February 29, 2020
We’re in Chicago, Illinois at the Wintrust Arena. Hosts are Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Excalibur. Increasingly I’d rather Ross wasn’t involved on commentary here but Excalibur does a grand job of filling in for his shortcomings.
Dustin Rhodes vs. Jake Hager
Hager broke Dustin’s arm last year. This is probably not the ‘hot opener’ I’d throw out first because Hager doesn’t interest me. He felt like a sure thing but as soon as he’d left WWE it became apparent why WWE hadn’t bothered pushing him. This is Hager’s first match since August and boy does it show.
He only wrestled three times in 2019. He looks rusty and struggles with his cardio. Booking him in a 15 minute match was probably not the best of ideas. The 37 year old Hager getting blown up by a 50 year old Dustin. The crowd, perhaps just energized for a big show, get into the near falls so it’s not a total disaster. Hager kicks Dustin low and chokes him out. This was not good. I’d cut the losses with Hager. Having him here feels like a deliberate ‘WWE familiar faces’ recruitment and he’s not good enough.
Final Rating: **1/4
Sammy Guevara vs. Darby Allin
Allin doesn’t hang around here and wakes the crowd up with a tope while he’s being announced. It’s a wild brawl with defined heel/face roles. What really makes the match stand out is the reckless attitudes of both men. The dives, especially Guevara’s 630 through a table on the floor, are real crowd pleasers. It’s not all mad dives but everything feels edgy whether it’s the mat work or Sammy throwing a skateboard. It feels like the cruiserweight action from WCW where the pace dramatically changed. Both these guys may have slightly diminutive statures but the things they’re doing are so incredible it really doesn’t matter. It’s perhaps a touch spot heavy but it’s so much fun. Excalibur and JR do a killer job of selling the little elements like Sammy’s ankle injury or Darby clipping the rope before crashing and burning on a tope. Coffin Drop finishes for Darby. This ruled! Great action. It didn’t overstay its welcome and they did a lot of logical stuff amidst the spot work. Both guys should be stars in this promotion.
Final Rating: ***3/4
AEW Tag Team Championship
Kenny Omega & Hangman Page (c) vs. The Young Bucks
Page has been extraordinarily good at this role where nobody is quite sure about him and Kenny is having to play peacemaker. Now they’re all coming to a head. Some of the prep, like the sit down interviews, have been perfect. As the match starts the same is true with Omega being respectful and friendly and Page being a jerk. The reaction for Hangman tagging in is palpably huge. This angle is so fucking over. The Bucks are clearly desperate to win their own tag team titles and this jerk Page is standing in the way but Adam hasn’t been in the spotlight before. He has a point. As soon as he won something the Bucks want to take it away.
Page gets huge cheers for cleaning house on the Bucks, which shows you how well he’s been booked here since the initial faltering start of his AEW career. The popularity of all the wrestlers makes this feel very important. The action matches the energy in the building as all these guys are familiar with each other. It’s intriguing to me that they’re still referencing Marty Scurll, although he signed with ROH for another spell. There’s a load of great tag team work in here and when it feels like it’s peaking they go up to another level.
They hit this hot streak where Omega takes the Golden Trigger and kicks out at one! That’s my move, you fucking bitches! Matt Jackson becomes a worse human being as the match progresses; going after Kenny’s injured shoulder and hitting suplexes on the ramp. Matt, having sold a piece of his soul, has to avoid a pin and does so on the Buckshot/V-Trigger. I like how Kenny can’t get One Winged Angel because of his injured shoulder and Page strolling in there and hitting it himself is magic stuff. Buckshot Lariat on Matt and Page retains on his own! A performance, an angle overall, that has made Adam Page a star. A lot of this match was Omega and the Bucks doing what they do but the Page stuff was a perfect addition. This is how you make stars. You put them in with your stars and you make them equal. Here Page scoring the pin to cover for the hurt Omega. Brilliant.
Final Rating: ****3/4
The story continues post match where Page distances himself from the back-slapping and buddying up. It’s a competitive situation. Page teasing the Buckshot and then holding the ropes for Omega sends chills down my spine. The crowd would have supported Page whatever he did here. That’s how over he’s gotten during this storyline. Tremendous pro wrestling.
AEW Women’s Championship
Nyla Rose (c) vs. Kris Stadtlander
AEW has really struggled to get a women’s division off the ground. The only real success stories have been the likes of Riho and Shida. Perhaps a focus on Japanese women would be the solution, if enough were available to build around.
Stadtlander is obviously a good signing and there were few better options on the American side of things. This is a tough spot to be in because the last match was so good. Neither one is particularly over and it’s a hard ask. This may have been a better spot for Dustin and Hager. Kris is perhaps a touch ambitious too and that causes issues. The one time is pays off is when she walks on her hands to avoid a rope move but generally the match suffers from jitters. There’s certainly issues between the two wrestlers. They don’t have chemistry and some of the moves are on the borderline of dangerous due to this lack of understanding. After a few worrying moments the Beastbomb off the ropes finishes. This was bad. They didn’t click and the division needs to revolve around the better talent and that’s not Nyla. No offence to Rose, who’s perfectly fine but the difference between her and Riho is like night and day.
Final Rating: *1/2
MJF vs. Cody Rhodes
They’ve done a solid job with the storyline coming into this. I think they rushed the MJF turn and did a month’s worth of stuff in one match against Jericho. However, since then it’s been cool with Cody demanding MJF name his stipulations to fight and we get the Wardlow cage match and the lashing.
Can Cody overcome his terrible neck tattoo to defeat his nemesis?
MJF, to counter this, is wearing so much tan in a can Shawn Michaels thinks he’s overdone it. Cody has been a revelation when booked by himself. His indies work prior to signing for AEW were mostly unimpressive but this is a guy who thrives on storylines. Wardlow is a potential game changer for MJF so Cody utilizes Brandi to draw Wardlow into a tope.
Cody has a broken toe coming into this and MJF targets that. When he bites it the crowd are fully into the concept that he’s a sick bastard. They do a good job of bringing Wardlow, Brandi and Arn Anderson into the match. MJF bleeds heavily. Cody accidentally hits Arn. There’s a lot happening. The weight lifting belt bit is very cool with Cody appealing to have ‘one more’ without censure from the ref. MJF belts Cody with a loaded punch and wins, leaving the crowd stunned. This was a good match with the storytelling overwhelming everything. I’m not convinced this did for MJF what the tag did for Hangman Page but it didn’t hurt him.
Final Rating: ***3/4
PAC vs. Orange Cassidy
This is inspired booking as people haven’t actually seen Cassidy that can actually go in AEW. He’s gotten mega over without doing anything, which is tremendous work. “He doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass” – Tony. He can respect that! PAC does a great job of being stunned by Cassidy’s speed. Especially as Orange keeps fucking around as part of the situation. PAC plays up to the silliness and it works so well. The crowd are so into it.
Cassidy’s antics, like rolling across the ring to avoid a rope spot, begin to jar at PAC and then OC suddenly clicks into gear. He lulled PAC into a false sense of security! Cassidy is a genius. The Superman Punch has me in bits. The great thing with Cassidy is he can be in literally any match on the card, be over and never have to win to maintain that. And if they push him seriously he’ll be mega over and completely different to everything else they’ve got. After some antics with the Best Friends and Lucha Bros PAC has had enough and finishes OC with the Brutalizer. This was a great match and an ideal introduction to what Orange Cassidy can be for AEW.
Final Rating: ****
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Jon Moxley
Both guys have been heavily protected in AEW so far but have yet to collide in a match. Not that they are without history in the other promotion. They had a feud in WWE in 2016 culminating in the “Asylum Match” at Extreme Rules. From recollection it was terrible. So while the booking has been good here it’s tough to get all fired up about it. AEW has been built on quality in-ring and that’s not going to be the case here. Mox walks into here from outside the building. Jericho, by comparison, has a choir and all is pomp and privilege.
The feud requires a scrap rather than a technical match, which is fine because they both technically suck and are great at antics. The Mox, blind in one eye, storyline allows him to take unprotected shots to that one side. Jericho is not particularly careful with him. The work is really sloppy. I don’t know if Moxley’s eye patch is to blame or whether they just have issues and don’t gel at all. Which is certainly what happened in WWE. The Inner Circle get involved repeatedly, to the point where it doesn’t make sense for the referee to tolerate it. Eventually Hagar, the big dummy, gets caught and Aubrey Edwards ejects the lot of them.
Mox then reveals that he could see this whole time and I have to question the logic of that. Why spend the whole match getting fucked up because you can’t see only to sneakily reveal that you can see? It’s dumb. Paradigm Shift finishes and Mox wins the title from Le Champion. To say I didn’t like this would be an understatement but the crowd seemed to enjoy it so its horses for courses.
Final Rating: *