Wednesday, June 1, 2022

AEW Double or Nothing 2022 Review: Another 9/10

Well that was a doozy of a PPV.  Four hours and forty minutes of a loaded 12-match main card.  It's not a sustainable length on a regular basis, but a company can get away with it once in a while, and AEW certainly did here - just ask the live crowd.

AEW Double or Nothing 2022 is in the books and it was yet another excellent show from a promotion always striving to deliver one's money's worth.  Once again the card had a wide variety of match types, almost all of them good or better, and things ended in historic fashion with the crowning of a brand new AEW Champion.  On balance I'd place this in the top four AEW PPVs to date.  Let's look at the evening that was....

In the opening slot we were at long last (and after a tumultuous 24 hours) treated to Wardlow getting his hands on MJF, in a bout that could hardly be called an in-ring classic due to how it was booked, but one that delivered exactly what the fans wanted to see.  Over the first four minutes, MJF did everything he could to avoid Wardlow's crushing finisher, but finally after being caught trying to use his diamond ring, the Long Island snob offered to quadruple Wardlow's pay, Wardlow shook his hand and pulled him into the first of ten powerbombs.  Halfway through the barrage Wardlow teased a pin by putting his foot on MJF's chest, but stepped away after a two-count and hit five more, then got his well-deserved dominant victory over his former boss.  The crowd ate up this match with a spoon and Wardlow came off like a megastar, becoming emotional when Tony Schiavone announced he was now officially under contract to AEW.  MJF was stretchered out of the arena, presumably writing him off television until he and Tony Khan work out whatever their contract dispute is.  This was more of an angle than a match, but it was executed to perfection - a brilliantly laid-out, emotionally satisfying conclusion (for now anyway) to the MJF-Wardlow saga.  ***

Next up was the Hardys-Young Bucks dream match, in which Matt and Nick Jackson (sporting Elvis-style mutton chops) worked their asses off to cover up Matt and Jeff Hardy's very visible ring wear.  There was lots of back and forth action with the Bucks playing the brash heel roles to the hilt, and the Hardys struggling to keep up with their faster counterparts.  Late in the match Jeff avoided a BTE Trigger but the Bucks laid in multiple superkicks to both Hardys, who withstood the blows and kicked out of a pin attempt.  Jeff hit a swanton on Matt Jackson across the steel steps, while Matt Hardy hit Nick with a Twist of Fate and Jeff came off with a swanton for the win.  This was a step below the usual Bucks PPV match but still very good.  The Hardys look reeeeally tired out there and should adjust their style to be lower impact.  ***3/4

The one bad match of the night was next, as Jade Cargill and Anna Jay had a bit of a hot mess, with numerous miscommunications.  I'm not sure who was at fault, but both women at times looked lost.  Cargill used the distraction of the debuting Stokely Hathaway to hit Jaded off the top rope for the pin, and after the match Kris Statlander, Red Velvet and Keira Hogan all got involved, before Athena (the former Ember Moon) showed up to even the odds.  From there it was a three-on-three staredown to set up future programs.  Not a good match at all, but fortunately it was overshadowed by its aftermath.  *1/2

Things picked up big in the fourth slot though, as House of Black and Death Triangle had a blazing six-man war, full of crisp action, crazy reversals and near-falls, and in the end a payoff to an ongoing storyline.  This nearly reached the gang warfare energy of The Shield vs. The Wyatts from 2014.  Late in the match PAC seemed to have things well in hand, hitting Buddy Matthews with a 450 splash before using an Alex Abrahantes distraction to kick Malakai Black in the groin and set up Black Arrow.  But the lights went out and Julia Hart appeared, her face half obscured by House of Black makeup, and sprayed mist in PAC's face, allowing Malakai to hit Black Mass for the win.  Even with a screwy finish this was fantastic.  ****1/4

The men's Owen Hart final was next as Adam Cole faced Samoa Joe for the first time ever.  This was shorter than you'd expect but still a really strong undercard match.  The story was Cole repeatedly building up momentum with his speed and cleverness but getting stopped dead by Joe's explosive power.  Early in the match Joe's shoulder was driven into the ring post, and near the end Bobby Fish exploited that by wrenching Joe's arm across the top rope.  Joe was able to lock in the rear naked choke but Fish interfered again and Joe took his eyes off Cole long enough for Cole to hit his running knee for the win.  A very good match but these two have a better one in them.  ***1/2

On par with the men's final was the women's, as Britt Baker took on Ruby Soho in another very good bout.  They went about the same amount of the time as the menfolk, with plenty of great-looking back-and-forth action.  Ruby went ribs-first into the post at one point and sold the injury the rest of the match.  Ruby barely avoided Lockjaw by countering with a cradle, then hit her No Future move and locked in a sharpshooter (she slipped putting it on and had to hold it while taking a knee).  Britt made the ropes in dramatic fashion and then they paid homage to the Bret-Owen finish at WrestleMania 10, Ruby executing a victory roll but Baker countering it to score the pin.  This was also very good.  Post-match Martha Hart came out dressed for a Kentucky Derby party, and presented the power couple with their respective Owen Hart title belts, modeled after the Stampede Wrestling North American Championship.  Martha thanked the fans, the wrestlers and AEW for honoring her husband and making the tournament a success.  ***1/2

The mixed six-person tag was a weird one.  Sammy Guevara, Frankie Kazarian and Tay Conti were technically the babyfaces, but character-wise Sammy and Tay have been heels for weeks, while Frankie played the babyface fed up with their shit.  On the other side you had established heels Men of the Year and the debuting Paige Van Zant (whose work here was quite promising but at times unpolished).  So this match had a very strange dynamic.  Sammy and Tay were so preoccupied with touching each other and pissing off everyone else that it backfired.  Kazarian tried to ditch them near the end, but came back anyway to help.  But an errant thrust kick from Sammy to Tay was the difference maker, as Scorpio Sky used the chaos to hit a TKO for the win, meaning neither Sammy nor Frankie can challenge for the TNT Title.  This was ok but the second-weakest match of the night.  **1/2

The other last-minute addition to the card fared better, as Darby Allin and Kyle O'Reilly had a really fun ten-minute sprint.  It was Kyle's surgical MMA-influenced offense vs. Darby's reckless abandon.  Darby at one point went for a tope through the ropes but O'Reilly appeared to counter it with a strike, so Darby went for it again but got caught in a guillotine choke.  O'Reilly tried several times to force a submission but Darby kept slipping out, leveling O'Reilly with a dragon screw followed by a Coffin Drop on the apron.  O'Reilly choked Darby down and hit a series of penalty kicks followed by a King Kong knee drop for the unexpected win.  This wasn't long enough to achieve greatness but it was still damn good stuff.  ***3/4

The final, and best, women's match of the night was Thunder Rosa defending the AEW Women's Title against Serena Deeb, a 17-minute clinic likely to be remembered as one of the division's defining bouts.  These two have always worked well together, and this was no exception.  Going in this was a match whose build I wasn't terribly excited about, but the work here was so crisp and rock-solid it won me and the live crowd over.  Rosa's offense was centered around high impact moves while Deeb isolated body parts and used the Figure Four, the Texas Cloverleaf and the Serenity Lock.  After withstanding a Deeb-tox and escaping a second attempt, Rosa hit the Fire Thunder Driver to retain.  Helluva match and a great first defense for Rosa.  ****

A fantastic, wildly varied trilogy of matches brought the show home, starting with Anarchy in the Arena.  I need to watch this one again to fully absorb it, as it had so much going on it was tough to follow.  Like Stadium Stampede this ranged all over the place and involved a guy from each team pairing off in different parts of the building.  Unlike SS however it unfolded live without the benefit of editing to keep the various segments contiguous.  Still this was the kind of violent, chaotic fun you'd expect, from some of the best in the business.  The match started to wind toward its conclusion after Santana and Ortiz took out 2.0 with twin splashes off a ladder through tables, Hager knocked Jon Moxley through a barb wire plywood thingy, and Jericho knocked out Eddie Kingston with Judas Effect.  That left Bryan Danielson alone against Jericho and Hager, and he fought them off gallantly, nearly putting the match away with a pair of Busaiku Knees.  But Hager waffled him with Jericho's baseball bat before Jericho locked in the Walls of Jericho and Hager choked Danielson with a detached ring rope for the pass-out victory.  Why I didn't foresee Jericho Appreciation Society winning the first round, I'm sure I dunno.  Especially since a Blood & Guts match is obviously next.  Anyway, this was pure bedlam done right.  ****1/4

Just as effective but in a completely different way was the three-way AEW Tag Title match, as Jurassic Express defended against Ricky Starks & Powerhouse Hobbs, and Keith Lee & Swerve Strickland.  Like the six-man earlier in the night, this featured non-stop, hard-hitting action where everyone got to shine.  The smaller guys on each team carried the load as far as movement and aerial moves, while the power brokers on each team got to be difference makers at different times.  After 17 minutes of dazzling tag team wrestling, Jurassic Express retained with their Thoracic Express finish.  Another great tag team display from AEW.  ****

Closing things out was of course the Hangman Page-CM Punk main event for the AEW Title, another pretty amazing entry on both guys' resumes.  Adam Page takes a lot of shit for being an "underwhelming" champion, but if you look at his body of work over the last six months, his run with the strap was quite stellar.  This was a fitting way to cap it off, as Page and Punk delivered a modern main event with an old-school feel.  The crowd was pretty evenly split as these two went back and forth for 26 minutes, each stealing each other's finisher at one point (Punk had some trouble with the Buckshot Lariat), leading to respective kickouts at two.  Then both men attempted their own finishers, but as Punk hoisted Page up for the GTS, Page accidentally knocked down the referee with a kick, floored Punk with a clothesline, and then teased hitting him with the belt.  Like Roddy Piper against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 8, the babyface champion couldn't bring himself to win that way, and tossed the title aside.  By then though it was too late; Punk countered another Buckshot attempt with the GTS to win the title.  An emotional CM Punk stood tall with the belt, AEW's biggest name finally winning its most prestigious championship.  Another incredible AEW PPV main event.  ****1/2

While not quite at the level of their last three PPVs, Double or Nothing 2022 continued two streaks for me, both in terms of delivering a 9 out of 10 show, and in terms of each PPV event easily topping last year's edition.  This show included so many different kinds of matches that I refuse to believe anyone who calls themselves a wrestling fan couldn't find SOMETHING to enjoy.  A story-driven opener, a youth vs. veteran tag match, a blazing six-man, an all-out violent war, a dazzling three-way tag, and two classic-style title matches.  Double or Nothing wasn't perfect, and for me it lacked that one five-star masterpiece, but it was absolutely another homerun from a company redefining the wrestling PPV. 

Best Match: Hangman Page vs. CM Punk
Worst Match: Jade Cargill vs. Anna Jay
What I'd Change: In a perfect world where you're not trying to avoid the main event going head-to-head with a big NBA game, this show goes closer to four hours and only has nine or ten matches.
Most Disappointing Match: I honestly hoped Jade and Anna would at least equal Jade vs. Tay, but they did not.
Most Pleasant Surprise: If you can call it surprising that Rosa and Deeb crushed it, that one I guess.
Overall Rating: 9/10

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