Attending AEW Live in Pittsburgh

When All Elite Wrestling was announced for the Peterson Events Center, the same venue where the Pitt Panthers host basketball games, I was surprised and thrilled for the chance to see a broadcast of Dynamite live just four weeks into its tenure on TNT. I was surprised by how soon Pittsburgh was on the All Elite schedule, simply because while the steel city is undoubtedly a wrestling town, much of that is linked to the WWWF through the legendary Bruno Sammartino and continues in the modern era with the PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins venue, a regular site for WWE events. I didn’t know if an upstart company with just a few months of build up could be a draw in the market, but I hoped the organization could continue to build its momentum from this past month.

I attended the show live this past Wednesday so I wanted to write this article from the live perspective to offer something different than a usual review. At roughly 5:45 PM, I and my wrestling pal, the great Pat MacLaughlin departed from the suburbs of Western Pennsylvania toward the city that decorates its skyline with Heinz Field, PNC Park, and more bridges than there are super kicks in a Young Bucks’ match. I want to take a second to say congratulations to MacLaughlin for the recent addition to his family this past July, and it seems like when he had his fourth child, he’s probably plotting to form a wrestling family stable. Thankfully, the commute to the venue was mostly uneventful and we somehow avoided traffic and the notorious construction that Penn Dot is known for in the area.

We arrived at the building around 6:45 and noticed lines were formed outside of the doors as fans shuffled through the security and metal detectors. Again, all things considered, this went relatively smooth for what you might expect to be a human traffic jam at the doors. However, when we were inside the building, lines zigzagged everywhere and it looked as though there would be at least a decent draw for the show. Ironically, while we didn’t locate a merchandise stand until after the event concluded, long tables racked with a variety of glass bottles served as impromptu liquor lines. More on that later. I decided to go with another plain red bull, which was my choice for ride to the show because I wanted to observe as much action as possible without $12 booze distorting it.

We found our seats in section 107, the lower level of side that was shown from the hard camera, and saw some very interesting characters milling around before bell time. As the first dark match was scheduled to start, the venue was nearly full with only a few blank spots among the opposite side of the venue, aside from the section was that taped off for the production equipment. The introduction of the announce team got a good reaction with the crowd very enthusiastic for Jim Ross. However, two rows in front of us, a possible intoxicated lady was thrilled for the Tony Schiavone appearance, and cheered frantically for him while yelling, “Excuse me!” to inform random fellow fans that she wanted to see Tony Schiavone. We nicknamed her Fake Vickie Guerrero in honor of the catchphrase from Smackdown a decade ago.

The opening dark match saw Sonny Kiss and Dustin Rhodes team against the combination of Peter Avalon and QT Marshal. The contest was mostly basic, but also very entertaining, as Dustin can still bring the fire for the hot tag and get the crowd to rally behind him. All things considered, it’s remarkable that Dustin can still go at this level at this point in his career. Sonny did well too, but hasn’t had much TV exposure yet so it will be interesting to see what angles he might be used for on television. QT Marshal and Avalon were okay in the ring, but there’s not really anything that stands out about them so I’m not sure where there place would be on such a stacked roster.

The live broadcast kicked off with Private Party and the Lucha Brothers in the semi-final round of the tag team title tournament. Similar to their bout with The Young Bucks, Private Party had a valuable chance to really showcase their athletic ability here, and while there’s some sloppiness to their in-ring work, it’s important to note that they’ve only been wrestling for a few years, but can still keep up with polished professionals. That’s not meant as a jab at the team either, but rather an example of All Elite gives the talent a chance to perform and learn from this stage, and hopefully, that experience will allow them to reach their fullest potential as they develop as performers. How often has an already seasoned pro been regulated to NXT for a few years when they already had the ability to work the main roster? In some cases, you can’t waste years of a competitor’s career when they have the skills to be a bigger asset for the company on a bigger platform, which might’ve been the case for NXT prior to the move to USA. The Lucha brothers got the victory after a tremendous fast-paced match that had some incredible spots and displays of athleticism. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the Lucha Brothers are great and have all the skills to be major stars with this platform.

The second semi-final round match was SCU vs. The Dark Order, which was interrupted by The Inner Circle’s arrival to the arena. Ironically, the box they were shown in were two rows up from where we were sitting so it was cool to see them enter the building. The actual match was okay, but similar to previous contests, The Dark Order just doesn’t connect with the audience. Chants aside, the Dark Order gimmick hasn’t been fully explained and the quality of the tag matches on television could easily get Uno and Stu Grayson lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, the former Super Smash Brothers had a cult following a decade ago, but were off the radar for the past several years because of visa issues before their deal with AEW so a lot of the momentum they had on the independent scene in the United States is mostly forgotten or unknown to a majority of the fan base. Perhaps an explanation about who Evil Uno is or the purpose of the random masked group with them would allow for a better presentation. Either way, a month into the TV schedule and the argument could be made that The Dark Order are least over team on the roster. That being said, this contest was put in a tough place on the card because it followed the high spots of arguably the best match on the show and had most of the crowd distracted with the arrival of Jericho’s stable. SCU got the win to challenge The Lucha Brothers in the finals next week, which is the right decision. A comical side note during this match, the possibly intoxicated Schiavone fan began yelling up to Sammy Guevara, who was throwing popcorn around their box for the camera during the broadcast. She requested that Sammy throw popcorn at her. I’m not sure if she just wanted any type of interaction with stardom or if she simply tried to get some free concessions.

The Kenny Omega/Joey Janela match was solid, and while he made his reputation through a series of ridiculous bumps and dangerous stunts, this bout was an example that Janela can go bell-to-bell too. Some have suggested that perhaps some of the shine has wore off Omega since his transition to All Elite from New Japan, but that simply isn’t the situation. This match was another example of just how good Omega is inside the squared circle. He has a presence that exudes a big fight atmosphere, and he will unquestionably be a key piece of the puzzle for the AEW expansion in the future. It’s important to note that Omega didn’t lose a step in America, it’s a matter of building a promotion in the United States on national television is a process so just because Omega isn’t having 45-minute epic matches on every AEW event, it’s not a misstep, but rather a different structure than New Japan.

The Jericho/Cody confrontation that followed was fun because the action was near us before each group spilled into the main section of the venue. The Diamond Dallas Page cameo was a nice surprise and it’s an element that could be used to promote that “anything can happen” on an All Elite broadcast, which is an aspect that is rarely associated with the carefully scripted WWE programming.

The Young Bucks vs. Best Friends was a very entertaining bout, but I must point out that there’s a pattern among All Elite tag team matches that they aren’t really tag matches, as all four competitors are usually involved for a major portion of the match. Don’t get me wrong, the action is great, but that formula of free-for-all action might become stale if it continues on a weekly basis. From there, the hometown competitor, Brit Baker was challenged by Jamie Hayter for a bout that made sense because it allowed for a nice moment for her with the crowd. I have to be honest, I never heard of Hayter before and while it looked like she could be a solid heel, it’s another aspect of a new organization that these athletes must be introduced in some fashion prior to their appearances on television, mostly because otherwise it could be a flat segment on the show. Baker definitely has potential, which was probably the main reason she was offered a contract, but her inexperience still shows through during matches. That said, as I mentioned earlier, it’s probably a better option to allow her to develop as a performer working with some of the polished talent like Riho than it would be for her to be stuck on the NXT house show circuit for years.

The Pac vs. John Moxley main event was great and it proved that a quality main event is more than just the final match on a show. Some complained about the finish as a draw, but I disagree with that because the booking benefited both athletes and the product. First of all, it keeps Pac and Moxley strong ahead of the Full Gear pay-per-view. It also creates a sense of realism because how many years has a match conveniently ended right before the show just happened to be scheduled to go off the air? At least if the possibility of a TV time limit is established then the conclusion of the TV shows aren’t necessarily as predictable. Plus, the most important thing is that the crowd got to see a solid main event level match before the draw.

The other dark matches took place after the live broadcast with Emi Sakura vs. Penelope Ford vs. Sadie Gibbs vs. Allie in a women’s four way match. This was a very sloppy match that went way too long and was really the only subpar bout on the card. In terms of consistent quality, the women’s division might be the only advantage that WWE currently has over AEW. A side note, a rather intoxicated lady named Amber that sat next to us and was surprised at the cost of each $10 beer she purchased throughout the evening took this extended women’s contest to attempt to tell me that “divas” shouldn’t wrestle. Despite the fact that I continued to watch the match and didn’t respond to her theories about sports entertainment, the reasoning her for claims continued for nearly 45 minutes. The last dark match was Jimmy Havoc vs. Darby Allin vs. Jack Evans in a falls count anywhere match. This was the wild brawl you would expect and there were some insane spots. It was a very entertaining conclusion to the night, but I have to say this again, Darby and Havoc must choose these spots wisely because these risks might take years off of their career.

Overall, AEW Dynamite was a great live show and it was worth the price of admission, something that can’t always be said about some WWE events. The Peterson Events Center was a good venue for AEW because it gives the show a major league look without being too many seats to draw a full house. If the organization can draw consistently in new markets on the road remains to be seen, but the exposure of TNT is a very valuable tool, and the meet and greet set up for next week’s show is a good way to get the live crowd to sample the product. Most importantly, as far as the live experience, AEW presented a show that made the audience want to attend again, which is probably the key to building a fan base for the product.

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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