Jack Perry, Ladder Matches, and FTR: The Young Bucks Open Up Before Dynasty

“As EVPs, we were given a task for that week by the boss and we did it to the best of our abilities. Zero regret.”

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The Young Bucks wrestle FTR in a ladder match for the vacant AEW tag team titles at Dynasty

The Young Bucks held the wrestling world’s collective breath last week on Dynamite.

A week-and-a-half ahead of their tag title match against FTR at the Dynasty pay-per-view, Matt and Nick Jackson–or, ahem, Matthew and Nicholas–starred in a segment where backstage footage was played from All In at Wembley Stadium this past August. It highlighted the altercation behind CM Punk and Jack Perry, neither of whom have been back in an AEW ring since the incident.

Both before and after it rolled, no shortage of questions surrounded the segment.

Now that he no longer works for the company, was it wise to put Punk on AEW programming? Is this part of a larger storyline that will benefit Perry? How would it connect to the Bucks’ ongoing program with FTR’s Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler? And were the Bucks hesitant about showing the footage?

Matt Jackson addressed the highly debated topic.

“Since we are wrestling FTR at Dynasty, and with it being the first time doing that since All In London, so many feelings and thoughts came rushing back,” said Matt Jackson. “Old wounds were reopened. We decided it was only fair to be transparent and honest with our fans. We needed to give them context about why we feel we came up short at All In London. Our bodies were there in the ring wrestling FTR at Wembley, but our minds were in the back with the scapegoat in the entire situation, Jack Perry. The three of us specifically were wronged that night, and I haven’t gotten over that.”

No strangers to controversy, the Bucks–who are also AEW EVPs–do an extraordinary job of blurring the lines between reality and story. Even when in character, there is truth embedded in all of their promos. Yet, regardless of how people felt about the Perry/Punk segment, Nick Jackson confirmed there was no trepidation or hesitancy surrounding it.

“As EVPs, we were given a task for that week by the boss and we did it to the best of our abilities,” said Nick Jackson. “Zero regret.”

The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks / Courtesy AEW

The reaction Jack Perry received this past Friday at the New Japan show in Chicago was outrageous. If that reaction continues, there is no ceiling for Perry in AEW.

“He’s been the next breakout star for a while now and he just needed something controversial to happen to him to open people’s eyes,” said Nick Jackson. “It happened with us early on in our careers, too.”

Matt Jackson was instrumental in bringing Perry to AEW. He watched closely as Perry evolved from Jungle Boy to where he is now. After a sojourn to Japan, he believes Perry is ready to take the next jump in his career.

“Jack Perry was one of my original AEW hires,” said Matt Jackson. “I saw a video clip of him on the indies, and then I went and watched everything I could find. Years prior, I’d heard stories about a nine-year-old boy being brought to wrestling training in Southern California by his celebrity dad Luke Perry. I wondered, whatever happened to that kid? Apparently, he’d been working hard and turning into a heck of a talent. I watched the videos and thought, ‘Whoa. Young, handsome SoCal kid with a great head of hair. Seems misunderstood. Has tons of confidence. He reminds me a lot of me and Nicholas at his age.’

“Coming back from Japan, Jack Perry now has that edge and swagger. And coming off all of this BS he’s been dealing with, he has a chip on his shoulder. He’s a dangerous cat right now and is about to blow up.”

In addition to the excitement surrounding Perry’s inevitable return to AEW, the Bucks plan to steal the show with FTR at Dynasty. Once Sting and Darby Allin vacated the tag titles–defeating the Bucks in Sting’s unforgettable last match at Revolution in March–a tournament was created to crown new champs. The Bucks and FTR advanced from their respective brackets to the finals, and they will meet this Sunday at Dynasty in a ladder match.

For those familiar with the Bucks’ history in Ring of Honor Ladder Wars matches, there is no doubt that spectacular athleticism and unnecessary risk-taking is in store for this Sunday’s tag team title bout.

Ladders, remarkably, bring out the best in the Bucks. And that is a direct result of their upbringing.

“The Young Bucks and ladders are a match made in heaven,” said Matt Jackson. “We’ve been climbing up and down ladders since we were little kids, helping our dad paint houses and install roofs. And we have absolutely zero fear of heights. How can we be afraid of falling when we are the ones purposely jumping off?

“This particular ladder match is a big one for us. We’re self-aware enough to realize that this is probably one of our last ones. Every time you do one of these, you’re shortening your career, and our days are numbered already either way. We’re also in a must-win situation. Our last title run ended prematurely. We’ve got to get these belts and go on a wild run to make up for last time.”

As children of the 90s, the Bucks were deeply influenced by the work of Edge and Christian, the Hardys, and the Dudleyz. Their storied TLC matches inspired a new generation, with the Bucks at the forefront.

“The TLC era is what really solidified my love for tag team wrestling and ladder matches,” said Nick Jackson. “So I think anytime we’ve had the chance to do some, it’s like reliving my wrestling fandom again. Those Ladder War matches were so crazy. If they happened on a bigger platform, I think people would rank them amongst some of the best ladder matches ever.”

The Young Bucks and FTR at All In
The Young Bucks and FTR at All In / Courtesy AEW

The Bucks and FTR are stark opposites, in and out of the ring. Yet their clash of styles is harmonious between the ropes, where they have made nothing short of magic in their first three meetings. The Bucks, Harwood, and Wheeler all have incredibly high standards to their work, and each is motivated to create a new, enduring chapter to their rivalry in this ladder match.

“FTR being talked about as the best [when they worked for WWE] caught our eyes,” said Nick Jackson. “It kind of, in a way, made me feel and get super competitive with them. I see similarities in the competitive nature we have, for sure.”

The Bucks have had no shortage of great opponents throughout their career, but none quite like FTR. The rivalry started well before AEW, back when they were wrestling for Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

“For the better part of 2008 to most of the 2010s, we ruled tag team wrestling across the board,” said Matt Jackson. “We were the only tag team really making waves, and standing at the top of the mountain at that time. It was lonely up there for a long time. Second place to us was so far apart, you didn’t really hear about anyone else. Then, all of a sudden, this tag team who’d been around was starting to make some noise. Seemingly out of nowhere, fans and critics were saying that there might be a new team in town to knock us off our throne. It definitely caught our attention and made us interested. Who were these guys?

Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood
Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood / Courtesy AEW

“When we watched them, we noticed that they were the polar opposite of us. Their presentation was different. Their style was different. I knew one day it would make for a compelling match. As different as we are, we all have the same mindset. Let’s make the crowd the loudest, for the longest period of time. We just accomplish that task in different ways. Them gaining momentum and buzz all those years ago only made us hungrier, because now there was a new team vying to replace us. Competition breeds excellence.”

The Bucks and FTR add a new chapter to their storied rivalry at Dynasty
The Bucks and FTR add a new chapter to their storied rivalry at Dynasty / Courtesy AEW

It is difficult to pick a favorite match among the Bucks-FTR trilogy because each is so different and distinct. That is also the ethos of the Bucks’ career, always focused on creating new hits instead of covering the classics.

The first Bucks-FTR match took place in November of 2020 at Full Gear, and a defining moment occurred when Kenny Omega rushed to the ring to celebrate with the Bucks after their victory.

That bout was a ballad for all their professional sacrifices, mainly the lonesome stretches spent away from their wives and children. Those nights, thousands of miles away from home in Osaka, Fukuoka, or Sapporo, remained etched on their mind as they achieved an altogether new tier of greatness. The story of that match followed the arc of the Bucks’ career, from cover band singers to musicians crafting their own hits. Even the gear had additional meaning, with FTR wearing the pristine green of the Boston Celtics and the Bucks adorned in the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers, further symbolizing the intense feud between the two teams.

Eighteen months later, the rematch was a classic. A completely different encounter from the original, this was the form at its purest. FTR prevailed, and it was refreshing to see raw, uncut tag team wrestling serve as the main event on Dynamite. A rare combination of trust, chemistry and psychology defined the match, and the two teams bonded over the pursuit of pristine tag team wrestling.

All In at Wembley Stadium
All In at Wembley Stadium / Courtesy AEW

The trilogy bout took place in August at All In. They wrestled in front of more 81,000 people, who were unaware of backstage altercations or controversy, at Wembley Stadium. As the crowd embraced what was unfolding in the ring, the finish was a standout moment–the Bucks were setting up a go-home Meltzer Driver, but Harwood caught an airborne Nick Jackson with a Shatter Machine, which led to the winning pin fall.

FTR’s victory gained them an edge in the series, jumping ahead two wins to one. The Bucks refused to shake hands after the match, beginning the build to Chapter Four.

This Sunday, the brothers from Rancho Cucamonga, California are ready to craft an entirely new story.

“Oftentimes, it’s easy to just play the songs everyone knows the lyrics to,” said Matt Jackson. “But we enjoy testing ourselves, which is a big reason we decided to strip away nearly everything from our old ways and start from scratch. Could we adapt? Could we make this new thing work? It’s a challenge.

“FTR hasn’t faced this version of Young Bucks, so it’s immediately going to be different and feel different. Not to mention, we’ve got ladders to play with this go-around. Ladder matches over the years have been one of our staples, and nobody does them quite like us. Fun fact–last time we won the tag titles, it was during a ladder match that also took place in St. Louis [against Jurassic Express in June of 2022]. Can we do it again? Lord knows the tag team division needs us to strap it onto our backs and carry it back to prominence. So, if I’m a fan, my fingers are crossed.”

The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks / Courtesy AEW

While it may be impossible to surpass the high levels already set, the Bucks are prepared to climb the ladder, rung by rung, and take every risk to ensure this sets a new level of excellence.

“Expect us to put on a show,” said Matt Jackson. “Nobody does pay-per-view like AEW. Expect big surprises. No other tag team in history consistently performs in big title matches like us. And expect us to start our historic third tag team title run, the one that’ll go down as the greatest of our career.”

“We have the most talented roster in wrestling history, thanks to Tony and your EVPs, and we try to top every pay-per-view with an even better one,” added Nick Jackson. “Dynasty will go down in history as one of the best pay-per-view events in wrestling history.”


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AJ Styles is the perfect first opponent for Cody Rhodes

If AJ Styles is set to be the first challenger for Cody Rhodes in his new reign as WWE champion, it is a great fit. And a better choice may not exist.

Rhodes and Styles are two of only four men–along with Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair–to hold the NWA world heavyweight title and WWE championship. Styles even wrestled Dusty Rhodes, with two singles matches in 2003. But the reason for Styles challenging Rhodes runs deeper than that.

In lieu of a major storyline coming out of WrestleMania, Rhodes needs the best opponent possible. And while no one laid out Rhodes on the Raw after WrestleMania (instead, he was sharing the ring with The Rock), there is no better wrestler suited to make Rhodes shine at the start of his reign than Styles.

Even at the age of 46, Styles has few peers. He cuts strong promos and just redefined his look–he looks even more shredded than before. Styles wrestles outstanding matches, and he would be a perennial world title contender in any other major promotion. He is in a position to make sure Rhodes looks like he belongs as champion, and he can do this better than LA Knight, Rey Mysterio, Kevin Owens, or anyone else on the roster.

In a rematch from WrestleMania 40, Styles wrestles LA Knight this Friday on SmackDown. The winner gets Rhodes next month at Backlash in France. A victory here warms up Styles for a program with the champ, where his responsibility will be clear.

The objective for Styles will be to ensure that Rhodes comes out of their program even stronger than he was before. Following a two-year feud with Roman Reigns, and the hottest angle in all of the industry with The Rock, that is no easy task. But if anyone can make it work, it’s Styles.


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Justin Barrasso

JUSTIN BARRASSO

Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.