On May 25th, 2019, All Elite Wrestling showcased their star studded Double or Nothing pay per view event live from a sold out MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Walking into the MGM Garden Arena took your breath away. An enormous LED chandelier adorned with high definition screens was the first thing your eye was drawn to. This was mirrored by two walk out tunnels, each a glow with LED lighting built in on each side and even more LED screens were affixed above. Screens aside, there were also colossal-sized (every bit of ten feet in diameter) Double or Nothing poker chips. This night, however, was not merely about the majestic new luminous stage and walkway, the belle of the ball was in the center of the arena. The twenty by twenty wrestling ring emblazoned with three words that have given wrestling fans so much hope, All Elite Wrestling, was truly the center of attention. “Double or Nothing’ was All Elite Wrestling's inaugural pay per view event under the newly formed AEW brand. It was not only a commercial success (the show sold out in four minutes of tickets being released) but also the culmination of an idea that wrestling could be more than just an advertisement for a new video game. The AEW Vice Presidents said they would "change the world," of professional wrestling, and on this night they may have just done that.
Standing next to the cameras I watched as fans began filing in. The building transformed from a pristine mausoleum of hope to a sea of humanity teeming with excitement. The sold out crowds’ “oohs” and “aahs” as they laid their eyes on the beautiful canvas, whereupon art would be performed this evening, grew exponentially with each fan entering the arena. Those oohs and aahs gradually escalated from a soft murmur to an all out ferver, this would shape the atmosphere for this era-defining event. By bell time every nook and cranny was filled with fans ready to be a part of something special, refusing to sit idly on their hands. Wrestling, at it’s best, engages the fans on an almost primal level, causing grown men to weep openly and to elicit those feelings of pure joy harkening back to the first time the pageantry and spectacle was exposed to you. On this night, with this crowd, reveling in the enormity of what they were about to behold, their collective passion helped to elevate Double or Nothing to something even bigger than could be expected.
While some of the biggest names in the sport were on display this evening, egos were surprisingly left at the door, and the assemblage acted towards a mutual goal. President Tony Khan; alongside the Executive Vice Presidents of AEW, worldwide superstars Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, Nick and Matt Jackson; were quoted as saying, "Fans want an alternative," and, "we want to give them the best professional wrestling product."
As the pyrotechnics began to signal the beginning of the live pay per view broadcast, there were already thousands of AEW die hard fans screaming at the top of their lungs in anticipation. From the first toll of the iconic bell, you could not help but to think that you were seeing history being made in front of your very eyes. The pay per view opened with action and didn’t look back once eschewing the all too familiar breaks for popcorn, in favor of end to end spectacle. This show was AEW announcing to the world that athleticism, presentation, inclusivity and story-telling would be the rule not the exception. AEW on this historic night, not only delivered on these promises, but also left us all wanting even more.
One of the advertised co-main events was the long anticipated battle of Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes, a match that had been intimated at for years, back to when the participants were both awash in golden dust, it was a battle to redefine the royalty and historical significance of the Rhodes family in wrestling. From the first familiar tones of “Kingdom,” and Cody's proclamation that, “Wrestling has more than one royal family,” until the walk back up the ramp, the fans were on the edge of their seats.
Cody entered with bluster and bravado as only he can, accompanied by his dazzling bride Brandi, they passed by a throne that looked all to familiar to long-frustrated wrestling fans. A recreation of WWE COO Paul Levesque’s Wrestlemania trope of a Iron Cross Throne was placed at the top of the entrance ramp. Cody put the exclamation point on his entrance by smashing the WWE iconography with a sledge hammer loaded with catharsis. Dustin Rhodes followed next with his trademark face paint, this time with only half his face obscured in a red and black painted design. Somewhere up high you could feel that their legendary Hall of Fame Father Dusty Rhodes was looking down on his two sons and the journey they were about to embark on, and was no doubt overjoyed by their decisions to follow Dusty’s trail-blazing ways. Chants of, “DUSTY! DUSTY! DUSTY!” filled the air, bringing the proud brothers to a halt before the action could begin. With eyes still red from the emotion of the moment, the story was already being written better than we could of ever imagined.
Cody and Dustin battled throughout this match with younger brother Cody having the upper hand for much of the exchange. However, in true Rhodes fashion, Dustin refused to quit and kept battling back. Dustin found himself bleeding in this one as if he were back in his historic ‘King of the Road’ match from 1995. The crowd willed Dustin to a fiery comeback, which Cody would dash to an end with a Disaster Kick, followed up with a Cross Rhodes, but was unable to pin his brother. Cody, reluctantly would lift up his bloodied and beleaguered older brother for another Cross Rhodes and the accompanying 1,2,3 of victory. With tears in their eyes fans looked on as Cody walked over and picked up a microphone. Cody told the crowd that he needed a partner for a future encounter with The Young Bucks, he gazed upon his older brother, battered and bloody and exclaimed, “I don't need a partner...I don't need a friend...I need my older brother!" The two brothers then embraced, amidst a ring decorated with their blood, sweat and tears. After the show Dustin expounded, “Vince better watch his ass," in reference to his long-time former employer and CEO of WWE Vince McMahon.
The Rhodes reunion would not be the only wrestling royal lineage on display this evening. A pink hue washed over the crowd, and Jack Whitehall informed the masses that a special guest was headed to the ring with the AEW Championship Title for it’s presentation. “The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be, Bret Hart!” Bret Hart would make his way down the entrance ramp where twenty-six years prior to this Bret, defended his World Title in front of a capacity crowd at Wrestlemania in Las Vegas, he would return to Sin City and grace us all with the newly christened AEW World Championship Title.
We later saw AEW's desire to reinvigorate and showcase tag team wrestling as The Young Bucks Matt and Nick Jackson battled The Lucha Brothers Pentagon and Fenix. The action of this match would rival anything in any sport or wrestling match this year. These four men not only showcased their amazing athleticism but their high flying abilities as well. The Young Bucks Matt and Nick Jackson were faced with knocking off the ring rust against the well-oiled Lucha Brothers. In the beginning, the brothers Jackson struggled to get on the same page. A few minutes into the match the Bucks looked to finally get on the same page, however it looked to be too little too late as both Young Bucks took a plethora of punishment up to this point. The Young Bucks, ever the showmen, paid tribute to the team they wrestled over one hundred times during the formative years of their careers, The Motor City Machine Guns, as the Young Bucks unleashed a Powerbomb Sliced Bread on Fenix. Shortly after this the Young Bucks, in an homage to their underground underdog compadre El Generico, would dole out a top rope Brainbuster on Fenix into the top turnbuckle. Not to be outdone, Pentagon while exchanging with Matt Jackson on the apron with dueling kicks, would fall back and then jump off of Fenix's back and hit a Canadian Destroyer on Matt Jackson to the most unforgiving part of the ring apron. During the ensuing maelstrom Fenix would spring onto the top rope and catch Nick with a spring-board Canadian Destroyer resulting in a two count for the ages. The final five minutes of this epic match would have these four phenomenal athletes spend more time in the air than on the canvas. Amidst the aerial artistry Pentagon had been targeting the shoulder of Matt Jackson, he then locked in the harrowing Hammerlock Arm Snap. Matt would have to battle back with one arm, he heroically lifted Fenix upside down while Nick Jackson leapt off the top rope at that same time for their iconic finisher the Meltzer Driver. With the bell ringing and the crowd going bananas, The Young Bucks battled adversity and found themselves winning not just a match but penning a statement as to what tag team wrestling could be.
The crowd, high on spectacle and statements, was in store for another grand surprise. Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho would reprise their rivalry from Japan for a historic main event. Chris Jericho, a veteran of almost three decades, has continued to reinvent himself and his career over the last few years. Jericho paid homage to all of his past personas and tropes that have brought him to this point, this was a tremendous visual as it encapsulated Chris’s past to everyone watching, it also firmly stated that this is not the beginning of the end for him but it is simply a new beginning. Kenny Omega, the darling of those in the know and pound for pound one of the best on the planet, found himself battling Chris Jericho for the honor of being able to compete in the first ever title bout for the AEW Championship. These two titans of their industry battled in, out and all around the ring, early in the match Kenny Omega would break his nose making it increasingly difficult to breathe effectively for the remainder of the match. Jericho utilizing his new favorite maneuver, The Judas Effect, a viscous spinning back elbow, would be the final straw, landing squarely on the already broken nose of Kenny Omega. Jericho would summarily pin Omega, finding himself the victor of the main event of ‘Double or Nothing,’ Chris wasted no time in admonishing the fans for not showing him the respect he that was owed to him.
Amidst this cacophony of anguish to finish what had been a triumphant and era-defining evening the oohs and ahhs returned. A familiar unhinged figure was making his way through the crowd, freed of a superfluous flak jacket, an unstable air took over the crowd. Jon Moxley, the former WWE World Champion, was making his way toward the triumphant Jericho. Legendary announcer Jim Ross would relay that the crowd noise was deafening even decibel record-setting for the surprise arrival of Moxley. Jon entered the ring and waylaid Jericho with a Double Armed DDT as the electric crowd erupted in sheer joy as they realized Jon Moxley had signed with AEW. Jon Moxley continued his arrival parade by attacking the referee with another Double Arm DDT. Moxley quickly turned his attention to the injured Kenny Omega, Moxley attempted a third rendition of the devastating DDT variant but Omega would manage to escape the same fate that had befallen Jericho. The two men would battle out of the ring and up the ramp. Bathed in the glow of the jaw-dropping chandelier the duo would climb the colossal tower of monikered poker chips where Moxley would throw Omega from the top and send him crashing to the floor below. The show would end and Moxley, not the victorious Chris Jericho, would be standing tall.
The story doesn’t merely end here, fan sentiment as the arena emptied was at an all time high. An excitement for a fresh alternative to the stale formula broadcasted five hours a week, was everywhere. This was perhaps the day the business of professional wrestling has changed. Fans leaving the arena could be heard saying "greatest show ever" and "I'm so happy pro wrestling is back." It has been a long time since I have left a professional wrestling event and the fans left buzzing with positivity, happiness, and pure excitement. One by one the fans walked out all grinning from ear to ear, safe in the knowledge that they were part of history. They left fulfilled knowing that they were appreciated by the company they had come out in droves to support. AEW in one evening managed to go from a fan service t-shirt selling pipe dream to a real bonafide product. Before heading back to the press area I just stopped and found myself awash in amazement. The AEW ring being carefully broken down, a ring that housed what could go down as this generation's most profound wrestling memory. Hogan slamming Andre, Shane Douglas throwing down the belt, Dusty realizing the American Dream and beating Harley, and now Moxley defiantly silencing Jericho.
When a few wrestlers decided to shock the system and say no, fed up with being marginalized, they found a better way for everyone. When these wrestlers declared it is not always about the money, it is about being happy and performing their art on the center on the canvas, and put their money where the mouth was something great happened. This day was the day a bonafide superstar from New York decided to leave a multi-billion dollar company and join some “pissants” in AEW. All Elite Wrestling sent their message to the world, and painted art on their canvas this past Saturday. All Elite Wrestling will join TNT and Turner broadcasting for live television this fall, and their canvases will be on display to a much larger gallery of eyes. The goal was to "Change The World," they just might have accomplished that.