We’ll start with the bad since it’s nice to end on a positive.
AEW – and Tony Khan in particular – have been very naughty this week, so close to Christmas too. In his public comments AEW’s leader was so cryptic as to lead us fans to believe something cataclysmic was coming.
‘Trust me folks, you’ll never forget it, the beginning of a new era,’ were Kevin Kelly’s last words about WrestleDream. A message they hammered throughout Saturday’s show. And then delivered… a regular ol’ pay-per-view with one debut. Overpromising and underdelivering is a very bad business model. Whether it’s a pizza place telling you your pie’ll be forty-five minutes when it’ll really be an hour. Or a wrestling company teasing fans into splashing fifty bucks with the belief this is something they can’t possibly miss.
There are tales as old as time on the perils of telling fibs.
A brief aside – the second half of the card felt very long. Shoving MJF there for some comic relief while opening with one of the more serious matches might’ve been an idea.
And it’s been said before but bears repeating: I’m an asshole who finds it hard to suspend disbelief. So some very lame booking spoiled two otherwise very good matches.
Hangman/Swerve was simmering nicely – hot crowd, Strickland smooth as hell, Page having a one night stand with a heel role and a nice, simple story of both nursing arm injuries. In Page’s case one which took away his main weapon, the Buckshot Lariat. So when he hit it and couldn’t make the cover, there was his get out.
Instead, we had the referee debate global warming with Strickland’s court jester while we all braced for the inevitable. And Strickland struck with the crown. It’s been written elsewhere that those in attendance booed because they didn’t like his winning in a heelish manner. They booed because the finish was eye-rolling, intelligence-insulting and spoiled excellent action.
AEW have a nasty habit of overprotecting guys. As stated above, Hangman had his ‘out’. He had the match won, the damage done to his arm prevented it, so on this night Strickland bested him. Especially given this is a story of Hangman’s redemption. Or supposed to be. He should be forced to overcome a few things.
Likewise, the main event.
If it wasn’t obvious when Nick Wayne hugged Darby like he were going off to war, it damn sure was when he came back out. All the yelling at Cage and hesitating, we’ve seen it all before. Shawn Michaels did the same thing during a Rock vs X-Pac match in November 1998. That ‘swerve’ has been going at least a quarter century. Point being, it’s no longer a swerve. It’s cheap, it’s frustrating, it’s mundane, it’s bog basic, it’s predictable.
And it turns Nick Wayne just a few months after debuting. Again outside of the way it was done, his alignment with Cage is no bad thing. Presumably this mentorship will extend outside of the ring and Cage is a master at every facet of the game. If he were four inches taller and/or Vince didn’t think he were hideously ugly, he’d be a multi-time WWE champ.
Lastly – and after this I’m done complaining about suspending disbelief, promise – we had to watch as Edge ate lunch, showed us his baby pictures, read aloud from his book, ejected said lunch, wiped, washed, drove, made his entrance, posed and allowed for fireworks while Christian supposedly held the chair of Damocles over a prone Sting. But didn’t quite have time to smash downward. They then booked a second ‘swerve’ in five minutes. It spoiled his debut.
To reiterate, I’m an asshole.
Anyway, there’s a point in there somewhere that the work itself was very good. Some more Strickland/Page would be very much appreciated.
Bringing us to the positive.
To use perhaps the most pointless phrase in all of language, ‘in my opinion’ Danielson/Sabre was the best singles match of 2023. And at first it was hard to work out exactly why. Before the reason became clear. It was the total opposite of all the above complaints. It did not allow a crack of disbelief. It was gripping, engrossing and felt like a real contest where every move mattered. Thirty minutes flew by. It was disappointing when the ref counted three.
And Jon Moxley was tremendous in being Jon Moxley on commentary. Equal parts explaining the pair’s different submission approaches and Danielson’s into tantric sex. Howlingly funny without even trying to be and so genuinely enthusiastic it made the contest seem that much bigger.
On the subject of announcing, Nigel McGuinness is magic. One of the highlights of the entire show took place during a duelling chant in the main event: ‘Let’s go Darby/Let’s go Cage!’. The Englishman suggested Nick Wayne’s mum had actually started the pro-Christian side in one of the best lines in company history. He seems locked-in as one of the two constants behind the booth during pay-per-views and it’s easy to see why. So unreasonable toward the babyfaces it makes us root that much harder for them. An ingredient missing among the rest of the announce squad.
And Excalibur had a good night. There was one match in particular he added a lot to. It just escapes me which one. Which sounds backhanded, but isn’t intended to be.
It never feels like we get enough Takeshita. Which is kind of a complaint but not really. Just means dude is awesome. And part of a very good six-man Sunday. Helped by the fact Kenny Omega did indeed carry the load for his side.
Ibushi looked a little better but more importantly was as over as anyone on the show and clearly having the time of his life. Jericho reported afterward that he kept thanking them during the match. And even paused to chat with and give dap to a clutch of small children in the front row. While the action continued around him. Now that’s a babyface.
As was Jericho himself. Massively over on both nights of the weekend. Despite a less than clear turn. So suck it me. Could’ve done without yet another distraction finish. But at least it meant the company continue to put over the new – and young – heel stable.