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Rampage recap & reactions: Elite Slam Dunk

AEW Rampage (Feb. 17, 2023) emanated from Sames Auto Arena in Laredo, TX. The Slam Dunk special featured the Elite defending the trios titles, House of Black calling their shot, Dustin Rhodes out for blood, the return of Keith Lee, and more.

Let’s jump right in with a recap of the show followed by reactions.

Excalibur, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, and Chris Jericho were on commentary. Justin Roberts handled ring announcer duties.

AEW World Trios Championship: Kenny Omega & Young Bucks (c) vs. Top Flight & AR Fox

Both teams brought basketballs to the ring for the Slam Dunk tie-in of NBA All-Star weekend on TNT. The match started with referee Rick Knox doing a jump ball in the center of the ring as a lark. Dante Martin skied high to snatch the basketball. Nick Jackson played a wily trick setting up an atomic drop for Dante’s landing.

The contest progressed with plenty of high-flying highlights. My favorites moments were Dante flipping out of a snap dragon suplex from Kenny Omega and Dante with a flying double stomp to Matt Jackson while executing a forceful chest pass at Omega in the corner.

In the end, the match broke down into moves all around. Nick had a cool escalera dive to the outside onto Dante and AR Fox. Omega blasted Darius Martin with a V-Trigger in the ropes and finished with the One Winged Angel.

Elite defeated Top Flight & AR Fox.

Afterward, the lights went out. Malakai Black and Brody King were on stage calling their shot at the Elite. Lights out again, and the House of Black vanished.

The Gunns aren’t worried about their four-way tag title defense at Revolution. They are at the top of the division. Austin and Colten addressed the Acclaimed inserting themselves in the match. It was typical that the Acclaimed didn’t want to do the work of winning one of the battle royals to qualify. The Gunns will handle them at the PPV. That is if the Acclaimed make it there.

Mark Henry interviewed Orange Cassidy. OC has 18 wins in a row. Wheeler Yuta interrupted to state his beef about Cassidy being a lousy teacher. Yuta is glad he joined the Blackpool Combat Club. They taught him more than Cassidy ever could. Yuta released some hard feelings off his chest. He didn’t appreciate Chuck Taylor treating him like a clown, being replace by a clown (Danhausen), and Trent bullying him. Yuta put the blame on Cassidy for allowing that to happen under his watch. Yuta was offended, so he wants to take the AEW All-Atlantic Championship. Cassidy clarified that he wasn’t there to teach. He was there to be a best friend. Since they are clearly not friends anymore, Cassidy accepted the challenge. The match was booked for next week.

Daniel Garcia vs. Ricky Starks

Garcia gave attitude to start, so Starks fired off rowdy punches. Garcia went to work on Starks’ knee, and that affected Absolute for the rest of the match. Starks collapsed when sprinting for a spear. Starks had sparks of offense, but Garcia kept at the knee. When Garcia secured a Sharpshooter, Starks crawled toward the ropes for a break. Just as Starks was inches away, Sammy Guevara arrived to pull the bottom rope backward. Action Andretti ran in to brawl with Sammy. In the commotion, Starks dodged Garcia to run back and forth for a spear. Starks grit through the pain in his knee to execute Roshambo for victory.

Ricky Starks defeated Daniel Garcia.

Afterward, Sammy demanded a match with Andretti. That was confirmed for next week.

Evil Uno is not scared of Jon Moxley. He himself has a history of violence. Uno will bring respect back to the Dark Order name.

TBS Championship: Jade Cargill (c) vs. Vertvixen

Leila Grey was ringside. Jade squashed her opponent to close with Jaded. The champ’s record improved to 53-0.

Jade Cargill defeated Vertvixen.

Mark Henry interviewed the main event participants. Swerve Strickland was annoyed at the disrespect from Dustin Rhodes. Men go to war over respect. Men die for respect. Dustin explained that Swerve crossed the line insulting his family. Sometimes, you have to go to a dark place to see the light. Dustin plans to drag Swerve to hell. Side note, Trench (goon #2 with face tattoos) was mysteriously missing, and Dustin denied culpability. Enough talk. Henry closed with, “It’s time for the main event!”

Swerve Strickland vs. Dustin Rhodes

Swerve sent Parker Boudreaux to rush Dustin on stage. The Natural was prepared with a turnbuckle to smack the Mogul Affiliate. The match began as a brawl, then Dustin delivered his signature punches to pop the crowd. The action spilled outside again, and Swerve landed a running dropkick to smash Dustin’s head into the steel barricade. Dustin was bleeding.

As the match progressed, Swerve connected on his running single-leg dropkick finisher. Dustin fired up to kick out at 1. On each punch Swerve landed, the Natural took it and screamed in defiance. Swerve ran into a scoop powerslam. Dustin blasted lariats and hit a Code Red. Swerve kicked out on the cover.

Double running crossbodies, and both men were down. Swerve gained the upper hand for a Death Valley Driver on the apron. Dustin rallied for a superplex and piledriver. Kick out by Swerve. Dustin maintained pressure for a Cross Rhodes then the Final Reckoning finisher. 1, 2, upset special? Nope. Parker pulled Dustin out of the ring before the three-count was complete. The big galoot rammed Dustin into the ring steps. The referee called for the bell to award Dustin the disqualification victory.

Dustin Rhodes defeated Swerve Strickland.

Afterward, the Mogul Affiliates continued their attack on Dustin. Swerve set up a cinder block for a flying double stomp. Keith Lee’s music blared on the Tony Tron. Swerve put full attention forward, and that played into Lee’s trap to attack from behind. Lee saved Dustin and cleared the ring.

Grade: B

I sat, I saw, I was entertained. The ring action was good, and the PPV build resumed. The bottom line is that Rampage was a fun hour of television, for the most part.

The trios title bout was good, not great. The athleticism was full steam ahead for a high excitement factor. I have mixed feelings about the basketball hijinks. On one hand, it was amusing as the Slam Dunk tie-in. On the other hand, a championship contest should be serious business. Non-title bout? Sure, embrace the silliness. It would be one thing if there was a specific stipulation to promote NBA All-Star weekend. Technically, none of the basketball stuff should have been legal. It took me out of the illusion as a viewer. Winning a championship should be a life-changing accomplishment for Top Flight and AR Fox. In theory from a sports standpoint, winning gold leads to bigger paydays and greater sponsorship opportunities to earn money. Not to mention the competitive drive to prove they are the best. I felt that the goofiness diminished the focus that this was indeed a championship bout. In turn, that made me care less about who won.

As for the result, the Elite were strong in victory. They closed the chapter convincingly on the mini feud. Top Flight & Fox never had that moment of a believable pinfall for a title change. I view this as a statement of the Elite’s greatness. In sports playoff series, the underdog might shock the favorite in the first or second game. Truly great teams absorb the blow, do the work off court in mental and physical preparation, and come back solving the puzzle. Kenny Omega & the Young Bucks showed there are levels to the game. Unlike the first go around, they took the challengers’ best shots but were never in dire trouble. In my opinion, this win elevates the Elite in establishing their greatness as trios champions.

Ricky Starks was absolute in victory. I like how he runs the ropes back and forth for his spears. Starks isn’t a bulldozer, so this adds extra oomph. Force equals mass times acceleration. Starks showed toughness for the Roshambo despite his damaged knee. His win showcased a lot of babyface elements to garner support. I was disappointed in Daniel Garcia from a sports perspective. This is supposed to be a man who is terrorizing on the technical side. He was sloppy mentally, often running haphazardly into suplexes and slams from Starks. I expect more out of Garcia. I did notice that he maintained an upright Sharpshooter instead of leaning back to give an easy counter way out. That is progress.

Dustin Rhodes sold me 100% in the promo exchange with Swerve Strickland. I was pumped to the max. When Dustin speaks with passion, it is an easy sell. He went out and put on a quality performance against Swerve. I did a double take at the finish checking the clock to see if AEW would really pull the trigger for Dustin to win. Upon realizing enough time remained, I quickly assumed this was not the end. Technically, it wasn’t the end of the broadcast, but it was pretty much the end to the match. Keith Lee returned to kick ass in glory. Going into the show, I didn’t expect that. So, Lee’s return was cool in that regard. As previously noted about time remaining, I did fully anticipate a story set up for Lee to run wild. He did not disappoint.

Back to the main event contest. I really enjoyed the emotion of Dustin out for retribution. Two issues though. Last week, Dustin spoke tough about coming for blood, and then he ended up the one that was bleeding. In a nutshell, no problem. With the larger story of the promos, I was disappointed. Dustin should have made Swerve bleed. Dustin kind of looked the fool to talk to tough only for Swerve to bloody him up unscathed.

Second, the disqualification finish was bullshit. Thankfully, AEW rarely relies on this tactic. (Even if they do embrace cheating to a detriment.) This was a perfect example why that booking decision is often unsatisfying. It was not the time or place for a DQ. (Granted, I don’t know if this leads to a larger plan.) Dustin’s rally had me electric with emotion, and it was flushed down the drain. I could live with Swerve cheating to win, but throwing out all their hard work was whack. The way the disqualification was executed goes back to the fundamental idea that professional wrestling is a sport. If Swerve doesn’t care about losing, then why should I care about the outcome of his matches.

Shout out to Swerve for one moment in particular. The way he used a back kick to break Dustin’s grip was so slick. I maintain that Swerve can be a pillar for AEW if given the opportunity. In my view, he as the infamous ‘it’ factor.

I appreciate the effort for the verbal exchange between Orange Cassidy and Wheeler Yuta. It reminded us of the past story and quickly set up motivation for the title bout. This is much better than a cold match announcement. It is interesting that Yuta was presented as the heel. I don’t take this as a heel turn, because he has legit gripes in his mind. Nevertheless, AEW gave him the heel treatment on the graphic. Yuta looks so mean there. Wicked.

Quick thoughts for the rest of the show. “Yo, baby,” from Tony Schiavone was an amusing acknowledgement of his own name during the start of the show. Excalibur had the word of the week with ‘alacrity’ to describe Ricky Starks. Brisk and cheerful readiness. Yep, that fits for Starks. Thumbs up to Chris Jericho for bringing a Gorilla Monsoon reference about hooking the leg on the pin. I’m happy to see Mark Henry back on screen for interviews. It feels more official than the video packages of the past few weeks. Good for Evil Uno for wearing his big boy pants. This could be a strong step in elevating the image of the Dark Order. Honestly, this side story against Jon Moxley has my full attention more than any other match next week.

Share your thoughts about Rampage. How do you rate it? What were your favorite moments from the show?

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