McGuire’s Mondays: Goodbye, AEW Dark and Dark: Elevation… you will be missed


By Colin McGuire, Staffer (@McGMondays)

Not since … well, no, wait. Never mind. I can’t ever recall me having a more stringent about-face about anything in pro wrestling than the about-face I experienced with AEW Dark – and, to a lesser degree, AEW Dark: Elevation. When Dark debuted in 2019, I gave it a shot or two, decided it was as close to meaningless as a YouTube pro wrestling show could get and brushed it to the side. Even through the years within the fabric of these columns, I’d take petty pot shots at the show.

If it wasn’t the ridiculous 16-match episodes, then it was the consistent squashing that left little to be desired for those tasked with live-reviewing them each week. I always felt bad for Rich Balin and Briar Starr, who reviewed Dark and Elevation, respectively, for this site. What’s there to say about a 90-second match that features wrestlers rarely seen on regular TV?

Sure, there was that one time Kenny Omega popped in, and yeah, every now and then AEW would throw viewers a bone when a real, live star showed up for a two-minute match, but it was silly to take any of it seriously. It appeared to exist primarily to pad records, which AEW once promised would mean something because they went in hand with weekly wrestler rankings. These days, the rankings are gone and the win-loss records feel as meaningless as ever.

But then something happened. In some ways, both Dark and Elevation began taking themselves less and less serious. You didn’t tune into Dark to watch Action Andretti get a random win; you watched it to listen to whatever the hell Taz and Excalibur were going to say, which veered from the absurd, to the humorous, to the random, and certainly back to the absurd. As they laughed through each episode, we laughed with them. The whole ordeal was an inside joke inside an inside joke. Elevation, meanwhile, didn’t feel as exclusive in its commentary, but it did give random people the opportunity to call matches. While I’m probably in the minority, I still believe Matt Menard calling matches on YouTube has outshined anything he’s done in the ring in AEW – and I’m not even saying he’s had terrible matches. I just enjoyed his over-the-top nonsense in the booth, no matter who he was paired with.

Such is why you can count me among those who – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – will miss Dark and Dark: Elevation each Monday and Tuesday night. It’s not a case of not knowing what we had until it’s gone; rather, it’s a case of missing something that took a while to find a groove, but once it got there, it produced some fun pro wrestling Internet broadcasts. Having dismissed it as indulgent, irrelevant and useless, I came to ultimately find it charming, a warm blanket on a cold winter night when you just need a little comfort and familiarity. Those shows were light entertainment, something that even felt a little detached from Real World AEW.

They weren’t Dynamite. Obviously. There were no big matches and it’s hard to believe anyone tuned in thinking a title change might occur. They might have tried to create some vague stories here and there, and they might have even attempted to set up an angle or two that spilled onto AEW’s network television programs, but nobody thought they were missing something essential if they missed an episode of Dark or Elevation. The essential stuff came – and still comes – on Wednesdays. Dark and Elevation were the fun appetizers that set up a very good meal.

Perhaps better yet, though – and a much more subliminal accomplishment for a series that could have fallen into a plethora of traps – Dark and Elevation were also not Rampage. For nearly two years, we have heard from anybody who’s somebody in AEW that Rampage matters. Rampage was not going to be a B-show. Rampage was going to feature the company’s top stars just as much as Dynamite does. Rampage was going to be appointment viewing if you wanted to keep up with the trials and tribulations of AEW storylines. Jim Ross was moved to the show to lend it some credibility. Rampage was going to Matter (with a capital “M”).

But that hasn’t happened. The company has tried here and there to give it a jolt of adrenaline, but nothing has stuck. Maybe that’s a function of a revolving time slot thanks to other sports – even if I believe that’s a cop out (change Rampage’s time slot every week for the next 52 weeks; if you throw Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega in a cage on one of those episodes, people will make sure they see it). Maybe it’s a function of mostly being a taped show as opposed to the live Wednesday program. Or maybe that hour of TV just isn’t that compelling. Whatever it is, Rampage is in pro wrestling purgatory – not interesting enough for fans to care from the outside and not prioritized enough for the decision-makers on the inside to actually make the show worthwhile.

Dark and Dark Elevation, on the other hand, knew their lane and stayed in it. There were no disillusions about what it was meant to be, which turned out to be a vehicle for talent with less experience to get a shot on a bigger stage than they were used to. In fact, that was perhaps the show’s biggest legacy. Think of all the names you saw pop up that some of us are used to seeing perform in front of 200 people in makeshift gyms on Fite.TV every other weekend. You know how fun it was to see Billie Starkz give Britt Baker a run for her money? Or how about Jack Cartwheel bumping all around the ring for Brian Cage? If you’re even a peripheral fan of the American independent circuit, you had to get a kick out of seeing some of these names get a chance to bask in a bigger spotlight than they’d normally have access to.

So, now what? Word has it that the aforementioned Rampage will now ostensibly become the new version of Dark and Elevation, but seeing is believing and I’m not so sure Rampage can pull it off. First of all, there’s some stank on the Rampage name after being such a throwaway show for so long now. Second of all, part of Dark and Elevation’s charm was its laid-back approach that didn’t not highlight the rapport of their wacky commentary teams (i.e., if Jim Ross is already cantankerous enough on a show that’s at least supposed to matter in AEW, can you even imagine how he’d approach a Charlette Renegade vs. Julia Hart three-minute showdown?). And third of all, Rampage is still an hour of cable television a week. It’s not, “Hey, let’s throw 13 matches up on YouTube for a running time of one hour and twenty four minutes!” Rampage is more nuanced because it has to be. Dynamite will always be the belle of the ball and this reported new Saturday show will be its own monster, but Rampage? Being on TNT all but promise it can’t have the same feel of a YouTube program that came and went as it pleased.

Then again, who knows? As I said at the beginning, I mocked Dark and Dark: Elevation for the first many months of their existence. Over time, they won my heart. Maybe with enough work and some much-needed changes, Rampage can do the same. Or, well, maybe not. Either way, I’ll be pouring one out for those weirdly fun YouTube shows now that they’re gone. It’s odd to think they might end up being a footnote in AEW history, promising that in about 20 years or so, diehard fans will reminisce about the Good Old Days of Dark and Dark: Elevation. But then again, Dark and Dark: Elevation were meant to be odd in and of themselves.

And so gloriously odd, they were. As Taz once said, “Ultimate Panda needs an ultimate treadmill.” Whatever the hell that meant, I’ll never know. But I’ll be damned if that doesn’t sum up the brilliance of a pair of YouTube shows we’ll probably never see again.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. TheGreatestOne May 8, 2023 @ 7:28 pm

    Nobody gave a damn about the stupid YouTube shows.

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