Before I get to All Elite Wrestling‘s inaugural showcase, Double Or Nothing 2019, I’d like to give my thoughts on Starrcast as well as mention a few hiccups surrounding both weekend events. For the most part, Starrcast II was a fun-ass time. Whether you believe that the host of several hit podcasts (including Jim Ross’ new and excellent “Grilling with JR”), Conrad Thompson, and his pro wrestling convention is directly linked to AEW or not, there’s no doubt that Starrcast is still a reflection of the ongoings of All Elite. So here goes.
Things that went great:
- There was lots of breathing space at Caeser’s Palace, despite some folks who work at MGM telling me they were baffled as to why Conrad didn’t just have it there. That said it never felt stuffy being inside the “Collector’s Corner”, the area where vendors sold their wares and an assortment of legends of wrestling past and AEW-related talent had tables set up for meet-and-greets– unlike the clusterfuck that was WrestleCon this past April at the New York Hilton Midtown.
- Panels featuring our childhood heroes like Bret Hart (w/ Sean Mooney) and Sting (w/ Tony Schiavone) were pretty awesome, despite my missing a portion of each, ’cause 10am in Las Vegas — on a travel day in particular — is way too fucking early. Both chats offered tons of wonderful stories, some of which have never been told. Stinger was especially charismatic, and needs his own podcast ASAP. Hart had no filter. “The Hitman” said whatever damned crossed his mind, with lots of great stories to tell; I didn’t care so much for the Tom Magee stuff, though. While a captivating story, having Magee there sitting next to Bret felt awkward and I had no interest watching the match again. The X-Pac panel we attended, “Monday Night War Stories”, wasn’t as great, but that had more to do with the host Mark Madden not shutting the fuck up.
- Erik Hodson‘s wrestling comic book art. These prints were everything. I had about 3 or 4 of them in my hand before settling on this killer Brian Pillman piece…
Things that went bad:
- Merch. Shocker, right? It almost makes you wonder if Pro Wrestling Tees wanted you to order shit online instead. Getting your hands on AEW merchandise at Starrcast was atrocious, really, the only line as bad as many of the major legend meet-and-greets; but, personally, meeting Sting wasn’t so bad since event volunteers were so clueless you could finagle your way to the front (just sayin’). While a nice gesture, only having two choices of AEW t-shirts to buy in the MGM lobby gift shop was dumb. As far as getting your hands on gear at the show… HAVEN’T THEY LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THE NEW JAPAN LONG BEACH SHOWS? When you’re a promotion that’s jokingly but not inaccurately labeled a “t-shirt company”, one would figure there’d be plenty of merch available in and around the MGM Grand Garden. To AEW’s credit, there were three spots to grab stuff; but obtaining merch at either of the two optional “pop-up” booths inside was utter chaos. No lines; just a free-for-all. Sizes and options ran out fast. The main merch station had a super lenghty line throughout the show, and by the end of Double Or Nothing, all show exclusives were wiped out. Glad I got to order that kick-ass Moxley shirt for 20% off today on PWT with just seconds left on the deal, though.
- Official Double Or Nothing after party. Although it was promoted as SCU All Night, it was more like SCU Later I’m Out. What a crock of shit this thing was. Although I did get there terribly late, I didn’t see L.A. Guns. All I saw were a bunch of sweaty marks that haven’t showered in 3 days sitting in convention chairs surrounded by what was pretty much the entire floor space’s “V.I.P. Area”. There were two mini-bars with the slowest/oldest of bartenders making drinks. It’s so fucking brilliant, Conrad. Get people to buy the $80 or whatever it was “all you can drink” package and consquently only get 1 or 2 drinks with that bracelet — maybe! — in addition to the $105 they already spent just to get in the thing. The closed off V.I.P. area was the party, and I know I was late.. but it’s not like anyone was in there hangin’ with The Elite or anything anyway. A few indie guys were there and c-list celeb podcaster/comedian/musicians, of course. I was there maybe 10-minutes max. Again, this was.. the worst.. party.. I EVER BEEN IN!
- And here I save the best for last: the line to get into Double Or Nothing. Holy shit–this was a fucking disaster. Nothing like 13,000-plus marks getting screened by security in one little section of a casino. It was just SO BAD. My pal and I got there about 20-minutes after 3pm doors (which in itself is an absolute shit time to open the doors when the “Buy In” pre-show began at 4pm). The line, I swear, felt a mile and a half long. It went all the way down from the MGM Grand Garden through the entire Wet Republic pool area all the way down to the street behind the casino all the way down to the very end of the block. After an Uber failed to pick up my pal and I, we gave up on the line and decided to hit the blackjack table for a bit to kill some time… only to accidentally have merged into the line maybe just 75 feet from the front. This stroke of fuckery saved our night.
Whew. Now onto the real reason we were there!
–Casino Battle Royal – Future AEW Title Shot: Supposedly this little 5-enter-at-a-time battle royal rumble thingy was way better for those live in attendance. It was completele fan service for the smarkiest of smarks, a cool combination of nostalgia and fresh faces. “The Perfect 10” Shawn Spears got over huge, and him and MJF could wind up a pretty solid program. Glacier did his whole Sub-Zero thing and the fans around me chuckled when I shouted “FINISH HIM!” Yeah, I’m a dork. Michael Nakazawa was fun and got all baby-oiled up– Mike Tyson approved. My man Brian Pillman Jr. hit a classic slingshot clothesline reminscent of his pops. Jimmy Havoc and Tommy Dreamer brought the hardcore to the Royal, while Joey Janela took a wicked table bump. Luchasaurus is big and has a bad name. Private Party (or the “Street Profitz”, if you ask Uncle Dave), Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen, hit a wicked double high-spot; excited to see more from these two. Hangman Page eventually and ever-so-predictably got the Joker card as entrant #21, but I still popped and he was awesome. Glad to see him grow into such a huge star. While not up to the level of All In‘s “Over Budget Battle Royal”, this was still tons of fun live and the right guy won. – 3.25/5
–Kip Sabian v Sammy Guevara – These two up-and-coming cruiserweights had the best possible match in this 10-minute “death spot” before the show kicked off. Kip and Sammy busted their ass, both looking fluid, having nice ring chemistry and nailing a ton of gorgeous moonsaults, shooting star presses and dangerous counters. This was fun, and maybe the best I’ve seen Sammy look since his match with Fenix at Mystery Vortex V. Hopefully Kip does more with this rub than Matt Cross did following his victory over MJF at All In… – 3.75/5
–SCU (Frankie Kazarian, Scorpio Sky, and Christopher Daneils) v Strong Hearts (CIMA, Lindaman and T-Hawk) – An awesome opening 6-man tag that showcased the talents of Strong Hearts. While these aren’t the innovative highflyers from OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainent) you hear buzzed about, this trio worked super in-sync with SCU. Both trios had phenomenal triple team spots and worked at a pleasing pace. Lindaman hit a pair of impressive deadlift germans. CIMA is awesome. Kazarian was especially good. Just a whole lotta fun. – 3.75/5
–Dr. Britt Baker v Kylie Rae v Nyla Rose v Awesome Kong – Arguably the worst match on the show and still good. Brandi’s swerve (in full ring gear) to debut Awesome Kong was outstanding. The pop the legendary woman’s wrestler and G.L.O.W. actress received may have been second to only Moxley. It was wild. Kylie Rae is Bayley done right. Baker was really solid and the right pick to win (and won via Last Shot a.k.a. Ushigoroshi!). Kong was limited, but still had a great presence about her. Rose wasn’t good at all. This had great heat, but nothing wrestling-wise on the woman’s 4-way from All In. – 3/5
–Best Friends v Jack Evans & Angelico – So much neon lime green! You could tell looking at the big screens in the arena that Evans and Angelico (a.k.a. Kendrick and London a.k.a. Matt and Jeff) popped on-screen. Having never seen their stuff in Lucha Underground — I know, I know — I was impressed. And much like The Addiction/SCU, Trent and Chuckie are just so reliable. Their counter-based style worked wonders with the death-defying stuff of Jack and Angelico. It didn’t take long to see tandem 450s, assisted moonsaults, 630s, crucifix buckle bombs, etc. Trent and Chuckie would eventually get the win with an Electric Chair/Flying Knee Combo and the Strong Zero sit-out piledriver, ultimately making their opponents look strong in the process. Post-match, the WWE half of the crowd starts a chant “who are you?” when the Super Smash Bros invade and destroy all 4 guys with a slew of minion clones by their side. – 3.75/5
–Hikaru Shida, Riho Abe, & Ryo Mizunami v Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, & Emi Sakura – Match needed more lime green. Seeing how this was easily the most “DDT” thing on the card, it wouldn’t have shocked me to see the 6 Japanese ladies use my joke as a literal weapon of war. This was completely different than anything else on the show, for better (if you’re a smark/joshi weeb) or worse (a WWE casual); even so, there was a huge “this is wrestling” chant that rung throughout the Grand Garden and the fast and furious tags, stiff strikes, surprising hardcore elements, and Aja Kong’s mystifying presence all got great pop. While Shida looks like the biggest superstar in the match with the literal looks of a superhero, Yuka was arguably the best received; The Magical Girl was just that with lots of flair, speed and ability. Far from perfect, this was a fun tease for what I can only hope will lead to more eyes on the Joshi scene. – 3.5/5
–Cody v Dustin Rhodes – The Rhodes brothers meet in a classic early-80s NWA/WWF style match. The storytelling, emotional psychology, crowd heat, match lay-out, build-up, etc. etc. was top-notch. It even had the perfect zebra for the job in Earl Hebner. This was arguably Cody’s magnum opus, while Dustin raised his game to a level not seen in years with a face was bloodier than a Xenomorph’s lunch. A master seller, “The Natural” even hit a string of moves that included a Code Red, Superplex and Curtain Call. Greatness! In the end, Cody destroys Hunter’s throne, any anomosity between him and his older half-bro, and any doubts that he can be a big match performer. This won’t be anywhere near the best wrestled match you’ll see this year, but a modern day classic for those who appreciate the many other elements of professional wrestling. – 4.5/5
–AAA World Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks v The Lucha Bros – A superior tag match in a year of superior tag matches. It’s hard to see where this one ranks, but bell-to-bell it’ll be hard to top; everyone brough it, but Fenix and Matt Jackson particularly stood out. While it’s no surprise to see Fenix as super, it shows that Matt has really worked hard on his physique, looking in absolute killer shape, while also extending his reportoire. He’d go onto to hit a guerilla press slam Rey, package piledrive Penta and even pull an El Generico on Fenix with a wild buckle corkscrew brainbuster! Matt ain’t playin’. As expected, the match pace was pure lightning, with Lucha Bros wowing the crowd with b2b sprint-destroyers and many tandem dives and other devastating moves. Following a superkick party of sorts, the Bucks eventually cut off the Lucha flow to hit the Meltzer Driver. Will we see a follow-up at MSG? – 4.5/5
–#1 Contender for AEW Championship: Chris Jericho v Kenny Omega – Both mega-stars come out to great entrances, with Jericho teasing three earlier phases of his career while Omega strolled down the aisle to a new tune that sounds like a new hit Crunchyroll series– it’s totally weeby, videogamey and still in the spirit of “Devil’s Sky”. As for the match, this is a tricky one. It’s so hard to see Jericho as the heel here in the States, even though he’s damn great at it — one of the best villains ever, really. He’s just too beloved at this point, too bigger than life; sure, he can still command plenty of boos, but nothing like the heat he can garner in Japan. The more Chris is a dick to fans, the more love he gets. “Both these guys!” Hell, I always find myself rooting for my all-time favorite GOAT over my current favorite; but, then I find myself asking “why/how am I not rooting for Omega? Fuck!”. It’s Cam Neely vs. Patrick Bergeron. But seeing Omega and Jericho work against each other on U.S. soil, in Las Vegas nonetheless, was really something, even if it didn’t and could never live up to their initial 4.75 bible classic. Both guys still put on a hell of a show, which had the unfortunate circumstance of following two amazing matches. What I loved about the story in this rematch was seeing Omega bring the hardcore to Jericho, and not the other way around from their match from WK12. An early springboard double footstomp on top of a table laying on Jericho early on really set the tone. Also, every time Kenny hit the V-Trigger he couldn’t follow up to put Jericho away. Y2J was a pesty one here. Many times he looked ageless, taking snapdragons like a 23-year old and hitting picture perfect signature moves (springboard dropkick, codebreakers outta nowhere); whereas other moments led to sloppiness, which didn’t bother me so much when a 48-year old fumbled a Lionsault after getting the crap beat out of him. The fact many moves in this match didn’t come off perfect helped sell the “fight” in all this. Excuse? Maybe. But it makes sense if you think about it. With Omega not able to get the One-Winged Angel on Jericho in several attempts, Chris gets the surprise win following his vicious new Judas Effect back elbow. Great match, just had a lot to follow and live up to…
But.. none of that really matters when AEW goes full deck with with the debut of Jon Moxley! Not only does the former Dean Ambrose Dirty Deed both megastars, he fucks up the referee and has an INCREDIBLE brawl with Omega afterwards. HFS is right! His run-in easily got the loudest pop of the night, and maybe louder than anything from the Chicago show. The MGM Grand was ELECTRIC! Mox eventually gives Kenny the Deeds on a pile of giant poker chips and DVD’s him off the stack, sending Omega crashing onto the stage. We all lose our shit and forget that his watered down character from WWE ever existed. – Match = 4/5; Post-Match = 10/5
Match Rating Average = 3.75/5
Entertainment Quality = 4.25/5
Overall = 4/5 Bibles
While I gave All In a 4.25 overall for its immense entertainment factor, Double Or Nothing was a very respectable and often stellar follow-up to the Chicago show and a dazzling debut for All Elite Wrestling. The work rate on the Vegas card scales out exactly the same as All In — as very, very good just not superior — but if you throw in the drama, the live crowd response, the amount of surprises (Kong! Moxley!! Um, Smash Bros?), match consistency, the use of refs (all five were phenomenal tonight), and exciting build for future matches at FyreFest, Fight For The Fallen and All Out, you have yourself a great package. With room for improvement, Tony, Cody and the All Elite family should be proud of what they accomplished on Saturday Night: a wrestling contender Mr. McMahon has no choice in hell but to take seriously.