AEW has been hyping Lance Archer’s pending debut for the last month. It brought in WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts to drop promo after top-notch promo painting “The Murderhawk” as an unstoppable monster. It aired a video vignette purporting to show Archer’s “training sessions,” which mostly consisted of Archer appearing to commit felony assault against a series of backwoods hillbillies and juggalos in a backyard wrestling ring straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After weeks of anticipation, Archer finally made his long-awaited in-ring debut on the April Fool’s Day edition of Dynamite — against Marko Stunt.
Nothing against Stunt, who’s an incredibly talented performer in his own right. But the diminutive Stunt, a member of the Jurassic Express tag team, is billed at 5’2 and 120 pounds. Lance Archer is billed at 6’8 and 276 pounds. AEW clearly wanted to make this pairing in order to take advantage of the size differential between the two, but it was the entirely wrong tactic to take for Archer’s debut.
For most wrestling promotions, the concept for building a character into an “unstoppable monster” figure is pretty simply: put them in matches with lower-card wrestlers or local enhancement talent, and have them destroy lower level opponents for weeks or months before moving them on to more competitive matches with wrestlers higher up on the card. These squash matches can get tedious, as proven by the seemingly never-ending string of enhancement matches given to Aleister Black and the Viking Raiders in WWE in recent months, but they fulfill their function of making a wrestler look dominant.
Archer’s match with Stunt failed to make him look dominant. If anything, it backfired in that respect on two counts. The first was choosing to pair Archer with a wrestler so much physically smaller than he is. In theory, having Archer beat up on a smaller wrestler like Stunt ought to make Archer look like the kind of villainous psychopath who would call himself “The Murderhawk,” while making the fan-favorite Stunt come off sympathetic. In practice, putting Archer against an opponent a foot and a half shorter than himself and less than half his weight just made him look like a bully. Archer didn’t come off as much like an unstoppable force as a high school senior still picking on middle schoolers to make himself feel better.
If the match’s first problem was that it made Archer look more like a bully than a monster, its second problem was that it also made him look like an ineffectual bully. The purpose of a squash mash is to squash an overmatched opponent in a couple of minutes or less. Yet while Archer was clearly booked to look physically powerful, the match was also booked as a legitimate wrestling match. Archer didn’t just steamroll right over Stunt in the blink of an eye. The match actually went on for a decent length and gave Stunt the chance to get in some offense of his own. By the time the 6’8 Archer was reduced to chasing Stunt around the ring trying to catch him, it didn’t matter that he put Stunt away pretty easily once he finally got his hands on him. The only thing less intimidating than a small-minded bully is a bully who’s not even very good at his job.
Part of the issue here was that Stunt, although not likely to ever be a main eventer, is still too high up the card to be playing the role of punching bag in a squash match. He’s not an enhancement talent, and to AEW’s credit, it didn’t book him as one. But the concept for this match was just off from the start. AEW’s known for looking to book its matches creatively and break down old wrestling tropes that have grown stale over the years. In this case though, AEW tried to get a little too smart for its own good. It’s not too late to salvage Lance Archer, but AEW will have to act quickly to control the damage that this first match did to his image. It’s time to get back to basics, and book Archer as the unstoppable juggernaut his character is building up to become.
Further Reading: AEW Just Missed a Chance to Take Advantage of Its Most Unique Rule
When Lance Archer's AEW debut came against the much smaller Marko Stunt, it made him look much more like a bully than a monster.