With Jay White in MJF’s rearview for now, it’s a fair bet that Maxwell’s winter stretch leading into the end-of-year AEW showcase World’s End will be a blizzard-like flurry of key matchups and revelations.
AEW Full Gear either hit or miss depending on your tastes, and while I’d argue it was mostly a good show I’d be lying if I said the main event wasn’t fairly overbooked in needless ways that nips the heels of Roman Reigns’ run-in with the Demon persona of Finn Balor.
MJF’s return from the hospital was WWE levels of predictable circa a few years back with the flow of the match being a little too close to a colour-by-numbers activity book in terms of how Switchblade and MJF started and ended the match. I felt like the in-between was mostly everything I hoped for from the two of them, but how we got there and how we ended it with the back and forth “I’m better than you and you know it” round of cheating tactics was a little much. Their psychology and ringwork, in terms of how they worked and played off each other, lived up to what I expected of them. The beginning and end felt forced and inorganic.
Whether or not White’s standing was hurt by the ending is debatable, but I don’t think he comes out any worse for wear, while MJF still appears strong as champion due to the booking. While I think you can have fair gripes about the Full Gear main event, top to the bottom it was a good championship match that continually made you question the ending even though MJF winning was the only logical result. And it was the right move with still so much on the table for MJF’s booking over the next month.
With Full Gear past us, it appears AEW has fully shifted back to questioning the identity of the person in the Devil mask as we build toward MJF’s match with Samoa Joe at the end of December, likely in addition to a match vs. Wardlow at Winter is Coming to tie off that loose end. Short of a miraculous recovery for Adam Cole, I’d expect barely more than the two matches from MJF through the next month as their focus shifts back to the mask, and more specifically what’s happening between them and the Kingdom.
The identity of the person under the mask is the hot topic at the moment, with guesses ranging from Cole himself to far-flung non-nonsense like Jack Perry (would anyone care?) being underneath. If you break down what’s likely and what makes sense, the only logical reveal is either Cole or someone connected back to Cole. Even Britt Baker would make more sense than Perry outright simply because:
- She’s connected directly to Cole
- Went out of her way to say she was going off TV to help him recover
- Would likely be pissed off about Cole’s general demeanour in-story and how friendly Cole is with MJF when he should be more focused on dethroning the champion.
- Realistically, would probably not be too happy he injured himself for Max’s sake.
And Cole would as easily be the mask-wearer for the same reasons, which would also serve to unsettle MJF’s newfound comfort in actual social relationships with actual people and turn every vulnerability he’s now left exposed to have salt thrown into the freshly re-opened wounds of this potential rift between the ROH tag team champions. Additionally, unless they were just putting on a show, White and Cole’s own history would explain Switchblade’s own attack that he suffered some time ago. The vultures are encircling MJF at this point and most likely it’ll be Cole, Strong and the Kingdom that dethrones Max one way or the other whether Joe is crowned at the end of December or this drags into the new year.
Regardless of the path they have charted, I would lean more toward Joe winning in four weeks. I think there’s a lot of motivating factors narratively in MJF losing, aside from Cole’s own gripes and the ones potentially owned by those around him linking back to MJF. I think the timing of that makes sense too if we accept MJF’s contract as ending at the beginning of 2024. Regardless of whether or not he’s actually already resigned, that we don’t know helps us suspend disbelief and seriously weigh what could happen at World’s End.
On the one hand, if MJF walks into the PPV as champion and wins, your options are either to announce he’s either re-signed mid-month, or will be re-signing in the days after the show amid pure panic on management’s part. Both scenarios are frankly underwhelming and serve more as vanity booking than something worthwhile, and more succinctly worth our time. I think if he’s feeling all good about himself and you announce mid-month he’s re-inked with AEW for X years, having Cole and Co. double cross him would instantly make him regret that choice and make him a rather insufferable, untrusting scumbag once again. That would at least be one positive.
Overall I doubt a contract renewal or extension is announced either way.
MJF’s path to Dec. 30 will likely be very simple. I think Wardlow wins the usual Battle Royal AEW typically holds around this point of the year to earn a shot at Winter is Coming. I think Wardlow smashes MJF up to the point where it looks like history could repeat until Joe arrives to secure his investment, costing Wardlow the match. This can branch off later to a secondary feud, but in the meantime it obviously secures MJF for Joe.
Once we hit Dec. 30, I think Cole and company cost MJF the match and secure the title win for Joe. If that’s the final destination for this month’s long story, that’s going to accomplish two important things:
- A Cole betrayal is the best way in my opinion to pay off his positive change in character. What use is the last six months of story if he just reverts to being a full blown scumbag?
- More importantly, rather than just sliding into a rematch scenario after losing, prospectively obviously, that gives MJF a fresh feud to move over to, evidently paying off with a less friendly Cole-MJF feud while others get their turn at the AEW title.
Should MJF lose, which I think we should be expecting at this point, I suspect we’ll see him disappear a decent amount of time to play off his supposed contract expiration; leading toward a return, “new contract” and all just to avenge his title loss versus his “brochacho.” A serious alternative doesn’t really come to mind, although maybe I’m missing another avenue. Thoughts?
Swerve and the Continental Classic
I don’t think it’s controversial at this point in his run to say that Swerve Strickland needs to be strapped up, and I don’t think there’s a point in aiming any lower than the AEW title.
Captivating comes to mind when he hits the ring, predominantly because you get the feeling when he speaks that he believes every vitriolic word he proclaims. If his feud with Hangman Page showed us anything it’s that there are few who rival his presence in AEW, and even more so in the wake of Full Gear the sheer lunacy he demonstrated during his and Page’s ECW-like Texas Deathmatch. With Page behind him for now, his participation in the AEW Continental Classic is an obvious pathway toward AEW championship gold, however I’d argue this isn’t the time nor the championship.
Whether Joe or MJF enter 2024 as world champion, Swerve is a natural choice to succeed them both. Yes, that means if Joe wins I don’t think he holds it past Double or Nothing, if not Revolution in the late Winter.
How do we get there? The answer from my point of view is in what we know from the Full Gear fallout and the field in the Continental Classic.
- Jay White
- Jon Moxley
- Swerve Strickland
- Jay Lethal
- Jay Briscoe
- Brody King
- Daniel Garcia
- Bryan Danielson
- Eddie Kingston
Looking at the field, I think we can eliminate Jay Lethal, Mark Briscoe, Daniel Garcia and Brody King right away. I think they will have good showings, and will build their individual stories outward through the tournament, but I don’t think any of the four make the finals. The remaining 8 will probably all contend, but considering their ties to AAA I think we can also eliminate Andrade and Rush due to NJPW’s relationship with CMLL. That whittles us down to six.
From the wrestlers left I’d argue Claudio doesn’t need the tournament win, nor does Jon Moxley. Either could very well make the finals, but they feel like prestige additions to pad out the field with considerable threats. That being said, I think Mox plays the role of spoiler in the Gold Block, specifically with Swerve, which can launch them into a short term feud that can include Mogul Embassy and BCC. The impetus is Mox either beating or dragging Swerve to a draw that either way costs him a berth in the finals, and further I’d argue a feud where Mox puts Swerve over is the final marquee notch in his belt that he needs. It’s the kind of win that fully legitimizes Swerve as a main event threat. This isn’t accomplished as handily with an AEW Triple Crown win, and in the short term I think it’s something that serves White, Danielson or Kingston much better for various reasons be they redemption for coming up short against MJF, a final title win on the road to retirement, or the culmination of one’s life’s work as they “finish the story.”
Notwithstanding what’s laid out above, I think the four likeliest finalists are White, Swerve, Danielson and Kingston. I wouldn’t be surprised if Swerve did in fact win, however I think with his trajectory he more than deserves the AEW world title. I think Switchblade comes out of the gold group.
The blue group has its own stories in play, chief among them being Eddie Kingston’s current status as NJPW Strong Openweight champion and ROH World champion. In putting up both his titles in the tournament, Kingston is going to be working to keep what he worked hard for. Regardless I don’t think he comes away with his titles nor the Triple Crown Championship. I think it’s a fair argument that Danielson will be in the finals and he’d deserve the distinction of being the first champion, but with that being said I think Kingston claws his way into the title match at World’s End opposite Jay White. That also pairs well as a callback to their NJPW match that ended with Kingston standing tall as he kicked White out of New Japan. White coming back to take away from Kingston what he holds most dear would book end their 2022-early 2023 feud. I think all four are solid winners, but I think the finale is White and Kingston. Swerve is far too deserving of the AEW title to hold that off any longer, and I think Danielson can win but also doesn’t need it.
Speaking of Danielson…
Daniel Garcia vs. Bryan Danielson in the Blue Block
This one is my sleeper for multiple reasons. First, I think Garcia needs a breakout win right now while they’re running with the young workhorse gimmick where he fights and fights, and loses as much as he wins. It wouldn’t be their first time in the ring together, but this potential matchup stands to be the most important for Garcia’s development.
Garcia has been pulled between the pro wrestling and sports entertainment ends of the spectrum to the extent that he’s suffering an identity crisis amid everyone telling him what he should do as opposed to deciding what he wants to do. I think this match will go quite far toward highlighting who Garcia is as he evolves in the coming year, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Garcia pulls out the win over his idol. I expect Garcia is going to seldom win during the Classic, however I’m expecting a defining win over Danielson, which in my eyes sets up a potential recruitment of Garcia into BCC as Danielson inches toward semi-retirement. This is probably the match I’m most looking forward to because of the repercussions it might have going into 2024. With Bryan Danielson’s retirement looming, and given their history, I’d be watching for them to have a fantastic match with a personal moment between them. And into the future, I’m not going to be shocked if Daniel Garcia takes Danielson’s “spot” in BCC a la Arn Anderson in the Four Horsemen.
Yet… Do We Need Another AEW Title?
Quick answer is no, absolutely not. If any one of us got after WWE for the years they had titles coming out of every orifice, then the shoe has to fit here too.
It seems Tony Khan only knows how to actively book matches when titles are involved, and even that wanes and is dependent on the talent holding them. It’s not like TK makes MJF, Christian Cage and Orange Cassidy’s collective runs work, they’re over on their own as champions. But if we’re handing out new titles, maybe we can get that women’s tag championship so he won’t have any excuses for not putting more women on the shows. I think there are a few who could run with the ball.
(What a novel idea.)
At present there are five official singles titles orbiting AEW and Ring of Honor, most of which find their way onto AEW television across the three programs, and yet we’re adding a fourth solo title just to merge it with the ROH and NJPW titles? You could have easily taken the AEW International Championship and moved that into this spot; have OC compete and put his title up too to additionally increase the prestige. The act of adding a pre-existing title makes the tournament more important than establishing another new title merely because you can. The tournament goal is worth less as we tread into a very dense picture of who holds championships.
While you could argue this newly established trio of championships is effectively a North American Triple Crown, and therefore the phrase “Continental Championship” applies, I’d counter that the name is not a valid argument as the AJPW Triple Crown title this tournament is inspired by incorporated the PWF World Heavyweight Championship, NWA United National Championship and NWA International Heavyweight Championship into one grand title when they were unified in 1989. And so if the objective is to create a prestigious Triple Crown Championship that can tour ROH, NJPW and AEW, it makes much more sense to at least include the AEW International title, which at least has some decent history attached to it, alongside the Strong title and the near legendary ROH title.
The tournament itself is fine, but the carrot at the end is not what it’s touted as because the history simply isn’t there to back it up. All three titles included in the AJPW Triple Crown were established in the 1970s at the latest, with the NWA International title dating back to 1957. The Triple Crown means more because of the history behind each individual component, and we revere it now because of the men who held it since they were incorporated in 1989. That isn’t to say this title won’t mean something in the future because each person in the field is supremely talented, and if not then they will be. It’s because of that I think establishing a new title opposed to incorporating a current one does them a disservice for the work they put in and the harm they inflict on themselves for us as fans. Whoever actually ends up winning this tournament deserves that built-in prestige, they’ve earned that. Eddie Kingston, for example, who has busted his butt for years, deserves that.
“More” for the sake of “more” doesn’t make AEW better; careful consideration and conscientious decisions do.