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AEW Battle of the Belts recap & reactions (Jan. 8, 2022): Dr. Baker overcomes

The first-ever edition of AEW Battle of the Belts (Jan. 8, 2022) emanated from the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, NC. The live special featured a title fight bonanza with the AEW Women’s World Championship, interim TNT Championship, and FTW Championship all up for grabs.

Get caught up on all the Dynamite details with the excellent play-by-play from Claire Elizabeth.

AEW Women’s World Championship

The main event of the evening belonged to Dr. Britt Baker DMD and Riho. Baker had never beaten Riho in singles action, so she had her work cut out for her to defend the women’s title. Little did Baker plan that she would also have to overcome her partner in crime deliberately being difficult.

Jamie Hayter was moody all match long. It stemmed from taking the blame in Friday night’s tag team loss on Rampage. Hayter did her job interfering to assist Baker, but she also created unnecessary distractions when Baker needed to focus on finishing Riho.

Riho started strong by taking out Reba on a flying crossbody. When Hayter pulled out a table with help from Baker, Riho came from behind for a dragon suplex to Baker on the floor. Riho followed by running across the wood to dropkick Hayter.

As the match unfolded, Baker used her size advantage to wear down her opponent. However, we all know by now to never count out the heart of Riho. She scored several flurries of offense to keep Baker on her toes.

As the bout reached its conclusion, Baker’s Lockjaw submission hold was the focus. Riho ate a ripcord elbow and Air Raid Crash, but she still had her wits enough to prevent the Lockjaw from being cinched in. Baker countered a dragon suplex into a Lockjaw attempt. Riho was able to reach the ropes for the break. Hayter and Reba pried Riho’s hands loose, so Baker could go for the Lockjaw again. This time, Riho countered for a roll-up. Baker escaped and struck with a curb stomp. Riho refused to lose and kicked out.

Hayter was at it again by grabbing the women’s belt. Instead of using the foreign object, Hayter dropped it on the mat on purpose leaving Baker perplexed. Reba tried to hand it over to Baker, but referee Paul Turned noticed and ejected Reba. Riho capitalized on the chicanery to dropkick Baker into Hayter. Riho kept on the pressure for a crucifix bomb and a northern lights suplex. Baker kicked out on the count. As Riho charged forth, Baker anticipated with upkicks to stun Riho. Baker attacked with a curb stomp. When Riho kicked out, Baker swiftly transitioned to the Lockjaw for victory to retain her championship.

After the match, Hayter snatched the title. Tension was thick, then Hayter handed it over and shared a hug with Baker.

Even though there was very little question about who would win, Baker and Riho wrestled an entertaining bout. Baker demonstrated creativity for devising ways to attempt the Lockjaw. Riho was extra enjoyable with her displays of sass. I loved that dragon suplex to table dropkick sequence. Riho also defiantly stepped on Baker’s stomach on her way to climbing the corner. Since Riho doesn’t speak often, these moments showed a little bit of her character.

Unfortunately, the athletic competition was overshadowed by whatever Hayter was trying to do. I’m okay with her rude attitude toward Baker, because the story has been building that way. Where it falls apart is the post-match hug. It didn’t make any sense with Hayter’s behavior during the match. By squashing their beef in that manner, it made all of Hayter’s hijinks feel pointless in hindsight.

Interim TNT Championship

With Cody Rhodes out indefinitely, Dustin Rhodes stepped in as a short notice replacement to face Sammy Guevara for the interim TNT Championship to open the broadcast. Even though Cody was absent, the match wasn’t without shenanigans as is prone to Cody’s special bouts.

Sammy beat Arn Anderson to the punch with the finger gun, so Arn flipped the bird back. Fuego del Sol was hiding under the ring and came out midway through to set up a table. Arn scared him away with the threat of pulling his glock. That assistance backfired for Sammy when Dustin put him through a table on a Canadian Destroyer off the apron.

The strategic storytelling was a bit odd in this one. Dustin acted like he hadn’t done cardio in years. He was winded often, pausing during the match to collect himself, and generally slow of pace. I assume it was intentional as a reaction to Sammy’s lightning pace, but it was executed weird. I legitimately wondered if Dustin’s health was alright. Whatever the case, Dustin exploded for badass moves when the time called for it.

The big spots were exciting throughout. Dustin hit a piledriver on the floor, Sammy leaped for a corkscrew cannonball attack, Dustin countered a springboard cutter into a Cross Rhodes, Dustin followed with a Code Red, and Sammy had an answer with a GTH knee strike.

Down the stretch, Dustin hit two consecutive Cross Rhodes. He aimed to finish with a tiger driver, but Sammy escaped. Fisticuffs ensued back and forth with a double clothesline flattening both men. When they engaged once more, roll-ups were exchanged ending with Sammy on top for victory. David Crockett presented the winner with the interim prize.

Sammy is a fitting choice to win. His story with Cody now has time to brew up anticipation instead of rushing into the rematch. Sammy could even pick up a few defenses to build momentum as a genuine threat to take down Cody once they meet again.

The next challenge for Sammy will be Daniel Garcia. Cameras showed Garcia observing from the fan seats. Once Sammy had the new title in his hand, Garcia rushed into the ring. Slaps led to a schoolyard tussle as officials broke up the skirmish.

Later backstage, the champ challenged the challenger for Dynamite. Since Garcia tried to ruin Sammy’s moment, Sammy will ruin his face.

That was a quick, fiery, effective build for Guevara versus Garcia. I’m all aboard after viewing their intensity. This bout has potential to steal the show on Wednesday night. I’m looking forward to seeing how Garcia performs against a wrestler of similar stature. Most of his matches in AEW so far have been against larger men.

FTW Championship

Ricky Starks personally selected Matt Sydal as his opponent to send a message to Dante Martin, but Starks was in trouble early from Sydal’s flips, kicks, and flipping kicks. Starks targeted the lower back to take control. Sydal wasn’t kept down for long. He blitzed Starks for a Michinoku driver, Lightning Spiral slam, and Meteora double knees. Starks stayed alive to kick out. Starks turned the tide with a spear then pounced for the Roshambo finisher.

This bout is my pick for match of the night. Sydal excelled with flashiness, and Starks shined with charisma. Whenever Starks did his pose, it made me laugh every time. He also brought excitement in the ring on moves such as a marching delayed vertical suplex.

Afterward, Starks and Will Hobbs put the boots to Sydal. Lee Moriarty ran out for the save and was promptly trucked by Hobbs. Martin also ran out, and he fared better than Moriarty. At first, Hobbs ate Martin’s punches with a smile, but Martin was able to clear the ring with dropkicks. That scuffle was a tease for Martin versus Hobbs on Dynamite.

Grade: B

Good action in each of the three title fights. Unfortunately, the in-ring storytelling was confusing at times. I think AEW fell short on this evening if the intention was to create a must-see aura for future episodes Battle of the Belts.

Share your thoughts about Battle of the Belts. How do you rate it? Who stole the show?