Remember Sunday Night Heat? You know, the pre-taped (except for during pay-per-view weekends) supplementary show that would finish off your week of wrasslin’ action before another blockbuster episode of RAW kicked off your Monday? The same hour of WWE that was actually filmed at the RAW before the Sunday it was actually broadcast and featured one or two matchups and the continuation or progression of current storylines, as well as serving as a ‘pump-it-up’ show to promote the following night’s RAW? It was a Channel 4 staple over this side of the pond? Yeah… you remember Heat alright.
If you’re old school then you’ll remember that Heat started off with some serious star-power and that it had a really valid place in the weekly schedule before becoming relegated to WWE.com as a sort of magazine show and eventually being cancelled, after an impressive 10 year, 513 episode run. Well, AEW Dark could very well be All Elite Wrestling’s very own Heat…but better. Like way better.
The premise is simple: AEW Dark are essentially pro-shot dark matches from the previous week’s Dynamite tapings, complete with commentary. The show is available on Tuesday nights free of charge on All Elite Wrestling’s YouTube channel and has a runtime of an hour a time. Tony Schiavone is your host from the AEW Control Center, hyping the matches and also presenting highlights of current goings-on in the world of AEW and the latest happenings on Dynamite. It feels slick, looks professional and strengthens the weekly output of the Elite’s burgeoning behemoth of a promotion in an easily accessible format. The big selling point for me is that now, every match at a TV taping matters – because even if you don’t make it on Dynamite, you’ll have a chance to shine on Dark and after the past few episodes the quality of the matches have been as good as anything on TNT each week.
Brandon Cutler vs ‘Bad Boy’ Joey Janela
Coming off of a hellacious unsanctioned street fight on the previous week’s Dynamite, it’s important to note that Janela showed he’s more than hardcore rules, backyard brawler in the first match of this week’s AEW Dark. It’s still a refreshing point at this stage of AEW’s TV journey that the win/loss records are still a talking point and something that legitimately interests me. Both of these competitors were yet to notch a win under their belt since their arrival in AEW, so a win for either man means something. Notable from the outset was that the soundtrack to the match wasn’t just down to the very capable Excalibur to handle but for this week at least, the ‘Human Suplex Machine’ and bonafide wrestling legend Taz made his return to the announce position in a wonderful trip down memory lane. Without a doubt, Taz is one of the truly underrated commentators in the world of pro-wrestling and it was a nostalgic blast to hear him own that headset again, whilst giving a real authenticity to the broadcast and the action in the ring, something the Brooklyn native was always able to achieve in WWE as well. Face it, when Taz was on commentary, you at least got an inkling of how those moves he was calling felt and he’d sell the hell out of the wrestlers he was covering. You really can’t discount how important that stuff is and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Taz in All Elite Wrestling.
Joey Janela is a lively and unpredictable competitor: sure. It’s what keeps your eyes on him at all times. He’s a toned-down (maybe) version of Jon Moxley in some respects. We all know that controlled creative crazy can work wonders if done right after all. It would remiss however to mention just how technically sound he is as well and he put on a nice display against Cutler to prove it. That’s not to say that Cutler didn’t have a decent outing but Janela was definitely the star of this show. Notable moments included a fantastically fiendish lariat clothesline that would have put a smile on the face of JBL or Stan Hansen and the insane finish: a meticulously stunning top rope brainbuster superplex that spelled the inevitable end for Brandon Cutler. What’s better than Janela’s performance? The fact that AEW listened and reacted to the positivity emanating from their fanbase as a result of Janela’s last Dark encounter against Kenny Omega and decided to book the two to face each other once again on the 23rd October edition of Dynamite. That’s supply and demand folks.
Undesirable to Undeniable: QT Marshall
After last week’s revealing look at female referee Aubrey Edwards, this week’s sit-down with Cody highlighted backstage producer, an all-round nice guy and soon to be Dynamite debutante: QT Marshall. I’ll be honest, I’d seen him on YouTube videos and eating that apple on TV and had no idea who he was. But after a short segment, I not only now know who he is and what he’s all about but also somehow care about the guy. It’s something fresh and original that AEW are doing here with these weekly segments – they’re peeling back the curtain, making you feel involved as a fan and giving gratitude and props to those people who for a great majority of their time in the business play their parts in the background and hardly get the recognition many of them deserve. You can’t help but enjoy how much Cody seems to think of all the individuals associated with the promotion and how much it matters to him that these guys and girls get their deserved nod.
When you talk about nods though…how about this one? On the upcoming Dynamite – Marshall puts on his ring gear to team with Peter Avalon to face the team you never realised you needed to see team-up: Dustin Rhodes and Sonny Kiss. Just like that: he’s someone.
Nyla Rose vs ‘The Librarian’ Leva Bates w/ ‘The Librarian’ Peter Avalon
I’m going to keep this short and sweet: Nyla Rose is a legitimate hoss! She is as badass a woman’s wrestler as ever there was and if she doesn’t raise the AEW Women’s Championship before it’s all said and done, then it’ll be a travesty. It was a pretty straightforward affair for Rose, who dominated the artist formerly known as Blue Pants and wrapped things up with a statement-making Beast Bomb after being thwarted in her attempt to see off Bates after a thunderous Death Valley Driver, thanks to Bates’ fellow “Shhhhhhh”-er shortly before.
You can’t help but feel that AEW tried too hard to book Leva Bates to seem almost credible competition for the Native Beast, when in reality the brutal Nyla should have decimated her competition and picked up her first win on AEW TV, following her loss to Riho in the inaugural AEW Women’s Championship match on the debut episode of Dynamite. Instead, what transpired was a somewhat forced effort that went on a little too long for my liking. Much like the pre-match promo from Peter Avalon – with the exception of his Rocky Balboa snipe… which did make me smirk at the least.
Let’s talk about the visceral promo from the bloodied and disgruntled Geordie: PAC. ‘The Bastard’ gave a tour-de-force in heel promos on this week’s AEW Dark – with a menacing, meaningful warning to Jon Moxley ahead of their cataclysmic showdown on Dynamite. Top, top stuff from a wrestler who has hit the ground running since signing on the dotted line for AEW. When you’re talking promos and hype, however, don’t discredit Scorpio Sky and Frankie Kazarian’s meeting with Alex Marvez, who caught up with two-thirds of SCU after the Lucha Bros put Christopher Daniels on the shelf. An impassioned few minutes from the semi-finalists of the AEW World Tag Team Championship tournament has done wonders to further their rivalry against the menacing Mexicans and Scorpio Sky shone bright with the mic at this mouth.
Cody, Dustin Rhodes & The Young Bucks vs Private Party & #StrongHearts (CIMA & T-Hawk)
Talk about a fun, FUN match. If this didn’t send the crowd home happy – few things would. Bear in mind that by the time that this match has happened, you’ve had a stupendous evening of tag team wrestling, including the huge Moxley/PAC vs Page/Omega battle and the AEW World Championship street fight between Chris Jericho and Darby Allin. The crowd have had to sit through some quality and emotionally-draining stuff by the time that this frenetic firehouse of a match kicks off.
The word ‘quadruple’ springs to mind when you look back at this, as all the huge high-spots off the match focused around the 8 man element of the main event of this week’s Dark. Matt Jackson of the Bucks made his quadruple chained Northern Lights Suplex look effortless and the 4 man Superkick Party from team Cody/Dustin/Bucks was a fine piece of orchestrated over-the-top fun. Mix that in with the superb outing for Dustin Rhodes and you’re on to a winner. ‘The Natural’ seemed to roll back the years and relish the chance to get in amongst it with his opponents, with back-to-back vintage powerslams, the last of which was given some extra comedic build-up. Guess there’s more than just one last ride in the older Rhodes. There was a plethora of high impact double-team moves from both sides, but this really was time to shine for Private Party and #StrongHearts, the former of which just see their stock rising every time they saunter down that aisle. Marq Quen and Isiah Kassidy are money in human form and I can’t wait to see how they continue to redefine AEW’s tag team division, which as I’ve said before and will say again: is THE division to watch right now.
MJF isn’t just a hot as hell heel on the internet you know, the dude can do it in front of a live audience as well. Few play the young, arrogant and entitled bastard (sorry PAC) better than Maxwell Jacob Friedman and he showed that during his comedy spot mid-match, running the ropes and teasing a dive that never came, before being floored by the razor-sharp CIMA. When MJF eventually turns on his best friend in the world, Cody, we’re going to be for an absolute treat… not only in the ring but on the mic. If Brandi Rhodes doesn’t kill herself by doing some crazy aerial assault on her hubby’s opponents… she’ll likely be there in that storyline too.
Tuesday night’s free entertainment concluded as MJF distracted the referee just in time for a four-way Unnatural Kick, as each member of Team Cody picked a member of the opposition, got them in the corner and gave them that wince-inducing kick to the balls, before Dustin Rhodes nailed the Final Reckoning for the 1-2-3 and his first official win in AEW to a huge pop from the Philadelphia crowd. How can’t you get behind this format I will never know? Will the novelty wear off? Will it get boring quick and become a 2019 version of latter-day Heat? I don’t know… but I don’t f**king care to know. Right now: I’m absolutely loving it.
All photos provided by AEW/Lee South, screencap and video courtesy of AEW