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AEW Dynamite recap & reactions (Dec. 20, 2023): Surprise finish to Continental Classic

AEW Dynamite (Dec. 20, 2023) emanated from Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, OK. The Holiday Bash special featured a surprising finish in the last week for the Continental Classic tournament, an intriguing new suspect as the masked devil, and more.

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

Continental Classic surprise

The final week of Continental Classic round robin play was in action. With numerous semifinal scenarios available, the finish produced an unexpected result.

Swerve Strickland battled Rush in the opener in a hard-fought contest.

The grueling path to this bout led to both men entering with injuries. Swerve’s shoulder was damaged, and Rush’s leg was compromised. As such, both weak spots were targeted throughout. Rush was in so much pain that his leg gave out when trying to run for the Bull’s Horns dropkick finisher. That stroke of misfortune may have very well saved Swerve.

Rush shifted tactics to execute a straitjacket piledriver, but he made an arrogant pin leaving plenty of room for Rush to kick out. The match progressed with Rush slowly climbing the corner. He took too long and missed the target on a senton. Swerve pounced for a 450 splash. Rush kicked out at 1!

Swerve played matador to El Toro Blanco with suplexes, the House Call kick, and a flying double stomp to win.

Jon Moxley wrestled Jay White in the main event. Swerve’s victory meant he had 12 points. Moxley entered with 12 and White trailed with 9. Switchblade needed to win to force a three-way tie. Any other result was elimination.

Jim Ross returned for this big-time bout. Moxley was out for the kill early. As King Switch talked trash to start the match, Mox responded by snatching White’s neck for a rear naked choke. Moxley transitioned to hammering elbows then a piledriver. A bulldog choke was next. White survived the dangerous onslaught with kick-outs and rope-breaks.

White got back in the game by targeting Moxley’s knee. Switchblade pulled a fast one on the referee by bringing two chairs. As the referee confiscated one, White bashed Mox’s leg with the other.

The action progressed revolving around the Blade Runner. Moxley reversed for a Paradigm Shift. White refocused his efforts emptying his arsenal of moves, but Moxley escaped again to blast a pair of lariats and a curb stomp. Third time was the charm though. White countered a Death Rider to stun Moxley with a Blade Runner. 1, 2, 3. Wow!

White beat Moxley clean to force a three-way tie in the Gold League. Next week’s semifinal will be a triple threat between White, Moxley, and Swerve.

Those two matches were the real deal in terms of excitement. The tournament situation created a natural story element with a sense of urgency to win. It was smart to have Swerve start the show with a win, so the main event stage was set for maximum drama. I was shocked that White pulled the upset. Moxley doesn’t lose like that very often. I couldn’t believe it even after it happened. That’s the beauty of live sports.

No matter what result occurs in the semifinal, Swerve and White have redeemed themselves in my eyes as credible main event players. After Full Gear, their stock was wavering. Swerve had a fantastic performance in Texas Death, but I wasn’t sold on how he needed help to win. Due to the Continental Classic rules, Swerve was forced to win on his own. I have no further doubts that his character can beat the best of the best by himself. As for White, he failed to beat a one-legged MJF. This win over Moxley was a statement that he should never be overlooked again.

The third match for the Gold League was Jay Lethal versus Mark Briscoe. Both had zero points and no stakes, so they wrestled for the love of the game. Lethal switched it up to hit a Jay Driller, but Briscoe kicked out. Dat Boy blocked the Lethal Injection to counter with a Burning Hammer and a Jay Driller to win.

This match had a humorous subplot with the fan reaction. Chairs were brought into the equation, and the crowd was raucous for violence. The referee restored order before any foreign objects could be used. The wrestlers played into the chants for chairs by tossing seats into the ring, which the referee would promptly remove. Boos rained down on the ref’s efforts. The payoff came when Briscoe used a chair for a step-up cannonball to the outside. The fans were satisfied, and the show continued. Got to love the random moments that live broadcasts can bring.

The match itself was solid. Briscoe and Lethal were familiar foes, and it showed in the chess match on defense. Even though the result was irrelevant to the big picture of the standings, they had the crowd in the palms of their hands to deliver a show. For the love of the game, indeed.

Who is the devil?

When you thought AEW would zig in the masked devil storyline, they zagged. This time, an unexpected suspect emerged.

Samoa Joe called out MJF to the ring with accusations of being the devil. MJF flipped the figurative table to point the finger at Joe. Push came to shove, and it looked like we would be getting an early preview of the Worlds End main event. Not so fast, my friend.

Masked goons rushed the ring in mass numbers. MJF and Joe easily dispatched the intruders. A second wave arrived, which included the main four. The devil appeared on screen with a challenge for the ROH tag titles next week. MJF asked Joe if he would be game. Joe commanded the microphone to forcefully accept. Samoan Joseph had enough of these hooligans, and it was time for a stand.

That was an interesting scene by itself, but the true tease came when MJF found a mask outside the Mogul Embassy locker room door. Swerve opened for a staredown with MJF.

After exchanging trash talk, MJF asked point blank if Swerve was the devil. MJF stated his case about Swerve’s motivation to attack Hangman Page en route to becoming a world champion. Swerve denied any involvement. As Brian Cage and the Gates of Agony loomed large, Joe returned to watch MJF’s back.

The devil story was so good on this episode. Not because of the devil though, it was the promo work from all involved. The goons looked like chumps, but it was the visual that counted. Seeing so many bodies serves to heighten theories of wild speculation, and that’s part of the fun with this story.

The money shot was seeing MJF and Swerve dish out banter. The flow was so smooth. Electricity surged in the air at the tease of a future showdown. Momentum is building strong behind Swerve, and this is setting up for a major money match. The key will be keeping Swerve hot from now until whenever AEW pulls the trigger on that feud. They can’t let Swerve simmer too long that he cools. It is becoming more clear that the fans view Swerve as a top candidate to end MJF’s reign.

As for candidates of the devil’s identity, MJF, Joe, and Swerve are all on the suspect list despite what they say. I don’t think it is either of the three, however, none are out of bounds. Sure, Swerve denied the accusation, but, of course, the devil would say the same. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the big reveal. So many fans have convinced themselves that Adam Cole is the best option that it creates a tricky situation for AEW to deliver on a star at that level. Swerve is one of the few candidates that I believe would have fans talking positively with excitement about the angle. I never considered Swerve before, so it is an interesting theory to mull over.

Another devil name to consider is Wardlow. The clock is ticking on the battle between good and evil. Wardlow vowed to bring devilish MJF to his knees. You would think the blatant use of devil talking points makes it too obvious, but it is possible. Wardlow is obviously too large to be the devil himself, however, that could be remedied with shell games on screen.

Let’s jam through the rest of Dynamite.

Riho defeated Saraya. #1 contender status was on the line for a world title shot at Toni Storm at Worlds End. Riho triumphed in victory with a flying double stomp followed by running knees to close. Also of note, Ruby Soho watched backstage to see Saraya fail to back up her bravado as the story of their friendship pitter-patters. Afterward, Storm confronted the diminutive Riho with comical binoculars. Riho threw fists, but Mariah May made the save hitting her with the title belt. Storm played the self-absorbed diva role by not even recognizing who May was.

This match was feisty. The flow was better than I was expecting. Saraya was great when flailing about to sell Riho’s offense. An outside sequence made me take notice when Riho caused Saraya to stumble on repeated headscissors. Saraya had the last laugh by swinging Riho into the barricade.

The finish looked awkward when it appeared that Saraya was expecting a pin after the flying stomp. Instead, she had to scoot into position for the running knees.

Roderick Strong defeated Komander. Roddy tested the luchador with backbreakers to see if he was back strong. Komander rallied for an amazing phoenix splash.

Komander had his eye on the rope-walking shooting star press, but the Kingdom pulled Strong out of the ring. Komander called an audible to launch for a springboard moonsault onto Matt Taven and Mike Bennett. Komander took to the air once again, however, Strong was ready and waiting for a jumping knee mid-air. Strong finished with a gutbuster. He tossed Komander so hard into the air that the luchador did an extra rotation to take the move as a gutbuster rather than a backbreaker.

Damn, those high spots were exhilarating. Komander upped the qualifications of being a flippy guy. The finish was jaw-dropping. Strong’s mid-air knee strike is such a great way to turn the tide toward victory. And that gutbuster was executed in a way I’ve never seen before. Bravo! Komander is winning over crowds with his athleticism. He’s not just a cool moves guy anymore. Fans actively want to see him win.

After the match, the Kingdom put up propaganda posters claiming MJF is the devil. Strong sent a message for Joe to listen to this warning. Roddy can’t sit by as his best friend by proxy is tricked by MJF.

Notes: AEW and Jazwares donated one million dollars worth of toys to Toys for Tots charity.

Chris Jericho informed the viewers that Kenny Omega was hospitalized last week due to diverticulitis. Omega will be absent from AEW indefinitely. No decision has been made yet on how to proceed for the Golden Jets tag title bout at Worlds End on December 30. This was a serious promo with Jericho rooting for Omega’s recovery.

MJF was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Renee Paquette framed a question to Rocky Romero about what’s next for Trent and him. Romero wants gold around his waist with the implication of tag team or trios. Orange Cassidy took it as a challenge and made the match for the AEW International Championship for Rampage. Romero didn’t mean it like that.

Tony Schiavone read a statement from Christian Cage. The TNT champ went on vacation after beating Adam Copeland. He will return on Collision to answer the No DQ challenge.

Stud of the Show: Roderick Strong

Strong’s finishing sequence was awesome.

Match of the Night: Jay White vs. Jon Moxley

The bout was the high standard of action we’ve come to expect from the Continental Classic, then the surprising result pushed it over the top.

Grade: B+

Hot matches and cool story teases made for a satisfying evening of entertainment. Shout out to the crowd for their energy elevating the viewing experience.

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

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