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AEW Dark recap (Jan. 3, 2023): Will Top Flight soar in 2023?

Episode 177 of AEW Dark is in the books! If you missed the live broadcast click here for the stream via Cageside Seats. Excalibur and Taz called the first Dark episode of 2023. Let’s get to it!

Christopher Daniels vs. Brian Pillman Jr.

Pillman brought a record of 9-1 on Dark to this match as Taz welcomed us to the first episode of the year. Daniels brought a record on Dark of 22-8. Excalibur teased that both he and Taz knew the building in Universal Studios very well, then on a more serious note expressed his condolences to every one on the passing of Don West. Taz called him “very likable” and “a super guy.” As I’ve said elsewhere about Mr. West, he used his natural ability as a pitchman to bring a lot of energy to calling pro wrestling, and teaming him with Mike Tenay was a perfect 1-2 punch of a super knowledgable announcer with someone really excitable learning on the job. My heartfelt condolences to everyone who knew him. Meanwhile Pillman and Daniels were having a very even back and forth match in the ring, move for move, hold for hold, kicking out at one. Finally Daniels tried to soften Pillman up by hammering him with elbows and locking in a gut wrench to the body. Pillman tried to escape and Daniels came over the top with an elbow for two. Pillman got whipped hard into the turnbuckle for another near fall. More elbows, more gut wrench, more Pillman fighting his way out. Big dropkick by Pillman to start his comeback. Lariat, chop, Northern Lights suplex, near fall. Chops in the corner, kick from Daniels, clubbing blow to the back. Daniels pulled him up by the hair for more elbows. Angels Wings blocked with a back body drop. Daniels kicked out of a back bridge pin attempt. Thrust kick lariat combo by Pillman for 2.9. Taz: “This thing just keeps going back and forth here!” Pillman missed on a senton atomico. Daniels planted Pillman, hit the Best Moonsault Ever, and the match finally came to an end. Heck of a way to start the first Dark of 2023. Wow!

Backstage Lexi was with Ryan Nemeth. “Lexi they say there are no small roles, only small actor. I see a lot of small actors, not just in stature but in range. There is only one me. There is only one leading man. Only one superstar of the silver screen and the ring. There’s only one double H, only one Hollywood Hunk, and it feels so good. Lexi if you want an autograph wait until after the show! Thank you all. Thank you.”

Emi Sakura (w/ Baliyan Akki) vs. Jada Stone

Sakura brought a singles record of 24-11 to the ring. Stone was making her AEW debut. Sakura grabbed a handful of hair, threw a knife edge chop, then sat on her for a spot of tea. She even offered some to Bryce Remsburg who promptly refused. She did the “day-ohh” surfboard a/k/a Romero Special next. Now I’m expecting the “we will rock you” crossbody. Yes there’s a pattern to an Emi Sakura match, but I wouldn’t want to watch it without her signature spots, and in fact the fans in Universal Studios were doing the stomp and clap even before the crossbody. Backbreaker, moonsault, 1-2-3.

Arn Anderson was backstage with Brock Anderson, Brian Pillman Jr. and Lexi. Anderson: “Let’s get recent. Don’t think less of yourself or your abilities. You just got beat by a veteran who is very smart, very conniving, it happens. I got a little bit of an idea here. I’m just trying to get something that’s gonna benefit you, benefit Brock, benefit me. What do you say?” Pillman noted that he and his father had a lot of history together, Anderson: “I’m not gonna say follow me, I’m gonna say listen to me and let’s give it a try, because I gotta be honest our history recently makes me want to puke.” Seems like we have a new (reluctant) team in the making.

Ryan Nemeth vs. Dak Draper

This was billed as Nemeth’s 2023 debut, but it was Draper’s debut period. Nemeth hit a chop block to the knee before the bell rang. Excalibur was sure to remind us to tune in for “a new era” of Dynamite tomorrow in Seattle before Draper got a two count. Nemeth countered a possible Doctor Bomb into Hunk o’ Love to get his hand raised by Aubrey (not Graham) Edwards. That was that.

Blake Christian vs. Sean Maluta

This too was billed as Christian’s first match of 2023. Maluta was billed by his 2022 record of 0-1. Christian hit a running twisting bulldog, a flip powerbomb into the corner, diving knees to the back of the head, a half and half, and got a two count. Taz: “Stealing Kenny Omega’s moves I guess.” Christian went to the top rope and Maluta rolled out of the ring, so he jumped down and did a baseball slide to the outside instead, then did a cutter coming off the ring steps. He threw Maluta back in and did a springboard 450 for the pin and the win.

Leon Ruffin vs. Ari Daivari (w/ The Trustbusters)

Ruffin was also making his 2023 debut here. It shouldn’t be in the back of my head that all of these matches were taped in 2022... but it is. Daivari brought a Dark record of 5-1 from 2022. Daivari took the mic and said he had “a proposition.” He said in exchange for laying down for the pin, Ruffin would be made an official member of The Trustbusters. Ruffin: “Respectfully I don’t lay down for anyone, especially some jackass like you.” This incensed Daivari and he called for the bell. He took Ruffin over in a headlock and started talking trash to him on the mat. He missed with an elbow drop, missed with a charge, leapfrog and dropkick from Ruffin. He ran up the ropes, wiped Daivari out on the floor, then got distracted by Jeeves Kay and knocked off the apron by Daivari, who promptly threw him into the entrance stage and got a “you suck” chant. Back in the ring Daivari whipped Ruffin hard into the corner and Ruffin yelled out in pain. Daivari stomped on his back and applied a crossface and a rear naked choke. Stephon Smith asked Ruffin if he wanted to quit and he told the ref no. He hit a jawbreaker to escape, got thrown onto the apron, and started to flip flow and fly from there. Clubbing blows by Ruffin. Kick to the chest. Rebound lariat. Second rope cutter. Daivari kicked out at two. Slim J started yelling and got a kick to the face. Jeeves Kay got some too. Sonny Kiss avoided contact and Daivari finally took advantage of the distraction to get the win, and then the entire crew hit the ring to stomp a mudhole into Ruffin. It looked like a setup for someone to make the save, and after an extended amount of time, the music hit and AR Fox was joined by Blake Christian with chairs in hand. The Trustbusters wisely took a powder.

Richard Adonis vs. Rohit Raju

Raju brought a singles record of 3-2. Adonis was making his AEW debut. Pretty good physique on the young man. He and Raju traded arm wringers early. Raju hit the headlock takeover and Adonis returned the favor. Raju took control again and Adonis escaped and kipped up to his feet. Roundhouse kick from Adonis. Chop on the ropes. Raju threw him down with a handful of hair and stomped on him. Taz: “No back down in Adonis. He’s putting on a good effort.” Raju applied an abdominal stretch Adonis escaped for a leapfrog and diving back elbow. Northern Lights suplex by Adonis for two. Kick by Adonis. Knee strike and high boot followed by a cannonball from Raju. To the top rope. Diving stomp, 1-2-3. Raju is the winner but Adonis impressed me, and Raju sold his jaw afterward.

Jora Johl vs. Jarett Diaz

Johl brought a 2022 record of 7-1. Diaz brought a record of 0-2. Diaz didn’t get to show us much. He got cut off by a kick in mid-air to get pinned and we immediately cut away to a Rohit Raju interview. “I want the big seat at the big table with the napkin right here because I’m starving. My stomach is still growling. I’m gonna take food from your plate. Why? Because I’m the jaw jacking, back cracking, God created all men equal and then he made the sequel, I am not a star, I am THE star.” You can tell what the production team gave the time to when mapping out this episode — and I don’t disagree with it.

Dark Order (John Silver & Alex Reynolds) (w/ Evil Uno) vs. Level X (Axton Rey & Blanco Loco)

Silver and Reynolds brought a tag team record of 4-0 on Dark for 2022. That sentence is unnecessarily complicated. Just show their entire team record for 2022 regardless of the show, their entire record as a team for the history of AEW, or reset their record for 2023. Ray and Loco brought a tag team record of 0-1 in AEW. See? It’s that simple.

Reynolds taking the beatdown was in effect at the start. Silver came in without a tag when he was being double teamed, and no effort was made on the part of the ref to throw him out. Why would you when it’s obvious what comes next? Stunner, German, bridge combo for the pin. Glorified squash. It would have been a good one to gif for social media — but AEW didn’t. Oh well.

Varsity Athletes (w/ Mark Sterling) vs. Liam Gray & Adrian Alanis

The Varsity Athletes brought a record of 11-3. Gray and Alanis were appearing for the first time in 2023. This was another glorified squash. One R M, one and done. No video of this one either.

Kiera Hogan vs. Kaci Lennox

Hogan brought a Dark record of 9-3. Lennox was 0-2 for 2022. The cracks are starting to show in a 13 match episode as the matches are getting increasingly one sided and quick.

This one didn’t go a minute and I have nothing to say about it. Taz: “Quick and impressive victory.” Excalibur: “I didn’t even get the Dynamite promo finished!” Hogan signed autographs and high fived the fans at ringside.

The Trustbusters (Sonny Kiss & Slim J) w/ Jeeves Kay vs. Cameron Stewart & Ryzin

Kiss and J were teaming for the first time here. Stewart and Ryzin brought a team record of 0-2. This match was at least slightly competitive compared to the last two, and it’s always good to see Kiss showing off what they can do in the ring. Ryzin tried to give Stewart the hot tag but it backfired as he got a double team neck breaker. J went to the top rope for a diving reverse DDT. Kiss went to the top for a 450 splash and the pin. I was begging for a video of this one and AEW’s social media team did +not+ oblige. They must be trying to show less clips on Twitter to get more people to YouTube.

Shawn Dean vs. Ariel Dominguez

“The Captain” brought a 2022 singles record of 9-1 to this match. Dominguez was 0-2. Dean and Dominguez tried their best to give Excalibur enough time to get all his plugs in for Dynamite, Rampage and Battle of the Belts V. Huge dropkick by Dean. To the top rope. Splash. Pin. Squash.

Top Flight vs. The WorkHorsemen

The WorkHorsemen were making their 2023 debut. That would be true of Top Flight too, but they were billed by their Dark record of 7-1. Consistently inconsistent AEW. Thanks for that. Anthony Henry and Darius Martin were going 50/50 until JD Drake provided a distraction to get Henry an advantage. Martin came back with a dropkick to the head, threw Henry into his corner, and tagged in his brother Dante. Drake ran in to help and failed. Double suicide dive by Top Flight was denied as The WorkHorsemen both walked away. They ate double dropkicks when they came back in the ring though. Once the ring cleared the faces cut off the ring to work on Henry. A handful of hair by Drake from the outside got the heat on the WorkHorsemen and incensed Dante. Now it was their turn to cut off the ring and work on Darius. Darius leapt over Drake to tag in Dante. Diving knee drop by Henry for two. Henry stood on a leg after tagging Drake to keep Dante from getting to his brother. Clubbing blows by Drake. Chop dropped Dante to his knees. Drake: “One more?” He jacked him in the jaw instead. The ref finally complained about the lack of clean wrestling when tagging in by the heels. “One in, one out. Let’s go!” How about we try saying that a little more often?

Henry did a baseball slide to knock Darius off the apron. Spanish Fly on Henry for two. Chops to Drake. Drake knocked him down with just one. Darius escaped a suplex and tagged in Dante. Dive to the floor, to the top rope, shotgun dropkick on Henry. Snapmare. Two count. Darius tagged in. Flatliner. Henry kicked out at two. Dante and Darius collide heads. Darius sets Henry on his shoulders. Double team Nose Dive interrupted. Drake tags in. Senton. Two count. WorkHorsemen collide heads. Roundhouse kick misses for Henry. Back elbow lands. Henry goes top rope but gets cut off. He’s set on Darius shoulders again. This time the combo Nose Dive was executed for the pin. A nearly 90 minute episode of Dark finally comes to an end with a strong finish.

What to watch/skip

For the first Dark of 2023, “what to watch/skip” is brought to you by the always entertaining Danhausen. I could have used him on this episode, even if it was just a backstage interview with Lexi. There’s a whole lot of “skip” here so let me just focus on the what to watch part of the equation: Daniels vs. Pillman, Christian vs. Maluta, Ruffin vs. Daivari, Adonis vs. Raju, and the main event. Honorable mention goes to Sonny Kiss for being awesome as always.

Cageside commentary crew — share your feedback below in the comments section. If you love pro wrestling find me on Twitter until it breaks. See you next week for new episodes of Elevation and Dark!

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