I’ve been a pro wrestling fan now for about 25 years. In that 25 years, I’ve almost exclusively been a WWF/E fan. I don’t know what it is; some people grow up liking WCW more, and some, like a friend of mine growing up, liked ECW more. Others gravitate toward Japanese wrestling or lucha libre. Even growing up as a kid through the famed “Monday Night Wars,” I never watched WCW.
WWE’s production, superstars, and everything about it has always been my thing. Yes, over the years, as I grew into more of a student of pro wrestling, I ventured out of the bubble to watch more ECW and WCW stuff, and then TNA, ROH, CZW and NJPW. But to say I was a casual of the independent wrestling scene would perhaps be generous.
In fact, I can honestly say, ECW/WCW historical shows aside, I’ve never seen a non-WWE show in full. Until this past Saturday, May 25, with All Elite Wrestling’s first PPV Double or Nothing.
The prospect of All Elite Wrestling — a startup pro wrestling company with real backing, real money and a real TV deal on TNT — excited me. Yes, I was a fan during the “Monday Night Wars,” but I was too young to take full advantage of what that meant; of what it meant to have two awesome wrestling shows to watch at the same time, and the drama of competition.
But now, I have that chance. I wasn’t going to ignore AEW’s existence, and I certainly wasn’t going to ignore the possibilities and potential they presented.
So, I watched their first PPV in full. My first ever full non-WWE PPV. Naturally, I felt I needed to take notes and blog about the occasion. The following is largely my feedback as the show happened, with a few added thoughts with the benefit of reflection.
Fist impression: Hearing Jim Ross welcome us to a wrestling show, and a non-WWE wrestling show, is surreal. He sounds pretty good, though. Same goes for hearing Justin Roberts announcing.
I’m a bit quirky and particular about production, and I have to say, this is the first non-WWE show, including WCW and ECW, where I actually didn’t feel that the production was distracting in a negative way. The set looks good. Pyro is back, but oddly underwhelming.
And it’s a tiny detail, but the referee shirts are awful.
Alex Marvez and Excalibur on commentary are not very good. Marvez in particular lacks the broadcasting voice and enthusiasm you need to succeed. I’m also still confused why the three-man booth persists as a “thing” in pro wrestling.
First match: SoCal Uncesnored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky) against Strong Hearts (Cima, T-Hawk, and El Lindaman): Strong Hearts are really impressive here, and the potential upside in terms of dipping into the East (China/Japan) is huge here. Solid match, with Kazarian not looking his 41-years-of-age at all, and Daniels still every bit the hype he’s ever had, but perhaps a step slower. Not exactly the hot opening you want for a show like this, but it’s serviceable.
Second match: Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. vs. Nyla Rose, Kylie Rae, and Awesome Kong: I got chills seeing Kong. Baker is the only one that jumps off the screen (besides Kong, of course). She can be a real star. That said, once the match started, the standout one was Smiley Kylie.
First shot I’ve noticed from JR across the bow to WWE, re: the referees, “We can actually say their names.” And people will say, “Who cares?” but I love the small detail of recognizing the referees as human beings integral to the overall product, and match. Because … they are.
At this point, two matches in, AEW is spending a tad too long post-match for my taste. I don’t need to see that many replays or hang on to the winner that long. Let’s keep it moving. In fact, I will admit, this post-match irritation is the only thing I fast-forwarded on when watching the show.
Third match: Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Trent Beretta) against Angelico and Jack Evans: This is the second tag match, so it’s the second time they’ve hyped up this 10-second rule change. I don’t know, it doesn’t seem to have a noticeable change on the match or pacing. Anyhow, Angelico is somebody to watch; he has a good good look and was impressive throughout. Good match, perhaps a beat too long though. It clocked in just under 13 minutes. I probably would have had a hot fire of 10 minutes.
Fourth match: Hikaru Shida, Riho Abe, Ryo Mizunami against Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki and Emi Sakura: Whoa piledriver! That, and the, “WE Will Rock You!” Queen moment were standouts and the only thing worth mentioning. There was a botch at the end of the match that didn’t help matters. Another tag match that’s too long. It’s a shade over 13 minutes, and I would have done hot fire of eight minutes.
At this point, we’re four matches in, and it’s … solid. Nothing mind-blowing or world-changing or to use a word tossed around a lot, revolutionary. However, we’re about to get into the meat and potatoes now.
Fifth match Cody against Dustin Rhodes: Good video package, and best of the night, in fact. Cody’s entrance was awesome right up until the on-the-nose, cringey HHH effect. The effect didn’t even look impressive on an aesthetic level, but on a symbolic level, it’s especially dumb. That all aside, Dusty chant gave me chills once they’re in the ring.
“What kind of family is this?!” JR screamed when Brandi speared Dustin. Probably my favorite call of the show. It cracked me up.
DDP sighting was weird.
Cody heeling it up well, especially smearing Dustin’s blood all over him; American Nightmare, indeed.
Something beautiful about how Dustin’s face was half-painted with red, and then through the course of the match, the other half was painted with red – red blood.
So. Much. Blood. Craziest blade job since Eddie’s at Judgement Day 2004.
Production note: I’ve noticed AEW likes doing the fan reactions, too, same as WWE. People hate on WWE for them, and some have hated that AEW carried that production element over, but I’ve always enjoyed ’em.
Awesome match, and story, and certainly Match of the Night to this point in the show. Narrator: It would end up retaining that title as Match of the Night. What’s interesting is that the story of the match was that Cody wanted to kill the Attitude Era, and that Dustin represented the Attitude Era. And yet, the match of the night was an Attitude Era-style match: heavy on story, lighter on crazy acrobatics and athleticism. Story is everything.
The promo and hug after the match. Yeah. Right in the goddamn feels. Good stuff.
MJF, aka Miz-lite, cut a great promo. “How bout I get you a little sugar cub, heh, pal?” That cracked me up. Even though “homegrown” doesn’t exactly fit, MJF could be AEW’s real homegrown talent.
The AEW Title is indeed gorgeous.
Sixth match: The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) against The Lucha Brothers (Pentagon Jr. and Rey Fenix): Holy hell, Fenix is something else. Young Bucks are claiming to be the best in the world, but Fenix and Pentagon, Jr. outshined them. Not that Young Bucks weren’t awesome, they definitely were, but best in the world? Not even in this match, much less if you start looking at the rest of the world, where I personally think WWE’s Usos are the best tag team in the world.
Helluva match, but it is funny that people knock WWE for having finisher fests with kick-outs, but indy wrestling is otherworldly for having guys kick out of killer moves, and then wrestle for another 15 minutes. It’s pretty absurd. Fun absurdity. But absurd.
Seventh match: Chris Jericho against Kenny Omega: Good video package for the main event. Why is Jericho still doing the light up jacket? Jericho’s in good shape. Glad to see he’s wearing pants.
One disconnect here: Dustin, who is 50, was talked about repeatedly as old and that it was time to put him out to pasture. Jericho, in the main event and in line for the World Title, is 48.
Omega is just incredible. He has “it.” And should continue to be AEW’s centerpiece, although he doesn’t exactly feel like that centerpiece at the moment.
Eek. Some botches here. Somewhat stuttering ending. Botch, a few more spots, and then a back elbow finish, hmm. What’s funny is about half way through, I’m thinking, “Man, I think I like this better than their first outing.” But the ending couldn’t seal the deal on that.
Obviously, I got chills like a mofo when Moxley (aka Dean Ambrose) came out, but goddamn, I got even more chills when Omega shockingly started fighting back and we got some intense brawling, with the great closing moment on the poker chips.
Overall: AEW’s first outing as a company was a strong foot forward. As I said, the first four matches (and I didn’t watch the pre-show, but I heard that wasn’t great, either) were solid, but nothing memorable. However, the ending three matches — and in my opinion, a great ending matters most of all because it’s the “taste” left in your mouth at the end of a show, and it colors everything — were really strong, capped off with the hot fire surprise appearance of Jon Moxley.
I’m also a bit surprised that this PPV clocked in at a little over four hours with only seven matches, and a talking segment on the show. I figured with some fans rather upset about the length of WWE’s shows, that AEW would do a more NXT Takeover-style show, and give us two and a half to three hours of hot fire pro wrestling and get out. But hey, aside from shaving off a few minutes off of those two tag matches, and pulling back on the post-match celebrations and replays, it didn’t drag.
One final note: this PPV happened less than a week after WWE’s Money in the Bank PPV. If we’re doing the “wars” thing, I will say, WWE’s MITB PPV was superior in terms of match quality (nothing from Double or Nothing even touched the AJ Styles/Seth Rollins match), but in terms of buzz and guttural excitement? AEW won, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
I’m excited for the future.