Tuesday, September 7, 2021

AEW All Out 2021: The Game Changer

Every so often a wrestling company puts on a PPV event that feels like a defining moment for that company, where the matches deliver but the evening feels like something bigger than just a collection of great matches.  AEW has just done that with All Out 2021, a show held in front of a nuclear live crowd, including an all-time great tag bout, multiple **** outings, but also three debuts, one of which is sure to have the IWC abuzz for weeks.  This was an incredible night of pro wrestling.  Side note: Bleacher Report seriously needs to overhaul their new app - replays need to be made available immediately, the shows need to be Chromecastable, and the <10 and 10> buttons need to be added for ease of rewinding and fast-forwarding.  Fix this, BR.

The PPV proper kicked off with a rugged fight for the TNT Championship, as the brute Miro faced the scrappy veteran Eddie Kingston.  Miro attempted to bully Kingston from the start but was forced to backpedal upon learning that Kingston had him scouted and wasn't going to tolerate his shit.  They traded lots of strikes and some big suplexes and at one point a turnbuckle pad came loose, which would figure into the match later.  Miro hit his Machka kick and locked in Game Over, but Kingston refused to submit, eventually reaching the ropes.  Kingston came back with a DDT, but the referee was dealing with the turnbuckle pad and was late to the count.  The crowd exploded for the near-fall, and I wouldn't be surprised if this moment was meant to set up a rematch in New York.  Miro tried to ram Kingston into the exposed turnbuckle but the referee blocked it, and Miro mule kicked Kingston in the crotch and followed up with a huge Machka kick to get the pin.  Very solid opening fight that continued Miro's dominance while making Kingston look like a true match for him.  ***1/4

Another gritty matchup followed, as Jon Moxley took on Satoshi Kojima of NJPW.  These two went back and forth the entire match, neither man holding an advantage for long.  Kojima at one point hit a superplex after the two men took turns biting each other.  Moxley was stymied at numerous times and hit his first Paradigm Shift out of nowhere, but wasn't ready to go for the cover.  Instead he caught his breath, picked Kojima back up, and hit his high-angle Paradigm Shift for the exclamation point win.  As Moxley celebreated, Minoru Suzuki's music hit and the crowd went nuts.  Suzuki and Moxley traded blows and Suzuki locked on a rear naked choke, followed by the Gotch piledriver to set up a match on this week's Dynamite.  A very good match that was used to set up an almost certainly even better one.  ***1/2
The AEW Women's Title was third as Britt Baker defended against Kris Statlander, one of the best matches to date for either woman.  They grappled for a little while, Baker tried to do her DMD taunt but Statlander caught her wrist and forced her to nose-boop herself, which was fun.  Statlander got to attempt a lot of big moves but Baker kept avoiding them, dodging Area 451 (a cleverly named 450 splash), and a stunning-looking pendulum moonsault off the apron that left Statlander crashing to the floor.  Baker hit a curb stomp on the floor and later broke out her boyfriend's second-rope destroyer (which she has dubbed Pittsburgh Sunrise), followed by another curb stomp and the Lockjaw submission.  This was quite satisfying.  ***1/2

Up next was the match that blew away everything else on the show, as The Young Bucks faced longtime rivals The Lucha Bros in one of the most insane cage matches these eyes have ever seen.  They got 22 minutes and made them feel epic, with wild tornado tag action for the first 15 or so, followed by barbaric high drama for the final 7.  About two-thirds into the match it looked like the Bucks had it won, as they hit More Bang for Your Buck, Brandon Cutler tossed Matt a bag over the cage that had a gimmicked shoe covered in thumbtacks, and Matt superkicked an already bloody Penta in the face.  The Bucks hit stereo superkicks on Fenix, again with the tacked shoe, and hit the BTE Trigger on Penta for what seemed a guaranteed three-count.  But Fenix broke up the pin to a massive pop, and the Luchas made a comeback.  All four men battled, with one guy from each team package piledriving an opponent on the apron, followed by a circular chop/superkick sequence where the four men stood in a ring, each delivering strikes to the next guy in line.  Fenix ended up atop the cage and hit a huge crossbody on the other three men, and the Luchas hit their spike piledriver to win the titles.  This felt like a colossal win and moment, and the crowd went berserk.  Insanely awesome match.  *****

The Women's Casino Battle Royal was given the impossible task of following the tag match, and it was mostly just ok.  There was a fair amount of star power but sadly numerous women got rather shortchanged, including Hikaru Shida and Abadon, and especially Riho, who I think wasn't actually eliminated but was called out anyway.  The final minutes of the match were pretty strong, as Thunder Rosa, Nyla Rose, Jade Cargill, Jamie Hayter, and the debuting final entrant Ruby Soho got time to shine.  Ruby looked so incredibly happy to be there and the crowd so enthusiastic about her debut that it overshadowed the bout's shortcomings.  It boiled down to Rosa and Ruby, who battled out to the apron and traded shots and suplex attempts.  Ruby sent Rosa crashing into the apron and followed up with a kick to send her to the floor and win her debut.  This was another big moment and a great way to showcase another talented ex-WWE star who was criminally underused.  22 minutes is too long for these battle royals but this one had a memorable ending at least.  **1/2

Chris Jericho and MJF had a really nice old-school match to cap off their epic feud.  MJF was fantastic as usual as the asshole heel, parodying Jericho's original WWF entrance and taunting fans.  Jericho came down to a solo guitar version of "Judas."  They brawled on the outside early with Jericho getting the better of it, but MJF took over after trapping Jericho in the ring apron to counter a baseball slide and then hitting the Heatseeker DDT on the apron.  Jericho barely made the count back into the ring.  At one point MJF pulled out an Asai moonsault to the outside (first time I've ever seen that), but Jericho avoided it and powerbombed him on the apron.  MJF countered a Jericho top rope dive with a Codebreaker but a few minutes later Jericho hit an avalanche Codebreaker of his own.  Wardlow ran out to try and interfere but Jake Hager cut him off, and with referee Aubrey Edwards distracted, MJF used Jericho's baseball bat, followed by the Judas Effect.  MJF went for the pin, Jericho got his foot on the ropes, but Aubrey missed it and declared MJF the winner, much to the crowd's outrage.  But referee Paul Turner (out there to break up the Wardlow-Hager brawl) intervened, pointing out that Jericho had his foot on the ropes.  Aubrey restarted the match, and Jericho immediately went for a roll-up but MJF kicked out.  MJF locked on Salt of the Earth for the teased tapout but Jericho countered into the Walls of Jericho.  MJF fought the move for a long time, almost reaching the ropes, but Jericho yanked him back to center ring and sat way down, finally getting the submission win and keeping his career alive.  This match was pretty great, and plants a seed for MJF to blame Wardlow for the loss.  ****

Next up was the moment every Chicagoan was waiting for: the in-ring return of CM Punk after seven-and-a-half long years.  Punk's entrance got a monumental ovation before the match was underway.  They started off slow and basic, Darby Allin countering a headlock with a nice armdrag and Punk selling the move with a facial expression reminiscent of Bret Hart vs. 123 Kid.  Punk almost caught Allin early with the GTS but Allin escaped.  Punk worked Allin over for a bit, but Allin hit his stunner to open up the match, eventually getting a nearfall after a Code Red.  Allin countered a top rope suplex by rotating into a crossbody, but Punk kicked out and landed a GTS that sent Allin through the ropes to the floor.  Allin just made the ten count back in, Punk went for another GTS but Allin elbowed his way out and hit a top rope senton to the outside.  Allin went for the Coffin Drop but Punk sat up to avoid it.  Allin went for a victory roll but Punk caught him and hit a second GTS for the win.  Sting came out after the match and shook Punk's hand, then both veterans helped the young star to his feet and Punk shook Allin's hand.  This was a fantastic return for the sorely missed CM Punk.  ****1/4

The one throwaway match of the night took the death spot (apparently saved for this slot in case they needed to cut it for time), as Paul Wight faced QT Marshall in a quick squash.  QT's buddies tried to interfere but Wight took them out repeatedly and eventually hit the choke slam for the decisive win.  This was inoffensive but also pointless; the one real blemish on the card.  *

The main event was the Kenny Omega-Christian Cage rematch, and while not as action-packed as their Rampage match a few weeks ago, this felt bigger and at times echoed Kenny's Tokyo Dome match with Jericho.  They fought to the floor early and Christian hit a top rope double axehandle, but Kenny did his signature table spot, laying a table over Christian and hitting a double stomp through it.  They fought on the floor some more, with Christian hitting a suplex but Kenny hitting a barricade moonsault.  Back in the ring they each hit some big moves, including multiple snap dragon suplexes and V-Triggers from Kenny.  Kenny tried to put Christian through a table Don Callis had set up, and both guys teased hitting their finishers through it from the apron.  Christian finally scored a spear through the table.  Christian had Omega locked in a cloverleaf but the Good Brothers ran down for a distraction.  Gallows held Christian for Kenny to hit a V-Trigger but Christian moved and Omega knocked Gallows out of the ring.  Christian hit the Killswitch but Kenny kicked out.  The two men battled on the top rope, with Christian going for a Killswitch from the top, but Kenny reversed it into a One-Winged Angel to get the pin and retain his title.  The Elite all came down and beat down Christian, but Jurassic Express ran out for the save.  The numbers were too much though, and The Elite were back in control.  Suddenly the lights went out and Adam Cole's name flashed across the screen, causing an explosive crowd reaction.  Cole marched to the ring and stood face to face with Omega, but superkicked Jungle Boy and joined The Elite.  Omega did his signature sign-off but Bryan Danielson appeared on the ramp to the strains of "Flight of the Valkyries," and the building came unglued.  Danielson ran in for the save and leveled Nick Jackson with the running knee, and the good guys stood tall to close out the show.  What a fucking moment.  The main event match earns **** from me but its aftermath was an all-time great closing angle.  

Like I said at the beginning, there are PPVs that can define a wrestling promotion for an era, regardless whether they contain a Match of the Year candidate or not.  WrestleMania III did that in the 80s.  WrestleMania XIV and X-Seven did that in the 90s and early 2000s.  WrestleKingdom 9 did that in 2015.  All Out 2021 has done that in the present day.  Between showcasing its homegrown and veteran stars, giving us the long-awaited return of CM Punk, and leaping past WWE in terms of overall roster talent with the acquisitions of Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole, this PPV set AEW's stage for the next 2-3 years.  AEW has more momentum right now than any North American wrestling company has had in two decades; they just need to execute the follow-up right.  Watching All Out I got the tremendous feeling of AEW showing appreciation and goodwill toward its audience, something I haven't felt from WWE in a very long time.  WWE always talks about putting smiles on faces, but AEW is actually doing it.  This was one of the great wrestling PPVs, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

Best Match: Bucks vs. Luchas
Worst Match: Wight vs. QT
What I'd Change: Aside from shortening the battle royal, not a whole lot.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess I had higher expectations for the battle royal.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The bonus debut of Adam Cole, the one debut I really did not expect yet.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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