All eyes were on All Elite Wrestling Saturday night, as their first show, Double or Nothing, emanated from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The pressure was on for the nascent promotion: not since the closure of World Championship Wrestling has there been a non-WWE wrestling promotion in the United States with this much buzz, big names, and perhaps most importantly, money behind it.
And for the most part, AEW absolutely lived up to the hype. Double or Nothing was a great showcase of what will make AEW stand out from its competition: faster paced, more exciting action. Not shying away from blood (like, at all). Interesting, genuine surprises, rather than swerves for the sake of shock. All wrapped up in the type of production value that rivals that of WWE.
In a night full of memorable moments, maybe the most memorable was Cody Rhodes vs. his brother Dustin, most famously known as Goldust in WWE. The match was a story-driven, bloody affair the likes of which haven’t been seen on in the rival company for over a decade. Dustin ended up cutting himself too well, and was a bloody mess by the end of the match. Still, it wasn’t enough to overpower the story being told ala Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL at Judgment Day 2004 — even if it was close to approaching that level.
AEW’s top brass has made it clear that they don’t exist solely as a foil to WWE, but that won’t stop the comparisons from being made. And if the comparisons are too subtle, AEW came out swinging — literally. During Cody Rhodes’ entrance, the former WWE Superstar took a sledgehammer — WWE exec Triple H’s signature weapon — to an iron throne that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Hunter’s WrestleMania XXX entrance. Cody said going into his match against his brother Dustin that he was looking to “kill the Attitude Era.” The verdict’s out on whether or not he accomplished that, but shots were most certainly fired.
Another shot fired: The surprise debut of Jon Moxley, better known as WWE’s Dean Ambrose. Moxley appeared through the crowd after the show’s main event — Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega — and made a statement by hitting Dirty Deeds on both competitors and the referee. Moxley, in his past life as Dean Ambrose before deciding not to renew his contract this year, was a member of The Shield, the most revered and prolific faction of the decade in WWE and American pro wrestling as a whole. This is a huge get for AEW, and instantly shows they are ready to play hardball.
It wasn’t a perfect show by any means, however. While overall production value was very, very good, there were multiple instances of poor camera work, resulting in missed spots or even entrances in some cases. Bret “Hitman” Hart, who presented the AEW World Championship, seemed lost and awkwardly admitted even he didn’t know when the first champion would be decided.
But considering this is the promotion’s first-ever show, overall the event was a rousing success. Production value is so important to a wrestling show, and it was critical that AEW immediately distance itself from the dingier, more small-time look of Ring of Honor or Impact Wrestling. And to that end, they hit a home run. The black ropes and promotion’s logo emblazoned on a darker canvas, along with a darkened audience, immediately brought to mind peak WCW in terms of the television presentation.
Jim Ross, who wasn’t perfect, still seemed completely invested in the bigger matches and belted out the most impassioned performance of the last ten years of his career alongside Excalibur, who helped move things along and provide necessary context for some of the wrestlers Good Ole’ JR was less than familiar with. Alex Marvez rounded out the three person team, and while he was inoffensive, didn’t seem to bring much to the table. But much like with the camera work, commentary chemistry is something that can and will evolve over time.
Overall, it’s hard to see Double or Nothing as anything but a huge success. It provided surprises in the form of Moxley and Awesome Kong (fka Kharma in WWE), excellent wrestling of all types, and emotional, impactful storytelling. While interest in WWE’s product has possibly hit its nadir, All Elite Wrestling is poised to, as the t-shirts say, change the world. And after Double or Nothing and the news of AEW’s upcoming weekly show on TNT, there’s no reason to think they can’t.
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