Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The week we're strictly focusing on Full Gear.
Eddie Kingston vs. Jun Akiyama - Sergei
Eddie Kingston has been asking for this match for months. It is literally the dream of his life to match up with the last surviving, and still actively wrestling, warrior of the King’s Road matches that were his lifeline as a child, in Jun Akiyama.
It did not matter that it was only on the pre-show, it did not matter that there was no TV time to build to it, a brief tongue-tied interview immediately beforehand was all Eddie needed to sell this story. It did not matter that the star-allocators were never going to award it many stars. The visceral emotion that bled through in every moment made this the match of the night for me. The deep and authentic honour Eddie expressed to his opponent post-match was the icing on the cake.
Jungle Boy vs. Luchasaurus - Joe McCaffrey
This match scored big with me because it connected big with me. It didn’t do that through big moves, of which there were plenty, but through the emotion surrounding the moves and flowing throughout this match as freely as Jack Perry’s blood.
Though the feelings were the key ingredient for me, I’m also a moves mark, so I can’t skip that part. The excitement kicked off with Jungle Boy countering a chokeslam counter into a cage climb, into a springboard missile dropkick. Every time Jungle Boy chained together a sequence of moves like that, the traitorous treacherous Luchasaurus would need just one big move to strike down the hero.
This is evidenced by Luchasaurus’ insanely high 65% strikedown rate (13 strike downs total) in this match, compared to only 5% for Jack Perry (3 strikes downs). That’s why, although at first glance it would seem like Perry dominated this match, with 70% of the total offence, Luchasaurus actually hit more big moves, edging out Perry with a 27-25 lead. Most of those big moves were grapples, as the monster was able to use his size advantage to toss Perry around, often head and face first into the steel cage.
There was also a chokeslam/press slam combo off the top turnbuckle that seemed like it would have broken most humans’ ribs, a chokeslam THROUGH a steel chair that would’ve put most humans on bed rest, a biel that almost put Perry through the cage and under the ring, a back body drop onto the ring apron, a Burning Hammer, and two consecutive tombstone piledrivers that would’ve knocked most people unconscious.
Something that is harder to quantify is the suffering each of these moves caused, such as Luchasaurus rubbing Perry’s wounded and bloody face against the steel. That punishment is what made Perry’s resilience all the more impressive. Jungle Boy cared too much about this match to ever quit. He came at his former best friend with a chair-assisted destroyer, he drove his skull into the mat with an avalanche sliced bread, he summoned the strength to hit the monster with a piledriver, and he summoned the courage to finish him off with a diving elbow drop off the top of the steel cage. That courage, and where he summoned it from, is why this match was so great to me.
From the entrance on, you could see how much this match meant to Jack Perry. Deep breaths and a slow walk down the aisle, fist bumps, and heartfelt thanks to the audience. You could see how much it meant for his mother and sister to be there ringside, supporting him. You could see how much pain it caused them to see him suffer. You could see Jack gesturing up to the sky and take a good guess at who he was blowing a kiss to, and knowing all that, I could feel myself deeply invested in seeing the good guy get his win. When Perry took that dive, and he landed hard, you could feel how concerned his family was for him. When he made Luchasaurus tap out, and avenged the betrayal of his best friend, you could see the tears of pride and relief from his family. When you saw Jack embrace his family after ringside, you could feel the love.
That’s why I loved this match. It was really cool, but it was also cathartic. There are people in my life who are no longer around that I wish I could still make proud, and there are people still here that I would put myself through hell to protect, and this storyline, and this match, have allowed me to access and process those things vicariously. I don’t know Jack Perry personally, but I felt proud of him on Saturday night. That’s not just a testament to these competitors and this match, but to the whole art form of professional wrestling.
Death Triangle vs. The Elite - Trish
It's no secret that AEW has felt stagnant during this PPV cycle. A combination of suspensions, injuries and commitments outside of wrestling have left television jaded and somewhat of a struggle. A dark cloud appeared to hang over the company which no one seemed to know how to make dissipate. On Saturday night, AEW emerged out of that darkness and into the light.
The Elite are not just the founders of AEW, they are also some of their biggest stars. After a year of having their value downplayed or reduced, it was time to provide everyone with a reminder. As the lights brightened and the first strains of Kansas filled the arena, they broke from the shadows of the past few months with a burst of fire. The crowd was electric in response, treating the song the Bucks had used in their backyard promotion (and was later repurposed by Supernatural to tell the story of two brothers and their angel) as their anthem.
It was a burst of energy, a euphoria which was as full of joy as it was cathartic and seemed to visibly affect the three men. They looked like rock stars, leading the crowd to their beat. They also looked visibly healthier, Omega in particular appeared to have found something of a regeneration tank during the time away.
As the music died down and the "welcome back" chants rang out, they once more found themselves looking across the ring to some of their greatest rivals. The Lucha Bros are the Young Bucks' wrestling soulmates; the four putting together incredible encounters every time they've faced off for over half a decade. PAC and Omega operate on a similar style, both are compact and perform in explosive bursts that can change the pace of a match instantly.
Once the fans had vocalised their feelings on recent events and the bell had been rung, all that mattered was the interactions of these six men. What followed was a frenetic bout with incredible lucha libre style tag action, ridiculous bouts of aerial offence mixed in with Japanese strong style action with the addition of a Don Callis soundtrack. It was the best all three members of Death Triangle had looked all year.
There were standoffs that caused standing ovations by themselves, callbacks to matches in both AEW and whilst they were on the independent scene (with the super hurricanrana onto everyone on the outside used by the Jackson's this time around) and a playing of the classics. Terminator dives, locomotion northern lights, snap German's, sling blades- all the recognised offence was there to send the crowd into hysterics. This was a complete tour de force of high octane pro wrestling and helped AEW feel like All "Elite" Wrestling once more.
The finish; which came as a surprise to many, was a reminder that all six of these men are storytellers at heart who aren't afraid to go with the unexpected option. Fenix, who had refused to use the hammer in previous matchups and earlier on in this one, finally gave in when faced by certain end from a One Winged Angel. He didn't celebrate after the pin, looking anguished by his decision whilst stablemates PAC and Penta had no issues in rejoicing.
It left the Elite unfulfilled and baying for revenge whilst also immediately returning to the theme which has been essential to their story this year-as they've realised they have nothing left in AEW except the friendship of each other. They and the crowd they had entranced won't have long to wait to see if they can have more now that the best of 7 series has been confirmed.
The return of the Elite has not just re-energised AEW; it has reinvigorated wrestling on two continents. It wasn't even 12 hours later before news of Omega's return to Japan (this time as the alpha) was causing a run of headlines and a rush of ticket sales for Wrestle Kingdom. If anyone had forgotten what their value is then this weekend is their reality check.
Jade Cargill vs. Nyla Rosa - Sam P
The match and accompanying story between Jade and Nyla is unfortunately almost the perfect representation of where Jade’s reign currently stands. The initial story, the presentation of both characters and the promos worked very well, Jade has a tremendous presence and her charisma is off the charts, and Nyla has a fun, quirky personality that is often highlighted on social media. The mixture of Cargill’s anger and Nyla’s trolling helped bring life to a feud that seemed slightly out of nowhere.
But then, we get to the match, and like several of Jade’s recent matches, there is a distinct lack of sustainable heat needed to entice the audience. Yes, they had a difficult position following an emotionally fraught battle between Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus, as well as the high octane madness of the Trios Title, but the flatness and lack of chemistry did not help. There was also little expectation for Nyla to win, with the title reign having felt on hold since Kris Statlander’s injury. It would have probably been a bigger surprise than Death Triangle retaining if Nyla had won the TBS Championship, which is unfortunate considering the hard work she put in for the story.
While I respect Tony Khan’s preference to stick to plans, like Inoki used to with All Japan, eventually the title reign and undefeated streak can become an albatross around Jade’s neck. If they wish to prolong Jade’s streak to the point when Statlander returns, I’d be tempted to have Cargill drop it in a Triple Threat, making her look slightly vulnerable, then winning it back in time for Statlander’s return. Otherwise, all you’ll get is a series of diminishing returns on her matches.
Castagnoli vs. Guevara vs. Jericho vs. Danielson - Gareth
I've been a big advocate for multi-man matches such as three-ways or four-ways on pay-per-view shows. They're a great way of getting an exciting match, and lots of our favourite wrestlers, on these shows with spots so scarce. And this match is the template for why.
It tapped into those over-arching stories between the four men. The simmering tension (and love for fighting) between Danielson and Castagnoli. The thought of "is Guevara outgrowing his spot as Jericho's protégé?" And of course the more obvious JAS vs BCC aspect also.
The action was brilliant, because obviously it was. We have three geniuses of the art of pro-wrestling, combined with an athletic freak, rising star and heat magnet in Sammy Guevara. And whilst it won't be anyone's match of the year, probably, it was a nice way to blow-off this feud and tease simmering tensions within both factions. And a super fun match to help the flow of the show. More of these, please Tony Khan!
Jericho retaining his ROH World Championship is probably the right decision. There's a lot of juice to squeeze there, still. And I am holding out for Daniel Garcia defeating his leader and bringing ROH back to what it used to be. But we'll see what happens.
Saraya vs. Britt Baker - Dan
This match probably had the biggest potential to fall flat on the night and both Saraya and Britt Baker deserve huge credit for not allowing that to happen. The build had been incredibly wonky with the booking almost snuffing out Saraya’s feel-good return, and there were always going to be questions about Saraya’s in-ring work after such a long period out.
Yes there were moments that didn’t flow brilliantly and yes the match slightly suffered from a large part of the crowd wanting Baker to win. Yet the stats show that Saraya more than held her own between the ropes, out-striking and out-wrestling her dentist-foe, and on top of that they told a very compelling story.
Britt of course targeted Saraya’s neck, leading to some wince-inducing moments, but as the match progressed and it became clear that the former Paige’s neck was okay, the apprehension dissipated and, for me at least, the desire to see Saraya triumph intensified.
And triumph she did, spiking Britt with two of her finishers (we’ll need a name for these please Mr Excalibur) and drinking in a moment that she has deserved for years and years. I worry about where they go now with Saraya, but as she emotionally hugged her brother in the aftermath of her victory, it was very hard to care about anything in the future. This was Saraya’s moment and it was just lovely.
Samoa Joe vs. Powerhouse Hobbs vs. Wardlow - Gareth
Remember everything I wrote about the ROH championship four-way? Scrap it. Kind of? I don't know.
Three beefy boys battering each other is never boring. But at best this was just okay, and I really didn't like the direction of this result. I love Samoa Joe, but he isn't what he was. And Hobbs is on the way up. I really thought this was time for a Hobbs push before Ricky Starks would eventually defeat the Powerhouse to win the TNT Championship, thus completing their trilogy and finally completing this long overdue Starks push.
But in this match why am I talking about a guy who wasn't even involved? Well, that just about sums it up. AEW have really fumbled Wardlow's TNT title run. Hobbs has been fed to an ageing and well out of prime legend. I love Samoa Joe, and I'll give him every chance. But dare I say that this screams "WWE booking"?
On top of all that. Does anyone want to boo Samoa Joe? Or watch him sluggishly play the heel? It's not bad. It's just very "meh". For me personally, at least. One of few down points on an excellent show.
Sting & Darby vs. Lethal & Jarrett - Sam P
You can have all sorts of matches on a card. You can have a technical masterpiece, a hoss battle, a spotfest, all sorts, just like a meal where you can have some meat, carbs, vegetables. This match is the energy drink that gives you a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. Sting and Darby Allin have proven themselves as massively reliable for helping to psych up the crowd, which is why they’re often used for the middle to final third of an AEW PPV.
Darby’s frenzied madness and the nostalgic awesomeness of an icon in Sting make them a perfect collaboration of a team, but their opposition also hold up their side of the match. Lethal has always been a solid to great wrestler while Jarrett is a proven storyteller whose history with Sting makes every interaction meaningful.
Between Jarrett’s terrified realisation that Sting is behind him, Satnam Singh’s perfectly timed free fall catch of Allin off a twenty foot ladder, and Allin’s entertaining hype up ala Sting after being hit with a guitar, the match had the crowd popping for a second wind to take them into the main events. Right card placement, right competitors, right result.
Jamie Hayter vs. Toni Storm - Dan
Christ almighty this was good. No…not good…absolutely terrific.
The AEW women’s division has rightly received criticism over the years, but very little of that is on the heads of the wrestlers themselves, and here Jamie Hayter and Toni Storm showed what they could do in breathtaking fashion.
Playing off the deeply personal story that had been laid out in the build-up, the two started the match cautiously. Both of them knew each other’s game inside out and were anxious to avoid the most dangerous of their respective weapons. Yet when they did cut loose, the animosity and personal history between the two was palpable.
The striking felt visceral and there were also some excellently worked spots between the two, and when Toni Storm hit her patented Hip Attack in the corner it was explosive. In many ways it was a match that absolutely did not need any interference whatsoever, such was the investment created by the in-ring action. Which is what made what came next so impressive.
I audibly groaned as Rebel not Reba came down to the ring, but that was my fault because they used that as the amuse-bouche to the feast that was to come. After Rebel failed (as ever) in her attempts to assist, it looked like we were moving towards a predictable Storm retention. Out of nowhere though (literally…the camera work here was superb) Britt Baker launched her own attack on the interim champion and this time it looked like Hayter was destined for victory.
There then followed a mesmerising exchange of big moves and nearfalls, all of which had me biting like Ace Steel on a Kenny Omega arm. Finally we reached the denouement and it was delivered with inch-perfect precision. Britt tried to take off the turnbuckle-pad, but it looked like she had failed as the in-ring furore bumped her to the floor. I almost didn’t notice that the pad had gone with the DMD, but yes the metal was exposed and it was going to harm somebody.
That person turned out to be Toni Storm as she crashed into the corner, and one huge and brutal ripcord-lariat later, Jamie Hayter was your new interim women’s champion. It was the right decision and the potential story-arcs with Hayter are many and varied going forwards. But more than that this was just a triumph of a match - maybe one of the best in the history of the division - and proves that if you give the women the platform they deserve, they will reward you with brilliance.
The Acclaimed vs. Swerve in Our Glory - Sam B
Unlike most, I went into this match convinced I was about to see the end of The Acclaimed’s fun run at the top of the card, I know they are super popular but felt like it was time for the fun gimmick to hand it back to the big boy workers for the big boy match for all the chockies with FTR. However, the work, particularly of Anthony Bowens, convinced me that The Acclaimed is an act that has long term potential at the top of the division.
Bowens sell job of his shoulder was generally masterful however the moment that everything really hit me was when he finally lifted Swerve up with Caster for their finisher. With the awesome encouragement of his partner (another nice touch) not only did he pull off what could have been an eye rollingly clichéd spot, he took the crowd with him, gritting through his teeth in pain and bringing Newark up for the climax of the match.
Additionally this match convinced me that if things align booking and injury wise, Swerve Strickland is bound for the very top of this company. While the story of this match was his scheming ultimately blew up in his face at the worst possible moment, the believable way he dramatised the situation showed me exactly the character skill and legitimacy that can inhabit the top rung of a promotion. The eyes never lie and the fire in Swerve’s as he stared down Lee cannot be faked by just any wrestler.
It was pointed out to me when I immediately wrote of Shawn Spears that when Steve Austin and Mick Foley joined the WWF from WCW via ECW they were both respected hands but no one expected them to be game changing acts at the very top of the company. While Spears' star never really rose, it reminded me to give every act time. I've now seen enough from Swerve to be convinced that he is the diamond in the rough, the one to succeed where the likes of Andrade & Malakai Black have failed. The Acclaimed may have won this match but it was a match all about Swerve and he owned every second of it.
Jon Moxley vs. MJF - Sam B
A passing of the torch.
For me that kind of hyperbolic phrase sits alongside ‘star making performance’ as phrases wrestling punditry has bastardised so much they’ve lost all meaning. However at Full Gear, in this match, it may actually be applicable.
Through a mixture of cynical New York contrarianism and genuine excitement to see such a historic title change the Newark crowd decided to side with MJF in this match and for their own part both MJF and Moxley decided to lean into what the crowd was throwing out. Mox’s backalley brawling style easily translated to a bullying performance, overpowering MJF at most turns. However what was most impressive to me was that MJF’s minimal frills style managed to so easily switch to a fiery but tough baby face. It should be no real surprise this guy who idolises Roddy Piper so much has a tough Mid-South face in him but it was very pleasing and timely to see given that a vocal portion of the AEW crowd seems intent on giving him a hero's welcome at every step.
When Maxwell finally couldn’t take any more, having fought the good fight as much as he could, the biggest plot point of the night eventuated with William Regal turning on the champ, slipping his brass knuckles to MJF, throwing his lot in with the next generation of the company.
So at the end of it all not only did MJF conquer the man that was the most protected wrestler in the company, the man who has held the AEW Title more times and for longer than anyone else, MJF also took the crowd, Moxley’s manager and bit of the heart and soul of the company along with it. MJF is now the face of AEW, the first fully homegrown star to hold the company’s biggest prize and will now have the chance to form the company into his own image. If there are more performances like this then sign me up!