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411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Was AEW Dynamite Better Than WWE Raw in 2023?

January 15, 2024 | Posted by Jake Chambers
WWE AEW Logos, Eric Bischoff Image Credit: WWE/AEW

Welcome back to the 411mania Wrestling Fact or Fiction. I’m your host Jake Chambers.

I wanted to do a 2023 wrap-up this week, and who better to help me out than two reviewers who watched every episode of the flagship pro-wrestling TV shows from the biggest companies in the world: WWE RAW and AEW Dynamite! Please welcome the man you watch RAW and Dynamite live with every week – Tony Acero – and the pundit who follows up every show with his own reviews – Thomas Hallstanding ovation.

These guys often generally agree on the quality of these two shows every week, but do they agree on the big issues of the year? Let’s find out!

And afterwards, I’ve asked them to comment on some of fallout from AEW’s final PPV of 2023 – Worlds End. So stick around!

Statement #1: Despite RAW having a great 2023, you still enjoyed watching Dynamite more this year.

Tony Acero: FACT – RAW has done so much to redeem itself after what seems like ten plus years of shoddy and inconsistent story-telling that based itself more on spectacle and nostalgia than anything else. One year did not fully remove the taste of Retribution or RAW Underground from my mouth. Aside from the PTSD suffered from a show that had no idea what it wanted to be, Dynamite was simply shorter and easier to digest. AEW is not without faults – some of which WWE did just as bad, if not worse, but FOR THE MOST PART, the product was consistent and fun. Seriously, it was just a fun year. Still, do not take this as a choice of one or the other completely, because if there is one thing 2023 did, it was give us multiple products, each with a distinct feel, and made it truly amazing to be a wrestling fan, regardless of which shirt you prefer to wear. 

Thomas Hall: FACT – I’m not sure what to say on this one (great start I know) because both shows have been pretty good this year. I’ll go with fact as Dynamite has been better overall, but it’s not exactly blowing Monday Night Raw away. They’re different shows in that Dynamite tends to focus more on the in-ring side of things but also has the benefit of being an hour shorter and not overstaying its welcome.

The other advantage Dynamite holds is that it is pretty clearly the flagship AEW broadcast. Whether you’re looking at its audience or things that take place on the show, Dynamite blows away Rampage and beats Collision pretty handily. I’m not sure that’s the case with Monday Night Raw over Smackdown, which often feels like the more important show. There is something to be said about watching the biggest show a promotion has to offer and that is what you get with Dynamite.

The two shows are both good and Raw is getting better on an almost weekly basis, but if you look at the entire year, I’ll go with Dynamite just by a bit. There is so much good action on the show and so many top stars that it is hard to go with the Monday night offering. That very well may change in a few months, but for now, it’s Dynamite with the better 2023 in a good battle.

Statement #2: Seth Rollins has had a lame duck reign as RAW World Heavyweight Champion since he has been on the same brand the whole time with Cody Rhodes, who beat him in 3 straight PPV matches in 2022 but never got a shot at that title in 2023.

Tony Acero: FICTION – Seth Rollins is a simple man – he said what he was going to do with the title, and he’s doing it. Kayfabe wise, you simply have to point out the defenses and ring time the man has to make the title matter. Secondly, you have to point out all of those vying for it – of which there are many – to help solidify the importance. I’ve long since believed that a title, especially pre-HHH creative, mattered as little or as much as it is made to matter. More often than not, we’d see a title hot-shotted to someone else for the OOMPH factor (of which usually there was none), only to belittle the meaning behind it over and over again, making it but a trinket. Rollins – and the WWE as a whole – has made the new Big Goldy matter. As for losing to Cody Rhodes, that helped Cody immensely and hurt Seth absolutely zero. 

Thomas Hall: FICTION – This one depends entirely on the wording. While I would say that Rollins is having a lame duck reign as champion, I would put that more on the fact that the World Heavyweight Championship has felt like a glorified midcard title due to Roman Reigns being the undisputed king of WWE. Until Reigns loses his title, he is going to feel like the bigger star and there is no way around it.

As for Rhodes, I can’t say I blame him for anything happening to Rollins. While Rhodes has defeated him three times, Rollins won the title in a fair competition and feels like a legitimate champion (of Monday Night Raw, not all of WWE). Rollins has been one of the biggest stars in WWE for a long time now so it’s not like this is Jinder Mahal suddenly becoming the top name out of nowhere.

If you want more of an historical look at this, consider pretty much any time that Steve Austin wasn’t the WWF Champion during the height of his powers. Were the Rock, Mankind or Triple H lame duck champions? Or perhaps the Undertaker anytime Bret Hart was around, as Undertaker never pinned or submitted Hart on television (save for one match in 1992 before Hart became a star)? Just because someone hasn’t beaten one person does not make them a lame duck, as Rollins has more than proven himself otherwise.

Statement #3: Commercial breaks during good TV wrestling matches are necessary and can be used creatively to improve the viewing experience.

Tony Acero: FICTION – Making a statement with two open-ended questions that are counter-intuitive was certainly a move. I despise commercial breaks during matches, but they are necessary. Not for the wrestling, but for the product. Obviously, we need advertising. Both WWE and AEW tend to know how to slow the action down during the breaks, with cues from refs and the like, but it does take the intensity out of the match, regardless of how good they layout the match. Can they be used creatively? I suppose, but I also don’t think many are asking for a significant shift. It’s a necessary evil, and they’ve found a way to work around it with PIP and rest holds. Besides, commercial free shows are a bitch to recap. 

Thomas Hall: FACT – There are two parts to this and we’ll get the easy one out of the way: yes commercial breaks are necessary in matches. They can be annoying and they can get in the way of the action, but at the end of the day, wrestling is a business and the promotions need to get paid. You can’t just pile up all of the commercials in the first hour or so, meaning commercials have to be spaced out during the shows. That includes during matches and there is no real way around it.

As for creatively expanding the matches, of course they can be. This is something that has been done for the better part of ever in televised wrestling but for some reason WWE has turned it into a standard pattern that almost never changes. Instead of building up some drama going into the break or having the hero in trouble and wondering if they’ll be able to fight back, it’s someone getting knocked to the floor or hitting some big dive and coming to a stop as we take a break. The same thing is often true when they come back, as it feels like they start from a stopping point rather than being in the middle of action.

Absolutely matches can have some drama or some kind of interest off commercial breaks. All it takes is some thought being put into them rather than doing the same thing over and over again. Treat a break like you’re going into a high point and make the fans wonder what is going to be happening when you come back. Wrestling promotions know how to do this at the end of a show so they should be able to make it work when they’re coming back from a three and a half minute commercial.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: Christian Cage was the MVP of AEW in 2023.

Thomas Hall: FACT – The more I think about this, the more sense it does make. Cage has made everything he has done better and tied into several entertaining stories. You do not get to see many people do that and he made it happen more than anyone else in AEW. There are only so many options for MVP and save for MJF, I’m not sure who else could take the spot, or even come close to it.

What makes Cage work is everything he does makes sense for him. It’s a character that is absolutely despicable as he manipulates people around him and gets what he wants while still acting like he is right about everything. That makes his success all the more impressive, as not only does his talking work, but he backs it up with what he can do in the ring. That’s a rare combination and Cage makes it work so well.

Perhaps on top of that though, Cage has made the TNT Title feel so much more valuable. While MJF has been up and down, Cage has been about as steady as you can get. At one of the media scrums earlier this year, Cage said that he had turned the TNT Title into the most valuable title in the company and I can see him being right. I want to see what Cage is doing more and more, because not only do I want to hear what he says next, but I want to see someone finally give him what he has coming. That is a heck of a trick to pull off and Cage is doing it as well as anyone else in AEW right now.

Tony Acero: FICTION – Christian is amazing. I will start with that. He’s knows who he is and has a firm grasp on his character. With that being said, he also very one-note, and as awesome as he has been, is, and will continue to be, there hasn’t been a whole lot gained outside of us enjoying his jabs at dead dads. Lucha is all but extinct, Nick Wayne is positioned right where he should be as a debuting wrestler, and Darby did get a little bit of a rub – albeit not one that was necessarily needed. Cage is awesome, Cage is great, and Cage is the gift that keeps on giving, but no, he is not the MVP. 

Statement #5: Since you gave a lot of scores of 8 or higher to RAW and Dynamite in 2023, if that trend continues in 2024 then the numerical scoring system itself should be changed.

Thomas Hall: FICTION – How do I put this? We’ll try it this way: No no, no no no, no no, no, no no, NO! It drives me crazy when you see matches rated on what has been a certain scale (particularly the five star version) suddenly getting something that was never available before. Suddenly there is this brand new level available that was just never mentioned over the years because it’s that much better than everything else? See my previous collection of “no”.

On top of that, what does it mean for all of the previously rated shows? Are those just all downgraded on the new scale? If something can now be a 12, what does that mean for a previous 7? It throws everything out of whack and downgrades previous shows which were perfectly good, or even great, because of something that came after. Just because something new is more enjoyable or better doesn’t make the other stuff worse.

The ten point scale has worked for years and it still works today. The shows have gotten better because wrestling promotions have had time to figure out what works. That doesn’t make previous shows worse or less valuable, as they are still just as good as they were then. Changing everything from the past doesn’t make sense and it shouldn’t be taking place now.

Tony Acero: FICTION – I might catch some heat for this one, but let me be real with all y’all. My Reports are worse than Whose Line Is It Anyway? Where the points don’t matter and the host is likely eating tamales in his underwear. I can rate a show an 8 and change my mind almost immediately after. I am SO happy that most are over 8 now, and there is some merit to what I base my ratings on, but it’s as fluid as Billy and Chuck’s sexuality. The truth is, wrestling as a whole has gotten so much better, so them sticking in the 8-10 range is simply a sign of a great product that we are currently LIVING IN. Like IN REAL TIME. Adding a tenth of a rating up or down doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter too much, but there will always be those who it bothers. Realistically, RAW is graded as a three hour show, which means even if there’s some good shit, the length can (and often times does) hurt it. Dynamite is two hours, and usually stacked, leaving little room for error but also giving more power to the little mistakes that may be overlooked otherwise. Still, as meticulous as I may try to be, it’s almost always based on a whim or my unbalanced yearning to troll. 

Statement #6: If you could only watch one weekly pro-wrestling show in 2024, you would rather it featured Adam “Edge” Copeland than CM Punk.

Thomas Hall: FICTION – There has been more drama about CM Punk in the last few months than there could be in the career of just about any other wrestler. Punk could go to the ring and have a sandwich and it would have people talking for the next week. It gets tiring to have everything Punk does analyzed to death, especially when he isn’t even in the ring as much these days. There is every chance that Punk could blow up again at a moment’s notice and be gone from wrestling for good.

With all that being said, I would absolutely take Punk over Copeland. I’ve been an Edgehead for a long time, but when is the last time that Copeland did something really interesting? His matches are good and his promos are adequate enough, but Christian Cage has been carrying the feud between them. Copeland feels like someone who is trying to do the cool things that he did before and it really isn’t working. He’s still good and absolutely a big asset to AEW, but the is no pop or spark there.

There’s where Punk outshines Copeland. With Punk, everything feels like an event and you never know where something is going to go, even it if is the most minor moment. With Copeland, you have a good idea of what you’re going to get, and a lot of that is Copeland trying to show that he’s still edg….uh, intriguing. Punk may be a train wreck waiting to happen, but that makes him a lot more fun to watch and that is great to see anytime.

Tony Acero: FICTION – I don’t find these two comparable, both in star power, and in what their motives are as wrestlers. Edge is hellbent on having fun with people he hasn’t been able to tangle with. Punk is on a train of retribution – probably for himself more so than the product as a whole. He has a chance to rectify his sins and right a few wrongs. If it gives us some quality wrestling and storytelling in the process, then let’s go. If times changed and I was permitted to watch only one show, the presence of either of these two entities wouldn’t alter my choice, but I would most likely plop myself down on Wednesday more so than Monday, even if only because AEW is a two hour show. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that, and I can watch whatever I want whenever I want. So, I will continue to enjoy the fact that we are CURRENTLY LIVING in a time where a quality wrestling product is on damned near every day of the week! What a time…to be alive. 

BONUS – AEW Worlds End Fallout

Statement #7: Samoa Joe was the wrong person to take the AEW Championship from MJF.

Tony Acero: FICTION – In my opinion, Samoa Joe can do absolutely NO wrong. He’s a believable champion, a certifiable bad ass, and has been in the business long enough to know that whoever he loses to, he will have made a better wrestler simply by being defeated. I don’t think anyone thought he would win the title, which means AEW can still surprise us. For anyone that wasn’t happy about the loss, or thinks that he is the wrong person, I strongly predict that within a few weeks, Joe will do what he always does and simply change the minds of naysayers. Dude just gets it. 

Thomas Hall: FICTION – This is a situation where it comes down to the details.  Case in point, there were a few circumstances around the title change that made Joe the perfect choice.  First and foremost, there’s the issue of who else could it be.  MJF is clearly very, very banged up and needs some time away.  That means he needed to drop the title and Joe was the one right there to take it from him.  Asking MJF to keep going to set up another feud would be going too far so they cut things off as they should have.

Second, this was a rematch from Grand Slam, where MJF already beat Joe once.  Joe is a monster with all kinds of submission skills and he’s facing a banged up champion who could barely use his arm.  There comes a point where Joe has to beat MJF as the table was set for him to win and there was little to no way around it.  Beating Joe again would have hurt his status and kept up his career long issue of having trouble winning the big one.  Not only did Joe win, but he won clean, giving him the biggest accomplishment of his career.

Finally, Joe was the kind of person who felt like he could snap MJF in half if given the chance and he came close.  While it was a competitive match, Joe eventually pulled MJF in and choked him out for the title.  That’s the right way to go about doing things and it made for a great moment.  Sure you had the Devil and stuff after, but Joe is now the one who could do what no one else could.  He followed that up with his victory speech shown on Dynamite and now AEW has a brand new kind of monster champion.  I’m in for the Joe reign, and it was the right choice at the right time.

Statement #8: You liked the reveal of Adam Cole as “Devil” at the end of Worlds End. 

Tony Acero: FACT – I think because of how long it took, and the ups and downs of excitement of who it is and/or isn’t, the big reveal at World’s End was going to disappoint some. I think that no matter who it was going to be, some people were going to be bothered or upset. For those, I understand, but I also think that this is one of those situations where they knew from the jump who it was going to be. I also think they purposefully prolonged it due to the timeline given to Cole. For example, they said he’d be healed in nine months, so Tony sat with his little notebook and planned out nine months worth of story. The unfortunate thing is that we are so conditioned to have things fast and easy that we got a little exhausted with the story. As a writer, another issue is that the longer the story, the more prone it is to plot holes and inconsistencies. This story, thus far, has suffered from both. And yet, I still have faith that we will get something great out of it all. At the end of the day, we have seen multiple wrestlers grow from this story, whether we like them or not.

Thomas Hall: FACT – Much like the Samoa Joe beating MJF question above, this was a case of “well, who else do you have”. For weeks leading up to the show, the question was who would be underneath the mask, which led to a bunch of speculation. The more of these guesses and theories and ideas that I read, the more it became clear that outside of AEW having one heck of a curve ball in its bag, with one heck of a backstory attached, the only viable option was Cole.

Since both of them are injured, it’s easy to forget how big of a story MJF and Cole were just a few months ago. They were easily the biggest story going in AEW and their reactions were something else. The problem came down to the fact that Cole couldn’t wrestle because of a fluke injury and it made things all the screwier. Cole’s explanation promo made perfect sense and in theory it should have set up a blood feud between the two of them. We’ll probably get that down the line, but for now, it’s something else that gets to simmer for a good while.

Cole was the right choice for the Devil because the story had been set up. MJF had turned Cole into something he wasn’t and while MJF had changed, the people he had harmed were going to hold him accountable for his past sins. It made sense and while there were circumstances that kept them off the logical path forward, it wasn’t like there was any other viable option at the moment. I was happy with Cole as the Devil, mainly because I’ll take a logical move over some random reveal that doesn’t make a ton of sense.


 
Big thanks to Tony and Thomas for joining me this week! Be sure to follow along with their reviews of RAW and Dynamite in 2024!

And if you want more of Thomas Hall‘s great reviews, please visit his site: https://kbwrestlingreviews.com/

And you definitely need more Tony Acero in your life, so follow him on Twitter/X: https://twitter.com/TonyAcero411