One of the most common complaints from critics of AEW, and sometimes from a section of their fan base too, is that while they kill it regularly with their PPVs, their weekly episodic TV is inconsistent in terms of quality—not to say their TV is bad, but some shows come across more lacklustre than others, with Rampage particularly suffering in this respect.
AEW’s solution in the past has been to go for ‘moments’ rather than consistency. Sometimes these have worked exceptionally well: Thunder Rosa’s original Lights Out Match with Britt Baker; Kenny Omega’s 30-minute Broadway with Bryan Danielson; CM Punk’s debut. Sometimes these moments inject a momentary excitement but quickly fizzle out (Keith Lee’s debut; The House of Black; Big Show and Mark Henry; the appearances of KENTA and Jay White). Tony likes his big announcements and surprises, and they work in the short term, but it doesn’t lend itself to long-term success per se.
One announcement of Tony Khan’s that seems to be doing AEW a lot of good is the announcement that Khan has bought ROH. While there has been concern from the ROH faithful that Khan will change ROH and bring it more in line with AEW, and while it is too early to say, last weekend’s ROH return show, Supercard of Honor, was a very entertaining event which got a lot of buzz. But more than that, Khan has cleverly used the momentum from Supercard to not only keep ROH in the spotlight until more definite plans for its future existence but to also help inject some fresh excitement into AEW Dynamite.
One of the key factors in this has been FTR. Widely known in the wrestling community for being one of the best tag teams in the game right now, it’s fair to say that their AEW booking in recent months hasn’t treated them as such, being little more than hidden in the background of MJF’s feuds as part of The Pinnacle.
However, at Supercard of Honor, they were finally allowed to be the team we know them to be. Not only was their match with the Briscoes a genuine, highly-desired dream match, it was also a stunning wrestling match, and certainly the match of the year so far. There was smooth technical wrestling, classic tag wrestling psychology, blood and some jaw-dropping spots. But not only did FTR win the ROH tag titles, but they also made a claim as one of the great teams in ROH and wrestling history by beating the Briscoes, and beating them cleanly at that!
Social media was abuzz with superlatives and enthusiasm for the match but, from an AEW point of view, Tony Khan played it smart by having The Young Bucks come out afterwards and beat the Briscoes down, forcing FTR to make the save. Not only did this set up a match for the ROH tag titles on the following Dynamite, where FTR put on another clinic, beating the Bucks in an extremely well-received encounter. The benefit was two-fold; not only did ROH have a platform to keep attention on their titles and champions while we await new ROH programming, as well as the opportunity to be exposed to the wider audience, but the match elevated Dynamite significantly this week, elevating a so-so show into a much more enjoyable, important episode.
The same can be said of Rampage, headlined by Wheeler Yuta fighting Jon Moxley. Yuta won the ROH Pure Champion at Supercard of Honor, and while the match with Mox was a non-title affair, the pairing of Yuta with a genuine AEW main eventer in an extremely hard-hitting but even affair has helped to elevate the Pure Champion while benefitting Rampage with another genuinely great must-see match that also progresses storylines, something of a necessity in weekly episodic TV.
The Blackpool Combat Club showed Yuta respect after the match by shaking his hand, paying off a tease that has run for several weeks and suggesting a union with Yuta moving forward. That the Blackpool Combat Club is possibly the closest thing AEW has to pure wrestling outside of Daniel Garcia legitimises Yuta in return, meaning that when ROH really kicks in with regular programming, Yuta will have added weight as a genuine Pure wrestler and champion thanks to a match like the one with Mox. Both AEW and ROH benefit, with AEW getting the initial rewards.
Then there’s Samoa Joe. The ROH alumni made a surprise appearance at Supercard of Honor, coming out to back Jonathan Gresham against Jay Lethal and Sonjay Dutt. While Joe is set to wrestle in both AEW and ROH and won his first AEW match on Dynamite against Max Castor in a qualifying match for the Owen Hart Cup, the bigger news is that it has been announced that Joe will be challenging for the ROH TV title against new champion and legendary violence machine Minoru Suzuki.
While the fact of these two wrestling and brutality merchants going at each other is enough to make us salivate, it also makes this the third ROH title to appear on AEW programming in a period of two weeks. Wow. Not only does it feel that Tony is going all-in on ROH, but he’s cleverly using it to make AEW programming more exciting and to push storylines in the meantime. As such, AEW’s weekly programming is looking to be an exciting place once again, at least if they manage this well and it leads to regularly exciting and consistent TV.
While the idea of ROH being used with the sole purpose of elevating AEW is a galling one (and if Rhett Titus and Josh Woods only lost their titles so as not to keep talented members of the previous ROH roster and use only AEW-signed talent, that would be awful), as things stand, the use of ROH in AEW seems to be positive and benefiting both companies.
Let’s hope that continues.