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AEW attempted their first crowd-less PPV with Double or Nothing, and while the show was never going to be able to have the same kind of energy as a show in front of a sold-out arena, the company more than held its own with a fun show. Like previous AEW shows, the company has wrestlers who are not appearing on the show in the crowd making noise, some of whom (I see you, Big Swole) put a lot of effort into participating in the show. The outdoor setting of Dailey’s Place also adds a more visually appealing (and safer) environment.
Something that may have defined the show was that it consisted of championship losses by monster heels that the company had been protecting. Lance Archer and Brodie Lee both came up short in their title matches, and Nyla Rose lost the Women’s Championship to Hikaru Shida. Some fans may see that as a missed opportunity, especially since it was the first loss for Lee and Archer in AEW. However, they both lost to top names, and as long as they are continued to be pushed as monsters, they can afford to lose here and there to the top stars in the company.
One thing I did think was interesting on the show was the layout of the card. The show started hot with the Casino Ladder Match, and then they had the MJF vs Jungle Boy match, followed by the TNT Championship match. Then I feel like the momentum of the show kind of stalled with the Ford/Statlander match and the Spears/Dustin match. The Women’s Championship match picked things up a bit, and the two co-main events closed the show strong. This felt more like how WWE lays out their PPVs, with some cool-down matches as opposed to a slow build to the main event.
It will be interesting to see how well this show does on PPV. Naturally, you would think it would do worse than normal because interest in AEW has been down during the Covid-19 pandemic. You could argue that Lee vs Moxley wasn’t the most appealing world title feud as well. The UFC show from a few weeks ago, UFC 249, did 700,000 PPV buys, well above the industry expectation, so it is possible with more people at home and looking for something to do on a Saturday night, the show will still do pretty well, although the recent viewership for the closed-arena shows would seem to indicate the buyrate will be down from previous shows.
Similar to the WWE pre-taped matches, like the Boneyard Match and the Money in the Bank match, I’m not going to try and assign this match a star rating since it wasn’t really a match as much as an extended segment. Like some of the WWE matches, if you can accept the inherent goofiness of the match, you’ll enjoy it because a lot of the stuff was pretty creative.
I think the Matt Hardy stuff, while pretty funny, bordered on probably being too goofy for my tastes, outside of those bits the match was represented as being close to a real fight, similar to a normal wrestling street fight. That being said the match was really different from pretty much anything else you would see, and there were a lot of creative spots that involved a lot of athleticism, including Page, Omega and Hager brawling in the bar, and the penultimate final spot with Omega giving Guevara a crazy One Winged Angel from about 12 feet off the ground.
Jon Moxley vs Brodie Lee: ****
I liked this match a lot. I, like many people, was not sold on Lee’s charachter and thought it was too soon for this to be a really big match. However, they had a fun brawl with no BS, and Lee was a really good opponent for that. The “guys crash through the floor gimmick” is always good as long as it doesn’t look super predictable, and the spot on the ramp was pretty well-hidden. Lee did lose, but he still looked like a nasty big heel in the process.
When Jericho lost the AEW World Championship, I thought Moxley was a deserving champion but I recognized that Jericho brought something special to the championship that nobody else could really bring. Moxley though, has his own tools and the intensity that he brings to his matches, the idea that battling for the championship is a real life-or-death struggle, is special. I loved when he brough Lee back into the ring, hit the DDT and Lee kicked out at one, Moxley just kind of went nuclear and started relentlessly pounding Lee into submission. He has been a great champion so far.
Cody Rhodes vs Lance Archer: ***
This match had some elements I really liked, Archer has been booked very well as the monster heel and Cody is probably the best natural babyface in the company. I’m not that upset with Archer losing; he wasn’t going to be unbeaten forever and as a long as he keeps picking up wins, he can afford a loss here and there and still have the aura of a really big monster. Kane lost matches all the time and was a legit monster heel for more than 20 years.
I didn’t like the angle with Arn and Jake, with the referee coming out from the back and talking to the referee in the ring. In a promotion that relies A LOT on heels doing things behind the back of the referee, it raises a lot of questions about why a referee has never come out from the back before. The weird thing was that they could have done the same angle, but just have Tyson interact with the referee instead, since he was sitting right there.
Casino Ladder Match: ****
What stood out to me in this match was the solid storytelling. Multi-man ladder matches are typically known for their crazy stunts and car-crash like atmosphere, and this match certainly had some of that, but the overall story of Taz debuting Brian Cage, and Cage getting pushed as a monster, punishing Allin (who had blown off Taz a few times in interview segments) and winning the title shot was all good storytelling and the right person won the match.
The one thing I didn’t like about the match is that they did just a little too much comedy and had too many run-ins. The match probably would have been better if they shaved off a few minutes and tightened some stuff up. That being said, the storytelling and the fun high spots still made this a very enjoyable match.
MJF vs Jungle Boy: ***¾
This was a very good match, that would have been significantly better in front of a hot crowd that would have reacted to the heel/babyface dynamic and given heat for the finish. These guys are in their early 20s, but had a very traditional match with an old-school psychology. This was by far the best Jungle Boy has looked in AEW, but MJF also benefited a lot. He has a lot of charisma and is a great heel already, and he needs matches like this that put him over for also being a tough competitor in addition to being a natural heel.
Hikaru Shida vs Nyla Rose: ***1/4
They did a nice job in this match; with the No Disqualification stipulation really aiding the match as they were able to do different stuff. Shida is a pretty good all-around performer, and they had been telling a little story over the last few months with her missing Kendo stick, so her getting it back and using it to beat down the bigger opponent was good.
I liked the development in Nyla’s charachter since she won the title, becoming a more obnoxious heel in addition to the typical monster power spots. I hope she can continue to develop that aspect of her persona even if she doesn’t have the title.
Kris Statlander vs Penelope Ford: *½
This match kind of exposed Ford’s weaknesses. She has a great look and can do some cool athletic spots, but there is a difference between being that kind of performer and being someone that can work a 10 minute match. She does some cool spots, but there are also times where her transitions into those spots are really sloppy, which makes the spots feel unconvincing. Statlander looked pretty good and her offense looks really devastating at times.
Dustin Rhodes vs Shawn Spears: **
This was a quick match, with Spears running his mouth and then taking the loss when Rhodes came out. I like Spears in this role as mid-card heel that can take losses, but you can only beat a guy so many times before he doesn’t mean anything. It was kind of entertaining with Spears getting stripped down, but that is something you can’t really do without losing some steam. Hopefully he gets some wins soon. The match didn’t overstay its welcome.