SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
(1) Brian Cage should probably win the AEW World Championship
Cage made his long-awaited debut on Saturday night, winning the Casino Battle Royal which will earn him an AEW Championship match at Fyter Fest, according to Tony Khan. Cage signed with the company back in January, after his Impact Wrestling contract expired, but he needed surgery to heal from an arm injury and was just recently cleared for an in-ring return.
Cage’s debut gives AEW an untapped resource, and one with major superstar potential. Cage was at the main-event level with Impact Wrestling, but numbers for Impact have suffered greatly in recent years and main-eventing in that company is not that status it was even five years ago. Cage has also been a fixture in the top independent companies and was one of the main characters in Lucha Underground.
But for many AEW viewers, this will be their first exposure to Cage, a chiseled super athlete who looks like Hulk Hogan in his prime, but has the athleticism of Randy Savage. Cage is a superstar, and his title shot against Jon Moxley is going to feel like a big fight (in a way that Moxley vs. Lee just didn’t). And nothing would cement Cage’s status in the company like winning the AEW World Championship in his first singles match.
(2) The Broken Universe nonsense doesn’t belong in the main event
AEW has pitched itself as the wrestling company that treats pro wrestling as a sport, rather than as a contrived collection of comedy skits. They track and talk about wrestlers’ win-loss records and have video segments, like the ones with Taz, where he breaks down matches and wrestlers’ moves, talking about why they work and what makes each wrestler dangerous.
All of that is resembles the same presentation utilized by a company like UFC or Bellator when promoting its fights.
Then on the same show, they present Matt Hardy’s “Broken Universe” nonsense. Not only was it presented, but it was in the main event. It forced the announce team to talk seriously about the “Lake of Reincarnation” when just minutes before, they were commenting on a wrestling match between Moxley and Brodie Lee. Excalibur, who had spent most of the night being a color analyst for wrestling matches, had to then talk seriously about how Hardy was magically changing characters while getting dunked in a swimming pool, and how a drone was going to be out for revenge once it flew into the picture.
While Hardy was in the pool, AEW put up a stats graphic that said “Matt Hardy can hold his breath for 346 seconds underwater” when earlier those graphics were highlighting won-loss records.
Everything about the Broken Matt Hardy character doesn’t fit with the rest of AEW’s presentation. It’s campy, goofy comedy which is a square peg fitting into a round hole when the rest of the show is supposed to be pro wrestling, taken seriously as a sport. The first 10-15 minutes of the Stadium Stampede was well done. It was presented like a fight, and the coverage felt like a company documenting a fight. Then the silliness came into the equation and it totally turned me off; I don’t think I was alone.
I’m not naive. There’s clearly an audience for what Hardy is doing, and even if it doesn’t appeal to me, I guess it appeals to someone. But if AEW is going to insist on using that character, the last place they should use it is in the main event. That type of silliness is a side dish, it’s not the main course.
(3) A “drowning spot” was in poor taste
Speaking of Hardy, a drowning spot just six days after Shad Gaspard drowned and lost his life was in poor taste. There were other ways AEW and Hardy could have accomplished the same thing. Having Hardy enter the pool himself, submerge and then come back up to reveal a new version of Hardy would have been one easy fix. Instead, Excalibur actually exclaimed, “they’re drowning him!” at one point and Hardy was at one point left floating, face down, in the water. It was cringeworthy, especially given the real-life situation that unfolded just a few days ago. The sequence was in poor taste and could have easily been avoided.
(4) Brodie Lee looked like he belonged in a main-event title match
The match was essentially a brawl, which helped make Lee look very credible. Like many, I went into this match worrying that this felt too much like a TNA main event. Here you have Brodie Lee, a recent WWE transplant, immediately pushed into the World Title match at the next pay-per-view. On top of that, the Dark Order has been a dull act and while Lee’s insertion into the group has added something to the group’s reputation, there’s still something missing with them.
However, the framework of the match fit Lee’s style well, and even though Lee was booked to lose the match, AEW was able to put over his toughness by not tapping out in the sleeper hold.
(5) The best two matches on the show were on the undercard
MJF defeating Jungle Boy and Hikaru Shida beating Nyla Rose for the AEW Women’s Title were the two best matches on the show.
Let’s start first with MJF and Jungle Boy. AEW did a fantastic job putting MJF over, but doing it in a way that made Jungle Boy look very credible up against a guy who is a future pillar of the company. Teasing the time-limit draw, only to have MJF eventually score the win, was a nice touch.
Rose and Shida both worked incredibly hard in their title match, and Shida looked like a Warrior who just wouldn’t quit until she got the win. Rose and Shida had a fun brawl around ringside and the build to their match, including the video package that aired right before the match, was well done. Shida talking about how important it was to her to win the title, and then watching her do so, felt like a satisfying moment as a viewer.
Mike McMahon is a PWTorch contributor and is the co-host of the All Elite After Show on the PWTorch Dailycast lineup. Follow him on Twitter @TorchMcMahon