AEW DARK: February 23, 2021

The PG Era Rant for AEW Dark Episode 76 (Best Birthday Present Ever), February 23, 2021.

From the AEW Arena.

Your hosts remain Excalibur, Taz, and Anthony Ogogo. Excalibur’s adjective is “Massive”, and he ain’t lyin. He also calls Taz a “ray of sunshine”.

TONIGHT! Lots of action, and four feature bouts on the poster! Big Shotty Lee Johnson faces off against Serpentico, but he’ll have ol’ AA helping him out! Max Caster enters singles competition as he goes against Marko Stunt! Two popular acts – Aaron Solow and Tesha Price – look for their first singles wins as Solow faces Ryan Nemeth, while Price goes against KiLynn King!

But wait, there’s more! A lot of enhancement talent is intriguing! Eddie Kingston faces EVOLVE mainstay JD Drake! Brian Cage looks to make quick work of John Skyler! The Batiri – Louie Valle and Chris Peaks – are reunited to take on Alex Reynolds and John Silver! Cody’s first Nightmare Factory graduate Brooke Havok gets a trial by fire against Leyla Hirsch! And after a fun debut as a team last week, US Veterans Shawn Dean and Charlie Bravo face the Varsity Blonds!

WE’RE NOT DONE! Bear Country, Sonny Kiss, and Joey Janela in atomicos action! Jurassic Express! Ivelisse and Diamante! QT Marshall! Kip Sabian! Peter Avalon and Cezar Bononi! Top Flight! AND – we have a bonus three-way tag match that wasn’t advertised! We got over FIFTY wrestlers going tonight – find a favorite! (Or let me find one for you.)

Opening match: John Skyler (0-2) vs. Brian Cage (w/Hook) (14-2). They must see something in Skyler if he’s getting an entrance. Skyler is coming back from a serious knee injury over the summer. Cage has given up correcting Roberts.

Cage runs Skyler over at the bell and goes for a back body drop, but Skyler kicks up and gets him with a SUPERKICK. Skyler gets a dropkick, but Cage rebounds with a discus clothesline. Powerbomb by Cage (“Shades of last week’s Dynamite”) and it’s Drill Claw time already to end it at 51.7 seconds. Well, maybe the other matches I’m excited about will be a shade longer. NR Tomorrow – Cage/Starks will get a tune-up match against the Varsity Blonds.

Serpentico (w/Luther) (0-1 singles) vs. Lee Johnson (w/Arn Anderson) (1-5 in 2021). This is being aired on Serpentico’s birthday. Excalibur asks which cornerman Taz would rather have, and Taz chooses Arn Anderson after some fake hesitation. Johnson got his first win teaming with Cody Rhodes earlier this month. Johnson’s win meant Ogogo lost a bet.

Lockup, and Serpentico gets the arm to wring it. Johnson reverses to a hammerlock, Serpentico gets one of his own, Johnson goes to a waistlock and avoids a leg pick, Serpentico pushes him off, Johnson goes up and over and drop steps, and after a leapfrog Johnson gets a dropkick to complete a fun opening sequence. Serpentico then charges into a military press slam (!!) for two. Johnson tries for a sunset flip, but Serpentico slaps the taste out of his mouth to break. This annoys Johnson, who goes for the double-leg and ground and pound. Serpentico cuts Johnson off and gets a Hotshot, then drives a knee into the head. Savvy veteran move there, cutting off the young anger.

They slug it out, with Serp getting a cradle into a SUPERKICK and Low DDT for two. Then another two. Anderson is barking orders to Johnson to get him back into it, while Serpentico sets up a charge that eats boot. Serpentico adjusts the head and tries again, getting sent to the apron only to get an enzuigiri and hairpull slam. Slingshot double-stomp follows, getting two. Hammer Throw drops Johnson as Taz and Ogogo argue about what to get for dinner or something. Serpentico with fists of fury in the corner, then he picks Johnson up by the nose for another Hammer Throw.

A second charge eats elbow, then boot, and Johnson goes up to leap over a charging Serpentico and get clotheslines for the comeback. Leaping hangman’s neckbreaker and kip up and Johnson is pumped. Fiserhman’s shoulderbreaker gets two. Anderson keeps Johnson focused (as Ogogo praises having a cornerman who keeps you focused), but Serpentico cuts off a back suplex with elbows before flipping out of a second try. Third try leads to the Blue Thunder Bomb… for the pin at 5:26! I’m so used to Sami Zayn getting a two-count off of it I was thrown by that move ending the match. Fun little match, and the veteran/rookie story helped out. Plus, Luther did nothing! **1/4

JD Drake (debut) vs. Eddie Kingston (2-2 in 2021). Man, we’re not wasting time tonight! Drake is a 300-pound EVOLVE veteran, and Taz says he’s looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table. Kingston even points and smiles at Drake as Excalibur promises a brawl.

So we start with a lockup… that ends in a stalemate. Round two also goes nowhere. So Kingston just chops Drake, who fires back with a LOUD chop. Kingston cringes before grabbing a headlock (Taz: “He usually goes chop for chop, but not this time”) and a shoulderblock goes nowhere before the chops are unloaded by both men SO BLOODY HARD! Kingston chops Drake’s FACE, but the Backfist misses and Drake gets a trip and enzuigiri for one. More chopping by Drake, then a right cross. Kitchen sink and boot by Kingston and he goes up, landing a Patriot Missile. Kingston kicks Drake in the kidneys and more chops ensue, so Kingston just goes to the eyes to stop that.

He rakes at Drake’s EAR in the corner, then drops an elbow on the back of the head before headbutting Drake. Drake with boxing to try to come back, so Kingston goes to the eyes again before flooring Drake with a chop. Drake gives a receipt, so Kingston headbutts him and chokes him down. Another head stomp by Kingston and he goes back up, but a diving tackle is met with a right to the jaw by Drake! Ogogo: “A knockout punch!”

Drake with another hard chop and a uranage, then the Vader Bomb gets a close two. Drake thought of a piledriver, but switches to a bulldog attempt only for Kingston to punch him down. Drake is sent to the corner, but goes up and over before adding a Claymore. Cannonball follows, but the moonsault off the top misses and Backfist to the Future gets the win at 5:03. I think my chest turned red out of sympathy. Kingston wanted to slug it out with Drake, then realized he may not win that way and cheated some before realizing he HAD to put it away as soon as possible. What a story. **1/2

Brooke Havok (w/Cody Rhodes) (0-1) vs. Leyla Hirsch (1-2). Well, “with” may be exaggerating – Cody keeps his headset around his neck before heading to the back. Potential rename update: Justin Roberts fails to say “Hirsch” when introducing Leyla.

Lockup, and Hirsch throws Havok down. Havok with a dropstep, then catches Hirsch with headscissors and a flip neckbreaker for two. Hirsch pounds Havok upside the head and lands a stalling suplex, getting two. Hirsch with a hammerlock around the top rope and clotheslines in the ropes, but Havok catches Hirsch coming in and gets a casadora into a sunset flip for two. Hennig neck snap is caught by Hirsch in a cradle for two. Blind charge by Hirsch eats elbow and Havok goes up, but the crossbody is an airball and Hirsch gets two. Havok tries another headscsiors, but Hirsch catches her into a backbreaker into a German suplex. Beal into a cross armbar gets the tap at 2:16. Again, a basic rookie/vet story here – Havok went 90 miles an hour out of the gate, but ran out of ideas and Hirsch caught her. 1/2*

AEW Women’s Eliminator Recap. Just read my review. Tony Schiavone sounds very uncomfortable reading Japanese names. Check out more on Sunday.

Jurassic Express (3-0 in 2021, #2 team) vs. Angel Fashion and VSK (first time teaming). Finally, someone doesn’t get an entrance. No Marko Stunt, by the way, as he has a match later. Taz’s complete inability to sing along to “Tarzan Boy” never fails to amuse me.

Perry (Jungle Boy) and VSK start. We tease the International, but Perry ranas VSK and catches Fashion with a headlock takedown. Perry goes under a Fashion leapfrog and gets a Chaos Theory, aided by Saurus with a roundhouse kick. Saurus chops down VSK and boxes him in the corner, then brings in Perry for a big kick / full nelson slam combo. Fashion enters and eats a double SUPERKICK, and VSK eats the back body drop powerbomb for the pin at 1:27. Reminder: March 3, it’s Perry/Saurus/Stunt vs. Wheeler/Harwood/Blanchard. NR

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QT Marshall (w/Nick Comoroto) (2-0 in 2021) vs. JJ Garrett (debut). Now, 2-0 in 2021 is impressive, but both wins are in trios action with Comoroto and Dustin Rhodes. Garrett looks like 1992 Scott Steiner minus 50 pounds. Garrett makes sure to get his “spinning pose” entrance in, which Excalibur and Taz pop for.

Grappling to start – Garrett’s an Iowa guy so that’s to be expected – and after they tease a knucklelock, Garrett tries again into a hammerlock. Marshall reverses to headscissors, which Garrett escapes before walking into a headlock takedown. Garrett stands up and we go International~!, with Marshall ending with a deep armdrag and lock. Garrett forces himself up and blocks an arm twist with a kick before chopping Marshall. Marshall catches Garrett with a back elbow before landing a stalling suplex (despite Garrett’s protestations).

Garrett suckers Marshall into the turnbuckle before landing a beauty of a German suplex. Leaping elbow to Marshall’s back follows, for one. Garrett jaws with the crowd before getting a low-rope frog splash for one. Marshall’s had enough and fires away on Garrett, who catches Marshall coming in with a rolling elbow and corner spear. A flying cannonball follows, then a backflip Vader Bomb (“implosion senton” if you’re Excalibur) for two. Marshall smacks Garrett around to get out the corner, then drops Garrett with clotheslines for the comeback. Pop-up right cross and Diamond Cutter ends it at 4:37. If Garrett’s not already in the Nightmare Factory training camp, he needs to be. **

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Marko Stunt (14-19 career) vs. Max Caster (w/Anthony Bowens) (11-6 career). I get a kick out of how Roberts announces Marko’s weight, acting like 120 pounds is mammoth. Taz pretends not to recognize that Stunt’s music resembles “We Belong to the Night”. And the moment you’re all here for: the Battle Rap! “Wait, who left Jungle Boy in the dryer?” “Look, it’s Donnie from the Wild Thornberries!” (Ogogo pops for the Wild Thornberries reference.)

Caster works the arm to start, getting a high-five from Bowens… which allows Stunt to reverse. Caster escapes and does a snapmare, but a kneedrop misses and Stunt with a dropkick and rana. Another dropkick and Caster is staggered, but a blind charge misses for both men and Stunt goes up to get an elbow to the back for one. Stunt goes up again, but Caster catches him coming off and military presses him into a Hotshot. Caster with a backdrop suplex and he rubs Stunt’s head in the canvas before adding a knee to the back and hooking the nose.

We HIT THE CHINLOCK, allowing Stunt to get to his feet, but Caster uses the hair to stop momentum and drops elbows. He steps on Stunt’s head and poses for the four-count, then absorbs a few weak shots before kicking Stunt down. Stunt with a headbutt to the gut, but Caster just throws him to avoid the shiranui. Caster arrogantly approaches, so Stunt rolls him up for two and gets a leg trip and running star press for two.

Stunt goes up top, so Bowens throws in the boombox. In the chaos, Caster runs up the ropes and gets a superplex on Stunt. Savage elbow gets the pin at 4:09. Stunt makes up for his lack of size by never stalling, though I don’t know why they needed Bowens to throw in the boombox when it didn’t lead to cheating. *1/4 Caster plays air guitar on the boombox because sure why not.

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Alex Reynolds and John Silver (2-0 in 2021) vs. Louie Valle and Chris Peaks (first time teaming… in AEW anyway). Peaks and Valle – whose real names make a GREAT tag team – were masked as the Batiri in CHIKARA. The entire Dark Order – sans Anna Jay for obvious reasons, but with Brodie Jr now wearing a custom -1 mask – accompany Reynolds and Silver out.

Reynolds and Peaks start. Peaks with a knee to the gut and uppercuts, but Reynolds ducks a clothesline and returns fire with uppercuts. Dropkick by Reynolds and he kips up, adding a slam before bringing in Silver. Double rolling leglock whiplashes Peaks down, and Silver gets two. Silver (who is bigger than Peaks, somehow) with a headlock and we go International~!, with multiple tackles by Peaks before adding a roundhouse kick. Reynolds back in, and it’s an uppercut into a roundhouse getting Reynolds two. Peaks catches Reynolds on the middle rope, and Valle in with a big kick. The Batiri try a double-suplex, but Reynolds fights out only to run into a drop toehold / rising knee combo.

Valle boxes Reynolds in the corner, adding a shoulder ram, but Reynolds gets time to fight back and does so until Valle goes to the eyes. Peaks returns with a kidney punch, and the Batiri do the Nasty Whip, ending in a Valle dropkick, Peaks double-kick, and Valle cannonball. All of it gets one – could’ve been more, but Valle didn’t leave the ring in time. Valle is tagged back in, and he holds Reynolds by the tights to get an elbow to the back. Valle and Silver have a posedown, which allows Reynolds to get an enzuigiri.

Hot tag Silver, clotheslines abound. BACK body drop on Peaks (.7 Warlord), and a military press on Valle to lawn dart him into Peaks. German suplex on Valle gets two, Peaks saves. Peaks tries a whip but Silver reverses only to eat elbow on a blind charge. Silver hangs Peaks up on the ropes thanks to a gamengiri, then lifts BOTH MEN on his shoulders for a double Samoan Drop! Reynolds in, and the double-team flip DDT (Dark Destroyer) gets pin on Valle in 5:03. Valle and Peaks looked okay, but this was about Silver being Pocket Hercules. *1/4

Kip Sabian (w/Penelope Ford) (18-17 overall) vs. Fuego Del Sol (0-3 in 2021). Roberts and AEW miss an opportunity to introduce her as “Penelope Sabian”, which would have been a fun rib. Taz is still upset over how the wedding fell apart at the end.

Sabian with a quick kick and forearm, then he catches Fuego mid-leapfrog for a facejam. Headlock by Sabian, but Fuego catches him off a push-off with a flying jalapeno and headscissors, then a rana and dropkick. Sabian bails and gets help from Penelope to see if his nose is still in place. Back in, Fuego runs straight into a big boot (Sabian does the head-point). Sabian works Fuego over in the corner and gets a Hammer Throw, practically turning Fuego upside-down in the corner. Headbutt follows, then a stomp, before Sabian works him over in the corner. Fuego tries to fight out, but his leg is caught and hung up on the middle rope before Sabian kicks the thigh. Snapmare by Sabian, and some knees to the back, and it’s time for the field goal, prompting a “Wide Right” chant.

Sabian doesn’t ham it up, instead keeping Fuego down and going up top. Double stomp misses and Fuego tries an O’Connor Roll, eventually slipping into a facejam before adding a standing Lionsault and low kick. Lethal Combination gets two. Sabian cuts Fuego off from a Tornado DDT try, then catches him with a pop-up knee and straight right. Torture rack, but Fuego reverses the Deathly Hallow into a small package for two. The second try gets it done at 4:33. Sabian doesn’t do it for me, sorry, but as long as it keeps Ford on the roster I’ll live with it. 1/2* Much making out follows.

Shawn Dean and Carlie Bravo (0-1) vs. Varsity Blonds (Brian Pillman Jr and Griff Garrison) (also 0-1 in 2021). My mistake from last week – it’s CARLIE, not CHARLIE. I was using the NATO alphabet and didn’t catch the edit to it. Tomorrow, the Blonds will have a slight step up in competition against Brian Cage and Ricky Starks.

Pillman and Bravo start. They talk smack to start and shove each other before the lockup. Pillman misses a clothesline and we try the lockup again, with Bravo fighting out and missing a clothesline of his own. Round 3 sees Bravo getting an armdrag out of it on Pillman, who asks for advice from Garrison. That advice? “If anyone from the Dark Order asks, your name is Jungle Boy.” Back to the match, as Pillman chops away on Bravo and works the arm, bringing in Garrison to continue the offense. Quick tags as they drop axhandles on the arm and keep control of it. Blonds finally get a double whip on Bravo, but he throws them into each other and dropkicks Garrison.

Now Bravo works the arm on Garrison, flooring him with arm twists and getting a trip in the corner to give Dean, then Bravo slingshot legdrops, adding to a two-count. Bravo back in as now the US Vets are working Garrison’s arm. Pillman tags himself in and catches Bravo with a SUPERKICK for two. Pillman with a ground hammerlock, driving in knees and slugging down Bravo. Corner clothesline and big chop allows Pillman to stomp a mudhole on Bravo, with Garrison walking it dry. Garrison with a slam, and Pilman with a slingshot senton (assisted by Garrison) for one. Pillman with an STF, but Bravo slips out so Pillman switches to a ground abdominal stretch. He adds a PURPLE NURPLE OF DOOM, forcing the ref to demand a break, so Bravo gets a hiptoss (but only after returning the favor).

Bravo with a dropkick and we have as race to tag, but Pillman cuts Bravo off and gets a single-leg crab all at once. He walks Bravo all the way to the Blonds corner, so Garrison adds stomps to the back. Garrison deadweights up Bravo on a powerbomb, but Bravo ranas Garrison into Pillman in the corner, knocking both men down. Hot tag Dean, who goes to town on Garrison. Enzuigiri and running dropkick in the corner, then a second running dropkick. Dean with a hurricane DDT and salute for two.

Garrison with a jawjacker, but Bravo tags himself in and clubs Garrison on a charge. Shiranui by Bravo into a Superfly Splash by Dean gets two, Pillman saves. Pillman with a Jericho triangle dropkick on Dean, and Garrison blocks Bravo’s suplex to get a front suplex of his own. Discus punch knocks Bravo loopy, and it’s the powerbomb / missile dropkick combo to get the pin at 7:46. This lived up to my expectations – a good hand in Dean, two young fundamentally sound dudes in Garrison and Bravo, and Pillman doing Pillman things. **

Ryan Nemeth (1-2) vs. Aaron Solow (0-2 in 2021). Solow is in Team Nightmare and is looking for his first win, but given that Nemeth is facing Jon Moxley tomorrow, don’t bet on it. Nemeth does not get mic time pre-match, which after a few weeks ago is fine.

Nemeth with a fireman’s carry out of the lockup and he wants 1 point for doing so. Single-leg by Nemeth to take Solow down again, and he gives himself another amateur point. Nemeth with a go-behind and he releases because – you guessed it – that’s another point. Solow’s had enough of this and gets two armdrags and a lock. Nemeth backs Solow into the corner, slugging away and getting a Hammer Throw, but a blind charge eats elbow. Solow with a backslide armdrag and lucha hiptoss (Nemeth was posed asking for it like a rookie), then a dropkick to send Nemeth bailing.

Solow chases Nemeth back in, but Nemeth misses an elbowdrop and Solow gets a slam and kneedrop for one. Nemeth backs off before punching Solow’s elbow, then he gets an armdrag and drop. Nemeth keeps working the arm and preening, then some knees to the back before getting a ground hammerlock and headstand. Ogogo: “Is he just showing off?” Nemeth drops the knees to complete the headstand, then gets a snapmare and fistdrop. Hammer Throw to Solow and he stalls for time before getting a corner spear for two. Nemeth with a ground headlock, but Solow gets up and elbows out only to be yanked down by the hair for two. We HIT THE CHINLOCK, but Solow with a jawbreaker and he slugs back to cue the comeback. Clotheslines lead to a running uppercut in the corner, then… Peter Avalon and Cezar Bononi emerge?

Solow sees them, but is unfazed and gets an Exploder for two. Solow tries a single-arm DDT, but Nemeth with Divorce Court. Rude Awakening is escaped and Solow hits the 540 kick before going up top. Solow thinks too hard about Avalon and Bononi, so Nemeth knocks him down and gets the Rude Awakening for the pin at 7:02. Avalon and Bononi applaud Nemeth before a 3-on-1 beatdown on Solow. Bononi ends with a pumphandle tease, but Johnson/Marshall/Comoroto chase everyone off before anything happens. If this leads to a six-man next week, I can dig it. Nemeth is an odd case – he seemed very rusty in there, pausing between each move like a raw rookie. 1/2*

Ivelisse and Diamante (3-0 in 2021) vs. Miranda Alize and Renee Michelle (first time teaming). Are they going to do something with this team? Maybe send them after Havok and Nevaeh in Impact if it comes to it? It’s nice that they’re teaming, but you’d think they could have been an alternate with more credentials than Madi Wrenkowski.

Ivelisse and Renee start. Ivelisse with an elbow and headlock, but Ivelisse takes the arm. Michelle with a cartwheel into an armbar takedown, then a keylock with bridge only for Ivelisse to smash Renee down. Diamante in, and she gets a shot to the ribs only for a slugfest to break out. Diamante ends that with a clothesline, but Alize tags herself in and gets an armdrag and casadora armdrag. Tilt-a-whirl leads to La Majistral for two. Ivelisse barks something to Alize (a former teammate of hers), which allows Diamante to take over and rush Alize into the corner.

Ivelisse in with a T-Bone suplex for two. Ivelisse goes ground and pound and throws her into the corner, and Diamante returns to adds more fists as commentary wonders if this is Tough Love or a lesson based on a recent loss by Alize to Nyla Rose. Diamante with an armbar chinlock, then knees to stop a comeback. Back elbow in the corner, and Ivelisse gets her boots up so Diamante smashes Alize into them. Alize fights back out of desperation, but Ivelisse ducks a shot and elbows her down. Diamante back in with a running elbow, then one from Ivelisse, then a double chop.

Diamante asks Alize something that ticks her off, because Alize pops up and they exchange shots. Alize spins Diamante around and gets a Cutter out of nowhere. Hot tag Renee, and Ivelisse gets run over with clotheslines. Ivelisse cuts off a rally, but Renee returns with a spinning roundhouse kick for two, Diamante saves. Renee charges into a knee strike by Ivelisse, and Diamante stomps a mudhole in Renee and walks it dry. Ivelisse now back in, but Renee escapes a double back suplex and gets a Matrix hairpull slam.

Alize in – whether she likes it or not – and now Ivelisse dares her to attack. She does, then chews out Diamante, so Ivelisse knocks her down and SUPERKICKS Renee. Double knee strikes, double slam, and double roundhouse kick ends Alize at 6:14. Ivelisse acts like she’s chewing out Alize, but you can see her check her out and give her a pat for a job well done. I liked the story, but I would’ve liked more Alize offense. *1/2

Top Flight (Darius and Daunte Martin) (2-0 in 2021) vs. Tony Vega and Steven Stetson (first time teaming). This is one of the great things about Dark – they brought in Top Flight as enhancement talent, they shone, and now they’re name talent. Stetson wears his hat in the ring so I know who’s who.

Darius and Vega start. Darius works the arm, but Vega reverses only for Darius to get a full nelson. Vega switches to a waistlock, so Darius gets a hammerlock. Vega elbows out of it but runs into a series of armdrags and a slam. Vega kicks away, only to walk into a headlock. Vega tries to shove him off, but Darius with a running backslide for two. WRESTLING. Now Daunte enters with a crossbody to both men, and Darius adds a dropkick to Vega. Daunte and Stetson now start proper with Daunte getting an armdrag and lock on Stetson. Stetson fights out of it, only for Vega to get a knee to Daunte’s back.

Daunte clears Vega off the apron, but Stetson comes in from behind with a back suplex. Stetson steps on the leg so he can tag in Vega, and Vega comes in with an axhandle to the back. Vega stomps away on Daunte in the corner, and Stetson returns with an axhandle of his own off the second rope. Stomp to Daunte and Vega tags back in, leading to a double suplex. Vega gets one off of it. Vega keeps Daunte in the corner, but Daunte comes back with two big elbows. Vega cuts him off and slams him, so Stetson comes in with a sleeper. Daunte snapmares out of it and leaps for Darius, but Stetson catches him in midair with a spinebuster for two.

Stetson stomps away and goes CLUBBERIN, THEY BE CLUBBERIN TONY, but Daunte backflips away and it’s hot tag Darius. Stetson bumps around for clotheslines and chops, then blocks a Stetson lariat to get an enzuigiri. To the top, and Darius with a shotgun missile dropkick for two, with Vega’s save hitting Stetson. Vega is disposed of, and Daunte’s in for the running compact corner dropkick for the pin at 5:30. I wouldn’t mind seeing Stetson against Adam Page on a future Dark episode. *1/4

Bear Country (2-0 in 2021) & Joey Janela & Sonny Kiss (9-8 total) vs. M’Badu & Daniel Joseph & Levy Shapiro & Aaron Frye (first time teaming). I will never, ever get tired of Janela being overwhelmed by Sonny’s booty. Bear Country and Janela/Kiss are 1-0 as a quartet.

Boulder and Joseph start, with Joseph running headfirst into Boulder’s boot. Bronson in, and Bear Country with a double press drop. Joseph brings in Frye, who runs into an Exploder from Bronson. Bronson slugs Frye and brings in Kiss, who kicks away before getting a Dropsault. Splits legdrop gets two. Janela in, and the Jersey Wild Boys get a double hiptoss before Janela gets a Lethal Combination on Kiss’s knee. Shapiro goes straight to Janela’s eyes to blind him before adding a series of rights in the corner. Janela hits the buckle hard in the wrong corner, and Shapiro goes for some clubberin, before Joseph comes back in.

He withstands a Janela chop and holds him in the corner so Frye can land some clubs. Now M’Badu is in with a back elbow and running avalanche. Shapiro enters, but he loses control as Janela fights everyone off. O’Connor Roll by Shapiro gets two, but Janela leaps over Shapiro to take Joseph off the apron. Rope-hang sleeper and German suplex by Janela, and in comes Bronson. Everyone goes flying and Bronson floors Frye and Joseph with back elbows. Shapiro is caught in an uranange, then Bronson slams Joseph onto Shapiro and sentons the pile. M’Badu is tossed over the top rope, and Janela returns as Bear Country set him up. Janela leaps off of Bronson’s back, onto Boulder’s shoulders, then delivers a senton to the entire opposition! Shapiro is thrown in, so Kiss gives him a rana into a Janela Death Valley Driver. Totem Splash by Bear Country ends it at 5:24. They kept M’Badu from taking too much damage, but this was a massacre. 1/2*

Peter Avalon and Cezar Bononi (1-1 in 2021) vs. Ryzin and Baron Black (first time teaming). Okay, so let’s see if there’s follow-up from earlier tonight. I kind of doubt it – show-long stories on Dark are more rare than week-to-week stories – but we are on run-in alert.

Bononi and Black start. Black goes behind and gets a headlock, but Bononi just shoves him off. Black tries a front waistlock, but Bononi escapes and runs Black over. Avalon in, but Black goes up and over Avalon and gets an armdrag before picking up a hammerlock bow and arrow. He turns it into a crucifix for two. Ryzin in, and he double stomps Avalon’s arm before working the shoulder. Northern Lights suplex by Ryzin gets two. Ryzin boxes Avalon down in the corner and Hammer Throws him, following with an avalanche. He throws Avalon into the middle buckle and kicks said buckle into Avalon’s face. I love spots like that.

Ryzin runs into a knee from Bononi on the apron, and Avalon with a running clothesline before knocking Black down. Bononi in, and he works over Ryzin with kicks and a clothesline for two. Avalon back in, and Bononi with an inverted slam and camel clutch so Avalon can get a dropkick for two. Avalon pounds away on the mat on Ryzin before sending him into the buckle. Bononi with a right hook, then a straight left in the corner before working the back. Hammer Throw to Ryzin, then another, and Avalon wants to finish it off. He knocks Black off the apron again and sets Ryzin up, but Ryzin reverses a Hammer Throw and… no tag. Ryzin improvises with a second-rope moonsault attempt, but it misses. Avalon misses one of his own (and may have landed wrong place first on Ryzin’s feet), and NOW the hot tag is to Black.

Bononi’s knocked down, Avalon gets clotheslined a bunch, and it’s a Manhattan Drop into an Exploder. He blocks a Bononi lariat and chops him before low bridging him to the apron, where Ryzin SUPERKICKS him to the floor. He runs into Avalon’s elbow, but catches him with an atomic drop into a backstabber for two. Crippler Crossface is in, but Bononi chokeslams Ryzin onto Black to break. Okay, that looked cool. Bononi then lifts Avalon over his head for an extra-hard Marti-Knees to Black for the pin at 6:20. Avalon didn’t even know he won. This was all about showcasing Bononi. *

Tesha Price (0-2 in 2021) vs. KiLynn King. Price has dropped the jean jacket look, which is too bad because I liked that. King, meanwhile, has kept the war paint but also lost her jacket. King looks like a Celtic warrior with that.

Price dances out of a lockup to start, but King backs Price intot he ropes and gives a clean break. Price kicks her away just to be safe. King with arm control on Price, but Price kips up and reverses. They love that exchange at the Nightmare Factory dojo, don’t they? King turns it into a headlock takedown and works it, but Price to a headscissors, which King kips out of to get the headlock again. Price fights out and we go International~!, with King stopping short and getting an armdrag and lock. Solid basic opening here. Price knees out of King’s grip and chops away, adding a forearm smash. King boots Price down and gets a single-leg low dropkick to the head for two. She goes for an arm crossface, but Price makes the ropes.

Price trips King into the middle rope and chokes her against it, adding a right hook to the head for two. Price goes ground and pound on King, taunting her as she does, and it gets two. Price is now agitated by the crowd, which allows King a shot, but Price kicks her down and gets a spinning back elbow. Handspring roundhouse kick gets two. Price is screaming a lot. Like, A LOT. Even commentary makes a note.

King stops a whip in the corner, catching Price with a fallaway slam. Price runs into a clothesline and Polish Hammer as we get the comeback, and a roundhouse kick leads to a German suplex and bridge for two. Kingdom Falls is tried, but Price elbows out and gets a roundhouse kick and cradle for two. King catches her coming in and throws her into the ropes before adding a lariat. Kingdom Falls connects this time for the pin at 5:56. This didn’t work – Price needs to be a face, and King should’ve been the heel of the two in this matchup. 1/2*

SPECIAL BONUS MATCH!: The Sydal Brothers (Matt and Mike) (0-1 in 2021) vs. TH2 (Jack Evans and Angelico) (also 0-1 in 2021) vs. SCU (Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian) (8-5). Mike comes to the ring with his yoga mat. Angelico’s dance never gets old. Now, if SCU fail to win the match but aren’t pinned, what does that mean for their last stand story? Yes, I know the answer is “that won’t happen”. (Okay, so Taz asks the same thing.)

Mike and Evans start. Mike floors Evans on a lockup, but Evans flips out of a snapmare. Mike cartwheels away from a back body drop and gets a pair of armdrags. Evans forces Mike into the corner, where Daniels tags Mike and gets a single-leg dropkick for two on Evans. Commentary is off sync, by the way. Evans flips away from Daniels and gets a Pele kick and axhandle, and Angelico goes in. He slugs down Daniels, then stomps a mudhole in him. He kicks away on Daniels’ waist, but Daniels gets a back suplex. Kazarian in, and we get a low kick into a clothesline into a diving stomp on Angelico.

Matt tags himself in, and after a friendly lockup, Matt spins around into a chickenwing on Kazarian. Matt blocks a reversal into a wristlock, but Kazarian flips out of it and gets a fireman’s carry pin for two. O’Connor Roll gets two, but Sydal with a crucifix for two. Back heel kick by Kazarian, but Matt catches him with a leg lariat and soccer kick. Mike in, and Matt holds Kazarian wide open for a double stomp from Mike. Snapmare from Matt and moonsault from Mike gets two. Matt back in, and a double Russian legsweep gets Matt control. Slice by Matt leads to the standing moonsault twist for two. Matt strikes away on Kazarian before throwing him to the corner, but Kazarian goes up and over and catches Matt with a chop.

SCU with a kick into a Manhattan Drop, then a high/low on Matt for two. Daniels Hammer Throws Matt as Taz notes Daniels stayed in control. Back suplex try, but Matt flips out of it and gets a spinning heel kick. Mike and Evans in, and Mike gets the best of that, doing the splits to duck a 540 kick. Dropkick by Mike and a Matrix dodge leads to an enzuigiri for two. Evans sends Mike to the apron, but Mike leaps to the top rope and cartwheels over Evans… straight into a series of 12-6 elbows by Angelico to the back of Mike’s head. Evans tosses Mike into the TH2 corner, and Angelico with a back suplex for two.

Evans returns and kicks an open Mike, and a leaping kick follows for two. Slam by Evans, and he gets an arm-trap triangle before tagging in Angelico for a stomp to Mike’s exposed body. Angelico gets Pinup-Strong on Mike (without the arms – he’s practically doing situps), but Daniels saves. Angelico slams Mike, and Evans in for an assisted 450… but Mike avoids it and gets the hot tag to Matt. Kicks to TH2, including one off of a ducked knee strike, and another knee to Angelico. Bodyslam on the knees by Matt gets two, Angelico saves.

Double back body drop try by TH2, but Matt kicks them both down. Angelico escapes and sweeps down Matt before knocking SCU off the apron, and Evans gets a Mutalock. Angelico adds a kick, and Evans jack-knifes the pin for two. Kazarian tags in on Matt, who avoids the handspring elbow by Evans. Springboard DDT to Evans, but Angelico kicks down Kazarian. Mike with a SUPERKICK on Angelico, Daniels with a Blue Thunder Bomb to Mike, Matt with a Meteora to Daniels, and Evans floors Sydal with a 540 kick, then Kazarian slingshots Evans in for a cutter for two, Angelico saves. Guillotine Rocker Dropper on Angelico by Kazarian, and Daniels adds an Arabian Moonsault.

Sydals with double knees to Kazarian, but Evans comes in to backflip over them, so the Sydals with stereo topes to Daniels and Angelico. Daniels dodges Mike and catches Evans trying a Space Flying Tiger Drop with a gamengiri, which rebounds him into the inverted DDT by Kazarian for the pin at 11:38. The last three minutes were insane. ***

TOMORROW NIGHT!

  • Jon Moxley against Ryan Nemeth!
  • Britt Baker against Nyla Rose in the Eliminator!
  • Jake Hager faces Brandon Cutler!
  • Adam Page against Isaiah Kassidy!
  • Cage and Starks warm up against the Varsity Blonds!
  • Rey Fenix against Lance Archer to enter the ladder match!

This episode flew by, all things considered. I mean, we had tons of matches, but very few of them overstayed their welcome. You had a story of Avalon/Nemeth/Bononi vs Team Nightmare added, SCU continued their “get gold or die trying” routine, lots of exciting new to AEW talent got to show their stuff, and we even had a few “hey, it’s AEW Dark, let’s try something” bits. I was most impressed with Drake and Garrett – sure, we knew JD Drake would bring the goods, but JJ Garrett stepping up was a nice bonus.

Honestly, it probably reads like this was a slog, but they kept it moving in every opportunity. There were times I was unable to keep up just typing up intros and thoughts on each match and had to go back and add them. The first seven matches only took 45 minutes off the clock, and I’ll live with that kind of pace. If you’re not reviewing it (like me), then you could easily skip a match to refresh, then come back and be ready to watch more.

Look, I worked a tryout show for the indies before. It was about 20 matches long and lasted over three hours. Part of the problem was that everyone felt the need to go 7-10 minutes to stand out. None of the matches told a story and emphasized that. Now, compare to here: Kingston/Drake, Hirsch/Havok, and Caster/Stunt all told stories you could follow in five minutes or less. Ivelisse and Diamante had a built-in story with Alize and exploited it. Even the Avalon/Bononi match had a goal – get Cezar Bononi over – and they ran with it.

Doing more with less is how you get booked again at most promotions. Anyone can do a few flips and sprint through a scramble – when you get that one on one matchup, tell a story and stand out from the crowd. If you prove you can tell a story, then promoters will give you a longer-term story to tell – and that means repeat bookings. I’ve seen it with my guys in CRAB getting bigger chances in the region, and I guarantee it’s a way to success. If you’re worried about not going long enough to impress, trust me – promoters would rather you go short than go long.

Compare, if you will, the women’s matches last night to the Dark matches tonight. I noted that Mizunami and Kong went about five minutes longer than they had to, and I know that a few people thought Conti and Nyla could’ve done in six minutes what they did in eight. If you go too long, you’re probably hoping the fans are hanging on each near fall, but without any history, they’ll just notice that the match could’ve ended by now. On the other hand, you had Hirsch and Havok tonight knowing what the story was and getting it done in two minutes. Heck, Ryan Nemeth and Aaron Solow stretched their match to seven minutes, and Nemeth’s stalling became less character quirk and more “get on with it already”.

So the bottom line is, no, this wasn’t too much wrestling, because matches rarely overstayed their welcome. This is another thing you get a feel for with experience, and you begin to feel good about with confidence. If you can’t go 20 minutes, don’t. The biggest sin you can commit is going overly long.

STATS

BELL TO BELL: 89:16 over seventeen matches (average time 5:15)

MATCH OF THE NIGHT: The three-way tag

FIVE STARS:

  1. JD Drake
  2. Lee Johnson
  3. JJ Garrett
  4. Leyla Hirsch
  5. Eddie Kingston

Now, lemme go finish that birthday cake…