The Best and Worst of AEW Double or Nothing 2021
Live crowds returned to an All Elite Wrestling event for the first time. Brandon Bethune evaluates the best and worst from this year’s Double or Nothing.
The world is reopening, and with it, professional wrestling is back to it’s crowd-pleasing best.
While All Elite Wrestling has consistently put on some of the best wrestling television in history with nobody there to cheer it, Double or Nothing 2021 saw the return of a live audience to a product that hasn’t felt truly ‘elite’ without it.
In turn, the audience at Double or Nothing provided a litmus test of sorts to see what will and what won’t work for AEW going into a hopefully bright future.
So in a bid to provide a different kind of wrestling review other than the standard match by match run-through, I want to look at the best and worst of Double or Nothing 2021 to break down some of the finer details of AEW’s PPV presentation formula, to decipher what will and won’t work in the future to ensure AEW does remain elite.
Best & Worst: The Little Things
One of many criticisms oftentimes levelled at AEW is that while they are doing a terrific job at being an independent on a budget, they sometimes lack some of the refinement needed presentation wise to look and feel bigger than that.
Recent examples, such as the botched explosives at Revolution, or Chris Jericho’s crash pad landing at Blood and Guts, have brought said issues to the forefront, but at Double or Nothing, these issues had less to do with grand production mishaps, but rather that of ill-advised match layouts.
Starting with The Young Bucks vs Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston, their AEW World Tag Team Championship Match told the story of the conniving and underhanded new attitude of Matt and Nick Jackson, against the grit and relentlessness of Mox and Kingston. In-ring, this was presented via the challengers attacking before the bell and the champions trying their best to isolate their dangerous opponents in 2 on 1 situations.
The latter is tag psychology 101, but unfortunately, mixing this with the former provides a striking disassociation with tag rules. This is a growing concern in modern wrestling, where the traditional nature of tag wrestling is fragmented by the “more is more” mentality often exhibited in Bucks productions. Now, I’m no Cornette – I was a big fan of this match and all four involved, but when Moxley and Kingston are more than willing to go after the Bucks before the bell, but Kingston won’t jump in to help Mox when he’s being blatantly double teamed in front of the referee, then I’m gonna pipe up. It’s inconsistencies such as these that can cripple bouts at times.
Returning to the presentation aspect of AEW, the Casino Battle Royale (much like the tag title bout before it) had a lot going for it. The over-complicated rules in an already saturated stipulation market had made it the middle child of the battle royal clan since 2019, (not quite the Royal Rumble but not quite the Reverse Battle Royal) but the inclusion of individual entrances allowed each performer their own chance to shine in a short space of time.
The same can’t be said for the match’s spots, as so many were squeezed together and poorly timed to fit in with the bout’s limitations, leaving the crowd with no time to react appropriately. A few examples:
- Christian and Matt Hardy’s in-ring reunion happened in a wide shot during a countdown
- Jungle Boy and Penta’s strike exchange forcing the production team to stop/start on Aaron Solow’s entrance music
- Lio Rush’s debut being over in what felt like seconds
The rushed nature of this match, missing many key spots without letting them breathe, meant it went down worse than it could’ve, especially considering the molten hot ending.
Granted, both of these matches were top notch, but no matter how good the action, if the pace and rules are inconsistent, it can drag the fans intrigue down immensely.
Best & Worst: Wrestling With Progression
Nice title right? Thought of it myself. Anyways, watching AEW Dynamite in recent weeks, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching wrestling from two different decades.
On one hand, you’ve got AEW’s ever-expanding women’s division. Despite receiving much deserved criticism since it’s inception, the likes of Hikaru Shida, Thunder Rosa, Nyla Rose, Serena Deeb, Riho, Tay Conti, Jade Cargill, Red Velvet, and of course Britt Baker, have worked tirelessly to legitimise the division and get it off the ground. In an era where a renewed focus on women’s wrestling is essential, AEW’s is slowly arriving to the surface level.
On the other hand, you’ve got Cody Rhodes vs Anthony Ogogo. In a rivalry born out of a slew of disgruntled students turning on their veterans, this somehow turned into an ill advised foreign heel vs American hero shtick straight out of the 1980’s.
This dissonance has placed very clear markers on what modern professional wrestling audiences want to see, with the buzz around Baker’s title win and the backlash towards Cody Rhodes’ transformation into his version of the ‘American Dream’ being exemplified through their respective crowd reactions during the show.
Rhodes vs Ogogo was highly anticipated before the bell for all the wrong reasons. It was all very WWE-esque, in which you feared the outcome so much that your excitement derived specifically from what the opposite outcome COULD be. The pre-match soldier support only furthered these fears, with the horribly stereotypical presentation of Ogogo and the overtly patriotic Rhodes setting the stage for disaster.
I’d largely sidestep the ‘Cody is Triple H’ arguments, but when Cody has single handedly torn apart the former members of his faction in such emphatic fashion in such as short space of time, I do smell ‘The Game’ being afoot somewhat. And as for Cody being too over the top in front of the crowd for this point to be valid, tell that to the silence that played out during the bout.
Long story short, the American hero vanquishing the foreign heel is very old Cody, and I know you like old, but this one isn’t a good.
What is a good look though? Britt Baker with that AEW Women’s World Championship.
Without ignoring the questions surrounding the booking of Shida’s title reign and the build to this bout, it cannot be denied that AEW have had one major positive in the fact that they have built Britt Baker up as the undisputed face of their women’s division. This was a role she was meant to have filled from day one, but ironically, the crowd were less than enthused. Fast forward one pandemic later, and the doctor was receiving a positively raucous reaction both coming in and out of her AEW Women’s Title triumph.
Therein lies the crux of this issue. AEW have shown with Baker that they are more than willing to work to alter the lesser parts of their product, but they’re not 100% there yet. With Ms. DMD at the helm, the sky’s the limit for the continued progression of the women’s division. Let’s just hope now they can do that with ‘The American Nightmare’, because Homelander comparisons aren’t a good look.
Best & Worst: Believing The Switch
Booking long championship reigns must be difficult. It really must be.
When someone such as a Kenny Omega or a Miro, in the beginning or middle of presumably long title reigns, are put on PPV against challengers with little to no real build, it can be very hard for fans to engage in the inevitable near-falls or drama intended to tease a major title switch. However when lured into the moment, there’s nothing better than that moment between the two and three of the count when the fans genuinely believe that the unlikely challenger could perhaps pull off the unthinkable.
Double or Nothing saw both men’s singles champions defend their respective gold in similar situations, against challengers some perhaps felt were more-so placeholders on long reigns rather than credible contenders. Nevertheless, one match very much succeeded in this aspect while another didn’t.
The TNT Championship battle between Miro and Lance Archer perhaps doesn’t deserve this criticism, given it was accepted that ‘The Murderhawk Monster’ would be a simple stepping stone for ‘The Best Man’. Lance has been in this position many times though, with both TNT and World Championship opponents for the last year, so it’d be fair to say that extra effort would need to be put in to get this match off the ground.
By and large, I’d say Miro vs Archer failed this task. Besides the bells and whistles of Jake Roberts’ interference and Miro straight up killing a snake, this match was a beefy beef-fest with little to no dramatic substance in its inevitable outcome. Again, potentially unfair criticism, as this was likely the intention, but considering what Omega and his World Title accomplished, perhaps the criticism is justified.
Kenny Omega’s battle with PAC and Orange Cassidy almost reached overkill for me, taking the smoke and mirrors of Miro/Archer to new levels in order to create faux professional wrestling tension, but it was the story behind the smoke that made it work. While Lance Archer has been killed as credible challenger, likely due to being a monster in an underdog position, the continuously underestimated Cassidy thrived in the role of underdog.
Placed in a match with two men arguably better than he, Cassidy’s drive towards the gold was what slowly attracted the audience towards the near falls in the bout. It didn’t work immediately, as any near fall with PAC and Cassidy lacked audience engagement, as the belief that Omega would lose without being beaten was perceived preposterous. But when the champ began to have his heelish tactics foiled by the persistent Cassidy, namely in a pair of match ending Orange Punches, even the most sceptical and smartened up viewers had no choice but to get caught up in OC’s race for the pinfall.
Alas, Cassidy lost. Kenny Omega is still the AEW World Champion, yet the difference in both title matches was the sense of importance from an audience perspective. People didn’t buy into Archer, but the Triple Threat made you buy into Orange Cassidy as AEW World Champion.
Just a note for the future when any placeholder title matches are taking place – while they can’t all be down to the wire, you can still make the audience lose the plot in the moment.
Best & Worst: (blank) is ALL ELITE
Small but significant gripe here, and a quick lesson how (and how NOT) to introduce a talent.
The aforementioned Casino Battle Royale was hyped before the show with the promise of a wild card no.21 entrant into the match, and the debut of ‘The MOTH’ Lio Rush was a pleasant one. It went down a treat with the crowd, he showed off his ridiculously fast paced move-set, and despite an early elimination, wowed the fans with his athleticism and charisma that fans will be dying to see him back.
As for Mark Henry, what was that? I understand the idea of wheeling out ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ as a PPV surprise to promote Dynamite on an unfamiliar time slot, but you could’ve at least had music for the man!
Again, only a small point, but this is another example of a rushed moment in the show ruining the long term memory of the moment in fans’ minds. Let’s be honest – who really was speaking about Henry coming out the show?
Best & Worst: The New (Old) Professional Wrestling
The best part of Double or Nothing was the fans, hands down. So naturally, the show that was meant to represent the return of a full capacity audience, was headlined by the second Stadium Stampede match. Go figure.
Almost every match on this show, from the electric Page vs Cage opener to the terrific Sting/Darby vs Sky/Page, was aided by a live crowd that had been starved of live wrestling for over a year, so wouldn’t you want some of your most popular performers like MJF and Chris Jericho to lead their factions into battle in front of this rabid audience?
Even worse, is that only a few weeks ago, these factions contested in AEW’s first ‘Blood and Guts’ Match that would’ve been absolutely perfect as a main event in front of this crowd. Instead, we got the walk and brawl stampede that lacked the vast creativity exhibited in last year’s edition. Moreso – when trying to move past the professional wrestling of the pandemic, holding onto a relic of that is not the way you’d want to welcome back live crowds, especially when it comes to the main event.
And it’s not like the match really suited the blood feud either. ‘Blood and Guts’ would’ve been a fittingly barbaric conclusion with a suitable stipulation attached to it, while Stadium Stampede felt like it ended the feud with a whimper rather than a bang. The same can be said for the show itself.
Nevertheless, when the chips were down, All Elite Wrestling more than proved its worth in front of a more than receptive fanbase. There were stumbles, and room for improvement in the future, but on pure fan sentiment alone throughout this stellar card, AEW is finally ‘elite’ once again.