Double or Nothing, All Elite Wrestling’s first PPV event, did something that I genuinely was not expecting. It got me to completely mark out sitting alone at my desk taking notes— completely sober and for several hours. I had a fucking blast watching this show. The cheesy stuff was the right kind of cheesy. The surprise appearances were both legitimately surprising and effectively delivered. The wrestling itself was top notch. The on mic work was almost all great. I just had fun and wished I made the drive out to Vegas.
This isn’t a Hunktears’ Regrets Recap, though. It’s a Double or Nothing recap. Let’s get into it!
Good thing the pre-show was free
Okay, so I did really enjoy Double or Nothing, but The Buy-In, Double or Nothing’s pre-show? Eh. The pre-show should be the weakest part of a card, and the first ever Casino Battle Royale absolutely delivered on that. It was just a mess. There were no chyrons to tell me who the wrestlers were when they came to the ring. It was hard to tell what was happening, who was doing what, who was in and who was out. Just messy stuff! Jimmy Havoc stapled a lit cigarette to Joey Janela’s head and they didn’t even show it happening. My highlight was Orange Cassidy (no surprise there) doing his hands-in-pockets kick combo to Tommy Dreamer, but I really thought this was poorly filmed and put together from a production angle. Hangman Page eliminated MJF (early contender for tan of the night) to win.
The singles match between Sammy Guevara and Kip Sabian was a big step up from the battle royale. Any suspicions I had that Sammy Guevara might abandon his heel gimmick flew out the window when he appeared. What an absolute sack of garbage! I love it! Kip Sabian wrestled a good match, but didn’t make much of an impression as a character. He’s hot! He’s extremely tan! Sabian’s win against Guevara felt earned, but I’m much more invested in booing Sammy than I am in cheering Kip.
The time difference between Las Vegas and Shanghai is not eight hours
The opening match of the main show, SoCal Uncensored vs Strong Hearts, was a great way to set the tone of Double or Nothing. It was fast, competitive, athletic, and cool as hell. The match-up felt fresh, but chemistry was well-established and felt natural. (Plus, they got all the annoying catchphrase stuff out of the way before the match started.)
Christopher Daniels may be a 49 year old comic book dork in a tag team named after a forum, but he can still go! I was surprised CIMA didn’t win over every visible audience member within seconds, but I was glad to hear a hearty minority of the crowd chanting for Strong Hearts. Also T-Hawk is a straight up hunk. SoCal Uncensored won with a move Excalibur called a “Best Meltzer Ever,” which, for the record, I am against. I hate that name. Still, if my least favorite thing is your finisher name, you’re doing great.
This is Awesome
As I said in my Double or Nothing preview, the woman in the show’s triple threat match I was most excited about was Kylie Rae. That was when it was a triple threat. After Kylie Rae, Nyla Rose, and Britt Baker had made their entrances, Brandi Rhodes emerged in her wrestling gear. It was a brilliant fake-out and I fully believed she was adding herself to the match. I groaned! It seemed very boring and predictable. But she was actually there to introduce Awesome Kong (Kharma in WWE and more recently Tammé “Welfare Queen” Dawson on Netflix’s GLOW.) And I immediately burst into tears. Kong has had a long road to get back into the mainstream American wrestling spotlight after her departure from WWE in 2013. This was really special and the crowd was super into her return, too.
The wrestling itself was good-not-great, but the energy was fantastic. The chemistry was fantastic. It felt like an amazing wrestling match, so it was one. Kylie Rae still ended up being my standout in terms of overall combined in-ring ability and character work. (How did she get the bow to fly out of her hair exactly when she got superkicked!?) But I also got chills when Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong faced off in the ring! There was a sick as hell tower of doom spot! I loved it! (I also cried through most of it.) Britt Baker, who has gotten a lot better since I last saw her wrestle last year, pinned Kylie Rae to win.
Tag team wrestling… folks… it’s real good
The Best Friends and Los Güeros Del Cielo put on a killer. fucking. match. All Elite is really pushing the power of their tag team division, and I can’t deny how impressive a start this was for them. Jack Evans and Angélico balanced out their exciting moveset by being just the right amount of insufferable. (And by antagonizing America’s Sweetheart Bryce Remsburg!) Trent Beretta and Chuck Taylor did what they do best: make me want them to win. The only trace of the cigarette-smoking, family-threatening Being the Elite Best Friends was in Chuck’s signature toothy menace.
Both teams were crisp and impressive, with clear characterization and great chemistry. Bryce Remsburg gave a master class in refereeing. Even commentary was consistently enjoyable throughout! Best Friends won with a Stomp Tag-Team Dudebuster.
Canadian tag team Super Smash Bros, backed up by a small army of masked goons, attacked both teams after the match. Evil Uno reclined on a throne made out of dudes, which is my favorite thing to see. If this is the future of their tag team division, AEW has my permission to boast.
God made the devil just for fun (when he wanted the real thing he made Aja Kong)
A magical girl, a 42 year old woman dressed up as Freddy Mercury, and Aja Kong walk into Double or Nothing… Damn, I had fun with this. Two teams of three is a great match constellation for a mid-card sampler platter! All six women got their moments, but the the star power absolutely belonged to Hikaru Shida and Aja Kong. Their kendo stick/metal cube battle! I also thought Yuka Sakazaki (AYAYAYAYAYAY) killed it in her US debut and was thoroughly impressed by Riho.
PS I will never stop missing Aja Kong’s old entrance music.
A quick note on the AEW commentary team
I didn’t want to weave this into all the other sections, so I’m making it its own. For most of Double or Nothing, commentary ranged from charmingly awkward to actively stressful to listen to. Chemistry between Excalibur (commentating since 2003 for PWG) and Jim Ross (commentating since 1974 for NWA, WCW and WWF/WWE) did improve throughout the night, but their difference in quickness and familiarity with the people wrestling was rough. (I know Jim Ross was doing his best. He’s old. It happens.) My heart goes out to Alex Marvez (commentating since never, a football writer and podcaster), who was awful pretty much the entire time. He looked miserable.
By the last three matches, Marvez had stopped talking and Ross more or less knew who everyone was, so commentary was pretty good!
Actually, wait, I take it back about feeling bad for Alex Marvez. He said a few uncomfortable things throughout Double or Nothing, but really hit a home run of weird when he brought up legendary badass Aja Kong being abandoned by her African American father as a little kid. In context, it felt like he was explaining to JR that she’s such an aggressive person because of that trauma? During a fun, light-hearted, mid-card tag match. It was tone-deaf and just bad.
It’s not usually my style to devote an entire section to something I didn’t like, but this was painful! The rest of the show was so enjoyable, and Excalibur is one of my favorite personalities in all of professional wrestling! Please, AEW, please fix this one thing.
Blood is messy, and so is love
Cody vs Dustin opened with Cody Rhodes dramatically taking a sledgehammer to a gold skull adorned iron cross throne. It cracked and some smoke puffed out. Subtle? No. But pro wrestling in Las Vegas probably shouldn’t be subtle. It had a very Spinal Tap aesthetic, which I loved. I bet Cody wishes he’d seen the Game of Thrones finale in time to plan having his dog come out and CGI melt the thing. The throne smash was an intensely corny stunt and I absolutely loved it, even if it was in kind of a detached ironic way.
There was no ironic detachment in how I felt about the actual match Cody and Dustin put on. They got in that ring and processed 30+ years of weird family stuff in front of thousands of people in an opera of blood and facepaint and sweat. On a card packed top to bottom with fast-paced, highly athletic bouts whose stories amounted to “who is better at wrestling,” this slower, less technically impressive, but more emotionally driven bloodbath ended up stealing the show.
It was an exercise in gruesome spectacle worthy of several college term papers. The incredible obviousness of Cody using a sledgehammer (Triple H’s weapon of choice) on a prop Triple H-style throne was funny. It was cute, even. Instead of leaning into the cuteness or cleverness of self-referential metanarrative, Cody and Dustin opted for the devastating sincerity that pro wrestling does better than any other medium.
Symbolism doesn’t need to be subtle to be effective. Wrestling doesn’t need to be an acrobatic marathon to be powerful. Want a symbol? How about blood. It symbolizes blood. How about a 50 year old man from the Attitude Era baring his half-brother’s ass and spanking him with a belt that says “Attitude Killer” on it? It symbolizes that blood and weird nudity, hallmarks of the Attitude Era, can be fucking cool as shit.
Their grueling battle was legitimately beautiful, an awesome gut punch that had the audience getting out of their seats to pace nervously in the aisles. Good! Cody winning felt unfair and deeply, deeply sad. Good! I’m glad it made me feel bad! When Cody returned to the ring in tears, asking his brother to team up with him at the next AEW show? That wouldn’t have meant anything if we, the audience, hadn’t suffered with them to earn it. Not making this the main event was a mistake.
“I’m no horse professor”
Noted shitty British comedian Jack Whitehall introduced all-time legend Bret Hart so that he could show the world the AEW Heavyweight Championship. What a sentence that was to type with my two hands. Anyways, the belt looks pretty, if a lot like the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Hangman Page, the winner of the Casino Battle Royale, and first challenger for the championship, came to the ring too. He was followed by MJF, who in this moment, I decided won both Tan of the Night and Line of the Night.
I mentioned MJF’s snotty heel gimmick in my Double or Nothing preview, but I really want to emphasize just how good it is. No, there’s nothing new about being a chickenshit heel who bullies fat people and calls everyone poor. But you know how a simple chocolate chip cookie, if executed perfectly, is often better than the most complicated fancy dessert? MJF is the perfect chocolate chip cookie of asshole wrestling characters. He came to the ring, called Page a horse, and then began his promo about shooting horses with the line “I’m no horse professor.” It was great. I guess Jimmy Havoc and Jungle Boy came out after? I may have blacked out for a few minutes out of sheer joy. I am still high off the serotonin buzz of that line.
Who is the best tag team in the world?
(Honestly, I think the best tag team in the world is LAX, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I am lucky enough to have seen the Young Bucks wrestle the Lucha Brothers at my third ever live wrestling event. I saw the Young Bucks wrestle Roppongi Vice at my second ever live wrestling event. I’ve seen these teams wrestle, live, very close, in the excitement of a small crowd, probably five times each in the last three years. My point is: I am too spoiled with live wrestling to have gotten into their Double or Nothing match as much as it deserved.
As far as an introduction to the Young Bucks and the Lucha Brothers go, this was perfect. Fénix and Penta were cool, Matt and Nick were spray tanned, and everyone did the absolute most. It was a pure balls-to-the-wall, blink and you miss like ten moves, fast-paced spotfest. Welcome to All Elite Wrestling. This is the Young Bucks’ house. If you don’t like seeing orange brothers from the 909 doing as many things as they possibly can while wearing a bunch of fringe, you might want to look for something else to watch. The Bucks won with a Meltzer Driver. (I still would have liked to see Penta and Fénix win, but there was no way the brothers Jackson were going to book themselves to lose on their own show.)
The story going into the Omega-Jericho rematch was a continuation of their New Japan feud, which was more or less: Which one of them is the best in the world? The future of wrestling? The number one guy from Winnipeg of all time? It was not originally supposed to be the main event of Double or Nothing, and it showed. Both this and the Bucks-Lucha Bros match suffered for having to follow the transcendently gory Cody-Dustin match, but Omega and Jericho got the worst of it. It was fine. I don’t think the two of them have very interesting chemistry together.
Again, I think this was an instance where I’m just spoiled. Compared to most wrestling that’s currently this prominently mainstream in the English-speaking world, Omega vs Jericho II was excellent. Compared to the rest of Kenny Omega’s career and Chris Jericho’s other recent matches against younger talent? Omega Jericho II was average. Even their Wrestle Kingdom match, which wasn’t for me, was much better than this. Chris Jericho won with his new MMA-inspired spinning back elbow called “The Judas Effect.” He will face Hangman Page to decide the first All Elite Wrestling Heavyweight Champion.
“Horny is legal”- Jon Moxley
Jon Moxley (formerly WWE’s Dean Ambrose) was the final and biggest surprise of the night. He walked to the ring through the audience, Shield style, to attack his old rival Chris Jericho, and then beat the hell out of Kenny Omega. After a match as bizarrely non-sexual as Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho had, Moxley’s gas station hookup energy was a breath of fresh air. Omega and Jericho each had more chemistry with Jon Moxley in this brief run-in than they’ve had in their entire rivalry.
I am so excited for the prospect of a Kenny Omega-Jon Moxley angle. Not only are both men tremendously charismatic, effortlessly magnetic talents, the Shield and the Golden Lovers are professional wrestling’s two most important ships in the last decade. The fujoshi potency of Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega potentially feuding is off the charts. The most ambitious slashfic crossover in wrestling history? It just might be. I can’t wait to find out.