Sports

AEW out-Manias WrestleMania


William Regal showed up at AEW’s Revolution.

William Regal showed up at AEW’s Revolution.
Screenshot: AEW

AEW has been such crazy fun and so ridiculous that it pretty much makes me a hypocrite on a weekly basis. I’ve said, on more than one occasion, that trying to compare AEW and WWE is pointless and a bit too cynical. They’re two different things, even if they’re in the same general industry. And yet you can’t help it, because if WWE was everything that it could be, there wouldn’t be an AEW after all. No matter how hard I try, I end up back here.

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Second, after their last PPV, Full Gear, I worried that AEW was overstuffing things on their quarterly big shows and wondered where it would go from there. Well, after last night’s PPV, Revolution, which was so many things — including overstuffed — I don’t care. Fuck it. Tony Khan should put as much as he can in these. Put as much as he can’t in these, who cares? Because if they’re going to be this entertaining, this good, this memorable, then no one loses.

And again, it’s hard to ignore the juxtaposition that in some ways, this is AEW’s final salvo before WWE puts on its biggest show, and still the industry’s biggest week, WrestleMania. While Khan and the rest of the AEW crew would never admit to WWE having anything to do with how AEW goes about their business, you couldn’t watch Revolution last night and not sense that this is what Mania should look like, whether that feeling was intentional or accidental.

Perhaps it’s too purist of a view, which can get you into a lot of trouble when observing WWE, but Mania should be the culmination and celebration of everything that is wrestling. Huge title matches that might attract the casual eye, big surprises, ridiculous bombast and panache to the point of camp, a calling back to history of the industry, and moments that will live on forever, however they come. It’s supposed to be all of that in one night (and Mania now being two nights is part of the problem).

Well, Revolution nailed all of that. If anything, the title matches probably were the low points (it’s all relative) of the night, and they were pretty much bangers themselves. Hangman Page and Adam Cole, at the end of the night when the crowd had every right to just be charred husks, brought the house down with a textbook title match to cap off the show. Jade Cargill looked every bit the future star of the entire industry, if not world, in her TBS championship defense. The three-way tag match was bonkers. Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker seemed to be the only one that left people a little flat, but following CM-Punk and MJF was always a tough assignment. And it was hardly bad.

Beyond that, the conclusions or continuations of stories below or separate from the titles were expertly executed. Whether this is the conclusion or just another chapter of the Punk-MJF allegory, there is still nothing better on TV now. It called back to history, not just the previous match between the two or the beats in the story that led to it, but back to CM Punk’s Ring Of Honor days with his entrance and his gear. MJF had referenced them in the go-home show last Wednesday. The match hit various beats.

Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson was a genius display of how to put clashing styles together to tell a story, with Danielson’s technical excellence versus Mox’s keep-moving-forward brawling. And to sign it off with the entrance of William Regal, which hadn’t even been whispered, and calling back to his tutelage of both was another reference to history to move a company forward. Also, this is just excellent, relatable comedy:

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There was the signing of Swerve Strickland to serve as another surprise gem. Chris Jericho and Eddie Kingston kicked the show off as a referendum on Kingston’s entire career and the way it differs from Jericho’s, and his desperation to cross that bridge fueled the story of the match and his disbelief at first that he’d won.

(There was also the tease of multiple tombstone piledrivers being used across several matches, so who or what exactly is showing up soon? I hear dropping coins…)

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And if you want panache and style, may I present Thunder Rosa and Jade Cargill:

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Now, compare that with what WWE is serving up in a month’s time. There is the mega-huge-galactic match of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, which has years of plotline into it. But one of them is a part-timer And then what?

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There’s two celebrity matches — Johnny Knoxville and Logan Paul — which basically have been thrown together. There’s yet another part-timer, Ronda Rousey, facing Charlotte Flair, and they’ve only had one previous singles match and one Mania match previously, where the main story was Becky Lynch. Again, this isn’t built on much.

And it only gets worse. There isn’t a match for either tag title set up. There’s a ham-fisted Drew McIntyre-Happy Corbin thing that’s shakily built on an unbeaten streak of Corbin’s that no one knew anything about. The historical callback is to… haul Steve Austin out of retirement and hope his knees and neck don’t audibly turn to graham crackers three minutes in?

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Pat McAfee is getting a match exactly no one asked for. Sasha Banks was given a tag match last week with Naomi against two wrestlers who are nowhere close to their level. We’re getting Edge and AJ Styles, which should be great, except there doesn’t appear to be much more reason why other than they happen to both be around and upright at the moment.

The only match with two full-time performers with an actual build and story over time is Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair, and even that’s still plagued a little by Lynch’s wonky and unnecessary heel standing these days.

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The point of Mania is that it’s overstuffed and bombastic. Wrestling as a whole is, of course. But this is overstuffed simply for the sake of it. It’s just putting undercooked and ill-fitting things into it just so it attains the proper size and scale and calling it massive.

Meanwhile, AEW let this cake bake naturally and correctly, and even though it ended up with so much, none of it felt out of place on a PPV. Even the popcorn, six man tornado tag that acted as a cool down right before the main event contained Sting hurling himself off a concourse entrance through 12 tables or whatever. If it was too much, it was too much of a good thing. Stories concluded, or took on a new direction, or began something new.

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Conversely, we pretty much know every match at Mania will be run again a month later at the latest, leaving everything in the mud where it started.

Again, the fight between the two companies, and really the hardcore fans of the two, is exhausting. But it’s nearly impossible to define the two companies without including what they aren’t, especially when what they aren’t is on such clear display in the other one.

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AEW may not have meant to demonstrate what Mania used to and should still be. But come April 2 and 3rd, it’ll be impossible to ignore.

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