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Despite the fact that AEW Revolution had a card full of important matches, it seemed predetermined that the show would ultimately be judged on how they delivered on two specific elements: The mystery wrestler Paul Wight had teased on Wednesday, and how impressive the special effects in the main event would come across. If those aspects of the show delivered, Revolution would end up a huge success; if they underwhelmed, the show would struggle.
This was a major gamble by AEW; they could have had Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega wrestle in a more traditional match and it probably would have been really great. They also didn’t need to tease a major name signing with the company, which led to rampant speculation on social media over the last few days, which featured some really pie-in-the-sky predictions about The Rock, or John Cena coming to AEW.
The company did those things because they were looking to build buzz for the PPV. Which they succeeded in doing; AEW Revolution felt like arguably the most anticipated PPV the company has had since their first event, Double or Nothing in 2019. But when you create that kind of anticipation, you have to deliver in the key moments; especially for a company that is still looking to establish its brand credibility.
When it comes to the mystery man, who ended up being Christian Cage, people are divided. A poll put out by WINC’s Nick Hausman had close to a 50/50 split on the announcement living up to the hype, with a slight edge in the “No” category. I think on the surface, while Christian is not The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk, etc., he is a guy who is a name, and clearly has something to prove. I don’t think Christian is a bad signing, even if you could argue he was a disappointment tonight.
I think Tony Khan and AEW perhaps misjudged how fantastical wrestling fans can be; once they teased the mystery man as a “huge, huge star” fans began to fantasize about some of the biggest stars in the history of the business coming to AEW. I think if you are disappointed by Christian in this spot, you can blame AEW for not understanding the implications of teasing the mystery man like that, but I also think wrestling fans sometimes need to be a bit more rational in their expectations.
The exploding barbed wire match? Let’s talk about that.
Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley: ***
Look, I advocated for the return of the explosion match in the United States last year so I was probably more excited for this match than any other match in recent memory. I wasn’t sure what most people were going to expect from the explosions; I assume most fans hadn’t seen the explosions from the Japanese matches, which were more spectacular than the explosions in this match, but it seemed like during the match the general reaction from the fans live in attendance and on social media were very positive about the spectacle they were seeing.
Since the gimmick was so reliant on the explosions, I think it is easy to overlook just how insane some of the stunts in this match were. The paradigm shift off the apron into the barbed wire board was a nasty spot in its own right, nevermind the fireworks. Omega took an absolute beating and yet it feels like he got out of this relatively scratch-free compared to Moxley, who took a ton of crazy bumps throughout the match.
The narrative of the match came across really well; the Good Brothers coming out with the exploding bat which was a nice surprise, and then locking Mox in the ring as the nuclear countdown starts. Kingston running out, basically turning babyface in the process and trying to save his friend; I thought it was great drama. And then…
The entire post-match segment hinged on the final explosion being spectacular and it simply wasn’t even close. One of the reasons it has been difficult to do this match in the past is that it is hard to balance safety with spectacular pyrotechnics. I’m not clear if it was simply a wiring issue, or they just thought it would look better than it really did, but the explosion was a complete dud. It will be the only thing people will be talking about for the next few days when it comes to this match. Everyone sold it like professionals, but the live crowd openly crapped on it and in the end, it was a segment that made wrestling look extremely fake.
I feel bad for the wrestlers, it wasn’t their fault and they worked their asses off to try and get this right. I loved where the post-match angle was headed with Kingston, but they couldn’t have gotten Kingston’s face turn off on a worse foot. It’s a bummer for sure, because I had really high expectations for this match. And bell-to-bell I thought it was very entertaining, but they screwed up the final part that you absolutely can’t screw up.
Sting and Darby Allin vs Brian Cage and Ricky Starks: No Rating
To remain consistent with my evaluation of cinematic matches in the past, I don’t feel comfortable giving this match a rating. Cinematic matches are not necessarily my thing, and I’m tired of seeing them. This match was not as…magical as some of the cinematic matches we have seen, and I appreciated that. I really liked the introductions, and Sting looked really good (as he should in this type of match) and Darby is a madman with some of the bumps he takes.
I think if the Boneyard Match is the gold standard for cinematic matches, this was the match that most closely resembled that match. This was probably the optimal use of Sting, similar to how the Boneyard Match was the optimal use of The Undertaker.
Chris Jericho and MJF vs The Young Bucks: ***½
This was not the blow-away match that the Young Bucks have had on some other shows. Instead, it was focused more on showing an aggressive side of the Bucks having been pushed to the edge by the heels MJF and Jericho. They didn’t do a ton of high spots and instead did more brawling, since this was built as a revenge match for the Bucks.
I liked the build for the match and how that story impacted this match; the heels beat up the Young Bucks father, the Bucks came out on Wednesday and cut a passionate promo and superkicked the heels, and then started this match not by doing a high spot or a passionless headlock, they did double-leg takedowns and started punching. I liked that, even if the Young Bucks have had better overall matches on other PPVs.
Max Caster vs Penta El Zero M vs Ethan Page vs Lance Archer vs Scorpio Sky vs Cody Rhodes: ****
20 years ago, when crazy multi-man ladder matches first became popular, the novelty of seeing people fall off the ladders was incredible. Two decades later, and the ladder match has become such a staple of different promotions, I think it is easy to take for granted how crazy difficult these matches are, and the incredible effort that goes into producing each one of them. This match featured a ton of insane, dangerous spots and I thought they did a good job booking each wrestler to get some time to shine in the match.
Scorpio Sky is a talented guy who is just coming back from injury, and he took some crazy bumps for a guy coming back from injury, and deserves a push. I liked the final segment with him cockily punching Cody off the ladder and grabbing the brass ring. Also, having the item you needed to grab be a giant brass ring was incredible. I think Sky should turn heel just because the brass ring has incredible foreign-object potential.
Hikaru Shida vs Ryo Mizunami: ***3/4
I see a lot of mixed feelings about this match on social media, I thought it was quite good. It was very violent, stiff, physical, a very traditional joshi-style match. Given the fact that Mizunami was close to unknown before this match was announced, I thought they did the best they could by building a story about Mizunami being a veteran when Shida was just starting out, and never taking Shida seriously. They did a ton of near falls and I thought there was some believability in some of them.
The post-match angle was pretty sloppy. It’s nice that AEW is always hunting for angles to build to the next thing, but sometimes it is good to just end the match with something like Mizunami accepting Shida’s ability and finally respecting her as champion.
Adam Page vs Matt Hardy: **3/4
This whole angle was simply designed to keep Page on television and in focus while he isn’t contending for the world title. I liked that aspect of it; it was a solid story and Matt Hardy was good as the sleazy heel manager. Page is super-protected and always wins with his finisher; they clearly have big plans for him and I expect him to end 2021 with the world title. The match was fine but probably went a little too long and didn’t contain anything really spectacular.
Tag Team Battle Royal: ***
This was a difficult match to rate. For a good portion of the match, I thought it was pretty boring with a bunch of tag teams that have little credibility entering the ring, and it felt like the match was taking forever. However, by the time we got to the end of the match, it was pretty spectacular. Everything involving the final four of John Silver, PAC, Rey Fenix and Jungle Boy was awesome, especially the final exchange between Fenix and Jungle Boy. PAC and Fenix vs The Young Bucks has MOTY potential.
Miro and Kip Sabian vs Chuck Taylor and Orange Cassidy: **1/4
The start of this match was great; Miro smashed Chuck’s head right through a glass window and then dragged his ass to the ring. That ruled. Then they had a match which was pretty basic and uneventful, other than a little bit of blood. When Miro has actually wrestled in AEW, which has been infrequently, he has come across like a killer. I’d like to see him move and do something else besides this never-ending feud with Best Friends.
Maki Itoh and Britt Baker vs Thunder Rosa and Riho: **½
Itoh was the first surprise of the night, coming in as a replacement for Rebel who feigned an injury as part of the angle. Itoh’s personality was a hit on social media doing the Women’s Eliminator Tournament so they decided to bring her over for this show. I’m not all in on her gimmick like some people, and she isn’t a super crisp worker at this point of her career, but she clearly has charisma and there is a good chance she should get over in the US.
The match itself was pretty lengthy and they did a lot of character work with Itoh and Baker clearly establishing themselves as the heel team. The finish, with Rebel whacking Rosa with the crutch, was classic pro wrestling. I think Thunder Rosa and Baker having a long, drawn-out feud because they are probably the two most dynamic performers in the women’s division. The match itself was just okay.
Must Watch Matches
Shingo Takagi vs Kazuchika Okada: ****1/2 – NJPW New Japan Cup 2021 Tag 2
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the state of wrestling commentary in 2021. They talk about the broadcast teams for AEW, WWE, NJPW and other promotions and go over their strengths and weaknesses while also talking about how they use heel and babyface roles to get their respective products over.