Monday, November 15, 2021

AEW Full Gear 2021: An All-Time Classic Pro Wrestling Show

Hey, remember when All Out was the best PPV of 2021?  That was a fun couple of months, wasn't it?

Ho-lee shit, what a show Full Gear was.  Just a stellar night of professional wrestling from start to finish.  Great matches, memorable moments, the long-awaited payoff to a two-year story in the crowning of a new champion, this is how you do wrestling in 2021.  I can't recall the last PPV where the worst thing on the show was "very good."  All of the greatest-ever shows of the past had at least one or two middling or throwaway bouts - WrestleKingdom 9 had a pair of skippable multi-man tags, WrestleMania 17 had Chyna-Ivory and the Gimmick Battle Royal, 'Mania 19 had that awful Taker vs. Big Show/Albert match, etc.  Full Gear's worst match gets a ***1/2 from me, and I count six ****+ matches on this show.  Six.  That's flat-out insane.  I can't think of another show with this kind of consistency.  And, every match was different.  You had classic grappling, you had crazy highspot wrestling, you had gritty fights, you had outrageous car wreck matches, you had big storytelling.  If you couldn't find something to enjoy on this show, I'm afraid you might be your own problem.  I dunno what voodoo magic AEW is practicing, but keep it up guys.  This was one of the greatest wrestling shows I've ever seen.

The show opened with a classic good vs. evil bout, as Darby Allin faced MJF.  Two of the company's future main eventers battling to be #1 of the Four Pillars.  True to his word, Allin concentrated on trying to outwrestle MJF rather than rely so much on death-defying moves.  That's not to say Darby didn't do a few of those as well - a lightning-fast missile dive through the ropes flattened MJF on the outside, while a missed Coffin Drop attempt on the apron put Allin on the defensive for a while.  MJF hit a slew of backbreakers, one of which tweaked his knee, making it a target for the rest of the match.  After a crazy exchange with both guys countering rollups and small packages (making referee Bryce Remsburg earn his pay and then some, counting 20 or so nearfalls), Allin hit a Code Red followed by a Coffin Drop on the floor.  MJF countered a second Coffin Drop in the ring by raising his knees, injuring both Allin and himself in the process.  Wardlow and Shawn Spears attempted to interfere but Sting came out of nowhere to intercept.  MJF handed Allin his skateboard and tried to goad him into getting himself disqualified, but Allin refused.  With the ref distracted, MJF broke out the Dynamite Diamond ring and clocked Allin with it, and then put Allin in a side headlock and pinned him (A great payoff to MJF's promo a couple weeks back where he boasted he could beat Allin with that exact move).  This was an absolutely fantastic opener and the best match on the show until the main event.  Both guys are great, but MJF is a next-level performer.  He may be known for his promos but he's a pretty amazing wrestler too.  This guy is the complete package and the only thing he's missing is the AEW Title.  ****3/4

Next up was a match in a completely different gear (pun intended), as Lucha Bros. defended the AEW Tag Titles against FTR.  The action here was too fast and furious to do a recap justice, but it was exactly the type of styles clash you'd expect from a high-flying lucha team against a no-nonsense old-school heel tandem.  There were numerous Eddie Guerrero tributes on the show (for the 16th anniversary of his death in this very city), the first of which involved Dax Harwood attempting the Three Amigos, drawing the crowd's wrath, followed by Penta breaking them up and doing his own version (which sadly didn't look very good).  FTR pulled out their green masks and tried to do the ol' switcheroo but Cash Wheeler's rope-assisted rollup was broken up by the referee, and the Luchas hit him with their spike package piledriver to retain the titles.  Wheeler wasn't the legal man, so I'm guessing we'll see a rematch at some point, but this was an excellent tag bout.  ****

Match #3 of a completely different type pitted Bryan Danielson against Miro in the finals of the Eliminator tournament for a future AEW Title match.  These guys had a gritty MMA-infused battle, trading brutal strikes and submission attempts throughout.  Miro dominated much of the action thanks to his superior size, but Danielson gutted it out like always, absorbing numerous strikes just to deliver some back.  Miro nearly had the match won with Game Over but Bryan made the ropes.  A second Game Over was countered into the LeBell Lock, but Miro was able to power out.  Miro taunted Danielson by offering free kicks, absorbing all of them and putting Danielson down with a single strike.  Danielson put the match away though with a spinning DDT followed by a Guillotine Choke that caused Miro to pass out.  Danielson is the #1 contender (though I'm hoping before he gets a title shot he offers Jon Moxley the chance to wrestle him for it).  This was another superb match, continuing this show's streak of them but also continuing Bryan Danielson's career resurgence.  This guy is just shitting out in-ring excellence.  ****

Fourth match, fourth type of match, next up was the Falls Count Anywhere six-man tag, with the Superkliq facing Christian Cage and Jurassic Express.  This was 22 minutes of nonstop wild action ranging all over the ringside area and a little bit in the crowd.  Once again there was way too much to properly recap, but everyone looked great and got some big spots.  Adam Cole bled after being thrown into a chair by Jurassic Express, the Young Bucks poured thumbtacks into Jungle Boy's mouth and superkicked him (This spot seems unnecessarily dangerous), Christian dove off a balcony onto Nick Jackson, Cole hit Jungle Boy with Panama Sunrise in the entranceway, the heels all put on thumbtack kneepads and hit Luchasaurus with a BTE Trigger, Luchasaurus laid out the heels with a spectacular shooting star press from the ramp to the floor, and Christian set up a Con-chair-to on Adam Cole but let Jungle Boy do the honors and get the pin.  A visibly emotional Jungle Boy celebrated with his friends after the match.  This was everything you'd want out of a wild spotfest and it was great to see Jungle Boy get the win - Jack Perry is another wonderful young talent who makes AEW's future look very bright.  ****1/4 

Opening a show with four **** matches is unheard of.  I legitimately can't think of another time that's happened.  That streak ended here for me, but the next two bouts were still very good.  The rabid crowd came down for the Cody/Pac vs. Malakai/Andrade tag match, and interestingly the two casual fans with whom I was watching the show tuned out a bit for this as well.  Still these four worked a fine tag team match, neither team getting along very well and with lots of blind tags in and out.  The match and the crowd ramped up throughout, and while this match felt maybe five minutes longer than it needed to be, it built to a nice peak.  Everyone hit big moves on each other and Cody and Malakai brawled on the floor while Pac finished off Andrade with the Black Arrow.  It's quite illustrative of how good this show was when a perfectly good tag team match feels like a low point.  ***1/2

The crowd started to get back into things with the AEW Women's Title match, pitting the wrestler Britt Baker vs. the judo fighter Tay Conti.  Conti used a combination of her MMA skills and signature pro wrestling moves to frustrate the champion but Baker's ring generalship kept the title out of reach.  Baker tried numerous times to get Conti in the Lockjaw but Conti kept escaping.  With some outside interference from her friends, Baker was able to score a curb stomp on the ring steps but Conti still made the ropes before Britt could lock in the submission.  A series of Lockjaw attempts and counters ended with Baker scoring a cradle for the three-count, and the story was that she simply couldn't get the Lockjaw applied.  A very good match, and probably not the last time we'll see it.  ***1/2

Like the first four bouts, the final three were all completely different but excelled in their own way, starting with CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston in a fucking FIGHT.  Punk sported fight shorts for the first time in 15 years to signify what kind of match this was going to be.  Kingston leveled Punk with a spinning backfist before the bell, and Punk had to fight from underneath to kick things off.  Amazingly the crowd was pretty evenly split, at times booing Punk for the first time since his return.  Punk bled after being sent into the ring post, and Kingston wiped some of the blood on his own face.  After several minutes of intense fighting they exchanged rapid-fire strikes, Kingston went for the GTS, but Punk reversed it into his own.  They jockeyed for position and Punk hit a second GTS for the pin.  This was everything you could want out of a credible, realistic grudge match, and one of the best eleven-minute fights you'll ever see.  ****1/4 

The wackiest match of the night was in the semi-main slot, as the Inner Circle faced American Top Team.  Things started out civilized with one guy per team in at a time, but after Dan Lambert tagged in to attack an already wounded Jericho, all hell broke loose and the weapons came out.  All the special foreign objects were Minnesota-related, in keeping with the Minneapolis Street Fight theme.  There were hockey sticks, a toaster, a big Prince symbol, a snowboard, and a Bundt cake pan, plus all the usual plunder.  Sammy Guevara did the Jeff Hardy swanton off a 12-foot ladder through a table, while Santana and Ortiz flew all over the place to take out various opponents.  Jake Hager's wife was accosted by Ethan Page, but special guest audience member Baron Von Raschke came to her rescue, incapacitating Page with the dreaded claw hold.  It all came down to Jericho vs. Lambert in the ring, where Jericho beat a raincheck into Lambert with a kendo stick before finishing him with Eddie Guerrero's frog splash.  The Inner Circle celebrated and Jericho got emotional.  This was a lot of fun.  ***3/4

The Kenny Omega-Hangman Page main event was an epic pro wrestling match with spectacular action and great storytelling, starting off slow and building to a climactic finish, NJPW-style.  The vehemently pro-Hangman crowd was nuclear for this match, and they were rewarded with an all-time great main event.  Don Callis interfered early on but Omega's resulting advantage would be short-lived each time as Page fought back.  Page hit a top rope moonsault to the floor and a top rope fallaway slam, and later removed the ring post camera and dove from the post, on top of Omega, through a table.  Omega hit numerous snapdragon suplexes and a Jay Driller.  Late in the match Page went for the Buckshot Lariat but Omega pulled referee Paul Turner in the way and he went down.  Aubrey Edwards ran down to officiate the rest of the bout.  Page hit Omega with his own One-Winged Angel for a great near-fall.  The Young Bucks came down to ringside to tease interference, but each Jackson brother declined the chance to do so.  After eating a V-Trigger countering a Buckshot attempt, Page hit one Buckshot to the back of Kenny's head in front of Nick, then Matt nodded approval as Page hit a final Buckshot to pin Kenny clean and win the AEW Title.  This was a two-year storyline coming to a head and it was magnificent.  The crowd absolutely erupted when Page won and it was one of those incredibly satisfying feelgood moments in wrestling - the underappreciated, unsure hero finally realizing his dream.  The combination of great wrestling and brilliant storytelling has to earn this match the full monty.  *****

I say again, SIX MATCHES in the **** or better range.  That is astounding.  Every several years it seems a wrestling company figures out how to fire on all cylinders for a little while.  The WWF did it in 2000, Ring of Honor did it in 2006-2007, NJPW did it from 2013-2015 and again in 2017-2018, and AEW has found that magic place in 2021, delivering two consecutive must-see, all-time classic PPVs (not to mention some of the best free episodes of free television of the last twenty years).  It's one helluva time to be a wrestling fan and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Best Match: Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Page
Worst Match: Britt Baker vs. Tay Conti, which was still a very good match.  If ***1/2 is the worst you can do, you're knockin' it out of the park.
What I'd Change: Aside from maybe shortening the Cody match and the Street Fight a smidge, not much at all.
Most Disappointing Match: No such thing on this show.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That after 35, count them, THIRTY-FIVE YEARS as a fan I can still be dazzled by a wrestling show. 
Overall Rating: 10/10 - It doesn't happen often, but AEW has earned a Tye Dillinger here. 

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