I haven’t watched pro wrestling (or sports entertainment) regularly on television for a few years now, since I haven’t bothered subscribing to cable. Instead, I’ve opted to just catching big events on the WWE Network and, now, Peacock. But I do keep up with goings on, because I have spent my life as a wrestling fan and, darn it, I’m too old to change things up too much now.

The biggest consequence of not having cable is not being able to see All Elite Wrestling on Wednesday nights on TNT. Over the last couple of years, the promotion has gone from an intriguing upstart to a legitimate challenge to the WWE supremacy. In the last few months, with the major acquisitions of CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, combined with a deathly cold WWE product that has even soured me on doing REVIEWS here, and it seems as though momentum is clearly on AEW’s side.

There’s no better time for AEW to make it’s debut in New York City, in my current home borough of Queens, at Arthur Ashe Stadium. I bought my tickets as soon as they were available, even before the Punk and Danielson signings were announced, and my excitement for the show only grew since.

Outside of the lack of parking at the venue, which is part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, there really wasn’t a whole lot to complain about. The show was long – in addition to the live two-hour Dynamite they also taped a special 2-hour Rampage for Friday night and an hour of Dark before the show – but it was never boring.

I won’t go into details about Friday’s Rampage tapings, because I don’t want to end up spoiling anything for anyone, but there’s enough to talk about from Dynamite.

This Is How You Do It

If you consider the main event of a show to be the last match of the night, then the main event of last night’s Dynamite – Women’s Champ Britt Baker defending her title against Ruby Soho – was a little underwhelming. But if the main event is the show’s featured attraction, then it was the first match of the show and it delivered in spades.

AEW Champion Kenny Omega took on the newly-signed Bryan Danielson in a non-title match that was easily one of the best matches I have ever seen live. The end result – a 30-minute time limit draw – did nothing to diminish the match, which was paced perfectly and kept the audience engaged the whole time. The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was rabid for this match. They were so loud that the announcements of the progression of time over the PA system were barely audible.

Having the non-title match go to a time-limit draw seemed like the most sensible solution. Danielson just debuted and you don’t want to deflate his status on the roster with a non-title loss, but pinning the champion in a non-title match is an overused trope. I liked the result for their first encounter on AEW, and it can lead to bigger things down the line.

Kenny Omega has a lot of people gunning for him, which is the way it should be for the champion. The company’s top dog should be fighting off challengers on all sides to prove he’s the best in the world. Will it all culminate in “Hangman” Adam Page coming back from his parental leave and beating his former tag team partner, or does it all come down to a rematch with Danielson at the next pay-per-view?

Oh. OK. Well, I guess we’ll keep our options open.

Bet on Black

Cody Rhodes returned last night to challenge Malakai Black, the man who knocked him out of action for several weeks with a swift kick in the head. The prodigal son returned to a thundering round of boos from the Queens crowd. New York City wanted nothing to do with cheering the American Nightmare or his entourage, which included wife Brandi and “coach,” Arn Anderson.

Black, on the other hand, proved himself to be a stud with charisma to spare last night. He soaked in the adulation of the crowd. At one point, he cleared the ring of Cody and sat in the middle of the ring as the fans went nuts for him. In the moment, it seemed like a sincere smile crept across his face. This is the kind of moment he was never allowed to have during his run in WWE and it seemed like Black was going to take it all in.

It just wasn’t a good night for Cody or his entourage. At one point, Anderson climbed to the ring apron and tried to maneuver around the ring post for a spot. He didn’t have enough room and dropped down to the mats at ringside, forcing a situation where he had to climb back up so he could be knocked down again accidentally by Rhodes. It was a rare misstep in a night filled with amazing spots

Just as it seemed like Rhodes was going to overcome it all and defeat his nemesis – or get disqualified for shoving the referee in the heat of the moment – Black got him in the face with some black goo. It’s a pretty risqué move to spit in someone’s face during a global pandemic, but I supposed he is a dark figure. The goo led to a win for Black, which I thought was the right call to keep the hot crowd happy.

He’s Still Got It

The last time I saw Sting wrestle live was at a pay-per-listen WCW event in Boston in January 1998, where he fought Hollywood Hogan in a steel cage match. Seeing him walk out last night for a tag team match with his protege Darby Allin was still pretty amazing. Watching the Stinger still able to go at 62 years old is just crazy. He definitely had his working boots on last night, as the team took on FTR – Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood, joined by manager Tully Blanchard.

As impressive as Sting and Allin were last night, I was rooting for FTR. I’ve been a fan of theirs ever since their NXT run as the Revival, as they really deliver on the classic style of tag team wrestling. But I knew there was no chance of them winning. AEW’s Grand Slam event was about making the Queens crowd happy. While it upset me to see FTR lose, I know the majority of the crowd wanted Sting to get the duke with the Scorpion leglock, which he did. Can’t fault the logic, I guess, and the Stinger and Allin made my disappointment worth it.

Sing Along with CM

I was a little surprised CM Punk wasn’t given a showcase match on Dynamite, instead having his match with Powerhouse Hobbs taped for Friday’s Rampage. With Danielson programed with the champ on Dynamite, I guess it makes sense to have Rampage be Punk’s show. The fans who have been clamoring for a return will help keep the ratings respectable there.

But Punk did make an appearance on Dynamite, getting in the ring after the opening match to address Hobbs and Team Tazz, who attacked him last week.

What I loved the most about Punk’s appearance on Dynamite was the crowd interaction. As soon as the opening Cult of Personality hit on the PA, the entire audience started singing along with Living Colour, myself included. There were a lot of sing-along moments throughout the rest of the night – it especially felt like Rampage had one in every match – and I loved every one. The fans were happy to be there. Excited, even. And they wanted everyone to know it.

As far as the rest of Dynamite goes, I didn’t think there was much of anything special about the other two matches. MJF defeated Brian Pillman Jr. and I didn’t think Pillman looked particularly good there. Without the chance to hear MJF do an interview and get heat that I’ve heard about so much, he didn’t come off as anything spectacular, either. In the final match of the evening, I expected a bigger response for Ruby Soho as she challenged Britt Baker for the Women’s title, but the crowd was pretty squarely behind Baker. Putting Baker over in Queens ended the show with the fans happy, but it didn’t really didn’t feel like a main event match. Sometimes, it’s ok to not put the only title match on the show last.

Overall, though, I had a blast at AEW’s Grand Slam. A 5-hour show up high in the cheap seats felt a bit like a marathon, but it was still a lot of fun. The promotion is coming to the area again this December and I may buy tickets.