Previously on the Best and Worst of Those Being The Elite Guys: Cody (Rhodes) won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, famous dick wrestler Joey Ryan was murdered but came back to life with a bunch of penis druids, and (surprise!) Chris Jericho showed up as a pissed-off ninja skeleton that’s into hair metal and mall fashion.
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And now, the Best and Worst of All Elite Wrestling Double Or Nothing, the first show under the AEW brand.
All You Need To Know About The Buy-In Is That Glacier Now Has FROST BREATH
No intro paragraphs, I don’t even want to see the logo. Just get the frost breath.
You know, I originally wrote a long thing here about why I don’t think wrestling shows need pre-shows anymore and the value of introducing your product to the widest audience that’s gonna see it with something more representative of your product as a whole, but I cut it. It’s honestly pretty hard to gauge the broader intent of a pre-show battle royal as it relates to how good or bad a wrestling brand’s going to be, and WWE’s got me so trained I almost have to relearn how to accept things for what they are, and not for what they “mean.” It’s like C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”
So in the interest of letting them actually create and run a weekly television show before dealing in absolutes, here are some random thoughts about the Casino Battle Royal.
- Glacier has frost breath now, and the sudden development of new magical abilities this deep into his career gives me hope that they’ll keep him around as a veteran character and give him some new stories
- Here’s Marko Stunt flossing, because Federal Fortnite Law says children must be dancing like this at all times. Marko Stunt makes Lio Rush look like Bobby Lashley.
- Orange Cassidy is and will forever be wrestling magic, and honestly they should’ve just done Orange vs. Adam Page on the pre-show and called it a day.
- I find it weird that my favorite wrestler in the match is a 55-year old ice ninja and he’s competing against a wrestling dinosaur, a guy with no legs, and a dude with a lit cigarette stapled to his forehead in the opening match of the pre-show and this is all fine, but a breakfast-themed murder Goldust was too much for me.
- The announce team really shit the bed here, but we’ll talk about that in a second
I pinged Elle Collins for a different point of view, and to read the long fussy bit I’d originally typed, and this is the context they provided:
Well, my aforementioned roomful of non-wrestling-fans loved every second of that battle royal. There were shouts of “Who’s that cute goth boy?” and (no kidding) “Did that old man just freeze a guy with ice breath?” There’s something to be said, I think, for showing an audience that this whole thing doesn’t have to be deadly serious “legit wrestling.” Fun goofy shit welcomes people in, and you can’t be like “Oh come on, why did they invite Tommy Dreamer?” unless your brain has been poisoned enough by wrestling (no offense, mine has too) to know that Tommy Dreamer will show up for any damn thing.
So here we are. I will say that Adam Page getting a solo entrance as the “Joker card” at the end and winning the match was pretty lame, especially since he was the one popular Being The Elite guy who got his match canceled and suddenly ended up with a magical spot at the end of a match with randomly tacked-on title implications, and that aside from maybe MJF there wasn’t another guy in the match with a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. What, was the first ever AEW World Championship match going to be between Chris Jericho and “Sunny Daze” the hardcore egg wrestler? Kenny Omega going 60 minutes with Tommy Dreamer?
Man, wrestling really has poisoned me. Sorry, sorry.
And Speaking Of The AEW World Championship
I really hope Shawn Michaels shows up in All Elite Wrestling at some point, if only to make a passive-aggressive joke about how Bret Hart’s been sleeping with the egg guy.
Note: That’s a really beautiful championship belt, and I like that it’s so ornate and clearly had a ton of time and work put into it. Compare and contrast that with WWE’s 24/7 Championship, which looks like something they picked up for five bucks at the Quaker Steak & Lube estate sale.
Also of note: MJF wins line of the night for, “I’m no HORSE PROFESSOR.” Don’t sell yourself short, kid, you can be anything you wanna be.
A Quick Word On The Announce Team
Excalibur is a great announcer, and if you’ve listened to anything he’s done for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla you know he’s probably the person outside the WWE bubble most qualified to call exciting, progressive pro wrestling with the idea of creating a new “universe” of characters and situations for wrestling fans. Jim Ross is certainly getting up there and can’t seem to grasp some basic shit like Japanese wrestlers competing for a Chinese wrestling company without suddenly becoming Chinese themselves, but he’s inarguably one of the greatest announcers of all time and brings with him a sense of place, history, and unbridled humanity.
With them in the booth is Alex Marvez, who sounds like the least interested host of a podcast about composting. Despite sounding like a terrified mouse whose best idea for five hours of calling wrestling was to bring up the Wikipedia page for “wrestling” and hope for the best, he got the job for being [checks notes] an NFL beat writer the football guy footing the bill for the promotion likes. He’s like the baby of Mike Adamle and Steve McMichael. Excalibur’s like, I KNOW ALL THE MOVES AND PEOPLE TRUST ME TO TELL THEIR STORIES, I AM THE VOICE OF AN ANARCHIC GENERATION! JR’s like, I HAVE LITERALLY WITNESSED EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER MATTERED IN PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING! I REDEFINED THE POSITION! Al’s like, “hey guys um I watched a movie one time and it was kinda like this match.” They could’ve put Shy Ronnie in the booth with them and gotten the same result.
As the night goes on he starts talking less and Excalibur and JR find their rhythm, so it’s not the worst thing in the world. I think the worst moment is when Excalibur’s trying to figure out how to call the ending to the Casino Battle Royal knowing MJF’s going to do the Santino Marella surprise spot, and poor Marvez (who doesn’t realize he’s supposed to be an “actor” and “storyteller” and miss some obvious stuff to increase the drama of the show) is just like, “uhhhhhhhhh noooo?” and ruins it. Dude definitely needs to find a different role if AEW’s doing weekly TV. Maybe he can interview people backstage or something?
Also, Sammy Guevara’s Here
Sammy Guevara vs. Kip Sabian is the kind of match you can run on a pre-show. It’s a simple, one-on-one match with clearly defined characters that gives some future stars time to work in front of a crowd without a ton of pressure. It’s also why I think pre-show matches work best as “dark” matches for the live crowd, as in a world of already 4-8 pay-per-views, the promise of 1-2 extra hours of wrestling at the beginning has lots its luster.
Guevara vs. Sabian is easy to understand. Guevara is a sexy, arrogant panda bear. Sabian used to watch Nickelodeon and now watches Will Ospreay matches exclusively. It’s fine, I love Sammy, and they’re both going to be better as the weekly shows happen and in-universe character traits and relationships happen. If I found a magical lamp and got three wrestling wishes, though, the first would be getting rid of that “turn with your back to your opponent and do a big anime taunt before hitting the ropes” thing. And if you do it more than twice in a match, you get slimed.
Best: This Is The Worst China I’ve Ever Been To
Up first is the match featuring the most people who’ve competed on WCW Monday Nitro (2), coming in just ahead of Cody vs. Dustin (1) and Omega vs. Jericho (1). Even the battle royal only had Glacier, unless you consider Billy Gunn driving a jeep around in a Nitro parking lot as “competing on Nitro.” Cody vs. Dustin DOES have two people who have appeared at WCW Slamboree, though.
For the first actual match under the AEW brand, we get So Cal Uncensored vs. STRONG HEARTS, which is the kind of name you give your wrestling faction when you grew up in Toryumon/Dragon Gate and had to change faction names every two months. Strong Hearts is CIMA, T-Hawk, and El Lindaman, who are all Japanese, representing Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, based in China. Here’s JR with the call:
It’s a very good way to open the program, largely because you’ve putting a bunch of veterans in charge — T-Hawk and Lindaman, bitten by a radioactive Linda McMahon, are in their twenties, but everyone else has been in the business since in or around the ’90s. I think Scorpio Sky debuted in 2002, so the least tenured guy in SCU has been around for 17 years. This is a promotion where shit like that should and can matter, so you aren’t 17-year veteran former World Champion EC3 scrambling around on the ground with Titus O’Neil like an idiot in the worst segment of Raw trying to win a Seattle SuperSonics promotional giveaway.
It’s also good because there’s nobody in the world who has done more or better work in perfecting the six-man tag than CIMA. Dragon Gate has gotten decades of business out of some great six-man tags in the mid-2000s, and if there’s anywhere All Elite Wrestling can immediately nuke WWE in terms of quality it’s in tag team wrestling. Tag team wrestling actually felt like the biggest strength of the new company, outside of the well-earned in-ring reputations of the biggest stars.
Note: The quick version of everything from here on is, “this was pretty good,” which slowly turns into, “THIS IS VERY GOOD,” as the show progresses. Pretty great that the biggest complaint I have for AEW’s first show is, “the stuff on the pre-show wasn’t as good as the real show, and the stuff at the beginning of the real show wasn’t as good as the stuff at the end.” That’s kinda how it’s supposed to work.
Best: They Said She Wouldn’t Be Nothing, Now They Only Say Kong-ratulations
The women’s triple threat goes from “this should be good” to literally “this is Awesome” with the introduction of Awesome King to the mix. If you aren’t familiar with Kong, she and Gail Kim are low key the reason why the “women’s revolution” in wrestling happened, as TNA decided to put work and prestige into their Knockouts division because it was the one thing they truly had over WWE’s regressive cheesecake nonsense. She went to WWE, competed in the men’s Royal Rumble, and swagger-jacked Dolph Ziggler something fierce. She left WWE under unfortunate circumstances and even retired from wrestling back in 2015, but found her way back into pop culture and wrestling thanks to a great turn as Tamee the “Welfare Queen” on Netflix’s GLOW. She’s GREAT.
She instantly adds some credibility to the women’s division in AEW, and has been gone from WWE long enough and competed in so many places in so many ways that she doesn’t feel like a retread of past ideas. She’s just a cool presence to have around, because people who know, know. Here, she and Nyla Rose basically operate on the periphery of the match while Kylie Rae and Britt Baker go at it, because hey, we don’t need the first women’s match in the promotion to be built around ideas we already know. Rose and Kong could probably rip these ladies in half if they wanted to, so Rae and Baker have to wrestle smarter. That’s what they do, and Baker gets the win with her finishing combo I still think they should call Madame Cole.
I’m excited to see where they go with these characters and situations, and how the women’s division will eventually shake out. I really hope they stay away from Brandi Rhodes as an “evil” general manager character. Even a heel one. The thing that scares me most about AEW from a storytelling point of view is that almost everyone in charge is also an active wrestler, and WCW taught me a decade-long lesson about why you don’t put the book in the hands of someone directly affected by what it says.
Best: Joshi’s Crafted World
Speaking of awesome women’s wrestling, we’re also treated to a match featuring:
- 21-year old 13-year veteran Riho, which is the kind of thing you can type in pro wrestling
- 30-year old 11-year veteran Hikaru Shida, which seems a lot more reasonable
- Ryo Mizunami, cosplaying the mid-life crisis version of Kazuchika Okada
- Emi Sakura, cosplaying 1986 Freddie Mercury
- Yuka Sakazaki, a “magical girl” who suggests pro wrestling’s interpretation of a wrestling genie should be closer to Bayley than Sabu
- 33-season ass-kicking monster kaiju legend AJA MOTHERFUCKING KONG, who is so good at pushing the front of your skull through the back of it that she doesn’t ever even really have to move or get excited
The best compliment I can give it is that it reminded me a lot of The Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada and Masato Yakushiji versus the Blue World Order at ECW Barely Legal ’98; not in that it’s a six-person tag featuring Japanese wrestlers, but in that it worked with the expectations of its DESPERATE-for-something-new crowd and suggested that yeah, the wrestling they already love is gonna be great tonight, but there’s something else out there they might enjoy if they’re into it.
I can’t tell you how many wrestling fans I’ve talked to who point to the six-man from Barely Legal as their gateway to Japanese wrestling, and it’s beyond time that a major wrestling promotion in the United States informed, educated, and got its audience hype as shit about Japanese women’s wrestling. Lucha Underground could’ve done it if they’d stuck with it for more than one episode. NXT did it in tiny doses to try to make it palatable for American audiences, but the main roster has worked overtime to make sure nobody cares. Joshi stars should be the WCW cruiserweights of this promotion, stat.
Best: Sorry About Your Tag Team Division, Revival
Something I really enjoyed for feeling like it’s intended to be a part of the upcoming television universe is how All Elite Wrestling handles tag team wrestling. Notably, they seem to like it and realize people might want to see it, so they have their good tag teams do good tag team wrestling. It’s weird, I know, but since WWE doesn’t seem to be taking the hint from NXT any time soon (unless the Revival and the Usos can somehow convince Vince McMahon to stop thinking 35-year old Revenge of the Nerds jokes are still funny), AEW can just ease into our lives as the “good tag teams” promotion. Even TNA’s never really figured out how to do tag team wrestling right, despite employing some of the best tag teams in the world for the past 10 years.
Up first is the Best Friends vs. Jack Evans and Angelico, which (importantly) is two established teams. It’s an easy to follow match between affable goobers and talented jerks, which is probably the easiest-to-digest in-ring story around. WWE’s entire main event scene is built around this, with characters being shuffled in and out of “affable goober” and “talented jerk” roles so often you kinda lose track of who anybody’s supposed to be or what anybody’s really trying to do.
When the match is over, they’re attacked by a THIRD team: the Super Smash Bros., who are a billion percent going to have to change their name if they’re gonna be part of a televised wrestling show. Player Uno is the guy sitting on the human throne of imperfect Delirious clones, and his tag team partner who looked like he just bought a VIP ticket to The Viking Experience is Player Dos. Ladies and gentlemen, meet ERIC and iBAR, THE GAMING EXPERIENCE.
If the fun character based stuff isn’t up your alley, how about two of the head honchos of the company going balls-to-the-wall with Lucha Underground’s two best performers and pulling off some absurd shit like this:
My only real complaint about All In was that the main event was The Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi versus Bandido, Rey Fenix, and Rey Mysterio dressed like goddamn Wolverine, but the rest of the show went long and they ended up only getting 11 truncated minutes. When it was over, they were just like, boop, no more show, sorry byeeee. The Bucks honestly, truly made up for that at Double or Nothing with 25 minutes of the most bonkers shit they could imagine for the AAA Tag Team Championship. Like, this is everything you need to know about all four guys, and part of what I was saying during All In about how you should’ve gone with Bandido and Flamita or Fenix and Pentagon, but not mix and match them. Tag teams are tag teams for a reason. Especially the ones who are related.
The rest of the show was good, but the Elite guys — specifically Cody, the Bucks, and Omega — made sure that they left it all in the ring and left their mark on the first show of their new promotion’s history. It’d be hard to top All In for its importance at the time and creative energy, but it’s like they sat down, made a list of what they each individually do best, and then DID THAT to the best of their ability, for as long as they could. So it broke down like:
- Bucks: 25 minutes of insane, imaginative tag team wrestling
- Omega: long-ass New Japan-style epics
- Cody: SOUTHERN WRESTLING PATHOS
That pathos, man. That pathos …
Best: The View Changes
Like a lot of people, I watched the Stardust vs. Goldust match at Fastlane 2015 and was underwhelmed. The referee appeared to mess up the finish, nobody seemed to be taking the Rhodes brothers seriously creatively anymore, and I wrote this, entitled, “at least we’ll get a WrestleMania match out of it.”
The feud continues backstage, with a rightfully pissed-off Stardust crashing a Goldust/Dusty Rhodes conversation and going HAM on his brother. That leads to another great, screamed Stardust promo where he tells Dusty Rhodes he’s living in Stardust’s shadow. The Stardust character goes back and forth so quickly between being a dorky loser undercard guy and the most interesting and compelling thing on the show I don’t even know what to say about him most times, but this was wonderful.
The one thing I’ve hoped for is that the Fastlane match wouldn’t be the end of the Dust Brothers beef, and I got that. I can’t complain. I hope they do a paint vs. career thing at Mania, with Stardust winning, retiring his brother and deciding to remove the paint on his own and regain his humanity. And the crowd can murmur through it.
New plan: let’s blow off the Goldust/Stardust story at the next NXT live special.
In my brain, the thought was that yeah, the Fastlane match sucked, but it was just the first part of a bigger story that needed to play out on wrestling’s grandest stage. And like too many other times, the McMahon family’s view of what wrestling is and should be split mine right down the middle, and we were robbed of the end of the story because watching the workers work to make it worthwhile was too “bad” or “boring.” Cody got released, Dustin got shuffled back down the card, and that’s just the way wrestling worked. It’s the wrestling industry!
Now, Cody has done everything in his power as a pureborn son of Dusty Rhodes empowered by the spirit of Nature Boy Ric Flair to change “how wrestling works.” Instead of reaching for an imaginary brass ring, brother bought a brass ring factory and decides how big they should be, how much brass to use, and how to let as many people as he can grab it. Driven by some yellow light in the deep blue of the American Dream, Dustin has found his way to Cody’s side, and now they get to have the match they wanted to have, and tell the story they wanted to tell, on a grander stage than “the grandest stage of them all.” It’s their stage. They built it, like their father did before them. They are painters in a world that insists it ran out of paint years ago. And no, that’s not a joke about them bleeding all over the place.
If the original story was about removing paint to find your humanity, the new story became Dustin’s blood mixing with the paint. It’s not about a person playing a character … it’s a deeper, truer story about how the character you play and everything you do is the real you. The mingling of fact and fiction. The paint on your face looking the same as the blood that fuels your body, and losing yourself in where the design stops and the cuts begin. It’s everything you’ve ever needed to know about Dustin. Cody’s the confident, handsome one who won’t take “good enough” for an answer. Dustin’s the weary one who defeated his demons and was left to figure out what remained after so many years of defining himself by his trauma and weakness. They’re dramatically different, and yet the same. They both having Dusty’s brains. Dusty’s lisp. They’re brothers, for real, in every understanding of that concept. They’ve been through hell and are still here to tell about it, so they tell you. Through pretending to punch each other. It’s the best part about pro wrestling: the ability to say something with your body that words couldn’t. It should be respected alongside dancing, or opera, or acting, or anything else that tries.
Cody is in his prime. Dustin isn’t. Dustin knows he can’t win this fight, but he “rides” for one last time. He’s not as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was. Dustin’s a man out of time. Cody’s a man who just learned how to harness it. It’s hope and hatred, brotherhood and denial, blood and tears. It’s brothers. It’s a story that the only two men Dusty Rhodes left on this Earth could tell, and could only tell together.
The finish brings things full circle. The defining moment of Dustin’s career for me has always been the legendary “the view never changes” promo, in which Dusty Rhodes admits to neglecting his son for selfish reasons, and wanting to make good on a lifetime of mistakes now. It’s the kind of situation you can only really have between a famous father and a talented, but broken son. It was real. It was everything.
After the match, Dustin is broken again. He can’t even stand up, and looks like he’s about to explode from some kind of combination of nervous energy, tears, and loss of blood. By evoking “the view never changes,” Cody isn’t just asking Dustin to be his tag team partner; he’s reaching into the history and soul of his brother, pulling out that impossible-to-reproduce moment as a way of tying them both to their father, and, in his own way, trying to make up for his own lifetime of mistakes. Cody believes he can change the wrestling universe. Dustin is resigned to finding a comfortable place in it. But Cody (the character, and I’d assume the man) has never been able to do this without Dustin, no matter what he says or does or promos or feels, and damn it all, if he’s going to do the most important thing he’s ever done, he needs his brother beside him. Both promos reminded Dustin that he’s loved by his family no matter what, which should be the most obvious thing your brain can know, but most of the time feels like the hardest.
A billion stars. A sky full of them. Thank you to everyone involved in putting this together, and thanks to Dusty again, just for the record.
Best: The Dirt Bike Kid Returns
Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega was a fine followup to their much better Wrestle Kingdom that served a very different purpose: establish Chris Jericho as the top heel in the company and the logical first AEW World Champion (because seriously, come on, it’s CHRIS JERICHO), set up Jericho’s Judas Effect running elbow strike which might as well by the goddamn Lightning Fist as an instant kill even on dudes like Kenny Omega, and introduce the world to Jon Moxley, the kind of bad-ass wrestling character you’d never catch forgetting to unplug a television before trying to use it as a weapon and having it blow up in his face.
Everyone played their roles perfectly here. Jericho is a mega star with a legit untouchable historical pedigree who should be the #1 guy in the promotion until he decides not to be. He’s the connection to the mainstream of the past 20 years. Moxley, the former Dean Ambrose, is a connection to the current mainstream, and maybe the biggest example ever of how WWE took a can’t-miss prospect from the independent scene, turned him into a multiple-time World Champion and 1/3 of the greatest trios team in wrestling history, and somehow it still feels like they “messed him up.” They “didn’t use him right.” I don’t know how that’s the case, but WWE’s created a weird environment where success feels like a series of mandated decisions, and it’s hard to really get behind anyone because everything feels so interchangable and basic. Like, Sheamus is one of the most decorated pro wrestlers in history, by a mile. Do you give a shit about Sheamus? You know you should, and you kinda like him, but are you gonna say Sheamus is up there with Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels? Because statistically he’s right up there with them.
Omega’s in an interesting spot too, because he’s the “best bout machine” and generally considered one of the top wrestlers in the world, but he’s also kinda sorta in charge of this new company, which means he can’t just win all the time. Even if he should, you know? Because the Internet’s gonna Internet, and you can’t escape it if you’re trying to be the top wrestling promotion in a wrestling industry more or less throttled to death by social media and the Internet.
Having him avoid the title picture initially and give Adam Page that spot while he works with a guy desperate to feel something in wrestling again is a great idea. It lets the company focus on other things while you do ticket-selling work as the guy we can count on to always be good against the guy we’ve spent the past several years mad at for not being better. It’s a perfect combination of motivated parties, and when it’s time for Omega to finally, inevitably step into the AEW title picture, it’ll feel like a big deal and not a “decision.” I hope that made sense.
All in all, what I’m trying to say is that the show did a great job of saying “this is what we are,” while leaving enough room to say, “this is what we’re gonna try to be, and some idea of what we could become.” That’s hope, and doing the work. Sometimes those are the only two things you need.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
I worked in nice restaurants for a long time, one of them I helped open (it’s doing great today), and I think it’s important we treat this show like a brand new restaurant. It’s going to have a myriad of issues, but within six months they work out the kinks and get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. The Chef, the Servers, the Bartenders, basically the “talent” is all there with good management, but it’s still not going to be perfect the first day it opens its doors. I know we have a lot more to go in the show, but thought it was worth the analogy so we don’t crucify them for a few mistakes and issues.
Dave M J
Kinda sad there isn’t a giant house of cards for Angelico to jump off of.
By the way, it is STILL canon that Peyton Royce is paying a friend to give Shawn Spears ridiculous haircuts so she and Billie can have uncontrollable fits of laughter over it.
The genuine emotion of the Rhodes brothers uniting was honestly chilling. Gave me goosebumps.
That has to be the first time I’ve heard the word hypotenuse on a wrestling show.
NOBODY KICKS OUT OF THE FALCON ARROW
The very first Takeover, or rather, NXT special, live event special, “NXT ArRIVAL”, they started off with their best two wrestlers, Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro, to make a point. I wish AEW would have done that.
WWE hasn’t had a pop like Moxley got in many many years. That had to feel good for him. He deserved it. Just lit his WWE bridge ablaze
Chris Jericho looks like he raided Bam Margera’s closet
Me- They’re defending the tag belts? Isn’t there a AAA ppv tonite?
Husband- AAA doesn’t care. They’re probably still looking for Vampiro’s music.
That’s it for the first Best and Worst for AEW’s first-ever show. If nothing else, it’s got me wanting to hear everyone else’s thoughts about the show, which isn’t something you really get from WWE anymore. I’ll be happy when we don’t have to rigidly compare them all the time, which should be …
Okay, probably never.
Make sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show, share the column to get more eyes on All Elite Wrestling so maybe we can write about wrestling we like more often, and make sure you’re here for ALL OUT later this year. Thanks for reading, and thanks to AEW for finally, maybe, being a real alternative.