Thursday, September 21, 2023

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam 2023 Review

Well the third AEW Grand Slam Dynamite was another rousing success overall, with an excellent slate of matchups, a super-hot New York crowd, a live gate on par with last year's show, and unfortunately a pair of injuries that hopefully won't prove too serious.

The show kicked off with Eddie Kingston finally getting his rematch with Claudio Castagnoli, this time for both the ROH Title and the NJPW Strong Openweight belt.  These two had a heated slugfest as expected, with Kingston's hometown crowd absolutely rabid to see him vanquish his longtime foe.  The battle of chops and uppercuts escalated to a series of big nearfalls, the most explosive of which occurred when Kingston kicked out of a Ricola Bomb.  Kingston came back with multiple backfists and a Northern Lights bomb for another nearfall.  Finally Kingston hit another backfist and a Kawada powerbomb to win the Ring of Honor Championship.  Claudio shook Eddie's hand before exiting.  Excellent hot opener with a feelgood story.  ****1/4

Second on the show was the first-time Chris Jericho-Sammy Guevara bout, and both men worked their asses off to try and steal the show.  The announcers referenced Jericho's hero vs. fan feud against Shawn Michaels, and it wouldn't be the last time we saw echoes of that epic rivalry.  A couple miscues aside this was pretty dazzling bout, with Sammy often trying to one-up Jericho at his own game, such as going for a top-rope Lionsault and hitting a Codebreaker.  The finish looked spectacular, as after hitting Jericho with a GTH, Sammy went to the top for a Shooting Star Press, but was countered mid-air with his own Codebreaker.  Jericho got the pin and the two friends hugged, but shades of WrestleMania 19, Sammy booted Jericho in the groin, Jericho slid down Sammy's body, and Sammy pie-faced him to the mat.  Just then Don Callis appeared, making it clear Sammy was now joining the Callis Family (and as we'd later find out on Rampage, setting up Sammy & Takeshita vs. Jericho & Omega in the future).  Another really good match.  ****1/4

The first of two injuries happened at the start, or rather BEFORE the start, of the third match.  Jon Moxley and Rey Fenix began brawling on the elevated entrance ramp, Fenix knocked Mox to the floor and then did a flip dive, resulting in Rey colliding with Mox's head.  Mox was later diagnosed with a mild concussion but managed to wrestle the entire match with it, apparently feeling worse as the bout wore on.  Considering the guy was concussed this was a helluva match with a ton of back and forth action.  After numerous nearfalls Fenix hit Mox with a Black Fire Driver (evidently Mox called an audible during the match to have Fenix win) and covered but referee Rick Knox held up his count even though Mox didn't kick out.  Fenix hit a second Driver for the surprise win.  Mox was attended to post-match and was able to walk to the back on his own, and reports are that he was much better after the match.  Hopefully he'll be okay and not have to miss too much time.  Even despite the screwy ending this was really good.  **** 

The AEW Women's Title match was next as former best friends Saraya and Toni Storm had a very sports-entertainy match.  Storm is crushing this Sunset Boulevard character and the crowd loved her.  Saraya played the almost-reluctant heel, disappointed in her friend and the dissolution of their partnership.  After a few fun minutes of back-and-forth Storm slid under the ring, Ruby Soho yanked her back out, and Storm emerged holding a pair of shoes, with which she attacked Ruby.  She slid in the ring and the referee took away a shoe, but Storm had a high heel hidden in her tights and she smacked Saraya with it for a nearfall.  Storm exposed a bottom turnbuckle, Saraya was about to ram her into it but couldn't, and Storm kissed her and hit Storm Zero for the hottest nearfall of the night.  Storm went for the hip attack on the exposed buckle but missed and Saraya hit Knight Cap off the bottom rope to retain.  For an eight-minute match this was quite entertaining and the crowd was into it.  ***

The main event pitted AEW Champ MJF against Samoa Joe in a classic old-school main event with a twist.  MJF played the smaller babyface in peril, Joe the unstoppable monster, in maybe his best match since his pre-WWE run.  Joe took over early in the match as MJF's injured neck kept him on the defensive.  Midway through the match Joe hit a brutal-looking Death Valley Driver on the apron and later a uranage slam through a ringside table.  Joe exposed the arena floor and after a long battle for a piledriver, finally hit one.  The medical staff rushed to check on MJF and Joe swatted them all away and rolled MJF back into the ring.  They went back and forth until MJF hit a really impressive-looking powerbomb for a nearfall.  Joe then locked in a sleeper, MJF hit a serruptitious low kick to escape and tried to use the Dynamite diamond ring, but the ref took it away.  Joe hit a Muscle Buster for a nearfall and locked in another sleeper.  MJF looked to be finished but Adam Cole ran down to ringside (tweaking his ankle, no word on how severe that injury is) to cheer him on.  MJF got Joe in a sleeper, Joe rammed him backward into the buckles, temporarily knocking the ref out of the ring, and Cole gave Max a tag rope.  Max choked Joe with the rope but locked in a choke to hide it, and Joe passed out to end the match.  Max stuffed the tag rope under his armpit but when the ref raised his hand it fell to the floor, and Max distracted the ref with a hug as Cole removed the rope from view.  Like Claudio at the start of the show, Joe shook Max's hand before leaving the ring, and Max and Cole hugged as the show went off the air.  Great story-heavy main event and another excellent title defense for MJF.  ****1/2

Amid all the doubts about AEW's slumping ticket sales and firings and departures, they pulled off yet another excellent show in front of a molten crowd, and thanks to tons of local promotion ticket sales surged in the final few days.  Never underestimate the value of sending your stars to the area to hype the show.  

Best Match: MJF vs. Samoa Joe
Worst Match: Saraya vs. Toni Storm, which was still a lot of fun
What I'd Change: That Fenix dive looked super cool but it definitely wasn't worth concussing Moxley
Most Disappointing Match: None
Most Pleasant Surprise: That they got a healthy 11,000+ people in the building
Overall Rating: 9/10

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