Few matches in recent memory generated the kind of excitement from fans as the Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley exploding barbed wire match at AEW Revolution 2021. After a deliciously violent 25 minutes and an exhilarating post-match segment, Eddie Kingston turned babyface and ran down to save his friend right as the time bomb was supposed to explode.
Except that the final explosion didn’t work properly; it was incredibly weak, especially compared to certain explosions done in FMW, and killed what should have been a great finale. As the show went off the air, it was arguably the most embarrassing moment in AEW history.
The exploding barbed wire match will end up being one of the most controversial matches of the year and has led to a lot of second-guessing by fans and pundits about why AEW decided to produce it in the first place.
By making the main event an exploding barbed wire match, AEW dismissed the dependability that both Omega and Moxley provide as top performers. Both men are about as consistent as it gets when it comes to performing in a big spot, and there would be little doubt that if they simply had a normal match at Revolution, the match would have been very good and everyone would have gone home happy.
Instead, AEW elected to gamble on building the match around a series of gimmicks, and particularly one final gimmick that if it worked, the match would be a huge success, but if it did not work, the match would be a dud.
In hindsight, it is unusual that AEW would go this route for two of their most reliable performers. An over-the-top gimmick match such as the exploding barbed wire match would almost be better suited for more limited in-ring performers who are being pushed as main event stars, as the match is not reliant on the two wrestlers being good workers, it just relies on the performers to be willing to take some nasty bumps and for the promotion to have some cool looking explosions. Even though Omega and Moxley were enthusiastic about taking the punishment of the match, it can be argued that it was not a particularly good use of their talents.
While it may seem unnecessary to have that gimmick given the talent AEW was working with, the fact is that anticipation for the exploding barbed wire match sold Revolution as a PPV.
Outside of the main event, this was one of the weakest events the promotion has produced. Outside of the opening tag team match between The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho and MJF and the cinematic match, the show lacked any real hot matches. Cody Rhodes and Adam Page were in decisively mid-card matches, and the card contained a majority of matches that felt like typical Dynamite matches as opposed to special PPV-quality bouts.
The anticipation that surrounded the exploding barbed wire match changed Revolution from a B-PPV event to one of the most intriguing wrestling shows of the year. Even though the final explosion was a total dud and became a punchline for the company, it still seems worth the experiment given the amount of interest generated by the PPV.
AEW Revolution was the most successful PPV in company history, with Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics estimating that approximately 125,000 people ordered the PPV, much larger than the previous record for an AEW PPV (Double or Nothing 2020, which sold an estimated 105,000 PPVs.
Dave Meltzer noted that AEW Revolution was the most successful non-WWE PPV in the United States in more than two decades, going back all the way to Starrcade 1999.
“The PPV numbers look to be the strongest not only in AEW history, but the strongest for any non-WWE show in the U.S. since 1999,” Meltzer wrote in the latest edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
In the same issue of the Observer, Meltzer noted an informal poll he conducted asking viewers who purchased Revolution but did not purchase Full Gear, why they purchased Revolution. Meltzer reported that 54.8 percent of respondents, by far the largest group, said it was intrigue in the Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley match. Other explanations include the debut of Sting, the mystery announcement that ended up being Christian Cage and the show taking place on Sunday.
So we do have some data that suggests the match worked as a promotional tool for AEW. Although the grand finale ended up being a dud, it shows that AEW was correct in gambling and promoting a rare match, one that had never been done by a major US promotion, to increase interest in the show.
The negative side of that is that fans who were excited about the exploding barbed wire match may have felt burned after the final explosion failed to go off properly. While they got a record number of PPV buys, the unsatisfying ending will be a turn-off for fans when it comes to purchasing the next PPV.
That line of thinking is open for debate. The barbed wire match, bell-to-bell, was extremely entertaining by most standards. If you wanted to see a violent, crazy match between two great performers, the match absolutely delivered.
With the post-match angle being undermined by the weak detonation, the immediate takeaway following the show was that it was a disaster. Looking back on it a few days later, it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue. The match ultimately was entertaining and like something people had never seen before in the US, which is really what fans expected to see.
Obviously, it would have been better for AEW if the detonation had gone off correctly; the show would have been a complete grand slam. However, the match still feels like a success in many different ways, particularly in how it drove business forward for AEW when it comes to selling PPV.
“Underpromote and overdeliver” has been a line mentioned frequently when it comes to wrestling companies, the logic being that if something is actually better than what fans expect, it will lead to more successful promotion in the future. That makes perfect sense, but it’s not a disaster that AEW went all-out hyping up the exploding barbed wire match even if the end result fell flat. AEW flexed the ability to credibly hype something to generate extra interest and PPV sales, which is a key step in their business success. Hopefully next time their pyrotechnics work better, but Revolution can still be considered a win for the company as long as they avoid future miscues.
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the end of the WWE Network. Jesse and Jason go over what watching old wrestling was like in the before times, how the WWE Network changed WWE booking patterns, the move to Peacock and concerns about the video archive.