Monday, April 22, 2024

AEW Dynasty 2024 Review: Swerve is the Champ, Ospreay is Superman, Danielson is the GOAT

Jesus, what a show.  AEW hit yet another PPV homerun with their lastest offering Dynasty, which featured a big title change in the main event that should take the company in a fresh new direction, an absolutely chaotic tag team ladder match with a perfectly booked surprise return, and the match most folks are buzzing about, a dream match that turned out to be one of the best bouts you'll ever see on American soil.

The big long-term news is of course the long-awaited coronation of Swerve Strickland as AEW's first African-American World Champion.  Swerve and Samoa Joe were put in an unenviable position following the two best matches of the night, but worked hard to deliver a worthy main event that should serve as one of the company's most historic moments.  Joe played the role of 90s Vader, dominating Swerve for much of the match.  Early in the match Swerve went to the turnbuckles and faked a dive, having Joe's casual dodge move scouted, and the two wound up outside, where Joe slammed Swerve into the announce table, removed some ringside padding and powerslammed him onto the exposed floor.  Joe tried to clothesline Swerve against the ring post but Swerve moved and Joe wrapped his arm around it.  Swerve then targeted the arm, at one point doing his signature arm snap, and later wrenching Joe's weakened arm from around his neck to escape the Coquina Clutch.  Joe hit a Muscle Buster for a close two-count, and Swerve hit the House Call and Swerve Stomp for a nearfall of his own.  They ended up on the top rope where Swerve seemed to go for a Swerve Stomp from there, but missed and had to adjust midair, quickly powerbombed Joe to the mat, and hit another Swerve Stomp to win the title.  It's a pity the intended high spot didn't work, as the finish felt a bit flatter than it should have.  But this was a very good, if slightly underwhelming, main event and the crowning of a major new main event star.  ***3/4

Ok, rewinding back to the opening match, which pitted Continental Champion Kazuchika Okada against Pac.  This was a fantastic opener, reminiscent of a great G1 main event.  Both guys hit all their signature stuff and packed a ton into the 22 minutes they had.  Okada played the heel but the crowd loved everything he did, until he teased the Rainmaker pose and instead flipped off the audience.  Pac used the distraction to roll him up for a close nearfall, then hit an amazing deadlift German suplex.  He missed the Black Arrow attempt and Okada hit a tombstone, but Pac came back with a Brutalizer, hoping to ground the standing Okada.  Okada escaped.  Pac went for another Black Arrow but Okada got his knees up right in Pac's face, before hitting the Rainmaker to retain.  Crazy high bar to set for this show.  A dejected Pac got a standing ovation as he left the ring.  Give me more of these two together.  ****1/2

Another strong match followed as Adam Copeland, Eddie Kingston and Mark Briscoe faced House of Black.  This was full of action and everyone got time to shine.  The elusive story was Adam Copeland trying to mix it up with Malakai Black, only to be thwarted at every turn.  Black let his henchman do most of the heavy lifting until he found his spot at the very end.  The action spilled outside at multiple points, one of the most noteworthy of which involved Brody King hitting Mark Briscoe with a Death Valley Driver into the barricade, bending it.  After Malakai and Matthews hit Briscoe and Kingston with powerbombs, Copeland hit a massive superplex on Brody.  All three babyfaces hit Brody with finishers but Matthews broke it up at the last second.  The babyfaces hit spears on the heels, but Malakai spit the black mist in Copeland's face and finished him with his spin kick.  This was very smart booking as it sets up challengers for all three babyface champions.  My only complaint is the referee clearly could see the black stuff all over Copeland's face as Black covered him.  I'd have had Black drape an arm over Copeland's face to hide it.  Otherwise, damn good match.  ****

Another big title change took place in the third match as Willow Nightingale finally captured AEW gold, beating Julia Hart (apparently set to take time off with an injury) in a short but energetic bout.  Hart locked in Hartless but Willow powered out, Hart went for the moonsault but Willow got her feet up, hit a lariat, and finished her with the Doctor Bomb to become the new TBS Champion.  Mercedes MonĂ© sauntered down to the ring to steal Willow's thunder, and the match is official for Double or Nothing.  I have to think Mercedes turns heel before then, but there is the matter of who attacked her in the dark a couple weeks ago.  I guess it was Julia?  Anyway, this was fine and I was happy to see Willow finally win a championship.  Too short to stand out on this show though.  **1/2

Next up was two guys who always overdeliver, Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly.  These two put on a 17-minute clinic of grappling, strikes, and in Roddy's case, backbreakers.  Kyle as usual went for submissions while Roddy targeted the back and neck.  They traded loads of nearfalls and near-submissions until Wardlow appeared and tried to enter the ring, but was stopped by the ref.  Oddly he didn't figure into the finish at all; Roddy hit his End of Heartache backbreaker to retain the title.  The bigger news though was the surprise appearance of Adam Cole, who wheeled his way onto the ramp flanked by Matt Taven and Mike Bennett.  Suddenly Cole stood up, revealing his ankle injury has healed.  Cole strutted to the ring and stared daggers at Wardlow behind his back, before congratulating Roddy on his win.  The payoff to the Devil storyline can finally happen.  Helluva match.  ****

The FTW Championship was next as Chris Jericho challenged Hook in a falls-count-anywhere match.  The crowd absolutely hated Jericho here, chanting for him to retire.  They brought out the usual plunder, like tables, a trash can, kendo sticks, etc.  Hook hit a T-Bone suplex off the apron through a table and later put the trash can over Jericho's head, whacked him with a kendo stick, and hit another T-Bone with the can still on.  Hook locked in Redrum but Jericho countered by throwing both of them through a table.  Hook eventually got Redrum again but Jericho hit a low blow followed by Judas Effect for a two-count.  Jericho kept saying "I'm sorry" and hit another Judas Effect, but Hook kicked out again.  Jericho pleaded with Hook to stay down as he fetched his baseball bat from under the ring.  Hook stood up and flipped Jericho the bird, and Jericho whacked him with the bat for the three-count.  Taz came out from behind the announce table to check on his son, as Jericho reluctantly went to the back.  Solid match with good storytelling.  ***1/2

Another solid match pitted AEW Women's Champion Toni Storm against Thunder Rosa, in a very good 15-minute contest.  Rosa entered with a Lucha-style mask, while Toni had white pancake makeup.  Rosa removed her mask to reveal she went sans facepaint for this one.  The two women swung wildly at each other to start, but Rosa used her agility for an early advantage.  They went back and forth, Storm trying to keep the match slow and grounded, Rosa going for explosive offense.  Mariah May tried to interfere in the match but Deonna Purrazzo came out of nowhere and yanked her off the apron, and the two of them brawled to the back.  Storm hit the hip attack and a Storm Zero for a very close nearfall.  Storm locked in a cloverleaf but Rosa escaped and got a cobra clutch.  Storm reached the apron, and as the referee straighted it back out, Storm kicked Rosa low and hit another Storm Zero to retain.  ***3/4

And then the world changed.  A St. Louis crowd that up to this point had been engaged but New Japan-like (meaning intently watching the matches and reacting for the big spots) went full-on nuclear when Bryan Danielson and Will Ospreay entered the ring.  "Holy Shit" chants, "AEW" chants and "both these guys" chants rang out before the pair even got going, and only a few minutes in the crowd was already urging them to "fight forever."  I won't even try to recap all 32-plus minutes of this, but one of the most amazing moments involved the two guys countering each other and Will throwing vicious kicks only for Danielson to evade them all.  They paused and the crowd absolutely exploded.  From there it was a clash of styles, Danielson with his scientific grappling, Will with his aerial attack.  They did the spot where Ospreay was seated on the top turnbuckle and the opponent tries a hurricanrana but Ospreay does a complete flip and lands on his feet.  Ospreay at one point hit an Oscutter on the apron and then a Hidden Blade off the apron to the floor, which nearly got him a countout win.  Danielson got numerous near-submissions, with the Lebell Lock and later a triangle choke, which Ospreay countered with the Styles Clash.  They traded headbutts on all fours, went back and forth with strikes, and then came the most stunning exchange of the match.  Danielson hit a Regalplex, Ospreay absorbed it and hit a Hidden Blade, then went for an Oscutter but Danielson nailed him square on the jaw with a Busaiku knee for the double down.  They went to opposite corners and had a staredown, then charged at each other but Ospreay hit a forearm first and then destroyed Danielson with a Tiger Driver, and Danielson sold it like it broke his neck.  The ref and doctor checked on him but Ospreay didn't see this, and he leveled Bryan with a Hidden Blade for the win.  Post-match the doctors checked on Danielson, who was convulsing, as Ospreay showed concern.  This entire segment was masterful and will be really hard to top in 2024.  Will Ospreay is superhuman, Bryan Danielson is the greatest of all time.  ******        

And finally there was the Tag Team Title ladder match, where The Young Bucks and FTR were tasked with following one of the best bouts in AEW history.  And somehow they rose to the challenge and then some, with a wildly violent war that left Dax Harwood gushing like a faucet and Cash Wheeler pulling out some of the damndest high spots he's ever done.  They did numerous spots on and off a ladder bridge at ringside, including the Bucks ramming Dax into it and trying the same with Cash, who slid under, then vaulted on top and took out both Bucks with a moonsault.  When Wheeler tried a piledriver on the ladder, he got crotched and the Bucks hit the EVP Trigger on him.  Later Wheeler did the Big E spear through the ropes, but sent Matt careening through a table.  Immediately after that Nick hit Dax with a hurricanrana off the apron through another table.  Back in the ring FTR hit Shatter Machine and the Power Plex on Matt, off ladders.  Nick crushed Wheeler with a 450 through a table but Dax piledrove Matt through the ladder bridge.  As FTR climbed a ladder to go after the belts, a mystery man in a Sting match ran in, and the announcers referred to him as a fan.  Security pounced on him and pulled off the mask to reveal a grinning Jack Perry, which got a massive pop.  As Perry was taken away, Nick climbed up and got the belts to make The Young Bucks the first three-time AEW Tag Team Champions.  This was incredible and the Perry reveal was handled brilliantly.  *****

I would say overall this show was juuuust slightly below Revolution, but AEW Dynasty is yet another landmark PPV from a company that's untouchable on PPV most of the time.  With five matches hitting **** or better, two of them ***** or better, AEW is two for two delivering PPV of the Year contenders in 2024.

Best Match: Danielson vs. Ospreay
Worst Match: Julia vs. Willow, by default
What I'd Change: The Cope trios match and the Strong-O'Reilly match could've maybe been trimmed by a couple minutes but that's a nitpick.  Also I wish Swerve had been able to hit that top rope stomp he was going for.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the main event but it was still very good.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The show mostly played out as I figured it would, so no real surprises per se.  I say that in a good way.
Overall Rating: I think I gotta go fully monty again.  10/10

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