I'd like to start off by raising a thematic objection to the name of this show. Based off of the build to the previous show, this one should have had a stipulation that if they didn't draw at least 20,000, Cody had to give Meltzer the money back.
CASINO BATTLE ROYALE TO DETERMINE WHO WILL FACE THE WINNER OF OMEGA VS. JERICHO TO DETERMINE THE FIRST EVER AEW WORLD CHAMPION - 4/10
Wrestling companies going to Vegas and feeling the need to include references to gambling or decks of cards or other Vegas-y things on the show or in the graphics or whatnot is a pet peeve of mine, but I have to hand it to the AEW crew for coming up with a rules to this battle royale that both made it feel unique and were creative enough to justify the goofy name.
The first group were MJF, Dustin Thomas, Brandon Cutler, Sunny Daze, and Michael Nakazwa. MJF immediately went after Dustin Thomas and everyone booed. If the promoters feel comfortable putting Thomas- who, for those who don't know, is a bilateral amputee- in the ring then you can't boo a wrestler just for going after him. They're going to have to at some point if they want to win. If you want to boo, at least wait until MJF calls him "Lieutenant Dan" first.
This baby oil is definitely going to come back to bite Nakazawa in the end. Being slippery might make it harder for you opponents to get a hold of you, but it will also make it harder for you to grab the ropes to save yourself.
We had a screw-up on one of our very first cues, as the ring announcer didn't get the message to do the count-down and introduce the second group of wrestlers the way he would do with the third and fourth. Oops.
When the second group came out the first four of them started fighting on the outside for on real reason. This was done so that F.K.A. Tye Dillinger could get the spotlight for his entrance. Uch. And of course the goofball one-note gimmick jobber is over in Elite-land because it's shtick. Their fanbase and WWE's are of very similar mindsets. They just happen to focus their affection on different people.
Are we sure that's really Brian Pillman Jr.? He looks a lot more like Ricky Morton Jr.
The camera missed Jimmy Havoc stapling a lit cigarette to Janela's forehead... but I was actually fine with them missing it because while that was apparently happening, there were two or three other important things that the camera was focusing on. I know there are people who would call the wrestlers out for stepping on each other's spots, but this doesn't bother me because two important things happening at once in a match like this is completely plausible. What bugs me is when we miss action because the cameras inexplicably cut away from the ring to focus on the announcers or the crowd or the big screen or to do a pointless zoom-out shot. Missing something that happens "behind the play" as it were is perfectly normal. Missing something because you put the camera somewhere it had no business being during a match is incompetence.
Luchasaurus and Ace Romero start doing martial arts spots in the middle of the ring, but no one is paying attention because they're all chanting "ECW!" for Tommy Dreamer in 2019 at the first-ever AEW, before anyone has ever chanted "AEW!" at an AEW show. Dreamer has a trashcan full of weapons. We got a spot where about five guys in a row just walked up to him with their hands down so he could hit them in the head with a trashcan lid. It looked hokey and stupid.
The final entrant was Adam Page, with his knee all taped up due to an injury suffered in last week's match against PAC. If he was going to limp around on a bad knee, he probably shouldn't have done a completely unnecessary kip-up.
Orange Cassidy did a run-in to be a comedy goof and do a spot with Dreamer. What was the point of this?
I thought this match dragged on for way too long relative to the number of actual stars it had. It's a Battle Royale and we all know that only a star has a chance of winning under the best of circumstances, never mind with a chance to become the first AEW World Champion on the line. Of the twenty-one wrestlers in the match, pretty much everyone other than MJF, Janela, Page, and Jimmy Havoc felt like they were either a gimmick wrestler or space-filling jobber, and way too much of the time was spent with the ring full of space-filling jobbers (and even Havoc felt more like a gimmick wrestler at times). The stuff they did with MJF being the ultimate heel throughout was great (and the finish was a nice subversion of the expectations that had been build up by his antics), but there was too much other stuff in between it- most of which wasn't even the special attraction/gimmick wrestlers doing their thing- to hold my interest whenever MJF wasn't being MJF.
Also, I have to note that they did, in fact, fudge the entrance times. I don't know why promotions insist on doing this when not lying seems both easier and more productive, but they do. I was hoping AEW would be different, but apparently not.
ALICIA ATOUT INTERVIEWS KYLIE RAY - No rating, terrible segment. First of all, Cody has the audacity to take a shot at Bayley and then put THIS on my screen. Kylie Ray is Bayley if Bayley were a one-note character who was a mark for comedy goofs instead of superstar professional wrestlers. The interview never happened because Peter Avalon and someone else showed up to quiet them down and then argue over which of them was the "librarian." They kept shushing each other. Kylie Ray was excited to be seeing this first hand and tried to join in but they all shushed her as well. And this is better than the Usos putting Icy-Hot in The Revival's tights or R-Truth in drag because... why, exactly?
Wrestlicious was stupid, but at least it made some f*cking sense. Why are there librarians in AEW (especially for considering that the promotion that doesn't have any archival footage yet)? And why were they brought to this show? And why do they think it's their business to interrupt interviews? Because they're librarians and librarians enforce quiet in libraries? So what? Are they too stupid to know that they're not in a library right now? Say what you will about mid-90s WWF, but at least Dean Douglas wasn't trying to assign the wrestlers math homework and Sparky Plugg wouldn't only turn left.
SAMMY GUEVARA vs. KIP SABIAN- 5/10
This was a lot tamer and less flippy than I was expecting.
SADIE GIBBS VIDEO PACKAGE - Uninspiring. She can do athletic stuff and she works out. So what? Everyone else can do that at this point, too.
STUFF HAPPENS IN VARIOUS BACKSTAGE BITS - I call bullsh*t on Matt Jackson and Michael Nakazwa having never met before. Also, why did Nick Jackson superkick a random backstage dude who appeared to be trying to help them? That makes him completely unlikable.
THE AEW CREW WELCOME EVERYONE TO THE SHOW - Crowd-fluffing doesn't really make the show look better on TV if you get to see them come out to fluff the crowd because it exposes the trick. The trick is to do it before you go live in any way.
SOCAL UNCENSORED PROMO - After the national anthem, SCU come out for more crowd-fluffing.
SOCAL UNCENSORED vs. STRONG HEARTS (CIMA, T-Hawk, & El Lindaman) - 7/10
AEW has a ten-count instead of a five-count to get out of the ring after a tag. I like this change a lot, but it's something they have to actually enforce, because if they just start to ignore it like everyone else does with the five-count then they become no different than anyone else.
And... yeah. We're about five minutes in and they're already ignoring their rule. Other than that, this was a fine action-packed match to open the PPV proper.
NYLA ROSE vs. DR. BRITT BAKER, DMD vs. KYLIE RAY vs. AWESOME KONG (w/Brandi Rhodes) - 7.75/10
Allie joined the commentary team for this match. This was supposed to be a three-way but Brandi came out before the match and introduced Awesome Kong as the fourth participant. Kong is a great get for AEW for a lot of reasons (talent, credibility in terms of being a serious female wrestler, the GLOW connection for publicity, plus she can probably double as an acting coach backstage), and an off the radar one to boot. Props to whoever had the idea to recruit her.
I really liked this match and thought they did a tremendous job crafting a story based around the size of the competitors and the big different between the larger two and the smaller two. If I had to pick a nit, it's that it might not have been the best idea to have your first-ever women's match end with the winner hitting her husband's finisher instead of her own.
One thing I found worrying was Brandi's subtle heelishness in the pre-match segment, and in the way she was portrayed in the commentary to build up her match with Allie at Fight for the Fallen. It's not necessarily a fair criticism to have yet (which is why I am merely calling it a "concern"), but so many years of WWE and TNA have left me scarred about the idea of the heel authority figure. I'm not saying that it can't be done well or that Brandi doesn't have the acting ability to pull it off in a way that is a lot less in your face than what we're used to (hell, her performance here is evidence that does possess that ability), but knowing her husband's booking proclivities, seeing her go full cartoon would not shock me, either. It's probably a situation that is best stayed away from for the time being.
BEST FRIENDS vs. JACK EVANS & ANGELICO - 8/10
Lots of great action and a good babyface in peril story. That being said... they're really not making any effort to enforce this ten-count rule at all.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Not good. Nice, respectful babyface stuff all around. Best Friends want to hug and jack and Angelico consent, and they go to hug... and the lights go out. And when they come back on... there's a random dude in ring. And also another dude is with him. Oh. Wait. Those are the Super Smash Brothers, aren't they? Zooming in on stupefied (who is most known for being clean-shaven but currently has a beard) rather than the member of the team with the iconic mask probably wasn't the best idea. The fans cheer... and then the lights go off again... and now some random masked dues are dragging everyone but SSB out of the ring, so I guess these are their minions or something. Why magically appear without your minions? All you do is blow the element of surprise.
After the beat-down, Evil Uno got a human throne of minions, then he clapped his hands to magically turn the lights out again and disappear everyone. I don't like magical powers in pro wrestling and if I were booking AEW I would have made the conscious decision to not do anything like this so as to differentiate myself from the past six years of over-done hokeyness of this sort of thing from Matt Hardy in TNA and especially Bray Wyatt in WWE. But that's an issue of personal taste.
What is not an issue of personal taste, however, was that Alex Marvez and Jim Ross both said they didn't know who this new team in the ring was so Marvez asked Excalibur and Excalibur replied "I would recognize those two men anywhere!" and then proceeded to not identify them. If you don't think you can use the Super Smash Brothers name for legal reasons then you ought to have a new one ready to go BEFORE you put them on TV. This smacked of TNA/WCW-esque "we all know who that is!" and then not giving the person a damn name. It makes you look pathetically disorganized (especially after the PAC thing).
They announced All Out for August 31st, and gave a sale date for tickets.
AJA KONG, EMI SAKURA, & YUKA SAKAZAKI vs. HIKARU SHIDA, RYO MIZUNAMI, & RIHO - 6.75/10
This was a fun match, but it felt a lot more like wrestlers who were brought over to be a special attraction for this show than anything that will really matter in the future. This match contained the second misfire by the timekeeper so far tonight. This timekeeper needs to be replaced immediately.
CODY RHODES EXPOSES HIMSELF AND HIS FANBASE - A throne with the Triple H logo on it and is covered in skulls and Cody smashes it with a sledgehammer? Nah. Cody's definitely not bitter. How much do you think this thing cost to make, anyway? And all so Cody could waste TV time by hitting it with a sledgehammer. Because wielding his own backstage influence to waste other people's time and money on self-indulgent crap definitely has nothing to do with why people have developed such a dislike of Triple H. Actually, now that I think of it, at least Hunter only wasted other people's time, not their money.
And why is Hunter even the target, here? He's not responsible for Cody's push dying, is he? This isn't the 2000s anymore where Hunter is the main villain. Get with the times, Cody! Hunter is our great hope for WWE not sucking again. That's why everyone loves NXT so much. And I will bet you that one week from tonight, the vast majority of the fans in this building who cheered raucously for Cody destroying the Hunter-throne with a sledgehammer are all going to boot up the WWE Network and excitedly watch TakeOver: XXV and go all over the internet and tell everyone how awesome it was. Sheep.
DUSTIN RHODES vs. CODY RHODES (w/Brandi Rhodes) - 8.75/10
The first really athletic thing Dustin tried (that sliding 619 as a reversal to getting rolled into the ring) he f*cked up and they had to do it again. The referee is not counting them out, but I don't remember if there have been count-outs in the other matches, so maybe AEW doesn't have any. Excalibur later told us that there is a ten-count on the floor, which Earl Hebner is apparently just going ignore while Cody takes a stroll through the crowd "regroup."
After doing something before the match designed specifically to get the fans to cheer him, Cody is now a heel, distracting the referee while Brandi interferes on his behalf. You know, for someone who seems so angry at the McMahons, Cody sure seems to have a lot in common with them.
After the second interference I guess Earl Hebner figured out that Brandi was clearly doing something so he ejected her from ringside. She wouldn't leave, so DDP came out and carried her to the back for the sake of the random cameo (yes, I know it's something of a call-back to All In, but that appearance was completely random as well). All of this has bought Dustin enough time to gig himself.
When Cody was going to hit Dustin with the weight belt, Hebner took it away, but just moments later when Dustin spanked Cody with it right in front of him, Hebner did not disqualify Dustin. Either it's legal to use (in which case don't take it away from Cody) or it's not legal to use (in which case Dustin should be disqualified). You can't have it both ways.
All of that out of the way, this was a FANTASTIC, emotion-filled match. Their timing was excellent, the crowd was super-hot, and the match was extremely gripping even though the outcome was never in doubt.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. The brothers reconcile as Cody asks Dustin to be his tag team partner when he faces the Young Bucks at Fight for the Fallen, and Dustin accepts. I could have used a bit more emotion from Cody before he got to the point where he was ready to ask Dustin to be his tag team partner, as well as some sort of acknowledgement that Cody was in the wrong about just about everything in this feud.
BRET HART PRESENTS THE AEW WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BELT - Awesome segment! He brings out Adam Page, but MJF decides to interrupt things. He cuts an utterly fantastic heel promo on Bret, Page, and the fans. He seems like he is going to attack but backs down when Page almost lands the first shot. Then Jungle Boy came out and MJF basically ignored him. Then Jimmy Havoc came out and MJF was scared. He soon found himself surrounded and tried to talk his way out of it, then took a shot at Jungle Boy but was over quickly overwhelmed. Page tossed him into the crowd, then ordered the other two eject him from the building and they did. Watching other wrestlers play lackey to a member of the Elite was not a good look. I think this would have worked better without Jungle Boy's presence, and if MJF had just run off through the crowd on his own when Jimmy Havoc appeared. It gets Havoc over better because he scared the heel off on his own, MJF gets to keep his heat instead of being embarrassed and Jungle Boy would avoid looking like the lackey punk he looked like here. It felt like the only reason he was out here was so Excalibur could plug that he is Luke Perry's son.
AAA WORLD TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Young Bucks(c) vs. Lucha Brothers - 9.5/10
Knox instructs them to "keep this match clean," and, shockingly, they did. This match started out telling something of a story about the Bucks possibly having some ring rust and thus their timing being off and accidentally bumping into each other. They managed to shake that off and from then on this pretty much just became a "MOVEZ" match, but they took the Dragon vs. Punk Over The Limit 2012 approach of peppering in moves that reference friends from their indy days who aren't able to be here, so that at least some of the MOVEZ had more meaning behind them. They also definitely upped their game and came up with some new stuff to do, which is always nice. The final part of the match was about the Lucha Brothers working over Matt's arm. This was kept short by necessity, as you can't do the arm-snapper move and then keep going for ten minutes. They did a great job of imbuing that final Meltzer Driver with the feeling that this was the Bucks' last chance to win the match.
WINNER FACES ADAM PAGE TO DETERMINE THE FIRST-EVER AEW WORLD CHAMPION:
Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho - 9/10
If you want to use gimmicks in your match, just make it a no DQs match! Don't tell me it's a regular match, then fight on the outside forever and hit each other with weapons! That out of the way, these two had the epic match you would expect. There was blood, scary bumps lots of emption, and epic struggles to go for finishers. Other than that one spot where it looked like Jericho DDTed Omega but Jericho was the one selling and Omega went for the pin going wrong, I'm not sure what else one could have asked for. Jericho won with the Judas Effect.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Excellent. Jericho cut a great promo taking credit for all of AEW's success and demanding that AEW thank him. Instead he got Jon Moxley coming out of the crowd and laying him out with Dirty Deeds. Then Moxley hit AEW Senior Referee Paul Turner with the move, too, just because he's crazy like that. He then took a good long while before getting around to Kenny Omega, during which I was baffled that no security came out to apprehend this man who had jumped the guardrail and attacked a wrestler and a referee. Moxley's antics gave Omega enough time to recover and block the moves by charging forward and sending them both tumbling to the floor. They brawled into the crowd and over to the stage where they battled onto some big poker chips that were set up, creating a nice raised platform for everyone to see Moxley hit Omega with Dirty Deeds on. Then Moxley AAed Omega off of the poker chips, down onto a section of the stage that, if it was gimmicked, they did a FANTASTIC job of hiding it.
This was a FANTASTIC show from AEW. Easily a Show of the Year Candidate (probably right up in the top two with TakeOver: New York, and easily eliminating otherwise-worthy candidates like theTakeOver: Phoenix, WrestleKingdom XIII, and ROH's 17th Anniversary Show from contention. It will also likely go down as one of the most important shows in wrestling history. Production-wise things were very good, even though two or three highly questionable decisions were made (like a random cut in the middle of Omega vs. Jericho to what I have to believe was the only fan in the building who looked completely bored). While they did have some set-dressing, it was not the garishly overboard WWE style, and their big set piece (the aforementioned giant poker chips) did wind up serving a booking purpose, so they definitely deserve credit for that.
As far as the commentary went... I could do without Jim Ross. He didn't add much at all, and at times did detract a bit. Marvez didn't add much, either. In terms of saying things that were actually useful, Excalibur did at least 80% of the work himself. I don't know who I would pair him with (assuming Lenny Leonard, Nick Aldis, and Don Callis all aren't options available to AEW), but I definitely think they should try to find someone other than Ross or Marvez.
Anyway, this was a fantastic show and everyone should go watch it. The wrestling rocked, the atmosphere was mostly pretty great, the show was mostly booked well, and if you don't you'll be kicking yourself in ten years for missing the chance to live a crucial moment in wrestling history.
STUPID ANNOUNCER QUOTES
1. Ross called the OWE wrestlers Chinese instead of Japanese.
2. Jim Ross (before the tag title match)- "We have two sets of brothers in this match here. Not traditional pro wrestling brothers; they actually have the same mom and dad."
First of all, you'd think someone with opinions as proudly old-school as JR's wouldn't sh*t on kayfabe for absolutely no reason. Secondly, what does it matter if they're shoot brothers or not? The half-sibling relationship between Bubba and Devon is just as kayfabe real as the relationship between Matt and Nick. Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are shoot brothers, but they're not kayfabe brothers. Fenix and Penta El 0M might be shoot brothers, and while that is the kayfabe truth in AEW and many other promotions, in the universe of Lucha Underground, they're not related at all. JR's statement here is no different than Russo-esque worked-shoot bullsh*t. Telling us "other things are fake but this one is real" does not make this one feel any more real; it just makes everything else feel more fake.