They actually went through with it.
That was my overriding thought as I watched Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega enter the ring last night at AEW’s pay-per-view “Revolution.” For weeks they had billed this “Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match,” and yet my mind couldn’t quite get to the place to fully accept that it would happen. How could something so patently ridiculous actually... be?
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a relatively new wrestling fan. Or newly entering my third phase as one, at least. I was a fan when I was a kid. Then again in college. And again. It’s been a few years, but I’m still not at the level where I can list off various indie promotion matches where things went cartoonish like this. This kind of thing, barbed wire and explosives, this is for the truly hardcore, and possibly the truly broken. The stories of matches like this with Mick Foley or Terry Funk or Atsushi Onita, they’re like modern reinterpretations of the Odyssey. I don’t know if they happened, and if they did, it couldn’t have been in the way the lore describes it. And if they did happen that way, I’m glad they happened out of my sight. I know the names, and even saw Foley a fair bit in my college phase, but they’re basically ghosts and the stories of legend.
Death matches were for the true fan/lunatic. The fan a normal match no longer did anything for, because it couldn’t break their numbness. They didn’t watch wrestling so much as use it. A fix. The one who needed this level of violence and gore to feel again, or something. A bigger and bigger hit is what these were. They are not supposed to be on the pay per view of a major company with a network TV deal. They are not supposed to be out in the open, as it were. Death matches happen in a dark warehouse, two buildings down from where the cockfights are. This is supposed to be a corner of society that never sees the sun.
And yet, there they were. The mere idea of all of this is simply nuts. It’s not enough that the ropes are wrapped in barbed wire. No, they also have to trigger an explosion. And the floor was rigged with explosives beneath wooden boards festooned in barbed wire, too. This is what would happen if a Vegas hotel designer got the wrong mushrooms (or the very much right mushrooms, depending on your point of view). This was a match conceived without ever hearing “no” or “that’s too much.” It is the wrestling version of unfettered capitalism, basically.
And right up until it started, I couldn’t believe it was happening. “They’re not actually going to do this, right?” I’m not a horror movie guy, but I think for the first time in my life I understand why people are. The twisting emotions and ride of not wanting to watch something and yet being unable to look away. That was this. I knew what was coming — fire, blood, pain, basically what your parents thought metal shows were — and yet still couldn’t quite comprehend when it happened. I was twisting away and leaning in at the same time.
The allure of this, at least to start, is who takes the first spot into the barbed wire and explosion. You know they’re going to tease it for a while, which only caused me to curl up into a ball more. It was Moxley after about five minutes, and then after that it becomes a study in trying to figure out what you’ve become. I can only imagine what it would have been like in an arena full of people, if it were even possible in an arena full of people. Perhaps the oodles of space between ring and fans that AEW has had to operate with during the pandemic is the only way they could do something like this.
But after the first explosion, I couldn’t help but want more. And I can hear the crowd at Daley’s Place howling their approval. Seriously, what are we? Who laps this up? Why does anyone talk to us? Why haven’t they locked us away? We’re clearly a detriment.
And then you just accept it. This is what you are, you’re in too deep now. Those whispered corners of society that you never thought you’d see where this kind of thing happens? Yeah, you’re there now. I’m part of it. And I love it. It’s too silly and too out there to not just fully embrace. Once I let go and just let the current take me, it became a joy. If I’m going to lose connection to proper society, let it be shrouded in barbed wire and explosives. More weapons, more big spots, all the blood, whatever. I have nothing left to hold onto anymore. I know what I am.
Sadly, for the second time in a couple months, the chatter will be mocking how a massive AEW show ended. At “Winter Is Coming” it was their announcement that Omega’s heel turn would be explained on another promotion’s show, Impact. This time it will be the erectile dysfunction of the final explosion.
The ring was rigged to explode at once at the 30-minute mark. Up until that, they had played everything perfectly. The match itself was an excellent dual-track showcase of Moxley’s and Omega’s wrestling ability and unmatchable chemistry alongside the utter brutality and surrealness of the match. The post-match beatdown was centered around Eddie Kingston, who had his own epic feud with Moxley, coming out to save Mox from the final explosion, a brilliant bit of storytelling between two old friends on the indies who had taken each other to the limit when on TV together for the first time and yet couldn’t shake the old bonds.
And then... duuuuhhhhhh. The ring “exploded” with a couple sparklers and an explosion or two that wouldn’t outpace your buddy’s beer farts. Something clearly went amiss, because both Kingston and Mox, at least at first, were trying to sell like they’d just been part of something all-encompassing and truly frightening.
It’s a shame that this will be the narrative coming out of this pay-per-view event, because AEW successfully brought something out of the darkened corners and alleyways to a massive audience, and did it superbly. And even though the PPV as a whole was overstuffed in a very WWE type way, it contained some great matches, too, like the women’s championship match or the cinematic return to action of Sting.
But if you don’t nail the landing, the judges aren’t going to give you the perfect score. If you’re going to wade into these waters, you can’t pull back. Which is what the last face-plant of a stunt felt like. Whether it was a malfunction or planned, it felt like AEW couldn’t finish. Couldn’t commit. After all, they brought us here, they turned us into this desperate, baying horde for 30 minutes. You have to take us all the way.