Only one thing could have really soured the AEW World Championship match between Kenny Omega and Hangman Page. If AEW had booked Omega to retain the title, knocking Hangman down another peg after spending weeks highlighting the man’s inability to win The Big One, it would have felt like a betrayal of what the company tries so damn hard to be.
That’s the burden AEW carries trying to be the hot, new alternative to all the pro wrestling goliaths out there: any betrayal of the fans’ trust in the booking damages their reputation far more than it does for companies that have decades of history.
AEW’s timing with this title win was already in a precarious position. It’s clear that circumstance delayed this inevitable victory far beyond what the promotion had initially wanted. The pandemic meant that AEW were hesitant to pull the trigger on such a beloved babyface without a crowd in attendance. After that, just as the feud had reignited and regained all its good will, the birth of Hangman’s child delayed proceedings even further.
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Hangman won the belt though. That’s a win, and really the only palatable result that could have come out of this. This is the crucial thing coming out of the match, more than anything else that happened between the bells. AEW called their shot and put everything they had into making a homegrown babyface the top guy in their company.
Well done on that front.
Now, to really get into what I thought of this match, it’s important to contrast it with their first singles encounter in AEW from a year earlier. At Full Gear 2020, Hangman and Omega wrestled in the finals of the World Championship Eliminator Tournament, meeting for the first time since their championship-winning tag team dissolved.
The 2020 bout is great, much better than the 2021 iteration. It is a breathless match, moving at the kind of motivated and fiery pace that Omega totally nails at his best. Hangman excels in this setting too because it emphasizes the best parts of his in-ring ability: stiff strikes, athleticism, and some great bombs. Showcasing all these things in a tight 16 minutes is exactly what these two need to shine.
It has everything I want from them. They floor the pedal from the go with a tight lock up and some vicious chop exchanges and they just don’t ever let up. The animosity these two feel for each other comes through in the action. This is captured so well not just in the strike exchanges but also in smaller set pieces like Hangman repeatedly throwing Omega into the barricades on the outside. Omega bumps like crazy for all those shots and it’s a great way to set up his eventual comeback when he counters another attempt with a moonsault off the barricade.
The match is impactful. Its big bombs are so close together in proximity, there’s hardly a dull moment in it. It’s not a perfect match. This isn’t some masterful piece of layout and psychology, but it does dazzle and effectively communicate a heated friction between the men in the ring. Perfectly efficient stuff done well.
The 2021 Full Gear main event has much grander aspirations. It’s the culmination of Hangman’s years-long journey to the AEW World Championship. It’s the closer to the longest AEW World Championship reign in the company’s history. It means so much to so many different people, and I can’t help but feel that the match itself falls short of all those lofty expectations.
For one thing, this is the main event of a very, very long show. On average, I find that AEW pay-per-view main events suffer greatly from their placement at the end of lengthy four plus hour events. It’s rare for the match of the night on any of AEW’s pay-per-views to be in the main event.
Secondly, it’s a Kenny Omega AEW World Championship match. That means it’s set to have a main event runtime but it’s missing that spark that can take it to the next level. I’ve mentioned before that Omega’s recent run hasn’t been my favorite work of his, and that trend continues here.
The match’s runtime is far from obscene, 25 minutes is a perfectly acceptable pay-per-view main event length especially for something as momentous as this. And yet, those additional minutes stretch the energy of the match thin. It only captures that same frantic, urgent energy from the 2020 bout in small bursts that vanish as quick as they came.
On paper, there’s nothing wrong with the shape of this match. There’s an extended babyface shine that’s only interrupted by heel tactics such as Don Callis interfering on Omega’s behalf. There’s Omega acting smug and smarmy and being punished by Hangman cutting him off. I don’t even mind the referee bump, it fit the classic stack-the-deck against the conquering babyface narrative that suited Hangman’s story so well.
There’s good action in there too. Hangman’s fiery defiance in the face of Omega’s Kawada kicks was a particular favorite. All the big bumps, including those crunchy head drops in the finishing stretch, all look great too.
It’s just everything between feels slightly lacking. Omega never really found the right way to combine the style he mastered in Japan with the kind of TV-friendly heel World Champion shenanigans that he’s been filling his matches with. This leads to a lot of small things that cause problems with the match for me.
An example of this would be Omega relying far more on punches than his regular chops to garner a bit more heel heat. The problem is that Omega’s punches are inconsistent at best. When he’s jabbing on his feet, there’s a decent enough sound to it, but up on the turnbuckles or down on the mat without any added impact, they don’t look all that impressive.
Omega’s control segments lack a meanness and edge to them, Hangman’s selling is fine but not really anything crazy special in terms of drawing sympathy, none of the offensive stretches come across as brutal and ferocious as they did in 2020.
Then there’s the melodrama with The Young Bucks, two performers not exactly known for subtlety in their acting, becoming a primary focus of the match just as it hits the finish. I know many people love all the dramatic beats that play out between members of The Elite. I can admire the ambition these workers put into their storytelling, but their execution rarely ever works for me and typically only serves to drag down the momentum the action tries to build.
That being said, none of it is enough to sink this moment. Not even how awkward Kenny’s bump for the final Buckshot Lariat looks on the hard cam can take much away from the sincerity of Hangman’s absolute joy at winning the title.
At the end of the day, the main event of Full Gear was always about the destination, not the journey. The match isn’t bad, it’s good enough. None of that really matters because the right man left with the title. The minutiae of the match that annoy me won’t really live on in anyone’s memory.
They’ll remember the lower third with words of encouragement from the graphics department. They’ll remember Hangman flipping Kenny the bird in the face of multiple head shots. And they’ll remember the euphoria of the three-count. It’s not a great match but it is all it really needs to be.
For me, if I take anything away from this, it’s what happens once the bell has rung and the reality of the victory finally settles on Hangman. The Dark Order comes out to congratulate their friend, offering him a can of beer for the occasion. Hangman pushes the beer aside and embraces his friends.
I don’t know about you, but that’s real cowboy shit to me.