Tuesday, September 5, 2023

AEW All Out 2023: AEW Doesn't Need CM Punk

Moving on to the other big wrasslin' show from this past weekend, AEW All Out 2023.  

Before I get to the PPV itself, a brief word on the CM Punk situation.  Regardless whether or not your a fan of the guy, it really all boils down to this: fucker had it coming.  Let's not bullshit ourselves.  He was lucky to still have a job after assaulting three coworkers a year ago.  But somehow he was given one more chance (one more than just about anyone else would've gotten), and it took two months and change for him to start ANOTHER backstage fight and then verbally and physically threaten his boss in front of numerous witnesses and ample security cameras.  Either CM Punk has serious involuntary narcissistic rage, or he was trying to get himself fired since AEW wasn't going to buy out his contract.  Apparently he went to WWE late last year, WHILE UNDER CONTRACT TO AEW, and made overtures to get hired back and be added to the Royal Rumble match.  WWE wisely wanted nothing to do with him at that point, and still may not, who knows?  But I guess all that shit he said about them in 2014 is out the window now, along with all the lip service he preached in AEW about helping the company and the young talent grow.  Sounds like he was just trying to raise his own profile so WWE would come a-runnin'.  AEW does not, nor have they ever, needed CM Punk.  He isn't a big enough star to make his incessant toxicity worth it.  I say this as a twenty-year fan of the guy's work (not to mention as someone who stands solidly on the same side of the political aisle), and as someone who supported him wholeheartedly when he walked out of WWE and gave his tell-all podcast interview with Colt Cabana in 2014.  I hope he gets the psychological help he so desperately needs, but if not, the wrestling industry as it turns out is better off without him.

Case in point, AEW just delivered one of the best PPVs they've ever done, a day after firing arguably their biggest star, and with only a week to throw most of the show together.  We should all just stop doubting this company's ability to do PPV events, because this show felt like everyone from top to bottom was firing on all cylinders and working their asses off to remove the stench of Phil Brooks' bullshit and create another fresh start.  I counted seven ****+ matches, one of which ranks for me as a top-ten MOTY candidate (a match that was announced only 24 hours ahead of time mind you, where one of the participants had a broken arm).  All In may have been the bigger and better spectacle, but in terms of wrestling quality All Out upstaged it.  All Out also upstaged Punk's debut All Out from two years ago.  Everyone involved should be bursting with pride at how well they pulled this off.

The show started with a pair of pretty good matches, the first of which was the ROH Tag Title match between Better Than You Bay Bay and The Dark Order.  This was purely a story match, wherein MJF took an early chair shot to the back of his kayfabe injured neck and was taken to the back while Adam Cole had to wrestle most of the bout as a handicap match.  The Dark Order looked to have things won but MJF gallantly returned to the ring for the final few minutes, the champs hit their double clothesline to retain the titles, and the Chicago crowd was ecstatic.  Post-match proved to be the really memorable moment from this segment though, as Samoa Joe made his way to the ring for his match, shoulder tackling MJF to the floor.  MJF ran into the ring to confront Joe, and they had a pull-apart brawl, complete with Joe subduing MJF with a guillotine choke (Ooooo that one musta pissed off Phil).  I love the idea of MJF vs. Joe for the title, and it's too bad they didn't call an audible at All In and have Joe beat Punk.  Anyway *** for the match.

Next up was the shortest bout of the night, as Samoa Joe defended the ROH TV Title against Shane Taylor in a brief but intense battle of the behemoths.  This went an action-packed six-plus minutes and Joe won decisively with the Coquina Clutch.  I'm all in favor of Joe being portrayed as a destroyer.  **3/4

From here on in the show never got worse than "really good," and it's the first eight-match stretch of this caliber I can recall on any wrestling show.  And every match was totally different.

The TNT Title was next, as Luchasaurus beat the ever-loving shit out of Darby Allin.  They worked a helluva big man-little man match, really getting across the size and strength difference, with Darby having to use his whole body as a projectile weapon in order to stay alive.  Meanwhile Christian Cage attacked Nick Wayne a few times, distracting Darby long enough to keep him from winning.  There were some great spots here like Darby's Code Red off the top rope, Lucha catching Darby in a torture rack midair, Darby hitting a nasty crucifix bomb.  Late in the match Darby climbed to the top rope but Christian set up Nick Wayne for a con-chair-to on the outside, while Lucha came in for the kill, hitting three Tombstones, a Snake Eyes, and a clothesline to the back of the head for the win.  Cage then set up Darby for a con-chair-to but multiple midcard babyfaces rushed to Darby's aid.  Helluva match.  ****

Equally good, shockingly so, was the Miro-Powerhouse Hobbs hoss fight, helped by a crowd that was red-hot by the end.  Referencing a quote from Big E apparently, about "slapping meat," the crowd coined numerous meat-related chants, such as "meat forever" and "holy meat."  The match started off with Miro doing a lot of athletic moves, spin kicks, dropkicks, etc.  But midway through it became a battle of attrition with both guys throwing stiff clotheslines and strikes for minutes on end.  Miro locked in Game Over but Hobbs escaped and hit a sick spinebuster.  But Miro regained control after Hobbs attempted Game Over and locked in his own Game Over a second time for the tapout win.  Post-match Hobbs offered a handshake, Miro reluctantly accepted, and then Hobbs attacked him.  Suddenly the former Lana ran down with a chair for the save, distracting Hobbs long enough for Miro to whack him with the chair and run him off.  CJ Perry smiled at Miro but Miro refused her affections and left.  Great battle of the bulls that way overachieved.  ****

Another match that went above my expecations was the TBS Title match, with Kris Statlander defending against Ruby Soho.  These two have excellent chemistry together and worked a crisp, athletic 12-minute bout, showcasing Statlander's power and sheer athleticism with Soho's craftiness.  They built to a series of exciting nearfalls with Soho kicking out after an avalanche powerslam, and Statlander kicking out after a poison rana and a spike front rana.  Soho hit her two finishers but Statlander kicked out again, and Saraya at ringside distracted the ref to allow Soho to use the spraypaint.  But Toni Storm emerged from under the ring and took the spraypaint, and Soho walked into Statlander's Sunday Night Fever, ending the match.  Looks like crazy Toni Storm is turning babyface again?  Very good stuff here.  ***1/2

Alright, time to get serious.  For the second time in his career Bryan Danielson took CM Punk's intended spot on a PPV event, and made fucking magic.  Keep in mind again, this strap match with Ricky Starks was announced A DAY EARLIER, and Danielson returned from injury roughly a month sooner than expected, his surgically repaired arm still wrapped up.  Danielson stated that Starks deserves as much credit as anyone for this match working so well, and that they had to put it together in such a way that Danielson didn't throw any strikes with his right arm.  But for the second time this year, Bryan Danielson was one half of the greatest-ever example of a particular gimmick match.  Before the opening bell Starks attacked Danielson with a weight belt and used the buckle to cut him open, and for the rest of the bout Bryan bled like crazy.  Once the two were joined by the strap they whipped the absolute bejeezus out of each other, and not just on the back and chest but even in the face.  The most brutal spot took place when Starks got stuck in the Tree of Woe and Danielson unleashed an absolute barrage with the strap.  Shortly thereafter Starks was sent into the ring post and bled also.  Big Bill tried to help, but Ricky Steamboat on commentary got involved, Danielson tossed Starks into Bill and then plancha'd both of them.  The masterful finish came after both men had kicked out of each others signature offense, Danielson did his arm trap kicks, and then applied the LeBell Lock.  But his injured arm wasn't strong enough and he instead opted to strangle Starks with the strap.  Starks refused to tap out and then did some of the best facial acting I've ever seen in a wrestling match, fighting the pain until he slowly faded into unconsciousness and the match was stopped.  This was unbelievably great, violent as fuck, served as a signature Ricky Starks match, and enters one more exhibit into the case for Bryan Danielson as the greatest of all time.  *****

Given the unenviable task of following the strap match was the sort of thrown-together tag match featuring Claudio Castagnoli and Wheeler Yuta vs. Eddie Kingston and Katsuyori Shibata.  And man did they rise to the challenge.  This was another overachieving match full of rugged action and character work.  Yuta was the skilled but kind of weasely heel, for whom Shibata had no patience.  Kingston was the defiant babyface singlemindedly going after his championship adversary, who tried his best to ignore him.  This was full of striking and submisson wrestling, eventually boiling down to Eddie vs. Claudio, who unloaded on each other while Shibata held Yuta in a choke on the apron.  Finally the assault was too much for Eddie, who ate a big European uppercut that gave Claudio and Wheeler the win.  Odd result since Eddie is presumably getting another title match with Claudio, but this was another damn good fight.  ****

The most epic match of the night was the long-awaited Kenny Omega-Konosuke Takeshita showdown, which played out like a Tokyo Dome main event.  This went over thirty minutes and felt like twenty.  It was essentially Kenny battling a younger, bigger, stronger version of himself, with his former mentor Don Callis occasionally inserting himself into the action.  These two threw everything at each other, except for Kenny's One Winged Angel, which he was never able to execute.  After a shit-ton of nearfalls Don Callis tried to stab Kenny with a screwdriver but Kenny moved.  Takeshita then grabbed it and tried to use it to counter the OWA, but the referee took it away and both men tried to win with a victory roll.  Takeshita hit a wheel barrow power bomb and a running knee, but after Kenny kicked out of that, Takeshita pulled down his kneepad and hit another knee to the back of Kenny's head for the win.  Another stellar 2023 match from Kenny Omega that keeps the feud going.  ****1/2

In the penultimate slot was the 8-man party match with FTR and The Young Bucks against Bullet Club Gold.  This was loads of fun and involved FTR and the Bucks aping each other's moves and doing a lot of frenemy interactions.  The Chicago crowd response was interesting as it was about 2/3 pro-Bucks and 1/3 against them.  And while the boos were often very loud, eventually the cheers would drown them out.  This was twenty minutes of action with tons of nearfalls and fun combos like Cash Wheeler doing the Power & Glory superplex for Dax to hit a splash, Matt to hit an elbow, and Nick to hit a 450.  FTR and the Bucks paired off to hit both Shatter Machine and the BTE Trigger, but the pin was broken up.  Finally Jay White hit Bladerunner on Cash and Colten Gunn stole the pin for his team.  I imagine this sets up either multiple FTR title defenses or a three-way against the two Bullet Club tandems.  ****1/4

The main event, as expected and deserved, went to the AEW International Title match.  It's pretty amazing how much Orange Cassidy has elevated this championship.  What was once considered superfluous and ill-conceived is now, after his incredible slew of title defenses, the second-most prestigious belt in the company, much like WWE's Intercontinental Title became the workhorse belt.  The story of this match was Orange's tireless championship defenses finally taking their toll on him, and his running into a brick wall named Jon Moxley.  Mox was a dominant bully, pummeling Cassidy mercilessly, posting him and causing a gusher on his forehead.  Cassidy kept fighting from behind, repeatedly going for Beach Break but getting stymied.  After withstanding a choke and a LeBell Lock, Cassidy slid out to the floor, Mox tore up the mats and went for a piledriver but Cassidy finally hit the Beach Break and Mox was almost counted out.  Back in the ring Cassidy hit multiple Orange Punches but Mox finally countered with a cutter.  Cassidy hit another punch and a spear for a nearfall that the crowd totally bought into.  Mox finally hit a Death Rider but Cassidy kicked out at the last second, and Mox couldn't believe it.  Cassidy barely stumbled to his feet, completely spent, teased putting his hands in his pockets, but instead flipped Moxley off.  Mox hit an insane-looking Death Rider to win the match and the title, capping off one of the best reigns in company history and a superb main event war.  This was full of drama and character work, and ended on a bittersweet note with Mox needing BCC help to walk to the back and Orange staying in the ring to a standing ovation.  ****3/4

Anyone thinking AEW won't be just fine and dandy without Phil Brooks on the payroll needs to sit down and watch this show.  And I don't mean hate-watch it, I mean actually, honestly watch these ten wrestling matches, all of them different, and pretend Pepsi Man never worked for AEW.  If you can't find something on this card to enjoy, it's you.  This was one of the best shows they've ever done.

Best Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Ricky Starks
Worst Match: By default probably Samoa Joe vs. Shane Taylor
What I'd Change: Nothing, this show was light years better than any of us could've expected
Most Disappointing Match: None
Most Pleasant Surprise: I mean I was excited to find out Danielson was taking Punk's place but I did not expect his match with Starks to be THIS good.
Overall Rating: 10/10

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