AEW WrestleDream Review (02/10/2023)
By Mick Robson
Patreons got this review first, as well as all the content The Arena puts out. For early access and to support the work we put in here, check out patreon.com/thearenamedia
So, it's been rumoured for a while and it seems to be coming to fruition... AEW moving to monthly PPVs. AEW ran All In London and All Out a week apart, spanning late August and September, and this show is taking place on October 1 in the States, and October 2 here in Australia.
It's an interesting move. I preferred the quarterly PPV model, both for my wallet and for the importance of the shows. 4 PPVs a year made them feel like a major happening, and Tony Khan did a good job putting on themed Dynamites through the year, such as Fight For The Fallen or Winter Is Coming to keep things of importance happening on the weekly shows.
Maybe it's more because I'm a poor though. If more people join Patreon (patreon.com/thearenamedia) or buy merch on RedBubble (https://www.redbubble.com/people/TheArenaMedia/shop), I might be able to afford more wrestling PPVs. I did miss All Out because I didn't have the money for back to back weeks, but managed to pony up the cash for WrestleDream.
WrestleDream was envisioned as a tribute show to the late great Antonio Inoki, one year after his passing. So this card, while not quite a "Forbidden Door" level of co-promotion, does feature a number of NJPW stars. Perhaps most notably Zack Sabre Jr, who signed up for a "dream match" with fellow technical wrestler extraordinaire Bryan Danielson. This match was apparently set for Forbidden Door at one stage, but was unable to go down due to injury. Then you've got the likes of Will Ospreay (who may be on the official AEW roster in 2024) in a star-studded six-man. And last minute, former NJPW announcer and former UFC champion Josh Barnett got added to proceedings!
Let's do this!
Zero Hour Pre-Show
They started the pre-show half an hour before I was expecting on YouTube, but it was just RJ City, Renee Paquette and Stokely Hathaway waffling on for half an hour hyping matches, so I muted it until we got to the good stuff.
Tony Khan is in the ring at the top of the hour with Rocky Romero, Katsuyori Shibata and the grandsons of Antonio Inoki. Tony gives a short speech on the importance of Inoki and he and Rocky present the grandsons with flowers. A classy move.
Match 1: Eight Person Mixed Tag Match- Satoshi Kojima, Keith Lee, Athena & Billie Starks def. Shane Taylor, Lee Moriarty, Mercedes Martinez & Diamante (at 5:45)
Thoughts: Jim Ross joined commentary here, and hilariously buried ROH by saying he's been waiting for Athena to build some momentum, forcing Nigel McGuinness to jump in to be like "she's a dominant ROH Women's Champion". The rules of the match dictate that the women must wrestle the women and the men wrestle the men, but of course that gets broken by the women attacking the men and gets ignored, as Athena hits Moriarty with the Eclipse. Nothing happened in the opposite way though. We get a brief bit of MEAT as Keith Lee and Shane Taylor battle. And finally, Kojima gets the shine, nailing a big lariat for the feel good win.
Star Rating: **1/4
Match 2: Claudio Castagnoli def. Josh Barnett (at 8:15)
Thoughts: Jon Moxley comes out with Claudio- good to see him after a health scare on Dynamite losing to Fenix- and he joins commentary. Mox actually provides good insight, noting that he's trained with Barnett as well as being a member of the BCC. Claudio and Barnett stick largely to chain wrestling, and Claudio struggles with the size of Barnett. Jim Ross is switched on and invested here too. The finish is nice as Claudio gets a quick sneaky pin on a mat grappling exchange. Post-match, Barnett grabs the mic and puts over Claudio big time, saying Inoki would be a fan of him.
Star Rating: ***. Felt like a better attempt at faux-MMA than what Rousey and Baszler did at Summerslam. Haven't seen Barnett in a while and he's not in as good shape as I remember him in- although that was a good few years back in his last UFC run. He's no spring chicken now, but it was still good to see him given his ties to Inoki and Japanese wrestling.
Match 3: Luchasaurus def. Nick Wayne (at 4:55)
Thoughts: I was distracted by how hot Nick Wayne's mum is. Wayne uses his speed to try and stick and move, but gets caught on an attempt at the Wayne's World diving cutter. He gets clubbed in the back of the head and that's it for the win for the monster.
Star Rating: *1/2. Nothing at all to it really. Bit of a bounce back for Luchasaurus after dropping the TNT title, but nothing you'll remember tomorrow. Although Wayne crawling to his mother at ringside was unintentionally funny.
Match 4: AEW Trios Championship- The Acclaimed & "Daddy Ass" Billy Gunn def. TMDK (Shane Haste, Mikey Nicholls & Bad Dude Tito) (at 9:20)
Thoughts: This got the crowd-pleasing Acclaimed act on the show, and Platinum Max dropped the predictable but fun "Retribution/Slapjack" bars on Shane Haste. TMDK don't really have a presence in AEW so there was no reason to see them as a threat to the titles. Hot tag to Daddy Ass, Fameasser, Arrival, Mic Check, scene.
Star Rating: **1/4. Nothing bad, nothing overtly standing out either. But accomplished the goal of getting the super over Acclaimed in front of the crowd.
Match 1: ROH Tag Team Championship- MJF (c) def. The Righteous (Vincent & Dutch) (at 9:40)
Thoughts: The integration of ROH is something that AEW have done poorly. It was a factor in me not getting All Out- like, sure, I'm poor, but also, there was a heavy ROH presence on that card, when I'm not a ROH fan. Similar issue here- I don't really know or care about The Righteous. Seen a couple of "weird spooky" style promos from them, but I'm not invested. Thankfully, MJF tied some low level stakes to it with a pre-match promo, where he promised to body slam the large Dutch (prompting "body slam" chants) and promised to shove Vincent's dreads up Dutch's ass. He delivered on both of those fronts, and hit them both with a Kangaroo Kick. MJF gets the pin with the feet on the ropes. A comedic match and the crowd was into MJF's antics.
Star Rating: ***. The run of Better Than You Bay-Bay continues. No real interest in making The Righteous look like a viable threat, but it was entertaining. I do wonder about the injury status of Adam Cole- many believe the ankle injury is a work, and it may be, or perhaps the injury is mild enough to where Cole will be back to defend the ROH tag belts. Otherwise, the last thing the struggling ROH brand needs is a virtually inactive tag division, with the belts held hostage.
Match 2: ROH World Championship & NJPW Strong Openweight Championship- Eddie Kingston def. Katsuyori Shibata (at 11:00)
Thoughts: Sure, this was more ROH stuff, but I can't not be invested in Eddie Kingston. He won the ROH World title in a hell of a match and moment against Claudio Castagnoli at Dynamite Grand Slam, and he's against a fellow hard-nosed competitor in Shibata, who also has a hell of a story returning to wrestling following his horrific brain injury. There's some technical wrestling, but where this match really shines is the intense trading of strikes. There's a feeling of danger given Shibata's medical history, but the majority of strikes Kingston threw were blistering chops to the chest. We had some spinning back fists, which appeared to be more pulled, then a powerbomb to end it.
Star Rating: ****. Like the Claudio vs. Barnett match on Zero Hour, this felt closer to a fight than a traditional wrestling match, although this was more of a striking-based match where Claudio and Barnett had a grappling-based approach. This definitely had more intensity and higher stakes.
Match 3: AEW TBS Championship- Kris Statlander (c) def. Julia Hart (at 9:00)
Thoughts: It occurred to me that across 14 matches, this was the only straight-up women's match on the show. Statlander had a great return moment in beating Jade Cargill for the TBS title, and sent her to WWE in a great match, so she technically comes in with momentum. Julia Hart apparently comes into this match on a large winning streak, and I'm guessing most of those matches happened on Rampage, or maybe even going back to when Dark and Elevation were active. So I didn't quite buy Hart as a credible challenger here, but the action was good, and she came close on a big moonsault, but the champ gets her foot on the ropes. Statlander puts it away with a Tombstone/Saturday Night Fever combination. There was clearly a ton of room/light on those finishing moves though. There's got to be a middle ground between that and the scary Mox/Fenix situation.
Star Rating: ***1/4. Action-wise, maybe deserves a little higher, but the build and credibility of Julia Hart as a challenger hurt the investment a little.
Match 4: The Young Bucks def. Orange Cassidy & Hook, The Gunns and the Lucha Brothers (at 12:40)
Thoughts: Much like the four-way tag match from NXT No Mercy, this felt like a big clusterf**k. There's no chance for pacing or any kind of real structure with this many people involved, it's just get your shit in and go. We start with Bucks vs. Lucha Bros, but Fenix disappears quickly favouring his shoulder. The Gunns bump around like champions, especially when taking Bucks superkicks. Hook gets a bit of shine taking on the Bucks, and there's a bit of a reaction to the Handsome Cold-Hearted Devil moving up the ladder. Penta is riding solo and dives around taking out bodies, but it's the experience and cohesion of the Bucks, isolating Penta and getting the job done.
Star Rating: ***1/2. One slip by Nick Jackson aside, this was a smooth, all-action match. I was surprised at what a relative non-factor Orange Cassidy was here, but that's the inherent problem of such large multi-man matches, it's impossible for everyone to get shine.
Match 5: Swerve Strickland (w/ Prince Nana) def. Hangman Page (at 20:15)
Thoughts: A statement victory for Swerve, but wow, that crowd reaction! Strickland is a Seattle boy, but it was sure weird hearing perennial babyface Hangman get booed like that. Page leaned into it a little with the aggression, but Swerve met him every step of the way, particularly with some wicked stomps. Swerve also had a smart strategy of working the arm, which made life trickier for our favourite cowboy when he tried for the Buckshot Lariat. Strickland took a shortcut in using Prince Nana's crown, but then he hit his finish for the major hometown win over the former AEW Champion.
Star Rating: ****1/4. The atmosphere elevated this one, as did the result. Shenanigans or not, I didn't expect AEW to pull the trigger on Swerve beating Hangman. It's an opportunity to make another main event star. I've seen some online complaints about the Bucks winning the previous match, but I honestly feel like it's fine and even welcomed for The Elite to win more in All ELITE Wrestling. Constant wins to build them up as big deals, that way beating them means a bit more. Imagine if Swerve got this win right after the Hangman/Punk feud? As it is, Hangman came in cold, so Swerve beating him MAY not carry the same weight. Follow up is key.
Match 6: Ricky Starks def. Wheeler Yuta (at 9:55)
Thoughts: A common complaint about AEW PPVs is that they have too many matches. If I was asked to trim down this show, a Wheeler Yuta singles match would probably be first on the list. Nothing against him. He's probably a nice guy and is a good wrestler. He's just got negative charisma. Like the anti-MJF. Anyway, Yuta didn't get a ton of offense. Big Bill came out mid-match and Yuta dove at him. Aww, bless his heart. A spear, a Roshambo, the victory.
Star Rating: ***1/4. The right person won, at least, and in pretty one-sided fashion. Ricky Starks can definitely be a star, and after his recent series with Bryan Danielson, definitely feels like he's trending in that direction. Anyway, this was heel vs. heel, and unless you've got a believable amount of intensity behind it, it's not going to work. Asking Wheeler Yuta to be believable is like me asking for Trish Stratus' hand in marriage- never going to happen.
Match 7: Bryan Danielson def. Zack Sabre Jr. (at 22:55)
Thoughts: You want to talk about believability? Danielson and ZSJ provided that in spades. A technical masterclass that gave way to absolute brutality as Sabre Jr. focused his attack on Bryan's recently broken arm in grotesque fashion. The fight broke down from the technique over time, as Zack goaded Danielson into throwing strikes with his right arm, only to attack it and render it near useless. Then he tied up Bryan in knots, unable to use his arms to escape. Bryan found the ropes with his feet, then primarily used his legs to attack with kicks. Two big Busaiku knees ends it.
Star Rating: *****. An absolute masterpiece. My Match of the Year, recency bias be damned. That felt real, those two poured everything into that. The commentary greatly enhanced it, with Nigel McGuinness continually hating on Bryan, while Mox cheered him on, adding to his swear jar on commentary. "Holy shit", Mox exclaimed. He might as well have been smoking a post-coitus cigarette. As was I, and I don't even smoke!
Demetrius "Mighty Mouse" Johnson is shown in the crowd. Excalibur plugs Johnson vs. Kenny Omega in a Street Fighter stream. Mox gets excited for a moment thinking Excalibur is plugging a Dynamite match. Now that would be something!
Match 8: Konosuke Takeshita, Sammy Guevara & Will Ospreay def. Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi & Chris Jericho (at 22:35)
Thoughts: I didn't envy anyone that had to follow that brilliant last match, but thought that these six guys had a really good crack at it. Constant action, given the talent at play, every combination felt big-time. Like an all-star game. Ospreay was covered in cup marks, but didn't let that stop him going balls to the wall. Guevara seemed motivated and at home as a solidified heel opposite Jericho, and still flew around with reckless abandon. And Kota Ibushi isn't the physical marvel he once was, but took some scary bumps that- intentionally or not- added a lot of drama to the match. Jericho picked his spots well and looked good throughout. Don Callis got involved at the finish, hitting his lifelong best friend Jericho with a bat and handing the tainted win to Guevara.
Star Rating: ****1/2. Another outstanding match on this show. They went all out and delivered an all-action spectacle, giving us small tastes of several quality future singles matches, and were successful in establishing the new heel faction of the Don Callis Family with that slimy finish.
Match 9: AEW Tag Team Championship- FTR (c) def. Aussie Open (at 20:25)
Thoughts: Even in defeat, this was a coming out party for Aussie Open. They gave us good as they got with FTR, seeming worlds away from the pre-show fodder team that dropped the ROH Tag Team Championship to MJF and Adam Cole. They set the tone early with some brutal chops, and also great tag psychology by isolating and beating down Cash Wheeler. The match was hampered by Mark Davis breaking his wrist halfway through, but he soldiered on and got through the match. Big finish with Kyle Fletcher falling to a super Shatter Machine from the top rope.
Star Rating: ****1/4. Wasn't at the level of the Royal Quest match, but still fantastic. Hard to say if it was because of the Mark Davis injury, or if it was down to the crowd reaction either a) due to fatigue or b) that Aussie Open haven't been built strong enough as challengers. This Aussie knows how good they are, but the general AEW fan may have not known coming in. Well, they sure do now. Wishing Mark Davis a speedy recovery. Poor guy's been absolutely cursed with injuries!
Main Event: TNT Championship- 2 Out Of 3 Falls- Christian Cage (c) def. Darby Allin (at 25:25)
Thoughts: Darby Allin got a cheeky early fall with an inside cradle in the first five minutes. Then Christian proceeded to make him pay with one of the most uncomfortable beatdowns I can recall seeing. Christian launches Darby into the steel stairs multiple times- not on the flat portion, but into the actual ridges of the steps. That earns him a countout to even the score, and then he starts to tear apart the ring. What a guy Christian is, helping out with ring crew! He exposes the wooden boards and plants Darby on them. Darby comes back but Christian gets the advantage again with underhanded tactics. Following a ref bump, he goes to get the TNT title belt to use as a weapon. Nick Wayne- who's mum had heavy camera time at ringside for some reason in this match- came in and took the belt from Cage. Then Wayne gets in the ring and- holy heel turn, Batman!- he smashed Darby with the belt. Christian then wins the match following those low-down shenanigans.
Star Rating: ****1/2. Violent, uncomfortable and very different in tone to anything else on the show. Tearing apart the ring created a striking visual that we don't often see, and a greater element of danger. Darby is a mad man to take those bumps, and Christian is the top heel in AEW right now.
Post-match, Christian and Nick Wayne beat down Darby some more, leading to Sting making his entrance. He takes the fight to the two scumbags, but then Luchasaurus comes out to swing the numbers in the heels' favour. Then... the lights go out.
A video airs, labelled "your feature presentation". We see a man driving a muscle car down the road at night, with the words "Rated R" emblazoned on the road...
"You think you know me"... Metalingus hits, and the artist formerly known as Edge makes his AEW debut! He enters with all the smoke and pyro, and while he initially looks to be joining Christian and co. in giving Sting a Conchairto, he hits Wayne then Luchasaurus with the chair! Christian bails as he hits Spears on Luchasaurus and Wayne. "It's the Rated R Superstar!" yells Taz. "Adam Copeland has arrived in AEW!" Excalibur exclaims. Copeland shakes hands with Darby and Sting and stares down Christian and his crew to end the show.
Again, recency bias, but that might just be the best PPV that AEW have done. Before that, I would have gone with All Out 2021- another show that ended on a big debut (or debuts), but the other common theme between these shows is that even without the big surprise debuts, they're already stellar shows. The arrival of Edge/Copeland was already heavily rumoured, but had it not happened here, I still would have been more than satisfied with such a (pun intended) elite show. The last 4 matches were easy 4 stars plus, as was Kingston/Shibata and Swerve/Hangman.
But even if you don't care about star ratings, or workrate, you have to appreciate how this show had something for everyone, no matter what style you're into. The main event was more character driven, but if you like technical shit, Bryan and ZSJ had you covered. Kingston and Shibata gave you that Japanese Strong Style, but if you just like watching people fly around the place, see the four way tag or the six man. Like more traditional style tag wrestling? Aussie Open and FTR gave you a classic in that genre, broken wrist and all.
Seeing Copeland debut at the end of all that was the cherry on one of the best sundaes I've ever eaten. The name will take some getting used to- thank god they've acquired the "Rated R Superstar" trademark, as well as Metalingus. They announced that Edge is full time weekly with this contract in the post-show conference. They didn't specify how long for, but hell, one year of working with brand new talent- Copeland specifically mentioned Samoa Joe, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega- plus some old history with Christian and the Hardys... would be a fantastic way for him to end his career, as he's long said, on his terms.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
Until next time, keep killing it as always.