Grading Every Match Result From AEW Full Gear 2023

Wrestling is a form of storytelling that relies most heavily on building narratives through the question of who won (and why) and who lost (and why). Irrespective of whether or not fans thought a match was "good" or not, the result of that match has lasting consequences for future storytelling, and for whether or not individual wrestlers are rising or falling in the show's internal narrative hierarchy. The decision of who wins, and why, is the most important decision a booker can make, which is why those decisions tend to be so carefully scrutinized.

With that in mind, welcome to the grades. Please wipe your feet, metaphorically speaking — which is to say, please keep in mind that this feature is not about match quality, or show quality, or win/loss records. This is about whether or not the result of a match opened up future possibilities or closed them; whether it elevated a wrestler to the next level or dropped them back to where they were before. It's about what it means that one person won a wrestling match, and whether that choice was better or worse than the other person winning the wrestling match. And there are so many of those choices to be discussed in our inaugural edition of the grades, where we will focus on AEW Full Gear 2023.

MJF & Samoa Joe def. The Gunns (ROH World Tag Team Championship)

The only way you could possibly make a case that MJF and Adam Cole (by proxy) keeping the ROH tag titles was the wrong decision is if you want the ROH tag titles to continue to be inherently meaningful things that get their own stories and TV time, and if that's the case, it's probably about time to face facts. There's no way MJF and Cole are losing these titles before Cole gets back, and they might not lose them at all. We just saw Samoa Joe vacate the ROH TV title for no reason, and the ROH world title just got unified with one belt that didn't exist three years ago and another belt that didn't exist on Friday (and possibly still might not, it's unclear). This tag title match was 100% in service to the AEW World Championship in the main event, and at this point the titles only really exist as a plot point in the long-running storyline of MJF and Cole, who care about being champions because friendship. Once one of them inevitably ends up turning on the other, it wouldn't be surprising the see the tag titles go away completely, as all the ROH championships seem to be in the process of doing, and as ROH itself might be doing at some point.

In that context, there's no point having anyone else win the belts, now or anytime soon, and the match result fed directly into the main event storyline that also involves Joe, so the decision can't really be faulted.

Grade: A

Claudio Castagnoli def. Buddy Matthews

Matthews beat Wheeler Yuta on "AEW Collision," so Claudio Castagnoli beat Matthews on the Full Gear pre-show. Claudio > Matthews > Yuta, sounds about right — it would have been a bigger deal for Matthews if he had won than it is for Castagnoli, but this didn't really do anything negative for Matthews, either. Everyone just sort of ended up in the same place, and a feud was slightly advanced. Good enough. Looking forward to Brody King beating Claudio on "Dynamite."

Grade: B

Eddie Kingston def. Jay Lethal (ROH World Championship & NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship)

All the logic from the ROH tag title match applies here. These titles are getting formally unified and becoming a Triple Crown operation, so it makes no sense to give them to Jay Lethal on the Full Gear pre-show. On the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world to have Eddie Kingston defending gold in AEW's version of the G1, so yeah, go for it.

Grade: A

Adam Copeland, Darby Allin, and Sting def. The Patriarchy

You can't really put a grade on this one because we still need to see where it goes. Sting is undefeated in AEW and Tony Khan has started mentioning it during press conferences, which suggests the idea is to have him go undefeated until his last match at Revolution 2024, where someone (presumably Allin) will beat him and gain the benefit of having toppled that streak (along with, you know, retiring Sting). At the same time, Copeland and Christian Cage barely touched each other during this match because they have much bigger fish to fry with one another down the line. If one or both those stories end up panning out, this was probably a good decision. If not, and we're looking back at Full Gear realizing they could have given Christian's group the win, a more interesting decision on its face and presumably leading to a different story, it might not have been.

Grade: Incomplete

Orange Cassidy def. Jon Moxley (AEW International Championship)

Tony Khan gets bashed sometimes for his seeming inability to pivot from his original creative plan to account for injury, popularity, or other outside factors. In this case, it feels like he actually did — but this time, maybe he shouldn't have.

Moxley defeating Cassidy for the International title felt right at All Out. Cassidy had enjoyed a nearly year-long reign with a record-breaking number of title defenses, all of which played into the storyline of his body breaking down and thus made Moxley the perfect person to end him. For Cassidy, it was time for bigger and better things. For Moxley, it was time to have a title again (not to mention a built-in reason to get on PPV cards) and open it up to other challengers via the Blackpool Combat Club's gang warfare style of storytelling.

Instead, Moxley gets a concussion at the beginning of a match, ends up calling a title change in the ring, and can't get cleared in time to win it back before Tony panics and puts it back on Cassidy. Meanwhile far from bigger and better things, Cassidy had immediately fallen back to pack after All Out with no clear direction, which could be one reason Khan decided to keep him as International Champion — he knows how to book that already. But now we're just back where we were a year ago, with Cassidy ultimately not getting pushed up the card and Moxley looking completely unable to hack the terrifying International title division. The alternative — Cassidy getting to do something else with a bigger star while guys like Buddy Matthews and Brody King get International title matches with Moxley — seems pretty clearly superior. It's nice to see Khan demonstrate he can pivot, but this was the wrong match to pivot on.

Grade: D

Toni Storm def. Hikaru Shida (AEW Women's World Championship)

From the "strike while the iron is hot" standpoint, it seemed like a good decision on Saturday night to put the AEW women's title on the hottest women's act in the company. With time and distance, however, the potential problems start to pile up and become worrisome.

The first problem is that they've somewhat nerfed Hikaru Shida, whose two most recent title reigns have lasted 25 and 39 days. Shida is a tremendous resource for AEW's struggling women's division, and it serves no one to make her seem like less of a threat. The second problem is that you've just gone ahead and give Storm the championship rather than letting fan momentum build up behind her. Not only do you lose out on a potentially bigger moment, but you run the risk of crowning the fan favorite too early and risking a decline in their popularity, when you could have milked it longer and possibly lengthened the shelf life of the act (See also: The Acclaimed). There were also several interesting places to go with the insertion of Mariah May if Storm lost; it might turn out there are fewer places to go with that story after her win.

Finally, it remains a shame that AEW continues to do everything in their power to prevent having to book women's division stories that don't involve championships. Keeping the belt on Shida could have resulted in Shida and Storm both getting subsequent feuds that demanded TV time and engaged fan interest. Instead, here we are again.

Grade: C

Ricky Starks and Big Bill def. La Facción Ingobernable, FTR, and the House of Black (AEW World Tag Team Championship)

There's a reason that, despite everything the announcers are saying about the odds of victory, the champions usually retain in four-way title matches. It's just less satisfying to see gold change hands in a match like this where everyone needs a quick chance to shine and there's not a ton of storytelling opportunities. This decision was a win on that level alone, but also in that it helped establish Starks and Bill as more than just a flash in the pan. It means more for Starks and Bill to say they beat three pre-existing teams at the same time than it would have for any of those teams to say they won the titles in a four-way match that also happened to involve the champions. The goal should always be building credible stars and popular acts, and Starks and Bill seem to be clicking at a time when there really isn't anything available to either of them as singles stars.

Also, this title reign is the first-ever title reign of Big Bill's career. Surely we can begrudge him one that lasts more than 42 days.

Grade: A

Julia Hart def. Skye Blye and Kris Statlander (AEW TBS Championship)

Everything positive that was said earlier about Tony Khan showing his newfound ability to pivot applies here, only with no negative qualifiers. It's highly unlikely that Julia Hart was Khan's original plan to dethrone Kris Statlander, and the insertion of Skye Blue into this match so Hart could pin Blue and not Statlander is a pretty clear giveaway that keeping Stat strong is still high on his list of priorities. But Hart has gotten real, actual momentum behind her lately, and this win helps her significantly more than it would have helped either of her opponents. In this instance, Khan astutely used the "the champ doesn't need to be pinned" wrestling trope to capitalize on that momentum while still maintaining the status Statlander commanded as champion, and he absolutely deserves credit for it.

This decision also nicely sets up future storylines in strong, if obvious, ways. Statlander has a clear grievance against Hart, and possibly also against Blue. The relationship between Hart and Blue has potentially a lot more depth to be explored, as well, which this match result also serves. A real contender for the best booking decision of the night.

Grade: A+

Swerve Strickland def. Adam Page

The other contender for best booking decision of the night is this one. Strickland vs. Page has already gotten some "match of the year" talk, and while it wasn't perfect — it arguably went too long, the Cage interference detracted from the match as a whole, and it can't be the best-ever death match because it wasn't the Hell of War match Strickland had with AR Fox in "Lucha Underground" — it's impossible to argue with the result. Strickland defeating Page in their second consecutive PPV match was a fantastic decision, one that should (SHOULD) elevate Strickland to main event level. After this match, Strickland has to be considered in the running to dethrone MJF. That's how good this win was.

On the other side of things, Page absolutely did not need the victory. Not only have we already seen Page as world champion, his character is just inherently more interesting when he's losing than it is when he's winning. Add to that the pure novelty of seeing a wrestling booker go all in and have somebody win a feud two matches to none (unless there's more Page/Swerve to be had, which would be a mistake) and there's simply nothing in the negatives column.

Grade: A+

Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega def. The Young Bucks

It's hard to escape the metatext hanging over this match, which is that it feels like some plans recently changed in the tag team division that resulted in Khan regretting his choice to have the Bucks win a tag title contender's match at WrestleDream. If that's not the case and this was planned all along, it was a decent choice, as the story of Kenny Omega finding a non-Elite tag team partner and beating his friends the Bucks at the tag team game is a compelling one (even if the choice of partner is questionable). If this was a pivot, it was also a good choice, as somebody might have realized the Bucks are always more interesting as heels and don't need to be anywhere near the tag title picture right now.

Either way, this was obviously a better and more interesting move than breaking up The Golden Jets (which continues to be just a blatant troll of a tag team name) four matches into their tenure. The only problem is that they also probably shouldn't be anywhere near the tag title picture right now, so hopefully they receive (and lose) their title match sooner rather than later.

Grade: B+

MJF def. Jay White (AEW World Championship)

There probably wasn't a single person over the age of 11 who was fooled by Full Gear's teased bait-and-switch angle, where AEW bafflingly suggested that Adam Cole, who is out of action with a legitimate injury, might be defending the AEW World Championship against Jay White in Full Gear's main event in some new and demented twist on the Freebird Rule. There was never a question that MJF would return to enter the match injured (this one not legitimate) and never a question after that of MJF beating White and retaining the title. That's just not how the story of MJF's title reign was ever going to end. But AEW painted themselves into a corner with the injury angle, and it's suddenly hard to see how they're going to recover from it.

The problem isn't just that White looks like he doesn't belong anywhere near world title contention after failing to beat a battered and injured champion, even with help from The Gunns. His stock has dropped, perhaps irreparably, but the other part of the problem is that MJF's stock has now risen to potentially untenable heights. Are we expected to believe, after MJF survived that match, that he's now going to lose in his second defense against Samoa Joe? Who can plausibly defeat him? What ridiculous set of circumstances would have to occur to create the conditions for an MJF title loss? The answer to that last question is still very likely "Cole turns on him," but that means we're all just waiting for Cole to get back while AEW has Maxwell Jacob Hogan overcoming comically large obstacle after comically large obstacle (pretty sure the original plan was to also have him defeat antisemitism in this feud) to the point that there's no drama. It was a problem in the White match, and it will be a problem going forward.

Jay White winning the title, on the other hand, would have been a legitimate shock, but one that didn't hurt MJF in any way given the context. You could argue that the MJF/Cole story barely requires a championship anymore, and if it does, you always could have had MJF win it back later. But if this was the story they wanted to tell, AEW would have been much better off giving White the victory and thus preserving his credibility, creating an unexpected and memorable moment, and letting the viewers see what happens to "Your Scumbag" MJF without that title around his waist. Instead, we continue to play the "when is Cole coming back" waiting game.

Bottom line: If you're going to book this angle, White has to win. Anything else is a step backward. And if you didn't want White as your champion, you shouldn't have booked this angle.

Grade: F