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

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