Lance Archer: Making a Monster

As AEW Dynamite’s momentous premiere concluded, Lance Archer was in the midst of a career transformation. Still plying his trade in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Archer’s role had changed and in mere days, his trajectory would shift too. Left without a tag partner just months prior, Archer was placed in the G1 Climax for the first time since 2014. Archer warranted a chance in truth, previously producing an enthralling affair with Will Ospreay in that year’s New Japan Cup.

As expected, Archer’s final record wasn’t spectacular but once the dust settled, his performance told a different tale. Though Archer may not have been the G1’s leading talking point, he’d proven a point. Always a dynamic big man, Archer had now provided evidence that at the highest level, he could deliver in a major spot. Archer seldom missed in that G1, even producing some standout showings along the way. In terms of ceiling, Archer’s efforts demanded a re-evaluation.

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Perpetually capable and armed with the size of a star, Archer had developed the intensity to match, adding a jolt to his already impressive in-ring range. Archer had been pigeonholed, competent in his role and on a stacked roster, rarely challenged to exceed expectations. The G1 Climax broke that trend though, and the results suggested that Archer’s skill set warranted more. That was certainly a subplot for the tournament, but it was soon to become a headline, even if Archer hadn’t yet realised that himself.

Fresh off a triumphant return at Dynamite’s debut, IWGP United States Champion Jon Moxley was headed for another defence of his title, set to defend against Juice Robinson. Moxley was unable to attend the event however, having to relinquish his title due to Typhoon Hagibis. Suddenly, Archer’s route to a title scene had emerged, taking Moxley’s place and incredibly, taking the title too. That was October 14th 2019 and now, exactly one year later, Archer is again the challenger, this time looking to dethrone Moxley himself.

As has been established on-air, this won’t be Archer’s first meeting with Moxley either, with the two memorably clashing at WrestleKingdom 14. Even though Archer left Tokyo Dome without his title, it had been quite the resurgence for him. Re-establishing himself in the G1, Archer was able to build upon that momentum, capitalising on circumstance and securing an unforeseen singles title reign. The match itself was an encouraging encapsulation of what Archer could be too, with an emphasis on the violence befitting his wild-man demeanour.

Though it appeared that Archer was at long last, only just getting started, his NJPW stint was actually nearing its end. Instead, Archer was headed to AEW, soon debuting as Jake Roberts’ destroyer of choice. Archer was very much a throwback upon arrival and fittingly so too, simply expanding on the persona he’d developed in NJPW. This isn’t a character that requires great depth or development. In fact, I’m not sure that it should be described as a ‘character’ at all, it’s an archetype shaped by performance alone.

Each presentation has its own quirks of course and Roberts certainly provides those, but the performer has the power here, and not just in the traditional sense either. Archer can have great matches and in AEW especially, that’s definitely important, but much of this extends beyond the bell to bell physicality. Archer’s true task is projecting ferocity, ensuring that a sense of danger follows his every move. Squash matches and set pieces can’t capture that, regardless of how intricately they are produced.

This isn’t the role for subtlety and Archer certainly grasps that, committing wholeheartedly to this presentation. In the modern wrestling landscape, Archer is an animated outlier, outwardly aggressive, colourful only in his cruelty. That’s allowed Archer to establish his own position, even if at times, he’s been left without an on-air direction. Archer certainly began as he’d like to continue, initially feuding with Cody and dominating on his path to that match. Since losing at Double or Nothing though, Archer’s emphasis has been somewhat softened.

That’s not to say that the prior work has been undone though, as Archer has remained protected. Racking up wins on AEW Dark, Archer briefly stepped into the background but is now ready to cement himself as a headline act. Winning the Casino Battle Royale at All Out, Archer secured the World Title shot and now at AEW Dynamite’s Anniversary edition, he’ll challenge Moxley for that very crown. This is a more specific anniversary for Archer though, officially one year removed from the title win that announced him as a leading man.

Considering Moxley’s part in that moment, this match is even more fitting but for Archer, the opportunity symbolises slightly more than that. Before 2019, Archer had certainly produced a respectable career but overall, appeared set to remain a case of unfulfilled potential. I don’t think that was ever particularly indicative of Archer himself but as a single wrestler at least, the stars had simply never aligned. Within months though, that perception was transformed and suddenly, he’s one of a major promotion’s most protected performers.

In theory, this is the biggest Dynamite yet and Archer is being trusted as Moxley’s foe, confidently positioned to succeed under the spotlight. That’s something to be proud of, as Archer continues to make this role his own, all over a decade after first appearing on a national stage with TNA. It’s been a long road for Archer and at 43 years old, it’s a credit to him that this is undeniably the peak of his career.

I’m not sure that Lance Archer will become AEW Champion this Wednesday, but I am sure that he’ll do everything in his power to provide a worthy headline attraction. Though seemingly feint, that thought probably best captures Archer’s value too. On size and aggression alone, Archer provides a unique dynamic but it’s his performance and skill that even on a roster like this, still allows him to flourish. There’s an enthusiasm to Archer, a palpable promise that he will not allow this moment to pass.

AEW may be building a core for the future but right now, Lance Archer is a main event man living the run that after eighteen years, appeared to be nothing more than potential of the past. This past year has been quite the chapter for Archer, but I doubt that he’s content yet. In fact, I’d imagine it’s quite the opposite and on Wednesday, that’ll become clear, as Archer and Moxley look to top their Tokyo Dome thriller.

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