In his 83 Weeks podcast, Eric Bischoff frequently says a movie can be OK, but the audience can be sold it was a great if it has a good ending. That’s my take on AEW’s first pay per view Double Or Nothing. It was a show that was perfectly adequate with good modern wrestling that left me wanting more after the main event.
I’ve been watching wrestling long enough to remember the excitement of the first Monday Night Nitro. It felt special, different and set up to be an immediate challenger to WWF’s Monday Night Raw. With WWE in MORE BROCK MODE, taking Saudi blood money and trotting out the Monday Night Wars stars, this was the ideal time for AEW to deliver a strong enough card to immediately establish itself as the destination point for people tired of the WWE’s presentation — both outside and inside the ring.
As usual, I’m not gonna do a play-by-play break down of the matches and will just share my major thoughts on each match. The setup looks classy with nice lightning, a creative entrance design without looking too busy and an overall top money presentation. This definitely doesn’t look like a small indy making their first pay per view.
First up, we’ve got the Buy In show with the last minute hype job to convince viewers to order the show.
Casino Royale Battle Royal — winner is one half of the match to determine the first AEW champion.
No one can talk about the incredibly wacky and convoluted stipulations of some TNA Impact matches ever again. Five guys start and then after three minutes, five more guys from another suite (playing up the card/gambling theme) come out. After the remaining two suites come out, the man who drew the joker comes out last.
Alex Marvez and Excalibur are on commentary for this one. I used to love battle royal matches growing up as it was cool seeing all the stars in one match. Generally, I haven’t liked any since 2004’s Royal Rumble. This one didn’t snap the streak. The Casino Royale featured guys like Tommy Dreamer, Jimmy Havoc, Jungle Boy, Sonny Kiss, Sunny Daze, Billy Gunn, MJF and bilateral amputee Dustin Thomas.
Given the prominence of the match, it made sense to feature in the last attempt to convert some more buyers. If I was on the fence, I wouldn’t have ordered based on this match. Too many of the participants came off as indy-riffic with zero chance of headlining an AEW card. Marvez and Excalibur broke down the stakes and action fine, but due to the chaotic nature of a battle royal, couldn’t discuss much backstory on the wrestlers for newcomers who don’t stake out the independent scene.
And carrying over a major trait I hate about the modern Royal Rumble, there was way too much laying around on the sides while random wrestlers basically had a match in the middle. MJF at least made a good accounting of himself and came off like a perfect prick. He’s the rare guy here who understands the importance of being a good heel and doesn’t secretly seem to crave the fan’s approval. Adam Page won the joker, which effectively eliminated every remaining trace of suspense. MJF is entertaining, but not a big enough name to be in the first championship match. Page wins after eliminating MJF. That’s good for him, but I’d much rather have seen Page vs Pac.
One weird thing, the graphic team still had Pac prominently featured in the big showcase image. In the digital age, you’d think someone would have thought to replace him with anyone else. That’s the kind of oversight fans would scream bush league if Impact did it.
Backstage Alicia Atout is with Kylie Rae, who gets interrupted by The Librarians. Alicia is the only one I knew, but the segment worked as Kylie tried to get in on the shushing and got silenced.
Sammy Guevera vs. Kip Sabian
This was much better in terms of selling the show. Guevera reminds me of a freshly turned Prince Devitt in New Japan. He’s got a presence even with that wacky panda entrance gear. Sabian also has a good look and crisp offense.
Marvez says in AEW, wins matter, and proceeds to not tell us any stakes involved in this match. Production missed some key spots and eliminations in the Casino Royale, but the poorly timed audience reaction shots and bad camera angles were more annoying here. Both guys looked good and hopefully, AEW introduces a cruiserweight or TV title for guys that need to establish themselves more on a national stage before they start challenging for the AEW world title. This was definitely worth watching.
Jim Ross makes his way to ringside as The Elite (minus Adam Page) make their way out to warm up the crowd. I was a tad envious of Marc Mero during the Attitude Era and could only tip my hat to Billy Kidman, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never been just outright as jealous as a dude than I am Cody. Brandy Rhodes…
I think I did it again… 👑 pic.twitter.com/viBdHY88Cn
— Brandi Rhodes (@TheBrandiRhodes) May 26, 2019
Now let’s get this show underway…
Justin Roberts is the ring announcer. AEW didn’t grab every WWE cast-off and the ones they got were smart pick-ups. Roberts is a great announcer and fits the Vegas presentation nicely.
SCU (Frankie Kazarian, Christopher Daniels and Scorpio Sky) vs. CIMA, Lindaman, & THawk
As a big SCU fan, I was happy they got to officially kick off the show. They’re good enough that they can carry opponents to a good match. The trio from OWE didn’t need any help with their luggage though and more than held up their end of the match. This was exactly what was needed to start the ppv with crazy, hard-hitting action and crisp tag team maneuvers. SCU finishes it off with the Best Meltzer Ever. I will happily sign up for a series of matches with these guys.
Britt Baker vs Nyla Rose vs Kylie Rae
Allie is here to make my eyes do a Roger Rabbit too. I wish WWE lost as much worthwhile talent to AEW as ROH and Impact. It’s taken approximately 20 minutes for me to LOVE Kylie Rae. That is some effective character work.
Brandi comes out again (I am fine with this development) in ring gear teasing like she’s going to Stephanie McMahon the match, but fakes us all out by revealing a fourth addition to the match — Awesome Kong.
Kong is one of my all-time favorite women wrestlers. She has credibility to her gimmick that even after lengthy absences she can come right back in like a world killer. I really enjoyed this match as everyone got nice segments to shine. Excalibur got in a great line about Nyla now being a cruiserweight when Kong arrived. This was exactly what this match needed to be as it showcased the four women and reminding viewers there’s still plenty of exceptional women wrestlers not competing in NXT or WWE.
Baker got the win after a dangerous looking brainbuster to knee move. The camerawork was spotty for this, but it looked real painful. The beauty of this four-way is we can immediately get a pair of follow-up matches namely Kong vs Nyla and Baker vs Rae. Good booking and well executed match.
Jack Evans & Angelico vs Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Trent Beretta)
As expected, this match brought all of the crazy high-flying spots these four could cram into their allotted time. Angelico is really fun to watch due to his lankiness and smoothness of his moves. Evans should have been a Green Lantern for his complete and utter lack of fear in doing some of his spots. The Best Friends are silly, but always deliver in the ring. My only problem with this match was they started going into finisher excess mode where moves that could have easily ended the match did not. Not only does it hurt this match, but also makes some other finishes look weak in comparison. Marvez isn’t the best at this commentary thing and JR sounds like he’s losing patience with him, which is amusing, but drawing more attention to Marvez’s deficiencies.
Best Friends get the win and tease hugging it out with Angelico and Evans when the lights go out. No one seems to know the guy who looks like a starving Kratos and his yellow masked pal. Ditto for the second blackout when the ring is surrounded by pasty out of shape dudes wearing green masks. This was a weird segment made even weirder by the uninspired beat down on the two teams. To their credit, the announcers don’t go overboard making the attackers (Super Smash Brothers) out to be stars.
Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki and Emi Sakura vs. Hikaru Shida, Riho Abe and Ryo Mizunami
For the hype, Aja Kong looked slow and moving like she was dinged up. Excalibur explained this wasn’t a group of factions battling, but rather six mainly solo stars teaming up and it kinda showed. I appreciate the match diversity, but I think I would have liked one singles match with the women. Shida has a cool look and seems like someone who could be an interesting centerpiece of the division. Riho Abe showed great charisma for a “bruiser” and we MUST see a Yuka vs Kylie match pronto. I liked this, but it was my least favorite of the main show matches so far. Ross was annoying on commentary with his anything the men can do these women can do lines. Welcome to 2001 JR. There was a goof with a three count, but it didn’t ruin the match. Aja got the win with a spinning backfist for her team.
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Cody vs Dustin Rhodes
Cody comes out in full pomp and circumstances and notices a throne with an insignia very closely resembling one H, Triple. Brandi reaches under the ring and pulls out a sledgehammer. With the help of The Undertaker’s remaining spirits from Starccast and the sledgehammer, Cody is able to crack the throne.
As Roberts introduced him as The Natural it dawned on me we’re never going to get The Natural figure from Mattel’s WWE line. I’d love some backstory on this face paint/outfit from the commentators. One thing I always hate with older wrestlers is when the commentators remark how impressive they look in the ring stopping just short of saying “for their age.” It’s either this guy is still good enough to go or the younger guy is a loser for fighting some fogey who can’t wrestle any more.
This was a better Cody match than normal as he didn’t bring out all of his shenanigans. Dustin seemed to trigger every vein in his forehead when he hit an exposed turnbuckle. This gave the match a different feel than your typical WWE presentation as Dustin was gushing blood pools. The production team got some great crowd reaction shots. Earl Hebner tossed Brandi out after she hit Dustin with a spear. DDP came to carry her out over his shoulder. I admire that man’s restraint in how he carried Brandi.
The Rhodes boys traded Cross Rhodes before Cody nailed his final one to get the pin. By this point, he was covered in Dustin’s blood. He started back up the ramp before returning to the ring. Cody tells Dustin he can’t retire as he needs a favor — he’s got an open contract with The Young Bucks with a partner of his choosing. He doesn’t need a friend or a partner. He just needs his brother. Cody cracked his voice perfectly here as Dustin embraced him and the two walk up the ramp together. JR insists he’s not crying because of allergies while Excalibur makes a big show of wiping tears under his mask.
I thought this segment was insane. This would be like British Bulldog bloodying Bret Hart at In Your House and then asking for his help to fight HBK and Diesel immediately after the match. Cody savagely attacked Dustin throughout the match and now wanted to be pals again? We needed a bit more doubts and concern from Cody throughout the match to show this conflict of wanting to show Dustin up and caring about his older brother so the post-match felt more earned.
I’ll give Cody credit for this very important thing — he knows this audience and that they will by in to everything. There were several audience members wiping tears away at ringside.
Time for the AEW championship reveal. Carrying out the belt is none other than Bret “Hitman” Hart. Shots fired! It’s always good to see The Hitman. To crowd the segment up, Hangman Page comes out followed by MJF, who gets surrounded by Jungle Boy and Jimmy Havoc. We almost don’t get a shot at the belt until Bret opens the bag and shows it off. It looks a lot like the old Mid-South North American championship.
Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros.
Fenix emerged as one of my favorites in Lucha Underground and Pentagon was always great. The Young Bucks needed time to rest up and Excalibur points out the LBs have wrestled 48 matches in 2019 to the Young Buck’s 2. Of course one of those resulted in the Bucks taking the LB’s AAA tag titles. See? Here’s stakes and drama. I like Cody as a singles star, but he and Dustin are a fun team. I like the idea of multiple brother squads in AEW. Hey Usos, did you really sign the extension with WWE? There’s still time.
This was a tricky match as the Elite don’t want to be Triple H in 2003 and winning all of their matches. Cody needed to win his match and Omega has to take the L so Jericho can tie the series. Should The Elite end the night 3-1? What’s best for business pally?
To me this was the main event as I didn’t know how this would play out, plus the odds of one of the four coming out with a space gun to fight their hated rivals were low.
So yeah, just like the Best Friends vs. Angelico/Evans match, we had a ton of crazy moves that could have ended the match at any point. The Bucks and LBs are a little better about barely escaping from these death moves like a Canadian Destroyer on the ring apron so the drama remains. Having Fenix and Pentagon is a luxury for any promotion as they can have epic singles and tag team matches. I’d like to see them fight Angelico and Evans.
The Bucks get the win after Fenix gets caught in a Meltzer Driver. A major problem the Bucks had in New Japan was they quickly beat all of their challengers or they would get into a pattern of losing the titles and regaining them. AEW is going to need to keep bringing in teams to feed against the Bucks or throw them in a blood feud (Gallows and Anderson?) while another team emerges as the championship team. By this point the card justified its price tag. Everything else was just bonus and we’ve still got the main event.
Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho
Jericho had a cool entrance with flashbacks to his earlier incarnations. We missed a couple as we just got Lionheart, The List and Day-Glo jacket versions. Jericho looked in better shape than last year. He kinda looks like his early ECW shape with little torso definition and just a bit flabbier and older. Omega looked great. He’s the guy this promotion must center around regardless if he has the championship or not. Omega is the draw for fans and should be for disgruntled WWE, Impact, ROH, etc. stars looking to go against one of the three best US-focused wrestlers today. AJ Styles is another. Is the third Seth Rollins? Daniel Bryan?
I bought into this match more than their universally loved Wrestle Kingdom match as they spent more time in the ring and the hatred was evident. Jericho probably wants to try and keep up with Omega, but he’s not able to at this point. This would have been an all-time Top 5 if these guys both fought in their primes. Jericho is still smart enough to limit his more reckless impulses and make them more meaningful. Omega isn’t afraid to sell, which helps made Jericho look more formidable than he probably should be against the franchise star.
They botch a DDT spot, which JR smartly calls out, but reset and Jericho hits it again after a brief flurry. He follows up with a Codebreaker and a pretty standard back elbow, which is another finisher called The Judas Effect for the win. Few things:
- I liked Marvez questioning if The Judas Effect was even a real move earlier suggesting it could be Jericho mind games
- Omega sold this like a world beater move as he stayed down for a good five minutes
- A back elbow should knock someone out
- So should about 347 of the moves that didn’t get pins earlier tonight
Jericho gloats and seems like he’s channeling WCW Jericho as he riles up the crowd. This was great stuff from Jericho, but it was begging for that big moment to leave the fans in a frenzy as the show wrapped. And we got it as Jon Moxley the man formerly known as Dean Ambrose came out and laid Jericho out with his Double Arm DDT (Clean Actions?). The ref gets one as well.
Omega finally starts to stir and Moxley teases getting him next, but Omega fights off and we get a big brawl through the crowd to the stage. Moxley runs up the giant stack of chips as Omega follows him only to get caught with another DDT and tossed off onto the stage. This was a huge moment and the crowd (and me) lost their minds.
Moxley had some big moments in WWE, but he was rarely treated like he was at DON. It’s a shame some WWE talent with expiring contracts like AJ Styles and The Usos re-signed as I could only imagine how major their arrivals would be treated. At least Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows have the right idea and I can’t wait to see how they make their AEW debut when their WWE contracts expire. Moxley vs. Omega should run through the summer and is exactly the kind of high profile feud between two young stars that will make people feel AEW is a can’t miss promotion just in time for the TV show to start.
Did Double or Nothing deliver? It’s hard to see fans not coming away enjoying this as it delivered exactly what was promised and managed some fun surprises as well. Nitro shocked WWE and proceeded to kill them in the ratings for 83 straight weeks. To avoid history repeating itself, WWE needs to step up or wrestling is poised to become All Elite.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: AEW