Fyter Fest and all the images you see I this recap are owned by All Elite Wrestling and Shahid Khan
We’re back with another PPV brought to you by the throne smashers themselves, AEW! Things have certainly changed since Double or Nothing, haven’t they? For one, WWE has completely lost the plot from what I’ve heard and responded to AEW with nonsense, bad story lines, and an overabundance of Shane McMahon. With their primary rival of sorts doing such a poor job of responding to the new challenger, which is surprising in its own right, it only got stranger when AEW announced that THIS PPV would be completely free; a move that still baffles me considering how successful they’ve been up to this point. Sure, Double or Nothing MIGHT have been a bit pricey at fifty bucks, but they could have at least charged twenty or even ten for it which would have gotten them a heck of a lot more money than ZERO! I guess TBS and the Khan family have the money to throw around, and I’m not about to complain TOO much about not having to pay for a show like this. The bigger question is what’s different in this show and have they improved since Double or Nothing? Eh… sort of. As far as commentary, Excalibur has improved but JR still sounds a bit rusty and out of touch; especially when he referred to Cima as “an Oriental.” I mean look, we can argue about how much of a slur that is or whether JR has any genuine ill feelings about Asian wrestlers (and I can think of WAY worse people they could have gotten as an announcer where the answer to those questions wouldn’t even be debatable), but it really does make him seem like an awkward fit for what is supposed to be a very modern and forward thinking wrestling company. While the announcing has improved, sadly the camera work still has a few rough patches that will hopefully get ironed out before they go to TV. I only mentioned this very briefly in my last recap, but the editing sometimes misses spots or more often will miss whenever there’s drama at the end of a match. Someone does a low blow, someone else enters the ring, stuff like that will almost go by unnoticed because whoever is running the cameras is focusing on something else an nearly misses the action. Again, this is the kind of thing that can be easily fixed with experience and I’m not gonna begrudge them this learning curve, but it is even more noticeable here than it was last time. In fact, I’d say that’s the overall vibe I’m getting from Fyter Fest. It’s still really good stuff, but I think the high from Double or Nothing has started to wear off and so it’s easier to see and evaluate its flaws. The big one that MOSTLY stayed in the pre-show but kept coming back to annoy me was the show’s theme where they didn’t JUST name it after something topical but had to do little skits to make sure we ALL KNOW that they saw the documentaries too. Kenny Omega is trying to find instruments for bands that don’t exist, The Young Bucks lost their luggage and need to find new costumes, and they even brought models out before swiftly replacing them with mannequins. It all just felt so corny and unnecessary when they could have used that time to put up a few promos for the matches which frankly were desperately needed as many of them seemed to have a story but one that we weren’t informed of ahead of time. Let’s put all that aside though and just focus on the matches! So how did the pre-show kick things off?
Six-man Tag Team Match
Private Party: Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen
SoCal Uncensored: Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky (Schuyler Andrews)
Best Friends: Chuck Taylor and Trent Beretta
There’s a lot going on in this first match which is good because you want to get the crowd on board right away so they can carry that energy for the rest of the show. We’ve got Private Party as the newcomers who I think AEW is trying to push as future superstars of the company considering they got a whole episode of Road to Fyter Fest dedicated to them. We’ve got two thirds of SCU who had one of the best matches in all of Double or Nothing, and while I wasn’t really impressed with The Best Friends last time (definitely a victim of the last show running long), they get a pretty good pop from the crowd so I was willing to give them another chance. The only thing that I didn’t like right off the bat was the fact that this was a Triple Threat tag match and they always use this weird rule where only two compeitors can be in the ring at a time; leaving one team to just sit on the sidelines while the other two actually fight. I don’t understand why they don’t have one member of each team in the ring like say… an ACTUAL Triple Threat, but we’ll get back to this later on in the match. For now, I just want to point out that everyone in this looks great and does some very impressive acrobatics! SCU continues to be the best tag team as far as I’m concerned as they can take already impressive wrestlers like Private Party and Best Friends and make them look even better than they already are! There’s this really impressive spot where Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen go back to back on Kassiran in beautiful and brutal fashion! If I could say one thing about the match it’s that it FEELS a bit too much like an exhibition; like everyone is here to help the other team show off their moves instead of win the fight, but frankly that’s a rather minor complaint when the moves are THIS impressive!
Things go back and forth for a while and towards the end, we get a really great bit of in ring psychology where Isiah Kassidy is in bad shape but Marq Quen is knocked off the apron with a brutal elbow from Trent of Best Friends. He has to decide whether to stay the legal man or tag in a member of SCU so he can rest which, as far as I can recall, is the ONLY time I’ve ever seen that particular turn in this kind of Triple Threat tag match and is literally the only reason to DO a Triple Threat tag match in this format, so well done to AEW for finding the one good idea in this match type that seems kind of silly otherwise! The ending is fine with Best Friends snagging the victory using their special move (some sort of top rope stomp into a roll up) but then we get to the POST match drama where The Best Friends’ celebration is cut short by… those dudes from AEW who cut their victory short last time. I THINK they’re called the Super Smash Bros, but heck if I know based on what we see here. They’re building something up I suppose, but having two dudes who we’ve never seen wrestle in AEW (or even show up in those ROAD TO videos) send Lucha Ninjas to menace these two is really not doing it for me. It would help if their promos were interesting or delivered with a certain amount of charm and conviction, but it’s just kind of generic macho posturing and is something of a sour note to end the match on. Still, we’re only two PPVs in and they have to do what they can to build up this promotion before they get to TV, so I’m not too perturbed by it.
The Librarian (Leva Bates) vs. Allie (Laura Dennis)
The Librarian is accompanied by The Librarian (Peter Avalon)
So apparently that random bit of bad comedy from the Double or Nothing pre-show involving two people shushing each other ACTUALLY amounted to something as those two are back here as… I can only assume a heel faction in AEW, who tells people to read books instead of playing video games or reading comics. Okay, so… let’s get into heel stuff for a moment. Now this COULD work out in the end, but I’m getting some bad vibes off of these two and the way the crowd reacts to them. Heels are people you are supposed to root against, and if you attach a certain gimmick on top of that, then it’s something intended to be mocked as well. That’s why vein characters The Miz make such good heels; the persona informs their actions to act selfish and cowardly. However, if you choose the wrong gimmick it can go south VERY quickly, like say Orlando Jordan’s bisexual rapist gimmick in TNA. In SOME instances you can kind skirt the line there which is what I think they did with Daniel Bryan’s heel turn into an eco-activist and I hope that may be what they’re going for here with the comical librarian characters. The big issue is that has me worried though is that I have no idea who these two are, their history, or if they are any good as wrestlers. Daniel Bryan was not just a baby face; he was the most popular wrestler in the world and he had a history that believably led to him becoming a “bad guy” which gave some depth and motivation. So even if he WAS being the liberal stereotype of shaming people for driving cars and eating meat (two things we should be doing less of by the way), it had a certain genuineness to it that made it not come off completely one sided evilness, at least to me. These two, complete with man bun on the one dude, feel like they’re there to be hate magnets, and when you tie that in with, you know… READING, well things get a bit awkward when the crowd starts chanting “F*** Books” and “Hooked on Phonics”; the latter being shorthand for calling someone stupid in case you weren’t aware.
Now putting ALL of that aside how is the match? It’s pretty good! Yeah, a running theme here is gonna be solid matches with questionable premises, and while I’m still unsure of the whole “Librarian” gimmick, Leva Bates certainly holds her own here and doesn’t resort to cowardly heel tactics or being a total pushover. I think a lot of that is going to be saved for Peter Avalon who actually has this REALLY great moment where he’s reading a book at one of the ring posts and casually grabs Allie by the leg to distract her. Very solid heel work there and it keeps Leva from looking bad. Allie as well is pretty good, though she didn’t get the big promo at the beginning or a buddy on the outside, so without any history with her opponent there doesn’t seem to be much at stake here. Again, a problem with this being only the second outing for this company, and we’re certainly going to see more of Allie at the NEXT PPV where she’ll be fighting against Brandi Rhodes. Why? I don’t know, but I don’t know why THIS match is happening either and I’m still enjoying myself!
The match ends as most heel matches do, with the bad guys trying to do something underhanded, getting caught, and the baby face punishing them for the win. In this case Peter Avalon tries to hand Leva Bates a book which… I guess he just tosses over her head for some reason, and the distraction works lasts long enough for Allie to land a Superkick right on Bates’s face. One-two-three, done. Allie gets a bump before her big match and The Librarians can claim to be a part of the promotion instead of just two weirdos interrupting promos!
Michael Nakazawa vs. Alex Jebailey: Hardcore Match
People complained about the goofiness of the Royal Rumble in the Double or Nothing pre-show, but I found it to be a mostly harmless and rather charming little exhibition of AEW’s wider roster. Watching this match though, I think I now understand where they were coming from. Michael Nakazawa was one of my favorite parts of that Royal Rumble and being able to see him in a match all on his own feels like a wish come true, but almost immediately I realized that the wish was made on a monkey’s paw because this was clown shoes nonsense from beginning to end. The first problem is his opponent Alex Jebailey, who is NOT a professional wrestler. He’s some dude who runs the fighting game convention CEO that AEW is collaborating with on this show and while he HAS been in the ring before apparently, he’s still an amateur and needs to be carried through this on Nakazawa’s impressive shoulders. That would be bad enough, but BOY do they just not stop with the gimmicks here! I’m not the biggest fan of hardcore matches in general, but the ONE good thing about them is that it can showcase the stamina and tenacity of a wrestler who is willing to go the distance, and a good recent example of this is that unbelievable match between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch at Evolution. Here though, all the “hardcore” stuff is just silly gimmicks that reminded me of that Hardcore Justice match with the lightsabers. Nakazawa takes a hit with a plastic fight stick, an inflatable flamingo, gets “drowned” in a freaking kiddie pool, and they even let Jebailey strangulate him with the cord of a GameCube controller; none of which looks like it hurts in the least. It’s just utterly asinine and the commentary seems to agree, though they have to pretend its FUN asinine instead of utterly tedious.
I’m also beginning to wonder if I was too enthusiastic of Michael Nakazawa after his appearance in the Royal Rumble. I get that he’s kind of a goofy guy and he might have been able to get THIS match to work if he had a better opponent, but there comes a point where he takes off his jockstrap and threatens to shove it in someone’s mouth, and it seems very clear that this is not the first time he’s done something like this. Ugh. Well anyway, Jebailey lands a low blow and rolls Nakazawa into a pin. The ref is distracted however after eating a fistful of jockstrap (ugh…) so Jebailey doesn’t get the win and Nakazawa reverses the pin just as the ref comes back to his senses. Nakazawa wins, but this in the worst way possible as he doesn’t get any credibility due to his opponent being an amateur, and in fact lost a bit by allowing himself to take so much abuse from him. I get that people like the ECW hardcore stuff and some people even like the more goofy variety like this match here, but it’s SO not for me, and I couldn’t wait for this to be over. But hey! It’s the end of the pre-show, so let’s get to the main course!
Christopher Daniels vs. Cima (Nobuhiko Oshima)
YES!! This is such a great way to start off the show proper! Admitted it’s a little odd that it’s basically an SCU vs Strong Hearts rematch with only a third of the wrestlers, but I understand them not wanting to repeat themselves so quickly and the match we have is still really great! The one on one format also slows things down a bit; focusing more on submissions and holds than high flying antics, but the two of them still have their moments to shine like when Cima throws Daniels right off the turnbuckle onto his back!
The only that bothered me about this match is that about twenty second before the end of the match the announcers tell us that something is ACTUALLY on the line here as Cima has a match against Kenny Omega in the next PPV. This is something that happens quite a few times in this PPV and it throws me off every time it does. I’m not sure what the deal is if perhaps they didn’t read their notes ahead of time or didn’t want the smarks to start making guesses if they know what’s at stake (a wrestler almost never loses in a standard match before their BIG match), but in any case they mention that little factoid here which I guess was the signal to end the match as Cima immediately does this awesome finisher on Daniels called the Metora and pins him for the win. It was a good match, and I like both of these guys a lot! It would have been nice if they didn’t cram the story in at the last second, but it’s only a distraction; not a detriment
Women’s Triple Threat Match
Riho Abe, Yuka Sakazaki, and Nyla Rose
Similar to how the last one was a scaled down rematch of a Double or Nothing match, this too has two members from THE BEST match on that show, namely the women’s Six Person Tag Match, as well as Nyla Rose who frankly got the short end of the stick last time. Admittedly it was due to Awesome Kong making a surprise entrance which I am definitely glad they did, but Nyla got a bit lost in the shuffle in her match so this is a chance for her to shine against Riho and Yuka Sakazaki! Now the match doesn’t quite live up to the excellent Six Person Tag match and it does start a bit awkwardly for me as I’m not a fan of double submissions (they always look silly to me), but it all picks up after a few minutes and it’s very impressive once all three of them kick into high gear! The best spots were when Riho took a HUGE bump from Nyla Rose off the top turnbuckle and Nyla taking a similar bump right after when she tries to do it again!
The ending was a LITTLE anti-climactic with Riho simply rolling up Nyla Rose for the three count, but everything else was good enough that it didn’t really NEED a show stopping finish. Besides, we get a decent amount of drama right after the match as Nyla Rose tries to attack Riho, gets rebuffed by Riho and Sakazaki, but then Riho rejects Sakazaki’s offer for friendship; setting up a possible rivalry for future storylines. See, THIS is how you build storylines from the ground up! You don’t need elaborate setups for people to get in the ring in the first place, but once they ARE there you can tell us more about them and have them grow and change as a consequence of the fight! Riho looks good, Nyla looks mean but careless (she could have won multiple times in the match but chose to inflict more punishment instead), and Sakazaki gets a little bit of a face pop by being rejected by Riho! It all comes together perfectly here and I’m invested to see what happens with these three in the future; much more so than whatever’s going on with The Best Friends and The Super Smash Bros.
Fatal Four Way
MJF (Maxwell Jacob Friedman), Jungle Boy (Jack Perry), Jimmy Havoc (James Mcahren), and Adam “Hangman” Page
To continue with the point I was making about the last match, this one starts out really well. They tell us the stipulation for this fatal four way right off the bat which is a match against Kip Sabian who is sitting at the announcer’s table to watch the match. I have no idea WHY these four dudes are fighting for the opportunity to face Kip Sabian (no one has a belt yet, right?) but aside from that it’s a great setup and adds a lot of depth to the match simply by having Kip sitting on the sidelines watching it. I remember when THE NEW DANIEL BRYAN would do that all the time when he had the title and it was a great way to subtly build his status as a heel and a champ without getting in the way of the match itself. Even better than that is the fact that they let MJF get on the mic before everyone else hit the ring to do his standup routine, and I gotta say that he’s definitely positioned to be the best heel of this company; yes, even more than The Librarians. He COULD use a bit more subtly as some of his material is obvious (gamers are nerds; how original), but he’s well on his way to being a Miz level superstar. Once the match begins, everyone gets their moment to shine. Jimmy Havoc has a unique look to him that I don’t think wrestling has ever fully captured (Raven TRIED to be the goth/emo/alternative dude in the nineties but it never really sold for me), and he’s proving to be a competent wrestler instead of just a hardcore dork like he came off as in the Battle Royale. Jungle Boy is kind of Chad Gable lite but he has a solid repertoire at his disposal, and MJF gets by A LOT on his charisma which is off the charts even when taking a beating.
The only sore spot is oddly enough Hangman Page; not because he’s a bad wrestler, but because they’ve been pushing him as a top tier player and this feels like a mid-card extravaganza. Imagine if there was a match between Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, and Rusev, but then the fourth guy is John Cena. I don’t know; there’s a clear hierarchy even THIS early into the game, and despite everyone doing a VERY impressive job here, the ending felt more or less predetermined because only one of them is a quote-unquote “superstar.” Hangman hits Jimmy Havoc with… I don’t know, it kind of looks like a pile driver but backwards, and gets the pin. Predictable ending, but the match leading up to it was pretty great!
Cody Rhodes vs. Darby Allin
So this is probably the match that suffers the most from the storytelling working against the actual fighting. Put simply, I don’t like Darby Allin’s gimmick. It’s way too much with the whole I DON’T TRUST ANYONE AND WANT TO DIE shtick that’s not badass or hardcore; it’s kind of distressing to be honest. Even within the fiction that professional wrestling exists in, I NEVER like to see people who are indifferent about hurting themselves because this isn’t a blood sport and I don’t like wrestlers who treat it as such. Allin’s got speed on his side. He’s a high flying machine, so he’s got some impressive move here. In the match itself though, he’s just not that much fun to root for and even worse is I don’t know what Cody gets out of this at all. In the ring Allin comes off like some sort of punk kid going up against the boss which WOULD be a decent story (basically the Yes Movement), but it doesn’t work with Allin’s persona. It’s the worst of both worlds. Cody is a fan favorite despite being the authority, and the underdog is someone you can’t really get behind because he doesn’t seem to be behind himself. Still, the match itself is very fun to watch. Allin is more than willing to get his ass thrown around the place, and Cody is an endless fountain of charisma, so even if the roles feel backwards, it’s executed effectively.
Darby takes a really bad self-inflicted hit on the apron which was mercifully the beginning of the end of the match and Cody knocks him around the ring a few times, but in the end the time goes off before Cody could complete the three count which means it ended in a tie. I guess in this awkward sort of in between match, a noncommittal ending is the best way to finish it. BUT WAIT!! Some dude named Sean Spears comes into the ring and bashes Cody in the head with a chair and the dude starts bleeding like a sieve which is VERY distressing to watch, especially when you think of how many people got SERIOUSLY injured with the same kind of chair shot. See, this is why I don’t find Allin’s gimmick enjoyable. When you ACTUALLY treat wrestling like a blood sport where the point is to hurt someone, you get crap like this where Cody takes an UNPROTECTED head shot just for drama which by the way doesn’t sell. If it HAD gone off without a hitch it barely would have been a blip on my radar because we’ve seen it so many times.
And I don’t care if the chair was rigged to mitigate the damage which is why he took it unprotected, IT DIDN’T WORK and he had to get his freaking head stapled after the match. Seriously, PUT YOUR ARMS UP IF YOU’RE GONNA TAKE A SHOT TO THE HEAD! It’s not just the smart thing to do for your own health; it’s the RESPONSIBLE thing to do to set an example for everyone else. AEW doesn’t need the face of its company getting retired mid-startup because he was foolish enough to take a hit like that and he shouldn’t be setting that as the standard by which the company operates. Bad move and a real sour note to end an already confusing match on.
Six-Man Tag Team Match
The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) and Kenny Omega
The Lucha Bros (Pentagón Jr and Rey Fénix) and Laredo Kid
I’ll be honest; the chair shot ticked me off so much that I barely even watched this match. I had to take a break and so I’m basically watching it for the first time as I’m writing this up. First, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega come out in Street Fighter cosplay, so… that’s a thing. Kenny Omega as Akuma is certainly something! Anyway, the match is… fine. I really should be enjoying this more than I am considering it’s a six person tag match and those have usually been great so far in AEW, so what am I missing? What about this isn’t really selling me? Does it feel faker than other matches? That’s kind of a hard thing to argue when ALL of it is staged to one degree or another. I think it may be that exhibition feeling I got with the triple threat tag match earlier where it feels more like showing off than a genuine match. It flips rather rhythmically between one team overwhelming the other before switching which side is winning; always giving the audience a chance to cheer before turning the tables. There’s cool stuff going on, but it’s so back and forth that any damage taken or advantage gained feels immaterial to the overall match. There’s a part where Pentagón and Omega just stand in the middle of the ring staring each other down for a good thirty seconds before trading chops, and none of it feels effective as neither side is giving an inch.
Kenny Omega gets the upper hand on Larado Kid (real name unknown; I’m absolutely serious) and lands his finishing move which is called, I’m not joking here, ONE WINGED ANGEL. Okay, Square Enix? You’ve got that Final Fantasy 7 remake coming up, right? I guarantee you that if you let this guy use that song for his entrance music, he’ll promote the heck out of the game FOR FREE! Heck, I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t even have to give him a Sephiroth costume as I’m pretty sure he already has one lying around somewhere! I actually liked the ending there and Kenny Omega proving to be the biggest dork you don’t want to mess with is doing it for me a lot more than I would have expected, but I still wish that these Young Buck/Lucha Bros matches felt a bit less formulaic.
Jon Moxley vs. Joey Janela: Non-Sanctioned Match
So this is the big one; the match where Jon Moxley, formerly Dean Ambros, makes his long awaited debut in AEW. We know the drama with WWE, we heard the stories he told on Jericho’s podcast, and I’m sure a lot of us even saw those short videos he made to celebrate his escape out from under the thumb of Vince McMahon. I REALLY want to be here for this match as I became a HUGE fan of the guy from his Brock Lesner fight at Wrestlemania 32… but things started off badly for me and once again it has to do with the narrative. What POSSIBLE reason is there to make this a NON-SANCTIONED match when we’ve already had a hardcore match on the show already, AND there’s literally no change to the way the match is handled! The match is announced AS a non-sanctioned match by the ring announcer, our announcement team is still there, there’s STILL a ref in the ring, and even the pyrotechnics, sound systems, and camera work are all still there working as normal. I don’t get the gimmick at all and it just adds unnecessary fluff before the match that ate up my time and patience. BUT once the match got started, how did it turn out? I’d say it worked out for the most part until the ending, but we’ll get to that soon enough. Jon Moxley could NOT be more excited to be here so he’s throwing his all into the match. His offense is fast and hard hitting, he’s taking bumps, he’s working the crowd like nobody’s business, he is just electrifying to watch! Seriously, within three minutes of the match the two of them brawling out in the crowd and it only gets more extreme from there as they start pulling out weapons from under the mat. Now it could have been VERY easy for Jon Moxley to run wild with this and for Joey Janela to simply be a punching bag about as incidental as the generic table that EVERY wrestling promotion uses, but he actually holds his own here and is clearly willing to get himself hurt if need be. Not to the extent of taking bad shots like SOMEONE I could mention, but this is so far above the hardcore match we got in the pre-show and doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable like seeing what happened to Cody.
However, it kind of falls apart at the end for me as it goes from a legit hardcore match to one that feels pointless. Like I said, if done right a hardcore match can work as an endurance test to see who can last the longest, but far too often things go overboard and it’s no longer an endurance test to see who’s the toughest; it’s whoever managed to get the nastiest hit in. The winner isn’t proven to be better than the other; just that they did a good job of hurting someone with a weapon. The way this one ends is that Jon Moxley throws a crap ton of thumbtacks onto the ring and instead of just trying to land Joey back first (or front first if you’re SUPER mean) onto the tacks, he takes the time to take off Joey’s shoes and force him to step on the tacks, which I guess… hurts more? I don’t know, it felt gimmicky and not the best way to showcase Moxley’s talents as presumably the most feared person in the promotion. BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!! After Moxley gets his win, Kenny Omega runs in from backstage and just beats the CRAP out of Moxley as payback for him doing the same at Double or Nothing!
It’s a solid way to end the show just like the first one, so at least things end on something of a high note! I don’t blame this show too much for not living up to Double or Nothing, and in fact the much shorter run time (by about an hour) actually kept things moving a lot better. Still, the cracks are starting to show. The camera work is still lacking and missing spots, the gimmicky stuff is SO much more obnoxious this time around where last time they struck a good balance, and I think they may be biting off a bit more than they can chew in regards to story lines and continuity. It feels like so much more happened between the last show and this one but there’s no clear avenue with which to catch up. I already watch those ROAD TO videos before the PPV which should be everything we need to know, but many matches had stipulations that they waited to explain until the match was nearly over, and I STILL have no idea why that four way even happened; especially since Hangman Page is already set to have a title shot. What does he need to fight Kip Sabian for? I’m still onboard with this promotion and will be checking out the PPVs to come, but even if this is a darn good promotion overall, I don’t think it’s the thing that will save professional wrestling, stop the WWE, or whatever lofty goals its supports have clung onto. Then again, WWE is bringing back Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to run things which SOUNDS like the start of a joke but is completely true, so maybe they’ll self-destruct on their own and AEW can then pick up the pieces. It’s like Game of Thrones, but less annoying!