Here we go then. Last Saturday was the moment where AEW graduated from t-shirts to wrestling. To say a lot was riding on this is a bit of an understatement. It’s the first time in a long time that we have a Western wrestling company who could genuinely challenge WWE’s dominance. Fingers crossed they kick thing off with a bang.
Pre Show: Hangman Page wins the Casino Royale Battle Royal
Is it now the law that every Battle Royal has to end with someone who was hiding outside the ring interrupting someone who thinks they’ve won?
Wow, this was indie as hell. A lot of people came out the other side looking like just another guy with even the likes of Shawn Spears (who was arguably the biggest name in the match) struggling to feel special. It didn’t help that the production was mediocre at best as several big spots were missed or happened in the background. They even cut away as Dustin Thomas (No Legs from Spring Break) set-up for his 619. The wrestlers coming out in groups with no music wasn’t a great look either. That can all be put down as a teething problem, but that (probably valid) excuse didn’t save the match.
One person who did stand out was Hangman Page. Page should be the long term future of this company as the stud has it all and is still only 27. He was the right choice to win this even if the journey that brought us there was scraping to reach fine.
Verdict: Two Stars
Alicia Atout interviewed Kylie Ray backstage, who was very enthusiastic and made Atout’s delivery look wooden. They were then interrupted by Peter ‘The Librarian’ Avalon and Leva ‘The Librarian’ Bates. There was lots of shushing, and this was shite. Christ, they’re following the WWE model of making the pre-show a complete waste of time, aren’t they?
Pre Show: Kip Sabian defeated Sammy Guevera
We moved onto the flips next as Guevera and Sabian were presumably sent out with instructions to wow the crowd. Sadly, I’m not entirely sure they pulled it off.
That’s not to say this didn’t have its moments. There was a spot that saw them starting with an attempted Suplex in the ring and somehow ended with that Suplex happening on the floor without them ever breaking the hold they had on each other. It was impressive.
It was just that moments like that felt rarer than they should have. Perhaps booking this as a scramble would have been a better move as throwing a few more Juniors in there would have let them go balls to the wall for ten minutes. Those matches might lack in psychology, but it’s not like this was packed with it, and it would have been a lot more fun.
Still, I don’t mean to shit on it entirely. It was the definition of an okay match. Something that you’ll never go back to, but which in the moment does its job.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Finally, The Elite came out and cut a group promo to fire the fans up. I realised watching this that I have missed Kenny Omega. His last year in New Japan may have soured some people towards him, but the guy is one of the best wrestlers in the world, and he hasn’t been wrestling. It will be good to have him back. They joked about rounding the attendance up to 20,000 because wrestling, Brandi then mentioned it being a sensory inclusive event and the stream faded to black before they’d finished… good start.
SCU (Christopher Daniels, Kazarian and Scorpio Sky) defeated Strong Hearts (CIMA, T-Hawk and El Lindaman)
Confession time, I do not get why people adore SCU. Don’t get me wrong, Christopher Daniels is an all-time great, and for his age, he can still go, but as a group? Nah, it ain’t working for me. Although, they cut a promo before the match, and the fans were getting all hot under the collar for it, so it’s working for most.
Once the match got underway, they quickly became the second most interesting thing in it. Not to sound too elitist, but I suspect a lot of the fans in attendance/watching at home have never seen a Dragon Gate style trios match, and that’s what this was. Stronghearts worked a frantic style packed with triple team moves, and you can’t see that (particularly for the first time) and not want to jump out of your chair. For all my gentle ribbing, SCU were right there with them too. They may have picked up the win, but they worked hard to make the new stars look good before doing so.
There were a few awkward moments, although nothing egregious particularly from six-men working together for the first time in a busy match. I’m also not entirely sure that anyone in Stronghearts got to show their personality outside of the group, as it was more of a team effort (although Lindaman came close). Finally, the commentary team (JR, Excalibur and Alex Marvez) made a point of saying that there would be a ten-count for illegal men in the ring which never actually happened.
All of those are quibbles, though. Ultimately, this was a hot opener that introduced a new act and achieved what Guevera vs Sabian didn’t. As first matches go, it wasn’t a bad one.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Brit Baker defeated Kylie Rae, Awesome Kong and Nyla Rose
It’s weird that Brit Baker’s gimmick is that she’s a dentist, right? Am I the only one who thinks that? I mean, she’s probably a smart lass, but it’s not a personality, is it?
Anyway, before the match could begin Brandi Rhodes came out and teased that she was going to insert herself into it. Thankfully, that was a swerve as she introduced Awesome Kong instead. It’s great to have her back, but I’d rather they avoided that WWE shit as it is putting Brandi dangerously close to being a heel authority figure.
I’m also not sure that putting Kong in the ring with Nyla Rose was a good move. Rose is the perfect monster heel for the division and having someone bigger and meaner than her turn up on night one takes away from that. I’m sure they’ll build to a one on one match between the two (assuming Kong has signed a contract), but I’d have protected them facing off too.
Still, this was a fun match. Everyone worked hard while AEW kept Rose and Kong out of the finish by having them eliminate each other in the build-up. Ray was my standout, though. She looked like the best wrestler and it’s impossible to not root for her. I even think having her take the pin was the right move as her underdog character will benefit from struggling to pick-up wins.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
The Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Beretta) defeated Jack Evans and Angelico
If I missed Kenny, then I need to invent a new word to describe how my heart has ached for The Best Friends. Having Greg and Dustin back on my screen is an excellent thing.
I do have a hot take involving this match. Angelico is not very good. Actually, that’s not fair. He is a relatively technically proficient wrestler, but he’s about as exciting as a single washed sock. Even Jack Evans doesn’t have enough personality to make me care about him.
Thankfully, whoever put this together seemed to agree as Evans spent more time in the ring than his partner. It would be fab to see him get another chance to make it big in America as he’s got all the attributes to be a star. He flopped around for The Best Friends making their offence look great while also showing off some of the incredible moves which wowed a million kids watching on YouTube back in the day.
There was nothing particularly special about this match, but they kept it short and it was entertaining enough. However, if you were to skip it you wouldn’t miss anything of note.
Verdict: Three Stars
Afterwards, The Best Friends convinced Angelico and Evans to share a hug before the lights went off. When they came back on Super Smash Bros were in the ring before they went off again and came back on to reveal an army of masked minions backing them up. They worked over all four men, and the Smash Bros (who Excalibur never named as the Super Smash Bros, so don’t be surprised if that’s not what they’re going by) hit a combo Gory Special/Blockbuster on Trent before posing on a throne made of their lackeys. It was the first thing not to be greeted with universal love by the fans as they chanted ‘who are you?’.
Hikaru Shida, Riho and Ryu Mizunami defeated Aja Kong, Emi Sakura and Yuka Sakazaki
Those in the know were incredibly positive about AEW’s joshi signings (my knowledge is limited outside of 2019 Stardom although I obviously know Aja Kong) so I was very excited to see how this one went down. It’s simplistic to talk about a joshi style, but it is something very different from American women’s wrestling.
Each woman got her own entrance, and while that’s a small thing, it allowed them to establish some personality. Emi Sakura even went as far as dressing up as Freddie Mercury while Yuka Sakasaki was another wrestler who came across as ridiculously likeable.
In the ring, it was everything you’d want it to be as they worked a hard-hitting thrillfest. Aja Kong might not move around like she once did, but it doesn’t matter when every move is removing heads. Elsewhere, Riho was competing with Jack Evans in the flopping around stakes as she took her beating like a champ. Unlike the Strong Hearts match, it felt like everyone got a chance to show off who they are. At one point, Emi Sakura had the arena singing We Will Rock You and it sounded like they were having a lovely time.
Sadly, production issues reared their head towards the end as the timekeeper bought a fault finish and rang the bell before someone in the back hit play on the music. Thankfully, the wrestlers just got on with it and a shout-out to ref Aubrey Edwards who held her nerve and left them to do so. It would have been very easy to force them to accept that as the end despite that clearly not being the case.
That moment wasn’t the fault of the wrestlers, and this was still a great match that stood out as something you won’t see in any other Western promotion. Brilliant stuff.
Verdict: Four Stars
Cody Rhodes defeated Dustin Rhodes
I know some people have taken issue at Cody symbolically destroying a throne on his way to the ring, but I had no problem with it. Taking the occasional dig at WWE is not a bad thing. It only becomes a problem if the company’s personality starts to be defined by it.
Talking of Cody, you’ll find few people who have been as critical of Cody the wrestler as I have. I think he’s a mediocre worker with an excellent mind. However, I’m going to have to add a caveat to that as he once again proved he is a big match player.
For Cody delivered one hell of a performance in this one, playing the pissed off younger brother brilliantly. He wrestled like a man driven by the need to prove his point, using everything in his power to take out a lifetime of grievances, right down to his wife getting involved (until she was sent to the back that is).
Dustin, meanwhile, didn’t so much bleed as gush. By the end, both wrestlers, Earl Hebner, the ring and the surrounding area were coated in his blood. What could be more symbolically perfect than Cody’s blonde hair being stained red by his brother’s blood? I can’t imagine Dustin meant to cut himself that deep, but fuck me, it worked.
Not that his performance was all about the blood. Dustin Rhodes was fantastic. He was a man giving it everything he had one last time. It wasn’t just the Code Reds; it was the desperate defiance that Dustin displayed the whole way through. He’s at the end of his career, but Dustin still has it.
What a stunning match. A fight backed-up by a real story between two brothers with a lifetime of issues between them. Cody’s post-match promo where his voice cracked as he told Dustin that he needs his older brother brought more than one tear to my eye. You’ll see a million better matches if you’re focusing on the work rate, but if you’re focusing on emotion and storytelling, then Cody had a Match of the Year contender.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Up next was the belt presentation and someone has told AEW that Jack Whitehall is cool. He’s not. Please don’t have him turn up regularly. He introduced Bret Hart, who brought the belt out before Hangman Page joined him as winning the pre-show Battle Royal has guaranteed him a match against the winner of tonight’s main-event to determine the first champion.
We then got MJF popping up to cut a promo on Bret and Page. He was brilliant, with Bret finding it hard to hide the fact he was enjoying himself even as he got ripped into. Eventually, Jungle Boy, Jimmy Havoc and Page ran him off with a good old-fashioned beating. I, em, don’t know why? It was a weird trio.
This felt like something WWE would do in the belief that the fans needed to come down after the emotion of the last match. I think that belief is bullshit and as good as MJF was, I’d have much rather had some, you know, wrestling.
The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) defeated The Lucha Bros (Pentagon Jr. and Rey Fenix)
The story coming into this was that while the Lucha Bros have spent the last few years single-handedly carrying the American indie scene (a company literally cancelled a show over the weekend that they had to pull out of), the Young Bucks have been taking some time off and have a bit of ring rust.
That played into the opening minutes of the match as The Bucks had a couple of miscues, getting in each other’s way or having their moves used against them. Although, you’d be lying if you tried to convince people that it was the narrative of the action. It was a Young Bucks vs Lucha Bros match; they weren’t too bothered about storytelling.
The bulk of this was four guys doing cool shit. Fenix, in particular, is incredible. He does things no-one else does, and Nick Jackson was a lovely foil for him. Even the stuff that I’ve seen before still blows my mind as he bounces from rope to rope, showing off what only he can do.
It also means that you should already know whether you’re going to enjoy this or not. In fact, you should have known the second AEW announced the match. These teams were putting on a PWG style spotfest, and for every couple of people that love it, there is at least one who will despise it. Personally, I think it is a shitload of fun. I’ve seen it enough times that it no longer blows my mind, but I’m not going to complain about fancy flips and stunning moves.
There were things to complain about, though. It was the latest tag match not to feature the ten-count that commentary has made a point of bringing up throughout the night. If it’s not going to happen, tell your commentators! They also went far too long. There was a moment where it peaked and should have gone home, but it kept going, and the crowd deflated. Both these teams and this style excels in sprints, and I don’t think the extended match time helped it.
Still, I had fun. There is a part of me that will always enjoy watching wrestlers hit Canadian Destroyers and throw themselves around the ring. It’s like watching a big trashy action film while eating a shitload of sweets. You’re not particularly proud of yourself for enjoying it, but you can’t help it.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Chris Jericho defeated Kenny Omega
Jericho’s entrance ran through his various gimmicks from Lionheart to The List to the light-up jacket. He then came out to a Fozzy song. My god, Fozzy are awful, please don’t make me listen to Fozzy again.
I’ll tell you what’s even worse, though, Chris Jericho’s new finisher, The Judas Effect. What the hell was that!? On a show with Aja Kong on it, you are out throwing that shitty back elbow as the finish to the main-event? Fuck off. No-one is buying that utter bollocks.
Sadly, it was the finish to a match which struggled to follow Kenny and Jericho’s Dome brawl. By which I mean Jericho struggled. There were parts of this that really dragged as I realised that I don’t particularly want to watch Y2J and Omega trade chops. It’s not a style they excel at, and I found my attention wandering. I couldn’t stop feeling that working this fast-paced main event style for around twenty minutes was a step too far for Chris at his age. There were some downright sloppy moments while the DDT reversal to the One-Winged Angel was ugly as sin and the fact they went back and redid the spot was a massive mistake. Don’t do that, just move on.
I’m not saying that it didn’t have its moments. Kenny’s nose got broken, and for the second match on the show, the blood added to the occasion as it got across the idea this was a straight-up fight. You had two fantastic wrestlers in that ring, and when they were clicking I was having fun, there was just a lot of stuff around the fun that pulled it down. A brutal ten minute brawl would have been much more to my tastes.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
We weren’t done yet. Jericho grabbed the mic and cut a promo demanding that everyone thank him. He wasn’t to receive that thanks as Jon Moxley turned up instead, wandering through the crowd to one hell of a pop before he dropped Jericho with a DDT. The ref then got one too before Omega tried to fight back. That lead to the two of them brawling through the crowd before Moxley got the better of it and hit his final DDT on a giant casino chip that was part of the stage set-up before tossing Omega from the chip and posing. That was a hot way to end the show.
Right, this will be longer than usual as I want to cover the promotion as a whole. Firstly, the production was a bit all over the place on this show. It was packed with dodgy camerawork while they mucked up the end of the joshi match. It’s a teething problem, but it’s one they better fix quickly.
On a more positive note, the commentary was not too bad. JR was in a good mood and seemed to enjoy working with Excalibur. He wasn’t perfect. There was a moment where they cut to him and he didn’t know what to say while he seemed to believe Strong Hearts were from China, but compared to his New Japan work, this was incredible. Although, they could probably leave Alex Marvez off future broadcasts. Excalibur and JR were a good team by themselves.
What else, em, I don’t think they managed to get across the serious sport feel they’ve been banging on about. This show was laid out more like a WWE event than a New Japan one, for example. I also think they’d be better off not having a pre-show than putting on another one like that. On the whole, though, I think it was a decent start. They delivered some good matches and a classic in the form of Cody vs Dustin. I’m cautiously optimistic about what the future holds for the company.
Watch AEW (in the UK): https://www.itvboxoffice.com/