Monday, November 21, 2022

AEW Full Gear 2022 Review: The MJF Era Begins

The MJF Era has officially begun, kids!  Everyone's favorite wrestling anti-hero finally fulfilled his destiny on Saturday, cheating as always to unseat Jon Moxley as the new AEW Champion.  It was a very fine main event to cap off a pretty great but long PPV.  

I've read a lot of criticisms of Full Gear 2022 saying it felt too long and wasn't strong enough all the way through to justify its four-hour (plus pre-show) running time.  I guess I'd agree with that to an extent, but I'll bet if you rearranged the match order and laid it out like a NJPW show, with the lesser, shorter bouts at the beginning, it would've felt shorter.  This is one issue I've had with North American PPV events for a while now.  When you sprinkle the big matches throughout the show instead of getting the smaller ones out of the way first, it makes the show feel longer.  The only match I could see being cut from this lineup was the Jade Cargill one, which I still thought was decent.  Everything else was solid to great, including the three Zero Hour bouts.  My biggest gripe is that the three best matches were in the first half, and the middle of the show suffered from not being able to clear that bar.  Fortunately the last three matches all delivered.

The PPV proper kicked off with Jungle Boy Jack Perry (who is apparently transitioning away from his Tarzan moniker) against Luchasaurus in the big cage match.  This was a helluva strong opener, with Perry using his superior agility early on to frustrate the big man but eventually bleeding after meeting the steel with his forehead.  Luchasaurus dominated the middle portion of the match and this often reminded me of Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel and later Shawn vs. Undertaker in the Cell.  Christian Cage picked the referee's pocket to get the keys to the cage and managed to unlock the door before being ejected.  This allowed Luchasaurus to take the fight outside, catapulting Perry into the cage and grabbing a table and some chairs to bring back in.  Perry was chokeslammed through a chair, but mounted a comeback and landed a scary-looking Shawn Michaels-esque elbowsmash off the top of the cage through the table.  One Snaretrap later, Luchasaurus tapped out, giving Jungle Boy the biggest win of his young career.  Excellent cage match.  ****1/4

As expected though, the Trios match stole the show, and given how good this was, I'd have placed it much later on the card.  Death Triangle and The Elite put together exactly the kind of match you'd want to see from these six, a nineteen-minute sprint that proved Kenny and the Bucks hadn't lost a step while also furthering the Pac-Fenix storyline.  I found it heartening that the only CM Punk-related chant during this match was a derogatory one, illustrating that the AEW faithful are ready to move on without him.  After a roller coaster of spectacular action, it boiled down to Kenny and Fenix, with the latter ripe for the picking.  But a distracted referee allowed for Pac to slide his bell hammer to Fenix, who countered the One-Winged Angel with a hammer shot to Kenny's head, followed by a match-winning victory roll.  Death Triangle celebrated but Fenix appeared to regret his illegal tactics.  It was later announced that this would be the first of a Best of Seven series, which now makes six of the upcoming Dynamite shows must-see.  Should be interesting to see these guys challenge themselves to make each match different than the last.  Anyway, this was incredible as expected.  Great to have Kenny, Matt and Nick back on TV.  Take all the snowflakes, fellas.  *****

The aforementioned Jade Cargill-Nyla Rose match was given the most unenviable of slots, and while they tried their best and seemed to sorta win the crowd over by the end, this pairing was going to have a very uphill battle.  Nyla dominated much of the bout, at one point hitting Jade's own finisher for a nearfall.  Jade made a rather abrupt comeback, hitting her big boot and Jaded to retain the title.  This was probably one of Jade's better matches to date but as expected it was the weakest thing on the show.  *1/2

My second-favorite bout was the ROH Championship 4-way match.  These four accomplished stars managed to add some structure and character work to what is usually a very chaotic match type.  Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara worked together for most of the bout, but things broke down between them when Jericho broke up a Bryan Danielson LeBell lock with a Lionsault, hitting both Bryan and Sammy.  Sammy returned the favor a few minutes later by breaking up a Jericho pin attempt, and the two JAS members came to blows.  Conversely, fellow BCC members Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli found themselves at odds late in the match, providing the best segment of the entire bout.  Things spilled to the outside where Claudio took Danielson out of the match with a Neutralizer on the floor.  Back in the ring, Claudio snared Sammy in the giant swing, but Jericho broke it up with a jumping Judas Effect, followed by another one to retain the title.  Lots of ways Jericho's Final Battle title defense could go, as this match opened the door for a possible match with Sammy, or a rematch with either Claudio or Danielson.  This match was splendid.  ****1/2

Another women's match given a tough spot on the card was Britt Baker vs. Saraya, though they didn't lose the crowd much at all thanks to the excitement over Saraya's first match in five years.  These two worked hard and Saraya looked good considering her long layoff.  The match was clearly designed to protect Britt by giving her the majority of the offense.  Britt hit the curb stomp twice for nearfalls but never got Lockjaw properly locked in.  Saraya hit her Fisherman Driver a total of three times during the match, twice in a row at the end to get the pin.  Solid work, but I think these two have a better match in them.  Now that Saraya has cleared this first hurdle I think she'll settle back into her groove.  **1/2

The big hoss fight was next, as Wardlow, Samoa Joe and Powerhouse Hobbs had a very strong ten-minute slugfest.  All three guys got plenty of offense, with Hobbs often being presented as the most powerful of the three.  Wardlow caught Hobbs in his series of powerbombs but Joe smashed him with the TNT Title and then choked Hobbs out to steal the win.  I think I'd have pulled the trigger on a Hobbs title run here, but maybe they'll gradually turn him babyface and have him chase Joe while Wardlow moves into the AEW Title picture?  Post-match Wardlow and Hobbs seemed to exchange glances of acknowledgement, which was interesting.  Another solid bout in the middle of this show.  ***

The Sting/Darby vs. Lethal/Jarrett (or should I call them Jay & Double J?) match was another very entertaining garbage bout from Team Darby - I'm never super stoked for these things but I must say they always deliver - featuring lots of outside brawling, Darby doing nutty things, and sextugenarian Sting continuing to defy his age.  The most memorable spots included Darby attempting a Coffin Drop off a huge ladder onto Satnam Singh, only for Singh to catch him, Sting diving from the loge onto Singh and Jay Lethal, Darby going for another Coffin Drop and being met with a Jarrett guitar shot, and the Scorpion Death Drop/Coffin Drop combination on Singh.  The match finished with Lethal going for Lethal Combination but getting countered with a Death Drop, followed by another Coffin Drop for the pin.  I think Darby has hit a ceiling in this alliance with Sting though, and the question becomes "When do they fight each other and is it a babyface vs. babyface scenario?"  Darby should obviously be the first to beat Sting in AEW, right?  ***1/2

The show finished with a trio of very good bouts, starting with Toni Storm vs. Jamie Hayter for the AEW Women's Title.  This turned into one of the better women's matches in company history, as the two former best friends worked a very stiff back-and-forth match.  The crowd was still solidly behind Hayter despite her solidifying her heel status by the end.  Rebel interfered at one point, hitting Storm with the title belt, but was ejected from the premises.  But then on the outside someone curb stomped Storm onto the belt, removing her hood to reveal Britt Baker.  Storm and Hayter traded finishing moves for a series of nearfalls, but Hayter hit the Hayter-ade to win the title.  Post-match Britt and Hayter celebrated, and it's almost certainly only a matter of time before the inevitable Hayter-Baker title match.  This was very good.  ****

The Acclaimed-Swerve In Our Glory rubber match for the tag team titles got the penultimate slot (very old school NWA of them), and while not on the level of their All Out match, this was another very good meeting between the two.  The Acclaimed being one of the top three most over acts in the company automatically means a hot crowd, and this was no exception.  Late in the match Swerve Strickland once again went for his pliers but was cut off by Billy Gunn.  But Swerve tried to get Keith Lee to use them on Anthony Bowens, Lee refused and threw the pliers away, and Swerve slapped him.  In retaliation Lee helped Bowens up and walked out of the match.  After a couple of reversals Bowens tagged in Max Caster and The Acclaimed hit Scissor Me Timbers to retain the gold.  Lee vs. Strickland should prove a fun feud, while Max and Anthony move on to a new set of challengers.  Clearly The Acclaimed vs. FTR is in the cards at some point, but I don't think it's the right time yet.  Anyway, this match was quite good as expected.  ***1/2

The main event felt like an old-school kind of match, bringing to mind Ric Flair vs. Harley Race, circa 1983.  The brutal, grizzled veteran champion against the young crowd favorite.  The crowd was almost unanimously pro-MJF and the two combatants worked the match with that in mind.  Moxley was the dominant heel, punishing his less experienced opponent, while MJF wrestled much of the match from underneath.  Late in the match Bryce Remsburg got bumped to the outside, and MJF took the opportunity to fish the diamond ring from his trunks.  But William Regal appeared at ringside and commanded MJF not to use the ring.  MJF tossed it aside but Mox pounced on him.  Another ref bump later, and Mox had MJF locked in the Bulldog Choke for a visual tapout.  Regal got Mox to go wake up Bryce and then tossed MJF his brass knux, which MJF used to knock Mox out (though Mox was mouthing something as he was being pinned, not sure what) and win the title.  I'd be lying if I said this was my preferred way for MJF to win; I was hoping he'd go full sorta-babyface and win the title basically clean.  The option they chose raises quite a few questions.  Why did Regal screw over his main protege?  What happens to the BCC now?  Does MJF feud with the entire team (it would certainly lead to some excellent matchups)?  Does MJF assemble a new stable?  What happens with The Firm?  Regardless, given the direction they chose, this match was executed pretty flawlessly and MJF winning the title was 100% the right move.  Let's hope he and the other top homegrown stars can bring a lot more eyes to the product.  I'll give the match ****1/4 pending a rewatch.

So yeah, five matches in the ****+ range, one of them got the full monty.  That alone makes Full Gear 2022 a helluva good PPV.  I'd have maybe rearranged the match order to make the second half a little stronger, but this show didn't leave much to complain about.  Yet another excellent show from a company that knows how to deliver on PPV.

Best Match: Death Triangle vs. The Elite
Worst Match: Jade Cargill vs. Nyla Rose
What I'd Change: Like I said, the TBS Title match could've been on Dynamite or the pre-show and I'd have put the Trios and ROH bouts later in the show.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing disappointed.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Darby/Sting-Lethal/Jarrett match was better than expected.
Overall Rating: 9/10 - One of the better PPVs of the year.

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