By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
AEW WrestleDream Hits
Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr.: An awesome match that lived up to my own lofty expectations. It was a real treat to watch these two put on a clinic. The genuine enthusiasm that Jon Moxley showed while on commentary added to it. This was special and is totally worth going out of your way to see if you didn’t catch the show.
Christian Cage vs. Darby Allin in a best of three falls match for the TNT Championship: I didn’t expect this match to close the pay-per-view and yet it felt like the right call even before Adam Copeland made his surprise debut. It must be said that Allin’s bump on the edge of the ring steps was insane and just wasn’t worth the risk. Allin is a hell of a talent and I really hope that someone can talk him into eliminating the extremely dangerous bumps he takes. But I definitely enjoyed the match and the idea of Nick Wayne turning. I didn’t like the way he turned because it was ridiculous for him to take the chair away from Christian Cage just for swerve purposes. Likewise, Copeland’s arrival was a big moment, but it was silly to have Cage wind up for a Conchairto, only to have to stand there while a video played and Copeland made his standard entrance. That said, I get that most fans are conditioned to accept these things in pro wrestling, so I’m not holding it against the match. Copeland joining AEW is fun. There’s a slew of new opponents for him to work with and the change of scenery makes breathes new life into his act.
Swerve Strickland vs. Hangman Page: Swerve’s homecoming made for a really fun environment with the crowd choosing him over one of AEW’s top babyfaces. They worked a really good match and I actually liked that Swerve hit Page with Prince Nana’s crown to steal the win. Sure, a clean win would have been more satisfying for the live crowd, but the creative forces obviously want to keep Swerve as a heel coming out of this match, so it was logical to have him cheat to win. That said, Swerve should have a hell of a babyface run when the time is right.
Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and Chris Jericho vs. Konosuke Takeshita, Sammy Guevara, and Will Ospreay: A loaded six-man tag match that looked great on paper and delivered in execution. Don Callis interfering was logical as they put more heat on him and his new family. Jericho’s latest babyface run is off to a strong start, as he seemed to be the most over guy in the match.
“FTR” Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler vs. “Aussie Open” Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis for the AEW Tag Team Titles: The needlessly long show crowd fatigue clearly kicked in during his match (more on that later). It also didn’t help that Aussie Open took high the profile loss to Adam Cole and MJF, along with that inexplicable loss to Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara in the weeks that led up to this match. But these teams work really well together and their hard work was enough to make up for the poor atmosphere provided by the drained live crowd.
Eddie Kingston vs. Katsuyori Shibata for the ROH Championship and NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: There are too many title belts in AEW. This match featured two wrestlers who hold three belts and none of those belts are actual AEW title belts. Now that we got that out of the way, this was a strong match with a clean and decisive finish.
Kris Statlander vs. Julia Hart for the TBS Championship: This match exceeded my expectations. The story of Hart being unbeaten in 28 consecutive matches didn’t mean as much as it should have because no one was talking about it until two or three weeks ago. But she gained something in defeat and hopefully there’s a plan in place for her to bounce back strong. Hart has come a long way in a short period of time and it’s exciting to think of how good she will eventually be if she continues to put the work in.
MJF vs. “The Righteous” Vincent and Dutch in a handicap match for the ROH Tag Team Titles: As much as I’d prefer to have MJF defending the AEW World Championship, this match was exactly what it needed to be once Adam Cole was pulled due to injury. They took a lighter approach and the crowd was very receptive.
AEW WrestleDream Misses
New era hype: Tony Khan brought up the fan speculation that he was buying New Japan Pro Wrestling when he spoke with the media last week. He then declined to confirm or deny the obscure rumors that weren’t gaining any traction until he decided to mention them. His tease for a “new era” also led to speculation of a streaming deal, the end of Ring of Honor (it’s time), and other fantasy scenarios. Khan said he wouldn’t comment on the rumors that he brought up because he wanted people to buy the pay-per-view to see what they were doing, which feels like a carny move in hindsight. Perhaps he did sell more pay-per-views, but that short-term gain wasn’t enough to justify leaving some fans let down by the “new era” hype when they would have been focused on this being a great pay-per-view had Khan not gone there.
The Young Bucks vs. Austin Gunn and Colten Gunn vs. Rey Fenix and Penta El Zero Miedo vs. Orange Cassidy and Hook in a four-way for shot at the AEW Tag Team Titles: I never would have predicted going into the weekend that I would end up enjoying the four-way tag team match on NXT No Mercy more than I enjoyed this four-way. It’s not that this was a poor match, but it did fall below expectations, whereas the NXT match blew them away. The live crowd’s flat reaction to the Young Bucks winning was telling. Hopefully another match with FTR that will presumably be held in Bucks’ country will help heat up their act.
Ricky Starks vs. Wheeler Yuta: This was a strange match choice given that both wrestlers are heels. The Blackpool Combat Club seem to be taking the tweener approach, but Yuta had been the one member who felt like a consistent heel until this match. So I’m not sure if it was the heel vs. heel approach or if the crowd was coming down from the previous match, but these two worked hard and just couldn’t get the crowd to fully invest.
Pre-Show: There was nothing wrong with any of the individual pre-show matches. They were fine. The problem is that they continue to make the shows run needlessly long and take a toll on the live crowd. A match or two in 30 minutes is tolerable, but four pre-show matches is just too much. And what was the point of having a 90-minute “Zero Hour” pre-show? AEW typically produces terrific pay-per-view events, but Tony Khan’s “more is better” mentality is hurting the overall viewing experience. I continue to wish that AEW would strive to leave the average viewer wanting more as opposed to over serving the small army of super fans.