Tuesday, May 30, 2023

AEW Double or Nothing 2023: Exploding Superkick!

Well as expected AEW's Double or Nothing 2023 wasn't the instant classic this year's Revolution was, but contrary to some of the hyperbolic reviews I've been hearing about it was still a pretty darn good show, boosted by a pair of excellent main events.

After a forgettable pre-show trios match that saw the Hardys and Hook decisively put away Ethan Page (and hopefully this neverending feud), the proper PPV kicked off with the Blackjack Battle Royal for the International Championship.  21 participants made their entrances during the Buy-In, but they gradually filtered into the actual ring.  This was an odd choice but it did allow for the action to be more intricate and dynamic.  Swerve Strickland and Brian Cage in particular stalled for a long time before finally entering the match.  Like a good battle royal should, this match featured nonstop action AND furthered numerous feuds; Ricky Starks interacted quite a bit with Jay White and Juice Robinson, eventually eliminating them both before they returned the favor; Swerve and Keith Lee finally went at it in an official match, with Swerve getting the better of his former tag partner.  Big Bill got plenty of time to shine, making it all the way to the final four.  Ultimately the match came down to Orange Cassidy and Swerve, and they got an extended sequence a la Shawn vs. Taker in the 2007 Royal Rumble, with tons of false finishes and near-eliminations.  Both men ended up on the ring apron and exchanged moves, but it was a lazy kick to Swerve's hand that broke his hold on the top rope and sent him crashing to the floor.  Cassidy retained in another great performance.  This was one of the company's best battle royals to date.  ****

Not faring nearly so well was the Adam Cole-Chris Jericho unsanctioned match, which felt lethargic and lacked the urgency it needed.  The two of them worked hard but somehow the match never got out of second gear after the initial burst of gang violence, and the crowd was pretty much ice cold throughout (The Vegas fans were uncharacteristically subdued for a lot of this show).  Not helping matters was the finish, which involved Cole mounting Jericho and raining down rather soft-looking punches before referee Aubrey Edwards stopped the fight (This was the same finish as Jericho vs. Shawn from 2008).  The one thing that made this look better was Jericho's eye, which had been busted open with a chain earlier in the match.  But the crowd hated the finish and actually booed it despite the babyface going over.  This match was always going to have an uphill battle being on the same card as the later Anarchy bout which it was obviously designed not to upstage, but it just didn't click for me.  **1/4
One of the unexpected hits for me was the tag title match, as FTR defended against Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett in a very old-school type tag match with a lot of bells and whistles in the second half.  Guest referee Mark Briscoe figured heavily in the finish, fed up with Team Jarrett's shenanigans, slapping Jeff in the face, after which Jeff stumbled right into a match-ending Shatter Machine.  Again, say what you will about the 58-year-old being so prominently featured on a wrestling show in 2023, Jarrett's done a shockingly good job of making every match entertaining.  His involvement really shouldn't be working as well as it has.  This wasn't a five-star classic or anything but it was a damn fun match and the crowd bought into it.  ***1/2

Another strong outing was the Wardlow-Christian Cage ladder match for the TNT Title, probably Wardlow's best singles match to date.  Christian worked this very safely, allowing Wardlow to take most of the big spots.  They got seventeen minutes and made the most of them, working in numerous memorable moments.  Wardlow at one point vaulted from the top rope to a standing ladder, which partially accordioned the ladder and looked nasty on Wardlow's shin (He sold it very convincingly).  And of course the biggest spot was Wardlow recreating Jeff Hardy's signature bit, the swanton off the top of a ladder, onto a tabled Luchasaurus.  Christian was climbing the ladder inside the ring when Wardlow knocked him off and caught him in a powerbomb that took him out of the ring long enough for Wardlow to retrieve the belt.  Nothing terribly innovative in this one but it was a very good "greatest hits"-type ladder match.  ***3/4

The Women's Title bout was more of an angle than a proper match, as Jamie Hayter was clearly working through a legit injury and they needed a quick match to get the title off of her.  This was a three-minute sprint with a lot of interference from the Outcasts and Jamie's friends.  At one point a turnbuckle pad was removed, Storm sent Hayter into it and then hit Storm Zero to win back the championship.  I was sad to see Jamie drop the title but if anyone deserved to win it, Toni's the one.  Now she can have a non-interim run with it until the inevitable rubber match.  *1/2

The Trios match was next as House of Black issued their Open House challenge, answered as expected by The Acclaimed and Billy Gunn.  Max Caster gave a good entrance rap, with a line about Buddy Matthews being "cucked by a kid named Dominick."  The match itself was solid but unspectacular; HOB spent a lot of it working over Anthony Bowens who attempted several hot tags that were broken up, before finally tagging to Billy.  The final moments were typical chaos with everyone hitting moves on each other, until Malakai hit Billy with the Blackout to retain.  Decent stuff.  ***

The crowd finally woke up for the final three matches thanks to a great moment, a spectacular semi-main, and an absolutely chaotic finale.  

Jade Cargill and Taya Valkyrie more than made up for their awkward first encounter with a pretty crisp eight-minute bout, which I'd call Cargill's best match so far.  They kept things simple but their rhythm together just clicked this time.  Taya eventually hit her Road to Valhalla finish but Jade kicked out to a pretty big crowd reaction, and made the comeback with Jaded to retain and earn a 60-0 record.  As she's been doing lately she and Mark Sterling issued an open challenge for a second match, which as expected was answered by the returning Kris Statlander, to a big pop.  Kris dominated the next 40 seconds, finally hitting her Night Fever piledriver to win the title and FINALLY end Jade's undefeated streak.  This was absolutely the right move and one of the few times an undefeated streak has been ended in a satisfying way.  Good payoff to the open challenge gimmick too.  *** for the official match.

So up until this point Double or Nothing was a decent show but not a great one.  The double main event elevated it well above that station.  The AEW Championship Four Pillars match was an epic 27 minutes of incredible action and storytelling, with everyone getting tons of big moments and moves.  MJF as always played the smarmy heel to perfection, Darby was the future champion in the making, Jungle Boy was the conflicted good guy who may end up straying from the path of virtue, and Sammy was the former villain trying to redeem himself.  There was a virtuosic sequence of Canadian Destroyers that totally woke the crowd up and these four never lost them after that.  Late in the match MJF took the microphone and pleaded with Sammy to lay down for him, citing Sammy's earlier announcement that he and Tay Melo are expecting a baby.  Sammy agreed but then small packaged Max for a nearfall.  Jungle Boy grabbed the AEW Title and contemplated using it but ultimately decided not to cheat (hopefully foreshadowing a heel turn that could do wonders for Perry's career), but he was taken out of the match by a Sammy GTH.  Darby tossed Sammy and went for a Coffin Drop on Perry but MJF put the title belt on top of Perry and Allin crashed into it.  MJF then used a headlock takeover to pin Darby Allin for the second time.  I imagine a singles rematch is in their future.  This was spectacular and for the second PPV in a row MJF delivered the match of the night from where I sit.  ****3/4

Nearly equal in its greatness was the second annual Anarchy in the Arena match, which I found more enjoyable than the first.  This was pure bedlam at its finest, ranging all over the arena and featuring a ton of memorable spots and blood everywhere.  As with last year Jon Moxley's theme played over the first few minutes of the match, but this time it was a live band repeating the song until the Young Bucks put a stop to it by superkicking the singer.  From there the eight participants paired up in various combinations, Claudio fought Matt Jackson to the parking lot and piledrove him onto a pickup truck, Matt returned later and superkicked Moxley with an exploding shoe(!), which the BCC members removed, setting Matt up to be Atomic Dropped bare foot-first onto a pile of thumbtacks (Jeeezus!).  In the closing moments The Elite took turns hitting Wheeler Yuta with numerous big moves in a row, seemingly setting up the ending most predicted.  Page hit a Buckshot Lariat and Kenny hit the One-Winged Angel, but Don Callis ran to the ring with a masked man, who laid out Kenny and allowed Yuta to pin him with a seatbelt.  The masked man revealed himself to be Konosuke Takeshita, who has seemingly aligned himself with the BCC.  If only The Elite had an old friend who might be able to even the odds....  Anyway, this was great, satisfying, furthered this rivalry, and delivered exactly what it promised.  An excellent main event.  ****1/2

So Double or Nothing 2023 ranks somewhere in the middle of the AEW PPV pack for me, definitely below the trio of classics in 2021-2022 and the awesome Revolution 2023.  But it was a very satisfying show with a stellar one-two punch in the closing stretch, and set up numerous things for the future.  Forbidden Door should start to take shape this week and there are also plenty of stories that could continue through All In.  Despite the gloom and doom all the trolls are predicting, AEW has plenty of things going on for us to be excited about.

Best Match: MJF vs. Darby vs. Jack vs. Sammy
Worst Match: Cole vs. Jericho
What I'd Change: The unsanctioned match needed a much faster pace and much more intensity.  Aside from that there wasn't much I would've done differently.
Most Disappointing Match: Cole vs. Jericho
Most Pleasant Surprise: Jade vs. Taya
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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