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As Chris Jericho grabbed the microphone after his victory over Kenny Omega in the main event of All Elite Wrestling's first PPV event, Double or Nothing, the show had to already have been considered a massive success. A fun show with a hot crowd that was anchored by three distinct final matches, fans who tuned into watch the hyped promotion had to have already considered the $50 they paid for the show money well spent.
Of course, the promotion still had an ace up its sleeve as Jericho began his promo. With no formal introduction, Jon Moxley (the former Dean Ambrose) stormed through the crowd as the MGM Grand Garden Arena audience exploded. Ambrose laid out Jericho, laid out the ref, and then attempted to perform a double-arm DDT on Omega, who blocked it and the two proceeded to brawl down the entrance ramp, eventually ending up a stack of novelty poker chips, where Ambrose did hit the DDT and then gave Omega an Attitude Adjustment off the poker chips and through a platform set up on the stage.
The ending of Double or Nothing could not have been better for AEW; with Moxley, the latest surprise signing for the upstart promotion, standing on top of the stage as Jim Ross hypes Moxley (and the promotion) on commentary. For a show that was already very good in a vacuum, Double or Nothing also managed to build anticipation for its future shows, especially with a surprise like Moxley coming out and getting in a huge brawl with one of the promotion's biggest stars.
Interest in the show seemed to be very high; and you could sense that it was really growing in the days leading up to the show, especially with things like getting Marv Albert to do a live read of the show during the NBA Playoffs on TNT, which is no small feat. The show was able to trend worldwide on Twitter, something that even big non-WWE shows, like ALL IN and Wrestle Kingdom failed to do.
The Google Trend numbers also painted an interesting picture, Double or Nothing at its peak received approximately 67 percent of the interest that WWE's Money in the Bank show did at its peak. Even more impressive is that in English speaking countries, including the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Double or Nothing actually out performed Money in the Bank. WWE still maintained a huge advantage in emerging countries, particularly India, which allowed it to surpass Double or Nothing overall, but it was a very impressive showing for a wrestling company making its debut. (Note that the data was originally compiled by Brandon Howard Thurston).
One takeaway from Double or Nothing is that if there is ever going to be a company that can really bite into WWE's control of the wrestling landscape in the US, it is going to be AEW. They have star power, they have strong financial backing, and they appear to have great exposure on cable television. They are doing all of this during a time when WWE fans are becoming frustrated with the product and have ceased watching RAW each week in growing numbers. It is hard to imagine a company getting into a better position than AEW is right now, to make a serious impact in the wrestling landscape.
Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho: ****¼
A fitting main event that felt like a world championship match, even if it was really a number one contenders match. They wrestled Jericho's match, doing a lot of brawling on the outside and Omega taking most of the bumps. Poor Omega, he takes all of the big bumps in this match and works his ass off, then he does the job clean, then he has to take another huge bump after the match and put over Moxley. It is somewhat of a thankless job but nobody could have done it better than Omega.
Jericho will face Adam Page for the AEW World Championship, presumably at ALL OUT over Labor Day weekend. I think Jericho should win that match and be the promotions first champion, I think because Jericho has really hit his stride in the company as the top heel, and since the other top names (Omega, Page and Cody) are all babyfaces, there is probably more money in them chasing the heel champion than starting off with a babyface champion.
The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers: ****½
If you have seen these guys wrestle before, you knew what to expect. Tons of big spots and cool moves, a lot of double-team maneuvers and guys kicking out of a lot of stuff. Personally, there were a few too many near falls for my taste, but the match was still spectacular.
AEW made a pretty big deal that they would seriously be pushing the tag team division, making it almost equal with the singles division when it came to prestige. By delivering a killer, 25 minute tag match on this show, they definitely showcased that they were serious about that.
Cody Rhodes vs Dustin Rhodes: ****¼
The Young Bucks/Lucha Bros. match was a better technical match and had more action, but this was probably my favorite match on the show. I'm not a huge blood guy, but when done sparingly and done right, it can have a powerful effect on a match. Everything after Dustin got busted open had a certain level of drama that regular wrestling matches don't have. Seeing that 50 year old veteran just covered in blood and still fighting is a powerful image and the live audience was blown away by the emotion of the match.
In some ways this match embodies what AEW can do better than WWE. As good as the tag match was, WWE has the workers capable of having a great match like that if they really had to. But to have a match with this much emotion, that much care put into a storyline that blurred the lines between real life and kayfabe, and to have it explode in a bloodbath on PPV? I don't think WWE can deliver that package right now, and that kind of storytelling is what a lot of people feel WWE is missing.
Aja Kong, Emi Sakura and Yuka Sakazaki vs Hikaru Shida, Riho and Ryo Mizunami: ***¼
One of the things I wanted to see at Double or Nothing was how the crowd would react to the lesser-known wrestlers. I knew they would pop big for Cody, Jericho, Omega and The Young Bucks, but what about the wrestlers a lot of them were seeing for the first time? The answer was that the crowd was very supportive and they allowed performers like the women in this match to have an exciting match that they really got into. It also helps that Aja Kong is a total boss and should have won the match with the backdrop driver that looked like it killed Riho, but I digress.
Jack Evans and Angelico vs The Best Friends: ***¼
Pretty good match that the crowd got into and actually got the first "This is awesome" chant of the night. The guys here worked really hard and earned the crowds' appreciation, although the lack of stakes or storyline did kind of hamper it. However, if the the company is trying hard to build its tag team division, you would want to have more than just one tag match on the show featuring established tag teams. Even if this match didn't mean anything, it did show that the division has depth.
Kylie Rae vs Dr. Britt Baker vs Nyla Rose vs Awesome Kong: ***¼
They had the first real surprise of the night when Brandi Rhodes came down and added Awesome Kong to the match. Awesome Kong didn't do a whole lot, but what she did was memorable, especially the Tower of Doom spot. Everything else was pretty good, with Kylie and Baker doing the traditional work inside the ring and Rose injecting herself as the heavy. Outside of the massive pop that Awesome Kong got, Rae and Baker both seemed to get over and there is a reason Baker got the win because her story really is remarkable.
SoCal Uncensored vs Strong Hearts: ***¾
The exact kind of match you would want to see as the opening match on the card. Fast paced, a lot of tags and big moves, the pacing was tremendous and it did really feel like a classic Dragon Gate style match with its pace. SCU was over as expected, but I think if the OWE guys stick around for a while, they are going to get really over too.
Sammy Guevara vs Kip Sabian: ***¼
This wasn't really any different than what you would see on a WWE pre-show match, although it was still pretty good. Guevara really is a great high-flyer and he did a ton of exciting stuff, including a shooting star off the apron onto Sabian, who was lying prone on top of the guardrail. Sabian looked pretty good as well, wrestling a contrasting technical style and picking up the win.
Casino Battle Royal: **¾
I thought the format was a little confusing, but it allowed the talent to have a little more room to shine than just a typical Battle Royal. I loved the spot where Luchasauras chokeslammed Joey Janela through the table. It was chaos in the ring and all of a sudden you hear a high-pitched scream from Penelope Ford, and then Janela just gets destroyed through the table; it really grabbed my attention.
Some other notes on the show:
- The commentary was interesting. A lot of people crapped on Alex Marvez, but for a guy doing his first show ever I thought he was okay. When they threw it to him he always had something to say and did a lot of research, but it was difficult for him to intrude on guys like Excalibur and JR. JR was kind of shaky in the beginning but seemed to get settled in as the show went on and was pretty good during the last three matches. Excalibur was great and his knowledge of the moves and the history of all the competitors was instrumental.
-The post-match angle following the Evans and Angelico vs Best Friends match was odd. Not a lot of people are probably going to know who the Super Smash Brothers are, which was kind of the point since they were supposed to be a mystery team. What was strange was that on commentary Excalibur said he knew who they were, but never enlightened the audience as to who exactly these mystery people were.
-The championship presentation was okay. MJF's poise on the microphone is tremendous for a guy that is only 23, and he felt like a potential breakout star, along with Adam Page. They also had Jungle Boy and Jimmy Havoc come out and have them make an appearance on the main card, so they must have some plans for them as well.
-Starrcast and all the events and news that surrounds the show really helped both ALL IN and Double or Nothing feel like bigger events. Similar to WrestleMania, not only do you have the major show but you also have a bunch of events throughout the weekend that reward the dedicated wrestling fan who traveled to see the show live.
-There is something about these shows taking place on a Saturday night that make it feel like more of an event. Sunday night is a big night for television viewership, but you aren't as likely to go out or have a viewing party and stay up late watching wrestling. There is more of a social atmosphere for a Sunday night show.