For the second time in its brief history, AEW brought Dynamite to Boston.
And the show opened in style, with “Cult of Personality” turning up the decibel level at Boston University’s Agganis Arena as CM Punk made his way to the ring. This was Punk’s first match in Boston since teaming with Bryan Danielson (then Daniel Bryan in WWE) at Survivor Series in 2013. He played his greatest hits, including the elbow drop from the top and the GTS, as he put Bobby Fish to sleep in the opening match.
Only hours after Ring of Honor announced that it is releasing its entire roster, casting a shadow on the business and soon leaving a plethora of talented people out of work, the AEW roster (featuring a significant number of ROH alums) banded together to add some excitement to the industry.
A highlight of the night was Hikaru Shida winning a back-and-forth match against Serena Deeb, advancing to the quarters in the tournament to crown the first TBS champion. The postmatch story made sense, as Deeb unleashed an assault on Shida’s knee. A former women’s champion, Shida plays the role of babyface incredibly well, and the story-line injury will add another element to her upcoming match against Nyla Rose.
“After losing the title, I was very frustrated,” Shida says, speaking directly after her match. “I thought I could have done more and been better as champion. So this tournament for the TBS title means a lot to me. It is a great opportunity to get back to the top.”
Shida has adapted to live television wrestling in an extremely smooth manner while also enhancing her English. She conducted the postmatch interview with a translator, giving her the option of speaking in Japanese but still answered many of the questions in English.
“I have been learning so much from Kenny Omega and Dustin Rhodes, and they teach about what it takes to be on a TV show,” she says. “Being on TV is something an actress does, so I took acting classes. And my English has got so much better from watching Sherlock Holmes on BBC.”
Shida’s match with Deeb opens the door for a prolonged story between the two, which has the potential to be outstanding. But for now, her focus is the next tournament match against Nyla Rose.
“Nyla is such a tough girl,” Shida says. “She likes the hard-hitting style of wrestling, and that’s my favorite. I’m going to kick her a--.”
In addition to the strong performance from Shida, Dynamite delivered on all levels. Here are my takeaways from the night, including spoiler-free notes on the tapings of Elevation and Rampage:
- Before Dynamite went live, Tony Khan fired up the crowd by sharing that CM Punk would be out first. Khan also made sure the crowd would stay for Rampage by announcing that Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston would take place on the card. While a healthy portion of the crowd left after Danielson-Kingston, it was a strategy that worked.
- As great as it was to see Punk live, last night was one impressive performance from Bobby Fish. At the age of 45, the perpetually underrated Fish put forth a first-rate showing in his match against Punk. There was zero doubt that Punk would win here, but to Fish’s credit, he planted a seed of doubt in what should have been a certainty. The only issue was with the finish, where a miscommunication made Fish attempt to kick out on the winning pinfall.
- Sting was, remarkably, someone who simply never fit in WWE. The wrestling icon was pushed aside and saved for an occasional special moment, like a birthday celebration for Ric Flair, but was never consistently treated with the cachet of a legend. That is entirely different in AEW, where Sting is an integral (yet never overused) piece of the puzzle. And instead of what we see with Goldberg in WWE, running through opponents, Sting has been a team player in AEW, selling for members of Team Taz and now MJF.
- On the subject of MJF, he will meet Darby Allin at Full Gear. Both are coming off losses at the last pay-per-view, so it will be particularly interesting to see how this match plays out.
- Dynamite was especially well paced through the first two matches, which were Punk-Fish and then MJF squashing Bryce Donovan. That changed in the third match, where Sammy Guevara and Ethan Page worked an ambitious style. They slowed the pace and then built up to a crescendo, with Guevara taking some outrageous risks in the match. The crowd was also treated to a return of Chris Jericho and The Inner Circle—who were officially formed two years ago in Boston—for a beatdown of Page and Scorpio Sky, setting up a 10-man tag street fight at Full Gear (with the final three members of Sky and Page’s team being announced next week).
- Cody Rhodes was greeted to a chorus of boos, but then cut a sensational promo before continuing his program with Andrade and Malakai Black. There is no one in wrestling quite like Rhodes. He has a unique equity with his family’s long history, and he has also sacrificed and committed his life to the industry. Stipulations aside, Rhodes will eventually take his place as AEW champion, and it will inevitably be both an emotional and controversial moment. Also, Andrade is clearly more comfortable on the mike than he ever was in WWE, and this was a solid segment that also included PAC.
- It remains mystifying that WWE would let Adam Cole leave the company, especially after four years of presenting him as one of the top performers in the world (which also clearly shows the way Vince McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque each value and evaluate talent). Cole can talk and work at an elite level, which was on display in The Elite–Dark Order main event, and he is generating a phenomenal reaction from crowds each week.
Dressed as the Ghostbusters, The Elite—all ROH alums—put forth an entertaining showing in the main event but lost to The Dark Order after Hangman Page turned the tide by revealing himself as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The reaction was strong, the story is compelling, and the timing is right for Page to dethrone Omega for the world title at Full Gear in November.
- The most popular performer on Elevation, which was filmed before Dynamite, was Orange Cassidy. Another highlight was the way in which FTR sold for Waves and Curls, who are the extremely talented Jaylen Brandyn and Traevon Jordan.
- This week, Tony Khan shared with Sports Illustrated that Wednesday’s Dynamite had more at stake than usual because the show was returning to Wednesdays after getting bumped to Saturdays by TNT’s coverage of the NHL. And that was the case, as Punk, Jericho, Rhodes, Jon Moxley, The Young Bucks, Cole and Omega all starred on the show, while still saving Danielson and Dr. Britt Baker for Rampage. And for those wondering—the Bryan-Kingston match that will air on Rampage is fantastic.
- AEW again showed its ability to create a masterly two-hour show, reminding the wrestling world why Dynamite is so must-see.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.