It has been a busy week in the world of wrestling, WWE is full steam ahead for WrestleMania, NXT is preparing for a two-night TakeOver event, Impact is gearing up for a massive world title match featuring AEW World Champion Kenny Omega, but even with all of that going on the biggest moment of the last seven days has to be Thunder Rosa and Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.'s unsanctioned lights out match at last week's Dynamite. The match itself was a lot of fun and truly pulled off a PPV level match on a free episode of television. Rosa and Baker told a fantastic story in the ring and did not pull punches when it came to hardcore spots. Overall, most could agree that this was one of if not the best match of the week.
AEW has had many kinds of moments throughout their first 18 months or so on television. Huge violent matches that might not even be allowed on other promotions PPV cards, let alone weekly tv, have become commonplace for AEW, and that is a good thing. AEW offers something to fans that no other mainstream promotion is offering, and they need to own it.
It's strange to think about it, but ECW shuttered 20 years ago. Even the WWE relaunch of ECW folded 11 years ago. However, Extreme Championship Wrestling is the best place to start when defining what I mean by hardcore wrestling. The brand pioneered the extreme rules, hardcore style that has been reused and built upon in western professional wrestling for the last 25 years. While other promotions had been doing deathmatches and hardcore matches for years, it was really ECW that found the balance between entertaining and horrifying.
What I don't mean by hardcore wrestling is the over-the-top and incredibly dangerous matches that influenced ECW or were built on top of ECW. In the early 2000s, many independent promotions tried to fill the gap left by ECW and ended up taking it too far, resulting in many unfortunate and unsafe conditions for the wrestlers involved. To be clear, this not what I mean when I say that AEW needs to lean into hardcore.
AEW has been able to take the ECW style of hardcore wrestling and incorporate it into their existing presentation. There isn't really a need to bring out the glass light tubes or start actually lighting people on fire. Those a great ways to get a certain fanbase while alienating potential new viewers. There is a fine line between entertaining and shocking, and that is the line that AEW needs to be aware of.
The last thing I will say, just to cover my bases, is that I don't want to see the landing spot for the last runs of many ECW legends. A lot of places that want to emulate what ECW had will bring back guys like Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, and Rob Van Dam and exploit their connections to the long-gone promotion. If AEW wants to bring in those guys, that's not the end of the world but just using them to be "the old guard of hardcore" is played out at this point.
AEW Is Already Hardcore
I need to give credit where credit is due. AEW already does a great job of riding the line between entertaining violence and shocking violence. Even without emphasizing hardcore wrestling, they have built-in small changes to their presentation and rules that allow wrestlers to be a little more violent than their competition. Tag-team matches feature a 10-second count after a tag allowing for more brutal offense from the teams; refs rarely countout wrestlers who brawl on the outside of the ring; many wrestlers have signature weapons that aren't automatically banned from ringside such as Chris Jericho's bat or Shida's kendo stick. Those are all elements of non-extreme matches that give even the most standard match in AEW a little bit of an edge. When the rules go out the window, it really is; anything goes.
In addition to their existing lineup of fantastic hardcore matches, it's also safe to say that AEW isn't afraid of letting their wrestlers add a little color to the match. AEW's first official event, Double or Nothing's most memorable match, featured Dustin Rhodes covered in blood, while Full Gear 2019's Unsanctioned Lights Out Match between Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley landed the company with a $10,000 fine from the Maryland State Athletic Commission. It is safe to say that Tony Khan and co have a solid basis for becoming the next ECW.
AEW's Best Hardcore Matches
If you're excited for AEW's potential as the new hub for mainstream hardcore wrestling, these are the matches to go back and watch. Not all of these features a ton of blood and guts, but they all have the spirit of what I am talking about.
Thunder Rosa vs. Britt Baker, Unsanctioned Lights Out Match, AEW: Dynamite St. Patrick's Day Slam (3/17/21)
Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega, Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch for AEW World Championship, AEW Revolution 2021 (3/7/21)
Best Friends vs. Santana & Ortiz, Parking Lot Brawl, AEW: Dynamite (9/16/20)
Cody vs. Eddie Kingston, No Disqualification Match for TNT Championship, AEW: Dynamite (7/22/20)
The Young Bucks vs. The Butcher & The Blade, Falls Count Anywhere, AEW: Dynamite (7/22/20)
Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega, Unsanctioned Lights Out Match, AEW Full Gear 2019 (11/9/19)
These six matches alone could all have stolen the show at any hardcore event that any other mainstream promotion has put on in the last 10 years. This is the foundation that AEW could build itself upon as the new home of entertaining violent professional wrestling.
What do you think? What is your favorite hardcore match from AEW? Let me know by tweeting at me @robbydeshazer!
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