I think it’s safe to say that I like to watch a lot of wrestling. It’s something I do quite a bit of, which is partially due to it being my job, but also because it is something I love. Over thirty plus years, I’ve seen probably around 70,000 matches and reviewed almost 7,000 shows. That means I have seen a pretty good bit of wrestling, which can cause a bit of an issue with keeping things fresh. After watching so much, it can take something really special to make me extra interested, but that is what happened this week.
Last week, AEW President Tony Khan announced that someone would be coming to AEW Dynamite to compete in a match with Isiah Kassidy and then sign a contract with the company. That was pretty much all we knew and the guessing game was on. It isn’t like there was anything complicated or detailed to this and that is a great thing. There was a drama and some excitement that isn’t often there and that is what we are going to talk about this week.
In short, I was interested in finding out who was going to be coming out of that curtain and wanted to see who AEW was bringing in this time. That and that alone is all the proof you need that they are doing something right, at least with this concept. It could have been someone from another promotion or it could be a free agent, but the question was about who was going to be the next person to join AEW.
What makes this more interesting is the fact that it wasn’t even that complicated. This wasn’t some big angle or the conclusion of the story, but rather a very simple idea. Sometimes, the best thing a promotion can do is slow things way down and show you just how simple things can be. That is where wrestling often works best, and it isn’t like this is some new concept.
If nothing else, consider last month’s Royal Rumble matches. The entire point of the match is that countdown and the question of who is going to be coming to the ring next. You have a list of possible candidates but there is also the possibility that someone you haven’t seen or heard about is next up. It is all about the drama and building up that anticipation. Waiting as the clock counts down and hearing the music is some of the best stuff in all of wrestling and it works no matter how it is presented.
If you would like a more individual example, consider one of the best things that WWE has done in the last ten years: John Cena’s US Open Challenge. This was another very simple concept that took off because of the exact same principle: fans wanted to know who was going to come through that curtain. Someone, either past, present or future, was going to come to the ring to challenge John Cena for the United States Title and it was all about waiting to see who was next.
The quality of the matches, while often very good (because it was Cena) wasn’t the point. What mattered was finding out who you might be about to see, because WWE had made it clear that it could be almost anyone. There was a title on the line and Cena made it clear that he would indeed lose at some point. Would it be this week? How good would the match be? And above all else, WHO IS IT???
That’s what brings us back to this week’s Dynamite: who was going to be up next? That is what Khan was preying on and it wound up working out about as well as could have been expected. There was a bus in the place that had not been around in a little while and all AEW had to do was stick the landing and everything would have been a success, especially given the buzz.
And then that’s just what they did. After all the hype, the big surprise wound up being former NXT Champion Keith Lee, who not only debuted but also felt like the Lee who ran through NXT with his big man offense and style that got people wondering just how good he could have been. That isn’t something you get to see every day but it might be something that you get to see every week in AEW.
Lee didn’t just defeat Kassidy, but tossed him around like he was nothing in a pretty impressive athletic display. This wasn’t about doing something that would make a nice impact and then have everyone move on. Instead, this was a showcase for Lee, who has a mixture of size, strength and athleticism that you do not get to see. If nothing else, the beal that sent Kassidy flying like he was shot out of a cannon was worth the look, as launches like that are what put Lee on the NXT map in the first place.
In addition to that, there is the laugh factor, as somehow WWE could not come up with something to do with Lee. Assuming you don’t count the BRILLIANT move of naming him Bearcat (because that was all that was missing), WWE did very little with Lee once he was called up. As usual, his NXT days were the best thing that happened to him there, including that awesome showdown with Roman Reigns at the 2019 Survivor Series. This of course came after he pinned Seth Rollins, because a guy who pinned Rollins was best used as BEARCAT instead of….well anything else really.
Somehow that wasn’t even everything though, as we got a bonus on the night in the form of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Jay White. He appeared before Lee, but wasn’t even the major surprise to look forward to that night. How cool is it to have the advertised name and then get another international star/former World Champion in the process? Just seeing the Switchblade jacket before he turned around had people gasping, which is usually reserved for some of the cooler moments in wrestling.
One word to sum up the night was delivered. AEW delivered on what they promised, which wasn’t even that much. All AEW did to make the night feel special was set something up and then deliver on just that. Lee isn’t even that big of a name in the grand scheme of things, but he is the kind of name that is going to get people talking. WWE let him go for whatever reason and now he is getting a fresh start. That works out great for him and there is a good chance that it could work out well for the fans too.
All in all, I don’t think AEW could have done a better job when it came to bringing in the surprises. Not only did they hit the nail on the head with Lee, but you had another bonus name included with White. Pulling off one of those would have been impressive and then they made it work twice in one night. That is one of the areas where AEW tends to shine, as they set something up and then delivered on it. While their pay per view results might not work out perfectly (looking at you EXPLODING BARBED WIRE RING), they tend to get the TV stuff to perfection and that is what they did here.
I don’t remember the last time I was excited to the point where I wanted to see what was going to happen. Lee was the likely pick so it wasn’t exactly a stunning surprise, but it was all about the build and the anticipation. You don’t get that kind of a feeling very often and while some of it stems from a ton of releases from WWE, it was very nice to have it back. Wrestling is built on emotion and AEW brought out all of the elite feelings this week.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books
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