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AEW Full Gear 2021 recap and review

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AEW Full Gear 2021 recap and review

A deep dive into the pay-per-view event that made hundreds of grown men cry.

All Elite Wrestling had all the momentum in the world heading into their third annual Full Gear event. Not only were they coming off the back of a successful All Out — where a trio of debuts and one CM Punk grabbed many a headline — but also weeks of Dynamite and Rampage shows that proved that AEW wasn’t content to just coast on their big names. The card was loaded, but it’s the stories that led into the event that really sold fans going into it.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Who was going to stand out as the best of AEW’s four pillars between MJF and Darby Allin? Was Eddie going to put Punk in his place for calling him a bum? Would we finally see Dan Lambert get punched in the mouth?

Would “Hangman” Adam Page finally win the big one?

Including the Buy-In, this show featured 10 matches in total, and even the ones that lacked a compelling story made up for it with a group of wrestlers who are known for delivering on the big stage. But, now that Full Gear is in the rear view, DID these wrestlers deliver?

Climb a huge ladder and prepare your swanton as we dive into AEW Full Gear 2021!

Buy-In: Dante Martin interview; Hikaru Shida & Thunder Rosa def. Nyla Rose & Jamie Hayter

Two segments on the Buy-In, as the pre-show kicks off with Tony Schiavone interviewing hometown boy Dante Martin. With Lio Rush not there, all of the smarmy heel teams are coming out of the woodwork to recruit him, whether it’s Team Taz on Rampage or The Acclaimed here at Full Gear. After Caster raps about Rush’s 15 retirements and Team Taz having even less TV time than the Acclaimed, Bowens tells Martin that he has a choice: join the Acclaimed or sit at home with a broken leg like his brother, Darius. Dante asks Minneapolis what he should do, but before they can answer, he punches out the battle rappers and sets up The Acclaimed vs Martin/Rush for this Wednesday’s Dynamite.

As for the match, it was a fine tag match to keep the crowd occupied while others got snacks and merch. There wasn’t anything crazy like in the All Out Buy-In, but it was still a little neat watching Thunder Rosa and Hikaru Shida team up since, alongside Britt, they’re the two biggest stars in AEW’s women’s division.

It’s a pretty generic momentum-passing match for the first half, but after Shida gets distracted by Serena Deeb in the crowd and Vickie Guerrero hits Shida in the back with a kendo stick, the match becomes an accidental handicapped match for the faces as Shida desperately tries to fight out of the heel corner.

Shida never got that tag and was instead hit with a superplex from Hayter into a frog splash from Nyla, but Rosa was able to break up the pin with a diving foot stomp. While Hayter dealt with Rosa, Nyla went for a Beast Bomb on Shida but got it reversed into a rana, which got Nyla whipped into the corner and then surprised with a jackknife roll-up from Shida for the three count, giving Rosa and Shida the overall momentum heading into their upcoming tournament matches.

MJF def. Darby Allin

After a VERY “Darby Allin” hype video where Darby crashed a car with a MJF mask-wearing man in the passenger seat, the match kicked off with MJF trying to live up to his promise: a pinfall victory using a headlock takeover. Darby got baited into three such headlocks, but avoided a fourth and decided to use some classic chain wrestling moves of his own, with both men grabbing each other in a Greco-Roman knuckle lock and going full World of Sport on each other (or, more famously, full Halloween Havoc ’98 on each other). After a bunch of half-hearted pinfall attempts out of the knuckle lock, Darby nearly pinned MJF with a rana, so MJF escaped the ring, only to be dove onto by a determined Darby.

Darby’s momentum was lost when he went for a Coffin Drop onto the apron and (as per usual) absolutely died. When he started to pick up steam in the ring again, another rana attempt got turned into a powerbomb onto MJF’s knee, which further destroyed Darby’s back but also ruined MJF’s knee. MJF learned through this match — as he once did with Sammy — that a lot of his offense relies on his knees, but not before he attempted to hit Darby with a top rope tombstone. Darby managed to reverse this into a top rope stunner, and both men were out.

Darby went for a Coffin Drop to capitalize on his stunner, but MJF rolled out of the ring. This didn’t stop Darby, as he just Coffin Dropped MJF on the floor and simply rolled MJF into the ring again to do it properly. Right before Darby collided with this second Coffin Drop, though, MJF got his knees up, injuring Darby and himself further. MJF wasn’t able to recover before Darby did, either, because as soon as he got up, Darby chop blocked him.

After a sick tombstone on the apron to Darby (which again injured MJF further), Wardlow and Spears tried to come out to help their man, but Sting knocked them away. Darby — the smartest babyface in wrestling — was undistracted and actually went for a roll-up himself, but he didn’t get it. MJF tried for one last time to break Darby mentally, giving Darby his own skateboard and telling him to hit him with it. Darby thought about it, gave it to ref Bryce Remsburg, then established himself as another dumb babyface when he turned his back to MJF. Max immediately slid on the Dynamite Diamond, punched Darby in the noggin, and pinned him with one final headlock takeover.

This match was really special, and it was a great way to start an energetic pay-per-view. It’s the fourth of six possible Pillar vs Pillar singles matches, with Jungle Boy vs Sammy Guevara and Jungle Boy vs Darby Allin left to unfold, and with MJF vs Guevara and now MJF vs Allin being two of my favorite matches this year, I’m really looking forward to the next decade (or at least next five years) of AEW.

Lucha Bros def. FTR to retain the AEW Tag Team Championships

The Lucha Bros had a strange entrance with masked army men and pyro grenades to kick this one off, but since they were seemingly about to go to war, it only made sense that the Brothers came out in camo.

As expected, this match was all about speed vs calculation. The Lucha Brothers are a well-oiled machine with predictable moves that still happen to fast to avoid; meanwhile, FTR would slow things down to a crawl or simply leave the ring to recuperate and discuss the next plan of attack. It was during one of these out-of-the-ring pow-wows that FTR finally got an edge over the Lucha Bros, dodging a dive from Penta and kicking him into the barricade, then catching a dive from Fenix and throwing him into his brother.

From here, FTR had a better time neutralizing their opponents’ offense. Penta started a 10-count punch on Dax in FTR’s corner, but Dax pulled away in powerbomb position and Cash grabbed Penta’s head to yank him down for an assisted alley oop/stun gun. Cash then tied Penta’s mask to the ropes, and though ref Rick Knox did untie the mask, it wasn’t before Dax could stomp a mudhole in him.

Penta finally put some moves together again and was finally free of FTR’s cornered-off attack so that he could tag in Fenix, but just before Penta could do so, Cash grabbed Knox’s attention and made him miss the tag. However, after Fenix did get tagged in, the flaw in FTR’s plan became clear: Fenix was very fresh. Fenix ran through both men despite being down 1-2, and he only lost his own momentum when Fenix’s schoolboy pin attempt was kicked out of, sending Fenix face-first into Cash’s AAA Tag Team Championship and into a brainbuster from Dax for 2.

Penta eventually blind-tagged himself back in to stop a Big Rig, but after Tully grabbed his leg, Penta was hit with two out of Three Amigos, as this show took place on the date and in the town that Eddie Guerrero passed away in 16 years ago. Penta reversed the third suplex and hit Three Amigos of his own (though they were admittedly worse than Dax’s), and Fenix topped it off by tagging in and hitting a beautiful frog splash for 2.9.

FTR hit their secondary finisher, the spike piledriver, and the Lucha Bros hit their former-finisher-turned-secondary, the stomping package piledriver, though with a crossbody off the stomp, but neither move put the other team away. Even FTR busting out a low-key Grand Amplitude (shoutout to American Alpha) couldn’t get the job done, so FTR tried to get creative. Dax had wrestled almost the entirety of the match, so FTR tried to sneak Cash into the match by rolling Dax out of the ring and having both men put on their Las Super Ranas masks under the ring. Rick Knox, the kayfabe garbage ref that he is, didn’t notice the hair or new tattoo and only noticed that “Dax” was trying to get a sneaky pin on Penta using the ropes for leverage, and while Not-Cash argued with the ref, the Lucha Brothers attacked him, hit their newer assisted piledriver finish, and pinned their froggy opponent to retain their titles.

Though Tully tried to argue that the pin shouldn’t have counted because it was Cash, Knox shrugged it off because it’s FTR’s fault, anyway. Though a lot of people had the consensus that it was a great match marred by a weird finish, I actually liked the ending, as FTR outplayed themselves for once and now have reason for a rubber match — likely title vs title.

Bryan Danielson def. Miro in the AEW Championship Eliminator Tournament Finals

Danielson put Miro over in pre-fight interviews by mentioning that he had never beaten Miro in their history of matches together, and seeing as Miro is an insane, God-threatening murder machine nowadays, you’d be forgiven for believing that Bryan Danielson didn’t have a better chance against Miro than Daniel Bryan had against Rusev.

And, as the match began, that take was validated. Excalibur on commentary likened this matchup to Danielson’s recent bout with Minoru Suzuki, with Miro openly inviting kicks and chops. Danielson was always happy to oblige, but the moment Miro fired back, Danielson crumpled to the mat like his name was Zack Sabre, Sr.

However, the one mistake that Miro made was walking into a match with Bryan whilst wearing an obvious target on his body: the heavily bandaged quad. And though Bryan didn’t actually go for that leg — at one point actively putting the un-bandaged leg in a leg lock and paying for it when Miro lifted him up and slammed him — the now DOUBLE weakened legs did allow Bryan enough wiggle room to get to the ropes when Miro finally got the Game Over locked in.

Between the leg lock and a LeBell Lock later on, Miro looked like he was on the verge of tapping multiple times in this one, but it was a DDT from the top rope and a front facelock that made Miro pass out. Danielson became next in line for the AEW World Championship and handed Miro his first submission loss in the process.

Now, this match actually cast some doubt about the results of the upcoming main event. Though the easy money for the main event was on “Hangman” Page, AEW’s money match will be the sequel to Kenny Omega vs Bryan Danielson, especially with a title on the line. I really enjoyed this match, though as soon as it was over, I was instantly worried.

But here’s the cool thing: I wasn’t worried about bad booking. My worries were fully within the storyline, and for that reason, I super love Bryan winning here.

Jurassic Express & Christian Cage def. The Superkliq

Right before the bell rang, I thought about the stipulation — a falls count anywhere street fight — and looked at Adam Cole and the Young Bucks in the ring with Excalibur on commentary. It was at this moment that I realized we were getting an upscaled PWG match.

The first few minutes were people hitting big spots, posing, then having a big spot hit on them, then having it repeat. Adam Cole got busted open early on, seemingly wearing a crimson headband to go with the Bucks’ hot pink ones. With Cole already weakened, Christian Cage tried to set Cole up for a Con-Chair-To from Jungle Boy, but the Bucks stopped it while Jungle Boy hesitated, and the match broke down from there.

Jungle Boy, Matt, Luchasaurus, and Cole all dove onto each other while Christian brawled into the crowd with Nick. After fending off Cutler and Nakazawa, Christian dove off of a balcony and sent Nick and the stooges through a table. As exciting as this was, the match was so crazy after this that it almost got lost in the shuffle.

Matt flipped off the stage; Luchasaurus did a shooting star press off the stage. Jungle Boy hit a running Snare Trap on Matt at the top of the ramp. Luchasaurus ate a three-way BTE Trigger with THUMBTACK KNEE PADS (which made me scream so loud that I worried what my neighbors would think).

Jungle Boy took the Superkliq’s camel clutch spot but with thumbtacks in his mouth, and THAT wasn’t the end! The final moment saw Jungle Boy get some revenge when he stopped Christian from hitting a Con-Chair-To on Matt and did the deed himself, pushing himself to the most extreme he’d ever been to win this match for his team.

I am absolutely here for Jungle Boy’s character growth, and though I didn’t expect the Superkliq to lose (see my shoddy fantasy booking in our Full Gear predictions piece), I’m more intrigued by this outcome to see where five of these characters — sorry, Luchasaurus — go from here.

PAC & Cody Rhodes def. Andrade El Idolo & Malakai Black

This match was smartly placed on the card. After two intense singles matches and two high-paced tag match extravaganzas that could only take place on PPV, I think this match found a middle ground and landed at a Dynamite match. Which, and I cannot stress this enough, is a good thing.

For starters, Dynamite matches rule. But further, I think this match had the crowd spend less time holding their breath for big spots and simply playing along with the characters in the match. PAC is undeniably a cool good guy, so he got cheered. Andrade and Malakai are different shades of cool bad guys, so they got booed when they hit PAC. And then, there’s Cody, who’s purposefully positioned not as AEW’s John Cena, but as AEW’s 2016 Roman Reigns.

I’ll explain.

So, as JR helpfully pointed out on commentary, this match wasn’t two teams facing off, but rather four singles competitors booked in a tag match. Though the match started with PAC and Andrade in the ring, Cody tagged himself into the match to a chorus of boos. Then, before Cody and Andrade could lock up, PAC tagged himself in to raucous cheers, Sheamus/Cesaro or Squidward/SpongeBob style.

This was to be expected — PAC hates everyone, and Cody is quite hateable — but what was unexpected was the breakdown of Andrade and Malakai’s team as their egos got the best of them. Though they did purposefully tag each other in at points, a lot of their tags were blind tags as well, though rather than get in each other’s faces, they (mostly Andrade) just faked smiles. In general, they were the better team, but something was definitely off.

PAC and Cody’s position as the worse team was solidified when this match devolved into a handicap match, as PAC blind-tagged himself into the match, Cody complained, then Black hit Cody with his Black Mass/Sin Eater. It was fortunate that Cody was the illegal man, but it was unfortunate that PAC basically couldn’t tag out for the next 2/3 of the match.

Though Cody did get back in for a little bit after sitting out the whole time (shades of “Roman’s sleeping” from the 2016 Rumble), the final bit of the match was totally won by PAC, with PAC hitting a Black Arrow on Andrade while Black beat up Cody on the outside.

I’m curious to see where Andrade and Black go from here, as they did lose this match after getting heated, but FTR still assaulted PAC post-match, and Malakai willingly worked with them. It especially makes me wonder what Andrade’s list of allies — and enemies — will look like this time next month.

Britt Baker def. Tay Conti to retain the AEW Women’s Championship

For their entrances, a face-painted Tay Conti waved a huge hybrid flag of the US and Brazil, whereas Britt Baker got played to the ring by Rich Ward of Fozzy. Both entrances made the competitors feel pretty legit to me, with Tay feeling like a big time boxer (something about the flag cape) and Baker feeling like a rockstar next to a rockstar.

While the last match felt like a really necessary “cool down” match, this one didn’t get the crowd invested again. A lot of this match was wrestled in front of a crowd who sat on their hands, but despite this, Tay Conti still came out looking like a million bucks.

Tay took a lot of damage in this one — an Air Raid Crash on the apron, multiple curb stomps, getting thrown into the steps by Hayter, a curb stomp ONTO the steps — and just kept getting back up. She still sold her beating, but she avoided a much earlier loss simply by being smart.

Tay avoided the Lockjaw by rolling it into a pin twice. She avoided a curb stomp onto the apron and knocked Britt off the apron with a bicycle kick, giving her time to recover from the step stomp. She ran through both of Britt’s managers, then kept her wits about her enough to not allow Britt to get this upper hand on her.

There are just two things that really damaged the perception of Tay coming out of this. First, as I always say, it makes NO SENSE for Tay to willingly wrestle a heel with two managers without bringing her noted best friend with her to ringside.

But the big complaint specifically for this match is that Tay’s big moves were weakened. No, I don’t expect her to win with the Gotch Piledriver, but if the Tay-KO wasn’t going to do it, you’d assume the DD-Tay would. Britt got the luxury of Tay avoiding her finisher, but Tay got all of her moves kicked out of. It’s nice that Britt had to roll Tay up to put her down, but I don’t think Britt had to kick out of ALL of her moves.

Still, I walked away from this match pretty happy. Tay Conti is awesome, and I hope she gets her props coming out of this.

CM Punk def. Eddie Kingston

We’re officially past Punk’s entrance being a special attraction in itself, because aside from him busting out a variant of the ROH shorts, this entrance was anything but a soak-it-all-in love fest for Punk. He marched down to the ring, got in Eddie’s face, and promptly got his bell rocked by a wicked Uraken.

After flipping Kingston off to prove he was ready to compete, Kingston bit Punk’s forehead and got him all bloody. Kingston tried to drop Punk onto the concrete floor but couldn’t get the mat up, but the two of them still dropped each other with some brutal tosses on the outside.

Inside the ring were a lot of closed-fist punches, middle fingers, and uncensored F-bombs from both parties (and also Tay Conti and the Inner Circle and “Hangman” Page throughout the show). While Punk did have one loving tribute for Eddie Guerrero when he hit the Three Amigos, he also had a spiteful tribute in store for Eddie when he hit John Cena’s shoulder tackles into a back drop, then lifted his hands up for a “You Can’t See Me,” only to flip off Eddie instead.

Eddie got the upper hand over Punk through punches and throws, but his step too far was taking a moment to use Punk’s “Go To Sleep” taunt for the crowd and pantomime masturbation before immediately eating a GTS. Fortunately for Kingston, this took all the wind out of both men, as Punk sat inside the ropes and tried to blink blood out of his eyes.

One more GTS later, and Punk beat Kingston in a match that felt really short compared to everything else but burned bright for the entire time it lasted. I was really ready for Kingston to beat Punk at Full Gear, but losing tonight doesn’t mean he will never get a shot at Punk again. In fact, because Kingston refused to shake Punk’s hand after the bell and Punk smirked at him as Kingston stormed out of the ring, I feel like their next match will take place sooner rather than later.

The Inner Circle def. American Top Team & The Men of the Year

This match started off really goofy and dumb, but in a way that I found endearing. To differentiate itself from the earlier street fight, not only did this match have actual tag rules with legal men and such, but the only weapons that were supplied at ringside were items that were invented in the state of Minnesota (e.g. hockey sticks, water skis, and toasters). Oh, and there were footballs, which immediately got JR into this one.

Andrei Arlovski was mostly paired with Jake Hager throughout this one, and while that was fine, both men’s best moments weren’t strictly tied to each other, as Arlovski looked to be a formidable tag team wrestler with Dos Santos and looked cool throttling Sammy Guevara. Meanwhile, Hager dove off the top rope for what feels like the first time ever.

Dos Santos was slow to each of his spots, but he was still impressive because of the punishment he took throughout. One standout moment was Santana & Ortiz hitting him with a tandem superplex to get him out of the way of Guevara’s big moment: a huge swanton off a gigantic ladder at ringside that put Scorpio Sky through a table.

Now, before we can get to Dan Lambert’s performance in particular, we have to get to the surprise main character of this match: 81-year-old wrestling legend and master of the Iron Claw, Baron Von Raschke. Von Raschke was introduced to the crowd prior to the match as a special visitor, and he cheered on the match from the front row, seated right next to Hager’s wife, Catalina.

When Ethan Page went to taunt Catalina, Von Raschke defended the honor of the Inner Circle by murderizing Page to death with an Iron Claw. With Page out via claw, Sky out via swanton, Santos sort-of-out via superplex, and Arlovski out via toaster-bludgeoning, this only left Dan Lambert in the ring with Chris Jericho.

Now, Lambert was going full Heenan in this match, jumping around and causing mild distractions and trying to steal finishers. But with all of his boys out, Jericho not only beat him down with punches and lariats, but also a kendo stick (after a weird spot where Dos Santos was late breaking up a lionsault). Jericho hit a frog splash in Eddie Guerrero’s honor, pinned Dan Lambert, then looked up at the sky and mouthed, “I love you, Eddie,” while the rest of the Inner Circle came in and hugged their leader.

Promo Break: Tony Schiavone and ???

Before the main event, Schiavone is on stage to announce a new signing to AEW: ROH and TNA veteran, Jay Lethal! Lethal marks out just being next to Schiavone, but aside from getting to be interviewed by the voice of WCW, Lethal’s also here to win championships, and he wants to challenge Sammy Guevara for the TNT Championship this upcoming Wednesday on Dynamite. With ribs taped up, Guevara comes back out to the arena and tells Lethal that he accepts.

“Hangman” Adam Page def. Kenny Omega to become AEW World Champion

After a beautiful entrance video, a lower third that said “We’re proud of you,” and years of growing confidence, Hangman made his way down the ramp to face a man who not only wields the One-Winged Angel but is dressed as one to boot. Both men looked like a million bucks, but Omega was clearly rattled on the way to the ring by one sign in the front row: “What Would Kota Think?” When the bell rang, Hangman didn’t hesitate to get in Omega’s face, getting to the center of the ring quite a bit before Omega did to face off with him.

And, then, Omega started beating Hangman up. Hangman fought out of a few moves here and there, but Omega’s moveset simply flows from move to move too well for anyone to break it up. Knees, chops, rolling sentons, eventual Tiger Drivers — Omega was hitting Hangman with a little bit of everything until his “You Can’t Escape” moonsault finally got scouted by Hangman, as he used a pair of boots to stop his former tag partner’s most rehearsed move.

Hangman fought his way back into the match, looking for a Buckshot but settling on multiple rolling forearms and a diving lariat through the timekeeper’s table. At one point, Hangman got Kenny in the ropes and went for a V-Trigger but ended up getting kneed in the head himself, having to go back to his own signature forearms to keep up with the champion.

And when he did do his own thing, it worked. Like Omega, Hangman’s moves started flowing together as well, turning forearms into powerbombs and then getting right into position for the Buckshot. Hangman went for his finish, but as soon as he flipped over the ropes, Omega pulled referee Paul Turner in the way and had the poor zebra eat the lariat instead. Omega and Callis tried to use the AEW Championship as a weapon — the same way they did last time Omega and Page were opponents — but Hangman took out Callis and hit Omega with a Deadeye, almost getting the win when ref Aubrey Edwards ran down to count the pin.

Hangman contemplated using the belt as a weapon himself, but he left it alone and opened himself up for a further assault from Kenny, but he avoided the One-Winged Angel and ended up hitting one himself, giving people the One-Winged Angel kickout they were hoping for but with the participants switched, as Kenny kicked out of his ultimate finishing move.

In this late stage of the match, the Young Bucks hobbled their way down the ramp, seemingly ready to test out Hangman’s Rampage threat of, “I’ll ruin you,” if they touched him during the main event. Callis was out, and Hangman had all the momentum, and the only thing that could ruin Hangman now was interference — a grabbed leg, the same way he once ruined the Young Bucks’s chance at a Tag Team Championship match.

Hangman got in position for a Buckshot Lariat, and Nick Jackson didn’t interfere, allowing Hangman to hit his finish to the back of Kenny’s head. With Kenny still standing, Hangman got in position for the final blow, and with Matt Jackson right there, fully capable of ruining him, Matt simply nodded.

Hangman Adam Page finally hit the Buckshot Lariat on Kenny Omega.

And finally, Hangman Adam Page became the AEW World Champion.

Hangman fulfilled his promise to become champion, settled his score with the Elite, and celebrated in the ring with the Dark Order. The goofy smile on my faces as the show went off the air was worth $50 alone, and with an amazing show beforehand with zero duds and multiple certified bangers? This is certainly one of my favorite AEW pay-per-view events.

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