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AEW Dynamite recap & reactions (Jan. 18, 2023): Saraya turns heel

AEW Dynamite (Jan. 18, 2023) emanated from Save Mart Center in Fresno, CA. The show featured Saraya and Toni Storm turning heel, Bryan Danielson wrestling Bandido in his quest to earn a world title shot at MJF, Kushida answering Darby Allin’s open challenge for the TNT Championship, Top Flight earning a huge upset over the Young Bucks, and much more.

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

This episode had several high-octane and important matches, but the top standout moment came from a storyline in the women’s division.

Saraya & Toni Storm turn heel

The story picked up from last week’s shenanigans when Hikaru Shida’s help backfired in defeat. Saraya was angry at Shida’s mishap. Toni Storm appeared to have Shida’s back, then she spoke condescendingly about AEW’s homegrown talent as small-time rubes. They spoke freely in front of Shida as if she couldn’t comprehend English. Oh, but Shida understood alright. Heel seeds were planted.

During the match between Storm and Willow Nightingale, Willow offered a friendly handshake to start. Storm obliged. Later, Storm did the same, except she pulled back to slap Willow across the face.

That’s when Shida decided to disobey orders and venture ringside. Saraya made sure that Shida drop her kendo stick to avoid similar mistakes to last week.

When Willow rallied for a big pounce and running cannonball in the corner, Saraya jumped onto the apron as a distraction. Storm capitalized by grabbing the trunks on a roll-up to steal the win. Those heel seeds were sprouting.

Saraya immediately put the boots to Willow in the aftermath. Shida stood idly by in shock. Ruby Soho ran in to protect her pal. Saraya and Storm scattered. Those heel seeds came into full bloom.

Whoa. That was a fast heel turn, and it was tremendously effective. I hate Saraya and Storm already. I’ve been sour on Saraya’s talking points for a while. Her entitlement relying on past success was annoying, but I wasn’t sure if that was unintentional on her behalf. Whatever the case, it is clear that AEW embraced the criticism to run with Saraya turning heel. And then with a fan base as fervent as AEW supporters, this homegrown angle has real potential for fireworks. Smart call for the cheap attack to be on Willow, who is beloved by the fans. Speaking of Willow, her theatrics are so expressive. It’s funny in a good way. Muscling up after a should block, doing the straps down routine, and such have an endearing quality about the way she does it.

I’m all in to see how this story unfolds. Ruby Soho was clearly on Willow’s side, but how long will that last? When is Shida going to snap on Saraya? Will this affect the behavior of Dr. Britt Baker and Jamie Hayter? They have strong fan support, even though, they are clearly treacherous in their own right. So many questions, and I’m excited for answers to all of them.

Bryan Danielson’s world title journey continues

Bryan Danielson has to win five singles matches over five consecutive weeks to earn his stipulation of a 60-minute Iron Man match against MJF for the AEW World Championship. One down last week with a victory over Konosuke Takeshita. This week’s competition came in the form of former ROH world champion Bandido. Let the highlights roll.

It was a very competitive contest with the result in the bag. Danielson performed at his usual high rate of expertise. Bandido brought his A-game to hang with the American Dragon. Just check out this sequence. Bandido showed his leg strength as a steady base for Danielson to bridge up and headbutt his opponent.

Bandido also broke out El Nudo Lagunero submission showing respect to Blue Panther.

Bandido took flight for a Spanish Fly fallaway slam.

Bandido even hit his 21-Plex finisher, but Danielson kicked out on the cover. In the end, Danielson blasted the Busaiku Knee for victory.

This match was a mighty fine demonstration of skills and strength. There were so many cool moves. Bandido didn’t quite make me believe he could shock the world, but he did have the Fresno crowd in his favor shouting in Spanish, “Yes, you can!” Those in the know about Bandido shouldn’t be surprised by his awesomeness. I’d like to think that those still fresh to Bandido’s style have a new favorite to cheer.

MJF chimed in from the big screen acting like a tough guy.

I found MJF’s hyperbole and ego to be extremely boring, because we saw how he got his ass kicked by Jon Moxley when winning the world title with outside help from William Regal. No Regal, no chance MJF would have won. At this point, MJF’s bravado is empty words. Thankfully, Taz spoke about MJF’s ruthlessness. That is a good point to show Danielson should be very concerned about even making it to the match.

Danielson’s next opponent was revealed to be Brian Cage. MJF approached with an envelope of cash as an enticement for Cage to break Danielson’s arm. MJF then slapped Cage across the face. Cage was going to strangle the brat, but Prince Nana brought up the money to think about. MJF’s message was to use that anger as motivation against Danielson.

And just like that, MJF totally redeemed himself on the entertainment scale. Color me fickle. That slap was so shocking, and he managed to come across even more scummy than usual by hiding behind the money. That mini angle adds extra fire to next week’s match.

That wasn’t all for the MJF story. Konosuke Takeshita had choice words in Japanese. He clarified in English to call MJF an asshole. Takeshita will be watching Danielson’s back.

Let’s jam through the rest of Dynamite.

AEW All-Atlantic Championship: Orange Cassidy retained against Jay Lethal. Prior to the broadcast, Lethal’s crew was banned from ringside. If they got physical, then Sonjay Dutt would be fired.

The actual match was overshadowed by the extracurricular activity. Jeff Jarrett, Dutt, and Satnam Singh managed to score front row seats. Danhausen was disguised as the usher to check their tickets. Trent and Chuck Taylor moseyed over with popcorn and refreshments in the fan section. Jarrett and Singh were tempted to get involved, but Dutt stopped them. The finish began with Chuck dumping popcorn on the bad guys. Referee Bryce Remsburg acted as a busy body to abandon his official duties for the match and threaten Dutt. Jarrett tried to pass his guitar over to Lethal. Danhausen intercepted it to rock out. Lethal chased Danhausen into the ring. Cassidy took advantage of the distraction for a roll-up. Lethal kicked out, so Cassidy clobbered him with the superman punch to win.

Afterward, Singh goozled Trent and Chuck, but Dutt talked him down to save his own job.

The story idea had potential, however, the execution was a mess. It was far too distracting to make the match feel meaningless. Camera production was not good either. They missed Lethal’s strut. Such disrespect. They also missed Chuck pouring out his popcorn as an act of instigation. Overall, this segment was not smooth. Sort of entertaining? Yes. Awkward train wreck? Yes.

Top Flight defeated Young Bucks. The veterans used cheap tricks to gain an advantage, but the youngsters had the fresher legs with more pep in their step. The closing stanza was electric with near falls. Top Flight connected on their double springboard moonsault powerbomb combo to Matt Jackson, but Nick Jackson broke the pin.

The Bucks paid homage to the Briscoes with the Doomsday Device on Darius Martin. Dante Martin made the save to prevent the three-count.

The finish paved the way to swerve city for a genuine surprise. Dante leaped to the outside. The Bucks saw it coming and met him with a pair of superkicks to the mush. Dante was down, and that left Darius alone. The Bucks set up a BTE Trigger. A victory seemed to be a lock. Instead, Darius ducked, and the Bucks boinked knees. Darius scored a roll-up on Matt to earn the win.

Fun action, especially at the end. Credit to AEW for pulling the trigger on Top Flight. I fully expected the Young Bucks to win. It felt like the Konosuke Takeshita booking playbook was in effect after Top Flight lost a pair of matches to the Blackpool Combat Club. As the Bucks were setting up the BTE Trigger, I was all set to lambast another high-profile loss for Top Flight. However, AEW played me like a fiddle. I was actually surprised at the upset. Well done. If AEW isn’t ready to roll with Acclaimed versus Top Flight for tag team gold, then the Martin brothers need a winnable feud to keep them hot.

Hangman Page reflects on fight with Jon Moxley. Renee Paquette, Mox’s wife, interviewed the cowboy backstage. Hangman restored his reputation by living up to his word in knocking Moxley out. Renee shared that Jon despises and cherishes Hangman for pushing him to be better. As for Hangman’s future, he needs to have tough conversations to mend fences. It seemed like Hangman wanted to send a tender message to Moxley, but he chickened out on his feelings.

Interesting little interview. Lots of teases were packed into a short time. You would think round three is coming between Hangman and Moxley, however, it doesn’t seem imminent. It might not even be for the next PPV. When Hangman spoke about mending fences, a few names came to mind. Dark Order and the Elite are the obvious ones, but I don’t see room for Hangman in quartets at this moment for story purposes. With this whole concussion storyline, it made me wonder if Hangman will squash beef with Adam Cole. That could either help Cole confirm babyface status or set up a dastardly turn for Cole to remain heel.

Speaking of Cole, AEW hyped his return.

Ricky Starks defeated Jake Hager. Daddy Magic and Cool Hand were ringside with Chris Jericho on commentary. Starks rolled solo and outsmarted JAS to win. As Starks had momentum with a pose. Daddy Magic’s nipples got hard, and he hopped onto the apron. Starks punched him down. Cool Hand grabbed Starks from behind. Hager charged and collided into Cool Hand when Starks moved. Starks ran the ropes for a spear to win. Afterward, Starks saw Sammy Guevara and Daniel Garcia creeping, so he wisely bailed to safety.

Entertaining showcase from Starks. He flashed his sparkling personality and showed wits to come out on top. Hager did well as a barbarian out to inflict pain. Despite defeat, he maintained his special attraction status as a smasher. Hager was so strong at times that it made Starks’ win that much more impressive.

Later, Jericho was angry at Starks, so he issued a tag team challenge. Starks & Action Andretti versus Le Sex Gods. Daniel Garcia stepped up requesting a chance to hurt Starks. Sammy was proud of his protege for taking initiative. If Garcia beats Andretti on Rampage, then Sammy will gladly give Garcia his spot in the match. I love Sammy’s hugs on Garcia. Sammy’s overbearing cheesiness is a humorous complement to Garcia’s reluctant disgust.

TNT Championship: Darby Allin retained against Kushida. AEW billed this as a dream match for the main event, and they made the effort to hype it as such with an explanation package of Kushida’s success in Japan. Sting was ringside to support Allin. Kushida was flanked by Kevin Knight and DKC from the NJPW LA dojo. Kushida was very effective with submissions to damage Allin’s arm and shoulder. Allin relied on feisty daredevil tactics. In the end, Allin was trapped in the Hoverboard Lock, but he refused to quit. The young lions tossed a towel over to Sting as a taunt to save Allin. Sting believed in Allin, and the Icon threw the towel into the crowd. All of a sudden, Allin escaped to counter for the Last Supper pin.

Good action for the main event and an effective use of the Forbidden Door. Kushida came across as the star he is in Japan. The finish was a little lackluster. It didn’t have much of a crescendo. It’s like they squeezed in the Sting spot then rushed to the finish. It all happened without much build.

Notes: In honor of Jay Briscoe, AEW aired a memorial graphic, mentioned his death on air a few times, and some wrestlers wore a black armband. On social media, Tony Khan mentioned plans to tape a special dedicated to Briscoe after Dynamite.

The Gunn sons tried to block Max Caster’s rap. No dice. Billy Gunn had enough of his boys fighting his sons. He told the Acclaimed to start acting like champions, and he told the Top Gunns to stop whining. Billy ordered a session of family therapy next week. Will that mean the AEW debut of Dr. Shelby? Scorpio Sky can reprise his role as Harold.

Ethan Page is coming for Firm revenge on Jungle Boy for a match on Rampage.


Stud of the Show: Bandido

Bandido maximized the opportunity to shine bright.

Match of the Night: Top Flight vs. Young Bucks

I’ll give the tag bout the nod due to the electric finish.

Grade: B-

Most of the matches were good quality, the women’s storyline was popping, and surprises were swerved. Some finishes were a little soiled, and camera snafus were present. That said, there was something off about this show. It might have been the choice of opener. There was too much commotion ringside to distract from the match. The whole thing felt better suited for the cool down slot before the main event rather than a hot scene demanding engagement to stick around. The tone that was set was not strong.

Share your thoughts about Dynamite. How do you rate it? What were your favorite moments from the show?

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