Crawling Through Broken Glass: AEW Full Gear Recap and Review

Get your flu shots, everybody.

During the build to Full Gear, I started to realize that, some day, All Elite Wrestling will just feel like a regular wrestling promotion. That’s not a knock, just a fact inherent to the goal of making All Elite Wrestling a permanent fixture of the global wrestling landscape. If all goes well and the ice caps don’t melt and we’re still watching professional wrestling in the utopian post-scarcity society we are absolutely heading towards, AEW might still be kicking around, and while it will look different than it does now, it’ll never feel as revolutionary as it did this month, as it launched a television show on a major network and figured out the mechanics of using those shows to build to a pay-per-view event. I thought Full Gear might be the end of AEW feeling like something special and half-dreaded it as a result. I am glad to have emerged on the other side of this show to find that my fears were largely unfounded. The revolution, if you want to call it that, can’t last forever, but it’ll be thrilling while it lasts.

Britt Baker vs. Bea Priestley (The Buy-In)

Before Full Gear, Cody Rhodes tweeted that Britt Baker was wrestling with the flu. You know how Britt Baker’s whole thing is sticking her hand in her opponent’s mouth because she’s a dentist? Pretty gross thing to do when you’ve got the flu, but she defied the medical ethics she learned in mouth school and did just that for the win.

The match was immediately rendered moot by the repackaging of Awesome Kong and Brandi Rhodes as, respectively, a scary woman who ritualistically snatches wigs with a cool knife and a spooky, mean witch. Kong cut off some of Priestley’s hair, presumably to add it to her belt.

Verdict: I never knew how much I wanted a wrestling gimmick that was “Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, but dabbles in blood magic” until now, and I am very glad to have it.

More AEW:

The Young Bucks vs. Santana & Ortiz

I’m just gonna be blunt here and say that this match was weird and I mostly didn’t like it. I love Santana & Ortiz and I think the Young Bucks are a fine team when they’re not dicking around, but this dream match was weirdly paced and less intense than you’d expect given that both teams wanted to stake a claim to being the best tag team in the world. Referee Rick Knox was a huge part of the story early, as he kind of arbitrarily decided what did and did not count as a tag and got his shirt untucked in a way that somehow distracted him. It was intentional, but there was no payoff to it whatsoever, so the first third of the match dragged for nothing.

That said, the way Nick Jackson sold his leg after kicking the ringpost was something different from him and had the effect of making a lot of what he and Matt were able to do feel much more consequential. Santana & Ortiz won, which was the right call, but they wound up having their thunder stolen by Ricky Morton of the Rock n’ Roll Express, who’d better be getting a run with the company after doing an assisted Canadian Destroyer and dive to the outside.

Verdict: If I never have to hear someone on commentary call the Young Bucks the undisputed best tag team in the world, it’ll all have been worthwhile.


Pac vs. Hangman Adam Page

Pac is one of the best heels in professional wrestling, a dude so bad that the rotations on his flips feel spiteful. I love him and wish he could go undefeated forever, but Hangman Page is a twunk who knows stuff about horses, and horse twunks are all about ruining the evenings of seething, ripped freaks. This was a good match, but since it didn’t end with Hangman Page turning purple in the clutches of the Brutalizer, it was also a letdown.

Verdict: This match will be remembered for all time as the one in which the tope suicida became the “suicida el torpedo.” Decades from now, it’ll be all that anybody knows about wrestling from 2019.


Shawn Spears vs. Joey Janela

My least favorite kind of wrestling match is the one where someone bumps like crazy in an effort to put over a guy who is never gonna get over. Even if this match had hair torture and spike piledrivers, that’s what this was. I’m sure that Shawn Spears is someone’s cup of tea, but the project here should have been building Joey Janela.

Verdict: The silence that greeted Ten Guy when the lights came up and he was brooding in his chair was totally earned.


AEW Tag Team Titles: SCU (c) vs. Private Party vs. The Lucha Bros

This match was significant for me in that it’s where I went from tolerating So-Cal Uncensored to outright loathing them. I know that it’s early days for AEW and that their first champions have to make the titles seem important and stable, but it was just as much of a mistake to have the Lucha Brothers lose this match as it was when SCU became the inaugural tag team champions. Even with Private Party involved as potential spoilers, I knew full well SCU were winning going into the match. I still audibly booed and typed the word “BOOOOOO” out in Twitter when it happened.

And then Christopher Daniels showed up in disguise as Pentagon Jr. to get his revenge for the injury he suffered at the beginning of the tournament, this mega nerd with an ankh painted on his face, and actively saw red. Pentagon started this match by pointing at his second place medal and shouting “NUMBER ONE,” and in my heart he is not wrong.


More Pro Wrestling:


AEW Women’s Championship: Riho (c) vs. Emi Sakura

Riho is unquestionably the breakout star of AEW’s first month, but I wanna talk about how much I love Emi Sakura. She has the worst theme song in professional wrestling, but every time I hear it I know I’m in for a good time. How it’s possible to channel loving Freddie Mercury into a heel persona is beyond me, but at one point in this match she was stretching Riho out in the Romero Special while doing Mercury’s Day-o bit every time she rocked back to point Riho towards the sky and she immediately became my favorite wrestler (sorry, Toru Yano) because it was so joyous and mean.

Student vs. teacher matches are one of my favorite subgenres of wrestling, and this one ruled. I’m totally in on Riho as a resilient champion with an uncanny ability to surprise her opponents with stunningly gorgeous counter moves. She’s also ruthless in meting out double stomps, and the one Sakura bridged out of towards the end of the match was super gross. The cradle that finished it was gorgeous.

Verdict: Riho is a thrilling champion and Emi Sakura is an eternal queen who lives in a realm beyond ours, where championships are meaningless. I could go for a rematch or two in 2020.


AEW World Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Cody

It’s hard to know where to start with this match, so let’s start here: WWE was wrong about Cody Rhodes. They’ll never be hurt by their decision to bury him in the shadow of his brother’s gimmick and push him out the door, but how he was seen by WWE and what he’s proven himself capable of since then is unreal by practically every standard you could set for a midcard wrestler, no matter how big the chip on his shoulder was upon exit. He worked hard to get here, rebuilt his reputation by touring the indies and working in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and while all of the stuff with the Bullet Club and The Elite was and is too cloying for my taste, he’s managed to make himself a hero beyond his role in launching a new and competitive wrestling promotion.

While Cody didn’t win, this match served as his coronation. Having given up the right to challenge for the title in the future if he lost, Cody found himself fighting Chris Jericho from behind for most of the match, enduring after eating it on a dive to the rampway. Bleeding his way through the match, Cody’s goal was to survive whatever Jericho had in store for him so that he could hit one or two big moves of his own that might put him away. Jericho, for his part, didn’t come out in his Painmaker alter-ego. He was his cocky, arrogant, and wily self—calm and efficient and brutal. The angle he got on the Liontamer that ended the match? The way he stomped at Cody’s head before locking it in all the way? Delicious.


The thing is, Cody wasn’t going to tap out. He may not have passed out. Instead, his pal MJF threw in the towel, which wasn’t on the list of expected or offered endings to the match. So while Jericho celebrated, Cody had to look for an answer to what happened, and MJF looked stricken in the moment, crying at one point, over what he’d done to his friend. The worst thing about the Cody/MJF friendship is that everybody knew that it’d end with MJF turning on Cody, and it happened here, with MJF kicking Cody low after convincing Cody that his apology was sincere. The turn could have been built up more, but its suddenness worked in this match’s favor, as for however long Cody is unable to challenge for the AEW Title, there will always be the shadow of doubt over whether or not he could have beaten Jericho. That’s good motivation, and it lets Jericho continue his reign without exhausting what the Inner Circle brings to the table for him.

Verdict: My least favorite kind of miracle is being made to feel sympathy for someone with a title like “Executive Vice President.” A classic wrestling match with a finish that’s dissatisfying in all the right ways.


Lights Out Match: Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega

Nothing much to see here, just a former WWE Champion and a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion acting out an entire deathmatch tournament over the course of one match. This was intense from the start—Moxley lived in this environment for a long time and came into this match with an unreal amount of swagger, so he started throwing bombs early and never relented. Omega matched that, and all of his theater kid dramatics meshed with the over the top violence Moxley promised much better than I anticipated. I knew this was going to be something, I just didn’t anticipate it to go beyond the parameters of a classic, big arena WWE streetfight. But that was just the start.

As the match escalated, Mox and Omega started incorporating elements from decades of deathmatch wrestling as processed by two men who’ve spent the better part of the last decade crafting in-ring narratives for mainstream audiences. The mousetrap board, the broken glass, the barbwire spider net that both men fell into—this match had so many ludicrous highs that the post-match highlight package had to start in the middle.


The conclusion saw Moxley expose the wooden boards of the ring. The amount of time that took made it seem like Omega was going to turn it around on Mox and steal the win on his rival’s turf, but Kenny, pining for his bud Kota Ibushi, went for a Phoenix Splash and found nothing but wood. One Death Rider later, and Moxley won. Then he cussed into the camera a bunch, because that’s what unsanctionable people do.

Verdict: This isn’t the most brutal deathmatch in wrestling history by a long shot, but Full Gear ended with the baptism of a lot of new ghouls, and that’s more than what I was asking for. An incredible match that didn’t suffer at all from following Cody and Jericho.