WrestleWatch: AEW Full Gear 2019
A week late, but better late than never, right? Last weekend, All Elite Wrestling held their first PPV since debuting their weekly show on TNT, AEW Dynamite. Before we review the show itself, I want to take a quick look at what Dynamite has been like as a new addition to the weekly wrestling line-up. to provide a little context on where AEW is in the pro wrestling landscape.
Crucially, AEW haven't made the mistake TNA made- they didn't go to Monday nights to try and compete with Raw, or to Friday nights to compete with Smackdown on FOX. That's not to say their product isn't good enough to go against Raw or Smackdown- it absolutely is- but brand recognition counts for a lot. WWE, Raw and Smackdown are established juggernaut names in the wrestling world and beyond, to the point that you could ask most people in the street if they knew what those names meant and get an affirmative response most of the time. AEW could have put on the greatest weekly wrestling shows of all time over the last 6 weeks and it still wouldn't beat Raw or Smackdown at this stage because it doesn't have the same global presence.
Instead, AEW debuted Dynamite on October 2, a Wednesday night. When the news came out that AEW picked Wednesday as their timeslot on TNT, WWE got the jump on it, moving the popular NXT brand from the WWE Network streaming service to the USA Network on cable TV (the same channel Raw is on in the States). Oh, and NXT was extended to 2 hours and moved from being a taped show to airing live. But of course, WWE doesn't see AEW as competition. As far as the wrestling fanbase is concerned, the Wednesday Night Wars are upon us.
WWE tried to combat AEW by loading up the first couple of head-to-head episodes with TakeOver-esque cards. Despite WWE/NXT bringing out the big guns, AEW stayed steady with its approach on Dynamite. The first couple of weeks were heavy on wrestling action, with AEW establishing the tag division, the women's division, and singles stars like Pac and Hangman Page. In more recent weeks, as we got closer to Full Gear, AEW started finding a better balance of promos/segments as well as the quality wrestling matches. The World Championship match between Le Champion Chris Jericho and the challenger/EVP of All Elite, Cody *last name redacted* has been the main focus, with the most time/segments dedicated to it, as it should be. In any wrestling promotion, the most important thing should be the world championship, and it's something WWE often neglects, promoting legends/part-timers (or Roman Reigns) over the actual world champion.
The second main aspect of Dynamite has been the blood feud between Jon Moxley (fka Dean Ambrose in WWE) and Kenny Omega. They've worked hard to ensure that Moxley is portrayed as a far different man than the Ambrose character in WWE, allowing more freedom as far as promos and the language used. And after years of making a name for himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world over in Japan, Omega is getting the opportunity to be a star in front of a more mainstream global audience. AEW have made the Full Gear match a "Lights Out" (unsanctioned) match, which means it won't count on their win/loss record. I love how AEW are doing W/L records to provide that sports vibe. Moxley, however, didn't love that he would get no reward for facing Kenny Omega, and he's poised to take out his anger any way he sees fit at Full Gear.
The third main aspect that has been built very nicely is the new faction led by Chris Jericho, the Inner Circle. AEW was established by a group known as The Elite- Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Hangman Page. Jericho, who has declared himself bigger than the company, demanding a thank you from the execs at every turn for helping make AEW relevant, has taken matters into his own hands by making his own faction. A new rebel faction, particularly with the parallels AEW shares with the old WCW, might evoke memories of the nWo. But the Inner Circle is a different beast. While nWo was a group of outsiders with established superstar names, the Circle is Jericho spreading his star power around to help newer, younger talent in AEW. Sammy Guevara, a 26 year old who was in the first ever AEW singles match at Double Or Nothing vs Kip Sabian AND the first match on Dynamite against Cody- hell of an athlete with a bright future. Santana and Ortiz, a tag team that debuted at All Out to a lot of buzz and hype. And then the enforcer. The first episode of Dynamite ended with the surprise debut of Jake Hager (fka Jack Swagger). To say I was unenthused is a massive understatement. Hager/Swagger was one of those guys that WWE pushed that made me say, "you know what? Maybe WWE isn't for me anymore" and I drifted right away when they tried making him a top star and world champion. However, much to my pleasant surprise, Hager hasn't had a massively pushed role despite being a former WWE wrestler. AEW have shown restraint in just having him be a secondary piece of the puzzle. Hager is a decent talent, and I can accept him in a secondary role, but unless he somehow makes massive improvements over the next year or so, I don't want him anywhere near main events. AEW have a fine main event scene without Hager's star power. And the Inner Circle is a compelling element of AEW Dynamite, and they have a strong presence on this Full Gear card.
Alright, AEW. Full Gear. Let's. Do. This.
The Buy-In pre-show featured the UFC-style Countdown hype videos. Did a nice job capturing the character motivations and stories behind the main matches. That was a criticism of the early AEW shows- where was the characters and stories? They were present, but you could be forgiven for thinking they weren't- pre-Dynamite, AEW had to rely on YouTube videos to get the stories across, notably in the Being The Elite series. But since not every wrestling fan that was checking out AEW knew about that YouTube channel, it seemed like matches were being thrown out there with no rhyme or reason- kinda like WWE often does. But now that AEW have a TV deal, where they can both show video and hype things on YouTube to a wider audeince. They've done a nice job tying up those loose ends quickly, which is paramount for a new company starting out- identify any mistakes or potential issues and address them ASAP.
On that note, we are introduced to our commentary team for the Buy In- Excalibur, Goldenboy and Tazz. Here is another example of AEW listening to the fans and fixing issues- on the first couple of shows, they had Alex Marvez on commentary. He was really bad. Like almost Mike Adamle bad (Google him, bitches). So rather than dismissing the criticisms and marching on, AEW switched Marvez to a backstage role doing interviews and the occasional bit of pre-taped analysis, and brought in Goldenboy, an eSports commentator who did a little AEW work on Fyter Fest, which was co-promoted with CEO Gaming. Goldenboy's knowledge and enthusiasm far outshone Marvez's attempts on the headset, so he was in. And of course, Tazz is a very well known name, both as a wrestler and a quality colour commentator, most notably on Smackdown in the mid 2000s, but has also called TNA/Impact Wrestling and WWE's ECW. Tazz made his AEW debut on the YouTube show AEW Dark (which airs the dark matches from before and after the Dynamite broadcast) and received positive reviews. So really well done across the board.
Match 1: Dr. Britt Baker DMD def. Bea Priestley (at 11:35)
Thoughts: This match received a lot of build, so I was surprised to see it on the pre-show- I probably would have swapped it with the last-minute booking of Shawn Spears vs. Joey Janela. This was a nice way to start the Full Gear action though, both ladies wasted no time and went at it with the intensity to match the feud's heat to this point. Bea appears to work a bit stiff, but Baker held her own, even busting out a Canadian Destroyer (possible shout-out to her boyfriend, NXT champ Adam Cole). Baker gets the big victory using her Lockjaw submission, helping to establish herself further as a top star in AEW's women's division. Priestley also seems to have a good future as a big time heel, although at this point in time probably plays second fiddle to Awesome Kong. Anyway, solid intense action, nothing amazing, but good. (**)
Speaking of Awesome Kong... the lights went out post-match before revealing the woman herself, accompanied by Brandi Rhodes, who is undergoing a metamorphosis into a slightly unhinged heel. Kong destroyed a beaten down Priestley in short order, then cut a piece of her hair out and kept it as a trophy. Weird, but intriguing.
Jim Ross joins Excalibur for main card commentary. Their usual third man, Tony Schiavone, is on assignment, so we have a two man booth, which we don't see too often in modern wrestling. I like it.
Match 1: Santana & Ortiz def. The Young Bucks (at 21:00)
Thoughts: The Young Bucks are a great choice to start an AEW PPV card. Their high risk style jazzes up the crowd, and they are top stars in the company, giving any match they're in a higher sense of importance. Santana and Ortiz came in with something to prove too, this being their first major match in AEW. They did a lot of great things athletically, but you get the sense both teams didn't quite push it to the highest gear, but that may be a strategic thing. The opening match should set the tone for the show, but if you set that bar too high, it makes everyone else's stuff pale in comparison. Plus it burns out the crowd for the later stuff if you go too "balls to the wall". The new team beats the Bucks to establish themselves, and I get the feeling this feud may not be over (I haven't seen Dynamite this week yet either). Still tremendous bell-to-bell. (****)
Post-match. Sammy Guevara comes out to help Santana and Ortiz keep laying the boots into the Young Bucks after the bell. The Rock N Roll Express, who were sitting ringside, make the save! Santana & Ortiz took the legendary tag team out the other week on Dynamite, and here the old boys get a little payback. Ricky Morton does a Destroyer and a suicide dive! The man is 63 years old! I don't know the Express all that well (although funnily enough, I was there when they got inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame), but this was still a great feel-good moment.
Match 2: Hangman Page def. Pac (at 18:30)
Thoughts: For the second PPV in a row, I continue to be a little puzzled by Pac's card placement. Over the last several weeks on Dynamite, he's been treated as a top guy, usually wrestling in the main event, but at All Out vs. Omega and now Full Gear vs. Hangman, he's in the second match, which is usually not a desirable spot to be in- you gotta follow the opener, and you're not near the end of the card where the main event(s) generally happen. That said, Page and Pac both put in main event level work. They stuck to an old-school formula- Pac revels in his heel role as "The Bastard", and stayed true to that in this match by amping up his intensity and aggression, but doing little of the insane acrobatics that he is capable of, to avoid popping the crowd. Instead, he laid in a proper bully beatdown, allowing the younger babyface to work up some sympathy and make his comeback, and it would be the bigger man that started flying around doing his "cowboy shit", getting the crowd right behind him. The action built nicely and organically to a series of near falls and false finishes, but ultimately the Hangman would be the first man to hand Pac a loss in an AEW ring. (****1/4)
Lights out again (I fear AEW does this gimmick a little too much) and a spotlight reveals Shawn Spears sitting on a chair. 'Cause he's the Chairman. 'Cause he hit Cody in the head with a chair. Not 'cause he owns the company. Is that why Spears hit Cody? 'Cause he wants his company? Eh, probably not. Anyway, he's here for a match, and he's accompanied by the legendary Tully Blanchard.
Match 3: Shawn Spears def. Joey Janela (at 11:45)
Thoughts: This was the comedown match. Probably could have done with a few minutes shaved off it. I'm not a big Joey Janela fan. He's hard to take seriously, short and skinny-fat, he doesn't look at all tough like his "Bad Boy" character is meant to be. He did show a little wrestling skill though, so he can't be completely pigeon-holed into the "hardcore wrestler" archetype. Spears, with Blanchard, cheat to get the win. Always appreciate heels doing heel things. As much as Tye Dillinger, the Perfect 10, pandered for cheers, Shawn Spears does not do that at all. I was pleased to see him get a win though, he'd be good as a gatekeeper type to the very upper echelon of AEW main event stars. He deserves better than being cannon fodder like he was vs. Cody, but I wouldn't make him world champion or anything. Didn't love this match, but it was okay, and the spike piledriver spot was a shock. (**1/2)
Interview with Kip Sabian. We haven't seen much of him in AEW to properly determine his alignment. He seemed like a babyface in his debut- mostly because he was facing the uber-obnoxious Sammy Guevara- but he was definitely a heel here. Penelope Ford enters the frame, gives Sabian a kiss and says, "Why be bad when you can be Superbad?" Ooh. So, IRL, Ford used to go out with Joey Janela (they were together on screen too) and now she's going out with Kip Sabian (again, IRL). Looks like AEW might kinda have their own little version of Edge vs. Matt Hardy here in Sabian vs. Janela? Maybe?
Match 4: AEW Tag Team Championship: SCU (Scorpio Sky & Frankie Kazerian) def. Private Party and The Lucha Bros (at 13:00)
Thoughts: This was all-action, a proper tag team spot-fest to bring the crowd energy back up. Private Party were an awesome find by AEW, a couple of young guys who can do crazy athletic things in that ring (and out of it for that matter). Character wise, they remind me a little of the Street Profits, but in-ring it's like having two Montez Fords. The Lucha Bros have that real life brother chemistry and are absolutely flawless with their tandem manueovers and flying around the place. Kazarian defies the laws of aging and Scorpio is as blue-chip a prospect as it gets. Considering they JUST won the title, SCU retaining was the right move, but I absolutely believe the other two teams will also hold the gold somewhere down the line. (***3/4)
Post-match, a man dressed as Pentagon Jr confronted the man himself (insert Spiderman pointing at Spiderman here). He hits the real Penta with Angel's Wings and unmasks to reveal himself as Christopher Daniels! The 3rd man in SCU was taken out by the Lucha Bros a few weeks ago on Dynamite and this was Daniels' time to get some sweet, sweet revenge.
Match 5: AEW Women's Championship: Riho def. Emi Sakura (at 13:20)
Thoughts: Thank god for JR, otherwise I would have NO IDEA that Riho is 98 POUNDS! We get it, Jim, she's tiny. She's the underdog. The other story here is that Sakura actually trained Riho back in Japan. So, the teacher has her student well scouted, and is able to use that plus her size advantage to gain and maintain control. Riho takes opportunities here and there to hit quick strike moves, including a couple of flying double stomps. She does a nice job of throwing as much weight as she can into the moves, to try and make them look as credible as possible. Sakura cuts her off and grounds her with submissions, but Riho has a lot of fighting spirits, and she ultimately wins by using her speed, elusiveness and technique to fluster Sakura with a series of dazzling roll-up attempts, until the final one where Riho really stacks her mentor up high for the 3 count. In a similar vein (but not quite at the same level) to Page vs. Pac, I love how the intensity built in this one to a great finishing sequence. (***1/2)
Match 6: AEW World Championship: Chris Jericho def. Cody (at 29:35)
Thoughts: This was a masterclass in the "big fight feel". The two biggest stars in AEW, with a heated personal issue. No gimmicks, just straight up wrestling. Early on, Cody busts himself open bad with a dive onto Jericho onto the ramp. I don't know if the bleeding was intentional, but it added a ton of drama to the match. Jericho is showing that he is still capable of high quality straight-up wrestling matches at his age at this stage of his career (if anyone calls Jericho an "old-timer", I'll fight them). Of course, being a heel, Jericho stretches the limits of the rules by using a weight belt to whip Cody. This leads to a fun interaction with AEW lead official Aubrey Edwards (side note- I think AEW do a little too much patting themselves on the back for having a female lead official, but she is genuinely great at her job). Aubrey pushes Jericho right into an inside cradle that ALMOST gives the title to Cody. The match finish, where Jericho locks in the old-school Liontamer rather than the traditional Walls, looks great. Cody is really folded up and twisted like a pretzel. MJF throws in the towel to save his "best buddy" Cody. Uh oh. (****1/2)
Post-match, a tearful MJF apologises to Cody. Cody is distraught- the match stipulation was that if Cody lost, he would never challenge for the AEW Championship again. MJF just wanted to save his friend from the pain! He begs for forgiveness on his knees. Cody extends a hand to help him up, seemingly forgiving... then MJF boots Cody in the nuts! "You little bastard! What'd you do that for?!?" yells JR. MJF shouts something at Cody, I think I heard the phrase "selfish prick" in there. As MJF leaves the arena, a fan throws a drink at him. Dripping wet, he smirks as he saunters backstage. Great angle.
Justin Roberts is standing in the ring to note that the lights will go out and the final match of the evening would be unsanctioned. Hilariously, this is the one time that they don't actually turn the lights off, just dimming them slightly before Omega's music hit.
Match 7: Lights Out Match- Jon Moxley def. Kenny Omega (at 38:45)
Thoughts: Almost 40 minutes, but it didn't feel like it. Absolutely flew by. What a violent spectacle. Moxley and Omega went right at each other, and the weapons started simple with the trash cans and lids, but escalated to barbed wire pretty quickly. And it was legit barbed wire, as both men's backs got bloodied up (and the back of Mox's head, that looked particularly gruesome). Also included- mouse traps, chains, an ice-pick and shards of glass! Both gave as good as they got, there were no signs of holding back or playing it safe. As violent a match as I've seen from a mainstream wrestling promotion since the new millenium. And win/loss record or not, the win for Moxley over Omega does establish him as a force in AEW. Oh, and those bumps they took on the exposed wooden boards of the ring... holy shit that would hurt! Shout out to Omega for shouting out to Kota Ibushi with the Phoenix Splash... which he fucking missed on the wooden boards! OWWWWWW! This match was really polarising, with some loving it, and others saying it went too far- to me, it went as advertised. They promised extreme violence, and they delivered. And funnily enough, of all the shit they did, very little of it could have caused permanent damage. The cuts will heal, but the performance will live forever. Glorious brutality! (****1/2)
So that's the first AEW PPV of the Dynamite era in the books. I feel like it was a great success. A lot of action that stands on its own merits, a lot of stories wrapped up nicely through the show, and some new stories beginning. There's a sense of excitement in what's going to happen next, like "okay, where do we go from here?" It's been a while since I got that from a wrestling show. What will the fallout be between Cody and MJF? Who will be the next challenger to step up to face Chris Jericho for the championship? What will happen next with the Elite and the Inner Circle? I also appreciated how the card logically built up, with all the championship matches happening in the second part of the show. And that Lights Out match... a lot will be said about that in the weeks, months and maybe even years to come within the wrestling world. And that was the damn point of it.
So, the next thing to be on the Arena... I've mentioned in my last couple of posts that I want to do some more articles/opinion pieces as opposed to straight up reviews. And while my WrestleWatch reviews will certainly continue- I'm about 4 hours away from completing the Ruthless Aggression era on WWE Network- the next thing I post on The Arena will be my candid thoughts on the biggest news in the world of pro wrestling this week...
CM PUNK IS BACK IN WWE! Okay, it's just a role on WWE Backstage... for now. But there's so much to unpack about how this deal came together, what it means for Punk and WWE going forward... and also, CM Punk has been gone from the wrestling business for close to 6 years. His last appearance in a WWE ring was at the Royal Rumble in January 2014. There's a whole generation of viewers who may not be fully aware of who Punk is, why he's important, why fans have chanted his name at many, many shows over the past 6 years. I'll try and cover all of that the next time you see me on The Arena.
Until next time, take care,