If there’s a wrestling show on Wednesday night, then it’s only right that your favorite baby boy previews their big shows.
Hello friends and welcome to my first dance for AEW and their first show that is more than just a super indie show, and the first show where they have had to show their work and build primarily through TV instead of YouTube, social media, and the occasional press conference. Here is where it starts to get hard.
It’s one thing to have YouTube shows that build to a one off pay-per-view. It’s another thing to tell weekly stories that lead to a logical conclusion. One thing that’s worth saying here, and is something that I’ll repeat later, is that everything should be given time. This is the first major show after a month of TV. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be awful. There is a ton of grey area here, and it’s important to remember that.
AEW embraces that gray and doesn’t take itself too seriously. By doing that, they have created something that is easy to access. The overwhelming reaction from the non-wrestling fans I’ve convinced to watch Dynamite has been positive and sometimes, fun can be enough. WWE’s favorite thing is to remind their audience just how stupid they think pro wrestling is. By taking everything too seriously and constantly shouting at their audience, they have taken the fun and pageantry out of wrestling.
This isn’t a combat sport; it’s people doing performance art in their underwear. Something fun like Luchasaurus could never exist in WWE as any time he was on screen, the announcers and other wrestlers would be reminding us how stupid and silly a luchadore dinosaur is. Like an undead funeral home worker is so based in reality.
AEW has no middle ground. It’s almost unthinkable to have a mild take on it. You can’t criticize it without being a hater, and you can’t praise it without being a fanboy. Here’s the thing (and the thing is not new): you can critique something while still liking it. The company has had a month full of shows and, objectively, the good has far outweighed the bad. There are some things that haven’t worked out and the success of the company will hinge on their ability to pull the plug on those things.
They should embrace the growing pains. Failing, and failing often, is the quickest way to succeed. I just really hope they get their merch in order. Holy moly, almost all of the shirts are unimaginably bad. With the exception of the very okay Darby Allin coffin drop shirt, the rest of them look like something you’d see in a targeted Facebook ad. If you are trying to decide whether or not to buy the new Cody ‘shirt’, I’d encourage you to evaluate your most recent life decisions, and perhaps consider this instead.
So yeah, that was a whole bunch of words about AEW as a whole. I’m allowed to do that because it’s my column and I like to throw my thoughts at something new before I break it down match by match. None of the matches on this card are bad, they are all levels of good, and I’m excited to see what happens on Saturday. I don't have TakeOver levels of excitement, but still, I'm excited. So like we always do at this time, let’s run through the card for Full Gear.
Pre-Show: Bea Priestley vs. Britt Baker
The three minute pre-taped promo Baker had during AEW Dark was very well done. It made me care more about her character than anything else she’s ever done. She’s angry at Bea, thinks she hurts people, and is coming for her. Simple, easy, awesome. Wrestling isn’t all that complicated. If the audience believe in the performers and the emotion resonates, that’s more than half the battle. No one wants to hear whether or not someone’s breath smells, or if they can’t sexually satisfy their partner, or any other juvenile scenarios. People understand the premise of "when you did this to me, I got mad and it’s payback time". Everyone has wanted to give someone their comeuppance, so it’s easy to imagine ourselves in Britt’s role.
That promo might have been good, but Baker just not there yet in the ring. This isn’t an Adam Page situation where he's close, but a situation where she is nowhere near ready. She has the look and the presence, but still needs loads of seasoning between the ropes and on the mic. And honestly, how can anyone expect anything else? She’s only been wrestling for a few years and has balanced it with school and dentistry. Not everything happens right away, so give it time. Give this whole thing time.
The unfailable wrestling internet tells me that Priestley might be...the worst? I truly don’t know enough to form an opinion, but she’s certainly being positioned as unlikable here. It makes sense for Britt to get her revenge in a quick, hard hitting match.
Joey Janela vs. Shawn Spears (w/Tully Blanchard)
I take it as a personal affront that this match was added after I submitted my column. No regard for professional journalists' time SMH. If this feels tacked on, that’s because this was. It should work though. Spears is perfectly fine as a mid-card heel (sorry, Cody) and having Blanchard makes him seem just a bit more important than without him. People seem to think that if someone isn’t at the top of the card. they don’t matter, which is completely silly. Mid-card championships exist for a reason, and Spears would do well holding such a title if AEW goes in that direction. Plus, belts are cool.
In a way, I'm glad this match got added because it presents the opportunity to discuss Janela. There was no one hotter on the North American indies in the year or so leading up to the foundation of AEW. His Spring Break shows have been incredible and are everything pro wrestling should be. The worry is overexposure. Will Janela, on a weekly basis, still have the allure he did on the indies? It’s the big fish, small pond conundrum. It’s one thing to run your own GCW show, it’s another thing to be across the ring from Pac, Mox, Omega, Cody, etc. week after week. It’s great that he’s shared the ring with those guys and kept up, and looked great in the process. I’m excited to see him push his character to a broader audience and see where he goes from here.
This match belongs as the main event an episode of Dynamite. It’s a perfect example of a feud that could have existed entirely on TNT/Dark and wouldn’t need a PPV match. But since it’s here and this column is about predictions, Spears really needs to take this one. He could really use a signature to win establish him as someone meaningful.
Young Bucks vs. Santana and Ortiz
It’s so great that Santana and Ortiz are getting this level of shine on such a large platform. Being at the top of Impact for a spell is one thing, but being in a feud with the Young Bucks on a nationally televised wrestling program is something else entirely. They have been excellent for years, are always improving, and never mail it in. Both of these guys are great, but Santana is coming off like an absolute star. The parallel here is Montez Ford from the Street Profits. Both teams have something special, but it’s very clear who the real star of the team is.
This is yet another feud involving the Bucks and who the best team in the world is. Totally fine, I get it. But if wins and losses matter in AEW, isn’t the best team in the world the ones that just won their tag team tournament? The tournament that had ‘the best tag teams in the world in it? The same tournament that saw the Bucks losing in the first round? This might be splitting hairs here, but it sort of makes the tournament feel less important. I kind of hope this never stops and every time the Bucks wrestle, it’s for the completely fabricated title of best team in the world.
This match actually has had some sort of a build, and has clearly positioned faces and heels. As much as I’d love to cheer the shit out of Ortiz and Santana, that just isn’t going to happen. Considering the Bucks are obsessed with losing to put newer teams over, look for them to take the pinfall here with The Inner Circle getting involved.
Pac vs. "Hangman" Adam Page
I don’t quite understand why they’re running this one back so soon. Was there really an outcry for another one? Is there really enough heat here? Asking your audience to remember a months old match that was pretty good is a fairly big ask, even for a rabid fanbase like this. A fair criticism of AEW is that they don’t give matches enough time to feel big. The names are big, but the builds are lacking. Moxley/Omega runs into the same problem. They haven’t done nearly enough to make the match more than a first time dream match, so they slapped a no DQ stipulation on it. This should feel more like a rivalry than it does. One thing that might help with that is announcing matches more than two weeks out and letting the beat build more organically.
Here is a question only for people who don’t have prowrestling tees dot com as their home page: What is your favorite Adam Page match? I watch too much wrestling and am entirely too online, but I can’t name one of his matches that really blew me away. His match with Jericho was fine, and his match with Pac was also fine. He’s just fine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t another gear for him to hit or a level for him to reach, but the current state of Hangman Page isn’t at the same level as Neville Pac. That’s kind of a shame, because Page is a delightful weirdo on Twitter.
I guess saying Hangman isn’t at Pac's level isn’t really fair. Pac is just in a whole different stratosphere as a performer right now. Everything works: the character, the look, the fractured speaking pattern, the moves, everything. He is a consistently great performer who makes everyone he works with look like a world champion, Pac is the wrestler AEW should be strapping the proverbial rocket to, not the horse guy. I can see a world where Hangman gets his win back so they can build towards a rubber match with some sort of stipulation, but I just don’t think Pac should be losing much, if ever. Pac wins and makes a run at the big boy belt in the near future.
Dean Ambrose vs. Kenny Omega unsanctioned match
Omega continues to be very much on his bullsh*t. My man busted out an Undertale costume on a nationally televised wrestling show and really does not care what you think about it. He still really has yet to bring out the full ‘best bout machine’ experience in AEW, but his matches with Janela (a sentence that is wild to write) have been closest. He also seems to have taken the poses and outrageous anime poses to new lengths. Do you, Omega man, do you.
While Kenny’s performances and motivations have been questionable in 2019, the opposite is true for Moxley. Mox is free and feeling himself, and do we love to see it. We have all had jobs that suck out our souls, jobs where we have to give ourselves a pep talk in the parking lot every morning just so we can walk through the door. Most of the jobs don’t come with a seven figure salary though, and that money can be tough to walk away from. Shoutout to Jonboy for doing it his way, for leaving on his own terms and rekindling the passion that was stifled for so many years. Imagine listening to this guy talk for more than 30 seconds and thinking the best use of him was as a prop comedian.
These frequent lights out matches are weird. They seem like a way to work around the whole wins and losses mattering thing, which no one asked for in the first place. If your wrestling company is a month old and you already are trying to book your way out of some weird self-imposed standings system, you might want to reassess some things. I will say as someone who lives his life by the mantra ‘nothing matters’, seeing a company just say "Hey, here’s a match but it doesn’t count or matter" is right in my wheelhouse.
This match is built on the sheer star power of both guys, wwo transcendent performers who have sold this match on their presence alone. All signs point to Mox winning and Kenny continuing his search for inspiration in AEW.
AEW Women's Champion Riho vs. Emi Sakura
For someone so young, it is frightening just how much Riho gets being a pro wrestler. When I was 22, my main concern was if I had enough money to go to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet and five-dollar movie night on the same day. You forget just how small she is, because her connection with the crowd is just so large. Being the first ever AEW women’s champ placed a pretty big spotlight on her, and she hasn’t shrunk from it. She is clearly a star and was a great choice as the inaugural champ.
Sakura trained Riho at one point, and that’s enough of a hook right there. My first exposure to her was at the AEW show in Boston and she was enjoyable as hell. The Freddy Mercury/frontwoman gimmick has no business working but it sure does. Plus her tiger driver rules, and I will always pop for a good tiger driver.
This is way too early to take the belt off Riho, partially because she’s had it for like a month, and partially because she is such a good opponent for so many of the women in the company. This should be a fun match with the champion retaining.
AEW World Tag Team Champions SCU vs. The Lucha Bros vs. Private Party
This column was just about done before Wednesday night when this match was announced. I’m never going to complain about a match that should be tons of fun, but, like the matches previewed before this, it’s another example of something with no build. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a popcorn match that looks as good as this does.
What it has going for it is the recent history of the teams involved. SCU beat Lucha Bros in the tag team tournament in a fine match that deserves a runback. AEW, if nothing else, has proven that they know how to make tag team wrestling work, and a sprint with these six guys will be well put together and well worth our time.
Since I don’t have a ton to say, I’ll talk about Rey Fenix for a second. Fenix is, in my mind, one of the five best wrestlers in the world. An invested Fenix is something spectacular, and is firmly in the unnecessary but fun ‘best in the world’. He’s been the clear MVP of every match he’s been a part of in this company, and is someone they should be building around. With the depth of the tag division, seeing both Fenix and Pentagon wrestle more singles matches would really help round out that side of things.
It would actually be hilarious if SCU dropped the belts after having them for like 10 days. Since I doubt that happens, SCU retains over in a match that should open the show with a bang.
AEW World Champion Chris Jericho vs. Cody
It’s easy to say that Chris Jericho is doing the best work of his career because everything he does is incredible. His constant reinvention is exhaustively documented elsewhere and isn’t something I’ll get into here, but just when you think we’ve seen peak Jericho, he goes and does it to us one more time. His claim to being the best of all time grows with each promo, and with each stroke of eyeliner. I know people are already trying to ‘cancel’ Jericho for his most recent podcast guest, but if we had to cancel every conservative leaning wrestler, then there would not be much wrestling left. It’s an unfortunate truth of our time, which is also the worst time in human history.
Cody isn’t the best of all time, or even in the discussion, but he certainly deserves a ton of credit for making you care about his matches and for telling a great story in the ring. The man knows his ethos and pathos and can tap into the emotions needed to tell the best story. A frequent complaint is about the lack of storytelling in American wrestling, but Cody really wants you to care. He really, really wants it. He really, really wants you to care about a match when you really, really don’t. The best example of this is him getting people to even remotely care about a Shawn Spears match. Cody’s matches mean something in a time where most matches don’t. Oh, and his promo on Wednesday ruled. What a talker.
The build to this has been fine. It’s not anything we haven’t seen before, and it doesn’t have to be. The stipulation they added Wednesday night certainly added some stakes, and I like how they are openly addressing the management being wrestlers. I genuinely like Cody but I’ll never forgive him for the introduction of the Cody listening gif that shows up in every reply to any somewhat newsworthy wrestling tweet...ever. Jericho leaves Baltimore strapped up, remaining Le Champion heading into 2020.
Mike DellaCamera’s favorite day of the week is now Wednesday and he loves leftovers. Find him on Twitter.