QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which show are you going to be more inclined to watch when early October hits and both AEW and NXT are running on Wednesday nights?
If there was one thing that became quite apparent when I “ran the numbers” using my in-development rating system to break down each All Elite Wrestling bout based on its pure elements, use of time, storytelling, climax, storyline, and intangibles, it was that All Out was probably better than I gave it credit for on The Doc Says podcast’s instant reaction (embedded above). On the night, I thought it was a very good show that lacked the kind of emotional resonance that I have felt with AEW really throughout its first three shows; that connection was weakened in part by the notable loss of Jon Moxley from the most anticipated match on the card so soon before event weekend, but the lukewarm Page-Jericho match and marked (at least to me) lack of intrigue in the featured third main-event involving Cody – typically AEW’s emotional center – did All Out no favors either.
The latter part of the above having been stated, when you zoom out on how much I think a lot of us diehard wrestling fans feel like we need AEW to succeed in a big way for the sake of our mainstream fandoms, All Out was a smashing success. Each of the eight matches featured on the main card scored at the 3-star level or better, half were scored at the 4-star level, and the promotion notched its second 5-star classic in four total shows. If you aren’t so much into that level of critique, then surely you would be at least open to discussing the greatness bonafides of a quarter to half of the card, right? Let’s discuss, either way…
#23 – The Dark Order vs. The Best Friends at All Out (Doc’s Rating – *** ¼)
Giving credit where due, TDO works their tails off and are adept at working the style that I presume will soon be regarded as typical of All Elite. The Best Friends, meanwhile, are a rock solid duo in a Too Cool sort of role for the division. That said, the presentation of The Dark Order combined with this match’s placement on the card hurt its potential. A solid, very watchable effort being produced out of the aforementioned circumstances is a commendable albeit forgettable achievement.
#21 – Riho vs. Hikaru Shida at All Out (Doc’s Rating – *** ½)
This felt, much like the tag match it followed at All Out, like something that could have been enhanced by a different card position and better presentation, though in this case that latter criticism is levied more at the division as a whole than at either of these women individually. Riho vs. Shida was, in essence, a microcosm of the female ranks in AEW thus far: it was really good, but there is a lot of room for improvement on the promotion’s part in shining a brighter spotlight on it.
#18 – Cody vs. Shawn Spears at All Out (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
Overbooking is a useful tool in certain circumstances, as I believe was the case here. For the longest time, I have preached judging something for what it is instead of what you would rather it be, speaking specifically in regards to pre-match expectations. I think a lot of us thought that this would be a main-event showcase for Spears, but instead it was a fun, Attitude Era-style romp through the crowd that relied heavily on outside personalities to create drama. In and of itself, that type of match is a genre in pro wrestling, and Cody vs. Spears was a solid edition to its library. Switch it with Omega-PAC and I’d be willing to bet opinions of it would generally be more positive.
#13 – SCU vs. The Jurassic Express at All Out (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
I think AEW should make the opening match an honor that teams outwardly campaign to be in if they are not wrestling for the Tag Team Titles. Should that happen, SCU sits in the poll position to open each AEW pay-per-view for the foreseeable future. They are a blast, and they deliver exactly what an opening contest should be. Sitting right behind them and without question an immediate challenger to that elite spot on PPV is the newly dubbed Jurassic Express, specifically the Luchasaurus and Jungle Jack Perry. It’s really quite exciting the depth that AEW has built for its tag division in short order; matches like this have been a big part its building a reputation.
#10 – SCU vs. Strong Hearts at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – ****)
#8 – Chris Jericho vs. Hangman Page for the AEW World Title at All Out (Doc’s Rating – ****)
I believe that fourth star is a product of a rather kind ratings system, though I also believe that they flirted with that fourth star via any system. An argument can be made that they could have done this match better in five less minutes, but they made reasonably strong use of their time afforded and were crafty enough with their sequencing designs and intelligent reliance on the still novel use of blood. A particularly strong final five or so minutes elevated its status, as did the intangible qualities of it being the first match for the AEW Title and the fact that Adam Page rode out to the ring on a friekin’ horse (I loved that)! Page showed great potential with the lights on brightest; all he has to do now is build a character that feels natural in that spot to compliment a well-rounded in-ring skill set and an ability to execute his arsenal soundly across a main-event run-time. Jericho brought a lot of the things that have worked for him across various eras in combination to put another great match that felt like it was missing something tangible to optimize its potential. Again, though, the climax truly brought it up a level. The Judas Effect looked less awkward via the manner in which Page received it, so I boosted it ahead of Jericho-Omega.
#7 – Jimmy Havoc vs. Joey Janela vs. Darby Allin in the Cracker Barrel Clash at All Out (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼)
Dude. Duuuuuude. That was absolutely brutal; and it was an absolute blast to watch it. I’m unsure what you can really say about it that sums it up any better than that. I can see why some would scoff at the star rating, but my system is built to reward “the others” in professional wrestling that might otherwise get shortchanged for a narrower vision of what constitutes greatness. On two separate occasions in AEW’s young history, the extreme grappling arts have been employed to excellent effect, changing the pace of the show and the promotion’s overall presentation and adding a dynamic to the present and future prospects of All Elite Wrestling that the mainstream has lacked for a long time. Featuring innovation aplenty along with moments that strike a different kind of psychological chord than more typical garbage brawls of yesteryear – taping Havoc’s mouth shut while full of thumbtacks and executing laminate-fueled papercuts, for example – Allin-Janela-Havoc was a hardcore match capable of making stars. I wouldn’t want to see this often because I think then it would repeat the past’s mistakes of relying too heavily on it, I do wish to see this be a staple of AEW pay-per-views. It’s too entertaining and unique not to make it a semi-regular thing.
#5 – Kenny Omega vs. PAC at All Out (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼)
They were awfully close to knocking it completely out of the park, but they ended up going the opposite route of Jericho and Page at All Out, putting together a truly excellent first five-sixths of a performance, but stumbling a bit down the stretch with an eyesore of a botch that most PAC and Omega matches typically avoid – like a flubbed line during the climactic scene of a play. Nevertheless, the first twenty or so minutes were too awesome not to celebrate the totality of the presentation. It was the closest thing we had seen to the kind of match that Omega regularly put out for New Japan these past few years, and it was evidence on a major stage that PAC could rather seamlessly combine the elements of his King of the Cruiserweights character from 205 Live with his faster-paced and more consistently physically aggressive style honed in NXT. I would certainly love to see them run it back someday on a future PPV with a few months of hype behind them (maybe even the World Title). I think they have a 5-star classic in them and that they are working for a promotion that plans to give them the chance to prove it. Omega’s redemption story, of sorts, will have to run through PAC eventually, and I for one cannot wait to see that happen. Not to mention, of course, that PAC became a star last Saturday night, and that he instantly feels like a Top 5 caliber guy for AEW given the manner in which he defeated Omega.
#3 – The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers for the AAA Tag Titles at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – **** ½)
#2 – The Lucha Brothers vs. The Young Bucks in a Ladder Match for the AAA Tag Titles at All Out (Doc’s Rating – *****)
Given what it was trying to accomplish – be the craziest stunt brawl Ladder Match ever – plus the fact that it culminated a series of matches that included another instant classic on AEW pay-per-view earlier in the year and that it took a few extra steps beyond the aesthetics of circus-level spot design to add storytelling flavor to proceedings, I just do not see how you could possibly argue too strongly against awarding the Bucks and Bros a 5-star label. My goodness! That was the wildest display of ladder spots I have seen in almost thirty years of watching Ladder Matches. I have used the expression, “an assault on the senses,” on numerous occasions previously, but not since my first viewing of the Triangle Ladder Match at ‘Mania 2000 can I recall being as awe-struck by big stunts. I’m not sure that you can push the envelope much further in that genre of wrestling match without someone suffering a career-ending injury; and I suppose that brings up a discussion for another day as to what constitutes too much. So, in regards to a series of tag team bouts, I think I would have to clearly state that Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros was the best I have seen in twenty years.