Tuesday, June 1, 2021

AEW Double or Nothing 2021: Interfering With Greatness

AEW's third annual Double or Nothing PPV is in the books, and it was quite a noteworthy event.  I would say overall the show fell just short of being a truly great PPV, but it was still a damn good show that boasted numerous bouts in the **** range and a very hot crowd that was clearly super excited to finally see in-person wrestling again.  What kept it from reaching elite level (pun alert) for me was an over-reliance on interference and outside the ring shenanigans.  But we'll get to that.

The show opened with one of two matches that could be considered a "hoss fight," Hangman Page vs. Brian Cage.  These two had an athletic, hard-hitting match that almost felt like a G1-type contest, with no slow spots and a pace that built throughout.  Late in the match Cage attempted to steal Page's Buckshot Lariat, but hesitated and Page countered with an F5 (My initial reaction to this was that it felt like a miscue, but it makes sense that Cage wouldn't execute the move smoothly since it's not his).  The first of way too many outside the ring distractions occurred, with Ricky Starks and Hook coming down to distract the referee (Cage had asked his teammates to stay away for this match).  Starks gave Cage the FTW belt to use as a weapon but Cage refused, and when he turned around Page leveled him with the Buckshot for the win.  Very good match but having a run-in right in the opener was immediately too much.  ***1/2

Next up was the Tag Title match, as the Young Bucks, full-on embracing their heel personas, defended against Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston.  This was paced like an old-school tag match, with the Bucks doing very little of their high flying offense and Moxley playing the badass good guy in peril.  Mid-match we got another distraction spot, as Anderson and Gallows attempted to interfere but Kingston was ready and launched himself on top of Gallows.  But the confusion allowed Matt Jackson to hit Moxley with a spray can, opening up a forehead cut.  Matt and Nick mocked various WWE figures throughout the match, from Nick's Randy Savage impression to Matt's Hulk Hogan, to a Shield powerbomb tease.  The final few minutes of the match were full of false finishes, submission attempts, and big counters.  After withstanding a barrage of superkicks, Moxley took five BTE Triggers in a row for the loss.  Another excellent Bucks match, but the interference kept it from equaling their all-time great bouts.  ****1/4

In the third slot was the Casino Battle Royale, which was only mildly entertaining but did have a noteworthy outcome.  Heavy favorite Christian Cage was in the first wave and nearly ran the table like his buddy Edge.  The eliminations were pretty fast and furious, and there were never more than six or seven guys in the ring at a time.  Matt Hardy and Private Party dominated part of the match, teaming up to toss numerous guys out.  The surprise entrant was Lio Rush, who is apparently signed to NJPW.  Rush did some wild moves but had a couple sloppy moments before being tossed out by Team Matt.  The bout came down to Christian, Matt Hardy, and beloved crowd favorite Jungle Boy.  The babyfaces tossed Matt and then had some fun exchanges (including a great spot where JB avoided elimination by pinwheeling around one of the ring posts and landing on the apron) before Jungle Boy backdropped Christian off the apron to the floor to win.  The crowd went nuts for this, and post-match Marko Stunt and Luchasaurus came out to celebrate.  Christian hugged Jungle Boy and told him to make the most of his title match, which was a great little passing of the torch.  I was quite happy to be wrong in my prediction here, as JB was absolutely the right choice.  **1/4 for the match, **** for the moment.

The weakest match of the night was Cody Rhodes vs. Anthony Ogogo, a bout that went a head-scratchingly long eleven minutes despite Ogogo's greenness.  Ogogo tried to end the match early with a gut shot but Cody fought through it and kept it a wrestling match.  Ogogo nearly had the match won with an uppercut to the jaw but Cody's arm was under the ropes during the pin attempt.  Cody came back, was unable to hit Cross Rhodes, but instead hit a Vertebreaker to win the match.  I found this result very puzzling but since Ogogo clearly isn't quite ready for full length matches I guess it's not a huge deal yet that he lost.  Just an okay match.  **

Another G1-esque bout was next as Miro defended the TNT Title against Lance Archer in another hoss fight.  These two just pounded the crap out of each other with no wasted motion.  Archer provided his usual big-man athletics, while Miro kept up with him all the way.  Once again though we got an unnecessary run-in, as Jake Roberts tried to bring a snake into the match (not sure what the endgame is there, is he *trying* to get Archer disqualified?).  Instead Miro grabbed the snake bag and threw it all the way to the entrance tunnel, then locked in Game Over.  Archer fought the move but Miro leaned all the way back and got the ref stoppage win.  Another good match taken down a peg with pointless interference.  ***1/4

One of the bouts I was most looking forward to was the Women's Title match, and I was actually baffled to find most reviews weren't very kind to it.  I liked this match quite a bit.  Yes it had some messy spots but overall both women worked really hard, it had a big-fight feel, and the right woman won.  Shida was very emotional at the outset but focused up once things got going.  Britt Baker came off like a star and spent much of the match either going for her Lockjaw finish or simply stymying Shida's offense.  Sadly this was yet another match with interference (though at least it had consequences this time).  Rebel on the outside accidentally hit Baker with her crutch, nearly costing her the match, and then later distracted the referee long enough for Baker to hit Shida with the belt and use it as a hard surface on which to hit a curb stomp.  Shida withstood the illegal moves but eventually fell to Lockjaw, ending her one-year-plus reign.  The crowd was happy to see Baker finally win the belt, and Tony Schiavone came over to give her a hug at the end.  I liked this match, I dunno what everyone else was watching.  ***3/4

Pleasant Surprise of the Night honors goes to the Sting/Darby Allin vs. Ethan Page/Scorpio Sky match.  This was a shockingly entertaining bout, with Sting more than holding his own at the ripe age of 62.  Sting took a suplex on the ramp early on, Allin got gorilla pressed by Page all the way into the front row, Sting eventually got the hot tag and hit Stinger splashes on both heels before locking Page in the Scorpion Deathlock.  Scorpio then got a heel hook on Darby and the two men stuck in submission holds began slapping each other, which was a great dramatic moment.  In the closing moments Sting countered a stunner with the Death Drop to pin Scorpio Sky.  Super fun stuff.  ***1/2

Perhaps the match most negatively affected by outside interference was the AEW Title match.  Kenny Omega, Orange Cassidy and Pac had a fantastic bout that in the end suffered from an absurd level of overbooking.  Cassidy as usual played the aloof underdog, Pac played the badass babyface with a chip on his shoulder, and Omega played the arrogant elitist champion.  The big moves, counters and nearfalls came fast and often, the most noteworthy of which occurred when Pac countered a top-rope One-Winged Angel into a falcon arrow on Omega, but Cassidy ran in, tossed out Pac, and tried to steal the win.  Orange hit both guys with a series of Orange Punches, and Don Callis left the commentary table to run in and help, yanking the referee out of the ring to stop a three-count.  Moments later Pac locked Cassidy in the Brutalizer, and when Omega couldn't get Pac to break the hold, he simply dropped an elbow on the ref to knock him out.  Omega then used all four of his championship belts as weapons on both guys, but Cassidy hit him with an Orange Punch, went for the pin, and got reversed into a crucifix for the three-count.  So yeah, from a technical standpoint this match was great, but why did we need both Callis's interference AND Omega knocking the ref out on purpose?  Pick one or the other.  On a show where four matches previous included interference, this felt overindulgent and repetitive by this point.  It was a really good match regardless, but AEW needs to get away from all the run-ins; they get old really fast.  ****

The main event was of course the highly anticipated Stadium Stampede sequel, as The Inner Circle and The Pinnacle waged all-out war throughout TIAA Bank Field.  The match suffered just a little from being a sequel to a wholly original gimmick bout, but this was a whole lot of fun like its predecessor and had a more serious tone.  The teams broke off into their logical pairings - MJF vs. Jericho, Wardlow vs. Hager, etc. - and the match cut back and forth between the various fights.  MJF and Jericho battled into the offices, Wardlow and Hager fought through the catering and food service areas, the two tag teams found themselves in a nightclub enjoying a shot before smashing each other with bottles, and Sammy and Spears ended up in the chair room.  In the end both MJF and Jericho, and Sammy and Spears, worked their way to Daily's Place so the match could finish in front of the live crowd.  Jericho put MJF through a camera platform to end his activity in the match, while Sammy and Spears made their way into the ring.  Sammy hit GTH, a chair-assisted curb stomp and finally a spectacular 630 senton to pin Shawn Spears, redeeming himself both for losing last year's Stampede and for surrendering during Blood & Guts.  The Inner Circle celebrated to a singalong of "Judas" to close the show.  Again, not the ***** classic the first Stampede was, but a very enjoyable spectacle of a main event war.  ****1/4

So Double or Nothing had quite a lot going for it.  None of the nine matches were bad, I clocked three of them as **** or better, and the show had a few important moments as far as making new stars.  For me it was missing a true classic matchup and there was just WAY too much outside interference, and those two factors kept it from being an outright great show.

Best Match: I think I enjoyed the Stampede the most but from a wrestling standpoint the Young Bucks-Moxley/Kingston match.
Worst Match: Cody vs. Ogogo
What I'd Change: Lose the run-ins in all but the women's match, limit the Omega clusterfuckery to him simply knocking out the referee.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess probably the Omega bout just because the interference hurt it the most.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Easily Allin/Sting vs. Page/Sky
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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