MAY 26, 2024

Watch: PPV / TrillerTV

I wonder what Tony Khan thinks of his company on its fifth anniversary.  I’m sure he’s very happy with the upcoming TV deal and the Wembley sellouts making lots of money, but what does he think of the creative side of AEW?  What would the Tony Khan three or four years ago think of the company today?

I will lay my cards out from the start: this was a bad show.  There were a couple of high points, but it was a long, boring plod through the worst pro wrestling cliches.  

AEW is stuck.  It is in a painful cycle of repetitive, sports-entertainment esque booking and I don’t know why it can’t escape from it.  I know Tony Khan finds the subject difficult – let’s not forget the “money where your mouth is” embarrassment – but I can’t comprehend why they are struggling to put on a good PPV.  

Wrestling fans are loyal to one thing: good wrestling.  I think that’s why so many of us got very excited five years ago.  AEW formed in the doldrums of the worst era in WWE history, and it promised an alternative.  WWE had an almost Mandela Effect like impact on how wrestling was consumed.  It was their terrible, lazy way for so long and there was space for an alternative.  There was space for a company that took wrestling seriously and would book  good wrestling for the wrestling fan.   They have a world class roster and practically an endless supply of money.  They have a shining example of awful American TV wrestling to look at and do the exact opposite.

It seems like there is a brainrot convincing people that there is only one way to do American wrestling.  That it has to be a torrent of run-ins and the stories have to be dumb.  You have to hire soap opera writers who have absolutely no interest in being creative or doing something original.  

As I said, wrestling fans are loyal to good wrestling.  If AEW continue putting on PPVs of this dire quality, that loyalty is going to be tested.

AEW Double or Nothing 2024 Buy-In
Deonna Purrazzo def Thunder Rosa 

There’s a lot to be said for a match where two wrestlers don’t get on and want to fight.  It’s refreshing because it speaks to emotions that we hold in our core.  Unfortunately the heat of the pre-match promos weren’t brought to the match itself.  It seemed to move very slowly through rehearsed movements.  They left far too much space for me to believe they were champing at the bit to hurt each other.

Purazzo never looks completely comfortable in the ring, and she often gives herself away with searching glances and clunky transitions.  A control period was punctuated by arm bars and rest holds; it’s the kind of work I expect from 80s WWF rather than a sales pitch for a PPV.

The late match brought some brutality, but after all the weak, unbelievable submission holds, it was just too late.  They didn’t even have the decency to do a proper finish, with Purrazzo grabbing the bottom rope for a lazy cheat finish.  **½

AEW Double or Nothing 2024 Buy-In
The Acclaimed def. Cage Of Agony

Acclaimed are tolerable in the pre-show I suppose.  The rap was mid (as the kids would say) and the match existed.  Brian Cage and Billy Gunn had a flex-off (Cage won) and there were some wrestling moves.  The work was perfectly functional.  A mascot got involved and Billy Gunn won with a roll up.  **¼

AEW International Championship
Will Ospreay def  Roderick Strong ©

There’s an argument to be made that AEW should have just pushed Ospreay right to the top as soon as they signed him.  The roar from the crowd as his music hit would certainly provide evidence for that.

This started off so well.  We were launched straight into the action with an amazing attempt at a Hidden Blade.  In an almost direct contradiction to his critics, Ospreay showed he understands the little things so well in the opening few minutes.  He dived like a madman to eliminate The Kingdom early, but it was the threatening look to Strong afterwards that resonated with the audience.

Unfortunately, the energy was very quickly sucked out of the building with the Kingdom running interference, botching a Doomsday Device and Strong locking in a rest hold.  Even Ospreay landing on his neck like an idiot couldn’t stop the atmosphere deflating.  It was such a bizarre juxtaposition – we saw exciting wrestling and were energised by it but we also saw sports entertainment interference spots and we were fatigued.

Wardlow invaded the ring after a distraction by The Kingdom and I felt robbed.  This could have been a brilliant match, but too much of it was infested with boring interference.  This nonsense interference will never be as exciting or as visceral as two wrestlers trying to kill each other for a belt.  

A sudden sit-out powerbomb threatened to regain my attention, but unfortunately poor chemistry between the two stopped any meaningful reinvestment and a clumsy “will he, wont he” moment where Ospreay was tempted to take advantage of an injured neck  reeked of daytime TV.

A stunning Hidden Blade from nowhere led to an interesting closing stretch, but there was too much bollocks here.  They were desperate to tell stories in a weird, WWE esque way, whilst neglecting the fact they had one of the best in-ring storytellers of all time.

Tony, let people wrestle.  **¾

MJF Returns

Adam Cole came out and did a promo about the devil, but then the lights went out.  A video played a tour around MJF’s stalker’s house and MJF came out dressed like HHH when he returned from injury.  He kicked Adam Cole in the dick, dropped a brainbuster and picked up the microphone.  MJF says he’ll have trouble trusting anyone ever again, and frankly I can sympathise. As someone who spent hundreds going to London and had to sit through that main event, MJF has a long way to go if he wants me back onboard.  He said “donkey dick”, Ric Flaired a mask and didn’t leave.  The promo ended twelve times, yet somehow Max found more cliche over and over again.  Only time will tell which way MJF will go.  He’s clearly massively talented, but the current state of the company doesn’t give me much faith that he’ll have the leash he needs.

AEW Trios Championship
Bang Bang Gang © def Death Triangle

Is there a better promo than Pac in wrestling today?  The unhinged character is incredibly difficult to keep on the right side of cheesy and Pac does it wonderfully.  There’s a terrifying movement between irony and psychosis that utterly captivates.  Pac can stand in the middle of the ring and convince me he’s going to murder his opponent, and not many wrestlers can do that.

A Lucha Bros centred start was incredibly smart, as they leapt rings around The Gunn Club.  The real match of Jay White and Pac seemed to slow things down a little, and exposed the weirdness of the build leading to a trios match.

In a bizarre twist, the Lucha Bros and Gunn Club interactions were by far the most interesting parts of this match.  The work was exciting and pacy.  The mid-match promo centred, slow-build storytelling Jay White prefers was never going to work as well in a trios match but when the speed hit a second gear it didn’t seem to matter.

Just as the match was building to a great crescendo, Juice Robinson returned with a distraction.  A disappointing finish to something that was building to a good climax.  ***¼

AEW Women’s Championship
Toni Storm © def Serena Deeb

Toni Storm stinks of gimmick.  I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but we’re watching someone do a wrestling character.  It completely disregards the most important part of wrestling; I’m supposed to be able to believe this is real. I can’t look at Storm standing at the entrance, with her arms above her head and a stupid look on her face with any kind of seriousness and it’s a huge problem.

As the match starts, I’m reminded of the Toni Storm I used to watch in the Ritz Ballroom in Manchester.  The takedowns are smooth and the headscissors have a snap.  She’s a brilliant wrestler, and the silly gimmick only serves to distract from that.

The story of the match is that Deeb was a better wrestler and Storm had to scratch and claw to keep in it.  Storm’s facial expressions were excellent and I believed the struggle.  When she took control, she sold the constant brain bending task of staying ahead.  Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t seem to care and most of the comebacks fell a bit flat until Luther begged for a reaction.

The match began to plod and was littered with meaningless moments that didn’t land. Mariah May threatening to throw in the towel was undermined by Storm clearly crawling to the ropes directly behind her.

It was interesting to note that the crowd were the most invested in Toni Storm when she was incredulously kicking out of big moves and dropping huge bombs herself in return.

This overstayed its welcome, but was generally fine.  ***

Orange Cassidy def. Trent Berreta 

Heel Trent is an interesting twist, and one that the crowds don’t seem to know what to do with.  The Best Friends were inherently AEW, and would never work anywhere else.  Doing the break up angle and heel turn seems misguided when they could have been the constant, beloved midcard group.  Beretta isn’t going anywhere after the feud and Orange Cassidy doesn’t need it.

They had the decency to wrestle like this was a blood feud, running for each other with repeated blows on the bell, although it didn’t quite gel with the build where Trent was promising to prove he was the better wrestler.  They brawled to the outside when the story would have been better told with a bit of chain wrestling.

Beretta dominated, and he won heat from the crowd as the match went on.  Orange’s selling was exceptional, and Trent was able to sell glee from the beatdown.  

Orange is brilliant at playing the babyface, and the beatdown-to-comeback cycle was very satisfying.  

Orange got the win out of nowhere that made me wonder what the point of this was.  McGuiness cursed us with the words “this is far from over” so I guess we’ll be spinning wheels for a while. ***

FTW Championship
Chris Jericho © def. Katsuyori Shibata and Hook

Do you ever wonder how Chris Jericho comes up with all these gimmicks?  Do they come to him in lucid dreams through strange words written on wrestling merchandise?  Does he pay someone to wrangle monkeys and typewriters? Either way, his strange wave is paired with a smug grin, very proud that he’s on to gimmick 800.

Hook doesn’t get half the reaction he used to, which is an indictment on the way he has been booked.  As always, simple is better and Hook should probably have carried on beating people.

Hook set up a table in the early stages of the match and Shibata appeared to want to boot them through it, but they missed.  Soulessly, Jericho got out a huge bag of dice.  Pouring them onto the canvas gave me flashbacks of running hundreds of termagaunts in my Warhammer games, but it didn’t particularly engage me in the match.  When Shibata found the kendo sticks – the stupidest weapon in wrestling – I was out.  There was no thought in this match.  Nobody wanted it to be interesting or exciting.  It was just people doing stuff.  If the wrestlers aren’t prepared to spend a few minutes thinking about it, why should I spend any time reviewing it?  This was a live action Smackdown vs Raw match and it was utterly soulless. 

This match is best summarised by the Bryan Keith run in. He had a mask on, presumably to keep his identity a secret, but then he took it over within seconds, revealing who he was.  

The best bit of this match was the bump Big Bill took through a table, but its coolness was nullified by yet another run in.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Eliminator Match
Jon Moxley (c) def. Konosuke Takeshita

This is an incredibly exciting match on paper, but the practicalities of the finish took the edge off.  There’s no way Takeshita was going to win, and it’s such a certainty that it affects investment in the match.

Moxley’s entrance was electrifying as ever, but he seemed to return to the crowd to hype them up.  Did he sense that the show has been very flat so far?

Unfortunately, they couldn’t grab the crowd.  As soon as the bell rang, the flatness that had characterised everything so far continued.  The wrestling almost felt like ambient music – it sat in the background, interesting to a certain extent but mostly unnoticed.

Takeshita worked Moxley’s injury in a way that was competent, sensible and boring.  I enjoyed the thud of Takeshita’s forearm smashing Mox in the face, but nothing hit on any kind of meaningful level.

This is one of those matches that would be impossible to review without it descending into a list of moves.  I enjoyed Takeshita’s powerbomb and I respected Moxley’s powerbomb.  I saw all the moves and I felt very little until Takeshita started a concerted campaign to knock Moxley out with big strikes.

Moxley won. **¾

Barbed Wire Steel Cage Match – TNT Championship
Adam Copeland def. Malakai Black ©

This match could take place in WWE.  Not because the participants are former independent contractors, but because the build and story has been utterly meaningless.  Malakai Black is the master of using a lot of words to say absolutely nothing and Adam Copeland is so close to being “in that place” I was getting worried.  

Copeland came out to a large “The Brood” graphic behind his head which was possibly the most bizarre thing for AEW to do.  I understand why the WWE lionizes aggressively average elements of their past; they own the footage, and they can convince the idiots who watch it to buy t-shirts with that stuff on.  What I don’t understand is why AEW are referencing the Brood? Most of the people watching won’t remember the Brood, and those that do will have almost no opinion on it.  It just existed. Copeland is so distinctly WWE, AEW would be better served avoiding any reference to his time there completely.  They shouldn’t be hinting at The Brood, they shouldn’t explicitly mention The Brood and they certainly shouldn’t display a weird Brood-themed collage behind Copeland as he comes to the ring.

Black had the decency to blade early and they gave us some cool images with the barbed wire wrapped instruments strewn around the ring.  Both men certainly committed to the match and bloody bodies slamming through tables is always entertaining.  

The problem is, we just moved from spot to spot.  Transitions and setups took way too long and climaxes often didn’t satisfy.  Copeland literally jumped from the top of the cage onto Malakai Black, but his landing was so awkward it sucked any juice out of the spot and it sent Schiavone on a burbling kayfabe explanation of why it looked so shit.

Inexplicably, they escaped the cage and we got yet another interference.  However, they blew the cliched spot wide open by having the House of Black pretend to turn on Black before attacking Copeland.  They wrapped barbed wire around his head and held his arms out in a crucifix position in a move that even a thirteen year old goth would find corny.

Now, I know I wasn’t enjoying this match and you’re going to think I’m making this next bit up to make the review more interesting.  I swear I’m not.

Gangrel burst out from the bottom of the ring. DUD

TBS Championship
Mercedes Mone def. Willow Nightingale ©

The video package played before the match showed just how great Willow Nightingale is. She was natural, personable, and undeniably a rising star. She has a palpable momentum. Mone was stunted where Willow was natural, fake where Willow was real. Mone brings recognised star power and sells a few more tickets, but Willow Nightingale was just better.

This was the first match that had an aura.  Of course, there were lots of people there for Mone but the chants for Willow were surprisingly loud and exceeded support for Mone.  For the first time since the match was announced, I wondered if AEW had the balls to have her beat Mone.  

The work was good.  Willow was the powerhouse and Mone was smart and fast in response.  The juxtaposition brought an energy that had been missing from the show.  Every time one of the wrestlers would get a lead, it would be reversed and I was on the edge of my seat.  

Mone was able to work a limb in an interesting way, devastating Willow’s leg with sickening precision. 

There were a few clumsy moments, but there also were some huge hits by Willow that made me forget the botches as quickly as they happened.  Willow was incredibly emotive, showing a mix of determination and frustration and Mone’s selling was as stellar as ever.

Both wrestlers clearly went out to steal the night, and they did it by slamming knees into the apron and being dropped themselves on their heads. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be Double Or Nothing 2024 without some garbage.  For some reason, Stokley Hathaway and Aubrey argued so intently and passionately that they missed Willow pinning Mone.  It stinks of 50:50, WWE “protect everyone” rubbish and was completely unnecessary in an otherwise great match.

Mone won, as expected, but to almost no reaction.  Mone did not feel like a star here at all, especially when compared to Willow Nightingale.  AEW should have shown some guts and kept the belt on Willow, but this company is gutless.  They’d rather have Statlander turn on Nightingale than do something original or interesting.  ***¾

AEW World Championship
Swerve Strickland © def. Christian Cage

Christian is a great wrestler doing some of the best work of his career but this match should not have happened.  Swerve is on the rise, and he needed something bigger than being a casualty in a bizarre authority figure story.  Christian’s Patriarchy looked great for the midcard, but Justin Robert’s introduction had none of the big fight feel the belt should command.

This was a very competent match.  Christian is an old pro and he was able to sell dominance over the champ and have us salivating for the fight back.  This had a very old-school feel to it that I enjoyed to a certain level but it certainly had a ceiling.  Nothing was particularly innovative, but seeing Swerve flip over the top rope is enough and it was refreshing to see some good professional wrestling… at least for a while.

Of course Killswitch and Nick Wayne were able to get cheap shots in.  Of course they were able to manipulate the ref into getting Nana sent to the back.  Swerve may have been able to overcome them, but I’m so tired of AEW’s refusal to put on a wrestling match.  The ref boots the Patriarchy out, but you don’t get prizes for doing the bare minimum and they just came back anyway.

Companies show a certain amount of capital when they take wrestling seriously.  They take championship matches seriously and they make the matches feel important.  This didn’t do either of those, from the build to the execution.  The final, with the great rope spot and brutal Swerve Stomp were good, but it was too little too late. ***½

Anarchy In The Arena
Young Bucks, Kazuchika Okada and Jack Perry def. Bryan Danielson, Darby Allin and FTR

Is being an EVP a cool job?  It’s certainly not cooler than being a wrestler.  Why any booker would think that I would give a shit who runs a company is beyond me. It was beyond me 25 years ago when I saw it in WWE and it’s especially confusing now.  In fact, it’s especially confusing because I thought AEW was the alternative.  I thought they were the company where the best wrestlers put on the best matches.  Instead, we seem to be rehashing ancient stories that were rubbish the first time.

Do the writers have no pride?  I don’t care if they used to write soap operas, do they not want to be better now?  

The match itself was what you’d expect.  There were cool Coffin Drops from stupidly high places, a rendition of Final Countdown and plenty of walking around.  It’s implied that Jack Perry attempted vehicular manslaughter.

Ironically, I always prefer the in-ring moments of these matches because they’re a whirlwind of cool action with constant changes and movement.

This was very much an Anarchy in the Arena match and I’m sure you know what that means to you.  Just be aware that this one jumps the shark.  Darby Allen blasts Jack Perry with a flamethrower in a homicidal act.  That’s not hyperbole; Darby tries to murder Perry.  In my mind, I wondered why this spot seemed to silly when a previous Anarchy In The Arena had Eddie Kingston walking to the ring with can of gas ready to burn everyone in there.  I think the reaction to Kingston was different; everyone around him was shocked.  Danielson panicked and tried to stop him.  Here, it was another spot in a series of spots. ***

Final Thoughts

AEW is not a company for wrestling fans anymore.  They are so determined to sprinkle everything they do with the stench of sports entertainment, it’s time to hold them at arm’s length.  You might see a match that looks interesting on paper, but the odds are it will be an overbooked mess with all of the cliches that stop you from watching WWE.

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