QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite match at Fyter Fest?
AEW’s second offering may not have been the fandom-altering experience that was Double or Nothing, but my goodness was it ever a blast to watch. No match reached the level that the top two May PPV bouts did, but it was yet another fun night that answered unequivocally the question I had lingering in my mind as to whether or not AEW was going to consistently be appointment viewing for me. I have not been this hyped about pro wrestling in a long time, so I am going to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to profile a promotion’s in-ring efforts from the outset of its existence and, following each AEW show, rank the matches from the latest event into a master list that includes ratings from prior weeks and months.
My star ratings are based on a composite 1-5 value applied to six different categories: pure elements (selling, psychology, and execution), use of the allotted run-time, the ebbs and flows of the storytelling via plot twists and near falls, the climax, the pre-match storyline, and various intangible qualities (such as an excellent hype video package, special entrance, or post-match happening). Here are the Fyter Fest matches ranked with the Double or Nothing matches:
#13 – Cima vs. Christopher Daniels at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – ***)
A far more measured opener than the one from Double or Nothing, with the emphasis placed on putting over Cima ahead of his featured match with Kenny Omega at Fight for the Fallen, but certainly a rock solid effort that used its time well, filling the match with plenty of content and all the while being sure to give Daniels the opportunity to showcase his value in a singles setting.
#11 – Adam Page vs. MJF vs. Jungle Boy vs. Jimmy Havoc at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – *** ½)
This was a really good match, enhanced particularly by the MJF promo that preceded it and the Jungle Boy spots that entertainingly filled the 11 minutes of in-ring action. It at least marginally benefited all involved, with Jungle Boy showcasing a natural babyface flair and penchant for high flying antics, MJF coming across as the most natural heel in the company, Havoc acknowledging that he can indeed step outside of the hardcore environment and contribute, and Hangman Page looking like an old school Southern territory protagonist while delivering some new school offense in his victorious endeavor. In order of impressiveness across the entirety of the presentation, you would probably have to go MJF 1, Jungle Boy 2, Page 3, and Havoc 4. Give credit to the foursome, though; they all did well here to make good use of a shorter time-frame. That said, expect this to be the type of 3.5 star match that will get passed repeatedly by its peers as AEW’s history quickly progresses through 2019.
#9 – The Elite vs. The Lucha Brothers and Laredo Kid at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
This was essentially a four-star match across the board with the exception of the very exhibition-style tone it set, downgrading its status from partial Double or Nothing rematch to more of a fun, house show-esque spot-fest. It was long enough to tell a solid story and the Street Fighter theme for the Elite was a nice intangible quality that I think the match needed, given the tone, to help it stand out (the most memorable aspect was the triple Ryu-Ken special move tribute); as the competition stiffens, that intangible might help this six-man maintain a higher position in the rankings. On a free show particularly, this was a good change of pace from the other bouts, all of which felt more consequential to me. I might be underselling it a bit; it was, in a way, a microcosm of Fyter Fest in that it was wildly fun and I’m glad I watched it.
#8 – Riho vs. Yuka Sakazaki vs. Nyla Rose at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
Considerably superior to either of the women’s matches from AEW’s initial offering on account of its top notch storytelling, this performance centered on establishing Nyla Rose as a force to be reckoned with, her utter dominance through the majority of the run-time being the anchor for the match and the crux of what made this match so engaging. Riho and Yuka at various points seemed to be in a handicap match and, shaky execution on a couple of sequences aside, they both benefited more from this experience than they did the Joshi tag match from the previous event on account of being part of a more fluid story told. Rose was very impressive, in character and in style, and even in defeat she now seems poised to be a force in the budding women’s division.
#6 – Cody Rhodes vs. Darby Allin at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – ****)
In terms of the way that this match ebbed and flowed, from Allin establishing early that his smallish stature was no issue at all to Cody responding in increasingly frustrating fashion to Rhodes eventually taking full control but running out of time to put Allin away to Darby’s resilience, this was the most emotionally engaging performance of Fyter Fest. Cody is a master storyteller at this stage in his career; it is his distinct in-ring trait that few of his peers can equal in the modern era, as proven by his repeated successes as the emotional anchor of major events (All In, NWA 70, Double or Nothing, and now Fyter Fest). Darby Allin was outstanding in his role, and it reminded me of Brian Pillman taking Ric Flair to the limit in the early 1990s in how effective it was at putting over the younger wrestler without taking anything away from the veteran. Cody does well to skirt the line as a tweener who has an obvious connection to the AEW audience worth cultivating, but who is not afraid to show the kind of emotion that anyone would expect of a heavy favorite who cannot get the job done against a feisty newcomer. Well done to both, and an intangible in my opinion was the post-match chair shot and consequent bloody wound, which made Shawn Spears seem interesting (see Doc Says hot-take).
#5 – SCU vs. Strong Hearts at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – ****)
#3 – Jon Moxley vs. Joey Janela in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Fyter Fest (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼)
All in all, the match of the night was Moxley’s definitive statement that he was no longer PG, WWE Dean Ambrose opposite an awfully hungry brawler eager to take full advantage of the spotlight afforded the unofficial main-event of the evening. Allin vs. Cody told a more psychologically-dense story, but Mox vs. Janela was the best hardcore match I have seen in 15 years, acknowledging that my sample size is rather limited to a company that has not sniffed the hardcore genre in over a decade. That the Non-Sanctioned Match prompted my pal Howard Schilling to refer to Moxley as “a more reckless Jake Roberts” only adds to my appreciation of the performance. Let’s be honest about Mox: he has always been a far more cerebral worker than the majority gave him credit for, with even some of his infamous critical disappointments in WWE being smart when perhaps not as exciting as expected. Watch Mox vs. Janela and you will see a very intelligent wrestler doing very reckless things. So, I’ll reinforce Howard’s comparison with one to Mick Foley for Moxley. Cheers again to Janela, though, because as much as Fyter Fest’s headliner was Mox’s declaration, it was also Janela’s bid to become a real player in AEW.
#2 – The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers for the AAA Tag Titles at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – **** ½)