(Writer’s Note: This column is being put together before AEW’s Double Or Nothing pay-per-view takes place. I am going ahead with the assumption that MJF will successfully defend the AEW World Title against Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, and “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry. That seems like a pretty safe bet as of the moment I type this… 1:48am, local time, on Thursday, May 25th. If, for some reason, one of the challengers wins the title at Double Or Nothing, not much of what I say in this column will be different. My points will basically be the same, so just subtract MJF’s name and insert the name of the man who defeats him. I’m keeping this in the column, no matter what happens at Double Or Nothing.)
The build for AEW’s “Four Pillars” match at Double Or Nothing has been, in a word, terrible. It all started in an overly convoluted way, deciding to forego the easy “Point A to Point B” plan, instead opting for the “Point A to Point Q, then backtracking to Point H, back to Point A, and then finally getting to Point B” one. Then, there’s the promo aspect of things. Of course, to build a pay-per-view World Title match, there’s going to be a ton of talking involved. Promos, more promos, backstage segments, more promos, and so on. I have no issues with that idea in theory. In the execution of said idea, that’s where things completely fall apart. MJF is almost universally regarded as one of the best “talkers” in all of professional wrestling. Darby, Sammy, and Jungle Boy… are not.
AEW crowds continue to pop for Jack Perry, but he comes across as very unlikeable in his promos. The charisma that he shows during his matches is solid, and has helped him to reach this level at this stage in his career. None of that comes across in his promos, and he has been very honest in admitting to that several times in podcast appearances, saying that promos aren’t his favorite thing to do, and that his opinion of them is that they’re simply something that has to be done in wrestling these days.
Sammy, despite being one of the more naturally hated people on the AEW roster, and… you know… actually being a heel, is inexplicably being positioned as a face. He’s cutting face-like promos and working with the other faces as they try to topple the heel champion before them. All the while, he continues to be a heel in the Jericho Appreciation Society.
Darby is easily the best promo guy of the challengers in the match, but even with that said, he’s at his best when he’s the silent, broody punk that does all of his talking in the ring and won’t back down from anybody, anywhere, at any time.
AEW continues giving Sammy, Darby, and Jungle Boy time to talk every single week, and when they do, the gap is widened between them and MJF, who, frankly, doesn’t have to say much of anything to “win” this part of the feud. I have zero doubt that the match itself is going to end up being really entertaining. It’s just a shame that the build for the match has consisted of four men having a race where one is running unimpeded while the other three are running with their shoelaces tied together.
When Double Or Nothing is over, I want to see something different. How different? What about taking things in the polar opposite direction? Before I fully discuss this, I want it to be known that I’m only half-serious with all of what I’m about to mention. Would I like to see it? I wouldn’t complain, but I’m not going to scream about it from the tops of the highest mountains. Do I think it’s going to happen? Not at all.
Are we on the same page? Okay then. Here goes…
MJF is currently feuding with three men, none of whom are over the age of 30, and who are all viewed by many as the future of the business. When things blow over, what if MJF moved on to feud with some of the older talents in AEW? What about Billy Gunn, who turns 60 this November? Dustin Rhodes, who turned 54 in April? Sting, who turned 64 in March? Jeff Jarrett, who turns 56 in July? Chris Jericho, who turns 53 in November? Jeff Hardy, who turns 46 in August? Samoa Joe, who turned 44 in March? Christopher Daniels, who turned 53 in March? I’m not saying all of them should be feuding for the World Title, nor am I saying I necessarily want to see all of them feud for the World Title. I’m merely throwing out names of some of the oldest members of the AEW roster.
I know what you’re thinking right now, but just hear (read) me out for a moment.
AEW’s pay-per-view schedule makes things very different than with WWE. With WWE having monthly events, you can have certain shows where the World Title is either not defended at all, or defended against a “lesser” opponent. AEW’s quarterly pay-per-views won’t necessarily allow for that to happen, but in scenarios like this, that makes things easier. For example, would you prefer seeing MJF defend the AEW World Title against Dustin Rhodes in the main event of Dynamite or in the main event of All In(nit)? I wouldn’t even be typing these words if we were talking about Dustin, Billy Gunn, and so on in a pay-per-view main event at the moment.
My thought process here is a simple one (hey, shut up)… the current challengers for AEW’s top title aren’t “ready” for that spotlight, and the way that spotlight was given to them didn’t help things whatsoever. I would like to see some challengers that are more “ready” for it, even if it isn’t for a major pay-per-view main event spot. That’s why my mind immediately went to the veterans. As an added bonus, it also temporarily solves an issue that a lot of people have with AEW, where the same batch of people are involved in the title picture over and over again. Whether it’s the “right” opinion or not, and whether you feel this way or not, there are a lot of people tired of the same people at the top. A lot of that has to do with the fact that CM Punk’s multitude of issues last year meant that from Double Or Nothing 2022 to Full Gear six months later, the string of AEW World Champions was CM Punk, Jon Moxley (interim), Jon Moxley (undisputed), CM Punk, Jon Moxley, and then finally to MJF. I know that some of you are thinking it right now, so let me squash something right now… we’re not talking about WWE and Roman Reigns’ lock on the top of their title picture right now. I’m not praising or knocking AEW’s decisions last year. All I’m doing is pointing out the facts.
I’ve mentioned this on multiple occasions in the past, but Dustin Rhodes is one of the most underutilized wrestlers on the AEW roster. He doesn’t wrestle regularly, nor should he at this stage, but he continues to deliver great work when his name is called on. He has wrestled four times on AEW television (all on Rampage) thus far in 2023, after having seven televised matches in 2022, six in 2021, 18 in 2020, and four in 2019. Matches against Claudio Castagnoli, CM Punk, Lance Archer, Sammy Guevara, Bryan Danielson, Malakai Black, and others have showed he can still “go” in the ring. Yes, he’s 54 years old, but he recently celebrated 15 years of sobriety from drugs and alcohol, and he is in better physical condition than he has been in a long, long time. As the blood of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, we already know he can handle the promo side of a feud. He excels at tapping in and finding the emotional side of a feud, and that shouldn’t be an issue here when you consider MJF’s relationship with Cody Rhodes.
Putting MJF and Dustin together for a mini-feud wouldn’t be difficult. We’re talking about a company that just decided to bring motherfucking Sabu out of the mothballs to align with Adam Cole for no reason at all, so I’m sure the people involved in creative decisions could come up with something. It wouldn’t take much. The aforementioned Cody story would be the easiest, but again, it really wouldn’t take much. MJF is cutting a backstage promo and name drops the “American Roller Code-ster” again, only for Dustin to show up and get in his face about “constantly” talking about Cody. Dustin could be talking to someone backstage, only to be interrupted by MJF being… well… MJF. MJF attacks someone, and Dustin makes the save. Whatever you want to do, there’s a lane to do it in.
Sting is an easy option to go with, as well. MJF is already working against Sting’s emo son, Darby Allin, so it’s not difficult to picture the transition here. MJF will probably cut a promo on Dynamite following his Double Or Nothing victory, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that he’s going to verbally decimate his opponents again. As soon as he mentions Darby’s name, Sting’s music can hit, and business will pick up. Promo work was never the strongest part of Sting’s game, but he has always had such a great connection with fans that they’ll eat out of the palm of his hand, no matter what he has to say. With Sting’s in-ring days creeping closer and closer to an end, it would be a big deal to have him going after the biggest championship in AEW. The company loves building “special” episodes of Dynamite and Rampage, and will probably do the same for Collision, and you can do a lot with building around a World Title match between MJF and Sting. A concern I would have here, though, is Sting’s ability to work a singles match. Yes, he has been very entertaining in his matches with AEW, but let’s not forget that none of those matches have been of the singles variety. He has wrestled under the AEW umbrella 14 times, with eight of those being tag team matches and the other six being six-man tag matches. Sting hasn’t had a singles match since WWE’s Night Of Champions event in 2015, where he faced Seth Rollins for Seth’s WWE Title. That was, of course, the match where Sting suffered a neck injury after taking a Buckle Bomb and thought his in-ring career was over. While a match with MJF wouldn’t need to be a 45-minute clinic, you still have to wonder if there’s a reason why he hasn’t worked a singles match in AEW as of now.
Billy Gunn is such a wild story. We’re almost halfway through 2023, and the list of wrestlers who get more consistently loud face pops than the former DX member is a short one. His affiliation with The Acclaimed was done amazing things for his career. Like Sting, he was never known for his mic skills and legendary promo, but one thing he’s going to bring on the microphone is intensity. There is plenty in his past for MJF to use as ammunition in promos, but like Sting, Billy Gunn is going to get live crowds eating out of his hand with everything he says. Those could be some fun back-and-forth promo segments. Unlike Sting, though, Billy Gunn does wrestle as a singles competitor in AEW, albeit not very often. He doesn’t have any singles matches in 2023, but he had two last year. That’s what happens, though, when you’re more of a manager, of sorts, for a tag team. You’re bound to be involved in tag and six-man tag matches in that role, but for a one-off World Title match? He’d be great in that role.
When discussing the elder veterans on the AEW roster, Chris Jericho is a name that is going to come up almost immediately. He remains one of the biggest stars in the company, so that makes sense. I don’t like him for this particular role, though. I’m looking for veterans that MJF can have a match, maybe two, with. As we’ve seen with Jericho’s time in AEW, he has yet to have a feud that didn’t drag on and on and on and on for at least a decade. To make this idea even worse, it’s heel vs heel, with both heels still capable of getting cheers from crowds, which complicates things a lot. You’re going to get, at best, mixed reactions for both men, but, at worst, muted reactions for both as fans won’t know how to react. To make this idea even worse, we’ve seen these two feud with each other already, during the “Five Labors Of Jericho” storyline in 2021 that saw MJF bring in Nick Gage and Juventud Guerrera as hurdles for Jericho to clear. Actually, just thinking about these two feuding again is making me break out in hives.
As I said earlier, I’m only half-serious about wanting to see these things. It doesn’t fit the “theme” of the show, anyway, but I don’t want to see MJF defending the AEW World Title against Billy Gunn at Forbidden Door, against Jeff Jarett at All In(nit), against Christopher Daniels at All Out, and Sting at Full Gear. None of that interests me.
If we’re being honest, a lot of these thoughts are happening because we aren’t getting to see the AEW World Title very often. If MJF successfully defends the title at Double Or Nothing, I will post this column on the 191st day of his reign. Basic math will tell you that 191 days is approximately six-and-a-half months, give or take a few days. Double Or Nothing will mark the third title defense for MJF in those 191 days, and his fifth match overall. For the sake of comparison, Roman Reigns has also defended his titles three times over the last 191 days, and his seventh (one of which was a house show) match overall. Not a big defense, but what is one of the big knocks on Roman Reigns, especially by anti-WWE fans? That he never defends the title, which is artificially inflating his stats as champion. I want to see the same energy across the board. If you’re going to bash WWE and Roman Reigns for that, you’d better be quick to bash AEW and MJF for the same thing.
Or, just give Bryan Danielson the World Title and let him hold it until he doesn’t want it anymore. That works for me.
Folks, what do YOU want to see over the next few months when it comes to the AEW World Title? Who do you want to see get shots at the title? Do you want to see some brand new feuds take place, or do you want to see some rivalries renewed? As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
MJF vs Sammy Guevara vs Darby Allin vs “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry: It was almost literally a show-saving match, ending a streak of slower paced, plodding matches and cranking the dial to the max (no pun intended). While the build to the match was poor, the match itself delivered, as expected.
Ilja Dragunov vs Dijak: We’ve watched Ilja Dragunov take ungodly amounts of pain and punishment in matches before, so it’s no surprise that his tolerance is quite high. He took another ridiculous beating here, but he sure dished one out, too. A lot of Dijak’s best NXT matches have come against fellow “big man” wrestlers, but this one might top them all. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, if we’re being honest with each other.
Seth Rollins vs AJ Styles: You knew it was going to be good, but having the brand new World Heavyweight Title on the line really helped take things to another level. They weren’t acting as if they were competing for a “secondary” title whatsoever.
Roman Reigns: It doesn’t matter if you like Roman or not, if you’re a fan of The Bloodline or not, or even if you’re a fan of WWE or not… the fact that he has been a champion for 1,000 (1,002 when this column is posted, to be exact) consecutive days is amazing. In this day and age, that’s something that was previously inconceivable. If he makes it to June 24th without losing, he will pass Pedro Morales for the fifth-longest title reign in company history. January 20th, 2024 will see him pass Bruno Sammartino’s second WWWF Heavyweight Title reign for fourth place. It’s almost guaranteed that he passes Morales’ mark. That Sammartino number is definitely doable, especially with Roman seemingly wrestling less and less overall events. Either way, the fact that he even made it to 1,000 days should be celebrated.
The Elite vs Blackpool Combat Club: Anarchy In The Arena promises just that… anarchy in the arena… and it delivers. There is too much action for the AEW production team to handle. We were promised a bloody, violent battle, and that’s exactly what we got. It definitely wasn’t for everyone, but it was entertaining. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with a newly heel Konosuke Takeshita.
Lyra Valkyria vs Tiffany Stratton: No match this weekend was a bigger surprise than this one. I’ve been a supporter of Tiffany Stratton from the beginning, and this might end up being viewed as the star-making performance I knew she was capable of having.
Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs Roman Reigns & Solo Sikoa: Another red hot crowd for a match involving these gentlemen. Big surprise there. While the match itself was a lot of fun, it was Jimmy Uso hitting Roman with not one, but two, superkicks that has everyone talking. The Bloodline continues to crumble before our eyes.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Finn Balor: Since returning after a hiatus, Nakamura is being treated and presented like a big deal again. The weird thing is that it hasn’t led to any real consistency with his booking, as his televised record since coming back is now 3-2, and he has alternated wins and losses over his last four matches. It’s better than some of his main roster stretches, though, that’s for sure.
Orange Cassidy vs Kyle Fletcher: Another week, another Orange Cassidy title defense on this list. Another week, another time where I tell you it doesn’t mean anything because it’s still just OC defending the title against random people with almost no backstory at all.
Gunther vs Mustafa Ali: WWE wanted Gunther to continue looking unbeatable, but they also wanted to make sure Mustafa Ali looked strong in front of the heavily Muslim crowd in Saudi Arabia. Mission accomplished on both ends, I would say. Ali got multiple believable near falls, looking great against someone who has defeated all comers over the last year. We’ll have to see if the company capitalizes on the momentum Ali built here.
Kris Statlander: If you’ve been reading my columns, you’ll know I’m not surprised Stat was the one who finally dethroned Jade Cargill. I’ve been saying Stat should have that role, damn near going all the way back to when Jade first won the TBS Championship. I’m still shocked, several hours later, at the fact that she won the match in a minute. Yes, Jade just wrestled a match against Taya Valkyrie moments before, but that match was less than nine minutes long, and wasn’t exactly a bloody war that took everything out of the champion. I just don’t really get the logic of building Jade up that much, only to have her streak end that quickly. In 1998, WCW had Goldberg on a lengthy (although mostly fluffed up) undefeated streak, billing him as 173-0 when the Starrcade pay-per-view rolled around. On that night, Goldberg would be shocked with a cattle prod by Scott Hall and would drop the WCW World Title to Kevin Nash, suffering his first loss, but at least that match took over 11 minutes, and… again… took a cattle prod to take him down. Such a weird booking decision here.
Asuka: She ended the longest Raw Women’s Title reign in the belt’s history. Congratulations to Bianca Belair for the great run she had, but it’s Asuka’s turn to run… Smackdown… as the Raw… Women’s Champion.
Carmelo Hayes vs Bron Breakker: These two were able to deliver another good match, but it wasn’t quite the era-defining match (or feud) that many hoped it would be. They just don’t have the level of in-ring chemistry with each other to make that happen. We’ve seen Melo have better matches against other opponents, and we’ve seen Bron have better matches against other opponents. That’s a weird thing that happens in pro wrestling sometimes.
Toni Storm: It’s a real shame that Jamie Hayter’s awesome reign as the AEW Women’s Champion had to come to an end because she’s injured. If someone had to take the ball and run with it in her absence, though, I’m glad it was Toni Storm. At least that means the matches will continue to be good. Now, if only she could get the fuck away from Saraya and this Outcast bullshit that nobody cares about.
Wes Lee vs Tyler Bate vs Joe Gacy: Nobody has had as many successful NXT North American Title defenses as Wes Lee. It’s only a five-year-old title, sure, but facts are facts nonetheless.
Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn & Matt Riddle vs Imperium: Owens and Zayn have been associated with, and teaming with, Matt Riddle since Riddle returned to the company. So, logically, he was their “mystery partner” for their promoted match against Imperium. Tune in next week when Montez Ford and a mystery partner face Pretty Deadly, and the mystery partner is shockingly revealed to be Angelo Dawkins.
Gallus vs The Creed Brothers: Gallus are suffering from Shawn Michaels’ bringing half the NXT UK roster to America over the span of two weeks and just assuming everyone in this country had been watching and keeping up with the NXT UK product. There isn’t any reason for NXT fans to truly care about them, even as the NXT Tag Team Champions, because they don’t really know who they are. They continue to have good matches, but that’s where it ends. Something needs to change, and soon.
Nathan Frazer vs Noam Dar: There are a lot of “interchangeable parts” in NXT right now, where you could take any number of them, put them in a match, and the match will be good. These are two of those parts. Singles, tag, backstory, no backstory, title, no title… it doesn’t matter. Put them in a match together, and you’re going to get quality work.
Penta El Zero Miedo & Rey Fenix vs Claudio Castagnoli & Wheeler Yuta: Considering who was involved in the match, it’s almost considered a big disappointment that the match wasn’t higher in the rankings. Some of that had to do with the busy weekend of three pay-per-view events taking place, though, so it’s not like these four are punished because of poor performances.
Ilja Dragunov & Dijak Defining “On Sight”: If they see each other anywhere in the world, they’re going to fight. Backstage, parking lot, graduation party, wedding, charity drive, bass fishing tournament, orgy, airplane lavatory, grocery store… a brawl is a-brewin’ if they see each other.
This Week’s Playlist: “Pelle Coat” by Lil Durk… “All My Life” by Lil Durk & J Cole… “War Bout It” by Lil Durk & 21 Savage… “Home” by Kaipo Kapua & Fiji… “Wake The Dead” by blessthefall… “Smack Me!” by I Revolt… “Let’s Chill” by Guy… “Don’t Walk Away” by Jade… “I Wanna Love You” by Jade… “Every Day Of The Week” by Jade… “Fortunate” by Maxwell… “So Into You” by Tamia… “Before I Let You Go” by Blackstreet… “Anytime” by Brian McKnight… “Ruff Ryders Anthem (Remix)” by DMX, Jadakiss, Styles P, Eve, Drag-On & DJ Clue… “Fantastic 4” by Big Pun, Cam’ron, Canibus, N.O.R.E. & DJ Clue… “Treat U Better” by J-Shin… “Grand Finale” by DMX, Nas, Method Man & Ja Rule… “Midwest Choppers 2” by Tech N9ne, Krayzie Bone & K-Dean… “Nothin” by Tech N9ne, Big Scoob & Messy Marv… “Red Nose” by Tech N9ne… “Wither” by Tech N9ne & Corey Taylor… “So Dope (They Wanna)” by Tech N9ne, Snow Tha Product, Twisted Insane & Wrekonize… “He’s A Mental Giant” by Tech N9ne… “Every Little Step” by Bobby Brown