All Elite Wrestling’s third show, Fight for the Fallen, had plenty of things going for it. There were talented wrestlers putting on ambitious matches in front of an engaged crowd. Gate money went to charity. Commentary had improved since Double or Nothing, the last time the trio of Jim Ross, Excalibur and Alex Marvez worked together. But in most respects, Fight for the Fallen was a big, bloated, confused stumble after two far more cohesive shows.
At its best moments, Fight for the Fallen was an exciting look at some of the best elements in pro wrestling today. At its worst, it was sloppy and self-indulgent. The experience of watching Fight for the Fallen was an incredibly mixed bag. When I say “sloppy,” I’m not even really talking about the issues with the pre-show stream or hiccups in the matches themselves. I’m talking about a fundamental failure to structure the event and craft its narrative in a way that was able to maintain my interest in watching or make me care about wrestlers I already like.
The big obvious criticism is that some of the matches were too long. You could make the argument that, except for the brief opener to the pre-show, every single match could have been been trimmed down. Most of the matches were just slightly too long, but a couple were unreasonably too long. I don’t want to compare it to a WWE event in terms of tone or content, but my eyes glazing over midway through hour three when I realized how much more wrestling I had to slog through? That felt like a WWE event. Still, I had fun for a little over 2 hours before I started running out of patience. For reference, that’s more of a chance than I was able to give critical darlings Avengers: Endgame (about 90 minutes) or Mandy (50 minutes, if I’m being generous.)
The Buy In: Sonny Kiss vs “the Librarian” Peter Avalon w/ “the Librarian” Leva Bates
I went over why I don’t like the Librarian stuff in my Fyter Fest review so I don’t need to rehash why this gimmick sucks. It’s not even funny. I hate it. Who cares. (Support your local library.)
You know why I don’t care? Because Sonny Kiss came to the ring flanked by Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders and their damn mascot. He even had a little crop top jersey on. “The Concrete Rose” Sonny Kiss really is aptly named, because seeing him feels like my face is being misted by cool rosewater on a hot city day. Kiss is simply a joy to watch. Peter Avalon was a fun heel who worked with Kiss really effectively. There was barely any library crap. Sonny Kiss won with a split leg drop— a perfect short, fun match to start off the night.
The Buy In: Riho & Britt Baker vs Shoko Nakajima & Bea Priestley
It kills me to say it, and I did enjoy it, but this was a mess. It was much longer than it needed to be, weirdly structured, and full of odd moments where it didn’t seem like everyone knew what was going on. At one point, Britt Baker even tried to tag in the wrong Japanese woman! (Nyla Rose’s subsequent tweet was very funny at least. I wonder if they’d put her on commentary…) I’ve seen better performances from Baker, Nakajima and Riho.
I’m not the biggest Bea Priestley fan. I’ve never really enjoyed watching her wrestle in the past, I think it’s wild that she has the Stardom red belt right now, and I don’t think it’s cool to be disrespectful to the greatest wrestler of all time just because other people tell you it’s okay. That said, she really surprised me in this tag match. She looked strong and decently cool, but more importantly, something about her presence kept the match as grounded as it ever got.
In spite of the messiness and too-longness, the wrestling itself was very good. There was even some pretty decent chemistry between the four women. It just didn’t all come together like it needed to. Nakajima pinned Riho and picked up the win for her team.
Disasters vs Douchebags
Joey Janela, Jimmy Havoc & Darby Allin vs MJF, Sammy Guevara & Shawn Spears was a great way to start off the main card. It wasn’t transcendent or anything, but it gave me five really fun personalities, some cool spots, and a real sense of optimism about what this company is doing with its talent. There was nice tension between the two teams, but also tension within the teams themselves. It wasn’t in that cheesy WWE way either where you know it’s inevitably leading to a storyline. This particular combination of characters made the whole match feel like a webcomic or a student film from the mid-2000s. The goths (and Joey Janela) clashing with the preps in the mall parking lot or something. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, but it was able to translate a lot of the charm of the current indie scene onto a much larger stage in a way that really worked for me.
The bad vibes between Shawn Spears and Darby Allin from Spears stealing Darby’s moment at Fyter Fest was more or less the narrative focus. While Spears hasn’t gotten any more interesting in the last two weeks, his bland handsome boringness is an easy way to contextualize Darby Allin as a weirdo in comparison. Spears pinned Darby to win. I would love to see MJF and Jimmy Havoc work more together.
A quick thank you to the sponsors
One of my honest to goodness favorite parts of the show was when they took the time to cut to the local Jacksonville injury law firm that was sponsoring the event. Every region has its own local heavily advertised injury attorneys, and it seems that Eddie and Chuck Farah are those attorneys for the Jacksonville area. They were also visibly drunk, and it was awesome.
Big girls don’t cry
Brandi Rhodes’ story going into this match, as imparted to the audience by a well put-together video package, was overcoming her self-doubt and getting into a wrestling ring even though she’s bad at wrestling. The video showed her crying, and JR openly stated that seeing her so emotional made him uncomfortable. Right before the bell rang, Awesome Kong emerged! It was all a ruse to get Allie to feel bad for her! Brandi doesn’t care about being bad at wrestling, she only cares about winning!
The match itself wasn’t great. I’m really happy for Brandi Rhodes that she doesn’t care about being a good in-ring technician. It’s important to let go of shit like that sometimes when you’re just not very good at something. Like I’m bad at baking. It’s fine. Good for you, Brandi. It went on twice as long as it should have, and Brandi finally speared Allie to win.
Here’s the thing though, I was having a blast at this point. The camera kept cutting to Awesome Kong being all radiant and intimidating. Plus I was still riding the high of those two lawyers being drunk in the crowd. A real high point for commentary was JR wondering as he watched Brandi and Awesome celebrate their victory by beating on the helpless Allie: “What is their personal relationship? Are they pals? Are they BFFs?” The guy just says words funny. I don’t know how to explain it.
My longest yeah boy ever
But then! Aja Fucking Kong came to the ring! Awesome Kong’s former tag team partner in Gaea Japan! Aja and Awesome had a powerful stand-off before Aja kindly helped Allie backstage. I didn’t think I could be as excited about anything as I was about those injury lawyers, but Aja Kong got me jazzed.
I did enjoy the troll of a sob-story video package fake-out leading to a ten minute (!!) bad match leading to a legitimately dope stand-off that lasted like one minute, but it used up a lot of my very finite patience. I’m not advocating strict minimalism or anything. Like I don’t buy the Coco Chanel rule about taking something off before you go outside or the use as few words as possible Hemingway shit. But even in these dumb little pro wrestling reviews, I kill my darlings when I have to. Aja Kong and Awesome Kong facing off gave me chills. That was the point. And we could have gotten to it a lot faster.
What do I have to do to get a gang of masked shirtless minions to follow me around and support me in my endeavors?
The three-way tag team match to determine Best Friends’ All Out opponents had to simultaneously escape the big, badass shadow of Aja Kong and Awesome Kong looking at each other and get back some of the momentum that had been lost in the too much extra shit that preceded it. This was a pretty good match, but it couldn’t shoulder that burden.
I am into these teams! I really like the dickhead flippy fuckboi antics of Jack Evans and Angélico. The Dark Order make me me rethink how I live my life. (I need to get in on the masked goons game.) Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy warm my heart with their beautiful friendship. I got a lot of what I was looking for. Stu Grayson and Evil Uno looked super impressive. Jungle Boy was more endearing and lovable while suffering than I’ve ever seen him before.
But there was just enough that didn’t work that my attention flagged. Like what purpose did Marko Stunt interfering serve other than the sight gag of Luchasaurus having a friend who’s even smaller than Jungle Boy?
I could have texted my friend about the 2018 Suspiria remake at any point during the day, but I chose the denouement of this match to follow that particular road of distraction. This was the match I was most looking forward to! But it was just a little bit too long, just barely too messy, and at the exact wrong part of the card to be at all too long or too messy, and it lost me. You really do hate to see it! I even missed the finish and had to rewind to see Evil Uno and Stu Grayson pin Jungle Boy with a cool team-up move I didn’t catch the name of.
Hunk battle, tell me more about your hunks
Hangman Page and Kip Sabian ended up having one of the better matches on the card. Their chemistry was interesting, the spots were cool. I was excited and engaged for a solid chunk of it. I do have a question though. No, it’s not “why does Kip Sabian look like someone’s hot custom Sim?” or “why is looking like a hot custom Sim so attractive to me?” My question is: if Hangman Page is going to be the main event of All Out as the beacon of hope and goodness and truth against Chris Jericho, why is this the first time in AEW where he’s felt like someone worth remembering?
Page has been running with the Elite for years. Fans of the franchise are already familiar with him, but AEW is aggressively courting new viewers who didn’t watch Ring of Honor or New Japan or Being the Elite. So how are they supposed to see Page? Is he a young, scrappy up-and-comer? The chosen protégé of Kenny, Cody, and the Bucks? A secret psychopath driven to murder by his sick need to have the biggest dick in wrestling? A sweet former teacher just doing his best and following his dreams? Some kind of mysterious cowboy?
Aside from being a couple of minutes too long, I really liked this match. That said, I still got nothing about who Hangman Page is or why I’m supposed to care about him. The original plan for Double or Nothing was to have Page wrestle PAC, whose visa fell through, which was why Page ended up in that Battle Royal instead. I get that these things happen, but couldn’t this thing with Sabian have been a match at Fyter Fest? That would have set Page up really nicely for something meatier and more character-driven at Fight for the Fallen.
Again, this was a situation where just being a little bit too long and not quite engaging enough added onto everything messy that had preceded it. By the time Page won and Chris Jericho jumped out to beat him up, I’d kind of hit a wall. I just didn’t have it in me to enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
Oh no, there’s so much more left to go
When SCU came to the ring dancing to their music to cut a modified “this is the worst town” promo on Jacksonville, it hit me that there were still three more matches. This is when I officially stopped having fun. In a vacuum, again, The Lucha Brothers vs SCU would have been a perfectly pleasant match. I would have had fun with it attending a live indie show, for example. I can’t ever complain about Penta taunting and chopping the hell out of people. It wasn’t too long, but I’d already hit my limit. It was too late for me. I would have needed something really special to jolt me back to life. (Lucha Brothers vs LAX would have done it. Just saying.) Penta and Fénix won and challenged the Young Bucks to a ladder match at All Out.
CIMA and Kenny… I’m so sorry
As I watched CIMA and Kenny Omega wrestle on Saturday night, I consciously thought to myself: I am going to have to go back and watch this again. These are two wrestlers whose work I really enjoy, but I just couldn’t connect with what they were doing on any emotional level.
I did watch it again with fresh eyes and am happy to report that it was a solidly exciting match. It wasn’t either of their best ever, but it was certainly the best I’ve seen from them in AEW so far. CIMA went hard, slamming his knees into Omega over and over, countering offense and bumping like a much younger man. He looked as badass as anyone else on this card. It was structured just right for the length it was and deserved to be part of a better show.
I was glad to see how much the live crowd got into it even though it was late July night in Florida, and even the most glamorous of attendees had long since sweat their highlighter off. After taking a tremendous amount of punishment, including a meteora into the world’s smallest, most resilient table, Kenny Omega managed to hit CIMA with a one winged angel and win what was without a doubt the match of the night. Fight for the Fallen would have been a stronger show if it had ended here.
Jerksonville… Jacksoffville… Jaxtaylorsville…
We can only guess at why Chris Jericho came back out to talk some shit at this point in the show instead of cutting this very promo after attacking Hangman Page. Maybe that was the plan. It felt weird. Page ran out and attacked him back, still bleeding from their prior altercation. They got pulled apart by the boys from the back, including Jerry Lynn who is looking great these days. This segment was fine, but didn’t really work at this point in the card.
The longest match in AEW history
My biggest concern about a new wrestling company run by Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks was that since joining up in The Elite, the three of them have struck me as increasingly self-indulgent. Self-indulgence may be a fascinating thing to make art about, but it’s a very unreliable ethos.
This is to say that the main event of Fight For the Fallen, at 30 fucking minutes long, was the longest match in All Elite Wrestling history for no reason that I can tell other than that Cody and the Young Bucks wanted to have their first main event be longer than the other main events. And it sucked. In a vacuum devoid of context, on a full night of sleep, a delicious glass of cold brew and a nutritious bowl of oatmeal in my stomach, I’d maybe concede and call it “whatever.” But I didn’t even have the energy to enjoy Kenny Omega vs CIMA when it was happening. Where was I going to find the juice to get into this bloated exercise in unnecessary vanity?
The Young Bucks won with one of the worst Meltzer Drivers I’ve ever seen. And the show was still not over.
I offer these words of comfort to all those affected by gun violence: Boing
Matt Jackson followed his too long match with what promised to be a too long post-match speech. Music interrupted him like he was being played offstage at the Oscars. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable, but their self-congratulatory post-match segment had to transition to a self-congratulatory post-show segment.
Here is the final tableau of Fight for the Fallen: The Young Bucks, the Rhodes brothers, Kenny Omega, Brandi Rhodes, Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus stand in a wrestling ring. In the center, billionaire Shahid Khan hands a novelty sized check for $150,000 to a guy from the Victim Assistance Advisory Council. ($150k is nothing to sneeze at, but Khan donated $1 Million just to President Donald Trump’s inauguration. He really couldn’t throw in a few Gs to make that AEW check feel a little bit more dramatic?) Cody talks about revolution again, and hands the microphone off to Kenny Omega. Omega does his “goodbye muah and good night bang” sign off, but changes the “bang” to “boing” out of respect for the victims of gun violence they had all just congratulated themselves on raising money for. That’s the end of the show.
I really wanted to like Fight for the Fallen, but I wasn’t able to. I don’t know what story the show was trying to tell, and for that matter, I’m not sure if I know what story AEW is trying to tell, aside from “check out our revolutionary new show on TNT this fall.” If Cody and the Young Bucks don’t learn to reign themselves in and tighten up their product, they aren’t going to be able to reach anyone outside the diehard fans they already have.
Congratulate yourselves in private, boys. That’s what the rest of us do.
AEW Fight for the Fallen
- Lots of wrestlers I like
- Most matches were pretty good
- Commentary has improved
- Sonny Kiss!!!! A vision!!!!!
- Aja Kong and Awesome Kong stand-off!!!
- CIMA vs Kenny Omega was a genuinely good match
- Very difficult to care about wrestlers I already like
- The entire show was so sloppily paced and structured that it made the good things almost impossible to enjoy
- Commentary is still uneven
- Self-indulgent at points to an extent that made it feel like a vanity project
- I'm not invested in the AEW stories that I'm supposed to be invested in
- I'm really upset about that main event being SO LONG
- Like I feel like that match is still happening to me
- Too much content packed into not enough time, most of which didn't feel important
- These guys maybe have forgotten the concept of editing their ideas