(Doc’s Note – Look for The Doc Says podcast at its new home on The Chairshot Radio Network, available on all platforms)
I described in a conversation with Mrs. Doc on Sunday morning that AEW Double or Nothing left me feeling that awesome combination of extremely satisfied in the present and absolutely pumped about the future that professional wrestling can provide when at its best like perhaps no other sport or entertainment avenue. For the past few days, I have maintained a consistent sense of euphoria about pro wrestling that I truthfully have not experienced in many years.
You see, while I have seen some great pro wrestling shows recently, none of them were able to make me feel the way that AEW did on Saturday night and beyond; NXT regularly via Takeover specials leaves me utterly thrilled that I spent time watching its product, but there is an inescapable sense attached to the yellow brand for me that the legacy of whatever happens there will be tarnished by what happens when its wrestlers move “up” to WWE proper; New Japan, in the infancy of my fandom for it, pretty much always makes me feel thankful that I just saw something incredible, but there is still this sense of detachment for me to it, as if they could cut off access here in the States tomorrow and I would feel little more than temporarily melancholy; and, in regards to WWE, well even a great show from them in the moment over the past half decade has largely been cancelled in the days that followed with an overwhelming sense of fear rather than excitement about what comes next, as exemplified best by the part-timer problem that plagues its forward progress.
AEW Double or Nothing delivered something different, and it did so on many levels that I described in the podcast embedded above that I’d encourage you to check out if you want to relive the knee-jerk reactions with me. The euphoria carried over to the point that I decided I needed to write about its matches analytically, leaning into the groundswell of passion that it harnessed within me. As the year progresses and AEW’s match library grows, I will modify the forthcoming ranks to keep a running tally for year-end discussion-provocation.
My star ratings on the forthcoming list take into account the pure dynamics of any wrestling match (selling, psychology, and execution), how well the time afforded was utilized, the storytelling (plot twists and believable near falls included), the strength of the climax, the pre-match storyline, and various intangibles qualities (i.e. Cody’s entrance, the Awesome Kong surprise, etc.).
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite match at Double or Nothing?
#7 – Hikaru Shida, Ryo, and Riho Abe vs. Aja Kong, Sakazaki, and Sakura (Doc’s Rating – *** ¼) – The strength of the main card was exemplified by this very entertaining match and further introduction into what the women’s division in AEW will look like ranking last among the PPV proper performances. Look, everything on the show was definitively good. I think the only thing really separating the six man tag from the six woman tag was the energy that naturally came with being the curtain jerker versus the relatively low energy from having to follow both the opener and then later the surprise AEW debut of Awesome Kong. One of the major questions I had coming out of Double or Nothing was how regularly the women from Japan would be featured because they were a unique part of the show, one that I would definitely like to see again thanks to the efforts of these six women.
#6 – Dr. Britt Baker vs. Awesome Kong vs. Kylie Rae vs. Nyla Rose (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾) – As mentioned on The Doc Says podcast review of the show, what I needed most from this match was to get to know the participants because, having not seen any of them wrestle a proper match, things like their body language and facial expressions and mannerisms that so define my familiarity with wrestlers I have seen at least a few times was largely missing. So, as an introductory effort, I thought they all delivered very well, and honorable mention need be given to Brandi Rhodes, who did an excellent job in her role adding instant heat to proceedings. Of the foursome who participated in the match, Kylie’s infectious enthusiasm stood out most and a rivalry with Dr. Baker seems like a good way to build on this opening contest in AEW women’s division history.
#5 – The Best Friends vs. Jack Evans and Angelico (Doc’s Rating – ****) – This bordered on being utterly outstanding, with Evans and Angelico coming in and setting a tone from the outset that they were like a cockier, modern version of The Rockers, dominant as they were in utilizing their fairly obviously overwhelming advantage in athleticism. When Chucky T and Trent got back into the match, it felt a little bit like the Warriors having their lead chipped away and ultimately overtaken by the scrappy Clippers. Evans and Angelico upped the ante and regained control, but the deeper into the match they reached, the more their inherent advantage slipped away. I rather love when a pro wrestling match can mimic the ebbs and flows of a basketball game; thanks to the constant AEW talk of wins and losses mattering, a match like this one could feel like an NBA Playoff battle.
#4 – SCU vs. Strong Hearts (Doc’s Rating – ****) – I loved the Double or Nothing opener and wrote in my notes on the night that it was one of my favorite matches of the year to date, simply on account of how well it served its purpose as the opener. There is an art to the opening match. It has to set the tone of whatever the night is going to look like to maximize its purpose. AEW seems intent on being pro wrestling as sport, a theme that I am very much OK with on account of my personal love for the inherent entertainment in the competitiveness of sport. It amazes me how simple that tonal shift – from putting smiles on peoples’ faces to winning is the reason why we’re here – can alter the foundation of a promotion so drastically. I knew nothing about Cima’s group from OWE, but I quickly learned that they wanted to win and, from that point forward, I knew what I needed to know about their characters.
#3 – Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho to earn an AEW Title Shot (Doc’s Rating – ****) – Any time that Omega is in the ring, there is an expectation that he is going to have the most memorable match, so on the one hand it was a little bit of a letdown that his rematch with Jericho did not definitively capture Match of the Night honors at Double or Nothing or in my mind even legitimately enter the discussion, but it seems a little odd to complain about a great match – if the conversation after your match is the degree of greatness reached, then that is a good problem to have. It felt like an appropriate main-event and came across like one in its execution for the most part, despite the two matches that preceded it on the night being better from an objectively subjective standpoint. Jericho is not the athlete that he used to be, and Omega thrives most when opposing an elite athlete, but the Alpha draws out of Omega something a little bit different, a bit more cerebral and a little less dependent on stunt work. Overall, I thought it a match that brought some of the storytelling from Cody-Dustin and some of the innovation from the Bucks-Lucha Bros matches, but ultimately was not on the storytelling or innovation levels that were its counterparts and thus managed something near their quality but not quite equal.
#2 – The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers for the AAA Tag Titles (Doc’s Rating – **** ½) – When you consider the level of innovation on display in this match and the epic feel of the last ten minutes, with all the false finish you could ever hope to see, then it is hard not to call this on a similar level with the emotionally-draining Cody-Dustin match in its own special way, especially when you further consider that there were some good moments of personality mixed in here and there. Visually, this was just stunning to watch. Though I can appreciate how some might have thought the near falls a bit much toward the climax, context of the promotion’s focus on competition may prove that a moot point to a degree, because if the whole point is to win, then doing anything to achieve victory and avoid defeat makes a lot of narrative sense; it has been a long time since mainstream pro wrestling fans have been conditioned for a product that focuses that much on wins/losses as a primary storytelling medium, so there will be a transition time to grow accustomed to that, basic as it may be. The near falls in this match made it feel like their very livelihoods depended on the outcome, and that is a good thing.
#1 – Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – *****) – They said it was not worthy of the WrestleMania stage, but the presentation on minimal hype (which all took place on YouTube) proved very much the contrary. Dustin and Cody, fueled by the memory of their late father, were every bit the emotional core of the first AEW show that many assumed that they would be, but they took it to another level with one of the most psychologically engaging efforts that you will ever see on the 20’x20′ canvas. Score one for the Rhodes brothers believing in their ability to tell this story on a grand stage, score one for the legendary American Dream, score one for Cody individually deciding to make a statement before the bell even rang with his symbolic destruction of a Triple H-like special entrance piece with a sledgehammer, and score one for the use of a gory blade job to add a violent aesthetic; while we’re at it, score one for professional wrestling fans who had been asking for this match, often quite loudly, for years. The entirety of the presentation was dripping with the sorts of intangible qualities that take a performance from great to all-time great and/or legendary.