Because I know how hardcore AEW fans get, and I’m one of them, let me get this out of the way at the top. I do not think Saturday night’s Full Gear PPV was bad. Far from it. It was good. Maybe even very good. And any show that ends with the culmination of the two-year Hangman Page storyline is by definition cathartic. Even sitting on my couch with just my girlfriend, and knowing what the outcome would be for months, we both jumped up to our feet when the ref counted three. That’s how you know that match and this story had been done expertly and satisfyingly.
Perhaps it’s just my suspicious nature of anything that makes me as happy as AEW almost always does. And AEW is hardly the only thing that puts me in that mood that I also treat like walking out on an iced-over pond. At which step is it going to crumble beneath me? It may feel sturdy as can be, the view unique, the adventure thrilling, and yet you can’t help but fear being immediately snapped out of all of it.
It could also be just a matter of being WWE’d, where all of us have been trained that enjoying what we like and a company giving us as much as they can of what we like is actually an impossibility, or at best just a ruse to make us miss the football yet again.
So perhaps I’m overly critical of any misstep AEW makes, not because they’ve been plentiful (they’ve almost been non-existent), but out of terror that the next one could mean a slip from the very high altitude they’ve achieved. No fan wants to see AEW end up like WCW, which snorted its own farts so heavily that it basically gorged on itself until there was nothing left after barely two years of topping WWE. I think it’s highly unlikely that would happen to AEW, but you can never completely escape that fear.
That fear was fed by the length of Saturday’s PPV, and Tony Khan’s insistence that every PPV going forward would be around four hours as well. This isn’t a huge problem, as AEW currently only runs four PPVs a year. I can find four hours every three months. But that doesn’t mean I should have to when AEW doesn’t really have four hours of quality to offer.
Perhaps the best thing about AEW in its two-plus years of existence is that almost always after Dynamite or Rampage, a fan feels drained. Not from the length of the shows, as they are just three hours combined, but because AEW has been so skilled at consistently packing them with so much quality. A fan is left spent from exhilaration and elation. It’s the best amusement park ride.
The company’s PPVs have almost always adhered to this as well, and usually hovered around the three-hour mark. And they have been well-paced. Saturday may have been the first exception. Personally, I never noticed the length of September’s All Out. That’s their biggest show, and every fan understands that AEW’s calendar basically revolves around that show. If it has to be bigger than normal, cool. It’s why I don’t really get my undies in a bunch about the length of WrestleMania either.
But I noticed on Saturday. If AEW and Khan were honest with themselves, they would admit that only six of the nine matches they offered on the card were PPV-worthy. That would be MJF-Darby Allin, Danielson-Miro, the tag team title match (which some might boot off as well, but I thought was really good and somewhat undone by a goofy and sloppy ending), Baker-Conti, Punk-Kingston, and the main event.
Looking back at the All Out card, the ratio of matches that really felt like a PPV-type event and the rest is just about the same. The difference was that for All Out, the matches that were short on esteem or anticipation of PPV-worthiness were kept far shorter. Jon Moxley’s match with Satoshi Kojima was just 12 minutes, with a few minutes afterward for Minoru Suzuki’s appearance (definitely PPV-worthy). Paul Wight’s squash was just three minutes.
In addition, the women’s battle royale, while clocking in at 22 minutes, felt much shorter than that, given the structure where a new set of competitors entered every few minutes. There was an ebb and flow to the whole night. We got a break when we needed it.
On Saturday, however, AEW went full prog rock with its layout of the show. It had two multi-man tag matches that were no DQ, and both ran 20 minutes or more. While the Inner Circle’s goof-a-palooza was much sillier than that of Superkliq and Jurassic Express, it’s still asking a lot for fans to sit through two 20+ minute matches that have things happening all over the place. And neither of these really had that engaging of a build or story leading into them, and both felt like they would have been much better placed as a main event on Dynamite.
Of course, Cody’s tag match with Pac against Malakai Black and Andrade El Idolo ran over 15 minutes as well, even though this has basically no build or story other than Cody trying to tell the world, “I’m not owned, you are!” Why the fuck wouldn’t it when it involves Cody? I’m guessing Cody’s trips to the bathroom are 10 minutes too long while he figures out how to further solve racism. While the other three guys in that match should be on every PPV ever, they should be there with stories and dance partners that make contextual sense. This wasn’t it.
Full Gear only featured one match less than 15 minutes, and that was CM Punk and Eddie Kingston descending into their own version of the Sarlacc pit. And that might have been the best match of the night.
While AEW shows and PPVs often give a sense of not having time to breathe, that usually comes from a sense of excitement. This time, it swung a little too much into just being beaten down. Simply slapping the AEW label on a match or feud does not make it PPV-worthy. Some things just don’t get to that level, and AEW doesn’t have to stuff shows full just because it wants to, or feels like it has to.
AEW has caused a major tremor in the wrestling world by keeping things simple. Clean storytelling, great matches, linear work that anyone can follow. It is a punk rock aesthetic applied to wrestling. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus, as Tom Petty would say (and yes, Tom Petty isn’t punk rock but certainly carried the same ethos to his songwriting and just go with it for fuck’s sake). When you start making every song eight minutes with three bridges and keyboards and horn sections and what the fuck is a harp doing here, you lose the feel of what made you in the first place. AEW would do well to remember that before it becomes a real problem.