February 2, 2022


Pac . . . shows why he’s always been amongst the best workers in the company, despite his frequent absences.

Ruby Soho . . . puts in an adequate performance, which comes off underwhelming considering her reputation and experience.

Maxwell Jacob Friedman . . . proves that the Sammy Guevara match from the previous June was no fluke, and that his catchphrase has some truth behind it.



As far as quasi-squash matches between up-and-comers and established top guys go, this falls somewhere between the classics that Jumbo had with Kawada and Kobashi in the early 90’s and a latter day All Japan/NOAH effort from Misawa.  Moxley gives Wheeler some decent openings and sells all right for him, especially after Wheeler’s big dive to the floor, but the bulk of the reason that Wheeler stays alive as long as he does is that he’s able to *avoid* the big shots from Mox, rather than getting in big shots of his own. It also doesn’t help that Wheeler’s best run of offense was based on some no-selling from him. Mox hits his old bulldog driver finisher on the apron, and then stops to have a face-off with the clown squad seconding Wheeler. While this is going on Wheeler rolls back into the ring and hits Mox with a big dive. Wheeler gets Mox into the ring and eats a boot but sucks it up to give the still stunned Mox a German suplex for a near fall. Wheeler sucking up the boot is fine (even with his rebounding being a bit goofy), but the bulldog driver, especially on the apron, deserved a better sell job. The most remarkable things from Wheeler are the fact that he’s able to duck the lariat and escape the first paradigm shift. It’s telling that when Wheeler apparently needs “one more big shot” all he’s got is a splash off the top, which hardly seems like a match breaker. And it only takes a single opening for Mox to secure the choke and start running through his big spots to put the kid down for good. It’s a solid match for what it is, but it needed a bigger performance from Wheeler to be anything more.



The work here is fine for the most part, Pac and Black seem to work well together and both Brody and Penta are both good as backup guys. But this doesn’t have the intensity and hatred that you’d expect of Pac’s big return to AEW after being on the shelf for two months thanks to Black. If anything, this comes off like a typical southern tag match on fast-forward due to TV time constraints. Pac gets to outwrestle Black a time or two, with some particularly smooth transitions just to remind everyone why he’s one of the better workers on the roster, and then the heels work him over for a spell, with Brody getting to use his size to his advantage. The heels cut off the first attempt at a tag to Penta, but Pac outsmarts them again with his speed and makes the tag. The match breaks down and when it seems like Death Triangle is going to get some revenge by spiking Black with the Fear Factor, Brody intervenes, and Black uses the mist on Penta so they can finish him off. They have some crowd-pleasing moments, like Pac and Penta’s stereo dives, and Pac showing his agility in dodging Black’s strikes and connecting with his own, but this doesn’t feel like a heated match between two hated rivals and their partners. This feels more like Tully and Arn versus Shawn and Marty, pairing up a couple of good teams that can easily crank out a solid, at worst, match.



If nothing else, they do a nice job keeping the story flowing, and they have a finish that suits it rather well. But it doesn’t really take a whole lot to accomplish either of those goals. Nyla’s size and power advantage gives her plenty of spots in order to wear down Ruby’s back for the Beast Bomb, and Ruby’s selling is good for the most part. They have a few ugly moments, such as Ruby’s corner charge and Nyla’s back drop to the apron not coming off well and considering how much offense Nyla gets in versus what Ruby gets in, there’s no way that Nyla should have been out cold from the wind-up kick. The really nice moment was Ruby’s TKO on the apron, she showed exactly how much of a strain it was on her to do it. After the distraction from Vickie and the spinebuster on the floor, Nyla was still selling it even after she’d gotten Ruby back into the ring. It was a nice contrast from how Mox and Wheeler treated their big spot on the apron. Just when it seems like they’re going to go off the deep end with an overly goofy finish, they wind up faking everyone out, and pull off  a perfectly smart one. Nyla climbs the ropes, for no apparent reason, and Ruby follows her up for a rana, which everyone assumes it going to be countered into the Beast Bomb. Ruby manages to escape it and tries for her wind-up kick again which misses. Nyla comes off with a senton to the back, and then hits the Beast Bomb for the win. It’s nice to see them tell a story and give it a decent payoff, but it’s so simple that any two workers on the roster who are even halfway competent should be able to pull that off. Someone as well-traveled and experienced as Ruby and as consistently pushed as Nyla ought to be able to bring a lot more to the table than that.



If one saw the TV match from the previous June between MJF and Sammy and took it as a fluke performance, then this ought to be enough to prove them wrong. They take full advantage of their being given nearly forty minutes to work with and crank out AEW’s best TV match (and maybe even the best match period) ever. What makes it stand out isn’t so much what they do, as it is what they don’t do. Everything feels spontaneous and natural. There’s no obvious cooperation between them, or spots that take a ridiculous amount of time to set up, as one might see from the Bucks and Lucha Bros. They make a point of keeping their bigger moves protected. They don’t have to rely on finishers and near falls in order to keep the crowd interested. Look at Punk digging the Pepsi Plunge out of the mothballs for a good example of this. He hits it, to a huge reaction, takes some time to sell the toll it took on his already bad knee and the delay gives MJF time to recover and simply roll away so that he can continue putting it over despite no longer in danger of being pinned. MJF never connects with the Heat Seeker or gets Punk in his armbar, and by focusing on Punk’s arm, and later his knee, MJF makes sure that the GTS isn’t a viable option for Punk. Punk’s last big shot to MJF was the elbow off the top, hardly a legit finisher for Punk. But MJF rolls away again instead of letting Punk cover so that he can kick out.


The body part psych, which carries the bulk of their work, is virtually flawless. MJF is as nasty as can be when he kicks things off by working over Punk’s arm, and when Punk makes his comebacks, he always keeps the arm in mind, only using it when necessary. His first comeback is from throwing fists at MJF, using the other arm and only using the bad arm to hold MJF’s head in place. Punk tries for too much with a whip to the ropes, and it gives MJF an opening to reverse course and take control again. MJF kicking Punk off from trying the sharpshooter and Punk taking a bump on his shoulder on the apron was another case where they were able to keep the story moving and doing it in a way that seemed unplanned. MJF’s neck isn’t as a big a factor as it probably could have been, nowhere near as much as MJF’s knee was in the June match. Aside from being the reason that he wasn’t able to get Punk in his armbar, it doesn’t seem to prevent him from doing much, but MJF still does a good job showing that he’s hurt, and his chop block to Punk seems as much of an intentional move from MJF to go after the knee as it does that MJF just stumbled himself into it.


They have a few moments that seem to stretch the logic of the match, but they’re few and far between, and they don’t do anything to tear down what they’d built up. The main one is Punk’s comeback after the restart. The near fall from the cradle was fine, and it makes sense for him to take MJF by surprise while he’s focused on the ref. But after the near fall, Punk just fires away at MJF like Hogan after the Hulk-Up. Punk’s reverse rana, that hurts MJF’s neck, is another thing that seems off. Punk going for broke with something big is a fine idea, but a rana seems counterintuitive when Punk knows he’s got a bad wheel. It comes off like Punk wanting to do something that the current crop of young guys like to use, even though it’s never come close to being put over as well as it is from MJF. But with how well MJF bumps and sells in general, one gets the feeling that Punk could have used something simpler, like a DDT or a bulldog (which is already a regular part of Punk’s repertoire) and it would have been put over just as well. The Tombstone reversal spot afterwards seems a bit worse, since we’d already seen what doing the Pepsi Plunge did to Punk’s knee, but MJF saves things by outwrestling Punk and countering with a rolling cradle.


And of course, there’s the overall booking. Those who prefer perfectly clean finishes will dislike the way that this ends, but it’s a brilliant way to continue the feud. Depending on your perspective, MJF either beats Punk twice, or he doesn’t really beat him at all. MJF’s tape-assisted sleeper appears to give him an early win, but the ref catches it after the fact and restarts the match. Then, after Punk drops the elbow and MJF rolls to safety, Wardlow shows up and has a stare down with Punk and slips MJF the Dynamite Diamond so that he can KO Punk and get the pin. Despite his less-than-sportsmanlike manner, MJF does show that he’s both smart enough and good enough to beat Punk. He manages to  neutralize both of Punk’s main finishers, and when Punk does hit something big, he’s smart enough to get out of harm’s way before Punk can capitalize. Punk never comes close to doing that to MJF. He’s able to stop him from getting on the armbar or doing the Heat Seeker, but he doesn’t do anything to take them completely out of the equation. This is just like the Sammy match (and the PPV matches with Cody, Jungle Boy, and Darby), it’s another case of MJF getting a big opportunity and making the most of it. If the rest of the roster was doing anything close to this level, then “All Elite” would be a very fitting name for the group, instead of a semi-clever play on words from the old Bullet Club members. ****1/4


Conclusion: The MJF/Punk match is the main reason to check this out, but the undercard does have some solid work on it.