Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk
This was the end of all that. I have mostly enjoyed the CM Punk experience in AEW, he is clearly messy as hell, but I am a wrestling fan, I enjoy chaos. In the ring I think he has mostly been great, and I have found myself digging his pocket Collision universe more than Dynamite since they both started. It was pretty clear he wasn’t going to be happy in AEW, though, and it seemed like a matter of time until something like this happened.
Still what a way to go out: five minutes before this match he was choking Luke Perry’s kid, and trying to fight his boss, then he goes out and puts on a total banger with one of his greatest rivals in front of the largest paid crowd in pro-wrestling history, cleaning ending that rivalry on top with his iconic and shelved Pepsi Plunge finisher. He may have cost himself millions of dollars, but he burned that cash with style. CM Punk has always aligned himself with the straight edge punk scene, but this wasn’t really an Ian MacKaye move, he may talk about wanting to establish a Positive Force community, but this was GG Allin tossing his shit around. Which is compelling in its own way.
This was an awesome Samoa Joe performance, too, he was backstage breaking up the fight and trying to talk Punk off the ledge and not to blow his chance at history. He is in his 40s, can’t believe the shit he has to put up with, and wrestles like that, I imagine he tossed Punk through the side of the announce table with a bit more gusto then normal, and I loved him Tenryu-punching Punk’s open wound. Punk worked the match as the ostensible babyface, but the Hogan ear pose, biting Joe on the forehead, he certainly played into the fact that a big portion of the crowd wanted to see Joe fuck him up. Punk has the awareness to play to that crowd, but not the awareness to just shrug off Jack Perry’s little snotty shot, which is a bummer, I would have liked to see the fuse be a bit longer before the bomb went off.
Would it have made sense for them to call an in-ring audible and for Punk to put over his longtime friend, because he had to know he was done? Sure. But CM Punk is CM Punk because he is CM Punk, and for some good and a lot of bad, you got what you are going to get.
Ilja Dragunov vs. Trick Williams
I really like how they are using Ilja in NXT. He is the wheel which wrestlers need to break themselves on to prove they belong. He is significantly smaller than Williams, but Williams totally felt like an underdog, as Ilja is such a typhoon of violence. Dragunov came right at Trick and forced him to either step up or be subsumed.
It reminds me a bit of Finlay in WCW, but inexplicably Ilja has been booked way stronger in NXT then Finlay ever was. Trick is a guy who has excelled as a Bundini Brown-style hypeman and second for Carmelo Hayes, but has recently split (amicably, a rarity in pro-wrestling) with Hayes and is trying to establish himself as his own man; and, Ilja was right there to beat him into the gang.
He opened the match blitzing Williams with a running kick and trying to rip his nipples off with hard chops. Dragunov took most of the match, however Wiliams showed his toughness, by matching Dragunov in stiffness, including a jumping knee with caught Dragunov right on the forehead, even opening up a small cut. He also hit a second rope uranage, which really should have been a finish. Williams even got to kick out of the diving forearm smash, only to fall to a nasty top rope forearm smash, which looked like it should put him in the NFL blue concussion tent.
Dragunov continued to look dominant and hopefully they have some big plans for him, he is really a WOTY candidate, hiding on a show without a ton of discourse around it. This was also a star making match for Williams, he showed he can hang with a world class wrestler, and got a standing ovation for looking so tough in a loss.
Coven of the Goat (Tank/CJ Lawler/Nathan Mowrey/Rev. Dan Wilson) vs. Deadwood Boys (Derek Neal/Noah Hossman/Erron Wade/Billy Tipton)
This was a War Games match at the 10 year Anniversary of TWE, and was the climax of the feud between Derek Neal and his crew and the Coven of The Goat which is a 2023 version of the Devil’s Rejects, Rev. Dan Wilson’s iconic crew from a decade ago. The Devil’s Rejects were in some of the great War Games in history, including two I covered in the Way of the Blade, and this was a throwback to those legendary matches. Tank was a big part of those earlier matches, and the eminence griese here, graying beard, scared forehead, he looks like a backwoods crime boss, the kind of guy who orders the Nathan Mowerys of the world to sink a body into a swamp. The opening sections of this match are a nice mix of old school southern brawling and sicko mode stuff, including a crutch wrapped in barbed wire and Mowery coming in with a rusty hacksaw to carve up foreheads.
Jaden Newman who is the local top babyface was supposed to be in this match, as much of the booking of TWE in recent months had been around him joining the Coven, but Newman broke his jaw the previous week and it seemed like the match was going to be 4 on 3, but they built nicely to the moment where the 49 year old cult leader Rev Dan Wilson pulled off his hood, tightened up his spiked gloves and started throwing hands. I dug how Wilson only used manager offense, a handful of powder, a kick low, before being overwhelmed. Finish saw a couple of wild spots, including Mowery lighting his leg on fire for a running kick, and Tank putting on a spinning toe hold (RIP Terry Funk) before taking a ceremonial goat skull and jabbing the horn into Neal’s mouth for the submission.
It really delivered what I want from a Southern indy War Games, lots of blood, a hot crowd, several big moments and a gnarly finish. Also, a good old fashioned patina of grime, and wrestling is at its best when it is a bit unseemly.