The past two days stood out as a statement weekend for professional wrestling.
WWE’s “Extreme Rules” put a bow on a stretch that featured All Elite Wrestling’s “Fight for the Fallen” show on Saturday, the second and third nights of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament, and WWE Network airing the EVOLVE 10th anniversary show.
Several standout matches captured the imagination of fans, particularly Kenny Omega-CIMA (AEW), Matt Riddle-Drew Gulak (EVOLVE), Jeff Cobb-Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW), and AJ Styles-Ricochet (WWE). As riveting as those affairs were, four different matches from this weekend are worth considering in more depth, with an eye toward the execution of the match and its ramifications moving forward.
WWE: Aleister Black vs. Cesaro
Aleister Black delivered in his first-ever WWE main-roster pay-per-view singles match against Cesaro.
Cesaro answered Black’s challenge for a fight, which is both a positive and a negative for the veteran. The “Swiss Cyborg” has not only become typecast as a tag team wrestler (where, it should also be stated, he is a standout performer) but also as a good hand. This means that the creative team at WWE knows Cesaro can make an entertaining match out of almost any opponent, which is especially the case when he is placed against someone as talented as Black. But, his primary job is still to highlight his opponents.
Black showcased his athleticism against Cesaro’s strength in the nine-minute encounter, which was an unorthodox match for WWE. The repeated leg kicks and strikes made gave this the feel of a mixed martial arts fight instead of a more traditional WWE layout.
The match ended with Black connecting a vicious Black Mass kick, which helped explain Cesaro’s mouthguard. The win elevates Black, but hopefully reminds WWE that they have far more than a good hand in Cesaro—they have a star.
In the current wrestling scene, where companies are looking for free agent acquisitions to give their promotion an enhanced buzz, WWE has an untapped star on its roster in Cesaro.
AEW: The Young Bucks vs. Cody and Dustin Rhodes
There were no titles on the line, but championship gold wasn’t necessary to tell the story in the main of Saturday’s Fight for the Fallen between the Brothers Rhodes the Young Bucks. The build to the match centered around the Bucks mocking Cody and Dustin Rhodes following their historic Double or Nothing encounter.
The match kicked into another gear during the double team sequences, but especially when the Bucks slapped sharpshooters onto the Rhodes, which were then reversed into double figure-four leglocks.
The match did not meet the standard set by the Young Bucks and Golden Lovers during their 2018 meeting, and ran at least 10 minutes too long at 31 minutes, but it showed AEW’s commitment to countering WWE’s programming with a different product. Although a mixed tag team match has closed out the last two WWE pay-per-views, it is extremely rare to see actual tag teams highlighted in the main event, which is something AEW has already embraced.
Following a Meltzer Driver, Matt Jackson pinned Cody Rhodes. The win was necessary for the Bucks, who now move onto a ladder match at All Out against Pentagon and Fenix. Cody now moves onto his feud with Shawn Spears, which will be the biggest program of Spears’s career.
The call to have Cody take the pin to end the match was interesting. Dustin Rhodes had only signed two AEW dates—Double or Nothing and Fight for the Fallen—so the initial thought was that Dustin would have taken the loss. But that decision bodes well for Dustin’s future, as he remains a valuable commodity in the wrestling landscape and would add intrigue to AEW’s weekly television program on TNT. Given the high caliber of Dustin’s work, it is incredible that WWE could not find some role to better highlight Goldust over the past few years. But their loss is AEW’s gain, and a rematch somewhere down the road—perhaps for the AEW title—between Cody and Dustin has the interest to headline a pay per view.
NJPW: Jon Moxley vs. Taichi
The opening round of the G1 Climax saw Jon Moxley defeat New Japan star Taichi.
Moxley won the match in just under eight minutes, which did not include the opening sequence that saw Taichi attack the former Shield member during his entrance through the crowd.
There is so much to like about Moxley’s post-WWE run, particularly his G1 appearance. Moxley has a lot to prove, and working the grueling G1 tourney, then coming back to the United States to headline AEW’s “All Out” pay-per-view, ranks atop that list. His presence alone also puts the spotlight on his opponents, which was on display in this match—hopefully a larger portion of Moxley’s fan base is now aware of the incredible talent and charisma that Taichi possesses.
The match came to an end when Moxley hit the Death Rider for the victory, putting two points in his G1 win column. The bout with Taichi felt more like a Raw match than a well-executed G1 match, but each wrestler has nine matches in the G1 and the matches have to offer variety. Moxley’s next two G1 opponents are Jeff Cobb and Tomohiro Ishii, which should both be fantastic matches.
While it is highly unlikely that Moxley will win the G1, it doesn’t change the fact that every single one of his matches is appointment viewing.
EVOLVE: Josh Briggs vs. “Retrosexual” Anthony Greene
EVOLVE’s 10-year anniversary show took place from the old ECW Arena and aired on the WWE Network. Paul Heyman cut a promo in the ring, and, fittingly, Josh Briggs—EVOLVE’s vastly more talented version of 9-1-1—emerged as a star-in-the-making in Philadelphia.
Greene is a groomsman in Briggs’ wedding this fall, so the backstory adds some extra intrigue to their match-up.
Briggs is the next big star for EVOLVE, so the challenge for this match was giving some momentum to Greene while keeping Briggs looking like a monster. The storytelling was creative—Greene worked Briggs’ lower half, benefitted from some outside interference, and continued to escape certain defeat from Briggs’ chokeslam. Ultimately, Greene met his fate when he was hit with a chokeslam powerbomb from Briggs.
The match ran just under 12 minutes, and the plan moving forward is for Briggs to challenge EVOLVE champion Austin Theory. If Briggs can continue his rise to stardom, this match will suddenly have much more meaning.
Competition is a healthy component for pro wrestling, and the business is going to receive a shot in the arm once AEW starts its weekly television on TNT. Would the WWE Network have still aired the EVOLVE show if AEW did not exist? That is a question with no definitive answer, but this much is clear: there are no shortage of opportunities to succeed in pro wrestling.
The shows this weekend all added a unique flavor. WWE’s Extreme Rules was the best show, but it would have benefited greatly from Kenny Omega-Cima or Bucks-Brotherhood. The Briggs-Greene opener did a slightly better job to set the table for the EVOLVE show than AEW’s six-man tag that saw Spears pin Darby Allin (a feat Cody Rhodes couldn’t accomplish, which favors Spears), but neither compared to the Extreme Rules opener of The Undertaker and Roman Reigns against Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre.
Thanks to AEW, wrestling’s worldwide leader is being forced to step up its game. And no matter which promotion you prefer, there is no doubt that is good for business.