Back On The Road – Getting to Experience WWE Money in the Bank, Raw and AEW Dynamite Live Again by Kurt Zamora

The last time I was writing about a live wrestling experience, it was eleven months ago in August of 2020, and thoughts of sold-out arenas were a distant memory. We clearly weren’t close to being able to congregate in large venues like that. It would have to be shows like that one in August, with sparse crowds of a few hundred wearing masks, and being socially distant. Beggers can’t be choosers though when you’re wanting to enjoy live wrestling again.

Once the calendar rolled from 2020 to 2021, there was starting to be some hope of “normalcy” returning to our lives. WrestleMania was able to have two nights with fans in a stadium, allowing for a full production for the performers who had been waiting for a year to see fans in person again. AEW camped out in Jacksonville, now becoming their home base by default. When fans call WWE, “New York”, or used to call WCW, “Atlanta”, now they’ll call AEW, “Jacksonville”. Slowly but surely, they were allowing fans into the venue, helping their product immensely compared to the shows they had to do in the Nightmare Factory in Georgia immediately after the pandemic started. Locally where I live in the DFW area of Texas, we had an indy company firing up called SWE Fury. They were running with a loaded roster of current stars from MLW & AEW, indy darlings, and former WWE superstars. It was a great balance and they’ve really done some incredible things this year. I highly recommend checking them out.

Nothing compares to a sold out show, though, with tens of thousands of fans especially when you know that something big is going to happen. As luck would have it, when both WWE & AEW announced their return to live touring, my neck of the woods was going to end up being at the very start of that return. I went from not attending a major live show since January 2020 when I attended the Royal Rumble in Houston, to now I would have three shows IN A WEEK, all within 45 minutes of my house. On Sunday, July 18th it was Money in the Bank in Fort Worth. On Monday July 19th, it was Monday Night Raw in Dallas. The finale would be Wednesday, July 21st for AEW Dynamite, which became Fyter Fest Night 2, in Garland, which is a suburb of Dallas about a half-hour east. As someone that had missed that live experience more than I realized, I was determined to attend all three of them.

In full disclosure, I don’t watch WWE programming that much anymore. Especially Monday Night Raw. I’ll keep up with Smackdown via social media (plus reading TJRWrestling of course!), and I watch the PPV’s because for the most part at least I know I’ll get good in-ring action even if the stories getting them to the ring weren’t great. I was going to put that perspective in the rearview mirror. It didn’t matter. I wanted to be around wrestling fans. I wanted to experience big moments in person. Plus, I just knew WWE would put great effort into these shows with fans back. I ended up being half right.

Sunday rolled around and it was time to get this adventure started with the Money in the Bank PPV. It may sound cheesy, but it was honestly a great feeling just getting to the venue and as fans were waiting in line waiting to get in, seeing all the signs and wrestling shirts, hearing all the chants, as we’ve all waited for this moment. Dickies Arena in Fort Worth is a brand new venue that technically opened last year, but due to the pandemic as well, couldn’t get many events under its belt. It’s a great venue that I was highly impressed with. Walking in and seeing the new stage setup for this era of WWE was really cool. It was finally happening. The crowd was clearly red hot and ready to go. Even as someone that doesn’t watch the WWE product, the card for Money in the Bank was undeniable. Roman vs. Edge felt like a HUGE deal. The Men’s Money in the Bank match was beyond loaded and promised to be off the charts. Kofi Kingston was getting another shot at the WWE Title, the women’s MITB match had a lot of talent, and the card was so loaded that The Usos reuniting to take on the Mysterios for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles was going to have to be on the pre-show!

That initial pop for The Usos coming out, that was when it truly hit me how long it’s been since I’ve been able to enjoy these type of moments. The first big stars through the crowd and the crowd just releasing all this energy that had been building for months and months. I can’t imagine the goosebumps The Usos had coming out. That match was absolutely tremendous and really set the tone for the night.

We then got ready for the start of the show and the Women’s Money in the Bank. The first thing that became very apparent was the fact that despite all the online anger/hate/boredom/indifference towards Alexa Bliss’ current character online, the general fan LOVES her. I was expecting a lot of boos her way and it was a unanimous cheer. Her Lilly doll sold out both nights at the merchandise stands. So if you hate it, I’m sure WWE is now planning on giving you a lot more of it. Nikki Cross/A.S.H. came out to ZERO reaction. Based on how Raw ended, that’s pretty wild looking back on it now. However in the moment, I remember thinking that that cannot be the reaction Vince was wanting. As we’d find out though, he clearly had a plan. The women’s match was fine, nothing extraordinary, and the finish didn’t play well to the fans as with all those women on the ladders at the same time, it was hard to focus on Nikki pulling the briefcase. There eventually was a nice reaction to her winning, and I get what they were going for, but I think there’s just something much better visually with one person on the ladder and all the attention on them as they grab the briefcase.

The rest of the card was as advertised, except for Lashley vs. Kofi. I understand that Lashley needed to look dominant in that match, but that crowd wanted Kofi to at least have a fighting chance. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to have one, the crowd checked out.

The Men’s Money in the Bank was nothing short of incredible. All eight men put it all on the line and came out looking better in the end. You can’t ask for much more in a MITB match than that. Drew McIntyre came out to a 70/30 cheer to boo ratio. Big E and Kevin Owens were definitely the sentimental favorites. This was the first-ever MITB PPV I attended, but I did get to see the MITB matches at WrestleMania 25 and 26 before it became a PPV. This match was the best MITB match I’ve ever seen. They seemingly made it impossible for Roman and Edge to follow. Try as they did, I don’t quite think they were able to do it. I know the philosophy of following a match like that, start slow and then build the crowd back up. That’s what they did, but I think the crowd was expecting something different in this match. It was still great to see Edge wrestling again, and it wasn’t lost on me that the last time I saw him, it was in attendance for his actual return at the 2020 Royal Rumble. I’m sure in his mind he was thinking what I was thinking, no way could we have seen what the time between these two events would end up looking like.

I knew something big was going to happen when Edge and Rollins fought into the crowd. As you can tell in the cover picture for this article, the crowd came unglued for John Cena! I’ve been back and forth on my opinions of Cena, but there is no denying it’s a big deal for him to return. And as someone that was waiting and wanting moments like this, I let myself be a part of it. I heard Edge’s return at the Rumble. I’ve heard Austin’s entrance at a WrestleMania. I saw both Taker vs. Shawn matches at WrestleMania when the crowd was living and dying off every move. This Cena ovation is right there at the top of the loudest moments I’ve ever heard in person. It was unbelievable and a great way to end the night, it was exactly what I wanted. I left that venue happy, and being really optimistic that they had set the table for a “Raw after WrestleMania” level Monday Night Raw. How wrong I was.

I don’t want to be negative in this article because this is about reminiscing on being back together with wrestling fans and enjoying good moments together. Genuinely hoping that all of you reading this will get that moment soon, if you haven’t already. So I won’t spend much time on Monday Night Raw. We all know what a joke it is to have Karrion Kross lose the way he did. We all know that Goldberg somehow being able to demand another title shot after losing his last two is questionable at very best. Keith Lee returning is great, Keith Lee losing in decisive fashion to Bobby Lashley…. eh, I’m not so sure about. As I said earlier, I don’t watch Raw at all. I bought tickets though, thinking that if there was ever a Raw they’d put effort into, it’d be the first one with fans. Clearly, that didn’t happen. Littered with rematches and throwaway segments, it felt like a Thunderdome show. The fact that our beloved leader John Canton gave the last Thunderdome show a better rating than this one, says it all. This show SHOULD HAVE been as close to a 10 as possible. It was not. I don’t foresee myself ever attending another Raw live, unless I know upfront that it’s going to be absolutely loaded. When it’s a bad show, sitting through three hours with commercial breaks is a beating. Getting to see a MITB cash-in, in person for the first time ever was cool, but even that was so dang rushed that we didn’t get to really enjoy the moment. Plus, I think the crowd was expecting Becky Lynch. Nikki A.S.H. did get a good reaction for winning, much more than when she came out 24 hours earlier at MITB, but I don’t know if that was for her or just the moment.

The show I was most excited for was AEW Dynamite. I am an AEW homer and an AEW believer. I had my doubts about them coming off the mishap at the Revolution PPV at the end of the Barbed Wire Death Match, but they’ve been able to rebound nicely. Their first two shows with fans were home runs, and Fyter Fest Night 1 had well over a million viewers, which was a really good sign for the company. I had hoped that our show would be able to follow that and keep the crowd coming back. I was not disappointed. From the opening moment of the show, getting to sing along to Judas, it was a total experience of when pro wrestling is great, there’s nothing better. (And that video link I put for Judas, Jericho even retweeted it, which I thought was very cool.) We live in a world where Nick Gage is going to fight Chris Jericho. Where Sting is doing Orange Cassidy’s bit, which as a lifelong Sting fan, I found hilarious. Stuff like that blows my mind. The ongoing story of “Hangman” Adam Page, the best story going in wrestling, and just hearing the crowd with their unwavering support for him. I was even on TV chanting “Cowboy Shit”. Sorry mom.

Seeing the rise of Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. was also incredible. AEW was last here in December of 2019 and she was a meddling babyface that had a match on Dark during that taping in a match that no one really cared about. On this night though, she had the most signs in the crowd BY FAR, and the crowd was fully invested in her retaining her title. The Eddie Guerrero spot was tremendous live and her winning was a great moment for everyone.

The main event had everyone’s attention though. When they announced Lance Archer was from Dallas, TX, they’re not lying. I’ve been watching this guy on the indy scene here since 2003. To see him rise to such prominence has been absolutely amazing. Then to see him face to face with Jon Moxley, someone who does so much for the business now that he’s left WWE, was a huge deal. Also, to see a New Japan title defended (and subsequently changing hands) in person was also mind-boggling. It’s just not something that happens all the time, and that was not lost on me. It was a killer match, one that no one in the crowd sat down for. Moxley has only lost twice in his time in AEW, so seeing him take the L in this one was massive to everyone in the crowd. They realized what they had just seen and what a big deal it was. I couldn’t have been happier for Archer, getting that moment in his hometown area.

Somehow, after all that, we still had two hours of AEW Dark: Elevation to be taped afterward. If there’s one critique I would have about the AEW experience, it’s that it’s A LOT to take in. From just before 6 PM to just after 11 PM, it’s non-stop taping. Dark leads into Dynamite which leads into Elevation. That is a long night. With Rampage coming next month, I’m not sure if that will shorten Elevation. It’s not all bad obviously, as there were some gems that I would absolutely recommend going out of your way to check out. Jungle Boy vs. Marq Quen, and The Lucha Bros vs. Dark Order’s 5 & 10 were both taped for Elevation and were outstanding matches. The tag match was so good that I ended up leaving because there was no way either of the two matches still left to come were going to follow it. It’s a great way to see basically every one of AEW’s stars and get them ring time. Even though it was 5+ hours, it felt way faster and better-paced than Raw’s three hours. However, 5+ hours is still 5+ hours.

Naturally, after all the three shows had ended, I was a zombie for the 48 hours following. It’s hard to go 19 months without a show and then pack three big ones into a week. But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. This is what we as wrestling fans have missed more than anything. So if you have wrestling coming to your town, go. Enjoy the moments. Remember what it’s like to be a fan again no matter how old you are. I’m glad we’re all back together again and I hope this is a truly wild ride we’re starting in the pro wrestling business for the rest of the year as we head into 2022.

Thanks for reading. You can message me on Twitter @KTankZamora with any feedback or general wrestling discussion.