AEW’s first Pay-Per-View of 2021 is behind us, and honestly, I think this is one of the rare times where a show perfectly matched my expectations. It was a good show that I had a fun time watching, but I wouldn’t rank it among AEW’s best. There were some surprises, some great matches, some…interesting decisions and a whole lot to talk about, so let’s do that.
9 – PAC & Rey Fenix won the Casino Tag Team Royale
(Winner gets a match for the AEW World Tag Team Championships)
In my predictions video, I described this as a ‘tag team Royal Rumble’ and…yeah, that’s pretty much what it was, although I don’t think it lived up to the prestige of that name.
This wasn’t a bad match, and I’ll talk about what I liked in a moment, but I think there were some major flaws with this one. For one thing, the pacing felt way off, especially around the middle. There were spots and people doing wrestling moves, but there weren’t any ‘moments’ to tide us over between entrants. On top of that, the entrants should’ve been given a lot more fanfare. For one thing, I didn’t even know how far along we were or when the last entrant had come in until the commentary team told me.
On top of that, I didn’t like having the countdown visible for the whole 90 seconds. Firstly, it’s really distracting when it’s in the centre of the screen; it was what my eyes were naturally drawn to rather than the in-ring action. Secondly, it meant they had to very strictly stick to it, which isn’t the worst thing, but I would’ve preferred it if they had ‘kayfabed’ the timer (like in Royal Rumbles) if it made the flow of the match feel better and made moments go off with more of a bang. There were a couple of times in this match where a significant spot/elimination was overshadowed by a team entering the match, or vice versa.
That brings me to my other issue, which is that none of the eliminations felt like they had any real impact; they all just sort of…happened. Not to mention towards the end of the match, they were happening so quickly that I barely had time to digest each one.
However, there was still stuff I liked, most of it was in the final few minutes, though. Using John Silver & Jungle Boy as make-shift partners against the heels made for a compelling finish, and they teased the final eliminations just enough to keep me going until the end. It was just a bit of a rough journey getting there.
8 – Miro & Kip Sabian def. Best Friends
I liked this match, it was just a bit short. It’s not that big of a deal; on a show with 9 matches – 3 of which went over 20 minutes – there was going to have to be a short one. As such, it felt like it started halfway through, with Best Friend having been beaten down off-camera before the match started. I actually thought it was a good way to start things, and I like that not everything has to be on camera in AEW, they give us enough credit to work out what happened when the cameras weren’t there.
The bulk of the match was fun, it just didn’t have any unique pop to it. Orange Cassidy did his thing and hit his moves. The two teams traded momentum for five minutes, and then we went to the finish. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I said, it has its place on the card, it’s just not going to make me all that hyped.
Miro getting the win was the right decision, and there’s the threat of Miro causing Penelope Ford to take a tumble that they can pull on and hopefully pull Miro away from his pairing with Sabian.
7 – Hikaru Shida(c) def. Ryo Mizunami
(AEW Women’s World Championship)
Every now and then, I get a match like this where I can watch it and analyse it and see that it’s a great match. It hits all the right beats and has technical workings in there that I enjoy. And yet…I just don’t connect with it. For whatever reason, be it the story, or the placement on the card or some tick in my mind, I didn’t get invested in this match despite being able to see that it was good.
Shida & Mizunami had evident chemistry, which is no surprise given their history in Japan. I’d say the middle portion was this match’s strongest point. With the face vs face dynamic, neither woman was ever going to dominate the other, and the middle is where I think the flow of momentum was the best. It took a little while to get going at the start, and I think it really petered out by the finish. For some reason, all of the passion and brutality between the two women we saw in the middle evaporated by the finish. Shida hit a move…then another move…then another move, and that was it. The result was that despite going for 15 minutes, I came away from the match feeling underwhelmed.
6 – Britt Baker & Maki Itoh def. Riho & Thunder Rosa
There’s really nothing complicated about this one. It was a really good tag match between four women who will hopefully be much bigger stars in the weeks and months to come.
Bringing in Maki Itoh was a good move here. Despite being eliminated in the first round of the women’s tournament, people really connected with her, and I can’t say I blame them. Her style plays differently from what most of the other Joshi wrestlers have to offer, and she’s exceptionally charming on social media…in a very sweary way. I’m glad AEW stuck to their guns and are keeping her as a heel, though. It would’ve been easy to just make her a face, but you’ve got to play to people’s strengths and to turn her face might’ve made her get lost in the sea of face women’s wrestlers AEW currently has under their belt.
That’s all I’ve got to say, the match was very enjoyable to watch, but there isn’t anything particularly special to talk about. I’m just waiting for the day when AEW finally stop spinning its wheels with Britt Baker and put her in the title scene.
5 – Sting & Darby Allin def. Team Taz
I didn’t realise this match would be pre-taped when I wrote my predictions, but I’m happy it was. My biggest worry was how exposed Sting could look if he had to wrestle a full-length match in front of a crowd like this, but the controlled setting in which this match was set was perfect.
The dingy setting of the abandoned warehouse was the right choice as it made the whole thing feel extremely back-alley. It played into Allin’s gimmick and aided many of the spots they had planned for the match. The action did lull in certain places, but it kept me engaged for the majority of its runtime and the high spots were definitely worth it. Allin going through the glass was visually fantastic, and the elbow drop through the hole in the ground was a wonderful exclamation mark on the match that made Allin look brilliant.
One thing for which I’d really like to commend this match is having Taz commentating over the thing. Many of these cinematic matches forgo commentary entirely, but this match showed the benefit of using it when you get it right. Taz’s input really helped tell the story of this match, which could be a little murky at times without commentary on it, and his emotion felt really genuine, which sold the match wonderfully.
This match is a good summary of this show, on the whole, now I think about it. It wasn’t the best cinematic match ever, but still very good and a worthy entry into the history books.
4 – Kenny Omega(c) def. Jon Moxley
(AEW World Championship)
(Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch)
So let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: the closing ‘explosion’ spot was shite. In an interview, Tony Khan said it was the best they could do without actually blowing up the ring, but that just isn’t true. I’ve seen exploding deathmatches before, and it’s not that difficult to make the explosion look good. Just shoot up a bunch of smoke and sparks ALL THE WAY around ringside, so the ring is momentarily covered by the smoke & sparks. It still won’t look like a real explosion, but it’d at least look like they tried. It seems they’re going with the narrative that Kenny (in kayfabe) just did a shitty job of rigging up the explosive, which I guess works, but it really left the show – which was a good show – on a crappy note. I did like Eddie Kingston coming out and doing what he did though, I really felt the emotional impact of that moment.
So what about the match itself? As I said, I went into it with an open mind as I really didn’t know if I’d like this kind of match. Now it’s over, and I can conclusively say…I think I liked it? I definitely didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t like this amazing revelation of a new style of wrestling I love either. It had ups and downs. As far as spectacle is concerned, it was great (except for the ending), the explosives having this constant presence in the match gave every move some level of tension, and it was always a bit of a shock when one went off, even if it was telegraphed. On the downside, when there weren’t crazy weapon spots or explosions going off, it was boring. Admittedly, that wasn’t very often, but there were periods where my interest waned.
I also wasn’t a fan of the booking of the finish. I get that Jon Moxley is one of the hottest properties out there right now, and you want to protect him, but having the Good Brothers show up and cost him just felt kinda cheap. I know that’s the point, to a certain extent, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. The exploding barbed wire bat was super cool, though. I’m happy Omega retained, but I want to see him do something different now.
3 – Hangman Page def. Matt Hardy
(Winner gets the 2021 Q1 earnings of the loser)
I’d say this is the best regular singles match Matt Hardy has had in…10 years? Maybe more?
It wasn’t the most technically incredible of matches, but the story was there to give it all the heat it needed. In the same way that I failed to connect with the women’s title match, I absolutely connected with this one. It hit all of the beats it needed to and never felt like it was outstaying it’s welcome. It favoured a very steady build with momentum going back and forth the entire time. Truthfully, I think both of these guys have very similar in-ring styles, which is a big reason as to why it worked so well. Both men can pick up and slow down the pace at will with a mixture of hard-hitting strikes and visually impressive manoeuvres.
Whenever Matt has a match these days, it seems to be a coin flip as to whether he’ll look rusty & exposed or as good as he always has, and you can never really tell which one you’re going to get until the match starts. Thankfully, we got the good one here. Page, meanwhile, continues to be one of the best and most easy to like wrestlers in AEW at the moment. You can tell he’s been around Kenny & the Bucks for ages because he has such a firm grasp of how to tell stories in the ring, even through subtle ways.
In my predictions, I thought Matt winning would be the more interesting story, but having seen how this one turned out, I think I was wrong to say that. It’s clear AEW isn’t handing Page a loss anytime before he challenges (and hopefully wins) the world title, and I’m on board with it, Hardy will be able to keep doing his thing regardless, and Page can move on to someone new.
2 – The Young Bucks(c) def. The Inner Circle
(AEW World Tag Team Championships)
Another excellent tag match by The Young Bucks…what more do you really want me to say? Admittedly this one didn’t quite live up to their other significant matches but, to be fair, that is a VERY high bar to clear. The actual story beats between the two teams were ok going in, but they really made something of them in the match. The Bucks came out of the gate with a much harder style than what we usually see from them. It didn’t last once things got going, but it gave the match a different feel in the beginning.
As expected, they did a good job of showing how the Bucks wrestle as a team compared to Jericho & MJF, who wrestled as individuals. The heels were very rarely working in the ring together, and when they were, Jericho was directing traffic. Conversely, you have the Bucks who work together at every opportunity and rarely even need to tell each other what to do. It’s this kind of dynamic that made their match with FTR work so well, and I’m glad they’re still putting an emphasis on it here.
The Bucks retaining was the right choice. The Inner Circle are only about half a step away from collapsing (we may even see it happen on Wednesday), so putting the titles on them now would’ve been relatively pointless. The Young Bucks will probably be champs for the better part of this year, and I’m all in favour of that decision as long as we keep getting matches like this.
1 – Scorpio Sky def. Cody Rhodes, Lance Archer, Penta El Zero Meido, Max Caster & Ethan Page
(Winner gets a match for the TNT Championship)
The one time I say Scorpio Sky doesn’t have an outside chance…
There was so much going on here, and all of it was brilliant. Ethan Page’s debut kicked things off with a bang. Like most new AEW signings, I know nothing about his prior work, but they’re treating him like a big deal, and I liked what I saw, so I’m willing to go with them.
Everyone got something worthwhile to do in this match, and no-one was ever forgotten. Page got the big spotlight as he debuted and established himself as a continuous presence in this match. Penta does what he does best and used the fast-pace to his advantage, doing something noteworthy almost any time he was on screen. Cody got the big story beat of getting hurt but fighting his way back. Caster got in on the biggest spot of the match with the elbow drop off of the ladder. Lance Archer, meanwhile, felt damn-near invincible, it always took a lot to get him out of the ring, and whenever he was in the mix, the spotlight was on him. As I said in my predictions, I think it would’ve been a bad idea for him to win, so booking him this way was the best option.
Then, of course, Scorpio Sky got the win. Like Penta, he was in the mix a lot and did a bunch of cool stuff as he did so, which helped this win feel earned. Not to say he hadn’t earned it before. He’s been someone waiting to break through for a while now. I don’t think he’s going to take the title from Allin, but I do think it’ll be a match worth talking about, and it’ll keep him around the upper mid-card until he’s ready to finally ascend.
So there you have it! Those are my thoughts on the show; thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what your thoughts were in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down my favourite Fall Guys levels!