Monday, March 6, 2023

AEW Revolution 2023: Bryan Danielson is the GOAT

Holy jumpin' Jeezus what a show AEW Revolution was....

At a time when the company is struggling to regain the momentum they had in late 2021/early 2022, AEW desperately needed a buzz-generating hit of a PPV, and by god they gave us one.  Revolution 2023 featured not one, but two Match of the Year candidates, plus a few other four-star efforts.  Maybe even more importantly for the long-term, the emphasis was squarely on making the young homegrown talent look like major stars, most of them getting big, decisive wins up and down the card.

After a fun little trios match on the pre-show (I reckon Mark Briscoe and the Lucha Brothers should be in line for an AEW Trios Title match soon), the main card kicked off with Chris Jericho vs. Ricky Starks.  This very good opening bout saw Jericho go after Starks' injured ribs and stay one step ahead of his young opponent's signature offense.  Jericho countered a spear attempt with a Codebreaker for a nearfall, and foiled an early Rochambeau attempt.  Starks finally hit a spear but Jericho locked him in the Walls of Jericho, which Starks then countered into a single-leg crab.  Despite the JAS being banned from ringside, Sammy Guevara nonetheless attempted to interfere but was tackled immediately by Action Andretti.  Jericho used his baseball bat during the ref distraction and got a close nearfall, but Starks blocked the Judas Effect and hit Rochambeau for the clean win.  A very well-worked opening match with the right result set the tone for the show.  ****
Even better was the Final Burial match (read: Casket Match) between Christian Cage and Jack Perry.  These two brawled all over the arena, using chairs, a shovel and Cage's belt.  Cage went for the conchairto but Perry dodged it and a chair vs. shovel duel ensued.  After withstanding a Killswitch on the ramp, Perry eventually got the Snare Trap and used the shovel handle as a crossface, before setting up a conchairto of his own and reluctantly executing it.  This was the defining moment of the match - the young rising star showing deep remorse as he put away the man he once considered his trusted mentor.  From there Perry stuffed Cage into the casket and after a moment of hesitation, slammed the lid shut, causing the casket to plummet through the stage.  Damn good brawl, again with the right winner.  Perry is now free to go after some singles championships.  ****

Things got even better still with the third match, as The Elite and House of Black tore the house down in a blistering trios war.  Kenny Omega started things off with Buddy Matthews in a much-anticipated showdown, and after a few minutes of fun exchanges he finally locked up with Malakai Black, drawing instant "This is awesome" chants.  From there the action was fast, furious and chaotic, with all six men jumping in and out of the ring to deliver tandem offense and counters.  There was way too much to recap it all here, but the second half of the match was chock full of crazy nearfalls.  Both teams seemed to have the match decidedly won on multiple occasions, only for someone to leap in from the outside to save the day.  Finally after a BTE Trigger pin attempt was thwarted, the House of Black triple teamed Nick Jackson on their way to a Trios Championship victory (earning one of the biggest crowd pops of the night).  This was indeed awesome, House of Black looked like dominant monster heels, and I hope the company gives them a Road Warriors-esque title run.  Have them destroy everyone over the next 9-10 months to the point that the audience turns them into anti-heroes.  Then maybe a new heel faction can come along to steal the belts from them, and BAM, you have a newly made team.  ****1/2

The Women's Title match was next, and while a little underwhelming, was still solid.  Jamie Hayter looked great as always and was a huge crowd favorite, Saraya turned in a good performance, and Ruby Soho was made to look like a capable spoiler, getting a slew of big move/nearfall spots.  After some interference attempts by Toni Storm and Britt Baker, Soho hit Saraya with No Future but got rolled up out of nowhere by Hayter for the win.  The ex-WWE tandem then beat down Hayter and Baker, but Soho ran back in for the save, only to turn on the homegrown team and align with Saraya and Storm.  It seems risky to turn Soho when she's gaining so much popularity, but story-wise I can see it making sense.  Soho was so close to becoming champion only for Hayter to steal a victory, so now she's pissed and wants to take it out on the champ.  Now the question is, who will be the third AEW Originals member?  My money is on Hikaru Shida, but they could also expand the team to five by adding Riho and Kris Statlander (I'm really hoping for a women's Blood & Guts match down the line).  Anyway, pretty good stuff.  ***

The first of two five-star instant classics was up next as Jon Moxley and Hangman Page beat the everlovin' shite out of each other in a bloodbath that saw them use barbed wire, barbed wire boards, a barbed wire chair, a fork, a chain, bricks, etc.  This was pure brutality in the best possible way, with Page doing things like wrapping himself in barbed wire and hitting a moonsault to the outside, and Mox piledriving Page onto a balled-up chain.  As the match neared its end both guys swung wild lariats at each other, Mox hit the Deathrider, Page used Mox's rear naked choke, and finally hit Mox with one of the bricks, followed by a Buckshot Lariat.  Page then tossed Mox over the top rope with the chain around his neck and hung him out, drawing the tapout from Mox.  This was 25 minutes of rugged, sadistic violence and the SanFran crowd absolutely ate it up.  *****

Poor Samoa Joe and Wardlow had to follow the TD match, and while their match was perfectly fine, the crowd was just way down for it.  They had good back and forth action, Wardlow hit all his big moves like Whisper in the Wind, the Swanton, the F10, and finally hit a powerbomb to counter Joe's Muscle Buster attempt.  Joe blocked a second powerbomb but Wardlow locked Joe in his own Coquina Clutch for the pass-out win.  Powerhouse Hobbs looked on from the balcony to hype their match for Dynamite.  Again, this exact match earlier in the night would've been in the ***1/2 neighborhood, but I'll give it ***.  Wardlow desperately needs to find his mojo again, as he feels like nowhere near the superstar he was a year ago.  Hopefully he and Hobbs can have a series of killer matches that elevates both of them.

In the usual death spot was the 4-way for the AEW Tag Titles, and these eight guys actually woke the crowd back up with a very entertaining clusterfuck.  Lots of character work with Orange Cassidy and Danhausen, plus Jeff Jarrett continues to overdeliver in these PPV matches.  Say what you will about Jarrett being a featured player in 2023, and I've said plenty, but you have to give the guy credit for knowing how to work a crowd.  His exchanges with Cassidy here were a lot of fun.  After loads of chaotic action eventually Triple J's entourage got involved, with a Danhausen-Satnam Singh faceoff that got a huge pop.  Singh went for a chokeslam but Cassidy ran in with an Orange Punch that dazed the giant, Danhausen hit a low blow, and Billy Gunn hit him with a Fame-asser.  Stupid fun stuff.  After a nearfall caused by a Jay Lethal Golden Globe shot on Max Caster and Jarrett hitting him with The Stroke, Jarrett and Aubrey Edwards got into a shoving match, and the Gunns hit Danhausen with their finish to retain the titles.  I was surprised to see The Acclaimed come up short until Renee Paquette interviewed the Gunns and they were interrupted by the returning FTR, which got another of the night's loudest pops.  FTR cleared the ring after hitting a spike piledriver on Colten and a Shatter Machine (good to hear it called that again) on Austin.  So now the question is, how do you have FTR and The Acclaimed both chase the titles without sacrificing either team's momentum?  At any rate it should be a fun few months.  Great to see Dax and Cash on TV again.  ***1/2

And now for the Iron Man match.  Ho-lee shit this was incredible.  Between the insane spots, the pace they cut, and the storytelling that drove the match, this was a masterclass in how to put together an hourlong bout that keeps the crowd invested.  The audience built in intensity right along with the action and I found myself smiling on numerous occasions, just marveling at how perfectly worked this was.  Bryan Danielson has added yet another exhibit to his Greatest of All Time case file, while MJF proved he can hang with the absolute best there is.  These two started with grappling and feeling out, and over the first 25 minutes put together what felt like the first one-fall match in a series.  They ended up outside the ring where MJF grabbed a woman's drink thinking it was water, and then threw it in her son's face.  Turns out it was an alcoholic beverage and the kid was invited backstage to make up for it.  Oops.  Anyway they built to an early peak back in the ring, exchanging rapid-fire nearfalls culminating in a Danielson Busaiku knee for the first fall.  MJF out of desperation hit a low blow right in front of the ref for a DQ but scored two consecutive pins to even the score (This sequence was a little confusing at first and could've used Justin Roberts announcing each decision as it happened).  The action ratcheted up during the next sequence, with MJF setting up Danielson on the timekeeper's table and hitting a Shawn Michaels elbowsmash through it, followed by a Tombstone through the rest of it.  MJF hit the Heatseeker back in the ring to go up 3-2.  MJF spent several minutes taunting Danielson, but Bryan made a comeback and hit a top rope headbutt that split MJF's forehead wide open.  Just absolute gore.  Danielson evened things up again with a Regal Stretch tapout.  The two exchanged intense submission attempts with neither able to get a fall, and then maybe my favorite moment of the match took place: exhausted, both men got to their knees and exchanged strikes before collapsing against each other.  The camera cut to a closeup of a sobbing MJF, followed by a closeup of a laughing Bryan Danielson.  Just a perfect encapsulation of these two characters, 50-plus minutes deep into this kind of match.  MJF almost went ahead after another Heatseeker and a second-rope tombstone, but Danielson snared a single leg crab with 70 seconds left.  MJF held on until the time expired and then immediately tapped.  The crowd was pissed when the result was announced as a draw, but Tony Schiavone then gleefully took instruction from Tony Khan in his headset, informing the crowd that the match would continue into Sudden Death overtime.  MJF, having just been given an oxygen tank to recover, looked horrified.  For the next five minutes MJF and Danielson squeezed every gasp and every pop they could out of the crowd, trading rollups and nearfalls.  MJF tried to use the belt but referee Bryce Remsburg, in another of my favorite moments, said "If you use the belt you lose the belt.  Be my guest, try me!"  MJF handed over the belt but tried to use his diamond ring instead.  Danielson ducked and hit a reverse rana and Busaiku knee for a super-close nearfall.  Danielson used another single-leg crab and Remsburg took away MJF's diamond ring, and I kept thinking "How the hell is Max gonna get out of this?"  MJF reached the ropes but then tapped, causing Danielson to think he'd won.  While he argued with Remsburg, Max rolled to the outside and grabbed the aforementioned oxygen tank, hit Danielson with it, and locked in the LeBell lock.  Danielson nearly escaped for one last crowd pop, but eventually tapped, giving MJF the win.  Like I said, this was masterful.  Easily MJF's best match so far and also Danielson's best match in AEW (which makes it his best match since Ring of Honor by my calculation).  Oh, and I'm gonna go ahead and call this the best Iron Man match of all time, eclipsing Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar from twenty years ago (TWENTY YEARS. Jesus I'm old).  This was everything you could want out of this type of match.  ******

So to recap, two five-star (or better) matches, one of them an all-timer, a 4.5-star trios bout, and a pair of four-star openers, plus some other decent stuff.  The last two North American PPVs I can recall that featured two five-star matches were WrestleMania X, which had basically nothing else, and SummerSlam 2013, which only had one other noteworthy match.  NJPW has achieved this feat a few times with WrestleKingdoms 9 and 10, and the odd G1 show, but it's almost unheard of on these shores.  Regardless of how hot or not the AEW product is at the moment, this show was a spectacular achievement and everyone involved should be extremely proud.  AEW Revolution 2023 is right up there with Full Gear 2021.  If any show tops this one in 2023 I'll be shocked.

Best Match: MJF vs. Bryan Danielson - seek this out immediately and strap in for the ride
Worst Match: Probably Samoa Joe vs. Wardlow, which was still fine
What I'd Change: I'd maybe have put the TNT Title match earlier on the card
Most Disappointing Match: Joe vs. Wardlow - this needed more anger given the storyline
Most Pleasant Surprise: That the Iron Man match exceeded even my very high expectations
Overall Rating: Any show with two five-star matches is an automatic 9/10.  A show with two five-star matches plus multiple four-star supporting matches has to get the full monty.  10/10

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