It’s fitting that AEW Double Or Nothing was held in Las Vegas. If you’re in a desert dying of thirst, a drop of water seems like a life-saver.
Mainstream pro wrestling is a tough desert to traverse. When you make it over the next dune, there’s John Cena again. You see salvation on the horizon, but it turns out to be just another Roman Reigns push. For a lot of wrestling fans, Double Or Nothing was an oasis in the desert.
The hype for Double Or Nothing hasn’t died down yet, and die-hard wrestling fans are over the moon about it. It’s being called a game-changer, from the opening battle royal to the arrival of Jon Moxley. And we ourselves even said that it built a new standard.
But did it really?
Was AEW’s opening salvo a true oasis, or was it a mirage? As with all things in pro wrestling, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Double Or Nothing started off with its Buy In preshow, opened by the 21-man Casino Battle Royale match. And it was filled with all the things wrestling fans have been clamoring for from WWE’s product for more than a decade.
There was Jimmy Havoc stapling a lit cigarette to Joey Janella’s head, and later he staple-gunned Tommy Dreamer’s nuts. It was the kind of madcap callback to ECW that hardcore wrestling fans have been begging to see.
And later, there was the run-in from Orange Cassidy, doing his comedy schtick with his slacker attack on “Hangman” Adam Page. A meta gag to tease the smart fans who love to have their knowledge of kayfabe rewarded.
And yet, it was all too familiar. There were the Attitude Era throwback entrants like Dreamer and Billy Gunn. The over-the-top elimination rules and a championship match waiting for the winner. This was the Royal Rumble match with a staple gun and a legless dude (Dustin Thomas 4-life).
Honestly, was it any different than a Royal Rumble match with a surprise entry by a legend like Diesel or DDP, followed up by a comedy spot from an R-Truth or a Santino Marella?
And then there’s the match between the Young Bucks and the Lucha Bros. I can’t and won’t deny that it was a great match. It was a fun match, and it very much highlighted AEW’s desire to bring tag team wrestling back to the forefront. But look deeper.
There was a spot where, and this is not an exaggeration, there were four superkicks in direct succession. I thought the cool thing was to complain that John Cena and Roman Reigns only ever do the same five moves.
It was a perfect example of a strategy that AEW will likely try to carry on after Double Or Nothing. It’s a fresh coat of paint on an old car. But to pretend that AEW reinvented the wheel with Double Or Nothing is just fooling ourselves.
It’s true, Double Or Nothing didn’t truly give us anything we haven’t seen before a million times over. Ultimately, though, that isn’t the point.
AEW gave us something old, tried, and true, and they presented it as something new and refreshing. What’s amazing is that it felt new and refreshing.
The natch between Cody and Dustin Rhodes is a perfect example.
Yeah, the opening with Cody and the throne was a tongue-in-cheek and not-so-subtle jab at Triple H. But here’s the thing: The whole affair was a Triple H match.
You’ve got Brandi at Cody’s side, playing Stephanie to his Triple H. On the other side of the ring, you’ve got Dustin. At this point, Dustin hadn’t wrestled a match in a year, and Cody’s mission was to end him. That’s the M.O. with any major Triple H opponent.
As the contest went on, they broadened the story beyond fan-service and turned it into an all-out fight. They weaved in the familiar, threw it back to old-school pro wrasslin’, and they brought it around to something to look forward to down the road.
I’ll keep saying this until I turn blue in the face: Set-up, payoff, conclusion, and a thread to pick up on.
Say what you want about about smoke-and-mirrors and misplaced hype. AEW proved with Double Or Nothing that they know how to tell a story.
As we said earlier, the real truth in all things pro wrestling, whether it be WWE, AEW, Ring Of Honor, whoever, is somewhere in the middle.
The truth is that it’s all smoke-and-mirrors. It’s all a mirage. That’s what pro wrestling, and indeed all types of storytelling, truly is.
Game of Thrones told the story of a land in turmoil with a political blood feud for leadership tearing everything apart at the seams. Star Wars is the story of an insignificant boy learning he has a significant destiny. Breaking Bad is a tragedy about a good man turned bad by his best intentions.
Those are all old stories. Some come from history, some come from legend, some are pulled straight out of Shakespeare. What’s important is that they told those old stories well.
Double Or Nothing told the same stories pro wrestling has been telling for a century. AEW did not mine any new gold, and they didn’t strike fresh oil. Double Or Nothing did not change the game. That isn’t important, though.
They made us feel like they did.
Feature image courtesy of Cody’s Twitter account.