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Scrooge's Top 10 AEW Matches... So Far
by Scrooge McSuck
As I write this, we're only hours away from AEW All Out 2021, a.k.a. the Pay-Per-View featuring the in-ring return of CM Punk. As someone who has mostly shied away from recapping AEW television and PPV content, it has allowed me to view things without as harsh a critical eye as I would for my flashbacks and retro reviews. Our site hosts a deep archive of recaps from our Samoa Rowe, who has mostly enjoyed what AEW has offered, so if you're looking for a deep dive into what the company has done for the last couple of years, you know where to look. Today, I figured it was time I put myself out there with what I'd consider my favorite matches in the short history of the company. As a disclaimer, “favorite” doesn't mean “star ratings” only, though in almost every case, my list is highly scored, though some matches I've rated highly, including a FIVE STAR EFFORT, were left off the list. Why? Simple. I think the Godfather is a phenomenal classic, but I don't find it entertaining to revisit like I would Goodfellas. Also, this won't include non-wrestling segments, otherwise the return of CM Punk would be the easy #1 spot, but that'll be a list for another day. Before we get to the Top 10, we start with the obligatory...
1. Serena Deeb vs. Riho – Double or Nothing 2021 Buy-In
On a "Best of" list, I'm opening with something that leads to my greatest criticism for the company. First, I consider this the best "Pre-Show" match I think I've ever seen. Deeb is such a natural worker that was tucked away and wasted in her previous place of employment before a shocking release during a pandemic, while Riho, who hasn't offered much character development, knows how to draw sympathy in matches and get a crowd behind her regardless of opponent. Unfortunately, this will be the ONLY women's match to earn a mention. I'm sure some might be shocked one match wasn't picked, but I don't feel it right to list a match for the sake of inclusion, and outside of these samples, the division hasn't offered much for memorable in-ring work or long-term storytelling. As more talent is developed and being brought in, I feel the company has turned the corner, and maybe they'll have a longer lasting impression for me.
2. Cody's TNT Championship Open Challenge
Before the words "forbidden door" were uttered on AEW Television, Cody's inaugural reign as the AEW TNT Champion, taking place smack in the middle of a pandemic that left the company working without fans and confined to Daily's Place in Jacksonville, FL, borrowed a classic and proven concept of a Champion taking on all comers. Whether it was Ricky Starks, WARHORSE, or Eddie Kingston, you never knew who was going to accept the challenges, leaving the door open for the imagination, and giving viewers the idea that ANYONE could show up and perform for the company. While none of the matches alone stand out as a favorite, the concept and execution during that reign made for some entertaining nights of television during a bleak time.
3. Cody's Losses to Mr. Brodie Lee and Malakai Black
Again, Cody brings himself into the conversation, not with a classic match (just wait), but a well-executed idea to establish a top-tier heel that needed a signature victory. Cody's first signature loss to Brodie Lee took place on a late-night edition of Dynamite and featured the first time the TNT Championship changed hands. In that match, Brodie Lee destroyed Cody and pinned him in only a few minutes, then added injury to insult with a beating at the top of the set to not only Cody, but his family as well. Fast forward a year (give or take), and they tap into the same script for the debuting Malakai Black (formerly Aleister Black in WWE). Black would win the match easily in under 5-minutes, and as Cody teased a retirement by leaving his boots in the ring, was left laid out again by Black, leaving us wondering what the future holds for Cody Rhodes.
4. Double or Nothing 2021: The Entire PPV
When I started pruning down matches for this list, I noticed a trend: While a lot of matches from this PPV were up for consideration, none on their own feel like they belong in the spotlight. Stadium Stampede II was fun with some creative spots but wasn't as impressive as the original. Omega vs. Pac vs. Orange Cassidy was a great match, but a lack of compelling story going into the show left it on the outside. Sting's first match tagging with Darby Allin vs. Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky was pure fun, the Tag Title Match had some excellent false finishes, and Britt Baker had a crowning moment. The best part of all of this was the return of a full crowd, buzzing for every match. No beach balls and chants taking away from the efforts in the ring, just pure joy for those watching and clearly the wrestlers on the night looking like they were pushing each other just a little bit more than usual.
5. Adam Page, John Silver, Alex Reynolds vs. MJF, Santana and Ortiz – Brodie Lee Tribute Show; December 30th, 2020
When Jonathon Huber (Mr. Brodie Lee) passed away on December 26th, the wrestling world came together to mourn for a man loved universally by everyone he worked with. It would've been an easy out to say the entire Tribute Show should make the honorable mention, but one match stood out for me. As someone who developed a love for the Dark Order through their bits on Being the Elite, it was heartwarming to see John Silver wrestling in Brodie Lee-like gear that was intended for a future bit. As the match began, the good guys tossed rolled up papers at their opponents, a classic staple of Brodie Lee's BTE character. Brodie Lee's young son got in on the act, interacting with MJF throughout the match and giving the smart-ass heel his comeuppance. Silver used Brodie Lee's signature discus lariat to score the fall. Finally, to cap it all off, the former Erick Rowan, now known as “Erik Redbeard”, came out to help the Dark Order, and in their post-match celebration, held up a tear-jerking sign dedicated to his fallen friend. It's matches like this where you just appreciate the men and women who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment and realize there's more to life than getting worked up about nonsense like the outcomes of professional wrestling matches and trying to fantasy book everything.
Well, with the honorable mentions out of the way, we begin the countdown to my Top 10 Favorite Matches in AEW History (So Far) ...
10. Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes – Double or Nothing 2019
I don't know if some consider it cheap to list matches that take place pre-Dynamite, but the AEW brand was out there, and this would mark the first time a show was promoted under that banner. Looking back, the lineup is cobbled together with plenty of outside talent that wouldn't be featured again or too regularly. Earlier in the year, Dustin Rhodes was granted his release from WWE after a few years of being a low-card comedy character after a planned run between the brothers fizzled out after one dismal PPV encounter. There was concern about pushing this match as one of the biggest matches of the night, thanks not only to that meeting, but Dustin's age and having been out of action for the better part of a year recovering from injuries. What we got was an old school battle with hot false finishes, a disgusting blade job from Dustin (I typed that Dusty out of habit), and the post-match nod to Dustin and Dusty's reunion in the Summer of ‘94 when Cody tearfully asked his brother to be the partner that he left blank for an upcoming match with the Nick and Matt Jackson. *****
9. The Best Friends vs. Proud & Powerful – Dynamite; September 16th, 2020
The first of only two Dynamite matches to be featured on the list, and our first from the pandemic era. Nothing fancy in the build-up to the match, as each team targeted each other in pull-apart brawls both in and outside the ring for weeks (not to mention the uncalled-for assault on Sue's SUV). The teams met a few weeks earlier on Dynamite, where Santana and Ortiz used a baton on Trent before stealing the victory, then followed it up on the September 9th Dynamite by assaulting Orange Cassidy following his match with Angelico. Chuck and Trent, fed up with the antics of Santana and Ortiz laid down the challenge for a Parking Lot Brawl, and what we got was to that point, the best match in Dynamite history. A hardcore battle using the surrounding vehicles and other plunder to great effect, the always-incredible look of Santana and Ortiz in their Dead Presidents face paint, and an awesome cameo from Cassidy, who was lying in wait in the trunk of one of the cars until the very end. Then, for the cherry on top, Trent's mom, Sue, picked them up and on the way out gave Santana and Ortiz a middle finger salute. ****½
8. Orange Cassidy vs. Pac – Revolution 2020
Is there a more polarizing personality on AEW television than Orange Cassidy? My initial reaction to Cassidy wasn't much of anything. Clearly, he was a comedic character, but not worth getting too excited about. He'd show up out of nowhere backstage, or “punish” other wrestlers with soft kicks while he has his hands in his pockets, rarely showing much emotion or effort in anything he did. That is until he was suddenly in the crossfires of Pac. In case Pac wasn't taking him seriously, on the go-home Dynamite, he was warned that Cassidy was going to try. With little expectations based on the small sample size of in-ring work, the match delivered a perfect blend of Cassidy's comedic antics and non-stop action that had fans buying into every near fall. With the formation of Death Triangle being the cause of Cassidy's loss, the protected loss meant those behind the scenes expected him to get over strong, and since then, has been regularly featured as a mid-tier and occasional main event caliber talent. ****
7. FTR vs. The Young Bucks – Full Gear 2020
As soon as FTR (formerly the Revival in WWE) signed their AEW contracts, it was only a matter of time before they had their dream match with the Young Bucks, first driving a wedge between the already shaken Elite and then defeating Omega and Adam Page for the Tag Team Championship at All Out in September. To add to the drama, the Bucks added to the stipulations that they would never challenge again if they were unsuccessful, even with Matt Jackson coming into the match less than 100%. If the best vs the best feel wasn't already there, the ring gear worn depicting the colors of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics (the most storied franchises in NBA history) added to that dynamic. With the Bucks bringing their fast-tempo tandem offense and FTR's old school love-letter to tag team wrestling, it was a match made in heaven. Both teams traded bombs until Cash Wheeler uncharacteristically went for a 450 splash, opening the door for the Bucks to claim the AEW Tag Titles for the first time, a reign that continues as of this writing (September 5th, 2021). ****½
6. Adam Page vs. Kenny Omega – Full Gear 2020
Quick disclaimer: All but one match going forward will feature Kenny Omega, so if you're one of those fans who can't stand him (because clearly you don't enjoy modern pro wrestling), you can stop reading and find something else to do. In the fallout from All Out, Omega began to distance himself from Page, refocused on his singles career and declining any opportunity presented for them to be a team again. With the announcement of an Eliminator Tournament to determine a new #1 contender, Omega started displaying a more arrogant side of himself, with over-the-top introductions from ring announcer Justin Roberts. He steam-rolled through Sonny Kiss (sub for Joey Janela) and survived Penta El Zero M (sub for Rey Fenix) while Hangman overcame Colt Cabana and Wardlow. While we're still waiting for the next big one-on-one encounter, this put their rivalry in motion with a strong showcase for Page who, at the end of the day, just wasn't good enough to overcome someone with the level of success and experience of Omega, succumbing to the One-Winged Angel despite a valiant effort to escape the hold. Omega would follow by defeating Jon Moxley for the title on the “Winter is Coming” special edition of Dynamite on December 2nd, turning full-blown heel in the process, and opening the door for Page to continue his ascent to being one of the top babyfaces in the company. ****
5. Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley – Revolution 2021
This one might polarize the audience, and I can understand why, both for the gimmick of the match they went with and how it paid off to close the show. To vanquish Moxley once and for all, Omega agreed to Mox's rematch and even came up with the stipulation that the match would be an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. With ropes replaced by barbed wire, explosives at ringside, and a 30-minute timer for all explosives to go off, it isn't hard to imagine this was going to be a bloody battle, and with only 30-minutes for the explosive's timer, you knew it would pay off with at least one of these men in the ring. As easy it is to dog the match based on the gimmick, they utilized the gimmick well, teasing spots and building anticipation each time, instead of being a junk match for the sake of a junk match, and even used the gimmick to pay-off Mox avoiding defeat (at that point) at the hands of a One-Winged Angel. After fighting off gratuitous interference from Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, it was an exploding barbed wire baseball bat that shut down Mox's comeback, and the One-Winged Angel was academic for Omega to retain. Afterwards, a bloody and battered Mox was left for dead in the ring, hands handcuffed behind his back. With only seconds left, the unlikely save was attempted by Eddie Kingston. With time running out and no success, Kingston laid across Mox's body to protect him from the blast, an homage to Onita and Terry Funk from decades ago... then the explosives went off and would at best be described as a second-right pyro show. Yes, the explosion (or lack thereof) failed to deliver, but I'm judging more on the story they were telling, and unfortunately a dud has soured a lot of fans on it. ****½
4. Adam Page & The Dark Order vs. The Super Elite – Fight for the Fallen, July 2021
Another controversial pick, though in this case, I don't agree with the negative perception this match has received. After being kicked out of the Elite and a long courtship, Page and the Dark Order became fully realized allies at Revolution when the Dark Order came to ringside to support Hangman in his match with Matt Hardy. With the egos of the Super Elite (Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson, and Impact Tag Champions Gallows and Anderson) out of control, the Dark Order would confront Omega about his lack of challengers, throwing Adam Page's name out there. Though Page was the #1 ranked contender, he was still shying away from confronting his former stablemates. After several weeks, Hangman made it known he had the Dark Order's back just like they had his, and to get the Super Elite in the ring, challenged the group to an elimination match with the stipulation that Page and the Dark Order would forfeit their title shots if they were unsuccessful in winning the match. With a PPV-level of hype and anticipation, the match opened the special edition of Dynamite, including an entrance video for Page and Dark Order, depicting them as cowboys who stand by each other and fight for what is right, and no, you don't have to wear a hat to be a cowboy (though their silhouettes have them on in a delicious visual). Oh, and the Elite do a Space Jam collaboration. The teams traded falls until Hangman is left alone against Omega and the Bucks. Fighting from underneath and surviving near-fall after near-fall, Page was able to pin Matt, but eventually fell after a belt shot and One-Winged Angel from Omega. My reaction for the loss was of extreme disappointment, but in a “gosh, I just want these guys to get their moment on top” way, not “I'm done with his company.” That level of emotion tells me they're telling the story right, and we'll have to wait a little longer. I also say without a doubt the Hangman and Dark Order entrance was THE BEST ENTRANCE IN COMPANY HISTORY. Fight me. ****½
3. Stadium Stampede: The Elite & Matt Hardy vs. The Inner Circle; Double or Nothing 2020
Shortly into 2020, it was a foregone conclusion we would see a match between the Elite and Inner Circle in what is commonly known as WarGames (though the name is trademarked by WWE). Then the pandemic struck and shut down mass gatherings and changed the way sports (and sports entertainment) was presented. With no crowds and no means to travel outside the home building in Jacksonville, the “Blood & Guts” Match was postponed, and in place of it would be the first-ever Stadium Stampede, a wild 5-on-5 tornado tag that would use all of Daily's Place as the battle ground. As far as cinematic wrestling goes, this one was easily the best the AEW ever produced, with multiple mini matches featured to keep things fresh and featured one of my all-time favorite spots of Adam Page on horseback chasing down Sammy Guevara, not to mention an entertaining bit in the bar where Omega and Page poured each other drinks (whiskey and milk respectively). Cinematic wrestling can be hard to watch, but when done right, it can steal the show, and this one did just that. *****
2. Jon Moxley vs. Eddie Kingston – Full Gear 2020
I know, three matches from Full Gear 2020. Unlike Double or Nothing 2020, I feel a substantial amount of time has elapsed for me to still have individual feelings for each match on this list representing that event. Going into the show, you wouldn't think much of it as more than a filler match on an already loaded lineup. Kingston failed to win a previous match with Mox, using the out that the referee called for the bell despite his reluctance to tap or verbally submit. Refusing to accept defeat, Kingston continued targeting Moxley, who agreed to a rematch where the only way to win is to have your opponent say the words “I Quit.” In the go-home Dynamite, the two engaged in one of the best segments in company history, tapping into their personal relationship, not only hyping Mox as a man who must put down a man he considered family, but also build up Eddie as someone we can get behind, but the choices he made took him down a path that are hard to support. The two men brought a level of intensity to the Full Gear Main Event, blending brutality with storytelling. Despite his underdog perseverance, Eddie wasn't good enough, and cleanly said the magic words while being choked out with barbed wire wrapped around Moxley's arm. The loss set in motion Eddie's eventually babyface turn as we've covered in the Revolution 2021 match between Omega and Moxley. ****½
1. Kenny Omega & Adam Page vs. The Young Bucks – Revolution 2020
I'm sure this doesn't come as much of a surprise. I'm going to make this confession quickly, so there's some reasoning and understanding to doubters. Before 2019, I was in the camp that the Young Bucks were overrated. Why? Because... I don't know why. I never watched their matches, nor followed any promotions they regularly worked for. That all changed when I started watching AEW. No matter who they were in the ring with, it was always an effort to steal a show. You can say their style doesn't fit your tastes, but to call them bad workers is an embarrassingly bad take to stand behind. This was the battle of best friends... well, best friends at one time, because the relationship of Page and the Bucks was on shaky ground with Omega stuck in the middle. For 30-minutes, these four men put it all out there, never skipping a beat, executing every spot and building the excitement with false finish after another, none more exciting or memorable to me than Adam Page coming in to hit one of the Jackson's with a One-Winged Angel, accepting that if anything was going to secure the victory, it would've been Omega's signature move (alas, the cover was broken up). While Omega and Page retained, the future of the Elite faced uncertainty, as Page celebrated off on his own while Omega and the Young Bucks stood back for a moment, leaving to the imagination of the audience where the story goes next. We didn't know when it would happen, or who would fall on which side of the face and heel fence, but we knew it was coming. This is not only my favorite AEW match of all time, but my favorite TAG TEAM match of all time as well. I don't believe in star ratings exceeding the obvious scale, but if I were to do so, this match would get such a score. *****+
Final Thoughts: Just like all opinions, I'm not the final voice of what makes or breaks a wrestling match. If you agree with me, I'm always happy to have people on the same wavelength as I, and if you disagree, hopefully its reasoning is from a good place and not hate watching and trying to be a wet blanket for people who find enjoyment out of something. Who knows, maybe in a year or so, this list will feature matches I've soured on, and maybe some will hold up stronger. I look forward to being a fan of professional wrestling for years to come, whether it's AEW, WWE, Impact Wrestling, NJPW, or anything else out there that covers the spectrum of professional wrestling.
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