The choice by All Elite Wrestling executives to run quarterly pay-per-views rather than WWE’s standard monthly specials has been a welcome one for yours truly. Each time AEW serves up a major show, it feels legitimately special. It better be, of course, with the $200 total commitment that it is to watch all four. What has also been welcome, though, is the promotion’s other offerings that are a cut above the average weekly episode of Dynamite on TNT. Be it 2019’s pre-Dynamite era pair of summer shows offered to viewers for free on B/R Live or the (copyright fee paid to my friends at Social Suplex) “Dynamite 1.5” events, which are NWA/Clash of the Champions-esque, PPV-caliber super cards, these offerings say to fans, “We’re always trying to create an engaging product for you.” So, while you can find my ranking of the 6 AEW pay-per-views to date over on my column writing home of 15+ years, Wrestling Headlines (LOP), I wanted to pay tribute to the other specials here and further contextualize All Elite Wrestling’s budding historical profile.
(Doc’s Note – Rankings were determined by offering each match a 1-4 grade – 1 is skippable, 2 is good, 3 is great, and 4 is rewatchably great – adding up each show’s score and dividing by the number of matches. Segments were considered intangible tie-breakers)
#8: Bash at the Beach 2020 – Due to copyright issues, it might end up being the only AEW Bash at the Beach, but if so, it was definitely a memorable one-off. Spearheaded by a romp of a tag team match for the #1 contendership during which we really started to see what the duo of Hangman and Kenny Omega would become, plus a pair of matches that had World Title implications in Darby vs. PAC and Mox vs. Sammy Guevara (after which Mox got his memorable storyline-eye injury). Darby-PAC and the 4-way tag contender bouts carry a lot of weight in hindsight during a comparative analysis, off-setting a contender for most forgettable match in AEW lore that stunk the joint out and basically killed any hope for the Brandi-led Nightmare Collective and Kia Stevens (aka Awesome Kong). DDP came back to lead a team that lost to a quickly-rising MJF, so that was fun and worth noting as an additional minor hit.
#7: Fight for the Fallen 2019 – Certainly by my estimation the weakest of the cards, but opinions will likely vary based on the main-event between the Bucks and the Rhodes brothers, which I thought was horribly over-long and ended with a dud of a climax. The other high profile tag match – SCU vs. Fenix and Pentagon – was the initial showcase of their shaky in-ring chemistry, the stimulus for a sloppy effort that did not connect with me. This show also featured quite possibly the worst match in AEW history in Allie vs. Brandi Rhodes, so while there was some good things presented like Cima vs. Kenny Omega (4.25 star/5 rated by me, 4.5 by Meltzer) and Dark Order vs. Jurassic Express vs. TH2 in a show-enhancing effort, it just did not seem to be AEW’s night back in July 2019.
#6: AEW 1st Anniversary Show – Two such specials have been built around Jon Moxley title defenses against dominant big men, this time around Lance Archer. Much like the special to be discussed in a bit, the AEW Dynamite Anniversary show’s quality is dependent on your opinion of the main-event. I thought Mox vs. Archer was quite engaging, but a step down from their work at NJPW’s WrestleKingdom in January. So, it was really good, but not great. Thus, I’m comfortable with how the ranking system I used placed this event here. Still, all of these shows are quite good in their own ways. I loved Orange Cassidy vs. Cody, both of whom routinely step up to the plate in these feature length showcases (plus I’m quite fond of the time limit draw’s return to prominence in AEW). FTR vs. Best Friends was an excellent Tag Team Championship match as well, the – um – best match that Trent and Chucky T have had under traditional rules.
#5: The Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager on Le Ship of Jericho – Hands down one of the coolest venues ever to host a major wrestling show, the Ship of Jericho was as much the star as any of the talent. Watching MJF get thrown by the Bucks into the top deck cruise-liner pool was a genuine “moment” in AEW that could not have earned that status without the setting. Not only that, this card featured one of the best AEW matches ever that nobody talks about. SCU was the first ever Tag Team Champions for the promotion and had done a solid job leading the charge without yet having the big PPV match to solidify their reign. Hangman Page and Omega came on strong pretty much out of left field to challenge SCU on the ship and they built a lot of momentum quickly. SCU vs. Hangman and Kenny proceeded to knock it absolutely out of the park – an over the green monster kind of home-run, especially for a TV match. Mox and PAC had a really good performance too; combined with a TV Match of the Year candidate and the electric setting, this was a smash hit.
#4: Fight for the Fallen 2020 – This show was really all about Jon Moxley defending the AEW World Championship against Brian Cage, a match that was hyped extraordinarily well and was postponed for a week due to COVID concerns. Personally, I thought their match was great, fueled as it was by such a strong build in the 6+ weeks leading up to it. The controversial finish did not bother me a bit (though Cage’s limited use in the four months since has). Opening with a TNT Title bout that saw Cody put Sonny Kiss on the map, Fight for the Fallen rocked it up this list on the strength of a pair of tag team matches in support of the main-event. The Elite vs. Jurassic Express was as good as you would expect and even hinted at the darker side that Kenny Omega has started to recently flesh out and FTR vs. The Lucha Bros. was an awesome, albeit abbreviated first chapter in what I hope will be a legit rivalry.
#3: Fyter Fest 2020, Part 1 – AEW has set the bar pretty high this past year or so. When they announce a card full of matches with definable stakes and solid build, expectations can get pretty high in a hurry. My expectations were extremely high for the Tag Team Title bout that main-evented this show and reasonably high for Proud and Powerful vs. Private Party, while my expectations for everything else were mild to moderate. Expectations can be a strange thing. All of the matches I was mild to moderate about over-delivered (Shida vs. Penelope Ford particularly, which I thought took Match of the Night honors), the match I was highest on under-delivered, and P&P vs. P.P. was a bit of a letdown. Everything on the show was good, though, so overall this was an excellent example of a supped-up Dynamite. I can see how some would think better of it than I did.
#2: Fyter Fest 2019 – As someone who places great weight in a main-event delivering like a main-event should deliver, the maiden voyage of Fyter Fest has an extra something that perhaps only one of the other shows up for debate here can equal. Jon Moxley vs. Joey Janela was absolutely outstanding. Mox vs. Omega topped it in the Hardcore genre months later, but I still maintain that you will not find many matches in gimmick lore as good as Mox vs. Janela. Given that this was also the show that introduced the wider audience to Darby Allin – in a very good, star-making 20-minute draw with Cody – the foundation of this B/R Live special was quite sturdy. I was not the fan of the Elite vs. Luchas that some were, but when that’s the number two or three best bout on a show, it bodes well for the card’s reputation in hindsight.
#1: Fyter Fest 2020, Part 2 – I got really excited for AEW Fyter Fest. Coming off the high on life moment that was Double or Nothing in May, the promise of a Clash-like card in the early summer seemed sublime. Of the three big shows they ran from July 1st to July 15th, this one from July 8th was a standard-setting kind of event. Orange Cassidy vs. Chris Jericho, more so to me than the high octane eight man tag team match that more people raved about (and rightfully so), told a marvelous story that nobody ever knew they needed to see told. The breakout star of the year was not supposed to be Orange, but it has been; and to date this was his peak. There was also an Omega/Page vs. Private Party 4-star match to enjoy and spirited efforts from both Dark Order vs. SCU and Joey Janela vs. Lance Archer. Nyla worked in a squash that furthered her rebuild to the #1 contender status she occupies today. Excellent card.