Before we get going, thank you for reading any/all of these and the reviews over the year. Really appreciate it. Hope you have a great Christmas or whatever/however you choose to celebrate and good things come your way. Obviously, the more you read, the more good things I want for you 😉.
Fittingly, without further adieu…
- Record Breaker
MJF vs Kenny Omega, Collision, 10/28/23
It’s no coincidence Max’s two best of the year occurred against Danielson and Omega (*Pillars Four Way puts its hand up*). As good as he is, and against his tagline, those two are another level.
Though there were complaints about how this one came about. A mere week-and-a-half beforehand, the two crossed paths and Max taunted Kenny: ‘ten days bitch’. In one of those things AEW does that seem an excellent start to a feud but turn out to be all she wrote.
It certainly felt rushed.
On the other hand, there are countless examples of AEW ‘saving’ matches until they either can no longer happen or won’t be the same when they do (Omega/Danielson II has to be in doubt now).
And they have a greedy kid’s Xmas list of so many interesting ones that putting them on tv once in a while, with proper build (read: better than for this) isn’t such a bad thing.
Chants of ‘Both these guys!’ at the outset further highlighting the rarity. In fact this felt bigger than Max’s ppv outings either side. Like a proper main event. Building from mat work into one-upmanship, an elevated hammerlock DDT saw Max get cocky and a pissed Omega accelerate as only he can, leading to a series of near falls in and out of sunset flips and backslides, into an Omega buckle bomb, the champ rebounding out to hit a lariat, leaving both down after an excellent sequence.
A gutwrench powerbomb off the apron through a table bringing the break at sixteen minutes.
Things escalating further into a fight, stakes rising as both sought and had finishers blocked, MJF saving his title with a foot on the bottom rope. Three v triggers and up onto the shoulders later, Don Callis saved it for him in a very lame spot which saw Omega ‘distracted’.
Though at least it wasn’t the finish.
Several more minutes of very believable near falls following, including Kenny hooking the legs to counter a Panama sunrise, so close to three that fans booed the ensuing two count. Both guys absolutely spent. Before MJF hit Sunrise at the second attempt and followed with a second Heatseeker to become the longest-reigning champ in company history.
This could be a snapshot of AEW’s strengths and weaknesses: the build was good; there was not enough of it, the match was excellent; the follow-up was not – Omega not even bothered the following Wednesday when confronted by Callis. On the positive, we’re likely to see more such big-name clashes in 2024 with the increase in pay-per-views.
- The second-best Tag of the Year
FTR vs Jay White & Juice Robinson, Collision, 07/08/23
I was watching a lot of wrestling in preparation for this list. Ruling things out, sorting things into rough sections. All of which is to say, this blew everything watched around it out of the water.
A patient, classic tag, it wasn’t full of big spots; they were built to. Rather than kicking out of finishers they blocked them – for just as much drama. Featuring irritating heels who bailed when things got tough, babyfaces the crowd loved and an audience just built for a match like this.
They went wild for everything, booed everything they should, cheered everything they should… two hearty, full-throated chants of ‘This is awesome’. Not because someone broke a table or we’d passed the ten-minute mark and there’d been a few near falls. But because this was truly awesome.
Aided by the fact that the heels were wrestling to gain a title match the next week. There was a structure and a logic to earning a shot at the gold which the company largely seems to ignore these days. Especially when it comes to tags. And the heels won in unfair circumstances. But they didn’t need low blows, weapons or refs chasing donkeys.
Instead, Cash was taken out via Bladerunner, leaving Dax 1-on-2 to be nailed with Juice is Loose after a blind tag.
- The Best Tag of the Year
FTR vs Jay White & Juice Robinson, Collision, 07/15/23
I don’t consider myself an expert. There are probably lots of you reading right now who know wrestling better than I do, know what makes and doesn’t make a good match better than I do. But I know what I like. And as Dave Meltzer’s noted, a lot of rating matches just comes down to feel. And even as a novice, this felt special.
When it comes to 2023 as a whole, for me it’s this or Danielson/Sabre. And they had a couple things in common: pacing, realism.
There’s nothing wrong with a ‘spot fest’, there are plenty of them on this countdown. But there are matches we enjoy and the ultra-rare, almost magical matches we get lost in. We forget we’re watching something talked over beforehand, forget that the build might have sucked and just get immersed in the action, the gut feel of Who’s going to win? Almost as if time stops. Which was true of both. I noted at the time that Dasha’s announcement of ‘fifty-five minutes’ came way too soon.
And played into the finish. As noted above, Jay & Juice had earned their shot here by beating the champs the week before, adding to the stakes and likelihood a title change might occur. Especially when they went one-up after twenty minutes.
The equalising fall arrived twenty minutes later. So if there are only a few minutes left, surely we’re heading for a draw? Particularly as Harwood’s aching limbs gave out applying a sharpshooter. Until finally, he rolled down his knee pads, rocked back, a little extra flexibility allowing him to apply the pressure needed to force Robinson’s tap.
No better way to end a match in Calgary.
And Dax recently revealed a text chain with Bret Hart around this time. First warning that the Calgary crowd can be discerning. As for that, I noted at the time:
If the crowd were a mid-life crisis on a bender, the match was a hot blonde. Batting her lashes via Bret spots.
Secondly, calling it one of the best matches he’d ever seen and the last thirty minutes a ‘masterpiece’. And who am I to disagree with the Hitman? The falls were indeed well-spaced, perfectly built to and fittingly, perfectly executed.
Plus, not only was it a brilliant match; in a mere two shows these four established Jay & Juice as an act to be taken seriously and massively rehabbed the ice-cold tag belts. At a time when it seemed like Collision was the place to see proper tag wrestling.