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As All Elite Wrestling hosts its first show, Double or Nothing this Saturday, the promotion will have an opportunity to answer some important questions fans have about the company. This probably isn't the most important show in AEW history (its debut on TNT will probably be a bigger deal than an already sold-out PPV is) but the show will set the tone for what fans can expect AEW to be like in the future. Here are five big questions that can be answered at Double or Nothing.
Who is going to main event the show?
There are three contenders, Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes vs Dustin Rhodes and The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers. Omega and Jericho are probably the safest bet, since Jericho is clearly the biggest star on this show. However, it doesn't have to be the main event to be a big match, and if Jericho isn't going to be a full-time talent with AEW, it would make sense if the company wanted two full-time acts in the main event of their first PPV show.
What the answer to this question would really tell us is the hierarchy of the company. Omega was the biggest star of the group (outside of Jericho), but that was largely within the confines of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Outside of NJPW, you could argue that Cody or the Young Bucks are bigger stars to the AEW fanbase. Omega was the biggest star of the group in NJPW, largely because he was really over in Japan, something that is going to be less important for an American company in AEW.
The company has also been very public in pushing its tag team division. The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers is already one of the most anticipated matches on the card, so what better way to broadcast that message than having a tag team match be the main event of AEW's first show?
How will the crowd react to the non-stars?
There is plenty of star power in the major matches on the show, but AEW has also targeted a lot of younger wrestlers who lack major name recognition, with the idea of building them into stars. MJF, Kip Sabian, Jungle Boy, Sammy Guevara, etc. all have star potential, but a lot of fans are not going to be super familiar with their characters or their moves. How will the crowd, that largely paid to see Omega, Cody, Jericho and The Young Bucks, react to these newer names?
An interesting gamble is the trios match between the Japanese women, with Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki and Emi Sakura taking on Hikaru Shida, Riho Abe and Ryo Mizunami. Some fans may recognize Kong, who is a legend in joshi wrestling, but outside of that I'd guess that most fans watching the show have no idea who any of these women are. They were brought in because Omega believes they can get over to the audience, and if he is right that shows a lot of promise for AEW, because it will show that the company can identify talent that fans are not aware of, and push them and get them over. If they fail, it probably means that AEW has to consider pushing more mainstream wrestlers, at least at first.
How will AEW use statistics?
One of the more interesting concepts that AEW has pushed is the use of statistics in their product, something that has been toyed with a few times, but never seriously used in wrestling before. Owner Tony Khan has a background in sports analytics and has discussed using them in AEW. Cody recently mentioned that they would be really pushing stats, not just wins and losses, but wrestlers records against individual opponents, their records against wrestlers of different sizes, etc.
I'm not sure how they will be able to do this long term, but it is refreshing to see a company attempt an analytical approach to wrestling. One of the major problems with WWE is inconsistency in their storytelling, the disregard for wins and losses, and the company's ability to contradict itself on a week-to-week bases. By using cold, factual numbers, AEW may present a more realistic product that forces storylines and angles to follow logical paths and avoid having them altered every week.
How will the commentary team work?
The commentary team is very interesting, featuring Jim Ross, Alex Marvez and Excalibur. Ross is interesting because he's a legend in the business that lapsed WWE fans will immediately recognize and be happy to see. That being said, I haven't been overly impressed with his work with NJPW. Ross still does some things better than anybody else, but he also showed his age a bit when he would occasionally bury the wrestlers who were doing non-traditional offense, and get mix-up the names and the moves of some of the undercard talent. He's definitely worth having around, but I'm concerned about his ability to adapt to what is going to be a new, modern product.
Marvez is a veteran sports journalist, being brought in to help give the promotion a "real-sports" feel. Those who know him are very high on his ability to adapt, but with virtually no experience calling pro wrestling, it might be a struggle for him working in such a big spotlight.
Excalibur, best known for his play-by-play work on Pro Wrestling Guerrilla shows, is a guy who will know all of the indie wrestlers and understands the modern style of working. He's very good at selling the ability of the wrestlers and also has a great sense of humor. However, he does all of that on PWG shows, shows that have basically no oversight and are only watched by a small, niche group of fans. How will that style work on a more major league product? Only time will tell.
Who is this promotion for?
The last question might be the biggest. The promotion has been built so far on fans who followed the stars in NJPW and through their YouTube series. That group of fans, no matter how passionate, are not going to sustain AEW for the long term. To do that, AEW is going to have to make new fans, ones who don't follow The Elite religiously and have no idea who most of the talent is.
That leads to an interesting question; is Double or Nothing really about satisfying the fans who have followed these guys from the beginning, or is it for fans who are watching a lot of this talent for the first time? I thought All In was a good show, but a lot of it was fan service, which was fine since at the time it felt like a one-time thing to try and draw a big crowd of die hard fans. Double or Nothing doesn't have that luxury, this show is about building for the future and enticing new fans to continue to follow the product leading up to its debut this fall on TNT.
Even though in the long run I'd argue that the promotions first show on TNT will be its most important; you only get one chance to make a first impression. If the show is filled with fan service and inside jokes that go over the heads of first-time viewers, the product might not catch on. AEW may have to attempt a softer approach to introduce new fans to the promotion and the various stars that it's pushing.
Money in the Bank Ratings
Women's Money in the Bank: ***1/2
Samoa Joe vs Rey Mysterio: *
Lacey Evans vs Becky Lynch: *1/2
Charlotte vs Becky Lynch: **1/2
Bayley vs Charlotte: DUD
Roman Reigns vs Elias: DUD
Shane McMahon vs The Miz: **1/4
Tony Nese vs Ariya Daivari: ***
Seth Rollins vs AJ Styles: ****1/2
Kofi Kingston vs Kevin Owens: ***1/4
Men's Money in the Bank: ***1/2 (Weak finish hurt an otherwise very good match)
Must Watch Matches
LAX vs The Lucha Bros.: **** - Impact Rebellion
Taiji Ishimori vs Dragon Lee: **** - NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Night 1
Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA: ****1/2 - NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Night 2
Kento Miyahara vs Jake Lee: ****1/2 - AJPW Champion Carnival Final
Dragon Kid vs PAC: ****1/4 - Dragon Gate Dead or Alive
SHO vs Shingo Takagi: ****1/4 - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 1
El Phantasmo vs Will Ospreay: ****1/2 - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 7
Bandido vs Will Ospreay: ****1/4 - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 8
Shingo Takagi vs Draon Lee: **** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 8