Monday, March 2, 2020

AEW Revolution 2020: The Moxley Era Begins

Man, what a fun PPV AEW Revolution was.  Seven main-show matches in front of a molten crowd that was simply ecstatic to be there, one match a huge Match of the Year contender, four others in or near **** range, only one bout that didn't deliver, and some fantastic storytelling across the board.  Plus a monumental title change signaling the start of a new era.  This PPV was delightful, in all the ways WWE PPVs aren't these days.

The main show kicked off with kind of an unconventional choice, as Jake Hager and Dustin Rhodes had a 14-minute slugfest.  I'd probably have put Allin vs. Guevara first considering how high-energy it was, but this was fine for its slot.  It took a little while to get going, but the crowd was into everything.  Hager made out with his wife at ringside before the match, which got good heat.  The bout was back-and-forth, with Hager using power and amateur wrestling against Dustin's scrappy brawling tactics.  It's astounding to me that at age fifty, Dustin looks and wrestles better than he ever did in his 30s.  Hager took control midway through and his wife oddly started yelling instructions to him.  Dustin knocked Jake down and Mrs. Hager tried to slap him, but he caught her hand and kissed her, smearing facepaint all over her face.  This bit was probably not advisable for a babyface in the Me Too era.  At the end of the match, with referee Aubrey Edwards distracted, Hager hit a low blow and locked in a standing triangle choke, causing Dustin to pass out.  Hager is undefeated thus far in AEW.  A solid, if unremarkable match to kick off his AEW in-ring career.  ***

Things picked up in a major way with Darby Allin vs. Sammy Guevara, in a match that technically only went five minutes but was preceded by wild, death-defying action before the bell.  Allin dove through the ropes and pounced on Sammy.  After a couple minutes of fighting on the outside, Sammy set Allin up on a table and hit a 630 senton through it from the top rope.  Just an insane spot.  After the match officially started, Allin went for a tope with Sammy draped on the barricade, but came up a little short, which was scary.  This was one of a few frightening moments on the show.  Sammy hit a gorgeous-looking top-rope Spanish Fly but after exposing a turnbuckle got monkey-flipped into it.  Allin hit his over-the-shoulder stunner move followed by the Coffin Drop to get the win.  Both guys looked phenomenal here and as I said in my preview piece, they should be vying for a new secondary belt.  These kids are future main eventers.  About as good a five-minute match as you'll ever see.  ***3/4

Holy jeez, this tag team match.  Omega & Page vs. The Young Bucks was one of the greatest tag team matches I've ever seen.  31 minutes that felt like 20.  Non-stop action that wasn't mindless, and actually told a compelling story.  These four wove a masterpiece in front of a nuclear crowd.  The story going in was that Page resented the Bucks for trying to take away his first championship, and Omega for not fully believing in him.  Everything these guys did hammered home that narrative, from the Bucks doing anything they could to get and maintain an advantage (which pissed off the live crowd to no end), to Page answering Matt Jackson's handshake offer by spitting in his face, to Omega selling annoyance with Page and regret at having to fight his best friends, to Omega taking tons of punishment on an already injured shoulder, to Matt ripping the tape off Omega's shoulder and then realizing what he'd just done to his friend.  This match was full of little details and high spots that mattered, and loads of character and story building.  There were multiple spots where it looked like one guy was taken out of the match.  Nick hit a top-rope poison rana on Omega that looked like it should've killed him.  Matt did a trio of Northern Lights suplexes on Page, on the entrance ramp, followed by an IndyTaker.  Nick took a powerbomb through a table.  Late in the match Omega went for the One-Winged Angel but his shoulder gave out.  So instead Page hit the move on Matt for what looked like the finish, but Nick broke up the pin at the last second.  Page had finally had enough, hitting a Buckshot Lariat on Nick on the ramp, and then turning around and doing the same to Matt inside the ring, followed by the pin.  What a fucking match.  Afterward the Bucks and Omega made up, but Page refused to do the same.  Page then teased turning on Omega by holding the top rope as if to Buckshot Lariat him.  But then he simply held the ropes open and the champs left together.  This was absolutely superb.  *****

Given the impossible task of following that was the Women's Title match, as Nyla Rose defended against Kris Statlander.  Rose's greenness was very apparent here, as Statlander is good and athletic but she's no Riho.  They tried to put together a good showing but there were numerous miscues and the crowd, forgiving though it was, didn't respond to much.  Nyla retained after 12 minutes with a second-rope Beast Bomb that almost went very wrong.  Kris tried to get into position but Nyla couldn't quite hold her up at first, and on the second try they barely pulled the move off.  The women's division remains the one real hole in AEW's game.  They'll need to beef up that roster and get Nyla and Kris much more in-ring time to improve.  This was the one weak spot on the card.  *3/4

The show perked up again with Cody vs. MJF, a fantastically-worked old-school babyface vs. heel match.  Cody went after MJF at the outset, and MJF stalled and ran to try to bait Cody into an altercation with Wardlow on the outside.  Once the match got going it was full of fierce, emotional brawling.  MJF took advantage of Cody's injured toe (from the cage match moonsault a couple weeks ago), pulling off Cody's boot and at one point biting the injured toe.  MJF locked in a Fujiwara arm bar, tying up both of Cody's arms and one leg, and forcing Cody to bite the bottom rope to break the hold.  Cody mounted a comeback, hitting Disaster Kick, knocking MJF from the apron to the floor and somehow opening a cut on MJF's forehead.  Brandi went after Wardlow a couple times, at one point throwing beer in his face, and another diving on top of him only for Wardlow to catch her.  Arn Anderson came to her rescue, but when Cody tried to kick Wardlow, he moved and Cody knocked out Arn by mistake.  MJF tried to whip Cody with his weight belt, but Cody got it back and whipped MJF twice.  MJF began crying and tried to apologize to Cody, hugging him, but then spit in his face.  Cody hit two CrossRhodes and went for a third, but MJF countered it and then punched Cody with his diamond ring, knocking Cody out long enough for MJF to score the pin.  Wardlow helped a loopy MJF to his feet and celebrated.  This was pretty excellent.  Loved the storytelling and character work, and MJF is well on his way to being a top heel in the company.  Also, push Wardlow, that guy has it.  ****1/4

I found the match order on this show rather puzzling, case in point putting Pac vs. Orange Cassidy in the second-to-last slot.  AEW should emulate NJPW in this regard, building each PPV to a peak rather than using the WWE modus operandi of "hot match, cooldown, hot match, death spot, main event."  Regardless though, I loved this match.  Cassidy's gimmick is so thoroughly entertaining and meshed perfectly with Pac's no-nonsense badass heel persona.  Cassidy frustrated Pac constantly with his "give no fucks" attitude, and then Pac would snap and start beating the shit out of him, followed by Cassidy suddenly making a comeback with explosive aerial offense.  There was a hilarious exchange where Pac climbed to the top to deliver the Black Arrow but Cassidy just nonchalantly rolled away and out of the ring.  Pac tossed him back in and climbed again, but Cassidy rolled the other way.  Such a great illustration of their two characters.  Cassidy had a late-match offensive flurry and went for a top rope move, but Pac crotched him on the turnbuckles.  Suddenly Lucha Bros ran down to take out Best Friends, and Pac used the distraction to lock Cassidy in the Brutalizer for the submission win.  Aside from the overused Distracted Babyface finish, this match was perfect for its type.  So much fun, and the crowd was electric for it.  ****

The Chris Jericho-Jon Moxley main event suffered a bit from an exhausted crowd, but this was a very solid brawl where Moxley kept overcoming the odds despite repeated interference from Inner Circle.  Jericho went after Moxley's injured eye for much of the bout after Moxley was busted open.  Late in the match Jake Hager ran down and punched Moxley, and referee Aubrey Edwards had enough and tossed Jericho's pals from ringside.  But Sammy Guevara ran down and hit a belt shot on Moxley.  Jericho went for the pin but Moxley kicked out in what should've drawn some crowd gasps, but unfortunately the audience didn't buy it as a finish.  Jericho went for the Judas Effect, but Moxley ducked and landed a DDT, then pulled off his eyepatch to reveal that his eye was healed up.  He hit the elevated DDT and covered, scoring the pin and winning the AEW Championship.  The crowd went apeshit for the title change.  Moxley cut a promo talking about what a crazy year it's been and saying this championship belongs to the fans.  Great way to end the show and send everyone home happy.  I said I hoped Jericho kept the belt for the full year, but Moxley winning here opens up a lot of new matchups.  It's great to see Moxley enjoying himself again and being recognized as a company cornerstone.  This wasn't an amazing match or anything but it was very well-executed and historic.  ****

So, we have by my count a Match of the Year candidate, three ****+ matches, and one ***3/4 sprint.  That there is a fine PPV.  AEW continues to be a treat to watch.  They aren't perfect, and the women's division especially needs a lot of help, but their product actually makes North American wrestling fun again, and I'm happy to support the cause.  I'd say Full Gear is still their best overall PPV, but this was a helluva show.

Best Match: Omega & Page vs. Young Bucks
Worst Match: Nyla Rose vs. Kris Statlander
What I'd Change: The match order.  Put Allin vs. Guevara on first, move Pac-Cassidy to the fourth slot, move the tag title match to fifth and move Cody-MJF to the semi-main slot.  I prefer to have PPVs that build to a peak.
Most Disappointing Match: I was hoping the women would deliver
Most Pleasant Surprise: How great Pac-Cassidy was
Overall Rating: 9/10

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