It’s time once again to forensically analyze guys – and girls – fighting in tight shorts.
Quick reminder, there are three categories: star quality, match quality, build. For each we’ll assign a score out of 10. To get a total score with which to rank the matches.
Star quality is within the company/to the company’s fans. If scores are even, matches’ll be ranked according to personal preference.
We’ll then predict the winner(s) of each contest.
Without further ado.
Gunns vs Acclaimed vs Triple J vs Danhausen & Orange Cassidy, Tag Team Titles
Star quality: 5 – Cassidy’s one of the most popular acts on the show, ditto the Acclaimed, and Danhausen is legit. the biggest shirt seller post-Punk.
But the Gunns are as close to a ‘0’ as you’ll find on this card and even putting personal bias aside, Jarrett & Lethal would not be any fan’s first choice for a title shot.
Match quality: 4 – Given the complete mess that’s ensued whenever AEW has packed a ring with teams lately, it’s hard to have much faith. There’s no ‘great’ team here to pull everything together and given who’s in this, it’s likely they’ll go the comedy route.
The only glint of sunshine is just how ‘over’ the babyfaces are. We’ve all seen before how a hot crowd can make an average match seem very good.
Build: 0 – Unfortunately, negative numbers are not an option here.
An example to speak for the totality: Sonjay Dutt tried to take out Max Caster’s eye (!!!) with a pencil last Friday. They didn’t mention it the rest of the show; it didn’t come up Wednesday. Stuff just happens.
Overall Score: 9
So why did they take the belts off the Acclaimed. Was it just to give them back at a big show? Or to pass them on to somebody else?
Best guess would be the former but the only real surprise would be if the Gunns come out the same way they went in. And can’t shake a nasty feeling that they’re going to belt the team managed by the guy on the creative team.
Look out for Paul Walter Hauser, perhaps to help his Best Friends or even to pull a Swerve Bro! and help out the J’s.
RIP the tag division.
WINNER: the Acclaimed
Jamie Hayter vs Saraya vs Ruby Soho, Women’s Title
Star quality: 4 – The champ’s about as popular as anyone on the roster. The fans certainly enjoy Soho’s music. While Saraya is victim of what might be the worst booking of any new star in AEW history.
Given the reputation of their women’s division, they absolutely couldn’t afford to mess up their new star.
And yet did everything wrong:
- throwing her out there in segments where she wasn’t the focus
- making it seem as if she wasn’t going to wrestle (and not in a good – wink wink, she is really – way)
- allowing Britt to cut total babyface promos which outdid her own
- and putting her in singles when she needs to be protected in tags
Which this absolutely should’ve been.
Britt & Jamie vs Toni & Saraya was the way to go. Yes, it’s been done before. But not with Ruby Soho’s loyalty on the line. That’s the story here. Make her the ref… put her at ringside… however you want to go about it.
Match quality: 4 – Jamie Hayter’s had excellent matches since she became champ. Saraya on the other hand has looked good for about two minutes of a tag, admitting herself that she was ‘blown up’ afterward. Ruby just doesn’t convince.
If this is good, it’ll be because of Hayter. If it’s not, it certainly won’t be because of Hayter.
Build: 3 – There is a story here. Just not a particularly good one. It seemed to be heading in the right direction with a tug-of-war over Soho’s allegiance. Leaving the fans to guess the next move.
But instead of the White Rabbit this became your average Bray Wyatt promo: a lot of vapid nonsense, exemplified by the heels spray-painting undercard wrestlers and Ruby shrieking.
Overall Score: 11
Hikaru Shida should be involved here somewhere. Because that’s where this all started and leaves a gaping hole in the story if not addressed. It feels like this is building to Ruby turning on Jamie. Before Shida returns to confirm that she’s AEW 4… Life (since we’re copying the nWo here).
The question is whether she does this in time to save Hayter’s title or merely prevent a post-match beatdown.
Head says the latter and since I didn’t listen to it re: Death Triangle at the last ppv, I’m going with it here. New champ.
Samoa Joe vs Wardlow, TNT Title
Star quality: 6 – Joe as the King of Television has been a highlight of AEW programming and the TNT title hasn’t felt this important since 2020. But there are babies crawling around who didn’t exist last time Wardlow was ‘hot’.
Match quality: 6 – Don’t want to live in a world where Joe can’t have at least a pretty good match with anybody he faces. And Wardlow’s certainly talented.
Build: 3 – This goes all the way back to Full Gear. So should feel richer than it does. If they’d shown (rather than told) us that Wardlow had shared a really personal tidbit with Joe which the vet had then used against him, this’d be big time.
Overall Score: 15
Once you introduce the death of a relative, the babyface pretty much has to win. So it’s hard to see them not putting the belt on Wardlow here.
Which would be a mistake. It’s part of what got them into this mess in the first place. As an aimless champ he had sporadic, meaningless matches which couldn’t go too long because he’s still inexperienced, and which he couldn’t lose because they don’t like their champions to do so on tv.
An alternative suggestion: Will Hobbs (who’s had nothing to do for months) costs Wardlow the title at MJF’s behest, becoming his new bodyguard in the process. Hobbs gets a title shot either way, while Max has never forgotten what Wardlow did to him last spring, both against CM Punk and in powerbombing him into oblivion. Wardlow then goes on a rampage, building to a big match against Hobbs which he wins before going after Max.
Gives Hobbs a big tv presence, resets Wardlow and provides a logical opponent for MJF. Win/win/win.
The Elite vs the House of Black, Trios Titles
Star quality: 6 – With no division to speak of, the Trios titles seem an afterthought, dragging down the Elite and Omega in particular, who feels way less special than he should.
While AEW only remember the House exist when the power goes out. Goddamnit Malakai!
Match quality: 9 – The match is essentially being sold entirely on this…
Build: 0 – because the build has been eerily similar to that of Full Gear. One team never appears on tv and has come out of nowhere to challenge the champs.
The differences being that, one – this time no-one was suspended so there was no excuse for them not appearing; and two – the challengers aren’t the former and unbeaten champs seeking the titles they were stripped of.
There’s no obvious story here. So one was needed. Yet doesn’t exist.
Overall Score: 15
The fact that the House of Black simply appeared on stage about two weeks before the show as the only suitor tells all you need to know about the trios division. If it were a Middle Ages bride, she’d already be in a nunnery.
It also tells you all you need to know about their chances of victory.
WINNER: the Elite
Chris Jericho vs Ricky Starks, JAS banned from ringside
Star quality: 7 – Jericho’s unquestionably ‘main event’; Starks is on his way up.
Match quality: 7 – Still don’t have a great feel for just how good Starks can be between the ropes: hasn’t had a ton of longer matches. This is certainly a test.
Jericho had good ones with a variety of opponents in the Fall while defending his ROH title, though has had some bores lately.
Build: 3 – The premise behind this match makes a ton of sense. Starks, fed-up with the JAS’ constant interference, manipulated Jericho into agreeing they’d be banned.
The problem is that they didn’t cost him a match with Chris, they caused his partner to lose to Sammy Guevara in a tag. After he’d already beaten Jericho one-on-one.
So what should’ve been a clean story of Ricky being cheated out of victory but emerging the better man when Jericho’s back-up is banned, was muddied as they sought a reason to drag out a feud already showing signs of mold.
And we’ve already seen the match.
Overall Score: 17
There should only be one winner here.
WINNER: Ricky Starks
Christian Cage vs Jungle Boy Jack Perry
Star quality: 6 – Perry’s tv presence waxes and wanes. He’s not yet a strong enough character or promo to overcome this and should be wrestling more often.
Cage certainly knows how to draw boos in the arena. Don’t know that it translates to general fan interest, despite the internal hype surrounding his signing two years ago (remember that?).
Match quality: 8 – Between Jungle Boy’s athleticism and Christian’s skill this could be the best match on the show.
Build: 3 – I’m a sucker for creativity. Take MJF’s promo to Danielson’s kids. He took a real-life situation but twisted it around until it fit his character, revealing his own inner sadness, inner weakness and making both guys feel more human.
Christian essentially said ‘Haha your dad’s dead’ a bunch of times.
They might not deliver the lines as well as Cage, but literally anybody could’ve come up with that. It’s bland.
Then there’s Perry.
He should’ve been ready to destroy Christian the moment he saw him. If what Cage’d already done last year wasn’t enough to hit him with a chair, it makes no sense that one more week would convince Perry of the need to literally bury the guy.
It’s like they jumped straight to the end of the movie without us seeing the hour in between.
And another case of there being a good (if tactless) story there but AEW being unable to tell it.
Overall Score: 17
The possibility of Luchasaurus returning to aid Christian and continue the neverending spiral has to be considered. But if AEW are serious about Perry – and they largely seem to be – he needs to win here then move on to pursuing a singles title as promised.
WINNER: Jungle Boy Jack Perry
Bryan Danielson vs MJF, Iron-man Match, AEW Title
Star quality: 9 – Inarguably two of the biggest stars in the company.
Match quality: 7 – It’s a damn shame this is an iron-man match. That might be blasphemous to some fans, but they lack drama. There’s a reason the last five minutes of an NBA game are so much more exciting than the preceding forty-three. Because that’s usually when the contest is decided.
And if the fans aren’t screaming and the result’s not in doubt (more in a min), it just doesn’t matter how technically good the match is. There’s a ceiling.
Build: 8 – It certainly seems like fresh ideas to keep MJF from fisticuffs are in short supply. It was only about eighteen months ago he made Jericho run the gauntlet.
And in doing so with Danielson they seemed to spend more time booking ‘good matches’ than putting him in situations where he might actually lose. There was very little drama.
The fact that not a single one of his win or go home matches main-evented the show is testament to this. Whatever else their foibles, there’s no way WWE would book a number one contender in the mid-card every week heading into a pay-per-view.
And let’s not even get into the whole William Regal backstory.
But… (and I cannot lie) then the last two weeks happened. And we got the real story. That Max doesn’t have anything else. That he’s sad and lonely and the title is the only thing preventing him from taking pills and calling it a day.
Insanely jealous of the full and happy life Danielson lives, the champ can’t believe he wants to take the single thing Max has. And is sacrificing a healthy life with his family to do so.
We got a reason why MJF hates Danielson and a reason why he must hang on to his championship.
We also got Danielson’s why. The Dragon believes you have to fight for your dreams. He fought back from retirement and gave up a lot to come and ‘fight’ in AEW because his dream is to become the AEW champion.
And if there’s a good why, there’s a reason to care. A claim few other matches on the card can make.
Overall Score: 24
And now for the final problem.
Bryan Danielson is about the only AEW star who loses regularly. He’s very unselfish. Perhaps too unselfish. Because there doesn’t seem a chance in hell the vet’s going to come away with the title here. He’s become a little too established as the Guy who puts the younger guys over.
MJF could break his ankle mid-match and still you’d have a job convincing me of any outcome other than the incumbent retaining.
Jon Moxley vs Hangman Adam Page, Texas Death Match
Star quality: 9 – Jon Moxley has done more for Adam Page than the AEW title did.
In his inimitable style, he’s put him over directly in his promos and indirectly via his wife as someone he respects as an opponent, someone who pushes him, someone on his level. A level Page arguably hadn’t been near since the summer of 2021.
Match quality: 9 – These two have the best chemistry. They hit hard – perhaps too hard – and their contests thus far haven’t dipped below great. The only slight reservation is them venturing too far into the waters of ‘garbage wrestling’.
They don’t need nails, glass or lightbulbs: the story here is that they have each knocked the other out with their fists.
Build: 8 – Which may owe a lot to circumstance but doesn’t change what has been the best-built feud of this ppv. Capped by two killer promos on Wednesday.
Overall Score: 26
With no obvious candidate on the horizon, it makes sense that the winner of this be Max’s date at Double or Nothing. And since Moxley’s already danced with the Devil, and leads the series 2 to 1, common sense says ‘the Cowboy’ will be left standing here.
WINNER: Hangman Page
Predictable finishes equal a flat show. And to give AEW credit, there aren’t many here. Most of the matches could go either way.
They also deserve credit for booking so many singles clashes. Which must have left many disgruntled backstage considering their bloated roster but pay-per-view should be a venue to settle scores, not cram people onto a card.
When you have two matches built around someone’s dead father, you’re running low on ideas. This is probably AEW’s lowest point creatively. The show just doesn’t feel all that special. In most cases, it’s due to the poor build. Continuing a theme from Full Gear.
Both Chris Jericho & Matt Hardy have lately talked about the need for filled-out characters who connect with the audience. Jake Roberts has recently been given a new role to help with character development.
And it’s noteworthy that easily the two top matches here involve some of the best, most believable personas on the roster.
Hangman might be the most well-rounded character in AEW; Max has given us a ton of backstory for why he is who he is. We know all about Danielson’s real-life struggles and what he’s overcome. And Moxley’s a sicko who loves to fight, recognizes that it’s a problem, doesn’t recommend it, a heel really who’s beloved because he’s a badass who does what he says he will.
Underneath that we have a Jungle Boy whose dad died, a charismatic young guy with a pose, a trio who speak in riddles and make the lights go out, another big guy whose dad died, a champion who ‘hits hard’ and a heel duo who call people ‘loser’ and spray paint them.
Mark Briscoe cut a tremendous promo on Rampage, Friday. About dozing off after a hard day’s work, waking to see a tag battle royale and rushing out to help his brother only to remember he wasn’t here anymore. But being helped emotionally and physically by another pair of brothers.
And now I really want to see him win on the pre-show because I feel for him. Can’t say there’s anything like that level of connection with the majority of guys and girls on this show.
‘Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong.’
Enjoy the show.