While All Elite Wrestling does so many things well, it has its faults (no one is perfect). One was an inability to center the roster around its younger talent, one on which the company can build a foundation for years to come. That shouldn’t be a problem after last night’s Full Gear PPV, and specifically Swerve Strickland and Adam Page, who put on quite possibly the best match the company has ever produced.
I’m not a deathmatch guy. They definitely have their place in the wrestling world, and if done well, can be the perfect capstone to any story. But they can also just be empty gore for the sake of it, which is just shock value. If I’m allowed one more shot at my favorite target, and I am because it’s my show, think Cody Rhodes putting Andrade through a flaming table for literally no other reason than to celebrate himself. There are many others, but I always fancy a sideswipe. Often they are just a sideshow.
Page and Strickland were everything about a deathmatch any fan could have asked for. Oh, it had its ridiculous spots that made everyone turn away from the screen. There was barbed wire, cinder blocks, staplersand anything else to make the use of simple tables and chairs look like nothing more than a tea set. And of course bloodbecause that’s what AEW does, and the image of Page doesn’t just make Swerve bleed on his face but force him to could end up being the lasting image of the show, if not AEW’s year.
But it was not empty blood. It was the culmination of a story that became very personal, a blood feud in both the figurative and literal sense. Wandering, jealous of the opportunities Page had to the point of a home run angle, and Page in utter fury at Strickland’s overstepping of bounds. When Page rises to this level, there may be no other person in the industry better at taking a story to the red-hot level.
Strickland was captured to a new level from which he thought he could escape through his shortcuts, cheating and cunning and still come out ahead. Page has brought him somewhere we haven’t seen him before in AEW, both in story terms and now in star-level on the roster.
And none of this works without a connection to something, with a story that fans can relate to. This one had it in spades, thanks to the work of both men. Page’s anger and Strickland’s evil were clear as day and supported by what came before, giving each venue that extra 5-10 percent of spice and pop they needed to go from just crowd-pleasing (if not not stomach turning) to sharp bullet points in a plot. It meant so much to both men to go through this rig, and so it meant so much to the fans.
AEW has been trying to turn to his younger side lately, but not with full effort. MJF is the champion and undisputed face of the company. But besides him, AEW got a lot out of Bryan Danielson, who will be retiring from full-time wrestling next year. Before that, the company depended on CM Punk, and while his volatility may not have been entirely predictable (it was completely predictable) he was still in his 40s and definitely not a long-term match. MJF feuded with Samoa Joe, also in his mid 40’s and it is unclear how much longer he will wrestle. The signing of Adam Copeland did little to quell these fears. Chris Jericho is 50. Kenny Omega has long hinted that he didn’t know how much longer he could perform. In AEW fans’ darkest moments, they wondered if this wasn’t all a castle in the sand for which the sea would come before too long.
Strickland and Page, both in their early 30s, are now the company’s biggest stars behind MJF, even just after that one match. Last night’s reveal of Will Ospreay (though not without some fear from many angles) is another step in that direction, and he’s coming off one of the best years a wrestler has put together in a long time. Tony Khan didn’t even hesitate to do it on the women’s side and create some momentum there, with both Toni Storm and Julia Hart allowed to capitalize on their recent runs and popularity with title wins. While it would just be the 497th event for Khan to make the women’s division something more than just a box-ticker, fans are all in on “Timeless” Toni Storm and the goth queen Hart. Both are in their 20s and have no less potential to be big stars.
All of these moves on the show last night were enough to overcome a shaky (at best) main event story that was overbooked in a way that would have made even Bruce Pritchard blush. MJF and Jay White put on a good match, which they should have been allowed to do without a fake cancellation of the match early in the show and MJF arriving in an ambulance and teasing Adam Cole that never paid off , at least not completely. There was still no reveal of the Devil that appeared on TV recently. A simple injury angle for MJF to put a jeopardy in a match no one thought he would ever lose would have been sufficient.
But that’s how good Strickland-Page was. With the topping of the rest of the show, all that silliness will be an afterthought. AEW is heading into its “Continental Classic” phase for the next six weeks, which means it can have both of these guys on TV every week to take advantage of their newfound prestige. Everyone will want to see their matches from here, and Khan can’t transfer their spots to someone else.
The company finally installed the pillars for the long haul, the ones that Sammy Guevara and Jack Perry were just never cut out to be. AEW won’t have to worry about the waves for quite some time if they don’t want to.
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