I caught the AEW Double or Nothing 2021 PPV and had been mulling it over for a few days and decided to finally write up a review. My review isn’t going to be a play-by-play type of review just an overall summary of each match and a conclusion of the PPV.
- Serena Deeb vs Riho – NWA title match was on the line. I don’t know what Riho did to earn the title match because she hasn’t been on TV for a very long time. Both looked good, Deeb looks great after coming off an injury. I can see why people might get behind Riho but she’s just too skinny and small for me. Also, she looks like she has Japanese halitosis. In all seriousness though, they actually tried having a decent wrestling match with Deeb working over the knee and winning logically by submission. Crowd was hot for what they were doing and it a perfectly good pre-show match. One of the better matches on the card and not a bad placement on the show.
- Adam Page vs Brian Cage – Just a singles match. Crowd was super hot for the start of the show. Honestly, this could’ve been one of the hottest matches on the card. Page received a huge welcoming. I felt that the crowd was incredibly hungry for a live event and the wrestlers were pumped at having a sold out crowd who were ready to have them. Honestly, the crowd itself is what made this event more than anything else. But I’ll talk more about that later. Match itself was fine. Brian Cage has no clue how to play up to the live crowd. He looked lost at the emotion or what to do in improvising at times. Page was ultra motivated and he really fed off the crowd. Made the actual match look far better than what it was.
I’m guessing Brian Cage is being teased for a major face turn. Problem is that he doesn’t have much charisma on his own. A good look for the promotion and some ability. It’s a question on if he goes solo whether or not he’ll prevail. Taz cursing and getting pissed sounded unprofessional. The outside stuff was minimal and tried to move the story with Cage along even though Page on his own was quite over in this situation.
- Young Bucks vs Eddie Kingston and John Moxley – Tag team titles on the line. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to this match. I didn’t like the Bucks when I first saw them in TNA. Thought people were more impressed with them flipping around. They’re older now and still doing the same shit. Moxley is fortunate that he has a hot, intelligent wife who can cook. Honestly, don’t know what she sees in him.
- Battle Royale – The stake was a chance for the title in the future. Jungleboy won. Christian Cage started off, stayed in long, put Jungleboy over huge. Christian can still go and they told a decent story in a match that generally sucks in trying to tell stories. The rules for who comes out next is stupid for this type of match that is an obvious Royal Rumble knock off. Jungleboy is over mostly because of his entrance theme, which is smart. He has some potential but he ain’t winning against Omega anytime soon.
- Cody Rhodes vs Anthony Ogogo – The so-called weigh in on Dynamite along with Cody’s tone deaf promo on his jingoistically anachronistic view killed this match for me even before it started. I pretty much skipped this and only read that it killed an otherwise hot crowd.
- Miro vs Lance Archer – TNT title was on the line. One of the few matches that was built up reasonably well considering how little time it was given to be built up. And one of the few matches I was interested in seeing. They did well given that Rhodes killed the previous match. Miro understands wrestling at a fundamental level and knows how to play to the crowd. Snake yeet spot was hilarious despite JR even foreshadowing us not to laugh at it. Jake loves the business, we get it, but he might be hurting Lance Archer through association at this point. Lance Archer honestly would be better as a heel and stomping through his foes. Not sure why he’s positioned as a face. Made the match really bizarre to watch. Miro is best doing squash matches though or taking on smaller types that can bump for him to make him look like a monster. I wouldn’t mind more between these two though, but I have no idea where they plan to take Miro next. Maybe a feud with Brian Cage for another title to add to his collection? Thing about Miro is that he’s got a unique look and size advantage and he’s in the prime of his career right now. So they need to squeeze what’s left in the next 3-5 years from him right now.
- Dr Britt Baker vs Hikaru Shida – Women’s title match. I really hated the build up to this match. Everyone knew Britt Baker would win. The thing is that Britt buried Shida unintentionally on Dynamite saying that “Shida was the best champion for the pandemic.” Read: we didn’t have anyone watching so no one cared about you. That’s fucking cold.
Match itself was too long for what these two can do. Read that Britt looked gassed early on and maybe Shida too. Shida’s Falcon Arrow looked awful. The match was patchwork and doesn’t give me confidence about Britt as being a great champion. She found out how to get herself over but she’s been working short matches. The only person I can identify in the women’s division who looks really good is Serena Deeb, but she’s more of a pure worker than a character. Britt seems one dimensional and just not experienced enough just yet to carry the division on her own. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Thunder Rosa beat her down the road but she’s not under contract from what I understand so I don’t include her next to Serena.
- Darby Allin/Sting vs Scorpio Sky/Ethan Page – Match of the night for me. Sadly, this wasn’t the main event. But pretty much this was three guys who were big fan boys of Sting letting the veteran have his day. Sky and Page were good here as heels and knew their roles. Allin is nuts and is the Mikey Whipwreck, which might not be good for his future given what Mikey is undergoing at the moment in terms of health issues. Sting got his big spots in but Sky especially made him look like a hundred bucks. Ending was perfect.
- Kenny Omega vs Orange Cassidy vs Pac – World title match. I hate triple threats. They’re just stupid and contrived. Not really a fan of any of these guys. Pac looked good. Orange is over with the AEW crowd but I can’t stand the gimmick. Omega is a weeb. But just a meh spot-spot-spot etc type of match that didn’t do much.
- Inner Circle vs the Pinnacle – Stadium Stampede match. Oh god, what to say about this travesty? Cinematic matches? What the hell are those? This was just beyond frustrating. The little clips of the previous year’s version I thought was just highlights not supposedly an intentional repeat of what would go on.
Cardinal sin broken here: the bulk of this “match” was done in a TAPED SETTING WHERE THE CROWD COULDN’T DIRECTLY WATCH. The moment Jericho and buddies grappled down from the stadium sign, I immediately knew this would be horrible. All I could think about watching them on those lines was Owen Hart and how he had that horrific, tragic accident. Now, you have five people doing it for no good reason because some idiot thinks it’s visually cool.
My hope was that they would move the match quickly towards the actual ring where people could watch. If they wanted to brawl in the stands of that live audience, they should have done that. But they did it in an empty fucking football field where you can hear weak blows and nothing made sense. Was this some masturbatory ad for Khan’s stadium? Holy geeze.
I had to skip more of this because it was so god awful and painful to watch. Konnan made a cameo. I guess good for him in that he got a pay day. I only briefly stopped to check that spot because someone on a website mentioned it.
Eventually, they did try to bring the ending back to the ring. It was one of the few smart things they did in this “match.” Sammy got the win in repentance for the grievous loss at the previous event where Chris Jericho got tossed from the cage. Sammy got a nice ovation. And the crowd sung that horrible Judas song that makes Jericho think he’s a super star still.
Okay, so if they had cut out the Bucks, triple threat, Cody and main event, I would’ve thought the rest would have been reasonable. But those four matches in particular (not coincidentally involving the EVPs) just killed it. Heck, I could’ve forgiven everything up to the main event if they just had a match inside the ring.
You had possibly one of the hottest crowds ever where people dying to get out of their homes and craving a live event, having paid to see a show and risking their lives in a state whose loony governor has put the entire state in jeopardy just because he’s an anti-Democrat Trump dick sucker, and not given the due respect of having your so-called top performers perform for you IN THE FUCKING WRESTLING RING. I would’ve been super pissed if I spent a dime. Luckily, there’s this thing called YouTube and as long as piracy continues, I’m all for draining the pennies out of a sucker like Tony Khan’s wallet.
But yeah this was just infuriating. The only really redeeming element in this entire show was the crowd. There’s no doubt that pro-wrestling without a crowd just falls flat. It’s been impossible to stomach watching scripted events that look worse without a live audience responding. So seeing the crowd felt emotional, even if the show ends up becoming a super spreader event (which we’ll only find out in roughly 2 weeks).
The response shouldn’t give the promotion the idea that they are over though. The crowd response was because of the circumstances not because the wrestling was outstanding. And it’s obvious to see that the participants in the matches were equally overwhelmed by the crowd and really pumped it up (especially Page and Jungleboy). So on that level, the event was very special.
However, the lack of masks, the fact that the show was held in Florida (which is a spot where AEW has held their events since the beginning of the pandemic), the packed arena, still don’t convince me that this show was a good thing. It was a bet that has a short term pay off. I worry a lot about these things. Heck, the WWE probably can look at the next 2-3 weeks to see just how badly the ramifications of this event will be. If suddenly there’s a new surge in Florida and it’s all isolated to this event, WWE could just laugh it off.
Of course, if this doesn’t prove to be a super spreader event, then AEW still needs to capitalize on their momentum and I don’t think the people in charge are bright enough to execute enough after things “return to normal.” Right now, people just want to get out and celebrate the potential end to this pandemic so it’s natural that they’ll be very emotional in supporting something like an AEW.
Yet it’s very hard to see AEW having any kind of long term, concrete strategy to build their brand up. Like can they say for certain how much their shows are going to consistently grow? Or their TV ratings? Or how much they’re spending vs bringing in?
They just announced signing Mark Henry which got a very nice pop at the PPV when he made a cameo. His role is again like Big Show, Taz, Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone as an announcer. He will be helping out behind the scenes but again how is he concretely going to help create real growth?
My problems with AEW are the following:
- The people in charge don’t understand the fundamental concepts of pro-wrestling which made it successful in the past nor do they know how to make it work in a post-kayfabe world.
- The people in charge seem hellbent in competing against the WWE which is a straight out red flag of shooting oneself in the foot with a nuclear hand grenade
- Their execution is terrible. They might have big ideas that seem great on paper but the actual execution of those ideas come out rotten.
- Someone or some people don’t understand that you can do more with less. Or that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This is part of the execution issue mentioned. Until you get the fundamentals working, don’t do anything complex or out of your league.
- KISS principal – Keep It Simple Stupid. Pro-wrestling works best when it is simple. Use the concept of pro-wrestling as a morality play being enacted by two gladiators to start. The gladiators represent a fantasy in the audience’s mind. The babyface gladiator is the large segment of society that cannot perform the act of social justice and thus serves as society’s sword and shield. The heel gladiator represents the social injustice that people want to see put down.
- The wrestlers are marks for themselves rather than making the audience into the marks. Chris Jericho and company dropping by a grappling line from a stadium sign fulfills what audience fantasy? Or is it just something he saw in a movie that he wants to do because no one in Hollywood wants to hire him as a stuntman? Whose fantasy are you fulfilling here? Self-indulgence is not affordable in a situation where your company is desperately trying to build a non-existent audience.
- The veterans are learning new tricks of modern wrestling from the kids. Huh? What the hell is modern wrestling? The closest thing to a definition of modern wrestling I received was from a friend who is a casual watcher and described pro-wrestling as “an anime game.” There’s a reason why people think its stupid and either turned off completely or just decided to go straight to the MMA route. Wrestling is always going to be about the basics. So there’s no real “modern” wrestling if you abandon the fundamental concepts. You can’t call the stadium stampede a wrestling match even. It’s just visual chaos (nonsense) where people hit each other, pull off silly stunts and do things that they wish they could do in a movie. But in a real fight, these people would either be dead or arrested because you can’t get away with this level of nonsense.
Here’s the biggest thing: AEW has no idea how to get a casual fan. The AEW fans are just a disenfranchised audience who dislike WWE or are a subset of the WWE Universe. But just like n00bz in gaming, AEW needs the casual fan to grow. I don’t know what their goals are in all of this. Just be kind and give these kids and old farts a paycheck because someone feels sorry for them? That’s bad business.
Likewise, the AEW core fan is actual a detriment ironically. Them supporting what’s going on is like being a Trump echo chamber. You’re not helping the overall product just a misconceived version of it. It’s like the ECW fans back in the day; while they might’ve been incredibly passionate, it was such a small echo chamber that misguided the wrestlers into thinking they were far bigger than they were.
Now, if suddenly AEW is pulling in 5-10k per city around the country and TV ratings back at Nitro levels in 96-97, I might admit defeat. But I don’t think they are that good to be able to get those numbers consistently and around different demographics once they leave Florida. And if things ever get back to normal, the novelty of live events is going to wear off very quickly. So again, it goes back to the idea of what’s the long term vision for this company?