AEW Dynamite ends 2019 forgetting why we’re here
On Wednesday, December 18th, 2019, All Elite Wrestling presented their final episode of AEW Dynamite on TNT for the year. It didn’t go so well.
The show, which was good and at some moments very good, completed with a main event for the AEW Tag Team Championship between challengers The Young Bucks and champions So-Cal Uncensored, better known as SCU. The match itself was good, but nothing we haven’t seen from either team for the past three months on AEW Dynamite. The story going in is that the Young Bucks earned their title shot from beating Ortiz and Santana in a Texas Street Fight (which had no rules, but was still sanctioned unlike the no rules fight between Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley that ended the Full Gear pay per view) and while that street fight left them beaten up, they wanted their shot as soon as possible to ensure they were champions for Christmas. Commentator Jim Ross expressed the idea that SCU has been often compared to the Young Bucks and even though they were champions, they weren’t considered the best tag team in the world like the Bucks.
Despite Ross pushing this narrative, the story told ended up being that the Young Bucks, despite being the best tag team in the world (presumably), should have rested and received their shot in the new year. Both Nick and Matt Jackson constantly sold like they weren’t 100% for the match, and ended up being beaten clean by the tag champions. Call it conviction if you wish, or babyfaces wanting to give the fans a show, but it really made them look a combination of dumb and underestimating their opponent. The champions beat them clean in the middle of the ring, but it doesn’t feel like anyone will be calling them the best tag team in the world now. Afterall, the Bucks were hurt and rushed themselves into their title shot. They didn’t lose to SCU at full strength, and assumed they could win without being so. Not really top star behaviour.
SCU could have felt a bit disrespected by it all, but instead they shook the Bucks hands at the end of the match like it was just a nice exhibition match and nothing else. All of this has its own problems which I’ll get more into, but the night not going so well wasn’t just this match. It was what happened right after. Creepers associated with the Dark Order began surrounding the ring before the lights went black. The Dark Order’s Evil Uno and Stu Grayson, two men who still haven’t really told anyone who they are or why they lead the Dark Order, come out to say this isn’t about trying to recruit anyone.
You see, the past few weeks Dark Order has been off television because they didn’t get over as major heels from their debut back in May. It really felt like back then the company wanted them to be the top heels of the tag team division but the fans were treated to an ice cold debut with no explanation. Uno and Grayson, formerly known as the Super Smash Brothers, are extremely talented wrestlers who deserve a spotlight as one of the best tag teams in the world. The problem is they didn’t get a chance to properly develop for AEW audiences before getting the spotlight. So fans have been apathetic about them. It looked like the company wanted them to win their tag tournament and get the titles first, but the apathy led to them losing in the semi finals.
Soon after, they were off AEW Dynamite television and instead we got well produced videos showing the Dark Order as a manipulative cult preying on losers. The videos finally explained a bit about what the Dark Order was about, but it didn’t really feature the two men in the tag team. It instead featured a spokesman (who looked a lot like wrestler RD Evans but wasn’t) who hasn’t been on television, and seems to just be a false spokesman for their image of being life motivators. So while this got Dark Order better exposure and understanding, people were still not connected at all to Evil Uno and Stu Grayson, the actual wrestlers in the gimmick. The videos soon led to enhancement talent team The Beaver Boys looking interested in joining, tired of losing. Last week, Jon Moxley beat Alex Reynolds of the Beaver Boys in 14 seconds, and planted partner John Silver just because. Remember that, a main event babyface star took two men out at the bottom of the card with ease.
The videos were well received by fans and critics alike, finally feeling that the Dark Order was turning a corner as a concept and gimmick. This seems to have given the Executive Vice Presidents at AEW, plus president Tony Khan the idea that they were now an acceptable main event act. The Dark Order didn’t just beat up the Young Bucks after their match. They didn’t just beat up AEW Tag Team champions SCU and their third member Christopher Daniels. They also beat up former number one contender Cody Rhodes (one of the top pushed talents in the company) and his brother Dustin Rhodes. And just because that wasn’t spectacular enough, they also beat up Kenny Omega, another top star in the promotion (though to be fair he had already been beat up at the start of the show twice and looked like a geek as heel PAC played Elmer Fudd threatening to beat up a man listening to headphones in the locker which fans were supposed to know was Omega’s friend Michael Nakazawa, even though that hasn’t been established much on television. I’m almost at 1000 words and not even close to all the problems with this show) all at once.
Now, I have to clarify. The Dark Order is Evil Uno and Stu Grayson as a tag team. They didn’t beat up eight men. No, their “Creepers” did the beating up, and those Creepers included two men without masks in the Beaver Boys. That’s right, the two guys who were dispatched by Jon Moxley in 14 seconds last week were now capable of double leg taking down the Young Bucks and helping lead an assault on eight men, and with their numbers game left these men beaten and broken so the Dark Order could come over and laugh at their spoils. The Beaver Boys Beatdown was too much to handle for the AEW Tag Team champions and their third partner, number one contenders to the tag team championship, the former number one contender of the AEW World championship, a wrestling veteran from the 1990s who has looked competitive in every match, and the Best Bout Machine former Wrestler of the Year that was the hottest free agent in professional wrestling at the beginning of 2019.
This is bad.
I’ve heard all of the excuses and reasoning. Let me explain to you why none of it matters. Picture this happening to Jon Moxley. You can’t, can you? You can’t because they established he can wipe the mat with these chumps. You can’t because he’s a superstar who is treated like a superstar. While he’s his own man, nobody doubts the Stone Cold Steve Austin vibes, and Austin was well known for entering a ring and kick Stunnering everybody in it regardless of how well rested they were and regardless of how many there were. It’s not like the company forgot about that (after the show went off the air, they celebrated Austin’s birthday and Tony Khan even did a stunner to Shawn Spears), and it’s easy to visualize if this situation happened to Mox, he’d hit the Paradigm Shift on every Creeper, both Beaver Boys, and lay out the Dark Order for good measure too before doing his shoulder shimmy and licking his lips like the Cincinnati pervert he is. Jon Moxley is a superstar. A bunch of jobbers and a midcard tag team doesn’t get one over a superstar.
But they did get one over The Elite and AEW tag champions.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer also criticized the end of AEW Dynamite and talked about how this pulled The Elite down and he’s absolutely correct. Why should we take any of them serious anymore? How am I supposed to buy into Kenny Omega beating Chris Jericho and becoming AEW heavyweight champion in 2020 if he can’t fight off a bunch of masked nobodies? How am I supposed to be excited for Cody Rhodes to get his hands on MJF down the road if he can’t even get his hands on a Beaver Boy and throw him out of the ring? How am I supposed to accept the Young Bucks as the best tag team in the world?
The reality is you can’t.
The other reality is that we should have saw this coming, but we were accepting of a lot of their faults as a honeymoon period. There have been several little mistakes that felt like the journey of doing this sort of thing, but the fact they keep repeating is showing patterns pop up faster than I had imagined them to. What sort of mistakes?
– Constantly booking babyface versus babyface matches so the idea of two good guys fighting becomes common and loses its rarity, and fans have to be split between the two and eventually like one more and one less. Examples: Cody Rhodes vs. Dustin Rhodes, the Rhodes Brothers vs. The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley, Riho vs. Britt Baker, Cody Rhodes vs. Darby Allin, SCU vs. Jurassic Express, Young Bucks vs. Best Friends, Jon Moxley vs. Darby Allin, Jon Moxley vs. Joey Janela, Young Bucks vs. SCU, and likely Kenny Omega vs. Adam Page. There are also several examples in the women’s division but I didn’t want to list all of them, just Riho vs. Britt Baker since it’s supposed to be the two top faces of the division)
– Wrestlers debuting without any hype, cold to the audience with zero explanation, and then having to get over week to week by just in ring talent alone. Examples: The Dark Order debut at Double or Nothing, Kris Statlander and Big Swole coming in with no hype and losing their first matches and now both are in the top 5 of the women’s rankings after beating established women in the division, The Butcher and the Blade debut with Allie changing her gimmick without explanation.
– Interviews that give important details about wrestler motivations and gimmicks shown on Being The Elite or Cody Rhodes’ YouTube channel instead of on the AEW Dynamite program, leading to wrestlers saying or doing things on the show that don’t really make any sense if you only watch AEW Dynamite and the pay per views. This has happened multiple times with members of The Elite, as well as MJF.
– Wrestlers getting over and then disappearing without any explanation. Examples: Darby Allin got rushed into a number one contender slot so he could face Chris Jericho for the AEW heavyweight championship, only to disappear without explanation for three weeks and not having a program for the Full Gear pay per view. He was even at the show for press but had no match. Riho, despite being AEW women’s champion since the first episode, was off television without explanation three weeks before Full Gear with her match against Emi Sakura having to be stitched together 24 hours prior by Sakura on Twitter, which would be quickly whipped up as a promo for the show. Aside from an AEW Dark match on November 13th, Riho hadn’t wrestled or made even a 10 second video appearance until December 18th, when she showed up in the crowd to watch Statlander face Baker. Riho is the AEW women’s champion.
– An overemphasis on the tag division and tag team wrestling. Three tag team matches this week. Three tag team matches last week. Both main events. Tag team specialists have had two matches against the AEW champion on television (Scorpio Sky for the title, Jungle Boy in a non title match), and a tag match has main evented seven of 12 AEW Dynamite episodes (this includes six man tags) while a women’s division match has had zero main events, and rarely if ever gets two matches on a card (it has only happened twice) while there is usually two tag team matches on every AEW Dynamite. Singles competitors are constantly in tag matches, to the point where if you called Adam Page and Kenny Omega a tag team and not two singles guys put together for circumstances, you wouldn’t get much argument. It’s so over saturated, they had a segment on AEW Dynamite this week where Shawn Spears was asking his manager Tully Blanchard to find him a partner for the tag division.
– Announcers not knowing details about characters (Tony Schiavone did not know the Elite had announced they were going their separate ways since it didn’t happen on AEW Dynamite but was a point of story) or unable to tell wrestlers apart (Jim Ross not realizing the Butcher is the guy with a butcher knife on his trunks) or only knowing google search details about a wrestler (Excalibur knowing the names of Butcher and the Blade and the Bunny but having no other details about them to explain for the viewing audience or broadcast partner Jim Ross) or just not sounding like they care what they are watching (Jim Ross during every women’s match)
I’m trying my best to be clear this isn’t nitpicking.
To be honest, I felt the controversy over the wrestlers breaking tag rules was picking nits since I see tag rules broken in New Japan Pro Wrestling all of the time, as well as anytime I’m unfortunately subjected to WWE programming. I can forgive referee mistakes, even glaring ones. What I’m talking about is stuff that keeps happening, that’s an internal issue of booking logic, and this week was the apex of the problems. You don’t get to such a disastrous segment like we saw with the Dark Order unless the people in charge have the level of hubris to think they can book whatever they want and it’ll work.
All Elite Wrestling is a breath of fresh air for North American wrestling. It’s a major wrestling product without the years of disappointment like Impact Wrestling. It’s a fast paced in ring style without you constantly thinking of how much better things used to be like Ring of Honor. It’s not the WWE. They have only been around for a single calendar year come their New Years Day show in two weeks, and they’ve only been running weekly television since October. They have an excellent roster and have got a lot of fresh new faces over to the general audience. The shows are generally enjoyable watches and the interviews are great without wrestlers having to impersonate 1980s wrestling promos while the Tucker Carlson of old school rasslin’ spews poverty humour that wouldn’t work on A&E’s Night at the Improv in 1986. People are clearly excited to watch the shows live as their arena attendance rivals the WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling (not including major events) and I’m sure they have plans to keep the shows exciting in 2020. I’ve barely mentioned Chris Jericho at all in this because pretty much everything he has done has been fantastic.
But all that said isn’t enough to make bad storylines excusable. I don’t need to point to World Championship Wrestling two decades ago or TNA Wrestling a decade ago. I can point to the fact that AEW Dynamite is either losing viewers every week or becoming a show their fans don’t bother to watch live and instead watch on DVR the next day. The television deal with TNT depends on people watching it live when it comes to sponsors, and the more that their show doesn’t feel like must see television, and the more the storylines drive people away, the harder it’ll be to ever get them back. AEW was supposed to not just be an alternative to WWE but an alternative to what failed wrestling minds have thought pro wrestling is supposed to be on cable television for the past 20 years. This isn’t about preference. This is about not embarrassing your audience and not being careless with your talent. And in one post main event segment, AEW forgot why they are here in 2019. More importantly, they forgot why we’re here watching.
Here’s to 2020, and to All Elite Wrestling remembering why they exist.