All Elite Wrestling’s long-awaited television debut is the biggest development in professional wrestling in nearly two decades.
Not since Total Nonstop Action in 2009 has their been such momentum behind a promotion and never has there been a such a yearning for a high-profile American alternative to World Wrestling Entertainment.
The difference between TNA of a decade ago and AEW is one of financial security and ambition born of a natural groundswell of support from a rabid fan-base, and if their first television taping is anything to go off, we’re in for a mainstream pro wrestling renaissance.
It’s important to note that while this was the first television taping, AEW is far from a finished product. Storylines are still yet to play out, roster hierarchies are still in their infancies and AEW is hardly going to have everything figured out from a production standpoint in their first foray into live weekly television.
All that being said, there was plenty to like and plenty left to be revealed following the first-ever episode of AEW Dynamite
It’s the vibe
This show felt like a pay-per-view. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing in the long run, because those shows need to have a different feel to a weekly television taping, but in the interim, having a sold-out crowd of 14,000-plus gives the show immediate credibility.
The set was like to what they’ve used in previous pay-per-views, but given they’re on the road and working similar-size venues, it makes sense to work with what they have. But I’d anticipate a different set coming into the fold down the track.
Fast and furious
The pacing of the show was ridiculously quick. The action in the ring was given ample time but the transitions between segments happened very fast and at times the commentary team were left behind.
I think they’ll find the right tempo. The first show was always going to walk that fine line of bringing people along for the ride while also trying to showcase as much of the roster as possible.
Like a hug from an old friend
The commentary trio of Tony Schiavone, Jim Ross and Excalibur provide a really good mixture of play-by-play, colour and nostalgia from three historians of professional wrestling. Many of us have grown weary of the WWE’s inane commentary consisting of endless cross-promotion, social media references and piped in expressions – for example, the ‘big dog!’ – and the back and forth between three commentators focusing on the in-ring craft was a breath of fresh air.
Shiavone is the glue that brings it together.
Jim Ross has the identifiable voice. Excalibur provides modern-day context for the performers, but Shiavones trademark enthusiasm brings an energy missing in previous commentary combos AEW had tried out.
Referencing how Sammy Guevara’s long limbs provide a strategic advantage in the same evening as a Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger and Brian Pillman match from the early 1990s gives an element of respect to the sport and its history regardless of the promotion.
Loud and proud
Dynamite felt different to other weekly wrestling shows partly due to the presence of live-action promos instead of recorded vignettes. Doing this allowed the adoring and passionate crowd to be a part of nearly every segment, and it paid dividends, as the crowd never felt like they had to be raised from a stupor for any period in the night.
Match of the night: Cody versus Sammy Guevara
Cody opening the show was a no-brainer. His passion and connection with the crowd is something that can’t be replicated and he’s quickly gaining a reputation as a star-maker. His great run of matches continued against Guevara in an emotional back and forth match that established the antagonist as more than just a cocky, baby-faced villain.
The result benefitted both wrestlers. Cody retained his position as No. 1 contender, while Guevara succumbing to a small package leaves him ‘just one mistake’ away from title contention.
Moment of the night: Jack Hager’s debut
AEW continued the habit of debuting high-profile talent on signature shows with the appearance of Jake Hager, formerly Jack Swagger in the WWE. Hager provides much-needed size to a physically smaller roster and his credentials as an all-American collegiate wrestler and current Bellator fighter gives immediate legitimacy to his status as one the company’s preeminent monster heels.
Where to from here?
With the first-round tag team championship tournament kicking off I’d expect there to be a heavy emphasis on the tag division in the second week. The best thing about the debut episode was that it was a stellar outing, albeit without the presence work of some of their more popular and high-profile performers. We’re still yet to see the likes of Darby Allin, Jimmy Havoc, Joey Janela, Shawn Spears and the vast majority of the tag team and women’s division. Simply put, there’s still plenty of meat on the bone here.
AEW Dynamite is the antithesis of what weekly televised pro-wrestling has been over the past decade. It’s fast-paced and keeps the focus on the in-ring product as opposed to overproduced set pieces. There are issues to iron out but nothing that suggests anything less than an enjoyable piece of appointment viewing for any wrestling fan.