Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer and not of our website.
When was the last time you were compelled to watch WWE? Aside from the individual bright spots (the career best work of Roman Reigns and otherworldly talent of Bianca Belair, mainly), what is there that is truly can’t miss? When’s the last time you felt a buzz around WWE like there is with AEW right now? This entire card is filled with storylines and matches that will fill up Wrestling Twitter™ and its collective wrestling heart. That heart is everything.
The passion of AEW and the people who wrestle for them set it apart from WWE. Much like a Kraft single is a disgustingly delicious cheese product, WWE is a homogenized wrestling product. And much like a Kraft single, it has extremely limited uses. To say that they don’t make individual moments would be disingenuous. The moments are certainly here and there, but they exist in an emotionless vacuum -- done so they can be included in video packages down the road.
There are no stakes and nothing of substance ever really happens. If it does, it’s usually immediately undone. It’s an old abandoned church with empty pews and empty aisles, haunted by the ghost of what used to fill it up. That’s why WWE leans on nostalgia acts so much. They remind us of what we used to feel, but also puts a spotlight on the fact that we don’t feel those things anymore.
The intentionality of AEW calling itself a professional wrestling company is notable. They lean into the emotion of pro wrestling by creating storylines and characters that are evocative. Everyone is created to make the audience feel something...or somethings...or many, many somethings. They aren’t afraid to tell layered stories and allow their audience to feel complex emotions. It is all done while not forgetting what they are at their heart: a pro wrestling company.
Nine matches. 3000 words. My parents are so proud. Let’s preview Saturday's AEW Full Gear from Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Bryan Danielson vs. Miro | AEW World title eliminator tournament final
People ease into existence slowly; mere blips in the universe. They can be even slower trying to find their purpose. Finding meaning on this big blue marble is tough! It can be tough to figure out what your purpose in life is or what purpose even means. For people like Danielson, it is clear what that purpose is and clear what he was put on this earth to do.
Bryan Danielson was put on this earth to f*cking wrestle, man.
It’s impossible to imagine him doing anything else. And he wrestles better than anyone alive and maybe better than anyone who has ever even lived. Jon Moxley called Danielson the best wrestler of all time and who am I to correct him? Wrestling, like all art, is subjective. There is no "correct" way to rank wrestlers, no matter what the hellscape of r/squaredcircle will have you believe, but Danielson is on any short list for the best of all time.
Seeing an unshackled Danielson again is a sight to behold. At his peak, he was one of the most popular acts in wrestling history. Even then, he was holding back a bit in the ring. Just check his comments from this week about being on autopilot. He still had the restrictor plates on. Now? Those are gone and he’s free to be The American Dragon again. And what a treat that is for us and what a delight it is for him.
You can see just how much this means to him. He absolutely loves this. He lives for this. Danielson never has to work another day in his life, let alone get his chest turned an uncomfortable shade of purple. Yet here he is, willingly doing that because this is the only thing he wants to do. He’s been in AEW for barely a hiccup and he’s already put on two of the best matches of the year. I’m so happy he’s back, for however long he decides to do this.
In the beginning, there was Alexander Rusev: a greasy-haired Bulgarian who broke boards (?) with his opponent's name on them (??). Now, there is only Miro, the best thing going in AEW. All of his promos are absolute must-sees. His matches are brutally frantic and his character work is spectacular. The fact that all of this was inside him isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that this was inside him and WWE thought the best use of him was to get cucked on live television -- truly a breathtaking work of staggering genius.
Miro is angry about being forsaken by his god. He gets the chance to take his anger out on the real god of pro wrestling. Apologies to Kenny Omega and super not apologies to JBL and Moose, but that’s exactly what Bryan Danielson is. It kills me that he’s going to lose, but there is no one better to hand him an L. Bryan wins while Miro continues to look for his redemption.
CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston
I was watching Rampage with a native New Yorker and told them that they might like Eddie because of how, you know, New York he is. When Eddie steamed down to the ring, they barely looked up from their phone to say "Ehh, I don’t like him." But then he started to talk and everything changed. Eddie connects like no other. One promo is all he needs. One video package is all he needs. No one in pro wrestling makes you feel their words like he does. We can feel his passion and his desperation -- the type of desperation that can drive people to do incredible things.
Eddie significantly outclasses most everyone on the microphone, so it's just wonderful to see him paired up with someone on his level. Punk was gone for such a long time and his return has been mostly happy -- so much so that I forgot what an engaged and on-edge Punk sounds like. It was never his ring work that made him the star he was and now once again seems to be. Rather, it was the character and mic work that took him to the stratosphere. Leave it to Eddie Kingston to let this version of Punk begin to show himself. Make no mistake that Punk is the heel here. Calling someone a bum to their face in an arena full of people is extremely good heeling, pal.
Beating Punk here wouldn’t just be Eddie’s signature moment in AEW, but arguably the most significant moment of his entire career. Eddie has made it clear that he doesn’t care if he wins or loses. He’s only concerned with hurting Punk. This normally would reek of a Punk roll-up win followed by a post-match beatdown or something like that, but the timing of the incredible Player’s Tribune article from earlier this week (if you haven’t read it please do and if you have read it, read it again) makes me wonder if it's time to put the rocket on the King’s back?
The upset special: Eddie goes over.
Christian Cage and Jurassic Express (Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus) (w/ Marko Stunt) vs. SuperKliq (Adam Cole and The Young Bucks) in a falls count anywhere match
Is this the match where Luchasaurus finally, finally proves he’s more than just a guy in a dinosaur mask that doesn’t hit his cues? Dear readers, I assure you, it is not. If it’s not there now, it certainly never will be. I fully acknowledge the gimmick is not for me and the gimmick is really all he is. He’s hidden behind Jungle Boy and kept largely to "hot" tags, but the constant overexposure is confusing. He is significantly outclassed by the other five participants in this match and there is no hiding a talent gap like that on a PPV. The rest of them will be wrestling a PWG main event while he counts to three before completely whiffing on a spin kick.
Look, this is going to be fun and probably good but Cole has been in AEW for three months and has only really engaged with Jurassic Express. This is rapidly approaching Kofi Kingston/Dolph Ziggler levels of repetition here. Understanding that not everyone can do everything and that there is only so much room at the top of the card, this is still a story that has significantly overstayed its welcome. I’m done with it, you are done with it, we are all done with it. The SuperKliq wins. Can we please move on?
Cody and PAC vs. Andrade El Idolo and Malakai Black
Silly me thinking I could make it through an AEW preview without writing about yet another Cody match. I had this largely done and ready to file when I saw that, yes, this had been announced for Full Gear.
In a way, I am conflicted. On one hand, I’m never going to get really upset at something that gets PAC, Andrade and Malakai on the card. On the other hand, Cody. But, hey, whatever. Life remains a slow march into the sea, nothing matters, etc., etc., etc.
This would be one heck of a main event segment on Dynamite, but is clearly forced into this card. Hopefully, Andrade and Black get the win so Malakai can move past Cody, but the more likely case is Cody and PAC taking this to even the Cody and Black score at 2-2 so they can blow it off in a tiebreaker. Cool. Yay.
Darby Allin (w/ Sting) vs. MJF (w/ Wardlow)
These are two of the supposed four pillars of AEW. (Big LOLs by including Sammy Guevara in that group and the biggest possible LOLs to anyone who bought that egregiously bad t-shirt.) This match has had a simple, by the book build -- something we all can appreciate. Not everything needs to be complex and layered. Easy stories can be good and this is as easy as it gets: rich, cocky guy from New York who doesn’t get along with a melancholic SK8R BOI from the Pacific Northwest. Not everything needs to be a reflection on confidence, self worth, and identity. Sometimes it can just be “I don’t like you."
I used a lot of my internet pixels on the first two matches in the column, so this one stays short. Allin is a rare type of wrestler in that he’s never really hurt by his losses. The crowd still loves him and they kind of add to his character, in a way. That, combined with the fact that MJF would be a perfect foil for (spoiler alert) one of Page’s first title defenses, means he gets the win on Saturday and moves toward that.
The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, TNT Champion Sammy Guevara, Santana & Ortiz) vs. Men of the Year (Scorpio Sky & Ethan Page) and American Top Team (Junior dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, Dan Lambert)
As an unbiased, national wrestling writer who is in no way on the AEW payroll, I must speak the truth. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues and I must unburden myself, and burden you, my wonderful and beautiful readers, with my truth. The truth that The Inner Circle has long since served its purpose and is past its expiration date. I know that everyone in AEW needs to be in a faction, or associated with a group or whatever, but this particular one can’t end soon enough.
When AEW first started, this group was necessary. They existed to be the foil for any babyface on the roster and now, what are they doing? I’s either at best, doing nothing for the individual (Hager, Jericho) or, in the case of Santana & Ortiz, actively hampering them. They don’t get enough of a chance to shine which is a real shame. They are so much more than the requisite tag team in a mid-card faction.
Your mileage may vary on Lambert, but it would be an outright lie to say the man can’t work a microphone. I didn’t know who he was when he first spoke on AEW, but I immediately hated (and kind of loved) him. But wow, is this just not it. I don’t really understand the weird obsession wrestling seems to have with current and former MMA guys. What is the cross-section of the audience that both loves Jericho and Dos Santos? That is a genuine question and not sarcasm veiled in a rhetorical one. I truly don’t know and don’t get it. I love wrestling and have almost no interest in MMA so I just don’t understand why these guys get long TV segments every week, especially at the expense of *checks notes* literally anyone else.
This is the "Paul Wight Memorial catch up on your Twitter timeline special" match of the evening. Inner Circle wins.
AEW Tag Team Champions The Lucha Bros vs. FTR title match
When I say I can’t wait for this, my pals, I am excited. This is a level of excitement that is usually reserved for when I see the late night food arrive at a wedding reception. FTR calls themselves the greatest tag team of all time. I’m not going to argue the validity of that statement because doing so is nothing but shouting into the void. What I will use this space to do is to submit the following hot take to the academy: the Lucha Bros are the best big match tag team in the world. When the stakes are the highest, they show up. Of course they’ve been aided by having some incredible dance partners, but Fenix and Penta constantly put on historically memorable performances on the biggest stages.
Their affinity for the bright lights pairs them perfectly with FTR, a tag team that made their name wrestling in some of the best tag team matches in NXT history. Their no frills, grounded offense is the ideal complement to the Lucha Bros flying around the ring. No one is better at building heat for big spots like FTR and no one is better at delivering in those big spots than the Lucha Bros. Two great tastes that go great together. We really do love to see it.
FTR has all of the heat in this match and the Bros just won the belts. There’s no way they lose them Saturday.
AEW Women's Champion Dr. Britt Baker, DMD vs. Tay Conti title match
A good thing: your champion is a bonafide star. A slightly less good thing: your champion is such a star that she dwarfs everyone else in her division. A significantly less good thing: your company hasn’t dedicated enough time to building up credible challengers. The simplest solution is to make more stars. And if it were me, I would simply put women on TV more and build those stars :). The top five "ranked" women in AEW are:
- Tay Conti: We’ll get to her
- Jade Cargill: Not quite there yet
- Thunder Rosa: Coming off of injury
- Nyla Rose: We know who and what she is and we’ve done this already
- Kris Statlander: Hasn’t had a non-Dark singles match since May
That is, in order, the no. 1 contender, someone who is not ready in the ring, someone coming off an injury, someone who isn’t quite good enough, and someone who hasn’t wrestled a non-Dark singles match since May. So, yeah. This is not a reflection of the talent on the roster, but a reflection of AEW not providing enough screen time to create a challenger with enough gravitas to take down the dentist. Lord knows that there has to be a 15-minute Inner Circle segment every week instead of building towards that, so I get it (I super don’t get it).
That aside, Conti is the complete package. She’s someone AEW should be throwing their full weight behind. She’s going to have this title one day. But that day is not coming this Saturday. It is emphatically NOT coming this Saturday because Baker is still doing it whenever she gets screen time. With a little more time and a little better build, Tay could do the damn thing. Oh well, maybe next time. Once again, Baker retains.
AEW World Champion Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Page title match
"You better hold on tight to it. You got ten days."
With eleven words, Adam Page showed he’s ready for this. Talent-wise, he’s been ready. But character wise? That had been an entirely different story. Recapping his character arc since AEW’s inception has already been done elsewhere and been done far better than I ever could so I’m not going to do that here.
Hangman returned emboldened and complete with the most powerful strength there is: dad strength. This is a different Adam Page. One that is focused, and, more importantly, one that finally, finally believes in himself and believes he is worthy of top billing. He believes he is worthy of being champion. The confidence is oozing out of him. At no other point in his AEW career could he have pulled off the ten days line. He is fully actualized and fully realized.
Kenny is the only person he can take the title from. Not just based on their unique and intertwined history, but because he’s such a slime puppy. It’s a testament to his character work that someone who people usually are dying to cheer for are completely turned off. There will be no split crowd. There will be no "both these guys" chant. Kenny Omega has created the perfect foil for the returning hero to conquer. He has created the perfect environment to make Page’s ascension to the top as impactful as it can be.
One of the clips making the rounds on the world wide web this week is Bully Ray saying Hangman needs more heat on him before he gets strapped up. Miss me with that garbage. The egregiousness of that take can not be overstated. Should Daniel Bryan’s coronation not have come at WrestleMania because there was a chance it could be 3% bigger? Please, bro. The crowd comes unglued as soon as Hangman’s music hits and the only thing they want more than him winning the title is for Bully Ray’s antiquated takes to go away.
The title of this column gave it away, but here it is. For the annals of Wrestling Observer dot com history: Hangman Adam Page leaves Minneapolis as AEW World champion.