On the eve of AEW’s latest pay-per-view offering, I again find myself feeling nostalgic about their product and desiring to properly contextualize their growing history. Earlier in the year, I ranked the Top 20 wrestlers of AEW Year 1. Today’s exercise – ranking their six previous PPVs – is both easier and harder; easier because there are only six items to rank and harder because each show has certainly had its quite admirable qualities. Those familiar with my work over the years know that I enjoy taking things that initially seem complex and finding a way to quantify them; I have come up with a formula to assess these shows accordingly that I’ll share during the forthcoming breakdown.
For those interested, I posted on my blog a comparable breakdown of all the AEW non-PPV specials.
#6 – All Out (2020)
We begin with the obvious choice, considering for the record that neither Fyter Fest or Fight for the Fallen in 2019 were pay-per-views. I dissected the six AEW special events in two different ways, and in both formats, All Out in September came in last pretty comfortably. Moxley vs. MJF was the biggest match on the card and it delivered as such, a theme to be revisited as we get further down the list. Hangman and Omega vs. FTR was excellent, as well. All Out 2020 was, however, the most flawed AEW PPV to date.
Problem #1: AEW has on two different occasions made odd choices with their PPV opening contest. Revolution was the first, opting for a cold opener better suited, based on conventional thinking at least, to maybe the third match. All Out repeated what hopefully will not become a pattern. A cinematic match to open was as odd a choice as Hager vs. Dustin six months prior. For the record, I appreciated both for what they were, but this is a comparative analysis.
Beyond that, as I mentioned in my review of it, I was much higher on All Out 2020 than most. I think many got wrapped up in the Hardy concussion saga and oddly allowed that to zap their energy for the rest of the show (something I’ve certainly been guilty of at more critical stages of my fandom, in fairness); though, without question, the Hardy-Guevara flop was Problem #2 for All Out. Nevertheless, the good on the card bordered on friekin’ outstanding, so to call this event overall “the first real ‘miss’ in the AEW PPV library” was in my mind a gross exaggeration. It was a good show amidst a group of events largely thought to have been great.
#5 – All Out (2019)
Though this result held up to what I presumed would be the case, it only dropped to 5th out of 6 after adjusting my formula. Initially, I simply took the average star ratings for each show. Lacking as it did a dud or a short filler match to get a deserving talent on the card, the All In sequel actually took second place. I’m not of the opinion, though, that giving someone like Shawn Spears, a valuable lower card act, an opportunity to cash in on his valuable additions to Dynamite is something that should be held equally against its peers, so I adjusted my formula to weight the main-event (x4), the two other headlining-caliber matches (x3), the opening match (x2), and the featured mid-card bout (x2). Take the average star ratings (thanks to the app, Grappl, and Big Poppa Meltzer for their additions to my own ratings) and multiply them times weighted placement on the PPV card and here All Out sits.
I would contend that part of the reason both All Outs sit in the lowest spots in the hierarchy is that their second/third biggest matches were both lesser than their counterparts from other shows. Spears wrestled Cody at the inaugural All Out and it was a fun, rather overbooked presentation, much like Orange Cassidy vs. Chris Jericho 9 weeks ago. Also, each All Out to date, as complete wrestling shows, simply felt like they were missing something. The flow on the nights was a tad off, perhaps due to the aforementioned dynamic of the comparatively underwhelming second/third biggest matches. The original AO lacked build, as well, with Moxley vs. Omega prominently scrapped at the last minute, replaced admirably from bell to bell by Omega vs. PAC but without the hype – that seems an appropriate description for Hangman vs. Jericho, minus the last minute part and Page riding in on a horse (one of the coolest entrances ever).
The greatest Ladder Match I’ve ever seen still makes this show must-rewatch, though. I’ve advocated for years that Ladder matches should be separated into at least two categories: stunt brawl and story-driven. Bucks vs. Lucha Bros bridged the gap in a marvelous, 5-star classic, making it the primary catalyst for the unweighted #2 ranking.
#4 – Full Gear (2019)
This remains a personal favorite and I think it speaks to the overall quality of the AEW PPV library. The television show had been running for a mere five weeks. I am of the opinion that the most recent three PPVs have benefited greatly from AEW having found their footing on TNT with Dynamite, which has been the most consistently well-booked wrestling TV show that I’ve watched since at least the Smackdown 2016/17 era. For Full Gear 2019, only one match really felt like it got a proper build on Dynamite, and that was Cody vs. Jericho. The more hype there is, the more the expectations rise, hence the weighted formula. That the AEW World Title bout delivered an old school NWA flavor and ended with a now-memorable moment that kickstarted one of the best feuds the promotion has booked thus far in Cody vs. MJF was a huge key to the show’s overall success. Big, well-hyped matches positioned as primary draws for these quarterly events have to hit or the show is likely going to miss.
Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley was one of the most anticipated matches of 2019. It was taken away initially by injury, stoking the desire to see it that much more. In a creative twist, it got the main-event spot without actually getting the main-event spot, as though Jericho-Cody headlined the official show, Omega-Mox was unsanctioned. I dug that. I also loved the Omega-Mox modern hardcore classic. So, between the two headliners, Full Gear got a lot of points in my formula simply from the matches that were supposed to be great actually being great.
Frankly, the original Full Gear format might be AEW’s best path to consistent greatness. The Bucks vs. Proud and Powerful, perhaps the most underrated bout in the impressive tag team match catalogue in company history to date, doubled as both opener and third headliner. Hangman vs. PAC, another anticipated AEW PPV bout previously postponed, thrived in the featured mid-card spot. Filler was kept to a minimum. Honestly, add a more seasoned Dynamite flow into the equation to up the build’s ante and this could have been #1. Seven matches rather than eight-plus was, as you will soon see, the format that translated to three out of the best four PPVs in AEW lore.
#3 – Double or Nothing (2020)
Full Gear, Double or Nothing (2019), and All Out (2020) were the three shows that ranked the same regardless of the two ranking formulas. Double or Nothing (2020) earned that distinction, too, but it was the event that underwent the most scrutiny. Unweighted, it came in third. Weighted, it actually came in fifth, so I dug a little deeper. The weighted formula strongly penalizes sub-par performances, regardless of their context. So, I added back some context. There were eight matches on this show. Its Top 6 matches were the strongest Top 6 matches of any AEW PPV. Though my personal ratings were not the only ones accounted for, I rated all six of D or N 2020’s Top 6 at the 4-star level or higher; Archer vs. Cody was a modern Sting vs. Vader, Shida vs. Rose was the best women’s match in AEW history, MJF vs. Jungle Boy was the best mid-card match in AEW history, the Casino Ladder Match was innovative and well-presented, Mox vs. Mr. Brodie Lee evidenced the value in the current champion as face of the brand, and the Stadium Stampede set the standard for cinematic matches of its kind. That Kris Statlander vs. Penelope Ford and Spears vs. Dustin Rhodes were on the card as filler to give us some breathing room for that Spectacular Six should not be held too strongly against Double or Nothing 2020 overall.
So, Double or Nothing 2 lands here at third. I know that, for me personally, I will never forget this show. I badly needed a shot of enthusiasm during that phase of the COVID era and Double or Nothing was it. It had been a long time since I had felt that kind of satisfaction following a wrestling show.
#2 – Revolution (2020)
My knee-jerk reaction to this show back in February was to call it one of the best pay-per-views I had ever seen. Today, I feel like maintenance of that position requires some further dissection. Long-time WWE fans will appreciate this; as the WWE TV product declined in quality consistently over a long period of time and PPVs became 4-5 hour marathons, it became standard operating procedure for a lot of us to start watching their products like a Netflix menu, choosing a match here and segment there, but not as frequently digesting shows as a whole. Now, ideally, as a fan, you want to watch the TV show in its entirety every week, so that when the PPV comes, you are dialed into everything enough to fully engage it from start to finish. By the time Revolution took place, it had probably been three plus years since I had invested the time in a wrestling show weekly, got thoroughly wrapped up in the hype it provided for the PPV, and then felt like both my financial and time investments paid off by PPV’s end. Revolution made me feel glorious. Looking back, it is certainly greater than the sum of its parts, ranking just 4th before the weighted score brought it comfortably to #2.
One of the reasons I like breaking down wrestling matches is exemplified by two of the most important matches at Revolution, both of which have an enormous influence on how you would perceive this event. Jericho vs. Moxley and MJF vs. Cody had 5-star builds and the action on the night was 3.5 stars by comparison. Personally, I thought both accomplished exactly what they needed to and I was more than satisfied by both, but if you take out the element of their respective TV feuds, I think you’d struggle to feel like either – as pillars of this show – were strong enough to warrant placing Revolution atop any kind of pedestal.
Of course, this show was loaded with memorable matches beyond the two most heavily hyped on TV. Omega and Hangman Page vs. The Young Bucks…it’s not hyperbole, my friends…that’s the greatest tag team match ever and one of the greatest matches ever, period. It is the rising tide that lifts the good ship Revolution. It was, given the prominence of tag team wrestling in AEW, expected to deliver and it did so in spades. Complimented by extraordinary work in Orange Cassidy vs. PAC in the former’s initial breakout performance in AEW and also Darby Allin vs. Sammy Guevara in an excellent hybrid of storytelling and traditional high octane mid-card wrestling, Revolution was a very well-rounded event.
#1 – Double or Nothing (2019)
No bias here, I promise. I went into the ranking design phase of this project assuming that it would come down to Revolution or Double or Nothing 2020 for the top spot, but the advantage I thought they would have over AEW’s maiden voyage – hype through television – did not prove to matter. Double or Nothing in 2019 was the best show based purely on star ratings average and then it was also the best show based on my weighted formula, leaving it the unequivocal #1.
In hindsight, I guess that is no big surprise after all. AEW’s initial event was a sublime experience for wrestling fans, heralded in the moment as an all-timer and living up to its reputation as time passes as well. Cody vs. Dustin genuinely was a classic, like a movie that comes out of nowhere to deliver a timeless performance sure to make your rewatchable list; it basically captured the essence of AEW, a place where people who are capable of more than they have been given a platform to showcase can optimize their talents and tell amazing stories. The Bucks vs. Lucha Bros, Chapter 1, was instantly among the ten best tag team matches I had ever seen, doing the seemingly impossible and actually following adequately a 5-star precursor; the Ladder Match at All Out was so great that it somehow pushed this amazing match strangely into the category of underrated. Omega vs. Jericho may have under-delivered by comparison in the main-event slot – and perhaps that was another reason I presumed Double or Nothing 2019’s ceiling in this ranking would be third going in – but Moxley’s debut after the final bell sounded ended the show on an enormously high note, it is important to recall.
The show from top to bottom really had no holes. It benefited greatly from what I would consider to be an ideal example of the hot opener, with SCU’s pre-match act and in-ring presentation the perfect choice to get a crowd fired up. Best Friends vs. the since-named Hybrid 2 would have done well in that role as well. The women’s matches showcased the division more than adequately. Once upon a time, a young Chad Matthews would greatly appreciate the excuse to sit down with a bottle of wine and devour an old WWE PPV. Shows like Double or Nothing make me want to do that again.
So that’ll do it for today folks. QUESTION OF THE DAY: How would you rank the six AEW PPVs to date? I hope we’ll able to throw Full Gear into the mix at the very top after Saturday night. On paper, it looks like the best wrestling show in a long, long time.