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AEW WrestleDream Recap: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

Just last night, I debuted a new recap column and took it for a test drive on NXT No Mercy. Today, we’re tackling AEW’s PPV, WrestleDream.

(I haven’t yet gotten a chance to see the Zero Hour, so my recap is based only on the PPV portion of the card.)

Spoiler: This was a very good PPV.

Thumbs Up: Edge/Adam Copeland joins AEW

The rumors were there all week and only intensified once we learned from Darby Allin himself that he and Christian were closing the show on Sunday night. While I’m not sure that Adam Copeland in AEW is a no doubt home run, it’s at the very least ground rule double. The reason it’s not a home run is because his most recent run in WWE was closer to a failure than it was to an actual success. He had a stunted heel turn and was back as a babyface in no time. The group he created, Judgment Day, was better off without him.

In AEW, I would go with the less is more role with Copeland, but he’s already scheduled to wrestle on Title Tuesday, AEW’s head-to-head show against NXT.

I think the AEW live crowd will see him as an absolute superstar and he’ll get multiple opportunities. But if he goes into those self-indulgent soliloquy style promos, talking about grit and working hard, I think it will work against him here. It could be a great reason to turn heel eventually though.

Copeland is very wrestling famous and he’ll bring AEW some notoriety, but I think it’s a smaller window of opportunity than someone like CM Punk.

Thumbs Up: Christian’s heel work

I’ve been pounding the table by saying that the low down dirty heel heat is tired in AEW. And the dead dad stuff isn’t what I like about his current run. It’s the story telling inside of his matches more so than the cheap heat he can get from hitting on someone’s mom.

Christian was more famous during the Attitude Era in WWE than he is now. He was more athletic during the 2010s. But I don’t think he’s ever been as complete of a package as he is today. His match with Darby Allin that closed the PPV had all the emotion that you want in an important match and outgoing angle, leading up to the Adam Copeland debut.

Christian is on a short list of best surprises in wrestling in 2023. People should be studying him right now, but what makes him unique is that he stands out because there aren’t more of him.

Thumbs Down: MJF comedy

This was the only match of the show that I watched live and saw the immediate feedback on Twitter. Yes, I know using Twitter as a temperature gauge is generally a bad idea, but I have a pretty well curated timeline.

Half of the immediate feedback loved the match and half hated it. I tweeted out that it was such a polarizing match even among the smart folks I follow.

My buddy JD replied back to me the following:

He’s one-hundred percent right. Whatever your taste is for wrestling probably determined whether or not you liked it. Personally, I don’t like the world champion being in unimportant matches. But on the flip side, his scenario with Adam Cole is the most heavily pushed story on all the television shows. And the live crowd seemed to enjoy what was essentially a comedy match with a tag team that isn’t the least bit over with their audience.

While I don’t think MJF needed to sell for The Righteous like they were the second coming of the Road Warriors, how easily he outsmarted a supposedly competitive tag team pretty much killed them dead in my. They’ll forever be known to me as losers of the handicap match in which one guy’s head was shoved into the other guy’s ass.

MJF did a combination of Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Eddy Guerrero and was cheered like crazy. But it didn’t quiet anyone who argued that it was ridiculous that The Righteous was even in the match. And at the end of the match, those folks were right. But also at the end of the match, MJF was over like rover, so those fans were also right.

Thumbs Up: Swerve levels up

Swerve Strickland is someone whose star should’ve been on the ascent months and months ago. But he was stuck in mid-card hell. Every time he’d get a big win, he’d take a loss that would remind us of where he was in the pecking order. Throughout his program with Hangman Page, Swerve has outshined him. If my dad (always my ultimate example of the most casual wrestling fan) walked in on last week’s AEW Dynamite’s segment between Hangman and Swerve, he would’ve thought that Swerve was the former champion, former main-eventer, and bigger star. By the way, my dad would’ve also said that no one could hold Pepper Gomez’s jock strap.

To say that Hangman has been disappointing of late would be an understatement. He’s always going to be excellent in the ring. But his entire vibe has been off and his TV time has been inconsistent. He mentioned the proverbial black cloud over his head and I wish he would’ve just told the fans why. So if Swerve would’ve lost to the guy who can’t find his smile, then that would’ve been another bad pecking order moment. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Swerve is AEW’s next player. Tony Khan should put circles around his name and also Ricky Starks’ name. And maybe he already has.

Thumbs Down: The number of matches on this show

Tony Khan has always said that when you price a show at $50, you have to give more. In the day and age where we have so much wrestling to watch, it’s a tricky balance. WWE put on a NXT show that was a lot of fun and it was less than three hours. It was refreshing and I didn’t feel exhausted after watching it. It really was the perfect length. But I also didn’t have to pay $50 for it.

I very much sympathize with Tony’s mentality because the major difference between his company and the big bad wolf is that he allows his wrestlers to put on the very best wrestling matches they can have. Just look at how touched Bryan Danielson was after his match with Zack Sabre Jr.

AEW wrestlers don’t have to worry about wrestling a specific style or looking directly into a particular camera at a specific time. Stone Cold Steve Austin once said, “The camera will find me.”

But there’s going to be a limit to how many long PPVs with 60-90 minute pre-shows that fans will be able to digest, especially if they go to a monthly schedule. And especially with their current TV schedule. If you watched AEW Rampage and AEW Collision along with the Zero Hour and the full PPV, you spent about eight-and-one-half hours in two days watching AEW product.

There were three matches that I thought could’ve been eliminated on the main card, or pushed to the Zero Hour (Zero Hours?) that would’ve made the show less of a long distance journey on a Sunday night right before everyone has to go back to work on Monday.

The women’s title match was unique in that the Julia Hart train is coming. You can feel it. But the build-up to this match felt so last minute. Kris Statlander is great when she can be on offense, but not as much when she has to sell for someone, especially someone as small and with slower pacing in her wrestling style as Julia. This match would’ve been better suited as a television match, though, I wouldn’t have moved this one necessarily off the PPV because it was the only women’s match on the main card.

The four way tag team match won by the Young Bucks would’ve also fit right smack dab between other multi-person/team matches on AEW Dynamite. It was fun and chaotic, just like the four way tag team match was on Saturday night’s NXT show, but we see matches like this all the time on television and it didn’t stand out much on this show.

Ricky Starks, who I mentioned prior as someone who should be out of mid-card hell, beat Wheeler Yuta in solid match, made more interesting by Jon Moxley’s commentary. Give me a Jon Moxley and Jim Ross alternative commentary feed on every AEW show. But again, this could’ve been a main event match on Collision and might’ve actually been better because it would’ve had more time.

None of those three matches needed to be on this show and it just extended the show longer than was necessary. But I don’t imagine AEW’s most diehard fans cared all that much. Just something to keep an eye on.

Speaking of Danielson…

Thumbs Up: Bryan Danielson Vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

This match was a work of art. If you could paint a wrestling match, this would be Banksy’s next piece. On a show where the world champion made his opponents and the referee look foolish, Danielson and ZSJ showed what title matches looked like in a different era. This isn’t a get off my lawn comment. But what AEW can do better than anyone is show a variety of wrestling styles, especially on a PPV that was designed to remember Antonio Inoki.

MJF got to be a WWF wrestler from 1989 for a few minutes and Danielson and ZSJ got to show why they are two of the very best wrestlers ever. Wrestling doesn’t need to go backward, but it can take things from the past and make them fresh again and that’s exactly what this match was. For my personal taste, I’d love to see more of it. But maybe it’s better used on big shows like this so that it can continue to feel so special. And it’s also maybe why MJF can have the match that he had rather than the expected world title classic. We had that match here, but there was just no belt at stake.

Thumbs Up: Kota Ibushi’s spirit

In the trios grudge match, there were a few themes that they set up. Firstly, Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay is more than likely not finished. Secondly, Sammy Guevera is one step ahead of Chris Jericho thanks to Don Callis. And thirdly, Kota Ibushi might just be back.

Ibushi is still dealing with injuries and hasn’t looked like himself in his two AEW appearances this year. In fact, he’s been so disappointing that people wondered if this was a fake Ibushi. Okay, maybe not in reality, but the point remains.

On WrestleDream, there was a specific part of the match that was a showcase spot for Ibushi. Will Ospreay, Sammy Guevara, and Konosuke Takeshita downed Omega and Jericho. Ibushi was the lone man standing, but he was standing in a way that said, “Let’s effing go.” He threw a left-hand that Jermell Charlo wish he threw against Canelo on Saturday night that dropped Ospreay. He dumped Sammy. And then he traded clotheslines with Takeshita, getting the best of the last one. It was his moment to remind fans that he’s still Kota effing Ibushi.

Thumbs Down: Aussie Open’s reception

Aussie Open lost at All Out to Adam Cole and MJF. They then lost to Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara, which still doesn’t make sense to this day. So it wasn’t a surprise to me that the crowd sat on their hands for just about the entire match. And it was a rock solid tag team title match. But when your booking proves to fans that the number one contenders aren’t to be taken seriously, you may get that reaction.

On another show, that match may have been good enough to get the fans into it. But after following Danielson vs. ZSJ and the trios match, they had none chance.

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