All Elite Wrestling came out swinging in 2020. After kinks in the armour started to appear towards the end of 2019, the company entered the new year with a sense of vigor and focus. Their first pay per view of the decade, Revolution, served as a perfect foundation for things – as it provided a destination for the television show to drive towards; telling a series of well structured stories weekly, that came to a head on Saturday night’s show.
While arguments could be made about what the ‘real’ main event was on paper; tradition dictated, and the closing match saw the coronation of Jon Moxley as the new AEW world champion.
Following a very Attitude Era-esque build, in a good way, the match similarly saw Moxley and champion Chris Jericho brawling all over the building and making liberal use of props, in the vein of a Steve Austin main event circa 1999. Indeed the Stone Cold comparisons have only served Moxley well, as his wild loner character has endeared him to fans and made him feel like a red hot character, rather than a pale imitation — which is often the case when other promotions have tried to hearken back to that style of character. Jericho’s limitations at his age are numerous, and becoming more apparent in his continued New Japan presence, but he’s still an utterly compelling character — and when brawling or in a more story-driven match like this, he doesn’t seem so out of place as a main event player.
The building blocks of this match have been in place for a while, and it didn’t deviate from what you might have expected ahead of time. They brawled, they clawed at each other’s preexisting injuries, Mox bled, Jericho hot-dogged and show-boated, and the crowd lapped it all up. In keeping with AEW’s ideals of mostly doing clean finishes in high-profile matches (MOSTLY), Moxley won clean with his finishing move — the right call. There was definitely an argument to be made for sticking with Jericho for another while, as he’s consistently entertaining on TV, but the time was right with Moxley and second-guessing that would have been foolish.
The other arguable ‘real main event’ of the evening was Cody vs. MJF. Like the world title match the build for this on TV was very strong, but where as that was aping late 90s WWF, this felt like a throwback to an even more distant time period. Following a classic pro-wrestling betrayal, MJF instituted a NO TOUCHING rule if Cody wanted to fight him. Cody then had to beat a hired heavy in a cage match. Cody even had to take ten lashes from a belt. It was all very classic wrasslin‘ – as has been Cody’s strength to this point. While Moxley felt like a hotter character, the issue between Cody and MJF felt more heated than the world title match — when the big night came though, only one of the matches really delivered.
This might seem like nitpicking, but the issues with this match began at the entrances. And please remember that I admitted this was nitpicking before I started.
MJF enters first, and has one of the worst fake tan jobs I’ve seen in the recent history of pro wrestling. A fairly common occurrence in this business, to be fair.
Then comes Cody — the most finely crafted ‘ace’ character in wrestling today. For reasons clear only to him; he has decided to tattoo his family/wrestling collective’s logo on his neck; a garish american flag-adorned skull. If you didn’t see this, it’s worse than what you’re picturing.
In a grim one-two punch; Cody’s (usually energizing) theme song was performed live by Downstait. Outside the context of wrestling, I don’t know much about this group — but having now seen them perform a song live, I can comfortably say I won’t be clamoring to see them in the flesh any time soon. This was up there with the worst live band performances at a wrestling show that I’ve seen; and starkly contrasted with Jericho being sung to the ring by a choir, doing a beautiful version of his insanely dumb song.
These might seem like trivial notes, but the combination of it all really took the wind out of my sails before the opening bell. This feud had been so captivating; and I don’t use that term flippantly. Cody felt like the hero of heroes. MJF felt like the most hateable little worm on TV. And together it felt like they were a pair of stars on the rise. And to be blunt; the opening ceremonies made these two look like a pair of clowns.
Then the match happened; and whereas Cody has typically known exactly how to lay out his marquee matches (getting tossed hither and thither in a cage with Wardlow, and donning a crimson mask – just for a recent example), this match felt like an exception to that rule. After a few minutes of MJF stalling and fleeing, Cody got his hands on his foe — and they just sorta had a match. The tail-end featured the usual Cody antics, and the crowd was receptive, but it just didn’t feel like the grudge match it was supposed to be. Naturally MJF had to dominate the middle section as a traditional match structure would suggest, but when he and Cody were sitting in arm holds for a few minutes it just felt like everyone involved was out to lunch. The young heel winning makes sense, as on TV the feud has felt like it has some juice left, but an unceremonious ‘loaded punch’ finish felt like a wet fart of a conclusion.
The other heavily-promoted match was the implosion of The Elite, as the tag team champions Kenny Omega and ‘Hangman’ Adam Page retained their titles against the Young Bucks. When Page challenged for the world title last year, which felt like such a misstep at the time, it was hard to imagine he would rebound successfully in 2020. With this story, AEW have more than just rehabbed the young prospect. The Hangman now feels like the most likely number three to Moxley and Cody as the company’s hottest babyfaces.
The story’s strength is its simplicity. The Bucks are a generational tag team. Omega was arguably AEW’s key signing, as he was viewed as the biggest non-WWE star to North American wrestling fans. With Page feeling like a third wheel in the popular stable, he upset the natural order of things by winning tag team gold before the Jackson brothers. With a chip on one shoulder and a title on the other, Hangman’s ‘me against the world’ antics on Dynamite have won over the crowd in a similar style to Moxley, while also planting seeds of distrust in the audience towards the Young Bucks; which blossomed fully at Revolution.
The tone was set during the introductions. Omega was popular, but Hangman felt nuclear. The crowd were chanting his name and his various catchphrases before the first lockup. The Bucks on the other hand got a mixed reaction, skewing negative. That was just the reaction they were aiming for, and played perfectly into the structure of the match.
Things started sportingly enough, but still with some trash talking and gesturing. As the match naturally built up momentum and the spots started to escalate, so too did the mean-spirited tone and the aggression. The PWG nerd in me got giddy as the Jacksons showed a side of them I haven’t seen in the better part of a decade. With their arrogant posturing and offence that is as snug as it is flashy, they were more than happy to give fans something to boo about. A defiant Page really escalated things when he gave Matt Jackson a sizable gob of spit to the face. Of course this all hit a crescendo of action and highspots that I couldn’t begin to list here, but the execution was excellent – and the ideas coming out of Young Bucks matches, even after all this time, remain innovative and surprising. You could argue things could have ended a nearfall or two earlier than they did, but nonetheless this was a match of the year level contest.
In a wonderful touch, Adam Page gave an ever-so-subtle tease that he was going to hit Omega, the peacekeeper stuck in the middle of everything, a Buckshot lariat. It was brief, and he didn’t follow through, but it was a welcome indicator that this story is far from over.
The undercard was AEW’s usual mix of energetic matches with good heat, and served as a reassuring illustration of how deep their roster is.
In the evening’s only real stinker, Jake Hager defeated Dustin Rhodes in the opener. Rhodes has been a pleasure to watch on the weekly TV show; feeling like the exact kind of veteran you would want working with such a young roster. Hager hasn’t wrestled with AEW to this point, and they should probably revert back to that, as he’s a perfectly serviceable ‘Diesel‘ for Jericho, but it seems he’s very much not a serviceable wrestler any more. Despite a good build on TV, the match was plodding and heatless, in a promotion known for receptive crowds around the country. Capping things off was a tone deaf spot where Rhodes forcibly kissed the heel’s wife at ringside. Mrs. Hager might be gearing up to become an onscreen character, so hopefully the people involved buck their ideas up if that’s the case.
Darby Allin beat Sammy Guevara in a spectacular fight; going all out with athletic, death-defying dives from the start. It’s not often you see a 630 out of the ring through a table before the opening bell — but Guevara basically never wastes an opportunity to make an impression; I struggle to think of anyone who has been more economic with their screen time in AEW than him. Allin’s Jeff Hardy-like charisma is undeniable, and while his character might not be one that naturally fits the mold of world champion (his strength is in taking beatings and losing) he is a bona fide star in the making; and may be one of AEW’s most important young signings in this intensely competitive era of recruiting wrestlers.
Nyla Rose retained her women’s title against Kris Statlander, in a match that had to pay for the sins of the division to this point. The lack of crowd investment was disappointing, but in a roundabout way it spoke to the talent of the two women involved, as their hard-hitting match did win the fans in attendance around by the end. Statlander is a tremendous prospect, but prospect is definitely the word. She’s young in wrestling terms and, uh, actual terms – and some of her performances have felt a little nervous, but she and Rose kept a fairly cool head in a tough spot here, and it feels like the revival of this waning division is still going at a steady pace.
It’s hard to call anything a showstealer on a card with a match the quality of Page/Omega vs. Young Bucks — but goddamn if Orange Cassidy vs. PAC didn’t come close.
PAC is probably the best wrestler in the world that doesn’t get called the best wrestler in the world enough, and there’s also a case to be made he’s the most versatile big match wrestler on the American scene today. For some reason, Orange Cassidy is a figure of mild controversy, as his comedy stylings rub some weird people the wrong way. This match, along with a few others from his indie career, prove that there really isn’t a limit to his appeal. His comedy lands with audiences of all varieties, but he also has a understated charm that gets people to sympathize with him when he’s selling. The format of this match was similar to that of his clash with David Starr; humourous until the opponent turns it up — at which point Cassidy rises to the occasion. Cassidy, of course, lost here — but like Allin his strength isn’t in winning, which makes him all the more useful as a beloved cult hero pn the undercard.
All in all; AEW Revolution was a very enjoyable show – and its shortcomings are only magnified by the quality of the weekly television show it has to follow. It’s a weird position to be in; Dynamite is not only a great show in terms of building up stories, but you’re basically guaranteed one good match a week, sometimes several, and sometimes one that brushes up against match of the year-level. So when a pay-per-view rolls around, the bar is VERY high. I think it would be fair to say AEW might not have cleared that bar, with the Cody/MJF match serving as a stumbling block of sorts, but in a roundabout way it’s exciting to have a company to follow where you go into it expecting the absolute best.