My track record of attending pro wrestling pay-per-views is… not great.
Prior to this past weekend, the only such shows I have attended have been, in total, SummerSlam 1995, Roadblock: End of The Line (2016), and Extreme Rules 2018. Not exactly a murderer’s row of great cards. Two shows that I almost attended but skipped out on were King of the Ring 1998 (which, obviously, I looked at the card for and thought, “eh, probably nothing great will happen here that will be on wrestling highlight reels until the end of time!”) and Royal Rumble 2014 (which was bad, yes, but I bet that vitriolic crowd would have been a joy to have been a part of.
Still, even in the face of my horrendous track record, I am remain eternally optimistic, so when I was offered a chance to attend this past weekend’s AEW Full Gear by the brother of one of my podcast cohosts, I jumped at the chance. Aside from the cost of driving to Baltimore and back, it was free. Who could say no?
For transparency’s sake, I don’t have cable, but I do have a frustrating moral code against pirating things, so I have not watched a full episode of Dynamite yet. I manage to get my AEW fix from select YouTube highlights and reading Larry’s summaries on Thursday morning. I’m interested in AEW; I love that AEW exists. But I’m not a week-in and week-out fan. I watched All In and Double or Nothing! So that’s something, right?
So doubling down on my clarifications here, this isn’t going to be a full-blown move-by-move match critique; you can get those anywhere. This is just my take on the show as a live event for someone whose AEW experience is middling. Hope that’s your thing; I’m not a technical guy.
Royal Farms Arena was decently packed by the time the show started. No section was blocked off as far as I could see (though I couldn’t get a great view of the 300 section on the side of the camera). There were some chunks of empty seats on the side with the camera, but all in all, it was a really well attended show. The audience was pumped for the show, and the environment was great.
Starting with the Buy-In pre-show, the crowd loved the arrival of Taz as guest commentator, and he got a big reaction. Dr. Britt Baker vs Bea Priestly was the sole match prior to the opening of the show, and I love that Britt’s gimmick is “She has a dental degree” and that her pre-match vignette was all about the technical aspect of how her finisher has a devastating affect on your mouth. Also, I like that Bea has green hair because, as I told my buddy, I totally have a thing for women with unnatural hair colors. Britt won her revenge match for Bea injuring her (and wrestling in 2019 is so weird when Britt’s pre-match vignette was basically “she actually hurt me in our match because she is careless and didn’t protect me, and I will get my vengeance!”), and it was enjoyable enough. There was a “Gin-gi-vitis” chant, so there is that! RATING: ** 3/4
After the match, Brandi and Awesome Kong made an appearance, and the arena went nuts for that. She cut some of Priestly’s gorgeous green hair, and I was disheartened.
The Young Bucks vs Proud and Powerful started off the proper segment of the show, and this was my first real exposure to the former LAX. I knew of them, but I couldn’t have picked them out of a lineup. My seats were good, but not great so… I probably still couldn’t. The match was just a blast, and both teams worked hard to put on a show and have some weird referee shenanigans where P&P worked as faces because the ref wouldn’t accept their tags. I feel like I’ve seen the spot where Nick kicks a ringpost and favors his leg all match a few times before in NJPW, but they worked that in again here, allowing it to play into the finish. Proud and Powerful won because obviously they weren’t losing that early into their AEW career, but the ROCK N ROLL EXPRESS of all people got to make the crowd happy post-match by helping the Bucks scare off their foes. It was impressive and harmless fun. The crowd obviously loved seeing the RnRE bust out a Canadian Destroyer. RATING: *** 3/4
Up next was Pac vs Hangman Page, and this was… fine. I expected it to be better, but it was honestly just kind of there. The crowd around us didn’t seem that engaged other than to chant “COWBOY SHIT” for Page, but the energy was pretty low aside from that. This was just the base level of a wrestling match. Like, if I wanted to show someone a perfectly inadequate and inoffensive bout, it could be this. Page surprisingly won because it seems like Pac has the bigger angles going on, but for a night full of heel triumphs, I guess this was the babyface moment? RATING: ** 1/2
Shawn Spears vs Joey Janela was the third contest of the main show, and my big takeaway here was that with 66% of the matches down, two of the biggest moments of the professional wrestling show that happened in the year of our Lord 2019 belonged to the Rock N Roll Express and Tully Blanchard. You crazy, AEW. Tully helped Spears steal the victory with a Spike Piledriver on the outside. This was another just-a-match, most notable for Spears tying Janela’s hair to the turnbuckle in an enjoyable spot that could have gone on a bit longer than it did. Joey did sell the finish of the match spectacularly, though, looking like he was devastated by the piledriver. There was a particularly boisterous (in a fun way) fan right behind us all night who kept yelling at Earl Hebner for missing things. RATING: ** 1/4
The Tag Team Titles were defended next with SCU vs The Lucha Bros vs Private Party, and for my money, this was a highlight of the show. I know Pentagon and Fenix from being a big Lucha Underground fan, and I see SCU’s antics on Being The Elite, but I was pretty brand new to Private Party. Despite having less than 15 minutes to work with, all three teams delivered an absolutely fantastic sprint. Not much to say other than that really enjoyed this one. Christopher Daniels made his comeback after the match in a Pentagon disguise which was not particularly needed there because he more-or-less immediately unmasked and Fenix wasn’t fooled at all, but… it was a thing. Didn’t take away from how much I dug the affair before it. RATING: **** (Hm, that’s probably high, but you can’t rain on my parade! I liked it)
Riho vs Emi Sakura for the AEW Women’s Title was a decent bout starring two wrestlers I’m not familiar with, but Riho really made me a fan. And Sakura was enjoyable, too. Riho is TINY, though, right? The boisterous guy behind me yelled “Stop, that’s child abuse” at some point during Sakura’s assault. The somewhat basic story of Younger, Faster Student Vs Older, Stronger Teacher came across really well, and the arena was passionate throughout even though they weren’t that engaged for the ring entrances. These two actually had slightly more time than the tag championship got, but it was crisp and fluid throughout. I enjoyed myself and want to see more of Riho going forward. RATING: ***
I think the crowd was surprised that Chris Jericho vs Cody was next and not the main event, and… damn, is there where I make some enemies? Because I just didn’t care much for this match. It was maybe more of a building block than a high-quality match with the stipulation that Cody can NEVER challenge for the AEW Title again being what matters, but the whole thing just felt long to me. The crowd was intensely into it and behind Cody, so the energy was there, but for me, it just felt awfully resthold-y and slow. I appreciate the story and the arc to the next phase in Cody’s career, but I don’t think it needed half an hour to get to that point. It all felt negligible until the ending.
But the ending WAS respectable with Jericho winning with the old school Lion Tamer when MJF threw in the towel. An MJF heel turn was so obvious that even I knew it was going to happen, but they creatively covered it up post-match with MJF seemingly legitimately remorseful for what he did. But it was all a deception, and the full turn did occur. They probably could have stood to drag that out a few more weeks, but I think AEW is doing just fine without my fantasy booking. RATING: ** 3/4
With Jericho and Cody in the rearview, the true main event was obviously Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley. This was plunder and destruction done right, and it topped the tag title three-way to end up as my Match Of The Night. There was a lot of visually fantastic stuff here with the mouse traps (I don’t know how that played on TV or closer to the ring, but I didn’t hear the expected SNAP sounds on impact) and the barbed wire bed. I thought the Sharpshooter spot where Dean had to literally crawl through broken glass if he wanted to break the hold was creative brilliance. There was just so much brutality in this one that ran the crowd through the gamut of emotions. Your mileage on such spotfest brawling may very, but I was easily caught up by their efforts. Surprisingly, the arena was pretty low-key and quiet for the first chunk of it all, but Omega and Moxley had no trouble working them into it as they went. Our excitable neighbor just kept yelling “You can’t do that” at everything, but I got a laugh when he remarked “Daniel Bryan got fired for that” when Mox was choking Kenny with a chain. RATING: **** 1/4
Overall, it was a show that didn’t quite have any monumental matches, but nothing I’d even describe as bad as “below average”, either. It was steady and enjoyable with a great atmosphere. The guy behind us was a blast, anyway. But yeah, if this is AEW, I’m certainly glad it exists. I gotta work on seeing more of it somehow unless they want to limit their shows to my tri-state area.