AEW Live – Accessible Pro Wrestling

Eight months after All Elite Wrestling was live in Pittsburgh for Dynamite and subsequently the debut edition of Rampage, the company returned to the steel city for a live edition of the Wednesday broadcast and then taped matches for Rampage this Friday. As was the case for the first two AEW events in Pittsburgh, I went to the event with the great Pat MacLaughlin, a good dude that I’m happy to call a friend and even more thankful to consider a mentor. As a father of four, ( he seriously might be plotting his own family wrestling stable) Pat welcomed the chance to take a short break from his family duties while Mrs. Mac, the Vince McMahon of their family, kept watch on the rookies. I appreciate the fact that Pat wanted to attend the show with me so I was more than happy to tag along with him.

Those of you that might’ve read the previous column (an article that was kindly retweeted by Chris Jericho) I posted about last August’s Dynamite event, might remember that parking at the Peterson Event Center, the venue that hosts Pitt Panther basketball, is more or less as scrambled as Vince Russo’s WCW booking in 2000. Despite our efforts to find accessible parking, we were the Mulkey brothers instead of the Hardy Boys and had to park a few blocks away from the building in a scenario where the entire trek to the show was seemingly uphill. Some might remember that I have a physical disability so dives, spring boards, and long distances aren’t my strong suite. As I described it at the time, making the walk to the venue was like watching six hours of Great Khali matches, you will survive, but it won’t be fun.

Thankfully, this time Maclaughlin opted to drop me off at the front of the building and ventured out into the Royal Rumble of cars to find a parking spot on his own. I found a stone slab that worked as an impromptu bench and saw a few fans of the local scene that said hello. I also ran into the best referee in Pittsburgh, Bobby Williams, known amongst his friends as “Potter” for his striking resemblance to the JK Rowlings character. A true pro, Bobby greeted me with the intention of a clothesline before he turned baby face and gave me a hug instead. Alongside Potter was his real-life best friend and someone I consider one of my best friends as well, the villainous BC Steele, unanimously considered the best manager in Pittsburgh. Despite my disability, somehow BC is more uncoordinated than me and nearly landed on the cement when he feigned an attempted drop kick while he held onto the railing near the steps.

After those pre-show shenanigans, Maclaughlin arrived at the front of the building looking his age, but confirmed he found a place to park. As we went into the building the entry process went smooth and even with the packed hallways, navigating through the crowd wasn’t too difficult. Our seats were on the risers near the floor next to the stage so aside from parking, the next task was to find those seats while avoiding as many steps as possible. For those unfamiliar with the venue, my chances of making it down several flights of steps were about the same odds as QT Marshal beating Minoru Suzuki later in the night. A very nice staff lady directed us toward some elevators, but it was actually on the other side of the building from where we needed to go so after we found another staffer, we were directed to the correct handicapped elevators. We hopped into the elevator and when the door opened in what I guess is technically, a behind-the-scenes area since most fans don’t need to use it, the legendary announcer, Jim Ross walked across the hallway. I was very surprised, but didn’t want to say anything to bother him, especially because he was probably preparing for the broadcast. Ironically, JR is one of the reasons that I became a commentator for the local scene in Pittsburgh and his iconic calls had a major impact on me.

After the legend sighting, we found our seats and I spotted longtime promoter, Norm Connors, who I hadn’t had a chance to see in-person in nearly four years. Norm gave me a hug and it was great to see him because he was very kind to my family for several years. From what I saw before we sat down, Brandon Cuttler had a match for Dark, but I’m not sure of any of the bouts that might’ve been taped earlier. Aside from the surprise of JR in the hallway, I was also very surprised to see the previously mentioned Suzuki at the show for a bout on Dark Elevation. I’m not going to give anything away from the matches that haven’t aired yet, but you can draw you own conclusions about QT Marshal’s odds of beating the Japanese legend.

The live portion of the show opened with the anticipated Dustin Runnels vs. CM Punk bout. This contest had a few flat moments, but it built very well into a really good match. A few minutes could’ve probably been trimmed off of this without affecting the quality. There wasn’t anything too flashy, but that’s the true art of pro wrestling. These two athletes had the crowd following the back and fourth action toward the conclusion without any Canadian destroyers or dives outside the ring. More than anything, this segment proved just how over CM Punk is with the audience because he got the biggest reaction of anyone on the card. Punk won and it appears that he will eventually get a shot at the AEW championship. Adam Page is a very good competitor, but I think how he was presented as champion hasn’t necessarily done him any favors as far as solidifying him as champion, particularly because despite being the titleholder, he isn’t usually a focal point on television. All things considered, specifically because of the stage of development of All Elite as a company, I think Punk should win the title to increase the exposure of the brand.

The six man tag match with the Blackpool Combat Crew against Darius Martin, Lee Moriarty, and Brock Anderson was clearly a segment to showcase the BCC, which is fine because it’s important to establish a stable as notable. There was a lot of great action from nearly everyone involved, and as I’ve said before, there’s major potential for Darius if he continues to evolve as a performer. As I’ve said several times before, Lee is money and I sincerely believe it’s just a matter of time before he’s a legitimate money-drawing star for AEW. I don’t want to take too many jabs at Brock Anderson, because I’m sure he’s trying his best, but his lack of experience really showed here. He’s just not on the level of any of the others in this match, and it might almost be a no-win situation for him when he’s booked in this type of situation. I can’t really say I see a lot of potential in the second generation Anderson, but I don’t think he looks like the next David Flair either. Just my two cents, but I would suggest that Brock disappears from TV and spends the next year or so working the indy circuit to truly get a chance to hone his craft. It’s much easier to learn from mistakes on a small scale than to be exposed as inexperienced on national television. Obviously, the Combat Crew got the victory in a fun match.

There was a lot of speculation about the “huge announcement” from Tony Khan, and the rumors of the New Japan/All Elite pay-per-view proved to be true, with the event scheduled for June. On the surface, it’s nothing ground-breaking because there were already several crossover matches, but it will be a historic event based on its presentation. It was really cool to get the chance to see Jay White live, and the announcement of Adam Cole vs. Tomohiro Ishii for Rampage was neat because it was a chance to see the Japanese veteran wrestle in-person for the taped show.

The Wardlow vs. Butcher match was fine, nothing too spectacular, but it didn’t need to be. It showcased Wardlow so it was mission accomplished. If Wardlow can be built and portrayed in the right way, he will be a major commodity for All Elite. I still think a lot can be done with The Butcher too because he’s a throwback in a sense since he looks like the only thing he could be is a pro wrestler.

Kyle O’Reilly defeated Jungle Boy in a very solid match to qualify for the Owen Hart tournament. That being said, I think some of these qualifying matches are getting lost in the shuffle because there are two sides to the men’s and women’s brackets. Truthfully, I thought Jungle Boy was going to win this match because he would’ve been my pick to win the entire tournament. However, it’s possible Tony Khan plans to get some longevity from the tag title run before Jungle Boy gets moved up the card. Still, the biggest takeaway from this contest is, how did the WWE not have anything better for O’Reilly to do when he was there? Even as strictly a utility wrestler, and he obviously has the talent to be more than that, a performer with the level of skill of O’Reilly is always a valuable asset to a company.

Hook’s rise to fame in All Elite might’ve started out as irony because of the unique hair and demeanor, but the youngster has some legitimate potential and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a performer. Danielle Kamela was apparently under a WWE developmental deal for just over five years, but you wouldn’t know that based on her in-ring work against Britt Baker. Kamela was sloppy during most of this match and looked either unprepared or overwhelming during it. Thankfully, it didn’t really matter because Britt was majorly over with the hometown crowd. Sure, Baker had to get TV experience to evolve as a performer earlier in her All Elite tenure, but the bottom line is, she’s a major asset for AEW and has continued to develop as an athlete into the more major role for the company. Britt got the win and the crowd went crazy.

Speaking of crazy, the main event coffin match was wild, and Sting doing a dive for an episode of Dynamite at the age of 63 was surreal. This was a fun brawl and a good way to conclude the live show. Darby got the win, and I’m not sure if it made the air, but post-match the Hardys cut a promo on the stage to praise Sting for his legendary status.

Overall, this was a very fun night of wrestling, including a very good Eddie Kingston vs. Daniel Garcia match that was also taped for Rampage. Kingston is one of my favorite wrestlers so the chance to see him wrestle on this stage was really cool. So, I avoided walking too far for a parking spot, I didn’t have to venture down too many flights of steps to get to our seats, and I had the chance to have a great time watching wrestling with one of my friends. That’s a good night in my book, or in this case, in my article. I don’t want to sound too sappy because I know you clicked on this article to read about pro wrestling, not me so I will keep it short when I say that yes, my disability can be very frustrating, but getting the chance to experience the energy of a jam-packed wrestling crowd is one of the very few times that I can forget about any of those hurdles.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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