AFTER DARK – Week 1 (2023)

Last year I had endeavoured to review every single AEW women’s match. In the Fall, when both my businesses do 75% of their annual sales, I was finding the silver lining in AEW only doing one women’s match per Dynamite & Rampage per week. (Don’t get it twisted, I will continue to urge Tony Khan to book more women’s matches on TV) But when it comes to Dark & Dark Elevation, where there may be 4-8 women’s matches per week, it wasn’t just getting to be a lot but it was becoming repetitive as well. Many of the matches function more as a trial, either to try out a new move, a new gimmick, a new storyline angle, or even a new wrestler in front of a live crowd. So I thought it would be easier for me and probably better for you, as the reader, if I instead rounded up all my thoughts on the women’s matches on AEW’s YouTube shows in one bigger article post, which I’m calling After DARK.

However, when there are matches that deserve their own review (Athena vs Jody Threat, for example), I will reserve the right to write up a full review for such a match.

Alright, let’s get into it…

JAN. 2 – DARK ELEVATION

It’s Dark Elevation, the first of the new year and the show kicks off with Hikuru Shida vs Tyra Russamee who I’ve never heard of but get a decent reaction in the arena.

I’m trying to figure out what to make of Tyra. She opens the match by requesting a test of strength and when Shida obliges she stomps on Shida’s foot and then hits her with the softest punches which even Daddy Magic points out.

From here, I’m assuming she’s like a comedy wrestler and indeed she avoids a flying Shida attack with a Samoa Joe style “nope” and she uses a but attack.

Shida eventually wins with the Katana. I’m still not sure what to make of Tyra Russamee.

Winner: Hikaru Shida (2:45)

Another match, another talent I’m being introduced too for the first time. Marina Shafir comes out with Nyla Rose (who is wearing a shirt that literally says “SHIRT” and pants that say “PANTS” on them). Nyla interrupts her ramp way routine to point out that Vickie Guerrero did not come out with them. So that storyline continues.

Lilith Grimm bring a lot of size and a pretty “alternative” look. In my Pokémon evolution models where Ruby Soho evolves into Heidi Howitzer who evolves into Max The Impaler, I’d place Lilith Grimm between Soho and Howitzer.

Marina has gone to wrestling barefoot for some time now. I’m not sure how big a fan of that I am. I think that’s probably mostly a preference thing like how I like when wrestlers wear mouth guards. In any case, Shafir is dominant. Her strikes look great, her hip throw looks great especially with her being able to easily do it to a larger opponent. I’m a big big fan of Marina Shafir’s in-ring but I don’t feel like her position on the roster is congruent with it. She’s not going out there and popping crowds with action packed matches so it feels like there needs to be actual stakes for her matches to get any heat. Hopefully in 2023 there’s a pivot point for Marina to make her feel like more of a threat.

After the match Nyla gets into the ring and gets in Marina’s face but it’s unclear what the intention is. Commentary ask if there’s a beef but it looked more to me like she was pumping Shafir’s tires. The whole thing absolutely scans to me as Marina & Vickie turning on Nyla. We shall see!

Winner: Marina Shafir (1:49)

Athena was my #1 wrestler in the AEW.ONE Top 5 for December, which you can read more about here:

Given the opening of past matches, I’m anticipating Athena rushing in with a face-crushing forearm strike to Gypsy’s face. Credit to whoever agented this match however, Gypsy Mac’s first move is to block that strike. Athena quickly overcomes this however and gets her strike in and then does little dance and literally jumps up and clicks her heels to express her delight.

There’s some smart wrong footing on the apron as Athena throws a weak strike to goad Mac into dodging it and returning with a strike of her own which Athena anticipates to leave Mac vulnerable to being pulled through the ropes, kicked repeatedly and having her head ran into the post. Again, some good thought put into this match.

In routine Athena fashion, she Gets Her Shit In™ by way have devastating looking strikes and kicks but this pattern of wrong-footing her opponents continues as she ends the match by putting Gypsy in a Crossface submission and just when you’re thinking she did that too close to the ropes—and sure enough, Gypsy Mac reaches for the rope—Athena grabs that free arm and wrenches it back so there’s no escape.

For a quick squash on Elevation, Athena (and I feel like I keep saying this) shows me something new from her. In this match, much like her career in AEW, Athena is such a master of subverting expectations and giving you more that you thought you were getting. What a massive talent. 

Post match, she just can’t let well enough ago as she catches a glimpse of Gypsy Mac convalescing outside the ring so Athena just pie-faces her flat onto her back on the floor and then picks her up, gives her a little kiss on the forehead, and then slams Mac face down on the ROH World Title.

Winner: Athena (3:12)

The people love Julia Hart. Her presentation is awesome. I like her a whole lot but more importantly, there is an online audience who loses their minds for her level of “pure vibes”. I suspect down the line there’s potential for a Julia Hart Stan movement if she’s built properly. Admittedly, that’s for a younger audience than yours truly but I’m just here pointing out what I think are patterns and I think AEW may have something here with Julia Hart.

As for the match, Julia nearly immediately taps out Leva to the “Heartless” submission.

Winner: Julia Hart (0:52)

Jan. 3 – dark

This episode of Dark emanates from Universal Studios, so I always find it a bit harder to get as much out of these episodes but let’s see!

This will be my first time seeing Jada Stone and rightly so as she’s only 19(!) years old with 33 matches under her belt according to Cage Match. This is Stone’s AEW debut. Jada has red hair down literally past her butt. Early on Emi puts Jada into a Romero Special and Stone really gets to show off her flexibility as her back really does look in a bad way. But she’d prove that wasn’t a one-off as she matrixes under a clothesline with quite the arc. The back stuff would come into play again as she’d sell Emi’s backbreaker really well. I thought Jada actually had some decent looking strikes in this match and she showed some good fire up spots. Hard to tell exactly how raw someone is in this short a match and, of course, Emi Sakura is the ultimate dance partner to lead someone around the ring. A tidy piece of business overall.

Winner: Emi Sakura (2:53)

6 year veteran Kaci Lennox is here, we haven’t seen her for a few months and don’t blink because you’ll miss her. Kiera Gets Her Shit In™ with her running drop kicks in the corner, a nice Shot Gun Dropkick to set it up. Kiera finishes Kaci off in 49 seconds with a back suplex. For Lennox’s part, I thought she sold the Shot Gun Drop Kick and the Back Suplex really well. Not much to gather beyond that. Actually, one last thing, I never really took note of Kiera Hogan’s music before. It’s cool and soulful. Not very typical for wrestling music but it’s nice.

Winner: Kiera Hogan (0:49)

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