By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
As of this writing, which is five days before the show, AEW’s Full Gear has nine matches slated for it. And you want to know what?
It’s not weird because of the obligatory “AEW rarely misses, but this card really isn’t doing anything for me” rhetoric that I read a lot of people write as an AEW pay-per-view approaches these days (is anybody ever happy with anything anymore?). It’s also not weird because the event feels later in the month than it has in year’s past (which is probably because … well … it is). And it’s definitely not weird because for the first time, we’re going to get three women’s matches on a pay-per-view (good looking out on that, TK).
It’s weird because AEW just doesn’t really feel like AEW anymore.
And with the arrival of Jeff Jarrett into the mix, seemingly forming some type of TNA redux faction, we now have two other American companies that have bled their way into the Big Picture AEW landscape. The problem? It’s not really working.
Color me forgetful, but I was unaware of any sect of fans who were clamoring for a Jarrett-era TNA reminder in the year 2022 – and on perhaps the most beloved wrestling TV America can offer, no less. Jarrett, Jay Lethal, Sonjay Dutt and whomever else they want to dig up can ramble all they want about being outlaws; it does nothing for the broader product that AEW once was.
Ring of Honor, meanwhile, seems to be suffering from a tiny bit of revisionist history. I understand that so many of the best wrestlers today made a stop at ROH sometime years ago, but does nobody else remember those last few years of the company before Tony Khan bought it? I was at the last handful of PPVs the company produced and I don’t recall packed houses and six-star matches (but, to be fair, I also completely botched Bandido cutting a promo after 2021’s Best In The World and even said as much on the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast before being rightfully corrected by Ian Riccaboni on Twitter). My point is that Ring Of Honor had its place being Ring of Honor. For all the good and all the bad, it was precisely where it needed to be in the wrestling world.
But now, it’s on TBS and TNT Wednesday and Friday nights. Sometimes. Most of the time. Every now and then. I don’t know. Who knows? It’s All Elite Honor all day, bay bay.
Or something like that.
The problem with TK’s acquisition of ROH, along with bringing Jarrett in to actually work a match or three under the guise of some type of renegade invader nonsense, is that it’s subtraction by addition. Some so-called experts swear up and down that Jarrett is a great wrestling mind and is a great backstage addition to any company, and to that, I say, great! Let him be backstage, then. ROH, meanwhile, was about to take the loss in a buried alive match, but Khan was lauded as doing the lord’s work when he purchased the company from underneath the evil empire that is WWE. Does that mean we need to see regular ROH matches on AEW television?
No. But you’ve heard me say that before.
What I’m saying now is that my apathy for AEW is at an all-time high as we stumble our way into Saturday night’s PPV and that is in large part because of how muddied the waters have become when it comes to figuring out what AEW is anymore. Let’s just work this exercise, if only for a minute. When AEW began, you had the Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho, Kenny Omega and I guess, because he debuted at the company’s first PPV, Jon Moxley. Those were fun days. Some stars emerged; some faded away. The nucleus of the company felt intact and if nothing else, AEW was the first alternative to WWE that came along in a long, long time that felt like it made an impact.
Going into Saturday’s Full Gear, here’s what we got: Cody’s out of the company. The Young Bucks and Omega haven’t been seen in months and there hasn’t been a single on-air explanation as to why that is, even if most of us think we know why. Jericho is now the Ring of Honor Champion, but not even his bright star could help elevate that belt. And Moxley? Well, for his sake, let’s hope he drops the AEW World Title this weekend to MJF and the guy can finally take that well-deserved vacation he missed out on due to the Young Bucks/Kenny Omega/CM Punk mess.
It’s a different company now, and that didn’t – or still doesn’t – have to be a bad thing. You grow. You learn. Adapt or die, is what they say. AEW couldn’t rest on its laurels because no company can expect success to be sustained over an elongated period of time. So much has been made of the superstar signing that was CM Punk, as well as all the contracts that were given to ex-WWE guys, who many fans insisted would thrive under the AEW banner, that we don’t need to revisit those issues here. But when you take a look at Saturday’s slate, what exactly jumps off the page as a match that is absolutely must-see?
We’ll start with the women’s matches. Jade Cargill is going to hopefully blow off this odd made-up feud between her and Nyla Rose, which began because … Rose stole Cargill’s belt and Cargill is sort of like, “Yeah, and?” It’s hard to imagine Cargill losing anytime soon and that program has lukewarm heat at best. Toni Storm vs. Jamie Hayter will probably be very good, but all these interim titles make me dizzy anymore. At this point, if Thunder Rosa simply never came back and Storm was named the actual women’s champion, nobody would blink an eye. And while I really, really want to root for Saraya and her return to the ring, this match with Britt Baker feels too soon. If they would have given it another month or so to simmer, I could buy into whatever conflict they are trying to sell, but something hasn’t clicked between the two and I don’t know if it’s Saraya’s rust or a potential lack of chemistry somewhere in there.
Meanwhile, I already saw a variation of Sting and Darby Allin vs. Jeff Jarrett and Jay Lethal at Ric Flair’s Last Match, and I don’t really need to see it again. Jungle Boy fighting Luchasaurus in a steel cage might feel a little fresh if we all weren’t waiting around for Christian to heal up so Jungle Boy can mercifully end that saga. There will be the finals of yet another tournament. We’ll get The Acclaimed vs. Swerve and Keith Lee for a third time and the entire thing will be overshadowed by the elephant in the room that is FTR and their lack of a title shot. We can’t forget the four-way for the ROH title, but … oh, wait, yes, we can, because Claudio never got a rematch and now he’s being forced into a glorified tag-team match that better have someone turn in some fashion.
And then, of course, the main event. Jon Moxley vs MJF. In a lot of ways, it’s the main event that illustrates why AEW doesn’t feel like AEW anymore. I have to think we’re only here because the plan was for Punk to drop the belt to MJF at Full Gear and they couldn’t do that, so they turned to the ole’ trusted Moxley to carry the torch. The thing is, any company could do a lot worse than Moxley as the guy to help keep the ship steady during these tough times in AEW’s short history.
But lest we forget that when AEW began, seeing Moxley come through the crowd to do whatever the hell Moxley was going to do was a treat. It didn’t happen all the time and when it did, we, as viewers, knew the Big Spot was coming. These days? Not so much – and especially when you factor in how AEW has booked him to get title win after title win each Wednesday in these meaningless matches, you really get a chance to step back and say, “Maybe there actually can be too much Mox.”
That’s the thing, though: Brevity and moderation are not things on which AEW prides itself. Look at all the wrestlers. Look at all the companies with whom AEW works. Look at all the factions. Look at what I’m pretty certain will be at least an extra six matches added onto the nine we already have before Saturday gets here. The thing nobody there seems to realize is that more isn’t always better. Sometimes, more is just more. And if you keep looking for more, and you keep acquiring more, more turns out to never be enough.
Such is why Full Gear could be a turning point for this company. Everyone believes the Bucks and Omega will be back by this time next week (most likely with gold around their waists). MJF, who was one of the original AEW stars, will most likely have gold around his waist this time next week, too, which could turn out to be the spark the company needs … or it could turn out to somehow die a slow death on the hospital table like too many things have done in AEW’s three years of existence.
Whatever the outcome may be, one thing is certain: This is a company in a weird spot as it heads into its final PPV of 2022, which also happens to be the weirdest year that group has had to date. Will things turn around after Saturday? Or will 2023 turn out to be the year that AEW finally got back to feeling like it’s AEW again?