A Final Farewell to a Fallen Hero: The AEW Tribute Episode
The tribute to Jon Huber episode of Dynamite hit hundreds of thousands of us harder than we expected. Here, Jason reviews the action as well as giving his own thoughts and more on the late, great, Brodie Lee.
This entire piece began as a foreword for my upcoming monthly column. It rapidly outgrew that and has become the piece you're now reading, hence the delay. It was going to release at the end of the month, but I decided to get it out early as a singular column for a tragic, one off occurrence.
I'd like to add, this is not a Jon Huber retrospective. That was an honour that my colleague Paul has absolutely smashed and you can find that right here. Seriously, have a read.
In a moment of resolute clarity, it was decided by myself and the team here that as the year was so close to its conclusion, my *real* introduction to 'Real Rasslin' and its fan base (I did pen an article over the Christmas period - here it is should you be interested) would take place at the beginning of 2021. You get it, right? New Year, new start and all that jazz.
That being said, life has a strange way of handing you your balls on a plate when you make plans and that's exactly what's happened here.
My cut off for the TV dates that I'll be covering work on the basis that whatever airs on terrestrial TV, or YouTube or whatever, within the month, is what I'll talk about. So, if AEW airs stateside - or on FITE TV - on a Wednesday (US)/Thursday (UK) but then the Friday on ITV, and the Friday is a new month, it'll go into next month's column.
Got it? Cool.
On the 27th of December, news broke of the unexpected passing of Jon Huber, the artist formally known as Luke Harper and, more recently, Mr Brodie Lee. AEW and Tony Khan announced that they would be dedicating an entire episode of Dynamite to the memory of Jon. A tribute. That episode of Dynamite would air on 30/12 on TNT, 1am on 31/12 on FITE here in Old Blighty... And 01/01 on ITV.
To say the passing of Jon was a shock would be like saying a pandemic in the year 2020 was a shock. It took everybody by surprise in the worst kind of way; a coda to the worst song you've ever heard that no-one wanted, following the complete shit-storm that 2020 has been.
I'm not going to beat around the bush with this and am content to say it straight, it wasn't something I wanted to start the year - and my column - by writing about. I need to make it abundantly clear that the justification for this wasn't anything related to the situation itself or, more specifically, any reasons that could be deemed disrespectful; it was about my ability, as a writer, to do it justice. To do Jon justice. My reluctance to cover this episode was more a critique of myself tackling such a heartfelt and sensitive subject, and somehow doing it right.
In my first official column.
Yet here we are. On with the show.
As has already been reported elsewhere, in abundance, the entire show had been booked by Jon's son Brodie, who has also now been signed to the company for an unspecified date in the future. Just one example in a long line of supportive, generous and respectful tributes to Jon and his family from his extended family at AEW.
The show begins with a 10 bell salute that was enough in itself to put a lump in the throat, followed by a heartfelt monologue from Jon Moxley.
'Every day is a gift, every day is special'.
This is already tough to watch.
The matches kick off and we begin with Private Party and Matt Hardy (V2.0?) taking on Colt Cabana and the Bucks. Jericho is 4th man in the commentary booth.
It's clear as these guys make their entrances that the emotion and the feeling here is palpable. An all action opener, this one features all the leg slapping, 'flippy shit' that you'd expect from the usual suspects (even from Cabana who brought out the big guns with a picture perfect Asai moonsault followed later by a Lionsault), with Matt Hardy arduously slowing the pace. Bucks came in with a win following the IndieTaker to finish a fun, back and fourth encounter. Overall, I really enjoyed this. I think Private Party are a great team just waiting for a title run, and the 'Gin and Juice' is a great combo move. Cabana really surprised me here too, I'm not usually a fan but I enjoyed this performance. Hardy, legacy aside, I'm not sure what he brings to the table in 2021. That being said, I wasn't sure what he brought to the table in 2011... A lot of people disagreed.
Camera cut to -1 (Brodie Jr), and cue The Acclaimed, who are quickly disposed of by a Kazarian and Daniels run in. Dark Order as Babyfaces going forward?
I personally believe it's inevitable.
Monologue #2, this time Darby Allin, who emphasises Huber's complete lack of ego.
Next up, Evil Uno, Stu Grayson and Lance Archer (in full Luke Harper garb), w/ Jake The Snake, taking on The Butcher, The Blade and Eddie Kingston with the Bunny.
Kingston continues to be a highlight of Dynamite for me, I don't think there's anyone more 'real' in the business. He's also a great heel, so it was only fitting that he got destroyed at the beginning of the match after laying into the Dark Order verbally and took a short arm clothesline from Jake after the match for a huge (by COVID standards) pop.
The moment of the match came for me though, when Archer decided to tease 'Old School' and switched it up into a moonsault... Seriously?!
All the men in this one busted their asses and it showed, Dark Order got the pinfall, to the surprise of no-one, and rightly so.
Monologue #3 - Dax Harwood focusing on Jon's love for his Wife and Family above all else and how rare that is in the industry. Arn Anderson and Cabana emphasise those points, but the kicker was Bryce Remsburg who was in tears, sobbing about how all they'd discuss was their kids and their families.
That broke me. Christ.
I'm not crying, you're crying.
Returning to the ring, before I have a full meltdown, we've got more 6 man tag action with Alex Reynolds and John Silver of the Dark Order and Hangman Adam Page battling the Inner Circle, represented by MJF and Proud and Powerful, Santana and Ortiz.
MJF from the get go proving why he's such a great heel, or an asshole, as Schiavone put it (his words, not mine!), the action was fast and impactful, Proud and Powerful showing some decent tag chemistry as to be expected.
Honestly, I've never noticed how small John Silver is, but that corner elbow sounded great and was followed by an explosive performance, including some crazy head scissor into a Destroyer which blew my mind.
Erik Rowan turning up was a great surprise which led to a fun near fall courtesy of a Buckshot Lariat and a kendo shot from -1 to the skull of MJF (couldn't happen to a nicer guy, way to go kid). Lariat for Silver on Ortiz and it's game over. The tears in that ring. 'This is real' says Jericho. He's not wrong.
Probably my least favourite match of the night so far, but tremendously entertaining.
That says it all.
Being that as it is, I'm eager for P&P to start hitting the same highs they did as LAX in IMPACT! I can't help but feel like they've been missing something since the Inner Circle came along. Same can be said for the Hangman, who's gone from AEW World Title contender to... Well... Yearlong tag team champ. I guess it's not too much of a demotion after all. Hangman to unseat Omega after a lengthy reign though, given their masterfully developed history? Tick that box Mr Khan.
These monologues - #4 Eddie Kingston talking about how much a warrior Jon/Brodie was for supporting his family. 'Many men don't do that nowadays...'
Anna '99' Jay and Tay Conti up next, taking on Penelope Ford and the ever improved resident Dentist Doctor Britt Baker. D. M. D!
It's been a rough run for the ladies since the foundation of AEW, and rightly so in some cases.
Don't get me wrong, this was sloppy in places and wasn't as organic as we see from the ladies in other companies - and even some of their peers in AEW, but they're making strides and, honestly, it feels churlish to even bring it up at such a show. Conti and Ford's Double Pump kick prior to the hot tag to Jay and Baker looked evil!
Anna Jay had a mid-match moment, where she clearly lost her composure emotionally - A stark reminder of the reality of this show, and just why we're here. Such an honest moment that put everything into perspective, it was only right that Anna got the win moments later with the Queen Slayer.
This was followed by an unnecessary angle between Baker and Thunder Rosa.
Monologue #5 - Jericho reminisces about the 27 times he worked with Jon, and how Jon was such a reliable performer and a purveyor of information, a legitimately smart man. The promise of looking after the family was a lovely touch.
Main event time, with the Brodie Jr Dream Match, Cody Rhodes, Orange Cassidy and '10' Preston Vance, taking on one of my personal favourites at the moment, Team Taz - Brian Cage, Absolute Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs.
I'm going to put it out there, Starks is AEWs Randy Orton circa 2003. He's the young face that just has that something. On to the match...
Hobbs is utterly huge and starts with Cody, regular tags in this one, and I really appreciated the acknowledgement of the bad blood between '10' and Cody. The start is solid, if a little slow, you've got to believe that they're building to a big finish, and that's cool.
It doesn't need to be all hands on deck all the time.
Everybody is hot for Cassidy in this one, he makes a hot tag to Cody and the pace quickens, until the tag to '10' who is clearly the star of this show, the commentary team do a great job of putting this over. Interference from Arn and Taz which resulted in the referee not having a clue what's going on behind him (obviously) leading to a trifecta of signatures; Orange first, then Cody, finished by '10' who gets the fall courtesy of a Spine Buster. Starks takes the loss here.
We get a babyface beatdown by the heels to close, when the lights go out and Darby Allin makes his way to the arena from the side entrance. Lights out again, and Sting appears too, snow included. The obligatory stare down to conclude and add a little development amidst the closure, respectfully promising more to come.
Worth noting - Darby looks like a million bucks. He looks like a star, he carries himself like one and I can see a bright future in AEW, especially with this kind of rub from Sting.
The Jon/Brodie tribute is up next, and I'm genuinely anxious - especially given how powerful the monologues have been.
Cody is so good on the mic, so, so good. He continues to show this now more than ever with some very real emotion and feeling as he introduces -1, Brodie Lee Jr to the audience, complete with Dad's introduction.
The boots are left in the ring, Tony Khan gives a heartfelt speech and proclaims -1 as the TNT champion, now and always. He then introduces the tribute after -1 lays Dad's boots in the ring one last time.
There's nothing more I can say at this point. I'm done. My heart is in my throat, my wife - who is not a major fan and was watching on and off while she cared for our daughter - is in tears.
The show closes, as does my coverage.
Devastating as Jon's passing has been, it has brought wrestling fans together, with outpourings of support, love and respect for a man we've been watching for years now. In fact, for a little while at least, the tribalistic drum beats that drive such a wedge through the fan base these days were momentarily silenced as we all came together in respect for a fallen hero. There were tear jerking tributes from colleagues on the show and all over social media, it hit national news here in the UK and - again - it was one last thing to round off a year that has been so terrible, for so many.
Part of the tragedy of this is that it's also pulled some of the bottom feeders to the surface, and if that sounds a little harsh, it's because it's meant to. I'm going to mention two names in particular - as they're glaringly obvious if you follow Pro Wrestling - I'm talking about former WCW star Disco Inferno and former PW Torch Columnist Bruce Mitchell. Both men decided, Mitchell through a column that has now been pulled and Disco through a podcast, to all but accuse the family of withholding the cause of death because it was COVID19 related despite vehement denials all round.
I understand the fear that this virus creates, but, fundamentally, the cause of death was no one's business except that of the Huber family, who chose not to share it as it concerned no one else. Questioning it was wrong, it would have been frowned upon whenever it was done, but to do so publically so close to the man's passing?
Unforgivable, and utterly, utterly shameless.
But I'm not ending this on a drab note. This was, is, a celebration of the life of a man who was universally praised and loved in a business that is often toxic and fickle.
Many have said that a new bar has been set for tribute shows, and I would agree with this; that being said, I hope we don't see too many.
I can't praise AEW - as a whole - enough, for what they have produced here, and the support they have given to the family. Even down to the story we heard prior to Christmas time, about Kenny Omega getting beaten by Brodie Jr following a taping. It all gets a little more context now.
For me personally, being only 4 years younger, it's made me consider my own family, and my own mortality. Remember folks, don't hesitate to show those you love how much you love them. Every. Day. And for those suffering through bereavement in UK, I've included a link here for support.
I said at the beginning of this piece that I wasn’t sure if I could do this tragedy justice, and I really hope I have. As you know, this article has grown into something far bigger than it was supposed to be, but I hope you've all enjoyed - as much as anyone can - this retrospective on an episode of Dynamite that will go down as probably the most honest, beautiful and moving tribute in the history of televised wrestling.
RIP Brodie Lee, Luke Harper, Jon Huber. Thank you for the memories.