2023 Matches of the Year: AEW Dynamite
Dynamite was responsible for most of AEW’s 2022 Match of the Year catalogue. Hayter and Shida. FTR and Young Bucks. Cody and Sammy. Punk and Moxley. Death Triangle and The Elite. All these and many more showcased why Dynamite is the flagship product. But this year, which names will hold down the fort on the Wednesday stage?
Bryan Danielson v Bandido
Bryan Danielson came into AEW as an antagonizer, a bully. But one who was irrevocably adored. In the ring, he remained the most dangerous technical wrestler in the world, who also happened to love striking opponents down with blistering chops and reverberating kicks. But perhaps the best the version of Bryan Danielson is the technical wrestler with showoff as opposed to bully tendencies.
Bandido, known to many as one of the top luchadors of the past five years, shined in this excellent match. The magic was there from the get-go. For instance, Bandido’s smooth aerial ability and delivery of power moves is always great to see. But paired with equally fluid escapes from an opponent who cuts him down so efficiently? Well, that’s our first Match of the Year contender, peripheral build-up notwithstanding.
MJF v Konosuke Takeshita (World Championship Eliminator)
I predict that about eight times this year, MJF will prove he’s World Champion material. He’s going to prove it in the around eight matches he’ll have, and people are going to forget each time and act like everything less than perfect in AEW is his fault. MJF v Konosuke Takeshita is the first of these matches. The fact that it even took place came as a pleasant surprise, given the champion’s wrestling allergy.
This match showed that MJF has really honed his classic mat wrestling style. But what it best showed off was his agility against an opponent with no holes in his game. And how Takeshita responds to the champion’s dissection of his arm and shoulder shows that Takeshita’s skill floor is higher than that of virtually every recent AEW signee. Some people new to pro wrestling might not be able to spot who the “good wrestlers” are outside of their favorites. I imagine they would be able to tell right away that this guy is good at minimum.
I did feel that the match had a bit of an awkward dynamic to it. In a “I’m-not-booing-Takeshita-but-I’m-not-cheering-for-MJF-either” kind of way. But when I’m watching compelling and succinct wrestling, it wasn’t hard to just shut it out and adore this match.
Bryan Danielson v Rush
This was just two rams in the rocky mountains clashing heads. Bryan Danielson and Rush took centerstage ahead of Revolution looking like the toughest men alive with their tenacity and power. A bloody Danielson looked disgusting in the best way, and Rush was tested like never before in his best AEW showing yet. Like the Bandido match, this had such a high ceiling with such little prequel. But the glorious result only makes both men look like absolute beasts.
Orange Cassidy (c) v Wheeler Yuta (All-Atlantic Championship)
This was both Orange Cassidy and Wheeler Yuta’s biggest showing since Cassidy’s reign began, and since Yuta joined Blackpool Combat Club a year ago. The pinfall-centric style was a breath of fresh air for the aspiring-bully Yuta. Or the detached, and I guess normal, Orange Cassidy. Most of all, it showed the former Best Friends in their element: each other.
The post-match olive branch, and the intercession of BCC’s Claudio Castagnoli, creates much intrigue — and hope? — for this broken friendship.
Hook v Stokely Hathaway (No Disqualification)
A truly great wrestling show is one with strong matches, intriguing promos, and a variety with emotions. One such Dynamite sees the Young Bucks getting loaded into an ambulance to begin the show. To the novelty of Sting and OC. To this gem right here.
Stokely Hathaway and The Firm’s training montage the week prior was already gold. Come match time, the assault on Hathaway began at the entrance ramp, with his Firm teammates “cheering” him on. Then, Hook came in and did the rest. This match did its thing; made The Firm a united and relatable unit; and paid off a storyline without overstaying its welcome. Sorry Stokely, but this was perfect.
Kenny Omega v El Hijo del Vikingo
Absolutely nothing could’ve prepare fans for this “dream match” main event. Much of the online discourse centered on the “dream match” billing offsetting people’s interest. ‘Where’s the story?’, ‘Who’s Vikingo?’, they would ask, while they used a hotbed of information known as the internet. For some, Omega/Vikingo was never going to do. For others, it was an intriguing question waiting to be satisfied.
Seeing Vikingo twist, perch, and springboard around the ring in the way that he does quickly opened a lot of eyes. Enough for fans who were quiet in his entrance to see him as an equal to Omega by the halfway point. The AAA Mega Champion answered the IWGP US Champion’s power moves with double the speed and innovation, and commentary could not keep up. For this random masterpiece to be Omega’s first singles match on TV since 2021 just solidifies his “Best Bout Machine” moniker outside of NJPW.
Omega’s words post-match make it clear he’s aware he can’t wrestle at this level for much longer. I’m just glad we got this amazing thing while we could.
Jamie Hayter and Britt Baker v Toni Storm and Ruby Soho
The red hot Pittsburgh crowd did a lot to put this match over. Women’s World Champion Jamie Hayter takes a backseat as this night is about the returning hometown hero, Britt Baker. Outside of crowd reaction, this tag match is impressive in its cohesiveness and simplicity.
The Outcasts showed aesthetic cohesion for the first time, coming out to matching ring gear and hairstyles. It seems like a small touch, but it establishes a rare faction identity in the women’s division. The duo of Storm and Soho seem to be the more natural, fluid pairing in the ring. Which we welcome, especially if it means we get Saraya tormenting people ringside which is where she shines.
The match successfully built to its climax of Baker cleaning house in impressive fashion the second she was tagged in. Sadly, however, Hayter would find herself injured following this match. But if we’re going to see one story in the division for the whole episode — rather we didn’t, though — its players better leave an impression. And did they ever.
Claudio Castagnoli v Rey Fenix (Double Jeopardy: ROH World and ROH World Tag Team Championship)
Boy, we’re in for a big month.
Two ROH Champions in Castagnoli and Fenix would collide in a dazzling singles bout for a future title match. The two would echo January’s Danielson/Bandido, as well as ‘90s American lucha, a la Guerrero/Malenko/Mysterio. Castagnoli’s technical ability has always been spotlighted in AEW, from his very first night facing ZSJ and affiliating with BCC. But his chemistry with luchadors, specifically Fenix, is something that needs to be talked about more.
Castagnoli is not a brutal, common violent wrestler like the rest of his crew. There’s finesse in the way he carries himself, not unlike the gracefulness Fenix has as he leaps around the ring. Fenix and Castagnoli are superheroes that do not just mirror but accentuate the other, regardless of context.
Roderick Strong v Chris Jericho (Falls Count Anywhere)
Despite being a pit stop toward the Unsanctioned match between Adam Cole and Chris Jericho, this was Roderick Strong’s 1-v-1 debut in AEW. And what a debut, having Jericho as your first opponent, then going on to have very fun, out-of-the-box match. Significant portions of it took place on the arena stairs and hallways, making great use of the stipulation. All this madness would lead to the cool finish that saw Cole — who was “banned from the building” — attack Jericho as soon as Strong led him outside. No doubt one of Dynamite’s sleeper hits this year.
Jay White v Ricky Starks
In a move that caught some fans by surprise, the much-hyped Jay White v Ricky Starks match was booked on Dynamite a week before Double or Nothing. Even without the PPV stage, White and Starks made the absolute most of their main event slot. This back and forth slugfest had White’s steady, deliberate pace from his vaunted NJPW run all over it. Starks played the perfect foil with his explosive moveset and personality.
And it would all crescendo tensely and beautifully toward a rare DQ finish. Which somehow didn’t cheapen the match one bit. I believe this is the Jay White people were looking for out of the gate. Didn’t take long now, did it?
Orange Cassidy (c) v Kyle Fletcher (International Championship)
Orange Cassidy’s very active International title reign is surely one of the highlights of 2023. One nitpick (with there being so many matches) is that the match stories can tend to bleed into one. But that story has been a joy to follow. Because as the rubber band gets tighter and tighter, the story shifts toward OC proving how strong he actually is.
After some seriously impressive TV defenses against Buddy Matthews and Bandido, who’d have pegged Kyle Fletcher to come the closest to spoiling this great title reign? Of course, there’s the challenger’s connection to Will Ospreay, which might suggest some familiarity between Fletcher and OC. But keep playing the same mistake, and eventually it becomes part of the song. Despite that piledriver song featuring a few too many verses for my taste, Cassidy/Fletcher was a spectacular nail-biter.
- Bryan Danielson v Konosuke Takeshita (Jan)
- Death Triangle (c) v The Elite — Escalera de la Muerte, World Trios Championship (Jan)
- Jade Cargill (c) v Red Velvet — TBS Championship (Feb)
- Orange Cassidy, Sting, Darby Allin v Kip Sabian, The Butcher, The Blade (Mar)
- Orange Cassidy (c) v Buddy Matthews — International Championship (Apr)
- Sammy Guevara v Jack Perry (Apr)
- Orange Cassidy (c) v Bandido — International Championship (Apr)
- Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker v Toni Storm, Ruby Soho (May)
- Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta v Lucha Brothers, Bandido (Jun)
- Orange Cassidy (c) v Swerve Strickland (International Championship) (Jun)
- Jay White v Ricky Starks (Jun)
- MJF v Adam Cole — World Championship Eliminator (Jun)
- Orange Cassidy and Darby Allin v Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland — World Tag Team Championship Blind Eliminator Tournament, Quarterfinal (Jun)
- MJF and Adam Cole v Matt Menard and The Butcher — World Tag Team Championship Blind Eliminator, Quarterfinal (Jun)