We're trying out a new feature here on Vundablog--possibly temporary or perhaps rolling into an eventual weekly feature once AEW on TNT premieres--where I (Derrick) will be doing some short little breakdowns of the AEW "Road to..." videos. I've been following these pretty much from what I would deem the official beginning of the AEW canon timeline, beginning with "The Road to Double or Nothing." Those videos were excellent, if you want to go back and watch them on the Nightmare Family YouTube channel. I especially can't recommend highly enough episode 13 where Dustin Rhodes is revealed as Cody's opponent. Just brilliant stuff.
One of the things I (and many others) find so compelling about these short webisodes is that they are, to some extent, the first real preview we've gotten of something like what an AEW television show could look like. Of course, the actual show could very well lean more toward a conventional pro wrestling show format with not quite as much behind-the-scenes content (which is showing up less in the "Road to Fyter Fest" videos than the "Road to Double or Nothing" ones) but some of the promos and video packages have been exceptionally well done and the behind the scenes stuff has definitely been getting a lot of good feedback and more than a few people have been saying they'd love to see the AEW TV show be a little more like this. It should be very interesting to see how they transition from these videos into the weekly episodes on TNT but either way these videos are extremely compelling.
We begin with the episode that was released today: "The Road to Fyter Fest - Episode 2" followed by a quick rewind breakdown of episode 1 (videos behind the cut):
-The episode begins with an excellent Joey Janela promo. I think a lot of other people really enjoyed this a bit more than I did because A. I feel like the delivery could use some work; not bad, per se, but not quite where it should be, and B. I think those people cared more about the content, which was absolutely aces. Clearly Moxley handed him a wealth of great material to use against him and Joey digs into it hungrily here. The concept is great, too, referencing Joey Janela's past public pronouncements that he wants to die in a wrestling ring (which Moxley references in episode 1) and painting a portrait of a man who has scraped and clawed his way to what is easily the biggest match of his life and is willing to do literally anything to make it special and memorable. This match is going to be bananas. Let's just hope one of them doesn't actually die.
-The next segment is a promo from Brandi putting over the women's match--which she swears is totally going to be a triple threat this time and we all definitely believe her. She does a great job putting over both Riho and Yuka Sakazaki while clearly establishing Nyla Rose as the person who the two joshi stars must "survive" to have a chance in this match.
-Next up is a promo from Shawn Spears (WWE's Tye Dillinger) that is also phenomenal. It's really a delight to see how liberated and alive the ex-WWE guys look in AEW. It's especially apparent from the promos Jon Moxley has been doing--and if you've heard anything about his appearance on Chris Jericho's "Talk Is Jericho" podcast, it's painfully obvious why Jon has come into AEW with so much fire and passion but I'll discuss that more in the episode 1 breakdown. Here Shawn Spears cuts a great, intense promo over a simple but effective video package. Interesting to see the "breaking free of the chains" imagery because this is starting to become a theme among the ex-WWE guys with Moxley's recent promo that featured footage of him breaking out of a prison cell. I'm also interested to see where Spears is taking this character, particularly in light of what he says here, specifically: "to hell with fear." I really hope they show their work here--how is this new Shawn Spears fearless? How exactly is he putting his fingers in the dirt and pulling himself forward? Good stuff, can't wait to see more.
-The episode concludes with a masterpiece of a promo from Darby Allin. I've been privileged to see Darby Allin wrestle live twice with Defy Wrestling while I was living in Portland and he is something special. He is a fearless risk-taker but I feel what sets him apart from other "fearless risk-takers" is that his style seems genuinely unhinged and out-of-control. I saw him wrestle Shane Strickland (aka SWERVE, aka Lucha Underground's Killshot, now part of a new class at the WWE Performance Center) and it was spellbinding--particularly the moment where Allin sprinted up to the balcony area (where many were standing and watching the show) and, in a flash, jumped the rail, and without even bracing or preparing, coffin dropped onto SWERVE and the crowd surrounding him.
This promo shows a side to him I never got to see, though. Here he gives a rich backstory that serves as a foundation for a clear and consistent set of motivations and explanations of his character. It's an absolute revelation in a WWE-dominated wrestling world. It all goes back to his uncle, who picked him up one day, drunk, lost control of the car and died in the crash. "But I'm still here," Allin muses with a smirk. He paints his face, he explains, because half of him feels dead inside. Already we're seeing a man whose life and mind are dominated by death. He explains that since his uncle's death, he has been driven, relentlessly to get the most out of life because you never know when it could all end, to be better than he was the day before, to keep moving forward (to the point where he gets severely depressed if he's not moving forward--physically as well as metaphorically), to not settle for people's expectations but to be what you knew you could be.
He started doing crazy stunts on his skateboard because he wanted an audience for his pain--to show people an external manifestation of what he goes through internally. But he eventually realized that with skating he couldn't tell his story the way he wanted to tell it. And his story, at its very core, is all about this: all he's ever wanted is to be accepted for who he is. It's the whole reason why he's in AEW, it's why he does any of this. "The moment you get a taste of people accepting your craziness," he explains, "now I could find a place to fit in." It's so unbelievably compelling. A man living with the effects of an immense trauma at a very young age--effects that include the spectre of death hanging over his very life and the severe mental illness that drives his reckless, unpredictable wrestling style as well as his desire to live his life to the fullest and be his truest, most authentic self and find acceptance in doing so. 10/10. No notes.
Now for a quick rewind...
-Episode 1 appears to be possibly making references to its namesake, Fyre Fest, but I'm not super familiar with that whole nonsense (I never did get around to watching those documentaries) so I'm not entirely sure. They also feature an interesting segment about their collaboration with CEO Gaming for Fyter Fest which is really cool and interesting.
-The biggest takeaway from this episode has to be how AMAZING Jon Moxley looks and has looked for his whole run with AEW. He looks exactly like what WWE tried so hard to convince us Dean Ambrose was without doing any of the actual work to make that happen (beyond all the "goofy shit" that Moxley has decried since leaving the company). THIS is the REAL "Lunatic Fringe." He just looks so fresh and so liberated and creatively inspired and happy. You can feel it coming off the screen in everything he's done in AEW from his debut to the video packages and promos he's been putting together. Just look at his face in the Double or Nothing footage when he climbs onto the ring ropes and just howls. He looks like someone who just escaped from prison. I don't want to get my hopes up so high they're unreachable but this feels a lot like a guy on the precipice of a career renaissance and it's so exciting to imagine the possibilities for a guy who's so motivated and inspired, who feels like he's finally "Shawshank Redemptioned" out of the box he's been kept in. I can't wait to see where he goes with all this energy and creativity moving forward.
-The episode closes with a nice little teaser of the Darby Allin signing and the Cody vs. Darby match at Fyter Fest which should be very interesting clash of styles. Cody's at a point in his career where he's morphed into this sort of master of 1980s NWA workhorse storytelling wrestling whereas Darby is highly unpredictable and unorthodox and takes a lot of big risks. I also am really into the storytelling they're doing with Cody going into a possibly ill-advised match against someone so dangerous with one of his fellow producers expressing concern about his decision to do this match and Cody clarifying that he wants to be a wrestler first and even adding a layer of symbolism to the "chair smash" spot at Double or Nothing, saying that, if nothing else, that spot was about him wanting to be a wrestler first and an executive second--unlike, it is heavily implied, others who double in both roles. I definitely wouldn't be surprised at all to see him "reinjure" his knee in this match. Cody had surgery in January after losing the IWGP US title to Juice Robinson at Wrestle Kingdom 13 for a partially torn meniscus and especially with the current controversy swirling around Kevin Durant's likely torn ACL in Game 5 after an early return from a "calf" injury (which some believe was actually an ACL injury all along), and the fact that Cody mentioned in the above tweet that his MCL and ACL were fine, I wouldn't be surprised to see a "Cody might have torn his ACL/MCL we don't know if he'll be cleared for Fight for the Fallen" storyline. Whatever they do, it should be interesting to see and I can't wait for Fyter Fest!
Fyter Fest will take place June 29th at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, FL. Tickets are on sale now and the event will be broadcast on B/R Live for free!