IN LAIMAN’S TERMS #395
Live Thoughts From AEW Dynamite – January 4th, 2023
As I sit in my AirBNB in SeaTac, waiting for my night owl partner to become functioning enough to start the day with me, the old feeling of anticipation and passion that evaded me for years is stirring once again. Unique to the past five years or so, however, the interest, love, and urge to write about wrestling also has grown enough that I’ve come back to my old home with its new name.
Some of you may not know me or remember my work and that’s fine. Some of you may not like that I’m coming back, for various reasons, and that’s also fine, but I’m not here for you. I’m here for those who have been asking me for years to bring this column back, but a lot of things had to happen in order for me to even consider writing about wrestling again.
First, I’m drawing some boundaries. This column and its comment section will not be answering intimate personal questions or debating about them. I’m here to write about wrestling from my personal perspective, and I’m aware of the contingent of people who gave me a hard time before. You’re entitled to your opinions, but not to what I’m not here to discuss. If you’re curious or asking in good faith, there are ways to contact me privately and I’ll ask that you use those rather than the comment section of this or any future columns. That’s all I have to say on this topic, so whether or not that applies to you, this will be the end of it.
In 2018, having written columns since 2011 on the main page, and on the forums dating as far back as 2003 when I was typing up columns at the community college’s library during my first attempt at university education, I was burnt out. Not because of the aforementioned discussions I was having in comment sections, though that certainly didn’t help, but because of the heaping pile of garbage I was reviewing on a weekly basis that was WWE television in 2018. I was already in a state of a guilty conscience for contributing in any way to the financial betterment of the former guy in charge, his treatment of people, and the bland, repetitive product he was putting out. The worse he was getting with banned words and the overconstructed nature of scripting everyone and everything, he was making even the stodgiest of micromanagers in corporate America be like “dude, you have issues.” It wasn’t fun, and I wasn’t having fun watching or writing about it anymore.
Between the rest of 2018 and the beginning of the pandemic, I paid little attention to the goings on of the business. Edge’s return in the Royal Rumble did make me notice a bit, but right as I started to give it a chance, the world shut down. A few of those early empty arena shows got me through my overnight shifts at the hotel at which I worked at the time, but the novelty quickly wore off. In April of 2020, I was working 11pm-7am despite maybe four of the 375 rooms of the hotel being occupied, and most nights I wouldn’t even see a person. Fortunately for me, wrestling media was what got me feeling anything about the business I’d followed since 1997, though not in the way that got me paying attention to the current product much beyond a “what else is there to do?” early pandemic malaise. To be absolutely clear, I do not judge you if you like WWE, I speak only for myself and how I feel.
Brian Zane’s classic PPV reviews on Wrestling With Wregret were pieces I enjoyed. Since I wasn’t watching the current product much, I didn’t follow the reviews. Occasionally I’d watch Simon Miller’s Ups and Downs, but that was more because Simon is a JBLdamn delight rather than caring about what he was reviewing. But a particular episode of Zane’s mentioned his friends at the Attitude Era podcast and their fascination with the Undertaker’s bus-like grunts. With nothing but time to spend, I started bingeing the AE podcast, and those three took me through the era of wrestling in which I grew up and became a fan, but their particular attention to calling out the problematic aspects of the show at the time and specifically defending people like me is what kept my support.
I caught up on their shows right as they were also pausing for the pandemic in season four, but fortunately Smackdown Crawl was also a thing. I began listening with my spouse, despite them not knowing much about who these people were, and introducing them to wrestling started to bring back that spark I thought I’d lost forever. I still had zero interest in following the life and times of RETRIBUTION! but watching old Royal Rumbles started to scratch that itch just a little bit. I’d learned of the existence of AEW, but I was wary to tune into a new brand until there was more certainty that they might stick around. Being from Cleveland, suffice to say I’m used to disappointment and beloved institutions suddenly departing, so I might be more trepidatious than most. What can ya do?
It wasn’t until CM Punk returned in 2021 that I really started to follow AEW. As dated and uncomfortable as that topic may be for some, CM Punk brought me back to wrestling for not the first or second time, and it’s because of him that I started catching shows. Some familiar faces, both from my past viewing and from my personal experience, were on the show, but absent were migraine-inducing zoom cuts, syntax that nobody on the planet other than a steak-wrap consuming creep thought was normal was absent, and the genuine passion and creativity I perceived hit me in a way that I never thought would be possible outside of the independents. It’s almost like if you let the people playing the characters have some say in how they express themselves, it’s more authentic or something. Weird.
Even though I was watching regularly again, I was still reticent to attend a show. There were many ghosts still surrounding live wrestling that I didn’t know if I could confront. Friends of mine who died too young. Larry Sweeney, whose catch phrase has been inked on my arm for over a decade, among too many others. Eddie Kingston’s piece mentioning him by name did a lot to convince me that it might be possible for me to be present at live wrestling again. Regrettably, I turned down the chance to go to Full Gear 2021 down the road, and ditto to Quake by the Lake in the summer of 2022.
However, the day before Thanksgiving in November, my spouse and I traveled the six hours (eight or nine due to holiday traffic, and also… Chicago traffic ever) to the Wintrust Arena. Many of my sensory concerns were immediately eased with the presentation and accessibility with which the show was put on. (I’m autistic with sensory issues, I’m not discussing this either beyond this point.) The music wasn’t deafening. The crowd wasn’t angry and confrontational with others. The pyro, which in my previous experience had been loud enough to mimic the Horn of Winter, was surprisingly docile in terms of sound. Kane’s pyro from Unforgiven 2003 is still probably echoing in my ears comparatively.
What a delight that show was, but more importantly, I wanted to write about it. That urge, it was finally back. I felt it for the first time in years, I enjoyed it so much. What better time than my trip to the PNW and a new year, new Dynamite to take that leap.
Summer of 2022 was when I first started feeling like writing again, but due to not being able to get ahold of anyone here, I tried another site under a different name. It wasn’t the same, and it only lasted a few weeks. I knew that if I was going to bring back a column and write about wrestling, I needed to come back to a place that had been my home for many years. Finally, here at the beginning of 2023, I’m able to once again write ILT and in the place I want to. To those of you who have wanted me to come back for all this time, thank you. I hope this finds you well. To anyone unfamiliar with me, welcome and I hope you stick around.
This and the following thoughts will be my return to writing thoughts on shows live as they happen, as I did during my previous column episodes over the years. This will be on a phone, so do forgive me if anything is punctuated or shorter than my normal output. Let’s light the Vaporwave fuse, or whatever the new song will be with the The Midnight-esque vibe I’m getting from the previews, as I’ll be attending with two others who have never seen wrestling live before. Suffice to say, nothing fuels my passion for wrestling like introducing it to new people and experiencing it through their eyes. This has been a recurring theme in my fandom and is probably more responsible for how much I love wrestling than anything else. I strongly recommend you do the same if you’re feeling at all jaded or burnt out on the business.
Thoughts From AEW Dynamite – January 4th, 2023 – Live from the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington, Section 12.
1. Our section was harder to get in and out of than SeaTac, and that’s a high bar.
(Dark: Elevation spoilers.)
2. The Kingdom opening up. I can’t hear who they’re facing, but they’re pretty over. I’m guessing local talent.
3. Taven is wearing purple pants, so I’m cheering for him. Oh they both have purple. Go team Purple. It’s the Bollywood Boys they’re facing.
4. This is just fun. Dark isn’t always great to watch but being there live always makes wrestling better. Well, most times anyway. Way more people here than we’re at Elevation in Chicago. But holiday week plus they ran Chicago a whole lot in 2022.
5. Kingdom win, pretty fun and lengthy match for Dark. Bollywood pretty over in Seattle, but given this is their first run here, everyone will probably be over.
6. Big fan of the vaporwave makeover. But I’m fan of vaporwave everything. Especially my partner.
7. A chant I’m not familiar with accompanies a non-entrance talent that I can’t hear. The announcing is lost on my terrible hearing. Brian Cage is his opponent. His outfit looks like he couldn’t decide between Hot Topic or Michael Facade tribute. (Also that’d be bomb if Facade showed up.)
8. Another surprisingly competitive and lengthy Elevation match. I approve of this.
9. Shock (I think that’s his name) hit a vaulting neck breaker before a Batista Bomb. Sick.
10. Cage wins after suplexing his sizable opponent from over the ropes into the ring. Wow, great match.
11. From here it looks like the arena is pretty full. Only part of the upper deck tarped off.
12. Time to switch over to Dynamite, so end of spoilers for now. I think they’re filming other Elevation matches after Dynamite. I wonder if people stick around for that.
13. MJF cuts a heel promo pre-recorded, dropping the usual local sports team/hot goss insults, but he’s so good at what he does. Even showed a clip of the dumbest play call in Super Bowl history, throwing when you have a Marshawn Lynch.
14. 24 years to the day since the infamous “butts in seats” comment poor Tony was told to make. Glad he got a chant, he seems like such a nice man.
15. Guy in my row has a sign: Maneater is better than Fozzy.
16. It’s Wednesday night, and you know what that means. Welcome to Seattle, Dynamite! I don’t have to live text my partner results cause, well, they’re sitting next to me.
17. TK just came out to say hi. Announces that some of the big stars will be wrestling after Dynamite.
18. Ricky and Jericho starting off. Perfect choice for the opener. I assume the hometown kid going for the TNT title will main event. Darby was getting huge pops in the preshow announcer banter.
19. Huge chant for Aubrey, also from these parts. Good for her.
20. This is a very hot crowd, I hope that’s coming across on TV.
21. A shot from Floyd sends this crowd into a frenzy. Wow this is fun.
22. Ricky wins despite the shenanigans, but apparently Action Andretti is the only person the JAS has also pissed off. A chair is an equalizer for a time, but the numbers catch up. Ricky takes a nasty powerbomb through a table. Sammy carries Daniel Garcia out in a waistlock for…. Reasons.
23. Tony in the ring with another huge chant for him. I wonder who is getting an in-ring segment. Maybe the one contractually obligated to be here? (Brilliant ad preview BTW)
24. It’s time for Cowboy Shit. Right on. Can’t even hear his music from here. The downside of the back row of the lower section. I’ll take it though.
25. Hangman’s reaction is rather subdued, but the dirt comment gets a big pop. Bigger pop for Ricky Vaughn, the entrance theme innovator though. Also I can’t hear the “knock your dick in the dirt” threat without hearing it in Richard Vernon’s voice. A “we can’t hear you” chant breaks out, so it wasn’t just me. Mic number two also sucks apparently.
26. Great promo between two faces without either of them having to be a heel about it. That’s hard to pull off well, credit where it’s due. It was great once I could actually hear it.
27. Oh it’s time for the most over act in the company. Tag team title match. Imagine having to explain the scissor gimmick to a non-wrestling fan and you’ll know where I am right now.
28. Acclaimed again getting a massive reaction, but the three hometown boys are yet to come.
29. Jeff is such an old carny, whoever says he doesn’t get it doesn’t know wrestling. Everything outside of the actual match, valid, but the man knows how to work a crowd.
30. Crotch chop city, because 1998 I guess.
31. I still remember Lethal as Black Machismo doing a strut-off with the late Larry Sweeney at Super Indy VI, and he will always have a place in my heart for that.
32. Well, wasn’t expecting that… Jarrett and Lethal win dirty.
33. NO WAIT, hometown hero Aubrey makes the save. Good guys win to a huge pop.
34. Danielson’s match is next. Sign down front: Aberdeen Sucks. Yeah, I mean, it does, but still.
35. The people on the other side of me haven’t reacted to anything. I mean. I guess you can spend your money however you want, but why though?
36. Huge reaction for Danielson’s first home state appearance. Not surprising but still endearing nonetheless.
37. “Yes!” Is still huge in Seattle, despite him never using it in AEW to my knowledge.
38. Danielson wins to no surprise. Poor Tony Nese, but this match was never in doubt.
39. Danielson calls out MJF to mostly heel heat. Gee, I wonder if MJF is gonna wrestle tonight, lol. No.
40. Can’t hear most of what they’re saying due to the insanely loud crowd, but if you had Disco Inferno, Eric Bischoff, and Jim Cornette on your bingo card, congratulations… I think.
41. Did he really just say he’d have his lawyer “filibust?” Danielson challenges him to an Iron Man match at the PPV. Yes freaking please.
42. Swerve is up next, and as much as I like AR Fox, I don’t think he has much chance. Swerve gets a huge hometown reaction despite his current heel status.
43. Synchronous kicks and flips already. So this match must be terrible, according to the Braun School of “Everything I Can’t Do Sucks.”
44. This is a fantastically fun match. Fully deserving of the “this is awesome!” Chant that just started as I wrote this thought.
45. Fireman’s carry to the alleged hardest part of the ring that gets a “holy shit!” Reaction. Swerve wins, what a fun night this is so far.
46. Some kind of placards with wreaths in the ring, but we’re facing the hard cam so I can’t see what they are yet.
47. The Ass Boys are out to troll FTR, it seems. They are on quite the broken ass losing streak.
48. This is so goofy, I love it. Give me all the goofy goofi.
49. FTR pulls the heel HBK in Montreal troll, and I bit, I totally admit it, even though I knew they were just in Japan. Great job, boys.
50. Skye Blue is out next, because when you never win, you still get to be blue. They’re facing Jade though, and there’s no way the streak is ending here.
51. I continue to be disappointed with the women’s division only getting one segment a show. The muted reactions comparatively show that they don’t get the time they deserve, obvious big debut next week notwithstanding.
52. Goozle! Jade wins, no surprise but she’s such a boss. TK needs to do better featuring this division; and I don’t mean on exclusively Dark.
53. I’m guessing it’s time for the main event, so perhaps there’s been enough talk. Looks like Darby either gets a vignette or a new theme here. Darby chants galore.
54. This piece was hometown pandering, but it was good hometown pandering. Reminded me a lot of the Hangman bit in Minneapolis with the horse before he won the title.
55. It’s been a solid 13 years since I’ve seen Samoa Joe in person. He hasn’t lost his presence a single bit.
56. We’ve been jaded (no Cargill) to huge ladder jumps, but being right there on the ramp for one like that was just completely awesome.
57. Darby Allin makes the literal concept of wreckless abandon itself take a second glance out of concern.
58. Joe just chopped Darby so loud, it sounded like Low-Ki’s chops mic’d up from this far away.
59. Darby gets the win to a huge reaction. I’m so glad this company doesn’t feel the need to punish people in their hometowns.
60. Darby takes the mic, presumably after the show goes off the air. He makes a lot of hometown references and brings Nick Wayne into the ring and puts him over. Sting is also out there to celebrate. First time I’ve ever seen him, as I left before Rampage at my first show.
61. More elevation spoilers to follow. A lot of people leaving, but the weather is also really bad out here. It’s only 7pm local time though, so that’s disappointing. TK came out to put over the crowd that’s left and encourage them to make the short drive to Portland for Friday. If my flight weren’t at 6am at SeaTac on Saturday morning…
62. Ari Daivari and Ryan Nemeth are about to get eaten by the House of Black, presumably with the hint from the ring announcer.
63. Speaking of good makeovers, if the HoB didn’t get a masterful one. Julia Hart being the one who brought them all back and seems to be the silent power behind them, especially.
64. That match was way more competitive than I thought it’d be. A running theme here tonight. Good thing, if you wanna make people stay after a Dynamite ending like that, you want to make it worth it.
65. Looks like Josh Woods is going to get the big swing, because he’ll be facing Claudio. Great stuff, keep it up.
66. Code of honor observed, and another competitive, well-fought match. Good to see Yuta at ringside too.
67. Claudio wins, but we’re getting good wrestling all the same. I hope the separate Ring of Honor show does well, separately from Dynamite and Rampage.
68. Some fool with no entrance music just disrespected Claudio on the way out. He’s gonna get wrecked. Powerhouse, maybe?
69. Powerhouse indeed. That is a lot of guy.
70. Somehow this match isn’t over yet.
71. Couple ladies getting the no entrance. Please be Ruby Soho time? Please?
72. Or Nyla, that works too. Sounds like she has new entrance music too.
73. Nyla knocked out the tag team partner, then got in the corner for the tag. I love little gags like that.
74. Okay, I hit my wall. That was a lot of wrestling and there’s a long commute back to where I’m staying. But overall, wow what a fun show. The crowd was on fire before the show even started. There wasn’t a match I didn’t enjoy, though Swerve/Fox and the main event really stood out. The Acclaimed match was quite old school, and I’m sure all of it came off great on television. I had such a great time, and got to enjoy watching two people experience wrestling live for the first time; and that was by far the best part.
I’ve been giving away hams on my retro movie podcast but it’s not quite the same. I think the Gunns have to take it for how over the top that FTR funeral segment was; though I also half-expected Kane to pop his big bald head out from under the ring due to the content matter too.
Hard to not still call this place LOP, but all the same, it’s good to be home.