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AEW Rampage recap & reactions (Aug. 26, 2022): Time for Dustin Rhodes to retire

AEW Rampage (Aug. 26, 2022) emanated from Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. The show featured Claudio Castagnoli defending the ROH World Championship against Dustin Rhodes, Dark Order versus House of Black in the AEW World Trios Championship tournament, Wardlow destroying a hunk in a TNT Championship open challenge, and more.

Let’s jump right in with a recap of the show followed by reactions.

Excalibur, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, and Chris Jericho were on commentary. Justin Roberts handled ring announcer duties.

AEW World Trios Championship tournament quarterfinal: House of Black vs. Dark Order

Malakai Black, Brody King, and Buddy Matthews represented House of Black. Julia Hart was ringside. Alex Reynolds, John Silver, and 10 represented Dark Order. The winners advance to rumble with the Best Friends next week.

The match began by pairing off into separate stalemates then erupted into chaos. 10 tweaked his knee early and that played a factor going forward. 10 managed to secure a full nelson on Black. Matthews hit an enziguri and flying meteora to free his leader. Reynolds and Silver attacked with ping pong strikes to Matthews. They tried the same to King, but he powered through them. 10 was able to clothesline King over the ropes. That set the stage for 10 versus Black.

Full nelson again, but Black attacked the tender knee to pull off the brace. 10 tried for a discus strike, however, his knee gave out. Black used a body scissors to secure a knee bar submission. King and Matthews blocked Reynolds and Silver from making the save.

Horns blared for Miro’s music. King and Matthews charged to fight the Redeemer. Miro handled them with ease. As Black was staring at the intruder, Reynolds scored a roll-up to win.

Dark Order defeated House of Black.

Afterward, Miro locked eyes with Black. King walloped Miro into the ring steps. Inside the ring, Black teed off for a spinning back heel kick to crush Miro. Darby Allin and Sting arrived on the scene. House of Black retreated.

Hook saw video of Daddy Magic and Cool Hand calling him out. The FTW champion didn’t care. Right as Hook exited the scene, Daddy Magic and Cool Hand entered to take over the interview. They want a taste of the title. They see through Hook’s attitude hiding that he’s a scared young man. What if they took the FTW belt from him and relieved him of all the pressure that comes with it?

TNT Championship: Wardlow (c) vs. Ryan Nemeth

Nemeth arrived on the mic running down his hometown. The best part of growing up in Cleveland was leaving the first chance he got. Nemeth moved to a real city to become the Hollywood Hunk. Wardlow’s music cut Nemeth’s insults. After Wardlow entered the ring, Jay Lethal, Sonjay Dutt, Satnam Singh, and Chris Sabin were on stage observing.

Nemeth continued running his mouth. Wardlow headbutt him into silence then delivered a wind-up lariat. The champ played four notes on the powerbomb symphony for victory.

Wardlow defeated Ryan Nemeth.

Andrade & Rush and Private Party both lost last week. Andrade was not happy with Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen. When Private Party pointed out Andrade’s loss, he made clear that it was Dragon Lee who lost. The world saw what happened to Dragon Lee after the match. Rush turned on his own brother. Andrade calmly warned Private Party that everything in this world has consequences. The implied message was to quit losing and start winning.

Will Hobbs vs. Ashton Day

Hobbs bullied Day for a squash victory via spinebuster.

Will Hobbs defeated Ashton Day.

After the win, QT Marshall chimed in on the big screen. The Factory had Ricky Starks in their clutches. QT assured Hobbs that he won’t have to worry about Starks making it to All Out. Word is bond. QT wrapped his watch around his fist to punch Starks in the face.

Jade Cargill began to address trifling Athena, then Leila Grey stepped in to speak. Jade cut her off and ordered Kiera Hogan to take out the trash. Grey was bounced. Jade threw down the challenge for Athena to get these hands at All Out. Athena answered with a blindside attack. Jade shed it off to fire back. Security separated the fisticuffs.

Sammy Guevara & Tay Melo vs. Ortiz & Ruby Soho

Sammy and Tay entered wearing the AAA mixed tag championship belts. Cool Hand was by their side to add pesky physical interference. Mixed tag rules were in effect. The rules played a role in the story.

Soho ran the ropes for a clothesline, but Sammy stepped in to block her path. Hitting Sammy would theoretically be against the rules. Soho stopped short then went for the clothesline anyway. Sammy ducked, and Ortiz swooped in for a DDT. Tay clocked Soho with a forearm and blasted Ortiz with a pump kick. Ortiz regained his wits to block a tilt-a-whirl DDT from Tay. He caught her foot on a pump kick and handed her over to Soho for a No Future Kick. Sammy made the save to break the pinfall.

Sammy poked Soho to instigate a disqualification. Soho kept her cool to tag in Ortiz. Sammy ran away at the prospect of violence. Cool Hand caused a distraction. Anna Jay ran in to smash Soho into the ring steps. Ortiz lost focus on Sammy to see what happened to his partner. Sammy pounced for a double springboard cutter to win.

Sammy Guevara & Tay Melo defeated Ortiz & Ruby Soho.

That victory earned Chris Jericho’s Sports Entertainer of the Week honors for Sammy, Tay, Cool Hand, and Anna.

Footage rolled of CM Punk backstage after his AEW wold title loss to Jon Moxley. Punk was helped to the back by medical personnel due to reinjuring his foot on a head kick. Punk couldn’t put any weight on his foot. He didn’t feel a pop. It just gave out. The doctor reacted positively, then Punk said the same thing happened for his original injury. He didn’t feel anything then either. Punk doesn’t know what this means for his health status.

Mark Henry interviewed the main event participants. Dustin Rhodes was ready for the ROH World Championship match against Claudio Castagnoli. World titles are what dreams are made of. Rhodes promised to give the best Natural we’ve ever seen. He can beat Claudio. That confidence is what Claudio wants to hear, however, the bravado is all the same until opponents step into the ring with the Blackpool Combat Club. Claudio will shatter Rhodes’ dreams. Enough talk. Henry closed with, “It’s time for the main event!”

ROH World Championship: Claudio Castagnoli (c) vs. Dustin Rhodes

Bobby Cruise did the honors as ring announcer. Caprice Coleman joined commentary. Arn Anderson, Brock Anderson, and Wheeler Yuta were ringside. William Regal approached the announce table. Jericho split, since he was distrusting of a cheap shot from Regal.

Code of Honor handshake to start. Stalemate tussling until Claudio blasted Rhodes with a shoulder block. Rhodes hit his head on the bottom rope and regrouped on the outside. Coach Anderson provided a calming influence. Dustin shot in for a slingshot sunset flip, but Claudio blocked for a pin. Dustin kicked out, and Claudio taunted his adversary about being one step ahead in the chess match.

Claudio took control to break down Rhodes. The champ was too quick for the challenger. Rhodes was trapped in a crossface submission, however, he mustered intestinal fortitude to rise up for a side slam to escape.

Both men exchanged blows in the center of the ring. Rhodes clotheslined Claudio over the ropes and followed for a cannonball senton off the apron. Rhodes found his groove for a flying hurricanrana and Code Red. Claudio refused to lose.

Claudio came back to stun Rhodes with a lariat and thrill the crowd with the giant swing.

Rhodes kicked out on the cover, so Claudio transitioned to a crossface. Rhodes rolled it over to a pin to escape. Rhodes rallied for a scoop slam and piledriver. Claudio kicked out. Rhodes was too slow to capitalize on the damage. Arn told Dustin to keep on the pressure. Lockup then Dustin ran the ropes. Claudio leapfrogged, and his crotch collided with Rhodes’ head. Both men were down.

Anderson urged Rhodes to go for the kill while Claudio was stunned. Rhodes hesitated, and that cost him dearly. Claudio countered a charge for a pop-up uppercut to win.

Claudio Castagnoli defeated Dustin Rhodes.

It is time for Dustin Rhodes to retire.

That is a harsh statement, so let me be very clear. I am referring specifically to the story on screen told in the ring. I am not talking about real life. Rhodes did his job as they planned. His ring work and storytelling was very good. If Rhodes only wanted to hit flashy moves to pop the crowd, he still has the ability to do so and carry on his career at an entertaining level.

As the story played out in the ring, it made me sad to see a beloved veteran get schooled. Claudio Castagnoli kicked Rhodes’ ass early. The champ was too quick and too aware for counters to Dustin’s signature moves. It made Rhodes look old. Of course the match had to be competitive to a degree, so Rhodes had a rally with popping moves, such as the Code Red. Despite that, I never had the feeling that Claudio was in dire straits.

I think the damning moment was the lack of killer instinct. Look at how Jon Moxley shrugged off CM Punk’s injury and pummeled him into oblivion to unify the AEW World Championship. When Rhodes was presented with a similar situation, he couldn’t pounce fast enough to finish the job. It’s hard to say if that was mental or if his body was too worn down to cooperate. Either way, Rhodes showed he doesn’t have what it takes to compete at the peak level of competition. He did his best, but he’s just not good enough anymore. And it’s not only this match. My memory of Rhodes wrestling Sammy Guevara for the Interim TNT Championship was Rhodes being awkwardly gassed throughout. When we’re talking at the best of the best, Rhodes can’t compete. The fire is there. Unfortunately, the body is not able. There’s no shame in that. Father Time is undefeated.

With all that said, I do want to see Rhodes compete again in AEW. Personal grudge matches or forming a trios team would definitely have me interested to tune in. If his goal is world championship or bust, then it is time to call it quits.

As for the enjoyment level, I was completely enthralled by the main event. I love the idea of an aging veteran trying to rise to the occasion to win gold. The pre-match segment had me amped. Rhodes sold me hard in a quick promo on his confidence. Seeing Arn Anderson and Brock Anderson by his side made the moment feel special. Mark Henry added extra excitement on his signature main event phrase.

Even though the flow of the match never hooked me on believing Rhodes could win, I was along for the ride with full attention. Rhodes had his moments of excitement, but Claudio was too much of a beast. I do like that Claudio demonstrated that there are levels to this game. He’s peaking toward greatness, and it showed. Claudio is so strong right now that I can’t pick anyone outside the Blackpool Combact Club to beat him. That’s how to elevate the value of the ROH World Championship.

On a side note, Arn Anderson was the emotional show-stealer for the match. Give that man someone to manage. Arn needs a replacement for Cody that has a fiery disposition as a steed in the mold of the Horsemen way. I don’t have a particular name in mind off the top of my head. It needs to be someone with a mean streak on the cusp of breaking out.

On to the rest of the show. The trios action was cool, but the finish stunk. The primary focus of a tournament should be on building momentum in victory so that fans are bursting with anticipation for the next round. We now have two baloney finishes that leave me not taking United Empire or Dark Order as genuine threats to advance. They perform well to entertain, however, the manner of victory did not impress. No credibility was established for the magnitude of knocking on the door to winning gold.

It seemed weak that the Dark Order wouldn’t repay the favor to Miro to help him out, then it became clear that it was a transition to set up House of Black versus Darby Allin, Sting, and Miro. That is a match I do want to see, but it made the tournament bout feel secondary as a story building tool.

The rules for the mixed tag bout were a muddled mess. Intergender contact was a point of emphasis, and then it was enforced inconsistently. Either go all on on intergender, or leave mixed tag alone altogether. I hope this is just a way of softening up the mainstream audience and big wigs with power to the idea of intergender. AEW could definitely rock the ring with that niche in intergender tag team action.

Wardlow demolishing Ryan Nemeth was a hoot. I absolutely love his wind-up lariat. When he delivered it first against Lethal, I had caution that it might not look as cool on the regular. I am glad I was worrying for nothing. That move is a brickhouse of pain to rile me up in exhilaration.

I don’t know what to make of the CM Punk footage yet. If AEW runs back the world title rematch at All Out, then this did zilch to sell me on it. If AEW veers into a different direction for All Out, then the scene covers bases for Punk to disappear into the background until his eventual enthusiastic return.

Closing with little items of amusement. Chris Jericho on commentary without his shirt feels so wrong yet so right given the world of sports entertainment. I can’t help but laugh at the image of well-dressed announcers with one wild sex god on the loose. Will Hobbs crushed to satisfaction. QT Marshall added an interesting layer of intrigue. I want to see Anthony Ogogo in this mix, but I suppose it is not his time yet until after the singles bout at All Out between Hobbs and Ricky Starks. Claudio’s giant swing is still awesome, as is William Regal’s sell job on commentary.

Grade: B-

On the positive, good action, high energy, and interesting promos. There were enough cool moments building up to the All Out PPV. On the questionable tip, two important matches had shenanigan finishes and the two squash matches felt like fillers. Overall, the show was entertaining throughout.

Share your thoughts about Rampage. How do you rate it? Who stole the show?

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