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AEW Gives Fans a Little Bit of Everything With Stellar ‘Full Gear’ Pay-Per-View

Fans might not be able to agree on their favorite match of the night, but there’s no denying that the show may have been the best in the company’s brief history.

It's hard to say what AEW’s Full Gear on Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis will best be remembered for. On one hand, you had the culmination of a multiyear story where “Hangman” Adam Page finally beat Kenny Omega to win the AEW world championship in the show's main event. But the show might also be best remembered as being the greatest in-ring show in company history and the best wrestling event top-to-bottom of 2021.

By my estimation—and keep in mind that star ratings are completely subjective and that there are many people who cover wrestling who actually believe I'm low-balling it here—six of the nine matches on the main card could be rated four stars or above. That is an absolutely incredible standard for a professional wrestling show from any company in this or any other year. There will be great debate, because people on the Internet like to complain about subjective opinions, but what is amazing is that hardcore fans of AEW will probably agree that it was either the greatest or among the greatest shows in company history, while simultaneously not agreeing on what their favorite matches were.

AEW's three greatest strengths are the company's good-will with fans, its quality of in-ring action and its storytelling (the first being a the result of the latter two). But a hidden strength of its in-ring action is that unlike WWE, which for better or worse is run by a promoter who really only likes and understands one style of wrestling, AEW is a smorgasbord of different styles. MJF vs. Darby Allin was an awesome wrestling match between a beloved babyface and a dastardly heel. FTR vs. Lucha Brothers featured two teams who worked completely different styles, melding them together to create a great match. Miro vs. Bryan Danielson was an excellent technical David vs. Goliath battle between two former WWE stars. Jurassic Express and Christian vs. the Young Bucks and Adam Cole was a completely outrageous collection of wild highspots. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston was an ugly, brutal fight. You get the point. There is something on the show for virtually every fan, no matter what style of wrestling you like, and because the show features so many different styles, for most fans, there might also be a match that isn't necessarily their cup of tea. Hence subjective arguments over what was "good" and what was "bad."

The main event was everything that AEW fans love about the company rolled up into a single package. Great storytelling. Great technical wrestling, great high-flying, great selling, twists and turns, fans living and dying with nearfalls and being rewarded for paying attention, and a babyface championship win to send the fans home happy.

The story of Page's title win is long and detailed, but the general gist of it is that “Hangman” was in the inaugural AEW championship match versus Chris Jericho on Aug. 31, 2019, he lost, and that was the beginning of a two-year-long battle with confidence, leading to him finally overcoming those issues and winning the title this past Saturday night. It was among the longest planned-out story lines in wrestling history, although, as promoter Tony Khan noted in the post-show media scrum Saturday night, there were many twists and turns and minor changes in direction as a result of the pandemic. But the story basically turned out as it was envisioned from day one, and while fans can point to many "long-term" stories in wrestling history (Undertaker and Kane's relationship would be a particularly bad example), there is a difference between continuing a "story" in company "canon" and actually planning out and executing a multi-year storyline.

Saturday's match paid off seeds planted on Day 1. Even prior to the formation of AEW, the Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) had always cornered Kenny Omega in his big matches for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. “Hangman” asked the Bucks to corner him versus Jericho and they turned him down. Issues between the friends grew over the course of the story line, including during a famous match where Omega and Page faced their best friends the Bucks for the World Tag Team Titles, a fantastic match that the Bucks lost. Although he was one half of the tag champions, Page’s anxiety-driven drinking was getting out of control and the Bucks and Kenny pushed him to get his act together. Finally, “Hangman” was convinced by FTR to screw the Bucks in a tournament match to determine No. 1 contenders to his tag team titles, and then, after screwing Nick and Matt and destroying their friendship as a result, FTR won the tournament and ultimately beat Omega and Page to win the tag titles. The relationship between Omega and Page deteriorated, they ended up in a No. 1 contender's match—at Full Gear exactly one year ago, in fact—for the AEW title. Omega beat him, and ultimately turned heel on him.

Among the unplanned twists and turns were Page’s relationship with the Dark Order after the untimely death of Brodie Lee (Jon Huber) on Dec. 26, 2020. Brodie had been the leader of the Dark Order, and after his passing the Order pushed “Hangman” to become their new leader. Now a depressed, beer-drinking cowboy with no self-confidence, Page refused to lead the group but remained always by their side as a friend. And it was the Dark Order that ultimately pushed him to pursue the world title and prove he could become what they (but not he) believed he could become: the AEW world champion.

They convinced him to team up with them at July's Fight for the Fallen in a ten-man tag: “Hangman” and Dark Order vs. the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and the Good Brothers in a match where if Page’s team won, he'd get a shot at the AEW title and the Dark Order would get a shot at the tag titles. With September's All Out just around the corner and no main event announced, it seemed obvious that Page’s team was going to win—but they didn't. “Hangman” ended up the last man in the ring with both Bucks and Omega, managed to eliminate Matt one-on-three, but then was waffled with a belt shot from Omega and pinned with the One-Winged Angel. “Hangman” had failed again, and worse, he was brutally beaten afterwards and removed from television.

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What actually happened was that Page’s wife was due to give birth right around All Out weekend, so he asked for time off and this was the story line reason why. But after his paternity leave, he made a surprise return in a Casino Ladder Match on Oct. 6th, won the poker chip guaranteeing him a title shot, and the Full Gear main event showdown with Omega for the title was official.

The night before the PPV, on AEW Rampage, “Hangman” told the Bucks that he was sorry for everything he’d done, and sorry that he cost them their tag-team title shot in the tournament. But, he noted, Nick and Matt had cost him his title shot in that elimination match, so he considered them even. Therefore, he said, if they laid one hand on him at the PPV, he would ruin them.

Kenny noted that he always won the big matches whereas “Hangman” did not, and therefore “Hangman” had no chance of beating him.

Near the end of their title match at Full Gear, the Young Bucks made their way down to the ring. It literally harkened back to Aug. 31, 2019, when “Hangman” asked them to be at ringside for his match with Jericho and they'd refused. “Hangman” hit Omega with his own finish, the One-Winged Angel, which nobody in North America had ever kicked out of prior (for trivia purposes, the only person who has ever kicked out of Kenny Omega’s One-Winged Angel in North America is, in fact, Kenny Omega), and then set up for his own finish, the Buckshot lariat. He moved through the ropes to the apron, and there was Nick Jackson. Page looked at Nick, Nick looked at Page, Nick did not make a move, and Page hit Omega with the buckshot. Page then went through the ropes on the other side, and there was Matt. Page looked at Matt, Matt looked at Page, Matt did not make a move, he only nodded, and Page hit a second buckshot and pinned Kenny Omega clean in the middle, winning the AEW world championship and finally proving after two years that he could, in fact, win the big one after all.

The story is over, but it's not over. Ultimately, the story ends with “Hangman” Page, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks all reuniting, and going full circle to become the Elite as they were on day one of AEW, before it all went south for them. But if history is any indication, it'll be another few years of twists and turns before they all mount up with ol' Hanger and ride off into the sunset together.

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