Last month, AEW FINALLY debuted with their Double Or Nothing event, a show over eight months in the making. There was no doubt that it was going to be something with a lot of hype behind it and everyone on the show working hard, but the question was how good could it actually be. With everyone involved there was a strong chance of something special and that certainly seems to have been the reaction.

Reviews for the show have been rather positive, with mine being one of them. The show definitely came off well, but how much of that was the hype the fans had from waiting to see it for so long? Maybe things weren’t quite as good as they seemed to be, which is why I’m taking another look at the show. While I won’t be watching it again just yet, it could be worth going back over what happened and going over a few things that might not have been so clear the first time around. That has been the case before and maybe it’s the case with the new talent. Let’s get to it.

Pre-Show: Casino Battle Royal

We’ll get one of the bigger problems out of the way first as the more I think about this one, the less I care for it. The problem here is one of the major themes that we’re going to get to over the night: the show was catering to the fans who already knew these wrestlers rather than the masses. It’s something that has been done before and it’s going to be one of the biggest problems throughout the show.

Back in 1997, ECW debuted on pay per view (and the national stage) with Barely Legal. In a way it was similar to Double Or Nothing as fans were surprised that they managed to get to this point. The show was entertaining, but there was one thing that always sat wrong with me. The co-main event (if not the real main event) was a huge grudge match between Taz and Sabu, which was a grudge match over a year in the making. It was billed as the Grudge Match of the Century, which is a pretty high standard. There was just one problem: no one ever said why they hated each other.

That’s kind of an important detail to leave out. It was just assumed that the majority of the fans who were watching the show would already know the backstory, but that’s not the best line of thinking. The problem is this is your big debut and there is nothing that tells you the main reason you should be caring about this match. Sure the fans know what’s going on, bu there’s a potentially much bigger audience than the people who are already in the tent.

That brings us back to Double Or Nothing. Who are so many of these people? Why should we care about them? Commentary mentioned a handful of them, but what is this person all about? Tell me a little something about them. What makes them stand out? What would make them a potentially strong choice to challenge for the World Title? I’m sure fans know some of them, but you should never assume that your audience knows everyone, especially on a show like this.

The other problem was this is the first match in the history of AEW. The format with the groups was a little more complicated than it needed to be (though it’s not like it was impossible to understand) and having a bunch of people thrown out there for the first time ever on the national stage didn’t do them many favors. It felt like a parade of people getting their big spots in but without any explanation or support from commentary. It’s not a good choice for an opener and it wasn’t executed all that well. Adam Page winning was 100% right though and Maxwell Jacob Friedman was pure gold, so it could have been worse.

This was one of the best things about the Pre-Show:

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Pre-Show: Kip Sabian vs. Sammy Guevara

This should have opened the show as it’s a lot more traditional, though still something that would have opened some eyes. They went with the pretty standard indy formula for this one and that’s something that is going to work, just to fire the crowd up if nothing else. Good enough match with some nice high flying here, but it’s also the first match I would have cut if I wanted to trim the show’s run time down a bit. This was fine, though nothing that hasn’t been done better several times before.

Before we get to the main show, there were some backstage segments with the two Librarians, one of the Young Bucks running into Michael Nakazawa from the battle royal and the Young Bucks superkicking a guy trying to give them credentials. None of these things were really funny, and if WWE had done them, the same fans probably would have booed them out of Nevada. These really didn’t need to be here and I’m hoping they don’t continue to happen going forward. Once in awhile is fine, but stop doing these unfunny backstage segments.

Then the main core group came out to welcome us to the show….and they ran out of time and got cut off. The perils of going live for your first time. It doesn’t look good, but it’s far from the worst thing in the world.

Strong Hearts vs. So Cal Uncensored

Now we get to the good part, with a rather fun opening match between two very good trios. So Cal Uncensored knows exactly how to get a crowd going and their matches more than back it up. The Oriental Wrestling Entertainment guys looked great and I could go for more of them. This was exactly what they should have used for the opener and everyone looked awesome. Good choice here and now we’re getting onto the right foot.

They certainly know what they’re doing:

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Britt Baker vs. Kylie Rae vs. Nyla Rose vs. Awesome Kong

This is where things took a bit of a hit as they tried to do a little bit too much. It’s very clear that Baker and Rae are two of the women that they want to build the division around and that’s fine. Both are young, talented and entertaining workers, but there was a lot going on to distract me from those two. Kong was a late addition to the match to make it a four way with Brandi Rhodes entering her as a surprise after a nice fake out.

The problem with that is Rose was presented as the monster of the match and then you have one of the all time female monsters in there as well. It negates what Rose has while putting the focus on Kong, which defeats the purpose of the match entirely. I liked the Rae vs. Baker parts and Baker won, as she (or Rae) should have, but this would have been much better with Baker vs. Rae and Kong coming out after as the surprise.

Seriously how can you not love her:

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Best Friends vs. Angelico/Jack Evans

Then there’s this one, which was the match I wasn’t looking forward to. I don’t care for the Best Friends as I don’t usually care for their matches and I find their comedy to be somewhere between unfunny and just annoying. They had a decent enough match here though and with the tag division being a focal point of the promotion, it makes a lot of sense to push an experienced team like them. Not really my thing, but it makes sense given the long term goals of the company.

What didn’t make sense (or at least wasn’t well executed) when the Super Smash Bros debuted after the match and destroyed both teams. The fans in the arena weren’t sure who they were, I wasn’t sure who they were and the announcers weren’t sure who they were. Obviously they’re going to need a name change, but shouldn’t that name have been known before they appeared here? It wasn’t well executed and it’s not like they’re that famous of a team in the first place.

Aja Kong/Yuka Sakazaki/Emi Sakura vs. Hikaru Shida/Riho/Ryo Mizunami

This is another case where your individual tastes are going to determine everything. I’m a story guy in wrestling and there wasn’t one present here. Now that being said, that wasn’t exactly the point of this one. The idea here was to showcase these six women and make them an attraction in the vein of the rotating cast of cruiserweights from the Monday Nitro formula. In that regard, this worked very well, but I prefer a little more than that. It was solid action and I’d watch it again, but I need a reason to care about these people or at least something that sets them apart other than “that’s not Aja Kong” or “they’re on Kong’s team”.

Dustin Rhodes vs. Cody

Now we get to the match that matters more than anything else on the show as this match went from what should have been a nice match to what people remember more than anything else. I’m still not sure I get why these two wanted to hurt each other but it’s a story that tells itself well enough.

Before we get to the match though, there’s the stuff with Cody and the Triple H inspired throne. It didn’t need to be there, it didn’t need to take place, and it didn’t really do anything other than make me roll my eyes. I’m sure the anti-WWE fans loved it but this was little more than a way to get some attention. I was more worried about this opening the floodgates of a bunch of anti-WWE stuff but it never came, which was quite the relief.

So anyway, the match was indeed great and probably the best thing either of them have done (on their own at least, as Rhodes had some incredible tag/team matches in WCW/WWF). It was violent, it was bloody and it was emotional, which is more than you see in almost any match these days. The blood was excessive (to put it mildly) and they beat the fire out of each other, which put this further up than anything else on the show. Great match, better story, and incredible emotion.

Oh and then they went with the Dusty Rhodes promo from 1994 with Cody saying that he needed a brother instead of a partner, which was about as good as it was going to get. This was outstanding stuff all around and completely above and beyond anything else that you could have asked from from this match.

Then it was time for a segment, which the show has thankfully been light on so far. Bret Hart (originally planned to be Ric Flair until health got in the way) brought out the World Title. But hang on because Friedman interrupted and got in the great line of “LOOK OUT BRET! IT’S A FAN!”. Page, Jungle Boy and Jimmy Havoc took care of him though and Hart held up the title, which looked fine enough. This was really necessary after the previous match to give the fans a breather, plus Hart was a very cool surprise.

AAA Tag Team Titles: Lucha Bros vs. Young Bucks(c)

I don’t know what else there is to say about this one. They did a bunch of crazy spots, they kicked out of a ridiculous amount of moves and the Bucks won in the end. This was all about being the big high spot match on the show and it actually felt like a dream match. Well done in that regard, even if I’ve seen both teams have better matches before.

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho

This was the main event and a rematch of their Wrestle Kingdom classic, which isn’t the worst idea in the world. Jericho might be older, but he’s still by far the biggest name in the company and someone that the fans are going to recognize more than anyone else. The match….well it was good.

The problem is it came after the two other great to very good matches and that made it feel like a letdown. Jericho can still go, but he’s going to be 49 this year and it’s starting to become clear. The Judas Effect isn’t a great finisher and it came out of nowhere, but it could have been a lot worse. I get why it’s the main event, though it’s nowhere near the best match on the show.

Then we got to the big surprise ending to the show with Jon Moxley debuting and laying out both guys. This was EXACTLY the right call to end the show as Moxley is a legitimate major star and someone who just left WWE, making his appearance feel that much more important. It was a cool moment and Moxley looked great, so this went about as well as it could have gone.

And this is how you end a show:

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Overall, Double Or Nothing was a very, very strong show and as good of a debut as they could have hoped for, either realistically or unrealistically. The wrestling was mostly good (the last three matches ranged from great to quite good) and the presentation looked awesome. There are a few things that they need to tighten up (dropping Alex Marvez from commentary would help as you don’t need a three man booth) but for what the show could have been and what it wound up being, it’s an outstanding night and I’m excited for where they go from here.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the History Of In Your House.

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