After a few months of anticipation, a level that built even more after the buzz that followed All Out earlier this month, All Elite Wrestling hosted more than 20,000 fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York for AEW Grand Slam. Especially after the recent talent acquisitions for the company, the pressure was on for this show to make a statement about not only AEW, but the professional wrestling industry as a whole.
So did All Elite Wrestling hit a grand slam in Arthur Ashe Stadium?
The broadcast opened with Bryan Danielson, who made his AEW in-ring debut, against Kenny Omega in a non-title bout. This was a smart decision because for those that would tune into the start of the show, there was a big match to bring them into the episode, particularly because the topic was trending on social media throughout the day so if casual WWE fans looked to see Bryan, it was wise to give them familiar faces with Bryan in the first match and then the CM Punk promo that followed it. As far as the in-ring action here, we can parse details, but that would be missing the forest through the trees. Quite simply, this was a classic bout that will be remembered as pivotal in the history of All Elite. The selling, the pacing, the intensity, and the action were top-notch in this contest. It was a physical match that went thirty minutes without any stalling and these two stellar athletes told a narrative through the competition of the match that built great drama toward the finish. Some critics that are looking for something to complain about more than anything might say that Tony Khan gave away this bout on free TV, but I completely disagree with that misguided critique of this booking. First of all, the biggest audience for professional wrestling will be on television and considering the level of hype around this show, it’s possible this broadcast does one of the better numbers in the company’s history. Given the circumstances of the momentum the organization has, putting this match-up on television on this stage makes a much more important statement about All Elite as a company than what would’ve been gained with the buyrate of a pay-per-view. A stellar bout like this accomplishments much more on television because it helps establish the brand of AEW. Along with that, there’s not a right or wrong answer, but you won’t see a match like that or a thirty-minute draw on WWE TV so it’s another way to establish that AEW is an alternative in the industry.
The crowd noise is about to lift the roof off Arthur Ashe Stadium for @bryandanielson and @KennyOmegamanX, and we're just getting started! #AEWGrandSlam #AEWDynamite #AEWonTNT pic.twitter.com/G5hHhi2Go3
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_gif) September 23, 2021
Furthermore, the finish of a draw was more or less perfect because after such a quality match, nobody is going to complain about it and putting this bout on TNT has definitely generated the demand for a rematch, which can be put on pay-per-view to generate revenue. The way this was booked was more of a “preview” so to speak and it was done very well because it sets up for the pay-per-view payoff.
As mentioned, the CM Punk promo was well-placed after the Bryan-Omega contest since Punk is probably the biggest star on the roster and anything else trying to follow the non-title match probably would’ve fell flat. I don’t want to be repetitive, but as I wrote in an article last week that the use of hometown baby faces is an example of positivity in All Elite and that makes it much easier for fans to rally around the product. For years, WWE brass appeared to have a level of contempt for its audience when the crowd rejected the corporate agenda. Granted, wrestling fans are some of the most jaded fans of any genre, but the point is, professional wrestling is supposed to be entertainment for the audience. For CM Punk, who many thought would never be involved in pro wrestling again, it’s another positive statement about AEW that he was willing to sign a contract. The feud with Team Taz is a good choice since it gives the over baby face odds to overcome, and it allows for Will Hobbs to get a certain level of credibility to be paired against Punk. Hobbs definitely has potential and the Punk promo put him over as a worthy challenger.
The Pillman-MJF match was decent and had an easy story to tell throughout it. The angle was based on revenge for Pillman, but all things considered, it was the right call for MJF to win this contest. MJF needed this angle to generate some heat after the rather flat loss to Jericho at All Out, and Pillman has more to do in the tag division anyway. I think Pillman has a lot of potential in the future, but to get the most from the assets already on the roster, it would make sense for the Varsity blonds to eventually get a run as tag team champions before Pillman moves up the card.
Sting and Darby vs. FTR was a really good tag match and solidified why Dax and Cash are two of the best workers in the business. Everything FTR did was crisp and they made Sting look like a million dollars. It was a text book example of a bumping heel that makes the baby face. For Sting, especially for his age, looked great and kept up with everyone in the match. This is a scenario where the occasional Sting match can work very well and added something special to an already stacked card. It goes without saying that the association with Sting put more of a spotlight on Darby Allin. Sting and Darby got the win in a fun match.
Cody vs. Malakai Black was a decent match, and specifically Black could be a major player for AEW if he continues on this path, as the presentation with the entrance and the persona is money. Black got the victory so it’s possible Cody might be away from television a few more weeks to finish filming any TV projects. At the same time, it might’ve just been the traditionally cynical New York crowd, but Cody was booed throughout the contest. This is situation where Cody’s character must be booked carefully to avoid souring the fans on him. There’s a fine line between leading a revolution and nepotism, at least in the view of wrestling fans. Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a polished pro and one of the best on the roster, but with the addition of the Rhodes to The Top reality show, it might give the diehard AEW crowd the impression that Cody wants to be a reality TV star, not a wrestling star.
The Women’s title match was solid and a quality main event to conclude the show, even if it seemed somewhat rushed so maybe there was a timing situation or the bout was just penciled in for a shorter amount of time. Baker retained the title, but considering how over Ruby is with the AEW crowd, it’s very possible that this will be another rematch on pay-per-view.
The biggest take away from AEW Grand Slam is that there’s no debate about it, the company is officially a major player in the professional wrestling industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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