-end list. Finally reaching the stage that for over a decade, she’d so publicly strived for, Banks wasn’t seeking just another classic. Considering the talent involved, that almost felt too easy. An enthralling exchange of back and forth offence, that’s the safe route. Pack the thing with near-falls, and send them home happy.

That’s not what separates Sasha Banks though, it’s her attention to detail and her mind for a match’s nuance. It’s that trait which makes her chemistry with Bayley so magical, an element that’ll hopefully stay with Belair after working so extensively with both. Based on WrestleMania, that’s a fair assumption also, as Belair performed with the poise of a decorated veteran. She was certainly positioned to succeed too, as in the match of her dreams, Banks took things in a daring direction.

For just over seventeen minutes, Banks played the role of crash test dummy, almost exclusively bouncing around the WrestleMania ring. In the most innovative ways imaginable, Belair basically dominated proceedings, with Banks just trying to stay afloat. Every step seemed to spotlight another piece of Belair’s potential, bridging today’s skill-set and tomorrow’s projections in one fell swoop. Belair had long been circled as an eventual superstar and though she’d taken strikes towards that term at Royal Rumble, she was completing the process in front of our eyes at WrestleMania.

Now more than ever, engaging in-ring action is commonplace. That’s one thing, but having an idea that lives long in the memory, that’s another. Excitement is easy, something enduring is what events of this scale are built on. When I think back to Banks vs. Belair, I remember those same visuals that you do, the hair whip and just the many stunning combinations of Belair’s pure power with Banks’ brilliant brain. Beyond those clips that’ll always replay in my mind though, it’s the core concept that sticks most.

This match had one idea in mind, a clear goal to complete. After years of waiting to be the focus, Sasha Banks was selfless enough to so effortlessly reassign that honour when it mattered most. This was an opportunity that couldn’t be recreated, a moment that warranted more than just another epic. Banks didn’t need the protection of a grand, glitzy finishing stretch, Belair just needed to win. There will be another day for that sequence, another time for their most complete match but this was a chance to do something that lives forever.

At WrestleMania, Sasha Banks so willingly welcomed Bianca Belair onto a tier that had become increasingly exclusive. If things go as they should, the rest will be history, all traced back to a performance giving enough that in front of 25000 people, Belair became iconic. It was the right choice for the right talent, a decision that should shape the division’s next decade, setting the standard and starting a new era, all at once. In a landscape of the interchangeable, Banks and Belair set themselves apart, producing something not only timeless, but truly significant.

In many ways, it’s a throwback WrestleMania classic in the most modern fashion imaginable, one that’s ideas should inspire and motivate a generation.

The Final Countdown

Look, I know that the news cycle is hectic these days but even still, this Daniel Bryan saga is fascinating to me. For those unaware, one of the last decade’s biggest stars is no longer under contract, a free agent after twelve years in WWE. Bryan is qualified enough for GOAT candidacy, a genuine gamechanger and one of the world’s most influential, consistently brilliant performers. Yes, that guy, he’s a free agent now. Well, only two months after that earth-shattering news broke, no one seems to cares.

I know, I know, we all share the same assumption. Deep down, everyone believes that Bryan is only headed in one direction, and that’s back where he left off. In that sense, Bryan isn’t even really considered a genuine free agent, as he’s just expected to land back on SmackDown after a lengthy stay at home. That’s fine, his choice of course, but the general discussion fascinates me. Basically, the wrestling world is quite hilariously divided, two opposing sides that are too scared to speculate.

One half of that equation has conceded defeat, certain that Bryan is returning to the show that they don’t watch anyway. The other half, well they’re comforted by that, quietly relieved at those expectations and now awaiting his comeback. With that, the conversation is stalled, everyone’s attention elsewhere while an icon sits the bench, apparently available. The truth is, the wrestling world is currently finding a form that’s been absent for twenty years. There’s another option now, another genuine option that doesn’t require much imagination.

As a fan, I’m certainly not dismissing a run in the Pure ranks for Bryan but it just doesn’t feel especially feasible. Dynamite on the other hand? Well, I think we’ve all see that visual in our head, unrealistic as it may be. Even though their roster is already oversized, AEW’s presence changes that dynamic, putting almost everyone back on the board. It may not be competition but it’s not a mere alternative either, it’s still the major leagues, they are simply playing across the road.

I do understand the resentment of that dialogue though, as it’s certainly hollow. Not every misused wrestler is worth speculating on, especially in a landscape so loaded with mystery. At the same time though, I think that movement in every direction is healthy and frankly, it’s nice to have these possibilities back. Things feel fluid again and that’s worth celebrating in my view, especially after such an era of stagnancy. Though the wrestling world was changing, its talent pool felt frozen in place.

In the US at least, WWE either had them or wanted them. That didn’t prevent great wrestling from happening elsewhere but their recruitment was so aggressive that as a result, everything below felt so incredibly secondary by comparison. It was leftovers, placeholders. The RAW and SmackDown rosters had never been better and yet, the product certainly had, creating a frustrating imbalance across the industry. Great performers were positioned where great performance wasn’t required, while the alternatives tried their best to piece together a competitive crew.

Now, as the wrestling world receives a necessary clean slate, things have very much changed. WWE’s strategy has shifted, cutting world-class talent monthly and slowly but surely, edging back towards a reasonably-sized wrestling roster. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never nice to see anyone lose their job but to me, this current redistribution of wrestlers is a positive for the industry. Steadily, as everyone finds their new home, the standard gets higher, each promotion adding fresh faces and experience along the way.

Now, more and more names can truly contribute, only adding depth to a landscape that’s already heating up. Daniel Bryan isn’t the story because for all his brilliance, he doesn’t really need to be. This is the last chapter of his career and obviously, he should shape it, whenever and wherever he wants. That goes without saying, he’s given us more than enough of his life, an unparalleled body of work in truth. Bryan isn’t some solitary hope to save the rest either, as they no longer need saving.

For the first time in a long team, the US alternatives can collectively compare to WWE’s colossal system. Not in a business sense of course, the industry leader won that game long ago but in terms of talent? The gap is closing. In fear of being awful cliché, this is an exciting time to be a fan. Multiple promotions are steady, mere content providers sure, but still safe in their setup. There are a range of national options and fans are back in the stands, all while with each passing day, more talent becomes available.

We’ve already seen some of the results, and more are ahead. In wrestling, the most exciting decisions aren’t handled by press release but instead, a lights out reveal or post-match attack. It’s electric, the sense that anyone can show up anywhere, that anything to happen. As more and more of these promotions unite, that feeling returns. We’ve already felt it, with an adapting wrestling world providing surprises that would’ve seemed unfathomable only eighteen months ago. There’s one interconnected scene, energetic and vibrant, even if distanced from WWE.

My point, or suggestion at least, is have fun with the speculation. Don’t be advising anyone or judging their decisions but as a fan, enjoy this moment. It wasn’t always this way folks. In fact, it wasn’t this way only a few years ago. This isn’t some naïve ‘new boom period’ statement either, it’s simply a celebration that to me at least, the wrestling world feels truly alive again.

Brock Lesnar Business

Even today, few wrestlers garner as much debate and discussion as Brock Lesnar. Fifteen months removed from the ring, Lesnar remains in the headlines, all without saying a word himself. That mystique is part of the appeal of course, the very real sense that we never really know what Lesnar is thinking, let alone where he’s headed. In fact, he could be officially retired and we wouldn’t really know, unless Paul Heyman makes some sort of emotional statement on his behalf I suppose.

Scratch that, who am I kidding? Such a speech would only further spark speculation about Lesnar’s inevitable return. In fairness, very few wrestlers conclude their career in a WrestleMania main event. Thus far, that’s the case for Lesnar though, losing the WWE Title to Drew McIntyre in the uncomfortably empty Performance Centre. Since then, we’ve all been waiting, quietly initially and now as fans return, increasingly loudly. With each week, that perception shifts too, earning more excitement than fear or frustration.

No doubt, the return of Brock Lesnar is a complex conversation but the talent remains cut and dry. Lesnar is historically great, an industry outlier in every way. As the talent pool’s split between stars and supporting acts leans more and more in the latter’s direction, Lesnar’s value only expands. In an 8-year stint, Lesnar avoided an era-defining trend, remaining on a tier firmly above the rest. Stars would reach his level on occasion, especially when sharing the ring with Lesnar himself but few could, or were allowed to, maintain that status.

Since turning heel last year, Roman Reigns has finally managed it, making significant strides while ironically, Lesnar silently sits the bench. In Reigns’ story, you find the root of debate about Lesnar, the reality of another return. The talent speaks for itself, as does the reputation, both as an athlete and a draw. That doesn’t tell the entire tale though, quite the opposite. The truth is that Lesnar’s usage became a crutch, the safe exit route after every gamble. If in doubt, put the belt on Brock and in doing so, remove it from the show.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really, the perception that Lesnar’s standing as the brand’s sole star ensuring that no other stars would be made. The ongoing struggle to create stars can’t be divorced from Lesnar, the promotion’s go-to band-aid in a time so desperately requiring innovation. Lesnar became the embodiment of a seemingly never-ending holding pattern, the sense that we’re always waiting for another turning point, forced or unforced. The truth is though, Lesnar has been a constant, central in every alleged restart.

Now, after stumbling through a global pandemic, WWE returns to live crowds and yet here we are again, awaiting Lesnar’s comeback. The fan in me can only be excited for that, especially with a Bobby Lashley dream match available but it’s not as simple as that. Sure, I want the match but can I trust the direction that comes with it? I’ll willingly sign up for quarterly Brock bouts but another world title reign for the sake of one more hollow coronation? No, I think we’ve explored that route enough for a lifetime now.

In different hands, Lesnar’s presence could bring some excitement back to RAW or SmackDown when both shows need it most. Lashley is the obvious choice but even reviving the programme with Reigns, now roles reversed, feels fresh to me. The available Heyman dynamic is particularly enticing, allowing an altered presentation for Lesnar at last. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair. On multiple occasions, both Lesnar and WWE seemed to have good intentions but for many reasons, they seldom produced a fitting finale.

Reigns never truly triumphed over Lesnar and when he almost did, the reign was robbed from him so that always assumed endgame was erased. That wasn’t anyone’s fault, let alone Lesnar’s but the belt going back in his direction certainly didn’t help. To his credit though, Lesnar was inspired at SummerSlam 2019, cementing Seth Rollins in grand fashion. Unfortunately, his efforts were immediately undone by Rollins’ handling afterwards, further damaged by yet another title reign that within months, had Lesnar back as RAW’s centerpiece.

It’s a great act, but in that form, it has nothing left to offer. More than that, it doesn’t just exist in a vacuum either as when champion, Lesnar’s presence seems to actively stall their creative motivation. Even without Lesnar, WWE has struggled to make a gamechanger but necessity is the mother of invention, allowing Lashley to finally fulfil his potential during Brock’s absence. RAW is unquestionably stagnant but Lesnar isn’t the solution for anything but star-power which at some point, has to come from a different source.

Lesnar can’t always be the answer, there has to be another way. For all their efforts, Lashley and McIntyre combined may not make for the attraction that Lesnar does, but the process shouldn’t stop there. This can’t be a case of conceding defeat after the most trying era in WWE history, it should simply inspire yet another roll of the dice. There’s a place for Brock Lesnar, a prominent one at that but as the industry is forced into a fresh start, a return to the mind-numbing norm just can’t be the move.


Afternoon folks, it’s been awhile since I last posted on here, so I apologise for that. On the bright side, I’ll certainly be making up for it tomorrow, posting 24 articles as I mark five years in writing. There will be a new article on here every hour, starting at midnight, British time of course. As I’m typing this, there are still six features left to write and edit but frankly, I feel firmly on the home straight. This time tomorrow, we’ll be thirteen articles deep and ideally, I’ll finally be able to relax.

This idea came to me last Wednesday, after sitting around in celebration of my greatest hits. Though I’ve been writing consistently on Patreon and such, I’m months removed from genuine features so more than anything else, this was and is a test of myself. I just want to see where I’m at and apparently, the only way to do that is 24 features in less than a week. Obviously, I want people to read these things and ideally, even enjoy them but really, I want to prove a point.

To myself mostly, but also in general. Basically, I want to find out if I still have my fastball and after eighteen articles, I’m confident that I’ve got my answer. Tomorrow, there will be traditional features like the ones that you may have read on Fightful. There will be explorations of eras and ideas that I love, but never made much sense for a modern deep dive before. Along the way, there will even be some blog-style posts, more informal looks at individual topics or ideas.

Not to suggest that it’s anything epic or immense, but personally, I’m proud of the project thus far. Now, it’s just a matter of closing the show, ensuring that indeed, there’s an article every hour tomorrow. With that in mind, I’m off, I’ve got some features to write.

Thanks for sticking with me folks, I truly appreciate the support. Thank you!