By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
The truth is, we all probably did. On some level. Kind of, at least. Even beyond wrestling, most of our favorite sports memories as spectators come complete with a memorable call, a specific voice, a certain cadence. We recognize when something will stick with us beyond the moment, but we rarely understand the gravity of those accompanying voices until they aren’t there anymore. It changes everything – not just the basic aesthetic of a presentation, but also the way we, as viewers, perceive things.
Case in point? AEW. Or, well, at least AEW throughout this past week.
First, the immediate: Collision. I wrote last Monday that I was heading into the debut of the show with cautious eyes – and even that was kinder than what I actually said. There’s too much wrestling, I argued, and I still maintain that. WCW watched as Thunder crashed onto the airwaves more than two decades ago, only to find the invention of such a program be one of the catalysts that cooled the brand off and led to its demise. You’d be hard pressed to find any regular wrestling fan who thinks the third hour of Raw is a good thing. And while we can all appreciate the fact that you can find legitimate pro wrestling on some platform to watch each day of the week now … well, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t stand to use a day or three off when it comes to weekly wrestling consumption.
The thing is: Collision was good. No, really. It was. For the first time since its inception, AEW felt like it created a viable new television product. In fact, spending all those weeks covering Rampage, it took until seeing Collision for me to realize what my biggest issue with Rampage was all along. That issue? Sameness. Never mind the fact that Rampage is mostly a taped show (though that does still mean something, even if we aren’t going to address it here); just think about the soundtrack behind the action. Excalibur, God bless his heart, is really good at what he does, but he’s also The Voice of AEW. Kind of like Jim Ross was The Voice of WWE, and, I would argue, Tony Schiavone was The Voice of WCW.
Only a handful of years into the company’s existence and I don’t think Excalibur will ever be able to outrun the reality that he is The Voice of AEW. It’s a good thing, of course, in a lot of ways, but it also gives the proceedings a hurdle in that rarely does one AEW event feel different than the others surrounding it. In hindsight, perhaps that’s why I was so impressed with last year’s installment of the Forbidden Door show – it featured a mixture of commentary teams that was both surprising and welcome. The whole thing was like bringing a fluorescent color onto a page filled with black and white. It was a novelty that made me long for it to become the norm.
Well, it became the norm on Saturday when Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness manned the booth for Collision and it immediately gave the show a new feel. These aren’t just voices, mind you. They are complete personalities who speak in singular grooves. It’s like listening to a Black Sabbath record, liking it, but then longing for something new after the 50th time you hear “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” In that case, a Temptations record could never sound better. Change can be good and sometimes, it can also be necessary. AEW needed that if it was going to produce two more hours of television a week, and the company did just that by putting Kelly and McGuinness on the call.
Actually, giving credit where it’s due, AEW did that in more ways than one on Saturday, considering the wrestlers we saw in the ring. CM Punk has been talked about to death, so there’s no reason to revisit that saga right now, but Miro and Andrade’s respective returns actually felt like a breath of fresh air. Luchasaurus winning the TNT title was unexpected, but a welcome surprise (outside of the idea that the TNT Title is now embroiled in a game of hot potato). It’s always great to see Samoa Joe on a big stage, and that just doesn’t happen all that much anymore. Plus while Juice Robinson and Jay White felt lost in the Dynamite shuffle ever since debuting for the company, on Collision, they felt elevated.
And so it must be said: The value of new faces and new voices cannot be overstated. More so, the value of our own varied approach to pro wrestling consumption cannot be overstated, either. Case in point, No. 2?
Last Wednesday’s Dynamite.
I was in the crowd on Wednesday as the company returned to the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., for the first time since the very first episode of the show. I had a blast. Yeah, I know the ratings aren’t great for Dynamite these days. Yeah, I know there were a bunch more people in that building for the debut episode some four years ago. Yeah, I’ll raise my hand and admit that I suffer from AEW drama fatigue.
But, damn. The crowd was hot. The segments delivered. And hell, I even got to see Sting wrestle. Talking to some friends in the days after the show, they suggested I watch a replay of it back because, I was told, the commentary added a bunch to it – especially the MJF/Adam Cole match. So, I watched it back, and … eh? Sure, the difference between watching pro wrestling on television and in person is a gap as large as the biggest in all of pro sports, and I am acutely aware of how much different the experience is once you get some voices behind the action. But I’ll be honest: The commentary didn’t add much for me.
The most intriguing aspect of those things to me comes in the form of where AEW is currently, which is the Forbidden Door cycle. After Sunday, that cycle will be over and we’ll be on our way to All In and All Out. Much like last year, the New Japan infusion of talent on these AEW shows has made for a valuable change of pace. If that can continue through the rest of the summer remains to be seen, but with the addition of Collision – and how new it felt – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think AEW didn’t have a better chance today than I thought they did even a week ago. Somehow, that company has managed to create a sense of much-needed change, be it from the Saturday night show or the Forbidden Door pay-per-view.
My biggest question: Can it last? I ask because A) Collision isn’t going to be in Chicago every week. B) CM Punk’s promo worked because he was able to confront his anger toward all the stuff over the last nine months, which means, C) Once that anger has to be directed at wrestlers with whom he’s working, do people stop caring because all anyone wants to know about is what’s going on between Punk, The Elite, and Hangman Page?
But I digress. Because for now, it’s too much fun for me to stop thinking about how AEW lured me in over the last week through ways that I didn’t think was possible. The live experience and a new experience did the trick. The former is fleeting while the latter has a ton of questions looming over it as it continues to evolve. And even that says nothing of what’s about to happen this Sunday at Forbidden Door. Even so, for the first time in a very long time, it feels remarkably good that I can say with a straight, honest face …
… I, for one, am excited to see it all play out.