Looking At AEW Full Gear

This weekend’s Full Gear event could prove to be a pivotal point in the history of All Elite Wrestling, especially based on some key booking decisions that could shed some light on the direction of the organization as it enters its second year of existence. While the show seems to be very solid on paper, there are certain matches that could be very critical in terms of the perception of specific stars as the organization looks toward the future. In truth, that scenario is usually what makes for a pay-per-view worthy event because the selling point is that there’s something at stake based on the results of the matches.

This isn’t meant as a jab against the WWE, especially because they just announced record-setting profits in a conference call last week so you can’t argue with the financial success, but as I’ve written several times before, not only did the launch of the WWE Network completely change the dynamic of content distribution of the entire industry, it unintentionally created a level of complacency within the WWE product. The writing team was no longer forced to “sell” an angle that motivated fans to buy a $40 pay-per-view, but rather the standard for what was considered PPV quality was lowered to just $10 for a monthly subscription.

On the flip side, it puts more pressure on AEW and other pro wrestling commodity that tries to market pay-per-view events at a more traditional price because literally thousands of hours of content are offered with the WWE Network for a fraction of the price.

As far as Full Gear goes, the finals of the number one contender tournament is one of the more anticipated bouts on the card as Adam Page, who challenged Chris Jericho in a match to determine the first AEW champion last year, will square off against Kenny Omega. While Jericho was definitely the right call for the first All Elite champion, it goes without saying that Adam Page should be one of the key players for the promotion in the next few years. He has an almost quiet charisma and the cowboy persona is something that the fans can easily identify with. The blue collar character has some traits of Stone Cold, but Page has an in-ring style that he can use to develop his own overall presentation. For Kenny Omega, considering he had some much hype after the series of Okada matches and the stellar run that he had in New Japan, his tenure in AEW has probably been slightly underwhelming. Granted, the American format doesn’t accommodate 45-minute epic contests on a regular basis because of the TV structure, but I’m not sure what some fans were expecting from him when typical PPV time and something as simply as commercials for television don’t allow for New Japan style matches.

That being said, I think more should’ve been done with Omega in terms of his position toward the top of the card, and I always found his tag team role to be a rather odd fit. In fact, for a promotion that put such an emphasis on tag team wrestling, the vast majority of the time the tag belts have existed, they were held by what was basically a thrown together team of two wrestlers that didn’t have a clear path otherwise. I don’t think it’s a matter of Omega not being able to find success outside of the New Japan structure, but rather the way he was presented so far in AEW. Omega is one of the most talented athletes of his generation, he doesn’t need 45-minute matches to try to shoehorn that narrative, but during the majority of his run in AEW, he hasn’t been spotlighted as a main event star. Perhaps, that’s why his portrayal in this tournament is so important since it allows him to be casts as a potential main event star in the title picture. Don’t get me wrong, the Omega/Page tag matches were fine, but especially in hindsight, that run as champions might’ve been more to buy time to allow for other angles to get the chance to play out in the title picture than anything else. It’s tough to say who would be the better choice to challenge for the belt next, especially because neither of them has turned heel yet, but whoever loses this one probably will need a heel turn to keep their character fresh. Considering his age, I’d say Kenny Omega is the better choice to challenge for the belt right now, specifically because the longer it’s been since that run in New Japan, the more shine has worn off of his status. Plus, an eventually title win rejuvenates his character in America and then there are also more options for potential main event feuds.

The tag title match is rather an odd scenario because the bout was one of the most anticipated contest of the past several years and one of the very rare legitimate dream matches of the modern era. Somehow, less than stellar booking of this angle has diminished this match exponentially. Sometimes, the simplest way is the most effective way, which is the path AEW should’ve taken on this instead of the scenic route on the path to the pay-per-view. I wrote it at the time, but from the debut of FTR, the stare down without any physical altercation was lackluster. The story was already in place for the few year prior when it was discussed on social media. FTR should’ve attacked The Young Bucks, who were the baby faces defending the honor of the upstart organization. The story writes itself, there was no need to attempt to portray the Bucks as semi-heels to try to add an edge to their characters. The Bucks acted like heels when they super kicked announcers and referees, and FTR are already heels so who are the fans supposed to cheer for? I just don’t get what those segments were designed to accomplish for the Young Bucks. Did FTR force them to become more aggressive? How does that fit into the original narrative that made this a dream match in the first place? The stipulation that The Bucks can’t challenge for the titles again if they lose wasn’t needed and it’s seen as a recycled angle from the Cody match last year. The stipulation is still fresh in the fans’ mind because it’s part of the reason he’s involved in the TNT title picture. From a storyline perspective, the Young Bucks/FTR angle was too convoluted and hindered rather than helped the build to the pay-per-view bout. Still, I think the in-ring presentation should be tremendous, and if the payoff is a success than the path to get there is relatively moot.

A quick note about Darby and Cody for the TNT belt. Since we’ve seen these two square off before, you know the match will be solid. I think they should give Darby the run, mostly because at some point, the group must start to really get behind some non-WWE talent to give it more of its own identity, which isn’t a jab, but rather to point out that Darby is one of the stars that AEW could use to expand in the future. Darby has charisma and an aura around him, which are ingredients that can be used to draw money. The fact that fans dress up like him is proof that he connects with the crowd. In my opinion, Darby Allin has the potential to be a big star for the company in the next few years. The flip side is, he must avoid some of the unnecessary dangerous stunts that might take years off of his career. Darby is over on a national level because of who he is as a character, not because he’s willing to hurl himself off of the balcony. Risky bumps just for the shock value are the indy level, but TNT is a completely different game. He can’t be marketed on national television if he’s sidelined for a lengthy period of time with an injury.

I’d guess that the in-ring action of Chris Jericho/MJF will be fine, but the bigger story might be the angle involved with the match. Despite his role as a heel, Jericho still gets a baby face reaction based on the entertainment value of his persona so it makes sense for him to make the switch to get a run as a baby face in AEW. This is just a guess, but I think The Inner Circle will turn on Jericho, and MJF will become the new leader of the stable. It puts more of a spotlight on MJF and it allows for a fresh run for Jericho, too.

Eddie Kingston vs. Jon Moxley for the AEW title in an I Quit match has probably had the best build for an AEW pay-per-view main event so far this year, but the result really isn’t in doubt. Don’t get me wrong, Eddie Kingston is one of my favorite wrestlers and I think a title run at some point should be in the cards for him, but this title shot seems a little rushed and based more off of the solid match these two had on TV than any potential main event run for Kingston. Regardless, THIS is how you build and sell a title match. Remember that we discussed how it’s difficult to sell a traditional PPV in this era? Well, Kingston’s work on the mic is exactly how a pay-per-view should be sold. There’s something at stake and something on the line, Kingston’s story emphasizes the importance of the event. This is nothing against Moxley, he’s done very well as AEW champion, but I’m really hoping that somehow Kingston gets the championship. That being said, I think it’s fair to say that the first non-WWE star to win the belt will probably be someone that AEW invested into as a long-term project, and Kingston just hasn’t been on the roster long enough to be seen with that status. That’s not to say that Kingston wouldn’t be a good choice at this point in time, but rather that it looks like there’s more of a build for Omega or Page to be the performer to eventually defeat Moxley for the championship.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta