Thursday, September 23, 2021

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam: A Modern-Day Clash of the Champions

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam.  What a fuckin' show.  Five matches, one of which ranks among the best free television matches I've ever seen, the rest of which were really good at worst.  This show combined the splendor and big fight atmosphere of a stacked Saturday Night's Main Event with the wrestling quality of the first Clash of the Champions (and even included a time limit draw).  Tony Khan said there would be four Clash-style Dynamites a year, and this show fit that description to a tee.  Light on angles and heavy on wrestling, this show felt like a two-hour PPV event and if you're a lapsed wrestling fan this is the type of show you should seriously give a chance to get back into it. 

The show began, shockingly, with Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson, in front of an absolutely nuclear crowd of 20,000-plus.  The two in-ring masters started off slow and methodical and gradually built to a war of attrition, breaking out many, but not all of, their big moves, leaving some stuff on the table for an inevitable rematch.  Danielson frustrated Kenny with his mat grappling, harkening back to his Ring of Honor days at times (including, much to my delight, "I have till five!"), and working over the shoulder to soften it up for the LeBell Lock.  Omega fired back with chops that left a road map of welts on Bryan's chest, while also attacking his neck.  Both men zeroed in on the body part their respective finishers target.  As the match wore on the moves got bigger and higher impact.  Kenny hit numerous V-Triggers, including one where Bryan was propped up on the ring apron and Kenny ran all the way down the ramp before delivering the knee.  At one point Bryan broke out his old finisher Cattle Mutilation, but Kenny reached the ropes to break it.  Kenny went for the One Winged Angel numerous times but Bryan kept avoiding it.  Near the end of the bout Bryan went for the running knee but Kenny countered into a powerbomb.  Bryan avoided a Phoenix Splash attempt and hit his buzzsaw kick before attempting the LeBell Lock, but Kenny reached the ropes before he could lock it in.  Time ran out as the two men were laying into each other, and the Elite ran down to break it up, Matt and Nick Jackson superkicking Bryan in the corner.  This match was goddamn fantastic and I can't wait to watch it again.  If I'm booking this draw I'd probably have Bryan lock in his submission just before the bell so Kenny wouldn't have time to tap out, but otherwise this was a brilliantly worked professional wrestling main event.  Just wonderful.  *****

After a fluff promo from CM Punk hyping his match on Friday, we got MJF vs. Brian Pillman Jr.  I kinda loved this.  It was short and basic, but it was incredibly entertaining in an old-school babyface vs. heel midcard match kinda way.  Both guys played their roles perfectly, MJF the vile, opportunistic bad guy and Pillman the underdog hero who seemed to have the heel's number except that the heel had more ring intelligence.  Late in the match Pillman was about to hit his diving dropkick through the ropes but MJF pulled Julia Hart in front of him, in classic Randy Savage fashion.  As MJF and Julia argued, Pillman then finally hit the dropkick.  But after tossed MJF back into the ring Pillman got caught in Salt of the Earth for the tapout.  No dissension between MJF and Wardlow which surprised me, but this match was pretty great for what it needed to be.  It was a beautifully executed, simple midcard match.  ***1/2

Another match with a big fight feel was next as Cody Rhodes returned for revenge on Malakai Black.  Cody was dressed in his Homelander outfit and flanked by Arn Anderson and Brandi.  And the New York crowd was not impressed.  Cody was booed heavily, which I found pretty shocking.  Then again Black is a super cool character.  I smell a double turn on the horizon.  This match was furiously paced and the animosity between the two men was palpable.  One of the most memorable moments involved Black teasing an over-the-ropes dive but instead moonsaulting back to center ring and sitting cross-legged, and Brandi ran in and mirrored him before flipping him off and clearly mouthing "Fuck. You."  This was great.  They went back and forth, and Cody went for CrossRhodes but Black escaped.  Cody hit his springboard cutter and then nailed CrossRhodes but Black kicked out.  Arn Anderson climbed on the apron and attempted to navigate around one of the ringposts but slipped off.  He climbed back up and Black threw Cody into him, knocking him to the floor.  Cody went outside to check on him and Arn yelled at him to get back in the ring.  Black then spit black mist into Cody's face and rolled him up for the pin.  Nice match and Black winning was the right move.  There will be another rematch and I think the two should switch sides.  ***3/4

The most unexpected hit of the night for me was Sting and Darby Allin vs. FTR.  Holy crap was this match entertaining.  It was very sports-entertainment-ish but goddamn did it deliver on that level.  Sting looked better than I've seen him since WCW and it's incredible that he's able to move around like he does at 62.  Darby did most of the heavy lifting early on but FTR took over, dominating him for a while until he made the hot tag.  Sting handled both FTR guys, a tad unrealistic to be sure, but it was executed so well I can't complain too much.  Sting hit the Stinger Splash on both FTR guys and while he was busy with Cash, Dax set up a chair in the corner and baited him to go for another splash.  Sting did so, Dax moved, but Sting spotted the chair and stopped short.  Smart babyfaces rule.  Sting put Dax in the Scorpion Deathlock, Cash tried to help him but Darby cut him off with a Coffin Drop on the apron, and Dax tapped out to give the good guys the win.  The crowd loved this and so did I.  ****

The main event slot went to the Women's Title match, and Britt Baker and Ruby Soho delivered a very strong outing.  A few minor miscues aside this match was hard hitting and very well-worked.  Ruby looks so happy to be there every time she makes her entrance it's infectious and it's impossible not to be invested in her match for that reason.  The crowd was pretty evenly split, offering dueling chants throughout.  There were a lot of big move attempts and counters, Ruby escaped multiple Lockjaw and Curb Stomp attempts and hit a top rope senton, Baker hit her twisting neckbreaker.  They fought on the top rope and Baker hit an Air Raid Crash off the top for a nearfall.  Baker's two friends climbed up on the apron and Soho hit her No Future kick on Rebel, but Jamie Hayter clotheslined Ruby on the top rope, allowing Britt to trap her in the Lockjaw for the win.  Very good main event that left Ruby an out.  ****

So yeah, Dynamite Grand Slam was, well, a grand slam.  A two-hour show comprised almost entirely of wrestling, and very good-to-great wrestling at that.  A TV match for the ages, a traditional midcard bout, a grudge match, a super-fun tag match, and a strong women's main event.  If you find major things to complain about on this show I dunno what to tell you.  This ruled.  AEW is getting so many things right, it's like I had been trapped in a room full of WWE's beer farts for the last twenty years and AEW unlocked the door to let me out.

Best Match: Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson
Worst Match: I mean, by default MJF vs. Pillman, but this was still loads of fun.
What I'd Change: Like I said, maybe have Danielson lock in his finisher just as the time limit expires.
Most Disappointing Match: Nada
Most Pleasant Surprise: Sting & Darby vs. FTR
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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