QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think Kenny Omega’s preferred style will consistently translate beyond New Japan Pro Wrestling?
Fight for the Fallen was the weakest effort in the three-deep AEW pay-per-viewlibrary to date, but it was still a good show with several good matches that will be reviewed momentarily in the AEW master review list below.
Before we get to the matches, I want to take a moment to address the pre-show issues that keep getting brought up. Folks, it’s the pre-show. Who cares? I am confident that, like me, you lead a busy life full of responsibilities and wrestling’s place is to offer an escape and to, at its best, be fuel to your life source. So, the main card is obviously what we tune in for. I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of people making their decision to order any sort of paid programming with an anticipated 3-hour or longer run-time has made up their mind long before turning on the pre-show. This talk of how much better the pre-shows should be, therefore, is much ado about nothing; such is why I do not include pre-show matches in my reviews – I never have because it is not priority viewing nor is it intended to be. Pre-shows are background noise with a few sporadically engaging minutes that hype what we already know we are about to watch.
Aside complete, let’s focus on the wrestling, which overall was not nearly as well-judged at Fight for the Fallen. Brandi needed an opportunity because her character is money, but she proved she was not ready for 11-minutes of bell-to-bell time; the hard work was clear, but her match with Allie was maybe just a tad above passable (it is not on the list below, which features only matches that rate 3-stars or higher, or that could generally be called “good” at least). Two of the tag team matches were overlong, with one in particular being quite overlong and both watching as overlong in part because they tried to get too cute with spot innovation.
On that last point, spot innovation is not a core tenet of a great wrestling match. I view it as an intangible quality and rate it as such in an innovation-rich environment like All Elite Wrestling. Other factors taken into account in the ratings that shape the forthcoming rankings include the basics (selling, psychology, and execution), storytelling, the usage of the time-afforded, the quality of the closing moments that punctuate the overall performance, and the presence of a tangible hook that would invest a viewer in the action beyond “here’s two guys having a match and the winner/loser matters.”
#18 – The Lucha Brothers vs. SCU at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – ***)
Though it certainly had its moments, this was perhaps the biggest disappointment that AEW has produced in its young history. Both teams are capable of so much more and they were given the kind of time necessary to steal the show, but roughly mid-way through the match everyone seemed to just get lost in the progression of presumably pre-planned spots. There was standing around and waiting, the execution went off the rails in a way that reminded me of Pentagon and Fenix’s second match with LAX in Impact Wrestling earlier this year, and what promised to be something special ended up falling largely flat. They might have benefited from the energy that would have come from switching their placement with the more character-driven opener, but they were rightfully positioned as the third biggest match on the show. Do-over please!
#16 – The Young Bucks vs. The Rhodes Brothers at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – *** ¼)
I am getting harsher in my advancing experience when it comes to epically long matches that pretty much fail at producing something epic, so even if I did enjoy the “dream” tag team match, I was left feeling pretty “Meh” about it and really see little reason to ever revisit it (and rewatchability is certainly going to become more of an intangible factor for me when we start breaking down the top ranked matches on the list later this year during awards season). Much like the other reasonably disappointing tag match from Fight for the Fallen, the main-event struggled with execution, trying to connect with too many ultra-creative sequences down the all-important fourth quarter-esque stretch of the performance, when you absolutely have to justify getting epic match time (it went 30-plus minutes) or run the risk of getting majorly docked by critics for being too indulgent. It was a mixed bag accordingly, full of the at-times brilliant work expected, but struggling to seal the deal in the climactic minutes (and the Meltzer Driver that finished it looked like crap, unless the point is for one Jackson to flip over the ropes and onto his butt while making little to no contact with the piledriveree).
#15 – “Hangman” Adam Page vs. Kip Sabian at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – *** ¼)
I suspect that I liked this match more than about 90% of the people who watched Fight for the Fallen because I have so thoroughly appreciated the early return on bringing back the time limit draw. I can see the argument that Page needed more from this to back-up his main-event position on the All Out card next month, but I think he got what he needed in that regard from his interactions with Chris Jericho, and what he showed against Sabian was that he could change up the pace of the card, slow things down, and have a more methodical match that peaked at the right time; AEW cards will need more matches like this if shows are to continue to go long. Whereas the aforementioned tag matches were great in the first halves but failed in the second, Page vs. Sabian slowly and steadily built, used the threat of a draw to their advantage, and made the near falls count during the climax. Page was impressive here, both athletically and psychologically, and I feel more comfortable with him challenging for the AEW Title as a result; though I cannot say that I am still all that comfortable with it, AEW moved me in the right direction here.
#13 – MJF, Sammy Guevara, and Shawn Spears vs. Darby Allin, Jimmy Havoc, and Joey Janela at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – *** ½)
This was a really nice example of how to put on a tag team match that is not so heavily dependent on the quality of the moves performed, as what made it stand out was more so the performance of the characters on display, with the heels and Allin particularly coming across as the caliber of interesting that will be needed to make AEW more than just a place for indy wrestling to be spotlighted with better production value. The presentation of Spears in the past few weeks has been fantastic and, though he did very little here, his mannerisms and demeanor went a long way toward quelling an issues that more WWE-centric fans might have with Cody’s All Out opponent being “the guy who did the ‘Ten’ thing.” MJF continued to shine, as well, with a nuanced outing that did not ignore his issues with Spears despite them both being heels. Bad guys dislike bad guys too, and heel vs. heel is an untapped North American resource. Guevara, too, was quite good in this match.
#11 – The Dark Order vs. The Boy and His Dinosaur vs. Angelico and Jack Evans at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
Over 50% of the card that night featured tag team matches and I would have comfortably put this one as the third most likely of the group to be in the Match of the Night conversation, but it delivered in the areas that the favorites failed and here it sits as another in the growing line of thoroughly enjoyable tag team efforts from AEW. I cannot wait for their tag team title tournament on account of efforts like this, which offered a preview of the division’s diversity in character and ability. The Dark Order pushes the limits when it comes to suspension of disbelief, but they are a polished duo. Jungle Boy continued his run of impressive outings and was one of the primary reasons why this match was so much fun. Angelico and Evans may not have excelled athletically here to the degree that one might have expected, but they did show some personality in their reluctance at times to engage the Luchasaurus. Overall, it was perception-enhancing for each team and the division they collectively represent.
#6 – SCU vs. Strong Hearts at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – ****)
#4 – Kenny Omega vs. Cima at Fight for the Fallen (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼)
Omega’s match with Jericho at Double or Nothing was truly quite good, but his match with Cima was the first in AEW example of what Kenny really brings to the table as a talent. Cima still has the quickness and athleticism to keep in step with what Omega needs from his opponent to optimize his performance. Omega is a proven master of spot ingenuity that looks awesome, but also carries with it the aura of violence; that was the dynamic that separated his efforts in New Japan from what we see throughout the rest of the wrestling world. When he is on the receiving end of aesthetically gorgeous, very hard-hitting offense as well, his matches go to another level physically and deepen a fan’s emotional connection to the performance as a result. Lacking stakes or a real sense of urgency from Kenny, this did not connect with me quite at the level that it did some of my peers, but it was a definitively great match and hopefully signals the kind of work we can expect of Omega moving forward.
#2 – The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers for the AAA Tag Titles at Double or Nothing (Doc’s Rating – **** ½)