In the word of pro wrestling, “selling” is the art of making a move, injury, or other expression of pain, discomfort, etc. look as big and impressive as possible. This is done to captivate an audience and draw them into a story about an injured arm, a bad knee, the after-effects of a kick to the head. Knowing what selling is, “overselling” is when a performer takes the portrayal of an injury to the point that it becomes melodrama.
Now that we have defined our terms, let me say that it is impossible to oversell just how huge an occasion Wednesday, October 2nd was for the world of pro wrestling fans.
For over a year now, the rumblings have been a backdrop to all major and minor wrestling coverage: something new was coming. Something with money, something with a different feel, something that could maybe, just maybe, shake the WWE out of an earned 20 years of complacency.
That something was All Elite Wrestling and this week saw the launch of their new flagship prime time pro wrestling program: AEW Dynamite.
While my road to AEW last night was a little bumpy (note to self: just because a channel is listed on your guide doesn’t mean you actually have that channel), I eventually sat down with a cold beer, a cat on my lap, and a reasonable set of expectations to take part in this history-making event.
Did my life change forever? No.
Did I dive into my t-shirt drawer and toss my Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole shirts in the trash before jumping on Pro Wrestling Tees for a “little bit of the bubbly” shirt? No.
Did I get a two-hour wrestling program with a different look, feel and approach to WWE? Absolutely.
And without overselling it, that is exactly what this industry needed.
Take anything and everything away from the WWE machine that you want, but at the end of the day, their production team is like nothing else in any industry anywhere in the world. Look no further than the new RAW set, returning pyro, incredible lighting rig, or the production around the Bray Wyatt/Fiend presentation. You see a company that is beyond any gold standard you can come up with.
What I’m saying is, the bar is high.
Now, I don’t know that AEW’s first outing was as sharp as what we have come to expect from the WWE, but the show looked damn good. This was not the Impact Zone or a dimly lit hall somewhere in the midwest. This was a packed arena with a hot crowd, killer set, and tight camera work.
The signature AEW ramp looks fantastic with its two entrances, spectacular pyro, and whatever that light thing in the middle is that Cody gets to come out of. It is bright, eye-catching, and easily identifiable with the product while still having just a touch of old school WCW to tickle you in the nostalgias. The ring, barricades, and lighting rig all have a distinct but understated aesthetic that meshes well with the “real sports” presentation of the AEW product.
The announce team has been given a serious upgrade with the addition of Tony Schiavone, who was saddled with so much crap to call during his WCW days, it is easy to forget how great a voice he has for calling wrestling. Jim Ross has lost a step or two and, in my opinion, focuses almost too heavily on putting over his critiques of the business and his love of the company. However, he is still good, bah gawd. Ol’ JR has earned my ears from a lifetime of being the best to ever do it.
For me, the booth would be better off with just these two voices, but they are joined by inexplicably masked commentator Excalibur. He knows his holds and does a solid job providing backstory, but I find his work very monotone and the mask is friggin’ goofy. If he was some sort of legendary Lucha Libre, or a famous masked wrestler like Rey Mysterio, I would get it. However, since it is never explained to me why this guy is wearing a mask, I am left wondering why the guy is wearing it when he could just as easily take it off.
One area where I found AEW lacking was in the quality of their entry music. As a wrestling fan, one of my key mark areas is a love of entry music, another area that WWE has always excelled at. Whether it was the work of Jim Johnston, Jimmy Hart, or more recently the CFO$, WWE entry music has produced some of the most iconic pieces of music I can think of. Just try and hear glass breaking without immediately going “duh, dun, duh, dah, dah dun” in your head. It’s not possible.
It was a failing of WCW, with their generic in-house knock offs of popular songs. I couldn’t even tell you what the music sounds like in any other company because none of it comes close to “Graveyard Symphony,” “Wreck,” “Rebel Heart,” or “Bring the Swag.”
The AEW music is, well, it’s there. Cody’s theme works. Jericho’s theme happens to be his super catchy hit, “Judas.” I do like the Lucha Brothers and Young Bucks tunes, but the rest all sound like the random selections you get in the creator mode of a WWE video game.
All in all, AEW looked and felt refreshing. It wasn’t perfect out of the gate, but it had an unpolished, slightly unpredictable feel that made it something I didn’t want to look away from, and that is really a great start.
Oh, and Justin Roberts is a damn fine ring announcer.
The Wrestlers that did the Wrestling
First off, how great is it to call wrestling wrestling again? We all know what it is, and we all know that it is a Vince McMahon edict that the words “wrestling, wrestler etc” are not to be said by his announcers. Speaking for myself, I cringe every single time the NXT announce team, the best in the business, substitute “sports entertainer” for “wrestler”. It feels forced and fake because it is.
AEW is wrestling and that is what they get to call it. Awesome.
As far as the matches on this first TV card went, they were a solid offering of quality work and mainly strong finishes. I was very glad to see that AEW kept all of its less physically impressive performers off this initial broadcast. No Joey Janella, no Jimmy Havoc, and no Big Uno from Dark Order. The guys that worked looked like wrestlers and worked like wrestlers. No Cracker Barrel matches, the right amount of flippy-dippys, and a focus on logical sports-like presentation went a long way.
Would Jim Cornette have been happy? Probably not, but it was much closer to the sweet spot of belief and suspension of for my own personal tastes, so I was into it.
Cody is a star. Plain and simple. He is in the tough spot of being the boss and also a worker, so it is unavoidable that he will catch some flack for winning matches and championships, but not from me. He is a main event talent and I believe in what he does in the ring.
PAC, Page, Guevara, Jericho, and all the rest came to work, did their thing, and did it without hurting anyone or exposing the business with silly business like skateboards covered in thumbtacks. I can get behind this nucleus of performers and enjoy watching them grow from week to week.
This is a good roster with plenty of talent and lots of fresh matches for us to enjoy. I left this show wanting to see more of all of them and I can’t think of a better compliment to their work than that.
Angles sell tickets
20 years of WWE and its formulaic booking have all but laid to rest some of the classic tropes of the genre, so it will be an uphill skate for the AEW crew to re-educate us that the same old stuff can still work.
The big ending to the show, which featured Jon Moxley attacking Kenny Omega, the debut of Jake Hager (Jack Swagger of WWE), and the beatdown of The Elite by Chris Jericho and what looks like his new and first-ever heel faction was a little heavy in terms of moving parts, but it was classic wrestling stuff and there is nothing wrong with that.
Things were logical, seeds were planted for future angles, and there wasn’t one second spent on a “cuckolding” storyline which is, quite frankly, all I need to know.
The ultimate test of AEW will be whether it is able to book good wrestling angles that make people want to buy tickets. Right now they have an audience that is hungry for something new.
It’s like a new relationship. Everything is fun, everything is exciting and sexy. It’s all late nights and roses. However, just like a relationship, eventually, you start spending the night. You start to discover each other’s tics and habits. At a certain point, it is the substance of the connection you have with another person that will define your relationship. No matter how hot someone is and how much you both enjoy dancing, one day you will share a bathroom.
We aren’t there yet with AEW. Right now, we all get to enjoy something new together. We get to be at the first-ever AEW show in (insert your home town here). We get to see the crowning of first champions and all the pyro and ballyhoo that goes with it. This is the best time to fall in love with AEW and what it has to offer us. We can get mad about them leaving the toilet seat up tomorrow.
As I have said from the get-go, and as every fan of the genre should be saying, this is a great time to be a wrestling fan. it is impossible to oversell it.
And with that, I’ll see you marks around the loop.