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AEW Dynamite Grand Slam recap & reactions (Sep. 20, 2023): MJF chokes out Samoa Joe

AEW Dynamite (Sep. 20, 2023) emanated from Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, NY. The Grand Slam special featured MJF conquering Samoa Joe, Eddie Kingston winning the big one at home, Fenix earning gold over Jon Moxley, and more.

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

MJF chokes out Samoa Joe

MJF faced Samoa Joe in the main event for the AEW World Championship. MJF vowed to choke Joe out as payback from the disrespect of times old and new. Our scumbag got the job done the only way he knows how, by being a scumbag.

A few quick promos notes before the headliner, because that played a role in the storytelling. Adam Cole visited Roderick Strong in the hospital for a hilariously hammy scene of emotional manipulation from the Neck Strong crew.

That set the wheels in motion for a distressed call from Strong during MJF’s promo. Cole rushed to Strong’s side, but he promised to have MJF’s back for the title bout.

And we can’t forget AEW’s special entrance homage to Mean Joe Greene. This didn’t have anything to do with the match, but it’s too amusing to pass up, especially if you have a frame of reference for the original commercial. MJF put his scumbag twist on it by whispering to the little boy that he was adopted.

On to the fight. Joe backed up his words to mercilessly smash MJF from pillar to post, and the focus was on his inured neck. MJF showed fighting spirit for the kangaroo kick, and it was glorious.

Joe’s facial expressions told an interesting tale as the match progressed with MJF refusing to lose. Joe stuffed MJF with a Death Valley Driver on the apron. When MJF kicked out on the cover, Joe flashed a shrug of acceptance. He continued with a uranage through a table. Joe laughed manically like a villain admiring his demented handiwork. When MJF kicked out again, frustration began to build in Joe’s eyes. Samoan Joseph’s next attack was a piledriver on the exposed floor. On MJF’s third kick out, Joe was visibly shocked.

MJF dug deep to rally. He fired up and reached into his bag of tricks. MJF grabbed referee Paul Turner as a shield to deliver a mule kick. MJF pulled out his Dynamite Diamond Ring, but Joe was savvier to the punch. Joe pulled the ref in plain view of the foreign object. When Turner confiscated the goods, Joe struck with a low blow. Joe pounced for a musclebuster. When MJF kicked out this time, Joe was full-blown surprised.

Joe went back to work grinding MJF on the mat with a sleeper. The referee did the arm check routine. That’s when Cole sprinted down to support his friend. It appeared like he was in such a rush that he twisted his ankle jumping off the ramp. The ref checked MJF’s arm for the third time. Cole urged the crowd to make noise. MJF felt the power and shot his arm into the air. The match continued.

The finish had a ref bump when Turner dove out of the ring to avoid being sandwiched in the corner. He injured his leg on the landing and was slow to return. MJF took advantage using wrist tape as leverage to tighten a choke on Joe. By the time the ref returned, Joe was out. Turner called for the bell, and MJF was awarded the win.

The coast wasn’t clear just yet for MJF. He tried to hide the evidence in his armpit. When Turner raised MJF’s hand in victory, the tape fell to the mat. MJF slyly did a dance move with Turner, and Cole swooped in to pocket the tape. That’s what friends are for.

Afterward, Joe had angry eyes on Cole. MJF was in tremendous neck pain, but he shielded his best friend from harm. Joe respected that action, shook MJF’s hand, and exited the ring to let them celebrate in peace.

This bout was story driven around the events leading to this night. MJF was no match physically as damaged goods against Joe. That injured neck hindered the champ’s offensive output. Joe looked every bit the menace as he has since hunting MJF and the world title. Logically, I thought MJF was a lock to win. Emotionally, Joe had me questioning the outcome. He made me buy in all the way on that musclebuster. That would have been a fitting finish with no argument. However, it was not meant to be Joe’s night. The Cole angle wrapped around to the power of friendship saga that the fans love so much. The post-match coverup was a nice touch as well.

Overall, I enjoyed the main event in the moment. I’m not sure if there will be high replay value. The pace was a little plodding to set up moments that popped. That was certainly effective at times, such as the magnificent kangaroo kick explosion and the musclebuster kick out. The referee antics were a little drawn out too slow. On the dramatic choke by Joe, the third arm check for MJF was noticeably late after the second arm check. Turner looked like a wimp on the ref bump not being able to return to the ring without consulting with the ringside medic. I felt that made him the focus in that moment rather than a cog in the wheel servicing the match. Even though MJF showed intestinal fortitude to survive, it wasn’t the kind of win that elevated him to a higher level of greatness. He barely escaped. In the end, MJF did what he had to do to, which fit into his scumbag persona. The only difference from before is that now he is our scumbag.

Mad King of New York

Grand Slam opened with another hometown triumph. Eddie Kingston had the crowd behind him in the title versus title contest against Claudio Castagnoli. Both the ROH World Championship and the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship were on the line. This would be the final round for this feud. Winner take all, including respect.

Claudio entered first with Wheeler Yuta by his side. Claudio’s nerves were popping as he popped Yuta with a knee to the midsection on his way to the ring.

Kingston was focused for his entrance, alongside Pentagon and Alex Abrahantes.

This match was a slugfest from the opening bell. Kingston unloaded a spinning backfist early, but Claudio took the blow on the crown of his head. Kingston’s hand was damaged due to the crown of the skull allegedly being the hardest part of the body. Cue memories of Brian Dennehy teaching that lesson in the boxing movie Gladiator.

Claudio took control and picked Kingston apart piece by piece. Kingston began to wilt under the pressure and pain, but he grit through to rally with heart and toughness. Claudio went to finish with the Ricola Bomb, however, Kingston countered for a rana pin. Claudio kept his composure during a feisty exchange to successfully execute the Ricola Bomb. Kingston kicked out to keep the fight alive.

Kingston went into Mad King mode to explode for two spinning backfists, a half-and-half suplex, a third spinning backfist, and a northern lights bomb. Claudio wasn’t going out like that. Kingston tried to up the ante with a piledriver, but Claudio escaped. Kingston made use of space to crack another spinning backfist and capitalized with a powerbomb to win. The crowd erupted, and Claudio offered a handshake of respect. Kingston accepted then celebrated the victory as the Mad King of New York.

That was damn exciting match. Claudio and Kingston went hard in the ring blasting each other with ferocious shots. The Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots standup exchanges hammered home the intensity. AEW is good at making moments, and this was one such example. Kingston came out on top of this bitter feud in his hometown of New York City. All of Kingston’s fans savored the crowning moment of glory on the long, hard road of his career.

From the perspective of long-term storytelling within AEW, this result was a little flat in my eyes as Kingston’s triumphant peak. We heard over the years from reliable babyfaces at the time, such as CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, that the Kingston character was his own worst enemy. I never felt like we saw Kingston turn the corner in that regard to grow. It could be argued that winning the NJPW title was that moment, but AEW never really played into it on screen in their own shows. There was no redemption arc. It was just giving Kingston enough opportunities in title matches and, eventually, he won. There was no lesson there to make the story grander.

Let’s jam through the rest of Dynamite.

Chris Jericho defeated Sammy Guevara. Sammy was on control down the stretch after a GTH. Instead of a pin, he took flight for a shooting star press. Jericho sprang up for a surprise Codebreaker in mid-air to win. After the match, Jericho offered a handshake and a hug, but Sammy turned on him for a low blow. Don Callis slithered out to the ring to exit with Sammy.

Later backstage, Callis said everything would be explained on Rampage in regard to any partnership with Sammy. Daniel Garcia glared at Sammy, but Callis prevented any potential skirmish. Callis still has eyes on recruiting Garcia.

This bout was a slick competition between youthful vigor and veteran savvy. It was clearly shown when Sammy was styling with a pose on the mat, and Jericho crept in behind for Le Sex Gods pose. Jericho picked his spots all match long to steal the spotlight as the best sports entertainer in the world.

The action was physical with several hard bumps. The finish was slick. Jericho’s Codebreaker mid-air came as a surprise, and Sammy sold it well collapsing limply to the mat. I can’t lie. The post-match breakup made me sad. I really wanted one more run toward tag team gold for Le Sex Gods, and then let them combust upon failing that goal.

On the surface, it would seem that Jericho didn’t need this win. Sammy should be past a Pillar with potential by this point. As a story tool, Jericho’s win may have an intriguing fallout. It could be the catalyst for Sammy realizing he is not good enough on his own yet, thus the acceptance of tutelage from a man who coaches wrestling gods. The Spanish God may finally be able to reach his full magnitude. I’m also keeping my eye on Garcia. Feuding with Sammy would be an effective way to turn those dancing hips into a babyface act.

AEW International Championship: Fenix defeated Jon Moxley to win the title. Fenix came in hot for his grudge match. I wouldn’t call this a grudge match for Mox. It was just another day at the office for him. The finish was on the screwy side, and it didn’t look like that was the plan. Fenix rallied in the end for a Fire Driver. Moxley didn’t kick out, but the referee stopped counting anyway. Fenix hit a second Fire Driver to win. It wasn’t clear if Mox was legitimately injured, and the finish came off looking like a botch. Good news is that Moxley reportedly exited on his own power.

It’s too bad that the finish was awkwardly weird, because the concern for Moxley’s health overshadows any celebration for Fenix winning the title. This was a rocking match bell to bell, and Fenix put in the work to deserve the boost. I liked the fiery attitude Fenix brought to the fight. He forced Moxley to increase his aggression as a reactionary measure.

AEW Women’s World Championship: Saraya retained against Toni Storm. Storm collided into an exposed turnbuckle, and Saraya pounced for a cradle DDT to win.

This match was character driven with Saraya and Storm going full diva. Storm really played into her new persona with devious tricks. Ruby Soho was ringside, so Storm hit her with shoes. They recalled the spray paint moment with Soho snatching it away from Storm. That led to an exciting false finish when Saraya sprayed Storm in the face and crushed a cradle DDT. Storm kicked out leading to the climax.

Off the top of my head, this was probably Saraya’s most entertaining match in her AEW career. It was more about the overall craziness than a wrestling competition. Don’t get me wrong. Saraya did hit her fair share of nifty moves, such as a sunset flip powerbomb off the turnbuckles. She also took her lumps on hard hits. This championship reign got off to a promising start as long as Saraya can thrive in wacky chaos for her title defenses. We’ll have to see how well that holds up. This match had the backstory to produce a wild time. It might not be the same for fresh opponents in cold matches.

Notes: Christian Cage had a proposal for Darby Allin. Christian and Luchasaurus will defend the TNT Championship in a three-way against Allin on Collision, and Sting must be banned from ringside.

AEW announced a four-way tag bout to determine the ROH tag title #1 contenders. The Hardys, the Kingdom, Best Friends, and the Righteous will rumble on Rampage. The winner gets their shot at WrestleDream.

Stud of the Show: Chris Jericho

Never count out Le Jericho. Just when defeat appeared certain, he flipped the script for a stellar victory.

Match of the Night: Eddie Kingston vs. Claudio Castagnoli

Kingston and Claudio put on a rugged performance with a happy ending.

Grade: A-

Grand Slam was stacked with exciting action. Every match on the card delivered entertainment in its own way. Aside from the odd finish with Moxley, it was all PPV level quality.

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

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