The other night I was doing my Wednesday night ritual of watching Dynamite with my friends on Facebook. It’s always a lot of fun as we dissect, sometimes mock, sometimes mark (out) to the action on screen. If you’ve never done it before, well, just head over to my old man social media page and send me an invite and join along. It really is a fun way to spend a couple hours.
The reason I bring this up isn’t to get more friends over there, but rather to bring up something I mentioned in the chat, that being me asking whatever happened to that Wardlow guy. At one point, Wardlow was one of the company’s hottest acts and he seems to have been in no man’s land for months on end. I remember clearly in the build up to the match with MJF at Double or Nothing 2022, the dude was on fire. Crowds were erupting at his every appearance and it really felt he could be the next big thing not only in AEW but in the entire wrestling business.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that show, something over which he essentially had no control. Rumblings backstage indicated there was an issue between MJF and AEW boss Tony Khan, which depending on whom you believe was a dispute over money, push, contract, or some combination of them all. The weekend of the event, MJF was scheduled to be at a meet and greet and he simply no showed the whole thing. Just like that, Wardlow wasn’t the hot topic anymore; it was whether or not Max was actually going to show up to the match he’d been built up to for months.
When the bell finally rang, MJF was there and did the job, with Wardlow killing him in convincing fashion. Yet still…something wasn’t right. No one was talking about Wardlow, they were all talking about the man underneath his foot, a guy who was about to vanish from TV for several months. As this happened, all I could think was that they really needed to have something huge planned for Wardlow so that he didn’t become an afterthought.
As fate would have it, a door opened for to ensure Wardlow’s rise to the top.
In the main event of the show, CM Punk defeated Hangman Page to become the AEW World Heavyweight champion. Unfortunately in doing so, Punk suffered a major injury that was going to put him out of action for the next several months. It was determined there would be a battle royal on the first Dynamite following the PPV wherein the winner would battle Jon Moxley to crown an interim title holder until Punk made his return. When Punk was healed up, the interim belt holder and Punk would battle it out to crown the undisputed champ. If ever there was something that could keep the rocket on Wardlow’s back, they were just handed it.
Just one problem with that – Wardlow wasn’t in the battle royal. And in the interview on the same show, he explained that not only was he not in the match, but that it was his choice to not be in it! The fans who had been so hot for him previously were instantly far more subdued in their chants. In fact, some of those fans who were yelling “WARD-LOW” over and over started to boo the guy. And honestly, who could blame them? After all, what kind of buffoon passes up a chance to win the biggest prize in the company?
He would explain in an utterly senseless and rather non-convincing interview that he had great respect for Punk and wanted to face him and him alone, and so he would wait until he got back. Yeah, great, you could have done that too if you’d won the battle royal and beat Moxley you big dummy. Regardless, he explains he wasn’t looking for the world title, but rather the TNT title.
In the early days of AEW, the TNT title was actually a big deal. In many ways it felt like the second coming of the glory days of the WWF Intercontinental championship, a truly important prize that could main event shows. By early 2022, however, that was no longer the case, with the belt being ping ponged from Sammy Guevera to Scorpio Sky in a never-ending feud that was so weird and heatless we’ve been asked to induct it as well.
That said, I get the idea behind this – restore the TNT title to its former glory – but the belt had such a nasty taint on it by that point it was going to be an uphill battle. But it was a direction and it wasn’t like Wardlow was suddenly feuding with, I don’t know, “Smart” Mark Sterling or anything.
Well, except he was.
Before this segment even ended, Sterling interrupted and explained that he was filing a class action lawsuit against Wardlow for his abuse of security personnel whom he’d attacked in previous episodes. But since Mark was a nice guy, he was going to give him an option – either face him in a court of law or wrestle all 20 of them at once on the next episode of Dynamite. Wardlow of course accepted the latter.
I mean…I find Sterling mildly amusing. He makes me chuckle sometimes. But this…THIS…is who you are marrying to one of your hottest acts?
But such was the case, as we got a People’s Court knockoff with an announcer explaining to us what was going on. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved that show and all (although I loved the SNL parody even more!), but was there anyone out there that really thought this was a good idea?
Somehow, some way, it was about to go from bad to worse.
Wardlow got into the ring and plowed through the guards on one side of the ring, knocking them to the floor. At this point, ring announcer Dasha Gonzalez told fans that those men had been eliminated. They weren’t pinned, they weren’t thrown over the top rope, they just fell to the floor which apparently tossed them out of the contest. Commentator Jim Ross was baffled, admitting he had no idea what was going on or how this match was even set up. I’ve been no fan of Ross in AEW, but I got your back on that one, kid!
Next up we get the a mighty ROAR spot with men flying all over the place. I do love those so I can’t hate on it too much. But despite having just seen men eliminated for such an infraction, no one was nixed from the match for that.
Next we get a goof trying a single leg on Wardlow, who carries him around the ring in comical fashion. The big guy then decides to pick him up and powerbomb him over the ropes onto a pile of other geeks. Again, he also was not eliminated.
It was never explained, so I can only speculate poor Dasha jumped the gun and no one was supposed to be out in the first place and so they corrected her over the earpiece. Just a guess on my part. Still, what a mess.
A front chancery by Wardlow follows along with a massive clothesline. This allows him to pin a guy with one foot while causing the other to submit. Both of these men were now eliminated. Goofy to be sure, but at least that (kinda sorta) makes sense.
Powerbombs a plenty come next, as Wardlow stacks the doofuses up in a pile. Despite only one man’s shoulders being on the mat, this eliminates ALL of them. Don’t ask me, I’m just the reporter here.
Wash, rinse, and repeat as we start chopping down that 20 in short order. I would complain, but hey, if it gets us to the finish line faster, I’m all for it.
Despite having seen such unending destruction, we get a loon that tries to attack Wardlow with a cross body off the top rope. He gets caught and crushed into the rest of the pile and with that, the match comes to a merciful end. Furious that his plans have been foiled, Sterling plays his last card, with former UFC fighters Matt Hughes and Tyrone Woodley getting in the ring.
Turns out they don’t like Sterling either, feeding him to the wolves. One powerbomb later, Sterling is dead and the case is closed.
And Wardlow’s reaction is the same as mine.
In many ways, Wardlow has never recovered. Sure, he still gets big reactions from the crowds, but it’s not like it once was. MJF did him no favors, and Wardlow’s been quite vocal about that. In an interview with Digtal Spy, Wardlow noted “all the crap with Max and everything he was pulling. I mean, I showed up that day not knowing if I was wrestling…I feel like ever since that night things have kind of been just off and I feel like I’m still trying to get back on track. It is what it is, in this in life and in this business, not everything goes perfectly.”
True, it doesn’t…but it really should have gone a lot better than this.