Grading Every Match Result From AEW Worlds End 2023

Welcome back to the grades (a little later than usual, on account of New Year's Day). If you're new here, we do one thing and only one thing in this column: evaluate the booking decisions made at a major WWE or AEW event. We consider who won each match, how they won, what story advancements or possible new stories are opened up by the booking decision, and whether things might have been more interesting if the match had gone the other way.

This time around, we take a look at the very first installment of AEW Worlds End, which closed out 2023 with a number of sensible decisions and several that were significantly more questionable. Including the Zero Hour, we have 12 matches to get through (technically 13, but not really) so let's not waste any more time!

Willow Nightingale def. Kris Statlander

There wasn't much at stake in this Zero Hour match, which was contested between two babyfaces who remain friends and teammates despite Stokely Hathaway's manipulations. As a result, the winner doesn't really matter, but it probably did more for Nightingale than it would have for Statlander — who already scored a singles win over Willow back in October — so it was the right move. The finish didn't advance anything storyline-wise, but it didn't hurt anything, either; well-deserving of a totally middle-of-the-road passing grade.

Grade: B-

Killswitch wins 20-man Battle Royal for future AEW TNT Championship match

This Killswitch win was absolutely crucial for the Adam Copeland/Christian Cage angle that went down on the main card. Whether or not that finish deserves a high grade is a subject for a little later on — in this specific case, Killswitch winning was the only decision that worked with the story AEW was trying to tell. As a result, it's impossible to find fault with it, and AEW deserves credit for using at least some of their Zero Hour time to set up an angle on the PPV, rather than just putting on another match for no reason.

Grade: A+

HOOK def. Wheeler Yuta (FTW Championship)

The FTW Championship is one of AEW's least important titles, so it's hard to put a grade on who wins it. That said, if the idea is to actually use it and make it matter someday, you'd think it would be put to better use around the waist of Yuta, who's part of a major AEW stable that (a) fit the FTW title aesthetic to a tee, and (b) gets way more TV time than the rarely-used HOOK. Nobody is really hurt by HOOK retaining, but there were certainly more interesting storylines to be told with Yuta as the champion, making this one a bit of a missed opportunity.

Grade: C

Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli, Mark Briscoe, and Daniel Garcia vs. Brody King, RUSH, Jay Lethal, and Jay White

With no real stakes and no real story beyond "let's open the show with a fun eight-man tag to help cap off the Continental Classic," there was no reason not to let the babyfaces go over here and start the crowd off on a high note, and Garcia specifically getting the win is a nice consolation prize for a guy who wasn't allowed very many wins in the tournament itself. Teasing the continued story of Garcia and Danielson a full year after its most recent (and least satisfying) chapter is a bit of a reach on AEW's part, but Garcia is a talent the company should be building its future around, and nobody on the babyface team would have benefitted more from scoring the victory.

Grade: A+

Miro def. Andrade El Idolo

This was probably the easiest choice on the card when it came to booking, since there's no universe where Andrade should have won what quickly turned out to be his last AEW match. And for better or worse, the decision continues the story of Miro and his hot flexible wife, CJ Perry, who now has to explain why she chose to assist her estranged husband. Your mileage may very when it comes to the specific angle being advanced, and AEW should only get so much credit for making an exceptionally obvious decision, but Miro getting the win was a slam dunk compared to the alternative.

Grade: A-

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

We gave the initial decision to crown Storm at Full Gear a C, simply because it felt like there were more interesting pathways for the character without the championship rather than with it. A month and change later, it still doesn't quite feel like the right choice, but suddenly switching the belt to Riho for no reason would have been even worse, so Storm retaining was 100% the right call. We're still waiting for something substantial to come out of Storm's third title reign, but it definitely shouldn't have ended at Worlds End.

Grade: B+

Swerve Strickland def. Dustin Rhodes

Did the right person go over? Absolutely? It is possible to talk about that without talking about how long it took? Under no circumstances. Not only did it take Strickland, possibly AEW's fastest-rising star, almost 10 minutes to defeat a 54-year-old who hadn't wrestled a singles match since June, it took that long after Strickland had beaten down Rhodes outside the ring and double-stomped Rhodes' leg through a cinderblock. Yes, the right man won, but the victory didn't make him look any stronger; if anything, the opposite occurred.

We understand that Tony Khan was in a bind after Strickland's original opponent, Keith Lee, couldn't get medically cleared the day of the match, but responding to last minute changes should entail more than just filling an allotted amount of time. In this case, Khan failed to properly reconceive the match with Rhodes in mind, and the end result helped precisely no one.

Grade: D

Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, Darby Allin, and Sting def. Ricky Starks, Big Bill, Konosuke Takeshita, and Powerhouse Hobbs

It actually makes way more sense that Tony Khan booked 54-year-old Dustin Rhodes the way he did when you consider the fact that 64-year-old Sting is apparently just never allowed to lose a match in AEW.

That has to be the reason Sting and his team scored the win at Worlds End, because we can't think of another one. This was another thrown-together match, with Khan forced to pivot after Kenny Omega's diverticulitis derailed the tag title contest planned for Worlds End, but that doesn't excuse Guevara pinning Starks in a match that nobody on the babyface team needed to win. Even if the original plan was a title change, using the card change as an opportunity to put some shine on the reigning champs, Starks and Bill — not to mention Takeshita and Hobbs, neither of whom have benefitted from their on-screen association with Don Callis — makes way more sense to us, and that was true before Long Island turned on Jericho because of online fan backlash that, fair or not, AEW should have been savvy enough to solve for.

In the end, this was a contest between four guys that AEW loves to push and four guys regularly forced to swim against the tide, and the latter couldn't even be given a win in a random last-minute eight-man tag with nothing on the line. Because god forbid Sting lose a match before he retires.

Grade: F

Julia Hart def. Abadon (AEW TBS Championship)

This one was never in doubt. Hart just won the TBS title at Full Gear and it never made any sense to take the belt off her now, particularly not against Abadon, who only wrestled nine AEW matches in the entirety of 2023 (including Worlds End). Frankly, Abadon getting a PPV title match at all was a bit of a stretch, but that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that Hart added another defense to her still-young reign, even if she needed a bit of an assist from Skye Blue to do it.

Grade: A

Adam Copeland def. Christian Cage; Christian Cage def. Adam Copeland (AEW TNT Championship)

We understand both sides of this one. On the one hand, it accomplished the triple goal of (a) letting Copeland get a clean win over Cage, (b) having Cage still manage to screw Copeland over and win back the TNT title, and (c) doing so via Killswitch appearing to "cash in" the TNT title shot he won on the pre-show, only to be brow-beaten into giving the contract to Cage instead, furthering their storyline and causing Copeland to lose to the Money in the Bank-style surprise title win he himself popularized in 2006. The feud continues, the story advances, and Copeland's past comes back to bite him in truly poetic fashion. It makes sense.

On the other hand ... it would have made more sense for Killswitch to just win the TNT title himself instead of being forced to give the contract to Christian. AEW obviously doesn't want Copeland holding that belt — understandably, since his star power vastly eclipses it — and having Killswitch cash in would have gotten the title out of the Copeland/Christian feud, which doesn't need it. At the same time, you'd be changing the Christian/Killswitch dynamic in an interesting way, as they could have reprised the dynamic of the original pairing (Killswitch technically being champion but Cage walking around calling himself the champion) only this time with Killswitch refusing to go along with it after Christian rejected him in favor of Nick Wayne. Instead, Christian is champion again, Killswitch is subservient again, Copeland is angry again, and the match (which was very good) might as well have never happened. There were good ideas here, but unfortunately, a bunch of interesting new pathways were abandoned in favor of re-establishing the status quo.

Grade: C-

Eddie Kingston def. Jon Moxley (Continental Classic Tournament final)

Even now, it's a little hard to believe that AEW gave "The King of the Bums" a clean victory over a three-time former AEW World Champion. It was an incredibly emotional moment for Kingston fans, as it suggested that AEW might finally be ready to present Kingston as one of the company's top acts. But now, looking back with a little distance and some scrutiny, are we sure it was as big a win as it initially seemed?

On its face, that seems like an insane question. Worlds End marked just the 11th singles loss of Moxley's AEW career, and he's been with the company since the beginning. The list of people who have beaten him is short and includes names like Kenny Omega, CM Punk, Adam Page, and MJF — all former AEW World Champions. It's ridiculous to think that a win over Moxley could do anything but elevate Kingston.

That said, it has to be admitted that there's a little less shine on the Moxley rub these days. He's been losing more often — six of those 11 singles losses came in 2023, whereas there were only five in the three-and-a-half years prior — and the list of his conquerors now includes names like Jay White and Orange Cassidy (promising stars, but not on the level of his previous competition) and even Rey Fenix, though that loss was merely the result of happenstance. Beating Moxley now isn't quite the same accomplishment as it was in, say, 2020, when Kingston came up short against his old friend in two world title matches.

More troubling is the fact that it remains unclear exactly how big of an accomplishment winning the Continental Classic actually is. We're sure Kingston, who holds a deep love for Japanese wrestling history, is personally thrilled to have won an American take on the G1 Climax and Tony Khan's "modern triple crown," and we're thrilled on his behalf. But two of the championships involved — the ROH World title and the NJPW STRONG Openweight title — were already his before the tournament began, and the third, the AEW Continental Championship, is brand new. We still don't know if the titles will be defended individually or if they've been formally unified (a question with ramifications for the future of ROH as a whole) and we don't know what, if anything, this victory means for Kingston's intermittent presence on AEW TV. And it also has to be acknowledged that AEW has given Kingston a PPV victory over a former world champion before (when he beat Chris Jericho at Revolution 2022) and it ultimately did nothing for him.

Bottom line: There's no way to grade this match result with the information we currently have, because we don't know what the win actually means. If AEW is prepared to give Kingston an actual main event push, it was the massive victory it seemed in the moment. If not, it might be remembered less fondly down the road.

Grade: Incomplete

Samoa Joe def. MJF (AEW World Championship)

Given the reports of his injury status, it wasn't exactly a surprise to see Samoa Joe claim the AEW World Championship from MJF at Worlds End. What was surprising was how the victory went down. It wasn't completely clean — Adam Cole seemed to cost MJF the title by not immediately giving his supposed friend the Dynamite Diamond Ring when MJF called for it — but it was clean enough to be eyebrow-raising, particularly given the fact that AEW had spent months building up the Devil storyline, presumably for just such an occasion. It's odd that the masked goons who turned out to be Roderick Strong, Wardlow, and The Kingdom didn't come into play until after the match, and that Cole's heel turn and reveal as the man behind the Devil mask was teased during the finish but then immediately made obvious in the post-match angle. It's not the way we would have expected the finish to play out in the event of a Joe victory, and it raises a ton of narrative questions that AEW is going to have to address.

Still, we have a new champion, and there really wasn't any other way to go if surgery is on the table for the last one. Almost nobody of Joe's generation is more deserving of one last world title run than Joe himself, and his reign allows for all kinds of new possibilities, which is extremely refreshing after more than a year of the Triple B. It might not be the way anyone originally wanted MJF's reign to end, and as of this writing there are holes in the story big enough to drive a stolen ambulance through, but it seems like the right call was made and there are a lot of fascinating ways we could go from here. From that standpoint, it's hard to complain.

Grade: B

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