I can still remember vividly what it was like, going into October of 2019 as a wrestling fan. It’ll stick with me for the rest of my life, I’m sure. It was an exciting time, on the precipice of history. The wrestling landscape was morphing before our very eyes. Tonight, we have the one year anniversary show of AEW Dynamite. Which, to me, seems like the perfect excuse to talk about what Dynamite means to me. And believe me, it means a lot.
Me and my girlfriend were there in the building on the night of Dynamite’s debut in DC. It was important to us to be there, it’s one of those things I’ll happily be touting for decades to come. Could you imagine being in attendance for the debut episode of Raw or Nitro? I’ll always be able to say that about Dynamite. It was electric, chaotic, raw and fresh, everything that’s defined them in the past year.
For someone who was starving for an alternative for so long, like so many wrestling fans were, it was a thrill.
Not only to see how exciting the show was, but how successful it was. Ratings were far better than anyone had any right to expect. They started on a level many thought they’d never reach. Similarly attendance broke projections time and again. PPV buys were extremely healthy and again, bigger than anticipated and more than anyone other than WWE had done in decades.
They got onto TNT in what seemed like a dream deal, and then after only a few months they earned a new deal that truly cemented their future. Shortly thereafter AEW Revolution produced a match that is in the conversation for one of the greatest tag matches of all time. The first-ever Blood and Guts match was announced – AEW’s equivalent of the famed WarGames match – and it was slated to break their gate record.
Then the pandemic hit and everything changed — yet, nothing changed.
For a while it looked like that crazy momentum was about to be brought to a screeching halt. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the world changed. Every venue they had lined up had to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Their New York debut was not to be, nor was their first venture into international waters. Even today, we’re still waiting on things to truly get back to normal. Who really knows when the tour will be able start up again?
But even so, AEW’s perseverance has been impressive. Another vivid memory was born on the first night of this, when Cody, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and briefly, Hangman Page, addressed the world with a sincere yet impassioned speech. There was no pretending the pandemic wasn’t happening, from the beginning they weren’t lying about what was going on. Still, they managed to stir some hope during a dark time.
A bit of a rough patch here was inevitable. Ratings spiked, then dropped. The incredible atmosphere of the first few months was gone, and making the show feel alive again took a lot of refining. Still, they went on. And they did more than just put on months of filler. In the earliest stages, Kenny Omega seemed to take it upon himself to have the best empty arena matches out there with Sammy Guevara and Trent. A street fight took place which saw a meme born with Sammy Guevara being chased down with a golf cart, a lovely preview of the one-of-a-kind Stadium Stampede match we’d get later. The Best Friends went up against Santana and Ortiz in a Parking Lot Brawl that I’d put against any match of it’s kind from any era.
A tournament brought us the TNT Championship, a title I felt was very necessary. With it came Cody’s open challenge, a wonderful breath of fresh air that saw him take on hot indy names from across the nation. Meanwhile we saw the rise of Hikaru Shida, who has proven how much she excels in the big matches as AEW Women’s World Champion. Kenny and Hangman continued ruling what was far and away the best tag division in the world. Jon Moxley has carried the top title with an incredible poise considering the circumstances, and has put on a great body of work. AEW needed a damn good top champion during this period if it wanted to keep from plummeting and for sure, they have that.
They made a lot of headway in making new homegrown stars. Hangman Page feels so much bigger now than he did twelve months ago. I know for a fact that Darby Allin will break through the glass ceiling one day, just a matter of when. Sammy Guevara and Scorpio Sky made great strides. MJF is now a full-fledged main eventer. Orange Cassidy in particular really shocked the world and established how legit a name he can be for AEW with his mesmerizing feud with Chris Jericho.
And they’ve added yet more big names to their roster this year as well.
Famously, Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee came onto the scene right as the crowds disappeared. I’ll always be sad that Rochester was robbed of this, as these would’ve been iconic moments for sure. Nonetheless, they’re two awesome additions to AEW. Brodie in particular has been a standout, I’ve been so overjoyed to see him flourish after his long and sordid road out of WWE. He brought much-needed legitimacy to the Dark Order, ensuring that people gave the rest of the faction a chance for once, and now, what was once AEW’s least over act has a major (and fitting) cult following.
Brian Cage debuted at Double Or Nothing, adding to AEW’s impressive legion of powerhouses. Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston made their way onto the roster and became immediate mainstays. The women’s division deepened quite a bit with names like Tay Conti, Serena Deeb, Ivelisse and Diamante as well as a short stay from NWA Women’s Champion Thunder Rosa who I’d love to see again soon. While never officially signed as far as I know, seeing Matt Cardona on AEW soil atleast briefly was a delight for me as a long-time fan of his. Another much-wanted addition came in the form of Miro, the Best Man! While we’re still waiting to see what he’ll do, it was another fantastic surprise.
But by far the biggest addition was FTR. Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler have been in the running for best tag team on the planet for a long time. Watching their old school heel ways has been a treat, it’s just magic seeing them do their thing and mixing it up with this awesome tag division. It was no surprise at all when they quickly claimed those tag titles and whenever they finally have their dream face-off with the Young Bucks, the expectation is that it will be an all-time great match. And until it happens I’ll tell anyone in earshot that it should headline a Pay-Per-View.
Against all odds, 2020 will likely go down as another banner year for AEW.
That sounds crazy now. It’ll likely sound all the crazier with hindsight.
All of that is what AEW Dynamite is to the world at large. But for me, personally, it’s bigger than that. You see I got into wrestling not long after the big decline truly started. I began watching wrestling in 2006 and got hooked by the medium quickly, even though none of the specific products at the time really spoke to me. Most older fans will have some sort of era that’s their glory period, where wrestling was at it’s best and it was enthralling week in and week out. Grand memories of being there when Raw and Nitro were on fire. Being there when Hulkamania was taking over the world, watching as Ric Flair became The Man.
I never had anything like that in my early years as a fan. Not really. I loved pro wrestling but I didn’t truly love any one show or promotion that much. And that remained the case for many years. I was always left wanting by Raw, SmackDown or Impact. It took me a long time to give ROH and New Japan a real shot. While Ring of Honor was always a fine place to see good wrestling, nothing about it ever felt that gripping. It was easy to watch but also easy to stop watching. New Japan’s product is absolutely fantastic and I’m always down to see it but it’s not something I find myself obsessing over the way one would about their favorite show.
I thought that I had my show in NXT for the longest time though. I was a fairly early adopter of NXT, I began watching in the Summer of 2013. Before long I’d seen every episode of this incarnation. There was so much about the brand that I appreciated and I was always amped for TakeOvers, always will be. But even then, I was mostly watching the weekly show because I wanted to see the build for TakeOver. Week-to-week, NXT was good and I liked it a lot.
But until AEW Dynamite came around, I never knew what it was truly like to have a wrestling show to call my own.
I have to remind myself of when it’s Monday or Friday, as I do weekly recaps of Raw and SmackDown. But never a day goes by where I’m not thinking about how close we are to Wednesday. And on those mornings, I always catch myself smiling. I’m excited when the day starts, and I’m excited when the night falls. It genuinely makes me happy whenever Dynamite’s intro comes on. Even sitting here at the computer and typing along with it as it happens does nothing to dull that. Recapping other shows often feels like a job and there are days where I dread it, but Dynamite will never feel that way.
I think a lot about running and booking my own shows. Always been big into simulators like TEW. With AEW, I have the first wrestling product I’ve ever seen where I feel it’s pretty much exactly how I’d put a show together if I had the chance.
I love that AEW broke the monopoly and hopefully killed it for good. I love that they brought back unscripted promos and give freedom to their workers. I love that they devote so much time and energy into making tag team wrestling as strong as it can be. I love that it’s a safe haven for those spurned by other companies to show what they’re really made of. I love that it’s introduced me to so many stars I may have never seen otherwise. I love that wins and losses matter here.
I love their focus on youth and their litany of 20-somethings. I love that they also have no arbitrary age rule that forbids people in their 50s or older being on television regardless of how much they bring to the table. I love the diversity in styles, and their willingness to let people work how they work and be whatever they want to be. I love the hardcore, the comedy, the technical, the high flying, the crowd-clearing brawling, the psychology-driven classics; because I love pro wrestling and I love that pro wrestling can be anything for anybody.
I love the inclusivity and the freedom to be who you are.
I love AEW Dynamite.
You never know exactly what you’re going to get on an episode of Dynamite. But chances are high you’ll see a really good match or two and hear from the best promos on television. It’s also likely that you’ll see a taste of creativity that you’ve never seen before. And there’s always room for surprises, for shock and awe. It’s unpredictable, it’s alive. Dramatic twists and turns in long-form storytelling. Yet no matter how surprising, it still manages to all make sense in the end, something basically every wrestling promotion struggles with at times.
There’s a very good chance I’ll laugh at some point during the show. It’s also far from impossible that I’ll cry as well. Most of all, I certainly always know that I’ll have a good time.
That’s what AEW Dynamite is for me. It’s what I was lacking, as a wrestling fan, for many, many years. It’s a show made for me.