Last night was All Elite Wrestling’s latest Pay Per View. I ended up ordering the show, as I’m a fan of Tony Khan’s product, and I wanted him to have a little walkin’ around money (I also hit the jackpot in regards to Niteflirt customers actually spending money instead of finishing up in less than five minutes like a bunch of scrubs, so I could afford it). I watched the show with a bunch of my friends, many of whom aren’t wrestling fans, or at least aren’t fans on the weird, obsessive level that I am. I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last Tuesday, but I can absolutely tell you about the time Al Snow and D’Lo Brown had a hardcore match in the late 90s where D’Lo hit Al with the receiver of a pay phone, then told him afterwards, “next time, use 1-800-COLLECT!” making a reference to a very homoerotic commercial he had done with Steve Austin earlier in the year.
As I’ve casually mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been a fan of Sports Entertainment more or less my whole life; one of my earliest childhood memories is me sitting on my mom’s lap while we watched “Mean” Gene Okerlund do a rundown on the wild world of the WWF during an episode of Superstars. Despite all the really sinister and dark shit that has happened in this industry, I still love it, and find it to be somewhat magical well into my mid-30s. To write about the appeal of wrestling is a post all its own, and I’m already going off-topic, so let’s literally get this show on the road. This is also my first time reviewing a wrestling show, so please bear with me here. I won’t be doing move-for-move stuff, since I would rather focus on characters and the story being told, instead of “he hit him with an arm drag.”
The Buy-In: Riho and Thunder Rosa vs Dr. Britt Baker and Rebel (Not Reba)
We start with the free pre-show match. As much as I love AEW, and watch it literally every week, fuck this weird “only one women’s match on our televised program” bull shit. Hikaru Shida and Ryo Mizunami are already on the main show, so this gets bumped to the preliminaries. Riho is whatever. Rosa is really good at doing a wrestle, though man, she really needs to wear pants that maybe don’t fit as much; I’m not some fucking creep who only watches women’s wrestling because I want to jerk off to the competitors, so I don’t go looking for their stuff to fall out of their gear, but you can’t not see Thunder Rosa being All Cheeked Up during her matches. It is so distracting. I linked to the match up above, you can see for yourself.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about not giving a fuck about Britt Baker. She didn’t have much of a personality. She had this energy of “when the fuck is NXT going to sign me?” The start of her heel turn involved her cutting one of the worst promos I’ve heard in years. Since then, though, I’ve come around on her. She’s definitely been doing a great job in her new role of entitled, racist Karen. I don’t think AEW set out to make her character a racist, specifically, it’s just that she’s exclusively been feuding with women of color this whole time (Yuka Sakazaki, Big Swole, Thunder Rosa), and as a fan, you can put two and two together, even if it’s unintentional. Though I haven’t really seen her wrestle, as I am way behind on watching AEW Dark, I think Rebel is at least a good character too; she added a lot to the Dentist Office Brawl between Baker and Big Swole.
But it doesn’t matter, because Rebel is not wrestling tonight, as she is “hurt.” So there is a last-minute replacement, and it is…
MAKI MOTHERFUCKING ITOH!!
If you do not know who Maki Itoh is, let me tell you that she is a bonafide Superstar, bottom line. A former pop idol turned wrestler, Maki has charisma like a motherfucker. Even if she were in the ring with three slugs, instead of just one, she still could still carry the whole match on her personality alone. Even if it’s only a pre-show, I’m happy that Maki is being given a worldwide platform to perform on.
The match itself was actually really good. I went in expecting Riho to look lost, fuck up half her moves, and do a bunch of really shitty Dragon Suplexes. Instead, she actually had a personality and did some cool moves. Maybe because she was in there with people closer to her size, rather than expecting 280 pound Nyla Rose to take her power moves. This was mostly the Maki Itoh match, whether it was due to booking, or her presence overshadowing all the other women. Whatever, it was fun.
And hey, Maki won, so I’m thrilled.
Match 1- The Young Bucks vs Chris Jericho and Maxwell Jacob Friedman
Before I start, let me point out Jim Ross showing up to do commentary with his voice completely shot. This is good, because it means a bulk of tonight’s broadcast will be handled by the more than capable Excalibur and Tony Schiavone, and will lower the chance of JR saying some stupid boomer shit, like calling Emi Sakura an “Oriental” or something. Twenty years ago, I never thought I would prefer to hear Schiavone over Ross on a wrestling show, but time is funny that way.
Confession: I like the Young Bucks. A lot. In my particular circles, that seems to be a minority opinion. Whatever, they’re cool. MJF is a future star who could go down as one of the best heels of all time. And Chris Jericho is a dumb fuck boomer who is always in the news for saying something stupid or that time he performed at a concert with his shitty band that led to a spike in COVID-19 cases. That kind of sucks, because I loved Jericho as a kid. And despite all of the things he’s doing to kill his off-screen legacy, he’s still legitimately one of the most talented wrestlers of all time, and could contribute so much more to AEW’s success if he weren’t so hell-bent on becoming more trouble than he’s worth. As it is, I’m fine with him being kept as far away from the main event scene as possible, making younger guys look good, and hopefully fuck off back to WWE when his contract is up. At least he has more upside than fucking Jake Hager.
The thing about AEW is that it prides itself on having great wrestling, which it absolutely does. Even its worst match can still be described as “okay, I guess.” As such, it’s going to be extremely repetitive of me to keep saying, “this match was good.” Of course it was. But I will say that this match failed to tell the story it set out to tell. This was supposed to be a personal blood feud. Jericho and MJF had bloodied and assaulted the Bucks’ dad the week before. If someone beat the shit out of my dad, I would…well, I would shake their hand and thank them for a job well done. But if I didn’t hate my dad, I’d be pissed. Maybe the one time where I’m not doing cool flips, and instead focusing on kicking a man’s ass. So in the end, it was a fun and exciting match, so I can’t hate it, but it should have been brutal and violent instead.
Special mention to this weird spot where MJF kept pointing at his dick. And yes, telling people to suck your dick is absolutely a Thing in wrestling, but usually when you do it, it’s not fucking hanging out and winking at you. MJF spent what felt like an hour crotch chopping while he was open-carrying some heat. Like Thunder Rosa, maybe he should get some new gear.
Match 2- Tag Team Battle Royale
I love tag team wrestling. I love battle royales. I love when tag teams are in a battle royale. AEW has some great fucking teams, too. You got Private Party, The Lucha Brothers, Jurassic Express, The Dark Order, Proud and Powerful, The Butcher and The Blade, among others.
The thing about these kinds of matches is that they are fun to watch, but you can’t really say much about them. Guys walk around, punch another guy, try to throw him over the top rope, and then something cool happens on occasion until there’s only a few guys left, then the real drama kicks in. And fuck yeah the drama kicked in at the end. Any of the remaining teams could have won, and it would have been believable. I loved that the final two wrestlers were Jungle Boy and Rey Fenix, getting to see the two of them show off their particular skills in a 1-on-1 environment. And as much as I love Jungle Boy, I’m glad Rey Fenix won. That dude is on his way to becoming a Lucha Libre icon, I think.
Fun, but I think this should have been on the pre-show instead of the women’s tag. I personally like when a battle royale serves as a lead-in to a show. You gonna fucking tell me that Peter Avalon is more worthy of a PPV slot than Maki Itoh?
Match 3- Hikaru Shida vs Ryo Mizunami
I have only two complaints about this match. That being said, anything negative I have to say should not take away from the fact that this was the best match of the night, which definitely says something on a show where every match is good. Mostly (we’ll get to that one later). Unlike the opening match, this had a story, and it told it wonderfully. Hikaru Shida is the dominant AEW Women’s Champion. She’s beaten just about everyone. Then Ryo Mizunami, who told a rookie Shida about ten years ago that Shida was not in her league, wins an entire tournament involving the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and gets a shot at Hikaru Shida’s title, and to prove herself right about not being beatable. It’s simple, but it works. It’s Wrestling 101. Two women with something to prove, beating the fuck out of each other.
To explain what makes wrestling so captivating is that there’s more to it than matches that are fun and a good showcase for an athlete’s abilities. I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag here: as fans, we know wrestling is fake. We know that the results for every match are predetermined, and that the wrestlers are choreographing and pantomiming their moves in the ring. We know, and we don’t care. But there are times when wrestlers are so great at what they do that, for at least a moment in time, they can convince us that what they are doing is 100% real. It’s suspension of disbelief, no different from any other form of fiction. By the end of this match, Hikaru Shida and Ryo Mizunami made this shit look legitimate. Keep in mind, I was watching this with a group. We were talking and joking and carrying on all night. This was one of the few moments where everyone was dead silent. This match demanded your attention, and it got it. That’s how you know that you’re doing Pro Wrestling right.
Hikaru Shida ended up winning. I like Shida, I really do. But in her win, I must ask: what was the point of the tournament that Mizunami won? Winning a tournament in any fictional environment, not just wrestling, means that you are set to do something big. Feels anticlimactic to have her lose her first match on a pay per view. That’s complaint number one. I didn’t like that.
Complaint two: after the match, Nyla Rose showed up and beat the fuck out of everyone. This in and of itself is not a complaint because Nyla Rose fucking rules. No, it was because she was joined by Britt Baker and Maki Itoh, before Thunder Rosa came out to even the odds. This led to the announcement of a tag match on Dynamite. This would be cool normally, but the cynic in me sees this as a way to consolidate the AEW women’s feuds into one match, so as to avoid having to worry about needing to book more than one of their matches on TV. Please prove me wrong, Tony Khan.
Match 4- Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Orange Cassidy) vs Miro and Kip Sabian
This wasn’t a match so much as a storytelling vehicle. I do not like this. This story sucks; one of AEW’s few low points in its creative direction. This entire feud is because one of the Best Friends was accidentally thrown through a cheaply made arcade cabinet Miro gave Sabian during an episode of Dynamite. This also led to a cameo appearance by Billy fucking Mitchell of all people. I don’t want to talk about this. I like Taylor and Cassidy. Miro’s good. Kip Sabian’s alright, despite that fact that his real name is not actually Kip Sabian, meaning that at some point in his life, he thought that it was a good idea to name himself “Kip Sabian.” These are guys who could be doing good things, but this feud ain’t it, chief.
Match 5- Matt Hardy vs “Hangman” Adam Page
Of all the wrestlers in this current era, Adam Page is by far my favorite. He rules, and is the best at everything. He is my favorite, and he should be yours, too.
Adam Page went from being Yet Another White Guy in the Bullet Club to being the absolute best thing about AEW in about a year. Turns out that “Wrestler With Impostor Syndrome, Who Drinks A Lot As A Means To Deal With Self-Doubt” is intensely relatable and endearing. I mean, who doesn’t feel self-conscious? I’ll confess right now that there are times where I do feel like I’m not as good as my very talented friends, despite my own considerable skills, and I imagine they feel the same sometimes. It’s very human to feel overlooked and left out. Watching the internal struggles of the character of The Hangman play out is probably some of the most realistic writing wrestling has ever had.
Plus he has one of the few accounts that makes Twitter worth looking at once in a while.
I love this man.
Oh right, and he’s having a match against Matt Hardy, because Matt tried to steal money from him.
Matt Hardy has always been good at what he does, even when he was fucked out of his mind on drugs. This was maybe the second best match of the night. Whether or not that’s due to my bias, who cares?
What you should care about is that, after Matt relied on liberal outside interference, Hangman ended up winning due to THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP!! The entire Dark Order came out and saved him from hitting the arena floor in what is the most feel-good moment of the year so far.
Wrestling is really cool sometimes. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this at all, but Adam Page is really fucking good.
Posting this shot of Matt Hardy’s shocked expression because it made my friend Miffy laugh really hard.
Match 6- Face of the Revolution Ladder Match (Cody Rhodes vs Max Castor vs Scorpio Sky vs Lance “Tramp Stamp Hoyt” Archer vs Penta El Cero Miedo vs “All Ego” Ethan Page)
This would have been my least favorite match on the card, if the Best Friends/Miro-Sabian didn’t already happen.
But before I get into that, I need to take a moment to talk about this fucking clown Max Castor. His whole deal is that he will do a freestyle on his way to ring, right? Nothing too out of the ordinary; Rap and Wrestling are far more connected than you think. The problem is that his freestyle sucked.
At least when John Cena did a shitty freestyle, he had a message behind it, even if that message was, “hey Brock Lesnar, suck my dick!” Max Castor is just like, a rapper who looks at the Trending tag on Twitter before his matches.
Anyways. Watching this match with non-fans, it made me realize: ladder matches are fucking stupid. Especially ones with more than two wrestlers in them. I like gimmick matches, but maybe ones that require you to climb something should take a break for a while. Credit to this one at least, for having a spot where guys actually climbed the ladder and tried to grab the Sonic Ring at the top.
Otherwise the pacing was all over the place, with Cody being “injured” then not “injured” then “injured” again. Penta had multiple opportunities to grab that fucking thing and win the match, but he had to stop and press the taunt button every single time. The whole match was basically an overwrought jab at Vince McMahon (the brass ring), and a way to give Darby Allin someone to fight on Wednesday. Whatever. At least Scorpio Sky won it.
Then there was the big mystery signing announcement. Swerve, it’s not Kurt Angle. It’s…it’s Christian.
So, even though I made a billion “it’s…Christian” jokes in the span of the few minutes it lasted, I am looking forward to seeing him in the ring. Unlike Angle, his body isn’t completely fucked. He’s not a dickhead like CM Punk. Given the way AEW has used other established talent, it’s not like he’s going to be a ten-year champion that runs roughshod on everyone. I’ll be optimistic on this one. Though maybe he should have done more than silently sign a contract and leave.
Match 7- Sting and Darby Allin vs Team Taz (Brian Cage and Ricky Starks)
This was what’s called a “cinematic” match. Pre-taped, heavily-edited, with lots of post production flourishes that regular wrestling does not have. Basically, a short movie. Wrestling during the COVID pandemic led to more matches like this being made, as promotions don’t have a live audience to play to. The reason this match is cinematic is because Sting is old as fuck and is returning after a several year absence caused by Seth Rollins turning his neck into dust. A guy like that needs the benefit of the smoke and mirrors these kind of matches provide.
Really, you wanted to see this match for Sting. Not that Darby, Cage and Starks were a non-factor in this match, far from it. But you want to know if Sting can at least look like he can still go, even in an much more tightly choreographed environment.
It was fine. Mostly four guys punching each other in an empty warehouse. It was cool when Brian Cage pick up Darby for a suplex, then walked up an entire flight of stairs before slamming him.
I remember talking about this with the group while the match was going on, that maybe there shouldn’t have been commentary for this. It sounded weird and out of place. You want to separate this from a regular match as much as possible. Let the mini-movie tell the story for you.
Wasn’t bad otherwise. Not on the level of The Final Deletion or the Firefly Funhouse Match, but definitely not the fucking doldrums of the Graveyard match between Vampiro and The Kiss Demon. The match at least managed to establish a bunch of things. It showed that Team Taz had to be nearly murdered to be put down. It established Darby Allin as a risk-taking superstar. And it made Sting look cool. Good job, boys.
Main Event- Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match (Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley)
Oh, this was a heartbreaker. This was a fucking heartbreaker. For this first time in over twenty years, a major American wrestling company was going to feature a match involving barbed wire and explosives. I bought this show solely on the strength of this concept. Plus, Omega and Moxley are two of the best wrestlers in the world, only behind “Hangman” Adam Page.
There’s this misconception that deathmatch is some absolute shitshow; a bunch of untrained idiots hitting each other with things in lieu of having an actual wrestling contest. This claim is usually accompanied by some clip of a preliminary match on some CZW or IWA Mid-South show, where a lot of those matches are in fact, untrained idiots hitting each other with things. Over in Japan, though, deathmatch wrestling is a goddamn art form. FMW, Big Japan Pro, W*ING, promotions like this had these kinds of matches all the time. Wire, explosives, thumbtacks, nails, broken glass, fluorescent light tubes. Grown men would throw themselves and their opponents onto these objects, bleeding and burning for the sake on entertainment. But these matches had a little something called “psychology.” There was a reason that these men were subjecting themselves to these barbaric conditions. I will post a link to what is probably the best deathmatch of all time between Atsushi Onita and Terry Funk. Take some time to watch it after you get done reading this. It’s not “garbage wrestling” when it’s done right.
What breaks my heart is that Omega and Moxley had a great match. It was utterly fantastic. It was brutal, it was bloody, it was violent. It, again, did what the opening tag match failed to do: convince us that these two men hated each other to the point of willingly entering a ring wired with explosives. Risking life and limb for the right to call yourself the best.
Omega ended up winning due to outside interference. But the story continues after the match. There’s still a 30 minute timer with a large explosive set to blow up the ring. Moxley is left, bloody and handcuffed, in the middle of the ring to be blown up on his own. At least until his hated rival Eddie Kingston comes out to try and rescue him. Kingston never actually hated Moxely; he just wanted to be champion, and would do whatever it took to get there, even if that meant having to hurt Jon Moxley. He can’t wake him up in time, so instead, Kingston uses his own body to cover up a prone Jon Moxely, calling back to the end of the Onita-Funk match I linked to earlier. And then…
The ring doesn’t explode.
All this drama; this genuinely emotional moment, killed instantly due to a technical malfunction.
The fucked up part about this whole show is that this absolute fuck up will completely overshadow it. I have spent nearly four thousand words talking about it, and this lack of an explosion is still sitting there at the front of my mind. An absolute botch that is not the fault of any of the wrestlers involved. Other than two matches, this was a great show, but it won’t matter, because Eddie Kingston being murdered by sparklers is the true highlight. It’s a damn shame.
Despite that, this was still a fun night. I don’t get to watch wrestling with friends. I tend to either watch the shows alone, or catch an illicit stream where I’m subjected to a chat full of chan board assholes. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday night. Glad I got to spend it having a good time with people I care about.