If the goal of upstart promotion All Elite Wrestling was to use its inaugural pay-per-view card to build anticipation of the launch of their weekly fall show on TNT, the only thing that can be said is "mission accomplished." Saturday's Double or Nothing card from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas provided a good mix of the varied fare that professional wrestling's vibrant indie scene has to offer in 2019. Yet it was the final three matches of the evening, including a surprise run-in involving a former WWE star after the main event, that created AEW's first viral moment.
From the blood and tears exchanged by the Rhodes brothers to the theatrics and aerial exploits of Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros, this felt very much like a historic card that boldly announced new competition for the long-time industry leader WWE. Although AEW has spent most of its launch avoiding talk it is outright competing with chairman Vince McMahon's multibillion dollar company, Cody (nee Rhodes) sent quite a message to his former bosses halfway through the night in a visual stunt that seemed to declare war.
As Double or Nothing went off the air with one of McMahon's biggest stars up -- until just a few weeks ago -- standing tall, it's a wonder as to whether Saturday night was a major turning point during a time that can already be considered the third boom period of the modern era in sports entertainment.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Saturday with results, analysis, grades and highlights from AEW Double or Nothing. Be sure to subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast for a complete audio review of AEW's debut show on Wednesday.
AEW Double or Nothing recap, grades
"Hangman" Adam Page wins the Casino Battle Royale to earn future world title shot (The Buy In): With his originally scheduled match against PAC (f.k.a. Neville) called off due to creative differences, Page turned out to be the final entrant in the match after drawing the joker card. The booking of him winning seemed to be the right call, as well. The rising star earned a future shot at the inaugural AEW world championship against the winner of tonight's main event.
The match was a wild mix of gimmicks, high spots and comedy that, at times, bordered on sloppiness. It was also nonstop fun from start to finish as five additional wrestlers entered the match every three minutes. Joey Janela used a lit cigarette as a weapon, Jimmy Havoc used a staple gun, and Tommy Dreamer introduced a trash can. Bilateral amputee Dustin Thomas popped the crowd by hitting a 619 and a 450 springboard splash on Janela. Michael Nakasawa did the same by applying baby oil to slip out of holds. Luchasauras later eliminated Janela by chokeslamming him through a table outside. The match also saw memorable appearances by WWE alumni Billy Gunn and Shawn Spears (f.k.a. Tye Dillenger), WCW veteran Glacier and upstarts Brian Pillman Jr. and Jungle Boy.
Following a brief run-in from Orange Cassidy, the final four consisted of Luchasaurus, Havoc, Page and MJF. Page, who sold an injured left knee throughout, used a low bridge to eliminate Luchasaurus and appeared to have the match won until MJF, who was in the match from start to finish, ran in from hiding outside. MFJ, whose heel work was a highlight in the match, dumped Page onto the apron but not the floor. Page rallied with a Buckshot Lariat to eliminate him. Grade: B-
Kip Sabian def. Sammy Guevara via pinfall (The Buy In): Sabian, a native of Great Britain, gained storyline revenge on Guevara for his attack at Friday's weigh-in. The match was a fun little spot-fest between high-flying cruiserweights. Guevara landed a dangerous shooting star press off the ring apron as Sabian was draped over the ringside barrier wall. But Guevara's follow-up attempt to land a 630 splash off the top rope hit Sabian's knees. He followed with his Deathly Hallows finisher for the 1-2-3. Grade: C+
SoCal Uncensored def. #StrongHearts via pinfall: Not a bad way to kick off the main card as SCU's pre-match shtick on the microphone paired well with a wild finish featuring dramatic near falls and all six men inside the ring. In between, the match was nothing more than standard fare. Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels teamed up for a Best Meltzer Ever on El Lindaman for the finish. Despite the much-hyped entrance of the Oriental Wrestling Entertainment trio to the promotion, it turned out to be SCU hitting the biggest spots. Grade: C+
Britt Baker def. Kylie Rae (via pinfall), Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong: Brandi Rhodes, AEW's chief brand officer and a singles competitor, came out before the match to pump fake a self-insertion to the match (giving off clear Stephanie McMahon vibes). Instead, she announced Kong (f.k.a. Kharma briefly in WWE) as a late addition. The size and power of Kong and Rose perfectly contrasted the aerial and technical skill of Baker and Rae. The match was also an incredibly strong introduction as to what the AEW women's division will look and feel like. Baker and Rae enjoyed a lengthy finish against each other which teased of a future feud as Baker landed an ushigoroshi for the pin. Grade: B+
Best Friends def. Angelico & Jack Evans via pinfall: Talk about a high-wire affair. It didn't take long for the first traditional tag match in AEW history to become a game of "can you top this?" No spot was too big as Evans and Angelico repeatedly thrilled the crowd with their aerial exploits. But Chuck Taylor and Trent Beretta proved just as daring in a number of tandem moves which produced two counts. The finish proved just as wild as Taylor landed a Doomsday Sexy Chuckie Knee off the top rope on Evans before taking out Angelico via tope con hilo over. The Best Friends then combined on a Tag Team Cruncher to finish off Evans. After the match, the four participants shook hands and were about to hug as the lights went out. An unnamed tandem appeared and after the lights went out as second time, so did a group of masked minions.The heel faction took out all four wrestlers before forming a human throne to pose as the lights went out a final time. Grade: B+
Hikaru Shida, Riho & Ryo Mizunami def. Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki & Emi Sakura via pinfall: While there were certainly a handful of fun spots to pop the crowd and produce an adoring "this is wrestling" chant, it's difficult to look past how much this one wore out its welcome. The breakneck pace was fun but the near falls were far too many (and the action routinely sloppy). To make matters worse, a botch near the end saw the timekeeper ring the ball and music cued up despite the referee holding up two fingers on a near fall. Shida put away Sakura, her teacher and mentor, for the pin. Grade: D+
Cody def. Dustin Rhodes via pinfall: Consider this a love letter from two sons to their late father. You can also consider it an absolute masterpiece of grit and emotion, painted with the blood of the 50-year-old Dustin, which covered the ring, both performers and legendary referee Earl Hebner. Dusty Rhodes was undoubtedly smiling down from above on these half brothers who told such a compelling story in a short time once this match was announced. The one they told inside the ring was even better.
There are a few different ways to put on a classic and the Rhodes brothers (despite a few memorable spots along the way) chose to tug on the heart strings of both fans and themselves in order to properly tell this one. The match was largely a war of attrition as an exposed turnbuckle by Cody opened the door for a Dustin blade job. While the blood was excessive at times, it set the perfect tone as a callback to the kind of amazing theatre that Dusty put on for decades. Cody's wife Brandi, who speared Dustin on the floor, was ejected early by Hebner and physically removed from the arena in a cameo by Diamond Dallas Page. The brothers took it from there as they traded one incredible near fall after another with both kicking out of Cross Rhodes.
Dustin, who entered in great shape following double knee surgery shortly after his exit from a final run as Goldust in WWE, pulled out all stops and went as far as hitting a superplex to pop the crowd. Chants of "this is awesome" and "A-E-W" filled the arena throughout, as did " thank you, Dustin" after Cody landed a final Cross Rhodes to end the match. Cody grabbed the mic afterwards to tell Dustin "you can't retire here." He then asked for a favor that the two might team together at the next AEW show. As Cody broke down in tears, he exclaimed, "I need my older brother" before the two engaged in an emotional exchange. If the match wasn't already perfect enough, this was the icing on the cake. Grade: A+
Bret Hart introduces the AEW championship: During a presentation of the AEW title, Hart welcomed to the ring Page, who won the Casino Battle Royale to open the show and earn a future world title shot. MJF quickly interrupted to talk trash to Page and Hart, but as he began to walk to the back, Jungle Boy and Havoc stood in his way. The three took MJF out as Hart presented the title in the ring.
AAA World Tag Team Championship -- The Young Bucks (c) def. Lucha Brothers via pinfall to retain the titles: The only title match on AEW's debut card lived up to its lofty expectations as a potential show stealer. The aerial brilliance of all four competitors was on full display in an absolute firecracker of a spot-fest. The big moves were almost too numerous to recount, as was the incredibly dramatic near falls. Matt Jackson's brainbuster onto the top rope on Rey Fenix arguably had the crowd buzzing the most. Pentagon Jr. snapped Matt's arm late and hit an insane package piledriver that nearly won the match. The Bucks would rally, however, teaming up for a Meltzer Driver on Fenix to score the 1-2-3. Grade: A-
Chris Jericho def. Kenny Omega via pinfall to earn future world title shot: Jericho, a WWE and WCW legend, not only made history by headlining the first PPV in AEW history, the 48-year-old will now compete for the promotion's first world title after defeating Omega to set up a summer showdown with Page. Amazingly, even after a thrilling rematch between Jericho and Omega, that wasn't the biggest headline to come out of the match. Shortly after Jericho's win, which saw him cut a promo praising himself for AEW's launch, former WWE superstar Dean Ambrose -- billed as his former indie name of Jon Moxley -- ran in to hit Dirty Deeds on Jericho and the referee. Moxley, with a swagger reminiscent of Steve Austin, then brawled through the crowd with Omega before landing a final Dirty Deeds on top of the oversized poker chips; he followed by lifting Omega onto his shoulders and dropping him onto the stage below.
The insane ending took an already great main event and escalated it to the stratosphere. The excitement of Moxley cleaning house means AEW's upcoming fall weekly show couldn't come fast enough for fans itching for more content after a debut card that closed on an insane high following three incredible matches. AEW now has the prime, crossover superstar in Moxley to work opposite Omega that it needs. And almost lost in the Jericho win and Moxley stealing the post festivities was the performance Omega put on throughout by selling one insane move after another. With his nose and mouth busted open throughout, Omega put his body on the line consistently with numerous bumps that did well to offset Jericho's limited mobility closing in on 50. That doesn't mean Jericho didn't hold up his end of the bargain, however, as continued to carve out an incredible twilight that only adds to his already legendary career.
The match was physical from the start with both leaving the chest of each other a blotchy mess due to hard chops. The rematch of their 2018 New Japan Pro-Wrestling classic at Wrestle Kingdom 12 didn't have a no disqualification stipulation to lean on this time around yet it never hurt the entertainment factor. The recurring theme of the match was Jericho's ability to avoid Omega's One-Winged Angel finishing move as he was twice able to reverse into DDTs. Jericho also countered a top-rope splash by Omega by catching him in a dramatic Codebreaker in mid-air. The finish came when Jericho added one more Codebreaker before debuting a new finisher -- a spinning back elbow called the Judas Effect -- that produced the 1-2-3. Given his age and star power, the booking was brilliant as AEW can use Jericho to put over Page while Omega and Moxley likely head into their own program. Grade: A+
AEW Double or Nothing highlights
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