Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and doesn't reflect the views of our website.
Momentum is a funny thing.
When it’s on your side, it feels like it has always been there, buoying your sails and propelling you forward. When momentum is lost, it’s deflating. And it’s so hard to get back.
AEW is losing, and has possibly lost, its momentum. Momentum was aided by the sorry state of WWE under Vince McMahon -- one that had people yearning for an alternative. Wrestling fans were begging for something new and fresh, focused on wrestling and coherent stories and not the 77th consecutive Constable Corbin segment.
That’s what AEW offered.
After a charmed first couple of years, the Tony Khan-led company is going through its first real non-Covid moments of challenge. If something was going wrong, or was out of sorts in AEW, you could always rely on the McMahon version of WWE to do something disgusting and take over the news cycle. Those days are, mercifully, gone. Now the Death Star in Stamford is firing on all cylinders, putting on great shows, getting rid of the outdated tropes, and most importantly, actually giving the people what they want.
WWE is a juggernaut with an unmatched reach. They have the resources to do anything they want. Now their resources are all being invested in the right things. AEW used to be an alternative, but now they are at risk of becoming an afterthought.
The sky might not be falling, but the ceiling is certainly sagging. Viewership isn’t as strong as it once was. Live attendance is significantly down. They were in Boston last week and didn’t come close to selling out the building where it used to be a no doubt sellout and a tough ticket to get. Now you can walk to the box office, buy a ticket, and sit wherever you want. It’s not just Boston either as live event ticket sales are consistently down in all markets (check out Dave’s newsletter for some interesting data points. It’s all in there and a very good read!).
All this doom and gloom aside, the pay-per-views always deliver. This one should be no different. There’s really only one bummer of a match and the rest range from solid to excellent.
Let’s run through the full card for Full Gear.
Saraya vs. Britt Baker
To have your dream and your livelihood taken away at age 25 is unimaginable. When most people are trying to figure out if they can afford to live on their own, Saraya had her entire existence shattered. It’s crazy to think that someone is making a comeback so soon after turning 30, but she’s out here doing it. The quality of what happens in the ring is inconsequential. A woman gets the chance to do what she never thought she’d do again and something she loves more than anything. What’s better than that?
This didn't fully hook me until the Dynamite where Saraya announced she was cleared. There were some issues with the promo (mainly running down the entire women's division for no reason), but it was her best presentation on the mic. It was the first time she felt like the star she was, and can still be. The flip switched when she got introspective. It’s easy to forget that Saraya has been around forever and has lived one hell of a life. Touching on her lifetime of wrestling, her public shame, and struggles with addiction added a much-needed human element to this program.
Before, it was two women beefing over who the house belongs to. Now, it's a full fledged redemption story the audience can fully invest in.
Jeff Jarrett & Jay Lethal vs. Sting & Darby Allin
The arrival of good ol' Double-J is illustrative of one of the many complaints about AEW: an overreliance on surprises for a one-time pop. If JJ showed up, kabonged someone with a guitar, and then faded away, that would be one thing. But for him to show up and immediately get a PPV match is something entirely different. Hopefully, this is just a one-time thing and not the start of a long on-screen role. Although, to be fair, he’s much, much, more interesting than his tag team partner.
The decision to feature Lethal week after week is certainly a curious one and this tweet from Ringer writer Cameron Hawkins says it better than I ever could. There are countless members of the AEW roster that would be better served in this spot. Just go into catering and pick one at random. I promise it will be more compelling. It would certainly be more fresh. The obsession with an exceedingly average performer whose best work is an admittedly incredible Ric Flair impression is fascinating.
This match means nothing, this is going nowhere, and I’m being told we’re out of time for this segment!
Prediction: Darby and Sting, begrudgingly
ROH Champion Chris Jericho defends against Sammy Guevara, Bryan Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli
There’s a strong argument that no one has been more vital to AEW’s success than Chris Jericho. He’s had a legendary career and is a wonderfully creative mind. He immediately gave a new company legitimacy. All praise is warranted, all honor The Ocho, etc. My question is this: why do all his feuds go on for so long?
Anarchy in the Arena was back in May, and Blood and Guts was in June. Those are two matches that blow off feuds, not extend them. Why is he still embroiled with the Blackpool Combat Club? How much blood can possibly be left in this stone?
This is a trend with Jericho. His feud with MJF lasted for almost a full year. The Inner Circle breakup took ages. If the programs were 20-25% shorter, they would be so much more effective. Some of this has to do with the pay-per-view cadence being what it is. Yes, a blow off means more on the biggest stage, but not every feud needs a big blow off. Sometimes they can just end.
Even though the ROH title feels like an afterthought, this match will be good because of the amount of wrestling talent involved. I can’t help but wonder if the seeds of a BCC shakeup are being planted. Danielson was so much more compelling when he was the lone dragon, stretching and chopping guys into oblivion. Since he joined up with Bill Regal’s gang, some of the edge is gone. I wonder if he will start to get it back on Saturday.
Prediction: It seems like Jericho is going to run through a list of former ROH champions. He needs the belt to do that. He keeps it, somehow.
"Jungle Boy" Jack Perry vs. Luchasaurus cage match
Again, this is a program that’s going on for far too long. There might be a theme here! Jungle Jack has been embroiled in another never ending feud with Christian Cage and his sometimes, part-time dinosaur lover. This has been going on since early June! Christian getting hurt threw a wrench into things, but the year is almost over but here we are, once again on an AEW hamster wheel.
It is one thing to see stories through to their conclusion, but it's another to do that in the face of changing circumstances. What harm would there have been to revisit this when Christian is healed and ready to go? Surely he could just show up after a match and waffle young Jack with a chair to kick things off again. Surely? Surely! Yet here we are once again, slow marching into the sea of meaninglessness.
This program, somehow, still has a ways to go before it reaches its conclusion. It can’t fully end until Christian is healthy. If it’s going to keep going, Jungle Boy has to get the win. As much as I want this to end, there are still miles to go before it sleeps.
Prediction: Jungle Boy
TNT Champion Wardlow defends against Samoa Joe and Powerhouse Hobbs
Wardlow was the hottest thing going for quite awhile. Even before the Powerbomb Symphony™, the crowd was clamoring for him to give MJF what was coming to him. When it finally happened, the electricity in the building was enough to light the farthest reaches of the galaxy. One of the hardest things to do in wrestling is book a compelling monster. True domination is only fun for so long.
There’s a reason people don’t love Superman like they do Batman. It’s not as fun to root for someone with no weaknesses. When someone is so dominant, they lose their humanity and become a special attraction. Sooner or later, the special part of the attraction loses its luster. Wardlow is still full of scary potential, but he needs something to sink his teeth into.
At first glance, the inclusion of Samoa Joe in this program was confusing. Weren’t Powerhouse Hobbs and Wardlow enough? Then I realized that Joe is the glue that’s going to hold this thing together. Who better than Joseph from Samoa to guide these two talented but inexperienced dudes to a PPV quality match? Triple threats are tough to hold together no matter who is wrestling in them. Joe is here to make that just a little easier.
That doesn’t mean he’s winning it though. There is still too much meat on the Wardlow bone for him to drop the belt here.
Prediction: Wardlow retains
AEW Tag Team Champions The Acclaimed defend against Swerve in our Glory
Everyone really does love The Acclaimed. They feed off the crowd and get more confident every week. In the ring, Bowens and Caster aren’t ever going to be mistaken for The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, The Hart Foundation or whoever your favorite tag team is. But their connection with the crowd is something special. They just keep getting better. This kind of organic growth doesn’t happen every day and is reflective of the work that both of them put in towards growing themselves. They are a real, homegrown success story for AEW. These are their flowers and are so richly deserved.
This looks like the well-telegraphed break up of Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee is coming to a head. It shouldn’t be surprising that two of the more talented wrestlers in AEW did so well as a team, but it still is. The whole thing felt thrown together but they really made it work. They took a pairing that just felt like 'something to do’ and made it great. They had world-class tag matches up and down the roster. Now it’s time for it to end. There’s a lot of mileage in a singles program with these two. A program that could, and should, propel one (both?) of them into the main event scene.
There’s a void at the top that needs to be filled, and I’m hard pressed to think of any better than Swerve to fill it.
Prediction: The Acclaimed retain
TBS Champion Jade Cargill defends against Nyla Rose
Few things in wrestling are as good as a belt stealing story. There’s something about the challenger scooping the champion's belt and declaring themselves the uncrowned champion that does it for me. Sometimes they throw a Smoking Skull belt into a river and make a legendary moment, and sometimes they get a PPV graphic that says TBS Champion in quotes. I don’t know which one is better, honestly. Rose is one of the funnier members of the AEW roster and giving her a chance to play a humorous antagonist like this hits all of her strengths.
Every four months, we run into the same challenge with Cargill as there doesn’t feel like there’s a credible challenger to her title. She has so much talent, so much physical presence and so much charisma that AEW is kind of booked into a corner. It’s very similar to the situation with Wardlow. Rose is fun, but is a stopgap until something else comes along. I’m not sure what that something is, or if it's even on the roster.
The best bet would be someone like Willow Nightingale, but that would take months of build to get there. It’s just still not time for a new, real, champion.
Prediction: Jade retains
AEW Trios Champions Death Triangle defend against The Elite
The boys are back and are absolutely buzzing. Everyone knows the recent history with The Elite. I don’t have the pixel space or patience to relitigate the last three months, but the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega coming back is massive for the AEW. I said earlier that they can’t keep relying on debuts and surprise returns to generate buzz, but I’m going to contradict myself a bit here. The buzz around this return can go a long way toward getting some of that elusive momentum back.
Regardless of what actually happened after All Out, The Elite are returning as heroes. They are returning as guys who fought for the company they started. Ride that wave of positivity and make something good out of it.
Death Triangle is great and has had incredible matches as champions. All three of them are world class, top of the card level talents. I just can’t see a way that The Elite come back and don’t regain the titles that were created for them. Everyone in this match is going to have their working boots on and there’s a chance we see a trios tag match that’s as good as any in history.
Prediction: The Elite win the titles
AEW interim Women's Champion Toni Storm defends against Jamie Hayter
Put the title on Jamie Hayter. Next to The Acclaimed, no one has gotten themselves over more than she has in 2022. She did it both by being herself and by murdering anyone she is in the ring with. Her time in Stardom really shows in her in-ring style. She works fast and she works hard as hell. She is a star.
It’s going to be great seeing Hayter in the ring with someone who can fully keep up with her. Storm is considered an ex-WWE superstar, but she also cut her teeth in Stardom and well-versed in that style. The start of her run was a bit choppy. It was clear she was trying to see how much she could open up her engine and go full tilt. Good news: she can take the governor off the engine and just go nuts.
Hayter can do more than keep up with her -- she can push her to her best match in AEW. That, combined with their extended history, has me as fired up as I’ve been for an AEW Women’s title match in a long time.
Putting the belt on Hayter creates a whole bunch of really fun possibilities and none more so than a program with Britt Baker. Britt is going to need something to do after the Saraya program ends. What better than her seething with jealousy over the title win of her "best friend"?
Prediction: Jamie Hayter does the deal
AEW World Champion Jon Moxley defends against MJF
Too often, AEW plays the role of the cooler. Wardlow was plunged into an ice bath right after winning the TNT title. FTR, to a lesser extent, met the same fate as they were scorching hot and then kind of just stopped being on TV. Credit where it is due for AEW pulling the trigger on The Acclaimed.
The same trigger needs to be pulled on MJF.
He and Roman Reigns are the two people in pro wrestling that always demand your attention. That’s a frightening thought about someone not yet 27 years old. All possibilities in all realities are open to him. He makes everything look easy because for him it is. That’s what a prodigy looks like, and that’s what a true generational talent is.
From day one in AEW, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before MJF became champion. Most of his feuds were so compelling that it was easy to forget there weren’t many with traditional stakes attached. Whether intentional or not, largely keeping him away from the World title makes this so much richer. He’s always wanted the title and what wrestler wouldn’t? But now he needs it and needs it desperately. Fortunately enough, him with the title is exactly what AEW needs.
It’s not the if that’s compelling here, it's the how. How do we get to the end? There are a whole bunch of compelling ways this could go. By far the most interesting is the idea of William Regal siding with MJF. The man who broke his WWE dreams helps him get the top spot in AEW at the expense of his once prized pupil.
MJF said there would be no Dynamite Diamond Ring, but he didn’t say anything about brass knuckles. Regal has always been clear about being a villain in the past and still is now. What villain wouldn’t love sidling up alongside the devil?
I can’t wait for Saturday.
Prediction: MJF wins