WrestleWatch: AEW Double Or Nothing
It's a very rare occurrence that I write a WrestleWatch review on a non-WWE event. But the talk of the pro wrestling world as of late has been AEW. The talk rose to a triumphant roar this past week, as AEW's inaugural PPV event, Double Or Nothing, took place a few days ago. Before I add to the noise with this review, there may be some readers asking, "what the hell is AEW? And why is it such a big deal?" If there was ever a time for a Context section before a show review, this is it!
AEW stands for All Elite Wrestling, and it is the vision of former WWE star Cody Rhodes, as well as popular independent stars, the Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) and Kenny Omega. The genesis of this idea could be traced back to the WWE departure of Cody. He wasn't fired, rather, he requested his release from the company in May 2016. This was due to frustrations in not being used to his fullest potential- Cody, the son of WWE Hall Of Famer, the late Dusty Rhodes, was playing a comedic character by the name of Stardust, a play on his older brother's Goldust character. Cody felt he could do more outside WWE than in it, so he took a chance and took his talents to other wrestling companies, namely Ring Of Honor (ROH) and New Japan (NJPW).
With the change in scenery came a change in character for Cody, and a new affiliation. Last name redacted, "The American Nightmare" Cody was born. With his real-life wife Brandi playing his smoking-hot valet, Cody aligned himself with the popular faction of Bullet Club. He then befriended fellow BC members the Bucks and Omega, a subset of the group known as The Elite. New Japan was gaining traction outside the land of the Rising Sun, and Bullet Club/Elite t-shirts were a huge part of NJPW's success. Cody, Omega and The Bucks would go on to have a great deal of high profile matches in Japan, and they would also be instrumental in helping NJPW in their plans for expansion in the US, headlining shows in California.
For many wrestlers, that may be enough. Cody was enjoying a level of success that he wouldn't have had in the WWE midcard as Stardust, and making serious money while raising his profile as a star in the world of professional wrestling. Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks were also making bank, despite never stepping in a WWE ring, they were selling their shirts at Hot Topic in the US, and they were the first non-WWE wrestlers to have a Funko Pop made of them. Life was good.
Then, rumours started to circulate that Cody and The Bucks wanted to try their hand at being pro wrestling promoters. They believed they could do it on their own. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer questioned whether a wrestling show not under the WWE umbrella could draw 10,000 fans, and on September 1, 2018, Cody and The Bucks self-financed the indy show ALL IN. With the assistance of ROH production, and bringing in stars from ROH, NJPW, AAA, Lucha Underground, and any other independent promotion with top tier talent, they put 10,000 asses in the Sears Centre in Chicago. ALL IN was a financial and critical success. So what next?
January 1st, 2019. Cody, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega announced the formation of a new wrestling promotion, All Elite Wrestling. The four men would serve as executive vice presidents as well as being wrestling talent. AEW is financially backed by the Khan family, billionaires that own the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, among other successful business ventures. AEW President Tony Khan, 36, is a massive wrestling fan who has stated his desire to make it as popular as it was back in the famed Attitude Era.
So they have the desire. They have the money. But can they attract enough fans to put on a worldwide PPV emanating from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas? For AEW to be a major success, it needs a big star at the helm. Enter Chris Jericho. Jericho is a man whose career path has shared some similarities to Cody in recent years. He, too, left WWE wanting more, and joined NJPW to pursue more creative, innovative things in the pro wrestling industry. His feud with Kenny Omega saw a complete character shift, from the entertainer that would wear silly jackets and scarves and put people on The List Of Jericho, to a sadistic loose cannon that would bloody up anyone in his path. Following a run in Japan which saw him have a classic war at Wrestle Kingdom 12 with Omega and win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Tetsuya Naito, "The Alpha", Chris Jericho, arrived in All Elite Wrestling.
Prior to the Double Or Nothing PPV, it was announced that AEW would have a television deal with TNT- the TV network that once carried WCW. That deal starts in October, so all the matches and storylines for this PPV were built up via social media, in particular the Being The Elite and Nightmare Family YouTube channels.
AEW ran a free pre-show on YouTube. It was honestly a rocky start to proceedings. As a means of enticing people to buy the PPV, not a very effective show. It did, however, warm up the Las Vegas crowd and allow some production kinks to be worked out.
Match 1: Casino Battle Royal
The AEW YouTube channel did not start the feed on time- I believe it eventually kicked in 5-10 minutes in- but luckily it could be found on the TNT YouTube as well as FITE TV, the international PPV provider for AEW.
The Casino Battle Royal was actually a pretty interesting concept. Playing off the Las Vegas venue, each competitor in the match drew a card. The wrestlers entered the match in waves of 5, depending on the suit of the card that they drew. The 21st man was the one that drew the Joker card, and had the advantage of entering last. The execution was a bit poor, though, with no countdown to signify when the next wave would come down, and production wasn't fully on top of things either, not having the camera on the right things at certain spots.
That said, the action was fun, fast and furious, and the wrestlers involved were definitely an eclectic bunch, from the enormous Ace Romero, to the 100-pound wonder Marco Stunt, to Dustin Thomas, a man with no legs. Then you had some former WWE veterans like Tommy Dreamer and Billy Gunn. Shawn Spears (FKA Tye Dillinger) got a great response. Some of the talent officially signed to AEW got a nice showing, such as Jimmy Havoc and MJF. And finally, the 21st man, Hangman Page, made a great impact, besting MJF in the final two to claim the first shot at the AEW World Championship.
Winner: Hangman Page.
On a positive note, a championship shot is not a bad consolation prize for Page, who had his match with PAC (FKA WWE's Neville) cancelled the week of the show because of either creative differences or Visa issues, depending on who you believe.
However, it was a messy, convoluted start to AEW's first show, although there were a few nice spots- Romero pouncing Marco Stunt over the top rope was an amazing visual, as was Dustin Thomas flipping around and actually eliminating Spears/Dillinger. The crowd seemed into the chaos, and it introduced a variety of AEW's characters in rapid fire succession. It was just tough as a viewer with some of the production- the waves of wrestlers coming in should have been spotlighted with clear countdowns, announcements and clear camera shots, just so we could take stock of who was who. And things like Jimmy Havoc stapling a cigarette to Joey Janela's head got missed in real-time, and had to be shown a minute later on replay. I still think the Casino Battle Royal is a good concept, and should be a fixture on shows when AEW runs Vegas, they just need to iron out the kinks.
They ran a skit where an interview with Kylie Rae was interrupted by AEW's two resident Librarians, Peter Avalon and Leva Bates (NXT's Blue Pants). They took turns shushing each other. Some of the "Being The Elite" humour is hit and miss, this one fell into the miss category for me.
Match 2: Sammy Guevara vs. Kip Sabian
This was historic- the first singles match in AEW history. Rather than put established names in this spot, they've spotlighted two of their youngest guys. I had never seen Guevara or Sabian wrestle before this match, so I only had this to judge them on. They both rose to the occasion wonderfully. Sabian is British, and I suspect he was put in this spot to make a play for the UK audience- lots of plugs by the announcers for ITV, the UK TV carrier for AEW. Sabian was the face, Guevara was the heel- perfect casting. Kip is a handsome devil with a great smile, while Sammy has one of those gloriously punchable faces... you know the ones. Smug little prick. Calls himself "The Best Ever", I don't know about that, but this whole match was smooth as hell. From a stalemate in chain wrestling to start, they soon pick up the pace- and rather than do a leapfrog, Sammy backflips over his opponent! Kip soon proves his athletic equal by hitting a springboard 450 to the outside onto a standing Guevara- and lands on his feet! Kip wins major brownie points with me by working the legs when they get back in the ring- with a signature submission called the Cruciatus Clutch! A Harry Potter fan, I greatly approve. Sammy gets some shine back by draping Kip over the barricade, RVD style, and hitting a shooting star press to the back! Sabian regains control by catching Guevara in a torture rack and putting him down with a facebuster- in what he calls the Deathly Hallows. Good lad. This one's done.
Winner: Kip Sabian (at 9:41). Brilliant showcase for both guys. About as good as two relative unknowns could pull off in a 10 minute match. (***)
To cap off the pre-show, Cody, Brandi, The Bucks and Omega come out to jazz up the crowd- not that they really needed it, they're super into everything here. Time runs out and cuts off Cody as he delivers his final sales pitch.
PPV Main Card
Jim Ross welcomes us to the show as he he joins Alex Marvez and Excalibur on commentary. He sounds far more enthused than he has in his last few WWE appearances, as the camera pans the hot Vegas crowd.
Match 1: So Cal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky) vs. Strong Hearts (CIMA, T-Hawk & Lindaman)
SCU fire up the crowd pre-match with their "This is the worst town I've ever been to" mic work- endearing tongue-in-cheek schtick for those who don't know, the crowd love them. The Strong Hearts team are from OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment in China) and they are all business. AEW have made an alteration to tag team wrestling rules- wrestlers normally have 5 seconds to get out of the ring after tagging, AEW will have a 10 count instead. That opens the door for more double/triple team moves without totally throwing the rulebook out. A small thing, but a nice change to make in my view. Rapid fire offense, a ton of movement and nice looking strikes, especially kicks. It's wild to me that Daniels and Kazarian, who were big indy prospects some 20 years ago, are still the tremendous athletes they are. The OWE guys gave as good as they got, taking advantage of such a big platform, but fell victim to the Best Meltzer Ever (tandem moonsault/Tombstone combination) for the 3 count.
Winner: SCU (at 13:40). Makes sense for the AEW guys to get the win to kick off AEW's first PPV. They gave the OWE guys plenty of opportunities to showcase their stuff as well, and that should be a great partnership going forward between the two companies (***1/2)
Match 2: Britt Baker vs. Nyla Rose vs. Kylie Rae
Once all three women make their entrance, Brandi Rhodes makes her entrance as well, and she's dressed in her wrestling gear (with "Chief Brandi" emblazoned on it). Is she adding herself to the match? She has a mic, and tells the ladies that while she's sure the three of them would have a great match, she wanted something "awesome". Cue the entrance of Awesome Kong! So, Brandi being in her wrestling gear was pointless... although it did show off how hot her body really is. So I ain't mad at it.
Match 2: Britt Baker vs. Nyla Rose vs. Kylie Rae vs. Awesome Kong
I honestly thought Kong had retired from wrestling to do acting, so this was a major surprise. She's lost a lot of weight since her prime in TNA, but she's still an imposing force and by far the biggest lady in the match. The other 3 try to attack her, and she shrugs them off. Eventually, they evade Kong's charging attack and she tumbles to the outside. So it then became a game of "keep Kong out of the ring". Kong eventually re-joins for a powerbomb/superplex Tower Of Doom spot. Nyla Rose, the other powerhouse of the match, mitigates Kong by spearing her into the steel stairs. Kylie Rae- who is a bit of a bootleg Bayley- gets a nearfall with a nice deadlift German suplex. Britt fires back with a nice kick and a Ushigoroshi (stealing her boyfriend's moves) to pick up the first victory in AEW's women's division.
Winner: Britt Baker (at 11:10). A decent outing, nothing spectacular but nothing bad either. The major surprise of Awesome Kong bumps this one up for me. Britt seemed to shine the most of the original 3 competitors, but I'm sure we'll get a better sense of what they're all capable of as time goes on and AEW have more shows (**1/2)
Match 3: Best Friends (Trent Barretta & Chuck Taylor) vs. Angelico & Jack Evans
This match is an example of AEW endeavouring to collect talent from all over the place, with one team that has recently worked New Japan, and one team that has worked Lucha Underground- although the last I remember seeing of Jack Evans was MTV's short-lived Wrestling Society X. All 4 men have a lot of experience and are hyper athletic, and this was an unapologetic spotfest. Without much of a concrete story behind this particular match, they just did balls to the wall action, and it worked a treat. Lots of flying, lots of double team moves, and the Best Friends have a signature spot where they hug to pop the crowd. Nawww. Dives, a Doomsday Device and a double stomp seal the win for Trent and Chuckie T.
Winner: Best Friends (at 12:35). This is where card placement really works. SCU and OWE put together a strong start, the ladies did well but it was a small step down, and these two teams brought the excitement and intensity right back up. I feel like both teams will do well once a proper tag team division is established. (***)
Speaking of tag teams... the lights go out and come back on to reveal a new tag team! I didn't know who they were, it seemed like the announcers didn't know, and the Vegas crowd audibly chanted "who are you". A bald bearded fella and a large luchador. They hit a few unique double team moves that I haven't seen before on both Best Friends and Angelico & Evans. They were then joined by a large contingent of masked minions, who arranged themselves into a throne for this mystery duo to sit upon. A human throne. Bruh.
I have since found out the team is known as the Super Smash Brothers on the indies. Whether that's the name they go by in AEW remains to be seen.
A commercial airs for "ALL OUT" in Chicago in August. Seems like August in Chicago is going to be a regular major PPV spot for AEW going forward. Very intriguing. Chicago typically are one of the best wrestling crowds, and they showed up big time last year for ALL IN. Of course, there's a certain Chicago native who has said he'd be interested in what AEW would have to say, so there's a story to keep an eye on...
Match 4: Hikaru Shida, Riho & Ryo Mizunami vs. Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki & Emi Sakura
Full disclosure, I don't follow Japanese joshi wrestling, the only name I have ever heard of these 6 is Aja Kong. But all 6 were impressive in spurts, it reminded me of the Michinoku Pro 6 man tag from ECW's Barely Legal event. Maybe not as impressive as that, but similar in what it was trying to achieve- showcasing a different style to the American/worldwide audience. Aja has been around for a very long time, but as a powerhouse her style still worked here, while the younger ladies bumped and made movement around her. The one mistake of the match was down to the timekeeper, who mistakenly rang the bell on a near fall. Everyone quickly recovered, however. Aja threw a spinning back fist and hit her own partner, allowing Shida to deliver a running knee to pin Sakura.
Winner: Hikaru Shida, Riho & Ryo Mizunami (at 13:10). This is a tough one to evaluate. Non-stop action, but it differed from the PPV opener in that it was 6 wrestlers thrown together, unlike SCU vs. Strong Hearts. Everyone was kinda doing their own thing and it was fine. I had a chuckle at one of the girls dressing as Freddie Mercury, and Shida caught my eye because she's pretty damn attractive, but not a whole lot of investment in this one (**3/4)
Now, after a ton of action, but not a whole lot of storytelling, we get into the real meat of this show. A video package airs on the battle of the Rhodes brothers (RhodesBowl?).
Match 5: Cody w/ Brandi vs. Dustin Rhodes
There's a throne on the stage as Cody makes his entrance. He smirks, walks past it, retrieves a sledgehammer from under the ring, and uses it to smash up the throne. As subtle as... well, you know. Dustin enters with half his face painted, and a red and black take on the Goldust bodysuit, with "The Natural" stamped on the back (his old WCW nickname). There's a very serious tone here, and JR seems very switched on for this one on commentary.
A chain wrestling exchange gets us started. Basic principles, trying to see who the "better man" is. Cody does a cartwheel and does his old Stardust pose to taunt Dustin, which the crowd picks up on and reacts to big time. Dustin gets tossed to the outside and Cody follows him out with a suicide dive. Moments later, Dustin turns the tables and hits a cannonball off the apron. Not bad for a 50 year old. "You still got it" chant from the crowd. Of note, Dustin has been out of the ring for about a year with knee issues, but looks in great shape in. Same can be said for Cody, although coming off a shorter injury layoff.
Back in the ring, Cody undoes the turnbuckle and launches his brother face-first into the exposed steel. Dustin comes up gushing blood (think Eddie at Judgment Day 2004) and you have to think there's likely still a lot of match to go at this point. With the referee distracted, Brandi gets involved and slaps Dustin, and then follows up with a big spear on the floor! Earl catches the second action and gives Brandi the boot. Err, figuratively. But it would be quite a sight to see Earl Hebner hit Brandi Rhodes with a Big Boot, Test-style. Anyway, Brandi protests the ejection, leading to A DDP CAMEO! He puts Brandi over his shoulder and leaves the arena, immediately becoming the envy of most of the men in the audience.
Back to Cody and Dustin. Cody wipes some of his brother's blood across his chest and lays the boots in. Dustin is DRIZZLING blood, and the commentators seem to have genuine concern for his well-being. Dustin tries to get to his feet and take a swing at Cody, but he misses, having obscured vision due to the crimson cascade. Cody goes for a double axe handle off the ropes, Dustin ducks and is able to reel off his patented powerslam. Commentary do a nice job, praising the instincts of Dustin and citing the sound of footsteps and his wrestling experience being the reason he could pull that move off blinded.
Cody regains the advantage, locking in the figure four leglock, Dustin reverses position. Cody takes off his weightlifting belt (with the words "Attitude Killer" written on it), but Dustin gains possession of it and literally whips Cody's ass. A big superplex follows and both men are down. Dustin hits his Final Cut finisher- mistakenly called as a Cross Rhodes- they are similar, but Dustin's move involves lifting in the spin, while the Cross Rhodes is a spinning neckbreaker. Very close near fall off the move anyway. "Fight Forever" chant. Disaster Kick from Cody, followed by the actual Cross Rhodes. 2.99. Punches traded, Cody hits a (very-safe-looking) Vertabreaker, followed by another Cross Rhodes to end the bloodbath.
Winner: Cody (at 22:30). This was the most bloody, violent, borderline uncomfortable match I have seen in many, many years. WWE just don't do it like this, and that's what AEW capitalised on here. I mentioned feeling "uncomfortable" there... and that's not really a bad thing. I got invested in the story, the idea of Cody going too far to hurt his brother, Dustin pulling himself through a physical hell to prove he still belongs. This was a masterpiece (*****)
Post-match, Cody returns to the ring. He tells Dustin he's not retiring here. He's got a tag match at Fight For The Fallen in Jacksonville against the Young Bucks. "I don't need a friend, I don't need a partner, I need my older brother." Cody's voice cracked with emotion as he said the last part. They embraced as the crowd roared, and left the arena with their arms around each other. You gotta love pro wrestling.
Actor/comedian Jack Whitehall was in the ring. He's best mates with Tony Khan, and he's here to help present the AEW World Championship. To help him out, the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be, Bret "The Hitman" Hart! I'm not a Hart fan, but this is a huge name to get for AEW, especially when you consider he was just put in the WWE Hall Of Fame (for the 2nd time) about a month ago. Hart confirms that Hangman Page faces the winner of the main event (Jericho vs. Omega) at a later date. He calls out Hangman Page to the ring. Page has a busted knee but he comes out nonetheless. They are soon interrupted by MJF, the runner up in the Casino Battle Royal. He makes fun of Page for being injured, comparing him to a horse needing to be put down, then mocks Bret with "Watch out, there's a fan coming!" in reference to the HOF induction. Jungle Boy and Jimmy Havoc confront MJF and send him packing. Bret holds up the AEW Championship. It's beautiful.
Match 6: AAA Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) (c) vs. The Lucha Brothers (Pentagon & Fenix)
The only title match on the show, funnily enough. The Bucks come out in Elvis inspired gear ('cause Vegas). Regular gear for Penta and Fenix. Penta goes for the Penta Driver early, but Matt avoids. Pentagon throws the Cero Miedo taunt in his face. Soon after, a wild exchange with Nick and Fenix throwing a variety of kicks at each other but missing. Proper martial arts movie stuff. Matt showed some new power moves in his repertoire with a big military press slam and a spear on Fenix and Pentagon respectively. Fenix would later fire back with lucha offense, Nick would rally back with his springboard facebuster, straight into a moonsault. Action slows down for a beat with the Bucks locking Fenix and Pentagon in dual Sharpshooters. Commentary take the opportunity to state the pride on the line as well as the title, and the shame the challengers would feel in taking a submission loss and going back to face their people in Mexico. They escape the hold by making the ropes though.
The Bucks up the ante with their double team offense. 450 Splash as Fenix was draped over the ropes. Buckle Bomb/Enziguri combo to follow. Powerbomb/Sliced Bread combo move. Superkicks and clotheslines traded by all 4 men, everyone goes down. Madness.
The Lucha Bros get back in the game with dual Canadian Destroyers- Penta nailing Matt on the apron, Fenix in the ring on Nick which nearly ends things. Later, Pentagon works the arm of Matt, and hits a Penta Driver for another close call. The Bucks eventually gut it out and hit their Meltzer Driver double team finisher to keep the gold.
Winners: The Young Bucks (at 24:55). I didn't list half the moves in that match, just the most significant ones, but that was absolute carnage. Huge move after huge move with two teams that worked seamlessly. Some critics don't like the Buck's spot heavy style, but looking at it from the standpoint of pride being on the line and both teams having something to prove on the big stage, it makes sense that they would go all out like that. One hell of a showcase (****1/2)
Match 7: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega
Jericho enters first. Cool concept where the lights go out, and different people appear dressed as iterations of Jericho's previous characters- first Lionheart from the old ECW/WCW days, then the List Of Jericho, and finally Light Up Jacket Y2J. Silly top knot Y2J circa 1999 and glitter vest 2007 Jericho didn't make the cut, unfortunately. The real Jericho emerges in basically his NJPW gear sans face paint. Omega gets new music and a good amount of pyro. The match begins with Jericho and Omega brawling to ringside much like their Wrestle Kingdom match. JR, Excalibur and Marvez on commentary note the referee giving leeway due to the high stakes and nature of the feud. Omega tries for a springboard move off the barricade (which almost collapses) and Jericho pushes him into the front row.
Back in the ring, Jericho lays in some strikes and Omega comes up with a bloody nose. Jericho gets a table from under the ring and Omega launches himself with a flip dive to take out Jericho and the table. Omega positions the table on Jericho and comes out onto it with a springboard double stomp. Omega begins to take control in the ring, landing a crisp V-Trigger knee that Jericho sells beautifully. Big top rope suplex slows the action down for a few moments.
Jericho regains his bearings and goes for a Lionsault, Omega gets his knees up. Another V-Trigger. Jericho with a release German suplex. Follow up Lionsault catches Kenny in the face. Ouch. Jericho re-positions and hits the Lionsault properly for a 2 count. Jericho goes for a Codebreaker but gets blocked. Omega tries a move off his own and gets back dropped to the outside- right through the table from earlier. Credit where it's due for production- the table was out of sight, out of mind until the moment of impact. Great spot.
Omega leaps off the ropes into a Codebreaker for an excellent near fall. Jericho locks in the Walls, and eventually transitions into the Liontamer. Omega hit the V-Trigger and went for the One Winged Angel, but Jericho counters into a DDT. This is followed up with another Codebreaker, and punctuated with the Judas Effect (spinning back elbow) for the win!
Winner: Chris Jericho (at 27:00). Not quite as good as their first encounter, but their first encounter was an all-time classic (boosted by a No DQ stip and the novelty of seeing Jericho outside WWE for the first time). This was still an excellent match. Jericho and Omega are now 1-1, and AEW now have a Jericho vs. Omega III ace up their sleeve if they need a big time match. In the short term, this sets up Jericho vs. Hangman Page for the first AEW Championship. But the show is not over... (****)
Chris Jericho grabs a mic, calls the Vegas audience "marks", and as he's been doing for months, demands a thank you, since he's the reason AEW is happening. He isn't answered this time by Cody, or even the Bucks or Omega...
It's Jon Moxley! Formerly WWE's Dean Ambrose, the hottest free agent in pro wrestling looks to have made a home in AEW! The crowd roars and Moxley quickly drops Jericho with the Dirty Deeds DDT. The referee tries to stop him and gets dropped as well. He turns his attention to Kenny Omega... but Omega fights back! They brawl through the MGM Grand all the way up to the stage, where there's a giant stack of poker chips as part of the staging. Moxley drops Omega on the chips with a third Dirty Deeds, then gets thrown off the stack with a Death Valley Driver on the stage. "How do ya like AEW now?!?" yells Jim Ross.
What a show. What a fucking show. AEW had to deliver big, given all the hype, the money, the stars involved... and they knocked it out of the park. Double Or Nothing had something for everyone. You like athletic, crazy high risk spots? Lots of that. You like drama and storytelling? Cody vs. Dustin was a masterpiece. You like women's wrestling? They brought it. You like hot chicks? They had that too. Want to see some big names from WWE? Jericho, Moxley, the Rhodes brothers... hell, they even had Good Ol' JR. You want some of the best talent on the indies from around the world? They were there, and they brought their skills to the big stage in Vegas, baby. As Moxley said after the show, "this is what you call a paradigm shift."
Until next time, take care,