Monday, October 2, 2023

AEW WrestleDream Review: The Rated-R Superstar is All Elite!

Another month, another homerun PPV from AEW.  Say what you want about this company - yes they're struggling to move tickets, yes their roster is so big some talents are undeservedly overlooked, yes their storytelling can be uneven and disorganized at times (This is true of all wrestling companies) - but no one can touch AEW when it comes to putting on great PPV events.  No one.  

WrestleDream was a ten-match show with so much variety, where every match achieved what it set out to achieve.  Like simple, old-school, story-driven wrestling?  Check out MJF vs. The Righteous.  Like hard-hitting strong style?  Eddie vs. Shibata.  Like a crazy spot-filled sprint?  Look at the 4-way tag.  Like big, dramatic main event-type matches?  Hangman vs. Swerve.  Like technical wrestling?  Danielson vs. ZSJ.  Trios matches?  Gotcha covered.  Great tag team wrestling?  FTR-Aussie Open.  Violent grudge matches?  Christian vs. Darby.  Oh, and surprise debuts with gamechanging potential?  That's there too.  This is why I love AEW - they actually have something for everyone.  The flow of this show felt a lot like a big NJPW PPV, with lean, shorter matches to start things off, and the longer matches saved for the end.  It felt shorter than PPVs where they shuffle the long and short matches.

The biggest news was of course the debut of the former Edge, Adam Copeland.  After 25 years of being either an active WWE wrestler or a retired WWE Legend, The Rated-R Superstar (Yup, WWE forgot to trademark that one) is All Elite, and at the media scrum afterward (plus a series of tweets) he made it clear he feels free for the first time in many years.  Obviously not content with how he was being used in WWE the last couple years, Copeland now has dozens of fresh opponents to work with, as well as some old favorites.  At 50 years old it would really be something to see him reinvigorate his career the same way Christian Cage has.  His first promo on Wednesday, free of WWE's scripting restrictions, should be something.  After having to fire CM Punk and losing Jade Cargill, this felt like a much-needed win to generate some positive buzz.

Anyway, let's look at the in-ring stuff....

The show opened with MJF's handicap match against The Righteous, and it was a very entertaining exercise in finding out how little Max can do and still get a massive crowd reaction.  Dude's gotten over headlock takeovers, double clotheslines, kangaroo kicks, and now a simple bodyslam.  After wrestling from behind for a while, MJF as promised, shoved Vincent's face into Dutch's ass, bodyslammed Dutch to a huge pop, hit the Heatseeker and pinned Dutch with his feet on the ropes to retain the titles.  Alright, no more PPVs without Max defending the AEW Title though.  This was fun but MJF in the main event is how you get 140,000+ buys and 10,000+ tickets moved.  **3/4

Next up was a helluva fight between Eddie Kingston and Katsuyori Shibata, a G1-style battle of striking and submissions that went back-and-forth from start to finish.  Eddie nearly succumbed to an Octopus Hold but made the ropes before firing back with backfists, which Shibata reciprocated.  Finally Eddie hit a Northern Lights Driver, another backfist, and a powerbomb to retain his two belts.  Shibata got a standing ovation after Eddie's exit.  Damn good stuff.  ***3/4

Third was Kris Statlander vs. Julia Hart in a very good nine-minute sprint that showed off both women as strong workers.  Kris has been a great fighting champion while Julia has become pretty excellent seemingly overnight.  They went back and forth, Kris showcasing her power vs. Julia's agility and cunning.  Near the end Kris went for a top rope move but Julia hit her spider belly-to-belly suplex followed by her spectacular moonsault for a nearfall.  She locked in Hartless but Kris powered up and spiked her with a Tombstone, held on and hit Sunday Night Fever for the win.  I hope Julia keeps getting TV time and more title chances, as she's really compelling to watch and the crowd is into her.  I'm also glad Kris's title run continues.  ***1/2

The wacky 4-way tag was next as The Young Bucks, The Gunns, Lucha Bros and Hook/Orange Cassidy went all-out for their allotted twelve minutes.  This had all the crazy tandem spots and creative moments you'd expect, like Nick Jackson breaking up Hook's Redrum submission with a 450 splash, or Penta hitting a Widow's Peak and Fear Factor simultaneously as Nick jumped off the top to spike them.  Ultimately the Bucks were able to finish Penta with the BTE Trigger to earn another shot at FTR, probably at Full Gear I would think; it's three years after their first meeting and it's in the Bucks' hometown.  Rey Fenix was taken out of the match after a few minutes, apparently kayfabe, to ensure his rematch with Nick Jackson can go ahead as planned this Wednesday.  Anyway, fun stuff.  ***3/4

The first great match of the night was Hangman Page vs. Swerve Strickland, a main event-level match worked in the traditional babyface vs. heel fashion but with the crowd totally behind the hometown heel.  They swung for the fences and worked a very hard-hitting style.  Midway through the match Swerve stomped Page's lariat arm to try and take away his best weapon, and that came back later in the match.  Swerve worked over the arm, hitting a 450 on it, but Page was eventually able to hit the Buckshot, the injured arm preventing him from following up with a pin attempt right away.  Prince Nana put Swerve's foot on the rope but the ref caught him and ejected him.  Nana protested, tossing his diamond crown into the ring, and during the distraction Swerve hit Page with it for a nearfall.  Swerve then hit two House Calls and a JML Driver to win the match.  Excellent bout, and a huge win for Strickland.  Push this man to the moon, he's the complete package.  ****1/2

Ricky Starks and Wheeler Yuta were put in a tough spot following the Swerve match but delivered a really good ten-minute sprint, full of grappling and striking.  Starks really worked a BCC-style fight, keeping up with Yuta in a chain-wrestling exchange and then winning a battle of open-hand strikes.  Late in the match Big Bill ran down for a momentary distraction, later catching Starks when Yuta threw him over the ropes.  Both men hit anvil elbows on each other but Starks nailed Yuta with a spear and Roshambo for the much-needed win.  Ricky is another guy they need to continue to get behind.  Good little match.  ***3/4

Match of the night, as expected, went to Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. in one of the most glorious technical bouts you'll ever see.  This was ground grappling at its absolute peak, the two best technical wrestlers on the planet going hold-for-hold for 22 minutes.  Zack worked over Danielson's surgically repaired arm, bending and twisting it in grotesque positions and ripping at his fingers.  Nigel McGuinness on commentary took numerous shots at Bryan, keeping the spark of hope alive that they'll get one more match together.  After several near-submissions including one where Nigel called Bryan a coward for reaching the ropes, Bryan hit Zack with a pair of busaiku knees to get the pinfall win.  It seems likely we'll get a rematch since neither man was able to get a submission win.  But this was everything you'd want in a Danielson-Sabre match.  *****

From Danielson-ZSJ till the end of the show there was nary a match below ****.  The big trios match was next as the Don Callis family of Konosuke Takeshita, Will Ospreay and Sammy Guevara took on Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and Kota Ibushi.  This was a pretty epic party match with Kenny and Jericho carrying most of the load for their team to conceal Ibushi's limitations.  Kota looked pretty good and was able to hit some of his signature stuff.  We got a great moment where Ibushi went dead-eyed on Ospreay and Guevara and took both guys down with strikes before trading shots with Takeshita.  Ospreay hit a breathtaking Sky Twister to Kenny and Jericho before shoving Sammy out of the way of a Judas Effect.  Aubrey Edwards was tending to Ospreay and missed Jericho pinning Sammy.  Jericho went for the Walls but Callis hit him with his own baseball bat, allowing Sammy to get the tainted win.  Really fun match that gave the new heel stable a win.  ****1/4

Another match in a tough spot due to crowd fatigue was the FTR-Aussie Open tag title match, but as expected this delivered big as well.  Both teams hit tons of tandem offense, Cash Wheeler seemed to take a couple rough bumps on his ribcage as he was favoring them through a lot of the match.  Mark Davis somehow seemed to break his wrist during the match, but I missed the spot where it happened.  This built to some crazy nearfalls on Wheeler, with Aussie hitting both of their finishers only for Dax Harwood to make the save.  FTR hit the spike piledriver on Davis on the apron, and then hit a super Shatter Machine on Kyle Fletcher to retain the titles and set up FTR-Bucks IV.  Excellent tag match.  ****1/4

The main event slot went, for the second consecutive PPV, to a secondary singles title, this time the TNT Championship as Christian Cage defended against Darby Allin in a 2/3 Falls match.  The crowd was super hot for this as Darby was the hometown hero and Cage is one of the best heels in the business right now.  They started out grappling and built over a few minutes to each guy trying to hit their finisher, but Darby suddenly pulled Cage's turtleneck over his head and got a jackknife rollup for a quick pin.  Cage took control for much of the second fall but Darby hit a Coffin Drop on the outside and a tope dive.  Christian threw him into the announce table and set up the ring steps, then slammed Darby on the steps twice, the second time from the apron (it looked like there was a botched first attempt).  This looked absolutely brutal and I have no idea how Darby's arm wasn't broken.  Christian crawled back into the ring and took an easy countout fall.  As officials attended to Darby and set him up on a stretcher, Cage undid the canvas and padding to expose the boards on half the ring.  Cage hit a frog splash on Darby, on top of the stretcher and the third fall took place mostly on the exposed wood.  Darby hit a Coffin Drop for a nearfall, but Cage hit a sunset flip powerbomb for a nearfall of his own.  Darby dodged a spear, leaving Cage to take out the referee.  Cage went to use the belt but Nick Wayne appeared, took the belt away, and berated Cage before turning on Darby and knocking him out with the TNT Title.  Cage gladly took the pinfall to retain the title.  Cage and Wayne beat down Darby until Sting made the save, but then Luchasaurus ran down and the three heels beat down Sting as well.  They set him up for a con-chair-to but the lights went out, the video vignette played, and "Metalingus" blared over the PA to announce the arrival of Adam Copeland.  Copeland took the chair from Christian, whacked Wayne and tossed it into Luchasaurus's face, before spearing both of them.  Cage ran for the hills as Copeland shook hands with Sting and Darby to close the show.  Great main event followed by a historic angle.  ****1/2

Like I said, this show had something for everyone and was yet another artistic triumph from a company that's firing on all cylinders when it comes to PPV events.  The Copeland debut will hopefully get everyone buzzing and win back some of the fans who dropped off over the past 18 months.  AEW needed a big story to grab headlines and they got one.  Fourth consecutive 9.5 or better PPV from AEW, fifth overall this year.

Best Match: Danielson vs. ZSJ
Worst Match: The MJF handicap match by default, but it was still fun.
What I'd Change: MJF needs to defend the AEW Title on PPVs to get those extra buys and ticket sales.
Most Disappointing Match: The opener was disappointing because of Adam Cole's absence.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Starks vs. Yuta overdelivered I thought.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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