By Briar Starr, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@briarstarrtv)
AEW Dark (Episode 97)
Taped in Jacksonville, Florida at Daily’s Place
Streamed July 13, 2021 on the AEW YouTube Page
Excalibur welcomed us to Dark and was joined by Taz on commentary.
1. JAH-C vs. Matt Hardy. Hardy sent JAH-C to the outside of the ring with a dropkick to the side of the head. The two fought briefly outside before Hardy rolled JAH-C back in. Hardy performed a scoop slam in the middle of the ring. JAH-C fired back with multiple single leg dropkicks and a leaping elbow drop to Hardy. Hardy countered with the Side Effect and followed up with another. Hardy locked in The Leach and made JAH-C to tap out.
Matt Hardy defeated JAH-C via submission.
Briar’s Take: A momentum victory for Hardy heading into his match with Christian Cage of Fyter Fest.
An AEW Elite General Manager mobile game ad was shown.
2. Foxx Vinyer vs. Brian Cage. Cage lifted up Vinyer and planted him down on the mat. Vinyer hit back with clotheslines, but Cage performed chokeslam and covered him for a two count. Shortly thereafter, Cage hit the Drill Claw to gain the victory.
Brian Cage defeated Foxx Vinyer via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Nothing more than your typical Brian Cage match that you see weekly on AEW Dark. Just a new opponent.
3. Derek Pisaturo and Roman Rozell vs. “The Acclaimed” Max Caster and Anthony Bowens. Caster threw a powerful backhand shot to Rozell before tagging in Bowens. Rozell performed fireman’s carry on Bowens and then tagged out. Pisaturo executed a gutwrench powerbomb on Bowens. With a trip of Caster, Bowens hit the dropkick to the chest of Pisaturo. Rozell tagged in with momentum and fired away at Caster and Bowens. Bowens planted Rozell and then Caster landed the Mic Drop to win the match.
The Acclaimed defeated Derek Pisaturo and Roman Rozell via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Another solid outing by The Acclaimed. Pisaturo and Rozell got in some offense and looked impressive at times, but The Acclaimed continued their rise to the top.
4. Harlow O’Hara vs. Diamante. Diamante threw a leaping dropkick in the corner to O’Hara and almost picked up the victory. Diamante performed a Russian leg sweep and followed with a splash. Diamante would strike with the standing sliced bread and made O’Hara tap out to the Straight Jacket.
Diamante defeated Harlow O’ Hara via submission.
Briar’s Take: Diamante looked good here. The match was mainly centered around her challenging Big Swole to a fight, as there was also pre-match promo from Diamante.
5. Ryan Mantell vs. Ethan Page. Page delivered a running shoulder block to Mantell. Page attempted a suplex, but Mantell escaped and then threw a dropkick. Page regained momentum and put Mantell away with the Ego’s Edge.
Ethan Page defeated Ryan Mantell via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Like Hardy’s victory, this win allowed Page to knock off any ring rust and gave him momentum ahead of his match with Darby Allin.
6. Sahara Seven vs. Big Swole. Swole performed a snapmare on Seven and followed with a kick to the back. Seven hit back with a hip attack and a running uppercut to Swole in the corner. Swole rallied with a spike DDT on Seven and hit multiple cross chops. Swole locked in the cloverleaf submission hold and tapped out Seven for the victory.
Big Swole defeated Sahara Seven via submission.
Briar’s Take: AEW continues to push toward the Diamante vs. Big Swole match, as Excalibur continued to talk about it, especially when Big Swole got on the mic afterward and targeted Diamante. By the way, does anyone else find the Big Swole and Diamante future matchup a bit random?
7. RSP vs. Dante Martin. Martin leapt off the bottom rope for the shotgun dropkick. RSP elevated Martin with an elbow drop to take control of the match. RSP sent Martin across the ring by throwing him. Martin attempted to get momentum back with a crossbody block. Martin jumped off the ropes for a flying moonsault press to RSP and got a two count. RSP went to the top rope and hit the big frog splash and nearly got the upset victory. RSP attempted to hit the senton, but missed when Martin rolled out. Martin rolled over the top RSP and won the match.
Dante Martin defeated RSP via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: One of the best matches so far, as both men were really great and this match was back and forth. Excalibur noted that RSP has competed in some death matches. Go out of your way to watch this one.
8. Papadon and Sean Maluta vs. Dark Order’s Evil Uno and Stu Grayson. Papadon charged with an elbow off the ropes to Grayson. Grayson tagged in Uno briefly and Uno hit the deadlift to Papadon. Papadon locked in a headlock to Uno and sat out Uno with the backdrop. Grayson was tagged in and came in with tons of momentum. Grayson hit the belly to belly suplex on Papadon, while he and Uno hit the piledriver combination to score the victory.
Dark Order’s Evil Uno and Stu Grayson defeated Papadon and Sean Maluta via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Uno and Grayson get better every week and this was no exception. Great stuff here from both men.
9. Marcus Kross vs. Ryan Nemeth. Nemeth briefly put Kross in a hold and then hit a back body drop. Kross lit up Nemeth with kicks to the chest and followed with a corkscrew kick as well. Nemeth hit the Hunkalove to finish Kross off.
Ryan Nemeth defeated Marcus Kross via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: I was waiting for another upset to happen this week, just as what happened last week when Nemeth lost to Wheeler Yuta. Rather, Nemeth bounced back with a victory here and dominated the match. Kross has big upside moving forward if used more often. He looked good here too when he had brief flashes.
10. Robyn Renegade vs. Penelope Ford. Ford hit a massive punt kick to Renegade that almost ended the match early. Renegade fired back with a Backstabber and a double knee strike in the corner. Ford caught Renegade and finished her off with a gutbuster.
Penelope Ford defeated Robyn Renegade via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: It sure has been a while since we saw Penelope Ford on Dark. Her last match on Dark was episode 86 against Leila Gray. She looked good as always, even though her matches appear to be rarer and rarer these days.
A Matt Hardy promo toward Christian Cage was shown. He mentioned that the two times they faced each other, Hardy had won both matches and that he would complete the hat trick.
11. Austin Green vs. Frankie Kazarian. Green planted Kazarian down on the mat after Kazarian tried powering over him early. Kazarian then locked in the crossface chicken wing to make Green tap out.
Frankie Kazarian defeated Austin Green via submission.
Briar’s Take: Nothing to write home about. Kazarian is good, but this match had trouble kicking into high gear. It just felt really random and needless.
12. Mark Davidson and Aaron Frye vs. Lee Johnson and Brock Anderson. Anderson hit a standing elbow drop to Frye after briefly tagging in. Anderson took down Frye with clotheslines and hit shoulder tackles to Frye in the corner. Anderson lifted Frye over the top with the back body drop. Anderson almost got the victory with the gutwrench suplex, but Davidson came in to save the day and break the pinfall. Johnson tagged in and leapt over the top and landed on both Davidson and Frye. Johnson hit a thrust kick while Anderson followed with a spinebuster on Frye for the win.
Lee Johnson and Brock Anderson defeated Mark Davidson and Aaron Frye via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Good outing from Johnson and Anderson. This match was Anderson’s third in AEW. He still has a good way to go, but I’m sure he will get better and better with more experience and having more matches. Anderson is now 3-0 in his AEW career.
A Wheeler Yuta pre-match promo regarding his match with Angelico was shown.
13. Madi Wrenkowski vs. Julia Hart. Wrenkowski threw some strikes to Hart, but Hart fired back with a kick that sent Wrenkowski to the corner to hit her with a front hand spring. Hart performed a sit-out bulldog and a standing moonsault press on Wrenkowski. Hart finished the match with the splits drop and got the pinfall victory over Wrenkowski.
Julia Hart defeated Madi Wrenkowski via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Another one of those matches that just felt like it was thrown together at the last minute. Nevertheless, put this victory put another check in the win column for Julia Hart.
14. Jake Tucker vs. The Blade. The Blade wanted Tucker to throw powerful shots to The Blade, but failed to do so multiple times. Tucker attempted a dropkick, but The Blade hit the doctor bomb to quickly put away Tucker for the win.
The Blade defeated Jake Tucker via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: If I had a dollar every time there was a short match on Dark, I would be well on my way to becoming a billionaire. I don’t even think the match lasted more than two minutes if that.
Backstage, Dasha Gonzalez interviewed Angelico about his upcoming match with Wheeler Yuta.
15. Joesa and Deonn Rusman vs. “Private Party” Marq Quen and Isiah Kassidy. As the bell rang, Private Party attacked Josea and Rusman in the ring. Quen was hit with a powerslam by Rusman. Josea tagged in Rusman, who fired away with a big flying clothesline on Quen. Private Party came back with multiple stereo corkscrew kick combinations to gain the victory.
Private Party defeated Josea and Deonn Rusman via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Private Party was solid, but I really liked the looks and style of Josea and Rusman, as both wrestlers seem to have a future upside to them. That said, Josea and Rusman never really got in any offense.
16. Travis Titan vs. Powerhouse Hobbs. As Justin Roberts was announcing Titan’s name, Hobbs laid him out on the outside. Hobbs rolled Titan back inside the ring and performed Town Business for the win.
Powerhouse Hobbs defeated Travis Titan via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: Does anyone really gain anything from winning all these matches in less than a minute other than boosting their won/loss record?
17. Cezar Bononi and JD Drake vs. “Gunn Club” Billy and Colten Gunn. Bononi and Drake attempted to get the advantage over Billy and Colten as the bell rang. However, both Drake and Bononi were sent to the outside, as Billy and Colten pulled down the ropes. Billy rolled Drake inside the ring and the bell finally rang to get the match official. Billy hit a knee lift to Drake before tagging in Colten, who took down Drake with a clothesline. Colten sent Drake down with a dropkick and nearly got the early victory. Billy looked for the Fameasser, but Drake blocked the maneuver and tagged out. Bononi threw a right hand at Billy. Colten hit a hanging neckbreaker on Bononi. However, Bononi regained momentum with the Hoss Toss while Drake performed a running senton on Colten in the corner. Eventually, Colten hit the Colt45 on Bononi and won the match.
Gunn Club defeated Cezar Bononi and JD Drake via pinfall.
Briar’s Take: A solid, competitive match that felt like it could have gone either way. Both Gunn Club and The Wingmen were great here.
18. Wheeler Yuta vs. Angelico. Yuta bounced off the ropes for an arm drag takedown to Angelico and sent Angelico outside with the dropkick. Yuta looked for the flying moonsault to the outside, but Angelico countered with the kick and both men were back in the ring. Angelico stomped the lower back of Yuta and locked in a brief submission. Angelico looked for the Navarro Death Roll, but Yuta rolled him up for a pinfall attempt. Yuta countered Angelico’s move in mid-air and jumped off the ropes with a flying crossbody.
Yuta flattened Angelico and almost scored the victory. Yuta followed with a Manhattan Drop and enzuigiri. Yuta nearly got a pinfall with the release German suplex. Angelico rolled to the outside and then Yuta hit him with a jumping suicida. Back in the ring, Angelico countered a Yuta maneuver from the top rope and locked in the Navarro Death Roll for the tap out victory.
Angelico defeated Wheeler Yuta via submission.
Briar’s Take: Toward the middle of the show, AEW centered around this match by having Angelico and Wheeler Yuta do prematch promos regarding one another, which was a nice touch. The “main event” was extremely competitive and both men went back and forth. There were a couple of times that Yuta almost scored the victory. Despite Angelico scoring the win, Yuta might be the one to watch moving forward as there was a lot of hype about him leading up to his match with Angelcio.
Overall, another standard episode of Dark of having too many matches and too long of a show. I honestly think AEW needs to find a sweet spot of what the show length should be along with a smaller match count. At this point though, it’s beating a dead horse and I thought for sure with the crowd returning, the show would go back to at least under an hour or little over an hour. I understand the wrestlers need experience in the ring, but it is a little annoying having 18 matches with over half of them lasting under two minutes and some ending in 30 seconds. Perhaps that’s something to look at in the future.
That said, there were a couple of good matches that stood out. RSP vs. Dante Martin was solid, Cezar Bononi and JD Drake vs. Gunn Club, and especially Wheeler Yuta vs. Angelico was great too. Most of the other matches were kind of just there and brief in nature with the exception of The Acclaimed and some matches were really random too. Episode 97 clocked in at 1 hour, 57 minutes, and 14 seconds. Final Score: 6.9 out of 10.