AEW Year Two
03/09/2020 – 01/06/2021
By April of 2020 All Elite Wrestling had proven itself on the American pro wrestling stage. With Tony Khan at the helm, the company confidently left behind the uncertainty which any new brand faces in its first year. The initial negative buzz from WWE diehards and evolution naysayers was beginning to die down. And the doubters were finding less and less to cling onto as they crossed their fingers and preyed for AEW’s downfall. But it never came. And by the time the start of their second year in business rolled around, it looked as if the company would continue to leap from strength to strength.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We were still firmly in the midst of the Pandemic and all wrestling shows around the United States were closed off to large crowds. We had no idea how long this would last and thus AEW couldn’t rest of their laurels. They had to strive to produce and present a wrestling product which not only helped the audience escape from the harsh reality, which was 2020, but also as their stock continued to rise, they would begin to come onto the radar of their much larger competitors.
In this part of the story, we will continue to examine the brightest moments and most memorable match ups of the year, through some of pro wrestling’s highest calibre performers. We will see how AEW took ultraviolence to the next level with the introduction of several bloody bouts. And witness the crowning of several new champions. Some of whom are setting themselves up to be the future of AEW and the pro wrestling industry as a whole. Oh and debuts. Lots and lots of debuts.
Starting off April with a six-match win streak. Kenny Omega put on an excellent display in a match against Trent Baretta, whom, as was customary at the time, was accompanied to the ring by Orange Cassidy. And long-time collaborator Chuck Taylor.
Both men veterans within the squared circle, put on a back-and-forth affair which seemingly came out of nowhere. Showing in main, why Omega is considered one of AEW’s top performers and one of the greatest pro wrestlers on the planet.
The finish came when Omega reversed an attempt at a piledriver from Trent and landed a knee before the one-winged angel for the pin. Not a match with a huge significance to the over-arching AEW programme. But an excellent example of what I think made the company feel so special at the time. So many of the matchups within AEW at the time felt so fresh and new. A match between 2 with little to no story or build turns into an entertaining and high-calibre bout between the ropes. I love the storylines and emotions of pro wrestling as much as the next guy. But what All Elite Wrestling showed and have continued to show, is that first and foremost the presentation of their promotion will aim to consistently shine a light onto the core of why we are all fans in the first place. The action.
“AEW is an organization that is constantly changing, and the players come and go very rapidly. TV and YouTube. If you’ve been following AEW on FITE TV or YouTube, you’ll know that the women’s division in particular has seen an increase in the number of young, cute, and dynamic players over the past year.” Hikaru Shida
When Hikaru Shida faced off against Britt Baker on the 8th April. A brutal mistake would prove to be the foundations of a rise to stardom. When Shida landed a flush albeit accidental knee to her opponent’s face, the force broke Britt Baker’s nose. Blood begun immediately streaming from her nostrils. With tears brought on from the blunt force trauma. And a deranged look in her eyes, Baker powered on and managed to gain the upper hand in the match.
As she fiercely grappled Shida to the mat, Britt’s blood had painted her lower face crimson. Her mouth filled with gargled cries and teeth dripping in the red from her wound. A more sadistic side of her character came to the front. As the dentist took her boot to the back of her opponent’s skull and savouring every bloody moment. Although her willingness to linger in her opponents and her own suffering would prove her undoing. As Hikaru Shida showed why she is such an elite athlete, pouncing in an instant, finding the opening for the pin.
But her victory roar was not the lasting image from the bout. For most everyone who was watching that night knew they had witnessed something special. Britt Baker pushed through what was a rather nasty injury, sucking down blood as she attempted to regain her composure. As she lay, beaten and bloodied on her back in the ring, it was hard not to feel sympathy for her situation, and at the same time, be impressed by her sheer resiliency.
Say what you want about the current state of women’s wrestling in AEW. But at the time back in April of 2020, this match made me appreciate that the female athletes were being allowed to go out to the ring and show their toughness as well as their speed, agility, and technique. I like that the women can get as bloodied and bruised as the men. They are just as brutal and just as violent. And although this matches brutality came from a fluke, accident and mishap, the way in which then AEW Women’s champion Shida, Britt Baker and the rest of the ladies on the roster would prove their abilities, were anything but luck. I’d highly recommend going back to watch this match if you can. You’ll even get to hear some of Chris Jericho’s most excitable and emotionally charged commentary as he was at the announce desk for this one.
"I think there is always work to be done in every division and every company around the world. You can’t ever settle. That’s when it gets dangerous. We have so many talented women right now. Everyone has their time. When it’s their time to shine, there is nothing in this world that can dim that light.” Britt Baker
MAY 2020 DOUBLE OR NOTHING
Double or Nothing was AEW’s first major pay-per-view of the pandemic era. The decision makers within the company doing all they could to maintain a special aura to the event through it’s crowd less atmosphere. I feel that now is a good time to check up on the status of some of the company’s top stars, via their position on the card.
The buy-in pre-show delivered us a thrilling ladder match with slightly unusual rules.
Two men starting in the ring, So Cal Uncensored members, Scorpio Sky and Frankie Kazarian were randomly chosen to come face to face at the open. Kip Sabien, Darby Allin and Orange Cassidy interjected one by one, two minutes apart. Colt Cobanna, Joey Janela and Luchasaurus made up the second set of entrants. The big moment of the event, aside from the high flying and death defying action. Came when surprise entrant Brian Cage made his almighty AEW debut. Marching to the ring with Taz by his side. Laying waste to all the other competitors in the match and swiftly ascending the ladder to grab the over-sized poker chip, his prize which hung high above the ring. With it came an opportunity for Brian to challenge for the AEW World title at a later date.
Whilst other matches on the card may not have had the same spectacle as what was about to come. The in-ring story telling and match ups proved to be just as captivating. The Best friends faced off against private party to see who would be declared the AEW Tag number one contenders. Dustin Rhodes fought Shawn Spears. Kris Statlander had a great match against Penelope Ford. In a taste of the potential future of the AEW company, MJF faced off against Jungle Boy and both men proved that their hype, even at this early stage of their careers, was well warranted.
Back in April we’d seen rumours spreading around the online wrestling community after Cody Rhodes made some speculative comments about the introduction of a new TV title, for mid-card performers to chase on their way to the main event. Notable wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer had asked Cody directly about the potential new belt. And with so many things in pro wrestling, the fact that Rhodes simply didn’t deny the rumours, meant there was a buzz amongst fans.
It was explained that AEW would hold an eight-man tournament, with the winner being crown with the company’s newest belt. The championship hopefuls battled it out on Dynamite in the month leading into Double or Nothing, with the final to be held at the big event. The final two were Lance Archer, a fear-inspiring monster whose chosen form of offence during matches is to obliterate anything that dares to stand in his path. Archer had recently allied with Jake The Snake Roberts, the wily veteran lending advice in his protégé’s ear. To face him would, of course, be Cody Rhodes. This is pro wrestling after all.
Cody had been so unsuccessful in his attempts at challenging for the AEW World Title that he had vowed to never challenge for it again. So, what better way to bring to light a new championship, than to have Cody competing in a match to decide the first ever TNT Television Title.
A throwback to the NWA Television Title Belt, with it’s stand out red leather strap covered in glittering silver plates displaying the name of the television station that its wearer could claim to be the champion of. We’d see the design of the TNT belt change over the next 2 years, but it’s origins are routed firmly in wrestling’s past. How fitting then, that a man who held that famed red NWA belt was none other than Dusty Rhodes. Giving Cody not only a chance to finally wrap AEW gold around his waist, but to do so with his father so front and centre in his mind, felt so poignant.
One aspect of the buzz surrounding Double Or Nothing, was the short lived storyline going into the event. Which saw legendary boxer and all-round hard man Mike Tyson brought into the company. Although Iron Mike brings with him an aura of realism and the allure of real, worldwide stardom, his brief and well delivered part in the build up to the match and within it never sought to over shadow the real reason he was there. To deliver to the winner of the match for the brand-new TNT title belt.
Cody Rhodes was triumphant in a brutal affair against the imposing Lance Archer. And looked every bit the fitting man to be wrapped in that classic red belt. Cody would go on to have a run of 82 days with the title. His dashing good looks and sharply cut suit made him the perfect image of a champion.
The women’s division continued to hot up as Hikaru Shida took on champion Nyla Rose in a no disqualifications match. With the AEW Women’s championship on the line, both women took the brutality of their ongoing feud to the next level. The lack of restrictions within the bout allowed for these two performers to expand their wrestling repertoire and show what they can do given the freedom.
For me, the highlight of the night was the stadium stampede match. Between The Elite, Kenny Omega leading out The Young Bucks, Adam Page and the wild card of Matt Hardy and The Inner Circle a team fronted by Chris Jericho, with Santana, Ortiz, Sammy Guevarra and Jake Hager at his side. The match derived its name from the fact that it would see the two teams come face to face on the field at the TIAA Bank Field Right there on the pitch, a ring, sat lonely in the huge venue. At first, a stark and unavoidable reminder that this pay-per-view was so empty without the fans, but then a thought of how lucky we are to have these entertainers to have distracted us, if only for mere moments, from the reality of what was happening in the world.
And what a distraction it was. In the best possible way. The teams ran at one another, like medieval knights charging down the battlefield. Their shouts and cries echoing around the space. With weaponry at hand, the men come together in a thud, before brawling separately to different areas around the arena. Hangman Adam Page rode out on a fucking horse by the way. I’m not telling you anymore if you haven’t seen it.
Go watch it. Chris Jericho landed a sweet back elbow to the Jacksonville Jaguars mascot, showing he hadn’t lost a step in knowing just how to play the villain. Matt Hardy fought of Santana and Ortiz in a swimming pool as Matt Facts flashed onto the screen in hilarious fashion. Matt Jackson left my jaw on the flaw as he performed a diving flip from on the football posts.
When Kenny Omega landed a wicked one-winged angel onto Sammy Guevarra off a raised platform the cut neck paced contest was won for the Elite.
The other main event of the night saw Jon Moxley defending his AEW title in one of the most hard-hitting matches of the year. His opponent on the night was the late, great Brodie Lee. A massive man.
Whose enormous stature was often matched by his quick-thinking wrestling brain and explosive speed. Jon Moxley was declared the winner after both competitors had laid it all out in the ring. Making the pair both look better than when they walked in as Moxley walked out as the rightful champion.
This show is a must watch from the history of AEW. One of their all-time greatest and up there for me as a personal favourite.
MAY 27TH 2020 FTR DEBUT
"Fear the Revolution. Follow the Rules. For the Revolution." Whatever FTR stands for, this team means business.
During a beat down of The Young Bucks, at the hand of the Butcher and Blade. An old truck hauled into Daily’s Place on an episode of Dynamite on May 27th 2020. We saw the debut of one of the best tag teams in the world onto the AEW scene. Leaving WWE under bad terms, Cash Wheeler arrived after leaving behind his Dash Wilder character and as always, by his side Dax Harwood, formerly known as Scott Dawson.
“That was one of our biggest factors in leaving, was that tag team wrestling was featured everywhere else except for WWE and we wanted to be a part of that. We could sit back and, apart from our NXT stuff, we could have no legacy in wrestling, or we could go out and make history.” Dax Harwood
The pair came in with a real intention about their body language. Leaping in the ring and swiftly showing their calibre as they dispatched the men in white. Standing face to face against arguably AEW’s most well-known tag team, the new team who would be known as FTR, looked every bit the part. In the weeks following their much discussed arrival, they gave their first interview with AEW since leaving World Wrestling Entertainment.
“We weren’t a welcome addition here in AEW. We walk into AEW, and we knew this was going to happen because we were former WWE guys. We walked into there, and there was some resentment from some of the younger guys there. I think it’s because of our attitude towards the business, our attitude towards professional wrestling, tag team wrestling and the rules. So the backstage vibe at first was kind of tense, and that’s OK with us. We thrive on that. We enjoy that. We enjoy the competitiveness of professional wrestling. If we’re all friends and we’re all trying to help each other out, at the end of the day, no one gets ahead, but myself and Cash, as a unit, as a tag team, we want to be the top, I don’t mean to make a pun of this, but we do want to be the top guys in AEW.” Dax Harwood
JULY 20 EDDIE KINGSTON DEBUT
“He has got a big mouth and a lot of guts.” Arn Anderson on Eddie Kingston
When it was stated that Cody Rhodes would defend his TNT championship against a mystery debutting opponent. The usual buzz spread around the wrestling community. When Eddie Kingston walked out onto the stage, it only took him mere seconds to grab the world’s attention.
Rough around the edges doesn’t go far enough. A man who looks like he could beat you in a bar fight after a few drinks. Kingston is far from the classical ideals of what a pro athlete looks like. But as soon as that microphone comes within distance of his mouth, it’s hard to deny this mans charisma and sharp tongue.After threatening to gouge out the eye of Cody’s manager Arn Anderson twice and an onslaught of hard-hitting and close to the bone verbiage from Eddie. He spoke about how Cody should stop complaining about having to struggle and in comparison, Eddie feels he has suffered through many more hardships to get a chance at the big time.
The match was a great display of Kingston’s unusual mix of hard-hitting chops and open palm strikes, mixed with an old school slower pace. A great introduction to AEW’s latest signing, Kingston did more than enough to deserve a permanent place on the roster. He showed that he was the kind of bruiser who refuses to quit and has to be beaten to defeat. All the while backing up his own claims of his never say die attitude.
“I learned a long time ago in this life…you never lose, you learn, and, uh, I learned tonight that Cody is the better man. He’s the better grappler, he was the better fighter but just tonight. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’m not gonna say the year, the number or all that jazz, ’cause that’s just pitiful to say, in my opinion. I have nothing else in this life that I love doing. So whether AEW brings me back or not, I’m going to keep going. I’m going to keep going until the wheels fall off ’cause I have nothing else but this. I chose to have nothing else but this.” Eddie Kingston
In August we witnessed a shockingly fast defeat of Cody Rhodes at the hands of Brodie Lee and The Dark Order. Rhodes was an AEW original, withs passionate fans, a family lineage and wrestling pedigree. But none of that seemed to matter as Brodie Lee destroyed The American Nightmare in around 3 minutes, claiming his first All Elite Championship with the TNT belt.
All Out brought with it yet another massive showing from the roster and the team behind the scenes in AEW. The card was jam packed with excellent matches both in and out of the ring.
Britt Baker defeated Big Swoll in a tooth and nail match.
Jurassic Express took on the Young Bucks and really took a step up in my estimations as the then fairly new pairing of Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus showed themselves to be a great foil for the veteran Bucks.
The Dark Order lead by Brodie Lee with his newly won TNT championship. Took on Dustin Rhodes’s Natural Nightmares, joint by Scorpio Sky and Zack Ryder fresh out of WWE.
Hikaru Shida defended her AEW Women’s belt against Thunder Rosa.
And Omega and Page put their tag belts on the line in an instant classic against FTR.
A start of a build which would see Kenny and Adam struggle to coincide over the next part of their careers. A crowning moment for FTR who hadn’t taken long after their arrivals to make their way to the top of the tag division. A place which their talent surely deserved.
Bringing together Orange from Cassidy and a little bit of the bubbly from Chris Jericho, it only made sense for the two men to compete in a Mimosa match. With a bubbling vat of the much-drunk cocktail waiting ringside for the loser to be devoured by. A light-hearted but well enacted match, which allowed Cassidy a chance to show his unique wrestling style against arguably the biggest opponent of his career. The end came with the fans delighted to see the heel Chris Jericho shoved into the paddling pool of Mimosa giving OC the biggest win of his AEW story thus far.
Jon Moxley defended the AEW title against MJF in the main event in a match which proved to be just as much about what these men had to say as they had to do physically.
MATT HARDY CONCUSSION
The most memorable moment of the event came from another horrific accident during an AEW show. Matt Hardy faced off against Sammy Guevara in a match which utilised the backstage area of Daily’s Place. Battling on the concrete floor, the two men sought to take their rivalry to the next level. Pun intended. By climbing above a cherry picker and playing the age old wrestling game of who will get thrown from the elevated area to the hard floor below.
Now, I don’t like watching these kinds of falls, even when they land as close to safely as possible. Slamming into the ground like this is exciting and memorable, I cannot deny that. But the dangers involved far outweigh the positives.
As was the case in this scenario. But, who am I to tell professionals what they can and cant do. If they absolutely must do this high risk move, at least let it be the much younger and much healthier Sammy Guevarra who takes the fall. It was right. There’s no way Matt Hardy in his state would do something so risky. He’s far too wise.
As Matt slung towards the ground, he slammed hard into the concrete and snapped back onto his head. He received a heavy concussion and was left flittering between falling unconscious and confusedly attempting to continue the match.
Matt Hardy is a legend. You wouldn’t want to see this kind of injury happen to anyone. But when it’s someone who is slightly older, with a longer injury list behind them. It’s really worrying to watch. Sammy wasn’t sure whether to continue or stop and you can’t blame the young wrestler for this terrible situation.
In a scrambled mess, Hardy is helped back to his feet, only to prove to have a worse injury than first thought as he was unable to remain on his feet. Grabbing at Sammy and Audrey Edwards, I’m not sure why AEW didn’t call an immediate end to the match.
As the commentary team became the focus of attention, they seemed shaken up by what we’d all just seen. They attempt to distract us whilst a medical team rushes to Hardy’s aid. And, by some messed up stroke of terrible fortune. Hardy decided that he was fine. Arguing with the doctors he made his way back to his feet as he begun to come around.
Matt continued the match after a long and awkward break from the action. Taking Sammy up the rigging around the arena and pushing him down onto some pads and board. Blood soaked, Hardy looked demonic and clearly suffering from a head injury as he shadowed over his fallen foe.
Another ex-WWE home grown talent made their way across to WWE in September. With Rusev, the Bulgarian Brute through NXT and onto the main event, came a man with a desirable combination of years of high-level experience and development, paired with a long career ahead of him.
Unfortunately, for me, Miro’s initial introduction was not handled as well as perhaps it could have been. Introduced during the convoluted storyline with the marriage of Kip Sabian, needing a best man for his ceremony. Only for Miro to step out and prove himself to be just that.
However, the nature of the introduction meant that Miro came to a ring which was filled with other wrestlers and wasn’t the sole man on display.
The spotlight should have been on who I consider to be one of the most charismatic, confident and talented performers in all of AEW. Miro is terrifying. Powerful. Hilarious and likeable. He deserves more than what he got. Luckily, the man’s talent is impossible to hide. And thus we will see how Miro’s path progresses later in the story.
“I gave Tony Khan a discount. I gave him a discount and said, ‘Tony, I will sign for this money because it’s the pandemic, but after that year and a half, we’re coming strong.’ I knew that he was signing the wrong guy. He was signing the Twitch guy. He’s basing his opinions on my Twitch and that’s where the whole thing with Kip started. I knew that wasn’t me. That’s just not who I am. I knew once the year and a half was over, I was going to show him who I am and what I’m capable of, and we’re going to sit down and talk like men for men’s money. That’s exactly what happened.” Miro
The manner in which Cody Rhodes was so quickly removed as champion by Brodie Lee had left the American Nightmare physically and emotionally bruised. He took a month of to recover, before making his way back to attack the dark order in September. By October, the animosity shared between Rhodes and Brodie Lee was palpable, with it becoming evident that this feud needed to be settled in a definitive manner.
“We were presented a couple of different chains and options, and we went with what you saw on TV mainly because it looked good on TV. That was not beneficial to my neck to have that strapped around me and have to carry it around for 20 minutes while another man is trying to kill me……[the chain] was bigger and makes better sound, which in turn, hurts more. So, I did this for the fans. I just want them to know that. I talked to a few people a few days after the match – I ride Pelaton a lot and I don’t know if it was Thursday or Friday, but I quit a ride for the first time. I was about 20 minutes in and I said I can’t do this – my body was just not proper. I’m two weeks out now and I’m slowly getting normal again, but I think I left a piece of me in there. But I’m happy with it.” Brodie Lee
The exalted one challenged his former WWE colleague to a match which is about as old fashioned as it can be. A throwback to classic wrasslin’ matches of old. Although initially hesitant to enter into such a violent position, Rhodes agreed, and the match was set for Dynamite in October. The pair would be tied together with a leather strap connecting the dog collars around their necks.
“Jerry Lynn helped put it together,” Rhodes revealed. “Jerry Lynn’s wonderful. The night before, I’m putting the collar on the chain, and we’re pulling on each other. It’s like the first time you get in the cage. You’re like, ‘ugh, this is awkward.’ The Elimination Chamber, ‘I’m supposed to take a bump here?’ I’m very worried about our necks, any whiplash, and he’s so big, but that was one of the things that made him, as you’re somebody who worked him and always sung his praises on his work. He could make something look incredibly violent. He could do it to you every night. We could have done that dog collar every night.” Rhodes
When FULL GEAR rolled around in November of 2020. AEW were hitting their stride in forging out their own creative path. The roster had continued to fill up with many talented faces from WWE, New Japan, and other promotions from around the world.
The show opened in incredible fashion, the final of a tournament to see who was most worthy of challenging for the company’s top title. With Kenny Omega defeating former tag team partner Adam Page for the AEW World Championship number one contender spot. This match had everything. A dramatic story. A pace which slowed to allow emotional impact, whilst speeding up to create a sense of urgency and a desire to win by both men. The wrestling on display was world-class and without peer on the night. Setting the audience into a frenzy and creating one of the hottest opening segments on any All Elite show.
Darby Allin won his very first AEW belt, defeating Cody Rhodes with a roll up pin. The young Allin’s character work is so strong, I don’t know if his story even needs belts. But nevertheless, it is great to see a wrestler with so much potential gain early acclaim in his career.
Hikaru Shida destroyed Nyla Rose with an onslaught of knees to retain her Women’s belt.
The Young Bucks challenged FTR for the tag titles. With the promise that if Matt and Nick were unsuccessful, they would deem themselves unworthy of attempting any further chases for the belts. This at the time, made the outcome feel predictable. Surely, AEW had realised the mistake they had made by forcing Cody Rhodes away from ever challenging for the World Title.
Surely, they wouldn’t repeat that with one of their most prestigious teams and another set of executives withing the brand. And they didn’t. Now just because the outcome was predictable. Doesn’t mean that the action bell to bell was the same. I absolutely adored this match when it aired live and watching back for this video, still feel the same. The end came when Matt Jackson landed a superkick and a pin, giving the Young Buck’s the AEW Tag Team titles.
Matt Hardy returned after his nasty concussion in A Final Deletion match from the Hardy Compund.
MJF challenged Chris Jericho in a match which would prove the young prodigy’s worth and allow him access into Jericho’s inner circle faction. Maxwell Jacob Freedman earned a win over the veteran and passage into the group, bringing with him his enforcer Wardlow to bolster the faction’s strength.
In pro wrestling, we often see two performers on screen portraying friends. Whether it be as a tag team or just a couple of dudes who have each other’s backs. This friendship, however, can sometimes be just as scripted as the action we see inside of the ring.
With Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston. This has never been the case. From travelling the independent wrestling scene together and putting on violent and bloody fights for our entertainment. The two men took separate paths as Moxley became Dean Ambrose and shone in WWE. However, by the time these two men’s stories had once again aligned, Mox had been reborn and was ready to take on the world.
In the weeks leading into the pay-per-view, Mox had defeated his once close ally by choking him until Kingston became unconscious. This led to a post-match rebuttal from Eddie who proclaimed that since he never tapped to Mox’s submission, he deserves a second chance at the belt.
With the AEW World Title around his waist, Moxley defended successfully against Kingston in the main event of Full Gear, the two pushed to the limits under the I quit match stipulation. With barbed wire wrapped around his face, Kingston had seen that the AEW champion was willing to do anything to keep hold of the gold. After a gruelling battle, Eddie quit and lost the match.
In November of 2020 Kenny Omega announced on an episode of Dynamite, that he would be redeeming his chance at the AEW World Title on December 2nd.
At Winter Is Coming in 2020. Omega took his opportunity which he had earned via the number one contender’s tournament. The match between challenger Omega and World champion Moxley was one of my favourites from the entire year. A match which felt as if it lasted 10 minutes. When I saw the actual 28-minute run time, I was shocked. So engrossed in the action. So captivated by the story these two masters were telling. I felt so absorbed. I could have watched another half hour of this. It really is that good.
After a trading of near finishers and reversals, Kenny Omega got the 1,2,3 and became the AEW World Champion. Making his was with little fan fair, quickly to the back. With the smarmy Don Callis at his side, the pair hastily escaped through the back and into a vehicle ready to get them out of town. As far as a bad guy in pro wrestling goes. This is how you should leave a match. It was arrogant and brash. Showed Omega’s cowardice as even in victory he scuttled away to safety.
Mox was left bloodied in the ring. Nobody could look down on Jon’s performance. Nobody could say that he hadn’t been resilient on the night. But Kenny had gotten the better of him. And was now well on his way to his ultimate form. Kenny Omega Belt Collector.
“There was a very limited amount of people that even knew about it. Probably what? Five to seven maybe. So we knew it was happening and you could feel that show, we billed it as a big show so we knew it was gonna happen then but none of the boys knew. They just thought it was a big show. So when he walked backstage, every wrestler turned their head and went, ‘Oh my God’ and when you could pop the boys obviously, you’re doing something right” Nick Jackson
Sting’s return to the TNT channel on television came after a 19-year hiatus. The last time he appeared on the network was on the final ever episode of WCW when Sting faced off against Ric Flair. He’s old. He’s tired. But my lord does Sting still have the “it” factor. Any many online agree:
“In less than 24 hours, Sting’s first AEW shirt set a new Pro Wrestling Tees record for the most shirts sold in 24 hours. Sting's appearance was the 10th most searched topic on the Internet on December 3 and the clip of his AEW debut peaked at #3 on YouTube's trending feed, along with the clip of Moxley–Omega's match peaking at #8” Pro Wrestling Wiki
BRODIE LEE R.I.P
At the end of December. The darkest day in All Elite Wrestling history occurred. When the devastating news of the death of one of the most beloved members of the roster hit the news. Brodie Lee was 41 years old and that is a damn shame. A real tragic day for wrestling fans everywhere, performers within the company and wider wrestling world and most importantly Huber’s family. Out of respect, I do not wish to add any more of my own thoughts on the situation. Rather share with you the thoughts and feelings that his friends and colleagues shared in the wake of Lee’s passing.
“The All Elite Wrestling family is heartbroken. In an industry filled with good people, Jon Huber was exceptionally respected and beloved in every way a fierce and captivating talent, a thoughtful mentor and simply a very kind soul that starkly contradicted his persona as Mr. Brodie Lee.” AEW Official Statement
Tony Khan changed plans at the last minute upon hearing of the terrible news. The very next Dynamite show would be entirely dedicated to the life and times of Mr John Huber. The man behind the Brodie Lee and Luke Harper characters.
“I’m proud that his family has that show to look at because the whole thing is done in such a genuine way of man, this is actually for you. This is for you, and this is for the world to know, if you didn’t know through all those interviews, how special you were. This is all about you.” Cody Rhodes
Friends and family surrounding John have expressed that before his death, he was as happy with his wrestling career as he’d ever been. Hitting his stride and gaining confidence as the Exalted One and leader of the Dark Order. The freedom afforded to this veteran allowed him to reach his full potential.
“It’s unreal. It’s nerve-wracking – the anxiety and stuff like that of now there’s nobody to blame. There’s nobody to say ‘Hey, you weren’t good because someone wrote this for you’. It’s now ‘Hey, you wrote this, you performed it and it sucked or it was amazing’. You now have to be prepared to deal with that type of stuff and I am, I’m ready for it. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I talked about the Dog Collar Match – these are the moments and the kinds of things I yearned for for years. I wanted to be a professional wrestler, I wanted to be a successful professional wrestler, and I wanted to get into these gritty and grimy feuds that have these crazy matches that mean something. I was never given that opportunity at the other place and I’ve already been given that opportunity several times here.” Brodie Lee
On an episode of AEW Beach Break. Jon Moxley stood tall in the ring, following a match with Kenny Omega. When a hooded figure entered the ring and attacked him the ripple effect of these actions would prove to be larger than anyone had predicted. Yes, it’s Kenta. Also known as Hideo Itami. A beloved performer whose work in Japan had earned him legendary status across the pacific. But in America, for one reason or another had never made the same impact.
But what Kenta’s arrival brought with it was far larger than his mere personality and in ring acumen. During the pandemic, promotions around the world had to put a stop to foreign wrestlers travelling from overseas. And New Japan was no different. Prior to his arrival in AEW Jon Moxley had signed a lucrative multi year contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling for exclusive rights to all of his matches in Asia.
Mox promptly won the IWGP United States belt and would travel between the US and Japan to defend this relatively new title. However, going from the States, flying to Japan, would mean Mox would have to quarantine for a minimum of two weeks when he got there and two when he got back. This simply wasn’t feasible, even with New Japan wishing they could somehow get their new championship back to Asia.
That’s where the purple haired Kenta comes in. With him to AEW he brought the IWGP US Heavyweight Challenger briefcase which entitled him to a match against the champion. But when the two men faced off at New Japan strong stateside, things played out so differently that the subversion of my expectations had me excited for more cross over between New Japan and AEW.
After delivering The Rough Rider finisher, against all reasoning going into the match, Moxley came out victorious, keeping a hold of the IWGP US Belt and retaining the gold in the United States. Kenta looked impressive even in defeat. And the possibility of more of this kind of multi brand match had my mouth watering.
After 22 years of his 49 on this planet spent working for one company.
You could be forgiven for thinking that The Big Show was WWE through and through. A brand ambassador for life, who was financially settled and happy to see out the rest of his career with a company that had served him so well for almost a quarter century.
However, when The Big Show dropped the moniker and arrived in AEW simply as Paul Wight, I wasn’t at all surprised. Not because I could have in any way predicted this giant man’s debut. But because Wight has always seemed like such a driven, determined, and focused individual. It makes sense for him to want to try and achieve something new.
“This is the first time in, I don’t know how many years I finally get to reinvent myself a little bit. You know, trying to find updated gear that’s not so much retro, the same gear that we’ve seen me in for years and years and years. Stuff that’s more appealing for toy manufacturing, for merchandising and branding, trying to experience all that and just finding a new look that encompasses who Paul Wight is. So it’s a discovery process right now.” Paul Wight
Brought in as a commentator and sporadic in-ring talent. However we’d have to wait until August for his first proper in-ring match debut. Paul Wight brings with him brand recognition and a history of fans going back to old school WCW. As well as a wealth of knowledge about the industry which he can pass on to the next generation.
MARCH EXPLODING BARB WIRE DEATH MATCH
The biggest misstep of the year came in March. At the AEW Revolution event.
“Omega challenged Jon Moxley to an exploding barbed wire death match and at the same time, the entire United States of America said ‘what?!’ Who in the United States of America saw the exploding barbed wire death match in the Kawasaki Stadium 25 years ago? People trading VHS tapes. Is this really that difficult to understand? Their minute, little core of nerd, hardcore, smart, Japanese fans. That kind of audience wasn’t enough to keep Ring of Honor alive ten years ago.” Jim Cornette
This was the sentiment many old school and newer wrestling fans shared when it was announced that Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley would face off in and exploding barb wire death match. AEW’s core ideals have always revolved around creating new forms of wrestling and showing that the production doesn’t have to always be done a certain way in order for it to succeed. Any this was a chance to do just that. And boy how that plan backfired. Pun intended.
“I think both Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega had a nice match. That match was fantastic. I felt that the lack of explosion power was a shame because they had a really great fight. AEW’s explosion was disproportionate to the goodness of the match.” Atsushi Onita
And I certainly agree with Onita. The match itself was terrific. Even with the ridiculous stipulation and obsurdity of the visuals emanating from the barb wire wrapped wrestling ring. The action pushed the boundaries of modern day pro wrestling. Like it or hate it, we were delivered something barbaric and revolutionary. Fitting perfectly in with the name of the event and the very way in which AEW wants to represent itself to the world.
Any good match in pro wrestling has the performances draw to a climax as fans are delivered an exciting and definitive end to the bout. With the exploding bard wire death match, that climax is built fundamentally into the core of the audiences expectations. We see the barb wire. And this is certainly a match. We know their most likely wont be any real death. So we are left with the word exploding. So. Naturally, the match needed to end in a huge explosion, blowing away the wrestlers and creating one of the most unforgettable visuals in all sports entertainment history.
What we were left with, however memorable it may be. Was for all the wrong reasons. The explosions were a dud, spiffing of a pathetic little pop and sizzle as a tiny puff of smoke emerged from the corner posts. I have no idea how the wrestlers in the ring felt deep down in this moment. But even watching at home. Thousands of miles away. Sitting completely alone. I felt embarrassed. It was such a laughable explosion that for a moment I thought there , may have been a storyline reasoning for the meagre pyrotechnics. Perhaps another wrestler would appear and show they had tampered with he explosives. But no. It was real. The second hand cringe was real. But it was about to get so much worse.
“First, the difference in the fire laws. Then there are technical issues. It seems that the fire law differs each state in the United States, and it seems that the handling of gunpowder indoors is generally stricter than in Japan.” Atsushi Onita
Clearly the explosion was meant to be far grander and more impactful. So in the story, it was arranged to have Eddie Kingstone rush to the ring at the moment the ring was set to detonate and in a moment of true friendship, throw himself on top of the downer Moxley to protect him from the blast.
But, the explosion was so weak it felt like when I have to put my hands over my dog’s ears when someone in the neighbourhood is setting off fireworks. Moxley is a big tough man. He clearly didn’t need saving from these bargain bin sparklers. The blooms of sparks barely made to where he was in the ring anyway. It was all just such a disaster.
“The big explanation everyone wants to know about. It’s a little embarrassing, but I’m me. When I went into that ring and covered my friend thinking there was gonna be this big explosion and all these fireworks, I caught a flashback to the last time I had this anxiety.” Eddie Kingston
TOO MUCH WWE
Some fans had begun to criticise AEW’s recruitment tactics by the end of their second proper year in business. With many concerned about the sheer quantity of former World Wrestling Entertainment performers being signed to permanent contracts or used sporadically for a story line or two.
By the middle of 2021 :Tully Blanchard. Miro. Brodie Lee. Jim Ross. Arn Anderson. Jake Roberts. Billy Gunn. Jon Moxley Sting. Matt Hardy. Paul Wight. Vickie Guerrero. Chris Jericho. Brandi Rhodes. Cody Rhodes. Dustin Rhodes. Taz. Jake Hager. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood. PAC. Luchasaurus. MJF. Matt Hardy. Matt Sydal. Kenta. Shawn Spears and so many others have previously been employed by WWE.
With the WWE’s monopoly on the wrestling industry for the past 20 years, they have managed to scour the indies alongside their development of NXT to train home grown talent. This means that over the past decade, the company had swollen to such a size that even with four or five shows a week, there wasn’t a place on the card for everyone.
This, alongside a swathe of redundancies and non-renewals of contracts, a whole slew of exciting performers where free to explore other avenues for their career and see if they had what it takes to shine brighter away from pro wrestling’s biggest brand.
AEW has also managed to sign top talent from elsewhere, the likes of Hangman Adam Page, Orange Cassidy, Kenny Omega, Darby Allin, Santana and Ortiz, Sammy Guevara. Jungle Boy, The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros all have their loyal fanbases and deliver top tier pro wrestling every week and have made their names away from WWE.
I can understand why someone would want to see more AEW originals and may have had concerns about the ratio of ex-WWE talent joining the roster. But for me, it just makes sense. WWE have some of the best wrestlers, trained to the highest standards in the industry. When some of them leave with a fire lit under them and a desire to prove their doubters wrong, that is a good set of wrestlers to get on board with.
Now, I don’t in any way want to see AEW turn into a show where all performers wrestling in a similar style or where matches can become repetitive. We will see how this fine balancing game which Tony Khan must play with his roster, works out later in the story.
“It’s a weak argument, I don’t agree with that. I’m not knocking WWE, I had 26 years there. I don’t feel like we’re in a wrestling war, the war is AEW vs. itself. Getting our young guys to continue to evolve and get better. I think we are seeing that. Some of our home-grown kids are starting to find their way. It’s a big difference in working in PWG or an indie show or working a match on a national television show. It’s a different mindset, it’s a different ball game and a lot of our guys never had that, never played in that ballgame.” Jim Ross
Let me be frank. The year of 2020 was a complete nightmare for many. Myself included. The pandemic tore through so many of our lives and completely changed the world we live in, in most ways, for the worse. When everyone was locked down at home. Separated from friends and family and nothing but the ever-worsening news reports to keep us company. It was so important during this time to try, at least for brief periods to attempt to escape it all.
All Elite Wrestling provided so many of these moments which allowed me to temporarily forget about all of the terrible things happening outside of my door and tune in to an enjoyable and captivating portion of high-quality pro wrestling.