As I’ve said a few times, I’ve only been a wrestling fan again for about six years now. So while I’ve done my fair share of research and rewatching, my grip on wrestling history isn’t as strong as a lot of people’s.
Still, I know that there are only a handful of matches that have gone a full hour, or at least ones worth discussing. The first one mentioned at the top of any discussion is Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII. A lot think it’s one of the best ever. Some will tell you it’s overrated. Whichever is true, it has its place in the annals. It’s a major reference point, if not THE major reference point.
Another is HHH and The Rock at Judgement Day in 2000. No one really talks about it because it has some very McMahon shenanigans. I’m sure it was fine, never sat through the whole thing honestly.
The other you’ll hear is Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada going the full 60, and to a draw. Some will tell you that was the best match of all-time anywhere. If it wasn’t, their first match at Wrestle Kingdom might have been, and that one went 50+ minutes. The common theme in all of these is that they were on a pay-per-view card. In the case of Omega-Okada, it was on a Japanese PPV, which meant not only did you have to stay up through dawn, you had to pay to do so.
AEW just gave you one of these for free on TNT last night.
“Hangman” Adam Page and Bryan Danielson opened last night’s Dynamite with a 60-minute draw that can stand up to any of the matches mentioned above, and in fact it featured a fair share of callbacks to Omega-Okada. An hourlong masterpiece between two guys who are among the best in the world at what they do. Right there on TV. Any punter with part of their dinner hanging out of their mouth could have just stumbled on it. This is how much AEW wants you to be happy. They’ll give away what any other promotion would consider a jewel.
There was something for everyone in last night’s match, and of course there would have to be, with a full hour to fill. If you wanted acrobatics, Page was happy to provide them. If you were after technical brilliance, well that’s basically what “Bryan Danielson” means these days. Brutality your game? Danielson pushing Page’s face into the turnbuckle to squeeze more blood out of a wound on Page’s head like a goddamn sponge is probably up your alley, you sick fuck.
Storytelling? Danielson has made no bones about considering himself the best in the world since turning heel (and he is), and his growing frustration that he couldn’t solve Page was palpable. The months of Page’s story being the guy who just couldn’t quite get it done and always finding a way to doubt himself, only for those confidence issues to be washed away with his title win over Omega last month, poured through the screen here as he accepted whatever Danielson had to offer and threw it back. Adam Page, before the title win, would not have been capable of this. They pushed each other into a rage, and then into exhaustion, and then back to rage combined with exhaustion. I’m fairly sure each of them pulled out 132 different moves.
The biggest compliment you can pay is that it hardly felt like 60 minutes. Maybe this is where commercial breaks actually helped, to give everyone at home a breath. And then after about the second or third ad break, you could feel yourself turning inside. “They’re not really going to go a whole hour, are they?” You couldn’t wait for them to do it, and yet you couldn’t wait to see how they would swerve right at the end to get to a winner. Which they teased, as both men hit a finisher, but Page’s was too close to the bell to complete a pin.
And it’s the kind of thing you never, ever see on regular television. Is this the kind of thing that ropes a casual fan in? I’m not sure, and I don’t really care, because I’m not a casual fan. It had me gripped. The sheer balls to think you can put that on TV, and still be confident you’ll have something better when the next PPV pops up, along with the security of knowing your viewers will eat it up… I can’t even fathom. This is why AEW creates such a buzz. They’re willing to try stuff like this. They have Page and Danielson at the top of their game, so why not just let them completely off the hook? Why subvert it with goofy finishes or dancing around each other. Just give the people what they want. Which doesn’t sound like much of a risk, but it is!
I don’t know where AEW takes this story now, because it would be damn hard to find a stipulation that somehow turns the volume up on a 60-minute draw. And yet, they probably will. But quite frankly, the result doesn’t matter. It’s what got us there. Which is what AEW has keyed on to become so established.
Danielson has been in the company barely three months. He’s reminded everyone why Omega was considered the best in the world. He showed everyone why Minoru Suzuki is so revered. He’s brought Page to the absolute top of the mountain. And all of it was on free TV.
There is good in this world. It’s sometimes just on TV.