Tuesday, March 9, 2021

AEW Revolution 2021: Is Anticlimactic the Right Word?

Well, that was a thing.  Exploding barbwire apparently just means sparklers and little smoke bombs.  Maybe skip that stuff next time....

So yeah, AEW Revolution 2021 under-delivered big in some areas.  It was a solid show that fell short of unnecessarily high expectations.  The company made the classic mistake of over-promising on a lot of things.  You never wanna do that.  When people are expecting epic and you only deliver solid, it feels like a big letdown.  The biggest issue with the show of course occurred in the final moments, when the company promised a huge explosion and we got a watered down version of Bill Goldberg's pyro.  And as Vince Russo once said, "All anyone remembers is the last five minutes."  Is that fair?  No.  But to a certain extent it's true.  Never end your show in a way where people will dismiss it as a complete failure, just because the ending sucked.  It's a shame, because there was a lot of good stuff on this show.  Let's take a look....

After a very enjoyable pre-show tag match pitting Britt Baker and the debuting Maki Itoh against Riho and Thunder Rosa (I give the match ***1/2 and I'm looking forward to these four pairing off into singles feuds), we got a pretty great World Tag Title match, as the Young Bucks exacted some revenge on MJF and Chris Jericho.  This wasn't on the level of Bucks-FTR or Bucks-Omega/Page, but it was a really strong old-school kinda tag match, with the classic hot start, heel-controlled middle, and big comeback.  My favorite visual was the Bucks taking turns superkicking MJF to the point that drool was flying out of his mouth.  After incapacitating MJF, the Bucks, following several stymied attempts, finally hit the Meltzer Driver on Jericho to get the pin and retain.  Damn good match, and given my traditionalist leanings the best thing on the show.  ****1/4

Say what you will about AEW, they know how to put on a fun Battle Royal-type match.  This Casino Tag Battle Royale was incredibly entertaining, and though a little long, was full of innovative spots while getting over its winners and a couple runners-up.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Pac and Fenix win the whole thing, as their eventual match against The Bucks should be phenomenal.  But maybe even more satisfying than that was Jungle Boy lasting until the very end, outmaneuvering Pac to let him eliminate himself, before a final showdown with Fenix.  Jurassic Express needs a big push soon; think how big a pop they'll get if they win the tag belts - this team is a quintessential babyface misfit tandem and I could watch them all day.  Anyway, this match illustrated how incredibly deep this tag division is, and I hope AEW gets another TNT show soon so more of these guys can be spotlighted.  Varsity Blonds, Bear Country, Santana & Ortiz, Private Party, the numerous Dark Order teams...  There are so many good tandems in this company, they just need more TV time to get them all established.  This Rumble was a lot of fun.  ***3/4
The Women's Title match was next, as Hikaru Shida had a pretty intense fifteen minutes against Ryo Mizunami.  As I expected, Ryo hadn't really been established enough to have a real chance of winning, but these two worked hard and stiff, and clearly have good chemistry.  Shida won after multiple running knees to retain the belt.  I have to think Britt Baker is next in line for a shot.  Hikaru Shida is now the longest-reigning champion in AEW history, which to me is a very effective way to make the championship of the company's thinnest division mean something.  I think she should keep it until at least Double or Nothing so she'll have held it a full year.  ***1/2

The weakest match of the night, as expected, was Miro and Kip Sabian vs. Orange Cassidy and Chuck Taylor.  The heels beat up Cassidy prior to their entrance, leaving Chuck with a 2-on-1 handicap for the early parts of the match.  The wrestling here was fairly nondescript and the match came to a head when Penelope Ford was on the apron for a ref distraction and Miro knocked Orange Cassidy into her by mistake.  While Sabian tended to his injured wife, Miro didn't care at all about her, focusing on Chuck Taylor as he hit a Machka kick and the Game Over camel clutch for the win.  This was a basic TV match.  *3/4

Another surprisingly solid outing was Matt Hardy vs. Hangman Page where the winner got the loser's Q1 earnings.  These guys worked hard; Page has been splendidly intense in the ring of late and can always be counted on for an intense battle.  Private Party tried to help Hardy get a cheap win, but members of the Dark Order ran out to run interference, as Page hit a buckshot lariat for the win.  Page and the Order celebrated afterwards, making it seem like Page will finally become the group's new leader.  We'll see though.  I feel like Page is a natural loner, so I'm not sure how his character will work as a cult leader.  This match was decent.  ***

The first moment of overhype/underdelivery took place in the Face of the Revolution Ladder match, as the mystery opponent was revealed to be Ethan Page, formerly of Impact.  I'm sure Page is quite talented and will be another young talent AEW can build into a star, but when you have a mystery participant in a match you generally expect it to be someone with real name recognition.  You can't have a surprise entrant be a young up-and-comer the average viewer isn't familiar with, it doesn't make sense.  It also didn't help that he didn't stand out much in this match.  There were numerous big moments like Penta hitting Cody with a destroyer on a ladder, Scorpio Sky hitting a frog splash off the ladder, Page powerbombing Archer off a ladder, and Cody getting payback on Penta with a cutter on a ladder.  The finish came when Scorpio and Cody were battling on a ladder, and Scorpio knocked Cody off to win the giant brass ring (I liked the brass ring gimmick, by the way).  This was a good but somewhat forgettable ladder match.  The ladder match is one of several gimmick bouts that should be either retired or avoided for a long time, as there's basically nothing new or innovative left to do that won't seriously injure someone.  I felt like Scorpio's win kinda came out of nowhere, as he hadn't been built up very much leading into this.  ***1/2

Next up was letdown #2, as the "Hall of Fame-worthy talent who's a major, huge star and will be a big asset to the company" was revealed to be......Christian Cage.  Guys.  Come on.  Look, I like Christian, he's very talented, he's in incredible shape, he's had some great matches over the years.  But outside of WWE's definition of a Hall of Famer, which apparently includes guys like Koko B. Ware, Beth Phoenix, The Bushwhackers, The Godfather, Hillbilly Jim, Torrie Wilson, and the numerous celebrity wing inductees, Christian can't realistically be considered a Hall of Fame-worthy guy.  He was never a draw on his own (just ask TNA), he never had a meaningful World Championship run, and let's be honest, his star shone brightest as the #2 guy in a tag team.  When you're hyping up a new signee as a major, huge name in the business (Tony Khan's words, not mine), you simply can't have the reveal be an upper-midcard guy.  Had Christian showed up as a surprise out of nowhere and signed a contract, that would've felt like a nice unexpected bonus.  But as the reveal to a mystery that had the wrestling world buzzing, he comes off as a bait & switch letdown.  Besides which I'm not sure how you effectively use a Christian Cage in a company like AEW.  He's 47 years old so he's not bringing in a lot of young viewers, he wasn't ever a big draw, so he's not bringing in a lot of casual viewers (just ask TNA), and aside from being used to put over a rising star like MJF whose credibility would be somewhat elevated with a win over Christian, what do you do with him?  You can't have him in the title picture and beating your top homegrown stars (just ask TNA), so where does he fit in?  He's not a big enough name to be a dream match wrestler and he's too old to be a long-term investment.  I just don't see much upside to bringing in Christian when your TV time is so limited your rising stars don't get enough of it as it is.

I mean, EVERYONE? Omega? Matt & Nick? Fenix? Pac?

The final two matches were full of bells and whistles, starting with the cinematic street fight pitting Darby Allin and Sting against Brian Cage (wait, so now AEW has two Pages AND two Cages??) and Ricky Starks.  This was pretty well done as cinematic matches go, with much better camera work than WWE's, an actual wrestling ring being involved to keep it a little grounded, and some memorable moments like Brian Cage lifting Allin up for a suplex and carrying him up a flight of stairs before hitting the move onto a trash can and Team Taz throwing Allin through a bunch of glass.  After about 13 minutes the ending fell a little flat, as Sting just beat Ricky Starks with a Scorpion Death Drop.  When you have guys using shovels and baseball bats and diving off platforms, this is a pretty anticlimactic way to end a match.  Also, cinematic matches should not have background music, ever.  Where is this music supposed to be coming from?  Aside from those complaints and my general distaste for this type of match, this was ok.  Better than the Boneyard Match at least.  **1/2

So now for that main event, the Exploding Barbwire Death Match.  Again, as a wrestling traditionalist I tend not to get that excited about most gimmick matches.  That said, the company did a good job building up this match as over-the-line dangerous and thus the anticipation factor worked.  And Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley had a helluva fight here.  It was stiff, brutal, bloody, and the explosions worked for the most part, shot from angles where you couldn't see how far away the puff of smoke was from the guys.  The use of barbwire looked brutal (and probably hurt like a sonofabitch).  Moxley hit a Paradigm Shift on an exploding barbwire board at one point.  At another he wrapped some around his own arm to choke Omega with it.  The best moment of the match was probably when Omega hit the One Winged Angel and went for the cover but Moxley kicked the ropes to cause an explosion that left Kenny rocked.  That was innovative and allowed Moxley to escape the OWA without actually kicking out.  At the end of the match the Good Brothers ran in for interference, triple teaming Moxley and giving Omega an exploding bat to hit him with (that was probably the best-looking explosion of the match) before setting him up for a One Winged Angel on an open chair (a brutal finish).  Omega retained.  So aside from Anderson & Gallows' interference being too long, this was a really good match of its type.  I'd give the match itself ****.  But here's where everything went to shit.  One of the stipulations was that at the thirty-minute mark every explosive was rigged to go off at once.  Why anyone would do this I'm sure I don't know.  The match ended after about 25 minutes, meaning the heels had to beat down Moxley for almost five minutes after the bell.  And yet no one came to Moxley's aid during that time.  Then finally the heels left Moxley for dead in the ring as the clock counted down to zero.  Suddenly Eddie Kingston ran down to save his former friend (where the fuck was he five minutes ago?), and when he couldn't lift Moxley to get him clear, he simply dove on top of him for protection as the explosives went off.  The explosives that as I said, resembled Goldberg's entrance pyro and were nowhere near the two men.  But both guys sold it anyway.  This was just sad.  Why was there a need for a big explosion at the end in the first place?  Why couldn't the match end with the 3-on-1 beatdown and then thirty seconds later Kingston runs down for the save and gets his ass kicked too?  It would've accomplished the same goal - the redemption of Eddie Kingston - and been an emotional way to cap off a really good main event.  The exploding ring gimmick wasn't necessary at all.  So while I gave the match four stars, I give the aftermath of it *.  Just a terrible followup to what had been a very effective main event, and a sour ending to a pretty strong PPV.  

You can do better AEW.

Best Match: Young Bucks vs. MJF & Jericho
Worst Match: Miro & Sabian vs. Cassidy & Taylor
What I'd Change: Don't announce a new signing at all and introduce Christian Cage as an impromptu surprise, do some vignettes for Ethan Page leading up to this show so we know who he is, and for fuck's sake leave out the exploding ring nonsense at the end.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the main event just because the aftermath was so bad.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The pre-show match
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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