By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
AEW Battle of the Belts
Live from Charlotte, North Carolina at Bojangles Arena
Aired January 8, 2022 on TNT
An opening signature video for Battle of the Belts aired and the commentary team of Jim Ross, Excalibur and Tony Schiavone checked in. Dustin Rhodes’s music hit and we jumped right into the Interim TNT Championship match. Dustin was accompanied by Arn Anderson. Humpy Wheeler and David Crockett were introduced at ringside.
1. Dustin Rhodes vs. Sammy Guevara for the Interim TNT Championship. The two shook hands after the bell rang. They locked up and shared a nice sequence that included dueling arm-drag takedowns. The crowd offered dueling chants. Guevara grabbed a headlock, but Dustin stopped the action to get a breather in what appeared to be a comedy spot.
Re-engaging, Dustin went for a punch, but Guevara rolled him up for a quick two-count. Guevara dropped to his knees, Rhodes style, and landed a stiff elbow and Dustin rolled to the outside, where Guevara threw Dustin into the guardrail. Guevara pointed a finger gun at Anderson and Anderson flipped Guevara off. Rhodes and Guevara then traded chops. Before long, Rhodes ran Guevara’s knee into the ring steps and hit a pile-driver on the outside. Dustin rolled back into then ring. Guevara barely beat the 10-count and the first PIP began [c].
Back form the break, the two were trading blows in the middle of the ring before Dustin landed his snap powerslam for a two-count. Rhodes hit a chop and went to the middle rope to hit 10 punches on Guevara, complete with a half-Goldust call-back. It wasn’t long before Guevara landed a clothesline that took Rhodes to the outside of the ring again. Guevara landed a double-springboard flip onto Dustin, who was on the outside and Dustin didn’t quite catch him.
Back inside the ring, Guevara went for a double springboard cutter, but Dustin caught him and hit the Cross-Rhodes. Sammy sold the hell out of it, but it only resulted in a near-fall for Dustin. Dustin kicked Guevara’s knee and landed a Code Red for another hell of a near-fall. Dustin climbed to the middle rope, but Guevara cut him off. Guevara landed a stiff-as-all-get-out GTH and Dustin kicked out at the last millisecond.
Fuego Del Sol ran down and pulled a table from underneath the ring. Anderson came over to confront Fuego. Anderson reached for his own finger gun. Guevara and Dustin fought on the apron and Guevara hit a pump-kick. Dustin then hit a Canadian Destroyer through the table. Dustin rolled Guevara into the ring and got an even closer near-fall. Dustin then hit two straight Cross-Rhodes. Dustin went for a Tiger Driver, but Guevara escaped and the two hit dueling clotheslines, knocking each other out. The two traded a series of roll-ups and that ultimately ended with Guevara getting the pin.
Sammy Guevara defeated Dustin Rhodes via pinfall in 16:15.
After the match, the two wrestlers embraced and Dustin raised Guevara’s arm. Daniel Garcia then hit the ring and confronted Guevara. The two brawled while Garcia was wearing 1996 mom jeans.
McGuire’s Musings: Holy hell, guys. I was all types of ready to make fun of all this. I hated the concept of an interim TNT champ. I wasn’t quite sure how Dustin would work with Sammy. And there was no way anybody thought Dustin would come away with the title, right? But go out of your way to see this. Dustin Rhodes is doing some of the best work of his career and Sammy Guevara absolutely sold the shit out of everything Dustin gave him. Both guys shined brighter than a million shining stars. I wasn’t a fan of the immediate slow-down from Dustin, but it also served as a prelude for Dustin working a slower pace than we’ve seen Sammy wrestle in AEW. The result was magic. Garcia vs. Guevara should be good, but I can’t imagine it topping this sneaky great match.
Back from break, a video showcasing AEW’s champs aired. Schiavone was backstage for an interview with Guevara, who challenged Garcia for the TNT Title on next week’s Dynamite. Guevara didn’t use the word “interim,” so this thing is already going to hell. Taz joined the commentary team.
2. Ricky Starks vs. Matt Sydal for the FTW Championship. Sydal began with a series of strikes and a leaping kick. Sydal rolled up Starks, who kicked out at two. Starks took control for a second, but Sydal kicked Starks to the outside. Sydal followed Starks outside, but Powerhouse Hobbs stopped Sydal from working over Starks as the next PIP commenced [c].
Back from the break, Starks had control back in the ring and hit a series of clotheslines. Starks landed a twisting urinage for a two-count. Sydal fired up with a series of kicks and a sliding knee strike on Starks, who was in the corner. Sydal eventually landed a Michinoku Driver for a two-count. Sydal rolled up Starks for a two-count, but Starks countered with a lift to break things up.
Sydal hit hit Lightning Spiral for a close two-count. Sydal climbed to the top tope and landed a Meteora, but Starks got his foot on the ropes for a break. After running the ropes, Starks hit a spear and the Roshambo for the victory.
Ricky Starks defeated Matt Sydal via pinfall in 9 minutes.
After the match, Starks continued to attack Sydal. Lee Moriarty ran out for the save. Dante Martin ran out, too, and he began to brawl with Hobbs. Hobbs eventually left the ring and everything calmed down. The commentary team then ran down the card for Wednesday’s Dynamite.
McGuire’s Musings: The match was fine. I said last night in my Rampage review that I thought this was the match that could steal the show, but I think Sammy and Dustin clinched that award before we were even halfway through the program. It was just too hard to believe in the idea that anyone not on Team Taz was going to win the FTW Title … ever … but even more so here, because AEW doesn’t use Sydal as much as I’d like to think they should. But maybe that’s just me. The women are up next. Here’s hoping for a 15-plus-minute match.
3. Britt Baker vs. Riho for the AEW Women’s Championship. Before the match, Excalibur said they would stick with the match for however long it lasts. In the ring, Jayme Hayter threw the title onto the mat before the match, furthering that story. The two locked up and Baker had a quick takedown, but then things slowed down. Hayter distracted Riho and Baker took control. Riho fought back and hit a dropkick that sent Baker outside. Riho then hit a crossbody onto Rebel. Baker responded by landing a slingblade on Riho on the outside of the ring.
Hayter pulled a table out from underneath the ring. As she did that, Riho attacked Baker and landed a dropkick on Hayter. Back in the ring, Riho climbed to the top for a shotgun dropkick, which she landed. Baker countered a splash, however, and threw Riho into the turnbuckle, face-first. With Baker in control, the show went to presumably the final picture-in-picture [c].
Back from break, Riho hit a standing double foot-stomp for a two-count. On their feet, the two traded elbows. Riho ultimately took down Baker and landed a tough knee-strike. Riho hit a drop toe-hold and kicked Baker in the head for a two-count. Riho stretched Baker, but Baker made it to the ropes for a break. Riho climbed to the top, but Rebel pulled Baker out of the way and shielded Baker as Riho hit the double foot-stomp on Rebel.
Riho went back to the top and missed the double foot-stop. As a result, Baker hit a punch and an air-raid-crash for a two-count. Rebel handed Baker the glove, but Baker missed the Stomp. The two traded strikes. Riho went for a dragon suplex, but Baker countered into the Lock Jaw. Riho made it to the ropes for the break. Baker rolled Riho through and tried again, but that resulted in Baker landing a Stomp for a good near-fall.
Hayter got onto the apron and dropped the belt in the ring. The ref then ejected Rebel from ringside, which was set up by Hayter. Hayter and Baker argued and Riho hit a knee, a crucifix bomb and a northern lights suplex for a hell of a near-fall. Riho ran at Baker, but Baker kicked Riho. Baker landed another Stomp and sunk in the Lock Jaw for the win.
Britt Baker defeated Riho via submission in 12:47.
After the match, Rebel and Hayter argued over the belt. The three then hugged and that was the end of the night.
McGuire’s Musings: Well, it wasn’t 15, but we almost got 13. This was good and the near-falls at the end had me at various points. The work was good from the women and those two have really good chemistry with one another. Excalibur pointed out that Baker was Riho’s first title defense win in AEW a million years ago, and that reminded me of how these two always put on a show, when given the chance. The story between Rebel, Hayter and Baker continues and it sure does look like Hayter is on her way out of their group, but maybe the show-ending hug put that to rest. The only issue for me here was that it just seems impossible to move on from Baker as champion at this point. She has a looming program with Thunder Rosa, she’s one of the three biggest draws in the company and you can’t deny how great of a champion she’s been. So, while Riho is very good and very easy to root for, it was a hard sell to consider Baker dropping the belt here.
Speaking of belts, the first Battle of the Belts is in the book. Was it an old-school Clash of Champions? No (but to be fair, AEW wasn’t getting two/three hours and it didn’t have Flair/Steamboat to cap things off, so that point is sort of moot). I had low-to-zero expectations coming in and it exceeded those with the first match alone. Sydal vs. Starks was just sort of there and the women certainly delivered a quality match to end the night. From here, we go to Garcia/Guevara, Hobbs/Martin and … Baker/Hayter? Something’s gotta break somewhere. I’ll have more to say in my audio review.