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Monday, January 09, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 1/2 - 1/8

AEW Dynamite 1/4

Bryan Danielson vs. Tony Nese

MD: A lot of grumbling and backlash for this one when it was announced, and my big takeaway was that I wish it had gotten just another minute or two so that Danielson and Nese could really go. Nese is probably the most giving, selfless guy on the roster, someone who knows his job, knows his role, knows his skillset, that can go but that still wants to get under the skin of the fans instead of having them cheer for his exchanges. He's the guy on the roster most likely to get cake in his face or to be completely embarrassed by Orange Cassidy but he has just enough credibility through his stuff looking good, through having Woods at his side, and through the sheer cardio and shape he's in. Basically, he's everything I'd want a Seth Rollins type guy to be. That means he's a lower-midcarder who makes everyone around him look better, but I'm almost always glad to see him. It's just that we live in an upside down world where Seth Rollins is Seth Rollins and not Tony Nese. It's not Tony Nese's fault. It's the world that's backwards.

They were exceptionally careful about this. Nese used everything at his disposal from an early ambush while Danielson was basking in the crowd's reaction to having Sterling and Nese out there to get tiny bits of advantage. He could never press it because the idea here was to show Danielson as an absolute star. And he was, but what I'm going to remember most is Nese's missed knee in the corner, just how well he set it up, just how well he pinballed off, the action and the reaction. Ultimately, this match was the right match for the moment, something celebratory, something tangentially connected to MJF, something quick and clean, and high impact, that showcased Danielson in front of his home crowd to set up the gauntlet ahead of him and the lure of the PPV match stip. Still, I had assumed he had picked Nese because he wanted to have one or two cardio exchanges where he really pushed himself, and I'm a little sad we didn't quite get them here. It would be a hell of a Dark match at Universal with no stakes or story purpose if they ever wanted to do it again though.

Samoa Joe (c) vs. Darby Allin

MD: I don't think I liked this quite as much as the first match between them but that doesn't mean there wasn't a ton to love. Darby's matches almost always start in some interesting way. Here it was Joe going after Nick Wayne just because he could (he's the King of TV after all) and Darby making him pay for it, then capitalizing on that advantage before the bell rang with some well-deserved revenge with the skateboard and a huge dive off a ladder. Joe's up there with Yokozuna and Abby as someone who can believably cut anyone off at any moment though. Here he caught Darby (who had maybe messed up his leg on the dive) off the apron and just crushed him on the stairs. This started a pretty awesome Joe control bit through the commercial break where he pinballed off the post again and jawed with the crowd. Between the size differential and the leg, Joe was able to just squash Darby, blocking his attempts to recover. You have to appreciate Joe's expressiveness here, just how deeply he was into every moment. He was absolutely living the character, smug, bemused, believing in himself entirely and looking down on everything and everyone around him. Great finishing stretch here, with Sting's pep talk driving Darby to Sting up, Joe putting forth amazingly portrayed struggle in not trying to get pulled out of the corner (causing the turnbuckle cover to go flying) and the two of them somehow making the code red believable before the finish. I almost would have had Darby hit the drop from all four corners just to put a sort of Warrior vs Macho Man exclamation point on things, but you can't argue with the hometown pop at the end.

AEW Rampage 1/6

Bryan Danielson/Jon Moxley vs. Top Flight

MD: It's since come out in interviews that the entire idea behind the BCC was to give young guys top guys to work. Regal has his own way to explain it but the others explained it more like Tsuruta-gun vs. the Super Generation Army. We did see a little bit of that at first, with Yuta and with a tag or six-man here or there but eventually, it all got subsumed into the JAS feud and it went away. This is it back and as clear as day.

That meant, as opposed to the Claudio tag from a week or two ago, that the BCC pressed and pressed and pressed and pressed. They pushed the Martins to their absolute limit and every glimpse of hope, every bit of offense, felt entirely earned and like a small victory in and of itself. This felt a lot more like one of those AJPW tags, where Top Flight might be able to force a tag, get a shot or two in, but then would get shut down immediately. A tag didn't, in and of itself, represent a shift in momentum. Quite the opposite as the damage had been done to the guy tagging out and it was still two-on-one until he recovered. In fact, some of the most hope Top Flight had was when Darius tagged while he was still more or less on the floor outside. They capitalized on his positioning as best as they could but it never lasted long. The BCC were just too much. That was the point as it made every iota of Top Flight's fight all the more valiant for the impossible odds. It's been a while since Mox and Danielson were able to have a straight up tag and they had some tandem stuff that was on the backburner for quite a while and that made the task even more impossible for Top Flight.

The Dante vs. Danielson bits were shiny and flashy and made me want to see a singles match. Darius balanced exhaustion and fire well when he did get something of a comeback, but he still has to find his own niche; it's never going to benefit him to be compared to Dante if they're doing very similar things. This was brutal in the best way and it kind of makes me hope for them to run it back again with Mox and Yuta where they can get some some revenge on Moxley.

Darby Allin vs. Mike Bennett

MD: Credit to Bennett here for being a good hand. He took most of the match but the only things I remembered after a first watch was Darby's finishing shots: the dropkick onto the chair on the outside that you know Bennett insisted on taking, as opposed the usual Darby wipe out bump; the bit where Maria laid on top of him and Darby was going to jump anyway; the code red off the top. Maybe that super slick kick out of the leg right into the grounded hammerlock too. And Bennett held up his end on keeping heat, even if the fans were going to chant Boston Sucks and You Still Suck instead of Bennett Sucks, alongside Let's Go Darby and just Darby's name. To his credit, they weren't chanting about Maria. I thought his cut offs were particularly good though I have to admit that his offense in general, while it all looked solid and gave Darby things to work with, was definitely all over the place. He did just enough focusing on a leg or an arm to establish that there was something there but not enough for it actually to be a meaningful story beat. It distracted instead of resonated. This is one where maybe Darby should have either taken just a bit more of it and flex his muscles as a champion once again or at least had Maria and Taven give him a bit more trouble to help protect him. I will say that Bennett came out of this looking better than he came in, even despite the most memorable moments being him getting his comeuppance.

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