MJF, Bryan Danielson deliver, AEW hits pivot point
The revolution left little doubt about two very important things.
AEW still has some magic left as it appears to be attracting some fresh-faced young stars and there should be no more questioning – if you had any left – MJF’s ability to be a classic with the best of wrestling. about
MJF and Bryan Danielson’s Iron Man match, which went 67 minutes with overtime for the AEW World Championship, delivered all that and more during AEW’s first pay-per-view of 2023 on Sunday at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
It was the highlight of a show that had very few holes – unless you’re a fan of blood and death matches.
The question now for AEW is whether it can turn the buzz into better television for ratings dynamite by leaving this show and it’s far better than the alternative.
Here are five measures of revolution:
Iron Forge Iron
MJF and Brian Danielson take us on a ride that further cements the “American Dragon” as the best in-ring performer in the world. And with the winner proving he can wrestle at Danielson’s level for 60 minutes, then his title reign should pay off handsomely.
There was beautiful technical wrestling and transitions early on, table spots outside the ring, some gruesome submissions with blood on both men’s faces, innovative feints from MJF and some heart-pounding closing minutes and OT. Announcers Taz, Tony Schiavone and Excalibur were really on their game for this as well.
We needed extra time because MJF actually taped a single leg crab to his “injured” knee just seconds after the opening hour ended.
The match was first called MJF intact and AEW’s medical staff – as part of the show – providing oxygen to MJF as well as boos from the crowd.
Similar to the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels Iron Man match at WrestleMania 12, Schiavone received instructions into his headset from Tony Khan for ring announcer Justin Roberts to restart the match in OT with a 3-3 tie.
It was then that MJF’s usual methods of fraud were foiled. A low blow did not work. The referee took away the championship belt, and Danielson ducked before Danielmanite grabbed the diamond ring. You can at least give Danielson, who occasionally schooled MJF in grappling and technical wrestling, a win under the circumstances.
Then things got interesting.
MJF, who earned just one fall with no shenanigans, got his fingers on the ropes to break out another single-leg crab but also hit the mat. Danielson believed he had won. As he crawled under the ropes to retrieve the champ on the outside, MJF reached up and hit him with an oxygen tank and hid it before the ref could see. That opened the door to the finish. MJF, who earlier kicked out after a psycho knee in OT, put Danielson in his label lock. The challenger rallied early, but faded and tapped to give MJF a 4-3 victory in his first defense on the pay-per-view.
MJF went out of his comfort zone a few times, delivering a diving elbow to Danielson through a table on the outside and even pulling off a mid-rope springboard moonsault to the outside. He talked to the camera a lot more like Roman Reigns than usual.
It should be noted that MJF, who legitimately upset a young fan by throwing his mom’s drink at him, described himself as “the best in the world” and “the best wrestler in the world.” telling and did so again during the show.
This should at least leave open the possibility that if CM Punk is ever to return to AEW it will be working with MJF – who idolized him growing up – rather than The Elite winning back that title. To try what he never lost, that might be. Don’t want to work with him period.
Challengers for the MJF title are starting to emerge – from Ricky Starks to “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry to “Hangman” Adam Page and even TNT champion Wardlow.
We continue to add maturity and edge to Perry and Page. Perry – in a heart-pounding look full of shirt in jeans – showed he can finally go to a dark place by overcoming his reluctance to deliver a concerto to antagonist Christian Cage. He then rolled her into the casket to end their final burial match, which was a cross between a casket match and a buried alive match. What makes you think Perry’s music changes, because he feels so far away from the cartoonish “Tarzan Boy”.
Page received a new entrance with Fiend-like red lighting and the song “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” instead of his traditional theme. Then when he went out and tapped out three-time AEW Champion Jon Moxley – a rarity – by chain-straining him over the ropes to end their bloody Texas Death Match.
The Moxley-Hangman bout itself was one of those love-it-or-hate-it deals as the blood, graphic use of barbed wire, and some spots could be uncomfortable to watch. It felt like something straight out of the Nick Gage/GCW playbook. If you like that style, you’ve definitely missed out on entertainment.
Moxley wasn’t even done stomping Paige’s head on a brick, which seemed a little hard to believe. At least the hanging space – as awful and unnecessary as it could be – had meaning. Page feels like a long time has passed since then as cowering millennial cowboys.
Next up is Starks, who defeated Chris Jericho with Rochambeau. This came after stopping the Judas Effect when Action Andredi took care of Sammy Guevara trying to interfere. Starks’ stock continues to rise after an entertaining and impressive opener. You could even make the case that Wardlow has just as good a chance to take a shot at MJF down the road as he did after tapping Samoa Joe to reclaim the TNT Championship and at last year’s Double or Nothing. After winning an impressive victory over his former boss.
Choosing a side
Ruby Soho finally showed where her true loyalties lay and AEW made the right choice with a perfectly executed turn. When Jamie Hayter pinned Soho after a few roll-up counters to retain her AEW Women’s Championship in a solid match, the champion and Britt Baker were defeated by Saraya and Toni Storm as Soho watched.
Soho finally stood up and tossed Saraya and Storm out of the ring, with the AEW originals appearing. Then, after telling Saraya and Storm that they don’t run AEW, Soho turns on Baker and Hater – then hits his signature move and also uses green spray paint to mark them with L’s. done The green in Soho’s hair should probably have been a clue.
This all makes perfect sense for Soho considering his WWE past and his thirst to take Hatter’s Championship. He’s probably better off as a heel. That now leaves Baker and Hayter needing to form a new alliance, whether it’s a solo one with Hikaru Shida or Riho or potentially a complicated one like the returning Thunder Rosa or TBS champion Jade Cargill.
Fade to black
In the surprise of the night, the House of Black defeated Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks to win the trio’s championship, an action-packed match filled with near falls. Buddy Matthew hits a kick as Nick Jackson jumps off the ropes to attempt a Meltzer Driver. Failing this, the group was allowed to play Dante’s Inferno as Matthews, Aleister Black and Brodie King. Julia Hart actually got a V-trigger from Omega in this one too.
Unless this is the beginning of their feud, the hope should be that it takes The Elite out of the triangle picture entirely. This could get Omega back into a serious singles feud and the Bucks back in the tag division. Either that or a long-awaited storyline to reunite them with Hangman.
Top boys weekend
FTR is back in AEW after a short break and months in the title picture focusing on defending the Ring of Honor, IWGP and AAA Tag Championships. The return of Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood is the only thing that makes sense to retain the AEW Tag Team Championship in one of the most sports entertainment matches on the card. Their victory was only when the crowd remained silent throughout the night. Gunn defeated FTR and Dec and held a funeral-like portion for his career.
A bout full of comedy, interference and strut spots left you wondering where the company’s once-unprecedented tag division went. Although Danhausen ended up pinning, AEW continued to establish him as a serious wrestler. With Guns and FTR possibly heading into the match, it makes you wonder where this leaves The Acclaimed, who were among AEW’s hottest acts.
Match of the Night: Brian Danielson vs. MJF, Iron Man Match
Biggest Winner: MJF, House of Black
Biggest Losers: Admirable