The first episode of AEW Collision debuted to massive attention and fanfare from the wrestling space because debut episodes are crucial to establishing an identity for a new wrestling show. WWE has had its share of recent debuts, with SmackDown on Fox premiering to massive hype. Both companies demonstrated the importance of beginning a new series with a strong first impression with returning stars such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and CM Punk. They featured prominent names like Miro, Becky Lynch, and others in interesting roles to excite their audience and bring attention to their new show debuts. Even after the debut episodes are over, the excitement continues because new wrestling shows provoke certain questions, such as “What’s the average rating going to be for this show?” “How will this show differ from its sister show?” and other compelling questions will drive views and clicks on wrestling content for days.

Even though debut episodes are significant for setting a standard for a new wrestling show, and will command massive attention from wrestling fans, pundits, and failed wrestling characters with podcasts. The debut wrestling episode is usually an outlier in ratings, show quality, memorable moments, or other happenings on the program. For instance, The Rock had a lengthy promo segment with Baron Corbin and Becky Lynch within the first thirty minutes of the SmackDown debut, but he has not graced the company with his presence since. Circling back to AEW Collision, the first show will probably garner the highest ratings for the program, especially given its Saturday time slot. Regardless, it will be the starting point critics refer to whenever they lavish praise or condemnation for the show as it develops and finds its place.

Oddly enough, we never do that for AEW Collision’s sister show, AEW Rampage, because whenever we discuss Rampage, we start at the second episode and not the debut.

For obvious reasons, the second episode of AEW Rampage dominates the program’s entire run because CM Punk’s return to wrestling was one of the more monumental happenings in wrestling in a long time. Many people have delved into the importance of that return without needing to check that, so I will not expand on that topic further.

The second episode of AEW Rampage earned the program’s highest gate and rating, which the promotion will never break for the duration of the show. While that’s a feather in the cap of Tony Khan and Phil Brooks, the rest of the episode is nothing for the promotion to ride home about, it’s a pretty standard episode of AEW programming. After the Punk promo, Jurassic Express beats Private Party in a tag team match. Jade squashes Kiera Hogan. Mox beats Daniel Garcia. Sprinkle in some pre-tapes, and that’s pretty much the episode. I want to be clear, Punk’s return alone makes the episode a great one, but I hate that it is the landmark Rampage episode.

Rampage’s first episode distills the promotion’s finest and most endearing qualities. Unfortunately, few people ever mention the first episode, which will remain in anonymity until someone AEW places their old episodes on an easily accessible streaming service.

In typical AEW fashion, the first episode starts white hot out of the gate, with an Impact World Title match between Kenny Omega and Christian. You read that correctly; the first match in Rampage history was an Impact World Title match. A remarkable element of AEW programming is that a wrestling fan could exclusively watch Tony Khan’s wrestling product and get a small taste of the entire wrestling landscape. Lucha? Strong Style? Indie? Hardcore? Deathmatch? AEW has showcased each style of wrestling on its broadcast for free. Fans complain they lack time to follow the various wrestling promotions and accompanying wrestlers. NJPW? Impact? TJPW? NOAH? AAA? AEW works or has worked with each of those companies and prominently displayed these wrestlers on their television.

Back to the matter at hand, though, Omega versus Christian demonstrated these values because this was a match that seems like a fever dream in retrospect. Kenny Omega, the current AEW and Impact champion, stood across from Christian, a recently unretired Christian, at that point. Neither man would have ever crossed paths before due to their completely different trajectories in the wrestling business. Still, they would wrestle for a company title neither man worked for on AEW television. Kenny Omega had never wrestled for Impact, nor had Christian worked for that company’s current iteration.

Regardless, Tony Khan’s fondness for the entire wrestling world allowed this match and many other whacky inter-promotional contests to happen on his air. The match was excellent because it was an intense battle, which could fit on any AEW pay-per-view and would not have felt out of place. The Cagematch.net rating for the bout stands at 8.25, which showcases another distinct feature of AEW, high-quality and intense matches on television for no charge, unlike any other wrestling promotion before its existence.

After a short Christian Cage backstage promo, we return to the ring for Fuego del Soul and a Miro match. If Fuego wins, he gets an official AEW contract. This match occurred during Miro’s entertaining run as TNT champ and was an entertaining extended squash, but the post-match was the special part. Currently, AEW makes a lot of noise for the reported strife in the company in the locker room; however, onscreen, AEW is a company that has emphasized the deep personal relationships and conflicts their wrestlers have had throughout their careers, regardless of the promotion. During the post-match, Feugo stands dejected after his loss to Miro because he lost the match, along with his opportunity at an official AEW contract.

However, Sammy Guevara comes out with Tony Khan and presents him with a contract anyway. This meant nothing for people who mainly followed Dynamite, but for those who watched AEW Dark and followed Sammy Guevara’s vlog with his crew, this moment resonated with them. This sole segment speaks to two of the company’s best attributes. Firstly, Fuego del Sol will probably be a preliminary talent for his entire career due to his size, but he got over through Sammy’s vlog to a portion of the fanbase.

Unlike another wrestling promotion, Tony Khan rewarded Fuego for getting somewhat over on AEW secondary programming instead of punishing him for attempting to rise above the bar the company set for him. Secondly, the first Rampage had a heartwarming moment that dually celebrated a wrestling friendship and paid homage to dedicated fans who consumed and invested their time into even the most seemingly insignificant portion of AEW accessory programming.

The final match on the card was Britt Baker vs. Red Velvet.

Now it is important to note that Rampage premiered its first episode at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Why is that important? During its short existence, AEW has established certain hometown heroes for specific cities. CM Punk in Chicago is electric. Ricky Starks is big in Texas and New Orleans. Mox brought his father to the ring to his hometown in Cincinnati. For the record, I am biased and will maintain MJF on Long Island is the best of all of these hometown receptions because the surrealness of MJF as a pure and unfettered babyface to the adoring crowd is something to behold live.

Britt Baker also belongs on this list because she is a star in Pittsburgh, but during AEW’s inaugural debut at the Petersen Events Center two years earlier, that was not the case. Britt Baker was a babyface wrestling dentist still struggling to get over with the AEW crowd. She was a wrestling dentist, so what? Her matches were nothing spectacular. She was barely passable on the microphone. However, the company was short on female talent and desperately wanted Britt to be the face of the women’s division. Her face was plastered on the promotional material, and she was the only woman with the company from the original ALL IN. Suppose the company had decided to cut bait on Baker and move on to someone else. The company would be justified in its action, and the fanbase would be indifferent. Instead, AEW acknowledged her struggles and pivoted her character, and a heel turn, a “Whataburger” promo, and a hardcore match with Thunder Rosa in the heart of the pandemic later, Britt Baker had arrived and finally emerged to match the push the company was giving her.

Britt Baker vs. Red Velvet was the official main event of the first episode. The Cagematch.net rating here is irrelevant because this was more of a culmination of one of the first AEW’s homegrown stars. Baker came out to a hero’s welcome from the crowd and exhibited a presence and charisma she did not possess her last time in the area a few years back. Britt Baker’s return to Pittsburgh was so monumental that CM Punk acknowledged it in his return promo, saying, “You guys really know how to make a kid feel like Britt Baker in Pittsburgh.”

Britt embodied the idea that AEW didn’t have to rely on jumps from WWE and could get its stars over with their crowd while creating their own genuine moments.

Since AEW is still a young company, it has had many debut episodes recently for a company that wouldn’t be old enough to start kindergarten at the release of this article. The Rampage debut stands out as the best of their television debuts because it came at a time when the company was running on all cylinders, with new incoming stars and dream matches galore on the horizon. When Dynamite debuted, AEW was still trying to find its footing and struggled with an extremely thin roster.

The Collision debut felt like an AEW product but did not possess the trademark frantic pace and sheer excitement. Rampage’s first episode had it all, but the second episode quickly eclipsed it. The second episode becoming the defining episode of the program is a testament to CM Punk’s star power and the importance that his return held in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans.

Still, the episode is solely a Punk moment expanded into an hour, overshadowing everyone else on the card, whereas the first episode encompassed AEW at its best. In retrospect, maybe that was a sign of things to come.

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