Confession: even though, as a Slam writer, I should keep on top of weekly TV, if I’m unable to watch a show live when it airs, I generally don’t go back and watch it later on. Instead, I’ll read the recap from one of my fellow writers, and simply wait until the show comes around again the following week.
But after having read John Powell’s glowing review of the debut episode of AEW Rampage on Friday night, which he called “fantastic” and full of “great wrestling”, I thought I’d seek it out after the fact, so ended up watching it last night.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that AEW isn’t really my cup of tea. Basically, I find the booking style and the in-ring style to be a bit too “new school” for my tastes. I find the wrestlers are generally too small and focused more on gymnastics and flashy moves than they are on in-ring psychology, including selling moves, and logical storytelling during the matches. I dislike pretty much everything the Young Bucks do – both in the ring and on the mic, and I think Orange Cassidy is one of the most intelligence-insulting thing to come into wrestling since Katie Vick.
That said, I really like some things that the company does. I think that Tony Khan’s opening of the “forbidden door” and working with other companies is a revolutionary in these times. I like that they allow blood in their matches, as I think that, when done well, the addition of some colour in a match can really enhance the presentation. And, generally, I am appreciative that the company provides a place for many wrestlers a place to showcase their talents – I am friends with some of the roster, and am incredibly happy that they have the opportunity to make a living doing what they love.
So, with that in mind, here’s my take on the debut episode of Rampage – the good, the bad, and the problematic.
- Man, that crowd was electric. From bell to bell, the AEW faithful were raucous and rowdy, but also respectful. Particularly after a year of no live fans, or small crowds, this show is one of the first to actually feel exciting.
- In particular, the hard camera shot was amazing. With only a few rows on the floor, the fans in the stands were so close that it really made the place look packed. That was a great visual.
- I really enjoyed the pacing of the show. Only an hour long, the show never felt too long or a chore to watch like Dynamite, NXT, Impact, and Smackdown. And never mind three hours of RAW every week, which can seem interminably long.
- The show wasn’t plagued with audio problems during interview segments, as is often the case on Dynamite. To be fair, that might have been a problem specific to the Daily’s Place venue – but it was still good to see.
- Overall, the debut show felt important, and they did enough to make next week’s episode feel must-see as well. That may fade as time goes on, but at least early on, they are treating it almost like their “A” show and not an afterthought like their YouTube shows.
- The four-man commentary booth is just too crowded. Excalibur did a fine job on play-by-play, but the other three felt at times like they were tripping over each other to do commentary. Add in the fact that Jericho and Taz are also characters on the show that them trying to be objective just feels off. Stick to the two-man booth and stay away from using characters as commentators, except on special occasions.
Chris Jericho was especially bad – far too shouty. Conversely, Mark Henry, at times, felt almost too lethargic – and a couple of times, suffered from mush-mouth.
- From the Canadian standpoint, it’s problematic that TSN didn’t air the show live. Seriously, they seemingly have about a hundred different TSN channels – they couldn’t find one of those for the premiere episode? This is why we all hated you when you carried RAW, TSN.
Match 1 – Kenny Omega (c) vs. Christian Cage – for the Impact Championship
- The in-ring work was solid throughout. I don’t think Omega is as good as he’s billed to be, but there’s no denying he can have good matches against most opponents. With a dance partner as strong as Christian, it’s pretty much a lock it will be good. And it was.
- I liked that Impact referee Brian Hebner officiated the match. It’s a nice touch acknowledging that the match was for the Impact title. More importantly, he’s so much better than any of the AEW referees.
- The Killswitch on the chair to end the match looked tremendous.
- I get that this is part of a broader storyline, but it seemed really odd that they’d start their new show with a match for another company’s championship. Why couldn’t they really start with a bang and showcase your own champion defending your own company’s title? It really hit home with the crowd chanting “AEW” at the beginning of the show.
- This isn’t a criticism of Rampage per se, but it’s silly to have two title belts for the Impact Championship. The titles were unified, so should have been the associated hardware.
- After throwing in the chair, where did the Young Bucks go? That should have been explained by the commentators. It seemed jarring that they casually strolled down to the ring, tried some chicanery, but were nowhere to be seen when it backfired. If their mistake was part of a larger storyline – like Omega blames them for the loss and he turns face – why not plant the seeds? As it was, that head-scratcher took away a bit from the match ending.
- Why did Orange Cassidy have to be lurking in the background of Christian’s post-match promo? It distracted from the moment. More importantly, if there is one wrestler who should be as far away from the world title picture in any capacity, it’s him.
- After months of Omega beating a number of Impact’s top talents – Rich Swann, Moose, and Sami Callihan – losing the title to a fellow AEW star simply makes Impact’s roster look really weak. Again, this is part of the broader story between Christian and Omega – but they really sacrificed Impact to tell it.
- This should have been the time to elevate an Impact star. Now, instead of giving them the honour of beating Omega and reclaiming the title off the invader who stole it, they now have to beat babyface Christian? So, presumably a heel will do that? So what should be a celebration by the company reclaiming its title will then be bittersweet, because it will be a heel who does it.
- This also means that we can expect an Impact main event between Christian Cage and Brian Myers at some point? Even on paper, that feels underwhelming.
Match 2 – Miro (c) vs. Fuego del Sol – for the TNT Championship. Also, if Fuego wins, he gets an AEW contract
- After his first few months mired in lame midcard comedy and stupid feuds regarding video games, they managed to resurrect Miro into what may be his best character ever – including his early WWE stuff.
- This match demonstrates some major logical AEW flaws. Why, in a company where rankings are supposed to matter, is a wrestler with a 1-39 record getting a title shot? This renders everything about the ranking system meaningless.
- From a realism standpoint, giving him a title shot just exposes stupidity on Tony Khan’s part. What if he wins? In theory, what would prevent Fuego from declining the contract and instead holding up Tony Khan for huge money as an independent contractor for a one-off match to defend the title, like Jeff Jarrett did when he had to drop the Intercontinental Championship to Chyna?
- It was reinforced throughout the show that Fuego would get a contract IF HE WON THE MATCH. By giving him a contract despite that, it killed the credibility of the stipulation. So, if Jericho loses to MJF next week, do they simply ignore the stipulation that the Inner Circle has to disband permanently? Why would they have to do that, since it’s been proven that stipulations mean squat?
It also diminished the great heel move by Miro where he tore up the contract after the match.
Lastly, the way they did it looked cheap and cheesy. I get that Tony Khan doesn’t want to appear regularly on TV. But to have Sammy Guevara come out and give Fuego the contract looked amateurish, and didn’t give it the gravitas it should have earned. When Dana White gave Stephan Bonnar a contract after he lost the Ultimate Fighter finale match, because it was Dana White doing it, it was a big deal, because he was the boss.
Also… and this is minor, but speaks to the broader presentation… if this was a legitimately-unplanned moment, why would Fuego have stayed in the ring throughout the commercial break? Him standing there when the show came back to commercial – which would never be done for a jobber unless setting up some sort of angle – just made the entire thing seem completely contrived.
Match 3: Britt Baker (c) vs. Red Velvet – for the AEW Women’s Championship
- Britt Baker has improved leaps and bounds in the past year, ring-wise. She is a bona-fide star.
- The match was actually pretty good, or at least not as botchy as many of the matches featuring AEW women not named Serena Deeb or Thunder Rosa. Velvet didn’t even botch her moonsault, which may be a first.
The Bad / Problematic:
- The psychology of this match was completely inconsistent, and that ruined the enjoyment of the match. Britt should have been a complete babyface during the match – particularly with that crowd who was 100% in her corner. But her conduct during the match and after it was completely heelish.
To wit: She needed outside interference from Rebel. After winning the match, she beat up her downed opponent. Then she and yet another hired goon (Jamie Hayter) double-teamed Kris Statlander, who is as pure a babyface as you can get. Then she again attacked a downed and helpless Velvet, hitting her with a curb stomp on the title belt.
It wasn’t done in a cool way like when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was a rough-edged badass beating up his opponents. She was a complete chickens— heel. Which went totally against the type of reactions she was getting.
It’s like they don’t know what they want to do with her. If you’re going to keep her a heel, then don’t have her play up to the crowd. Instead, cut a promo heeling on the city to get them to turn on her. Or, if you want her to be a babyface, then fully commit to that and have her act as a face. The battle between good and evil is the fundamental premise of professional wrestling; this match didn’t just ignore that premise, it tried to completely upend it. Don’t believe me? Watch this match with the volume muted so you can’t hear the fans, and try to figure out the story – it’s not easy.