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As AEW returns to the road this Wednesday for a live edition of AEW Dynamite in Miami, the company will finally put its time for tapping weekly at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville from behind.
For AEW, the company has now spent well over half of its existence recording shows on the Daily’s Place in front of no (or limited) fans, which would have seemed like an impossible task at the start of the pandemic. While certainly not ideal, the time at Daily’s Place included many highlights as the company matured and refined its approach to wrestling. The following is a list of my ten favorite moments from AEW’s time at Daily’s Place.
10. Brodie Lees debut
In the early days of AEW, Dark Order was considered one of the worst things about the company. The group seemed directionless and outdated; when a December episode of Dynamite ended with a horde of Dark Order members attacking The Elite, it was one of the worst closed angles the company had ever made.
Fast forward a few months later and Brodie Lee comes out as “The Exalted One” and Dark Order changes quickly. Under the leadership of Lee, the group gained a focus and a dynamic personality to revolve around. A successful program with Jon Moxley on Double or Nothing 2020, followed by a well-received angle with Cody Rhodes over the TNT Championship, and the group reinvented itself into a dangerous group of heels. Even with Lee’s tragic death, the group remains a solid aspect of the business, now as a group of baby faces gathering around Adam Page as he begins his quest for the AEW World Cup.
9. Shaquille O’Neal / Jade Cargill debut
The angle to create Shaquille O’Neal and Jade Cargill, who made their AEW debut, was not very good. The rivalry between Shaq / Jade and Cody was strange and inconsistent and never made much sense. However, it created a very memorable match at AEW Dynamite, which saw Shaq show off a pretty high level of skill considering it was his first match; makes his limited ring time entertaining and even takes a risky table bump outside the ring.
The match also helped showcase Cargill, who is still creating her identity but is generally believed to be a future top star in the company. Red Velvet, who stepped in as Cody’s tag partner for the match when Brandi Rhodes became pregnant, also improved her value in the match and also showed star potential. The angle for setting up the match (and Shaq’s disappearance afterwards) was not great, but the match itself was a lot of fun and helped get AEW to a valuable general publicity.
8. Kenny Omega steals AEW Championship
Winter is Coming was AEW’s attempt to put one of their biggest matches on TV for free. By broadcasting the highly hyped Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley match to the AEW World Cup, AEW played around that a top match could draw a TV number large enough to justify giving away on TV and not on PPV. The show was a success and at the time it drew the largest audience to AEW Dynamite at the Daily’s Place since the pandemic started, giving the show the necessary atmosphere.
The match itself was good, though perhaps not the best match between the two wrestlers. The key was that it was a title change (only the second time the title had ever changed hands), and it solidified Omega’s slanting, which launched the strongest angle in AEW during 2021, which ultimately looks set to create Adam Page’s victory in victory in babyface. It was probably the biggest single angle the company has ever shot, and perhaps the most important episode of AEW Dynamite outside of its first episode.
7. Proud and powerful vs best friends
A simple story: A team of heels destroys the van that babyface borrowed from a team member’s mother. In a quest for revenge, baby faces challenged heels to a fight in a parking lot, and a blood feud developed. One of the advantages that AEW has over WWE is the TV-14 rating and the ability to be more violent than WWE, so a bloody wild fight can be shown on TV and a mid-card feud can produce one of the best battles in company history.
You can never discount “Plunder King” Chuck Taylor in a gunfight, and Taylor, Trent, Orange Cassidy, Santana and Ortiz all hit their ass to put on a crazy, violent fight involving guys who get powerbombed through car windows, backlash in garbage barrels and other memorable stunts that made Mick Foley stamp it as one of the best street fights he had ever seen.
6. Young Bucks vs. FTR
A battle that had been built long before AEW ever existed, The Young Bucks and FTR finally met on Full Gear in November 2020. After snatching each other on social media and each switching to knock the other through podcasts and video blogs, the two teams had been fighting for the mantle to be the best tag team in the world for years. In many ways, this was the most hyped fight in the company’s history, and AEW really resisted doing the fight in the pandemic era before finally deciding that they had no choice but to do so.
The fight lived up to the hype. It was worked in more of the FTR pace with a lot of sales and slow build to create hot tags for each team. The finish, where Cash Wheeler arrogantly tried a 450 Splash and missing, was a huge tale as it opened the door for The Young Bucks to win the match, defeat their longtime rivals and win the AEW World Tag Team Championships for the first time ever.
5. Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa
Similar to the brawl, this fight was used as proof of AEW’s great capacity to show violence with the extra wrinkle that it was a women’s fight. Easily the most graphic and violent fight ever shown in ordinary American wrestling, the fight was shocking to many viewers with the use of blood and weapons and has been one of the most memorable fights of 2021.
More importantly, it also cemented the status of AEW’s Women’s Division, one of the most vicious aspects of the company since its inception, the division has improved by leaps and bounds since its debut and the fact that women put on it is probably the best match the company has had. in 2021 is proof of this development.
While AEW was still struggling with the empty arena era of wrestling and adaptation to wrestling at Daily’s Place, the company was tasked with producing a PPV, Double or Nothing, which followed up with the company’s wildly successful PPV debut the year before. In need of giving the fans something memorable, they tried to create a new spectacle that would take advantage of the unique aspect of holding the show in an empty football stadium.
The result was a bizarre battle that caused everything from Matt Hardy to be reincarnated to Adam Page, who rode in on a horse to Chris Jericho, who attacked the Jaguars mascot to Nick Jackson, who made a Northern Lights suplex chain that lasted 100 yards. Some fans understandably did not fit the comic moments of the match, but commercially the match was a huge success and has triggered what is likely to be an annual tradition for the company.
3. Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley turn outward
When I first thought about the best moments in AEW last year, the first thing I thought about was the promo exchange on the go-home show before Full Gear between Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley.
Kingston is easily the biggest winner of the pandemic era in AEW; Kingston went from being a perhaps former indie veteran to main-eventing Full Gear in a fight with Moxley. Kingston’s promotions and sense of authenticity allowed him to connect with a live audience that was not there, and it was his intensity and chemistry with Moxley in this promo exchange that really sold the “I Quit” provision and helped with solidifying Kingston as the top star, though he continued to lose the match.
2. Sold out crowds return for double or nothing
The triumphant return of sold-out crowds took place at Double or Nothing 2021. While AEW had fans in a limited capacity for several months before, and WrestleMania had a significantly larger audience (in a much larger venue), Double or Nothing was the first sold-out audience to wrestling since the start of the pandemic and reminded fans what it was like to see wrestling with a great atmosphere.
Double or Nothing was a great show, but did not have anything that was really a blow-away match. But the amount of energy and the passion they showed for the artists was such a new concept after waiting through the pandemic, the show had no choice but to encounter as a huge success and was one of the most enjoyable evenings with pro wrestling in recent memory.
1. Brodie Lee tribute show
A melancholy No. 1 here, but as tragic as Lee’s death, the excellent tribute that AEW produced just after his death was announced was one of the most moving and emotional nights in the industry’s history. The passionate video tributes throughout the show as well as the tribute fights (culminating in Brodie Lee’s son, -1, cracking MJF in the head with a Kendo stick) were incredible moments that will never be forgotten by the fans who saw it live.
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