AEW has been good recently, but that sort of sums it up.
A perfectly enjoyable product on the whole, but certainly not on the level we’ve seen it reach multiple times over the course of its short history. There have been scattered moments of brilliance in the past few months, but it’s not firing on all cylinders again just yet.
Things could certainly be worse, mind. Arcade Anarchy was a moment to treasure, as was another blood-soaked Britt Baker performance. Darby Allin is consistently delivering as TNT Champion, while Miro is finally becoming the Miro we wanted him to be. The women’s division has been lit up by the recent form of Tay Conti, and there are lovable babyfaces everywhere.
Seriously, AEW can’t move for adorable good guys - Silver, Cassidy, Statlander, Sue!
But it still doesn’t feel like everything’s quite right, and I think that comes down to the current state of the promotion’s big hitters. Although still active on the card, Cody and Moxley have hit a definite cooling-off period for now. The Young Bucks’ heel turn has taken time to really get going, not because they’ve strayed from the formula of their pre-AEW villainy, but because they’re still recovering from the flimsiness of their babyface period. There’s a real sense that Matt and Nick are in the process of finding their equilibrium again, and the same can be said of Kenny Omega.
There’s no question that the belt-collector is still one of the best in the world, but for all his IMPACT-raiding exploits, his aura is yet to fully recover from the not-so-grand finale of Revolution 2021.
Honestly, that sentiment could be extended to AEW as a whole, and for that reason, they really need to nail tonight’s big match.
Blood and Guts is the company’s first big set piece since explosion-gate. We’ve had plenty of stipulations and ‘moments’ in the months since, but none with this level of hype. It’s unavoidable hype too. Before the world shut down, this contest was scheduled to take place on March 25th, 2020, fought between members of the Elite and the Inner Circle. It goes without saying that a lot has changed. When the match was first confirmed, MJF was almost eight months away from officially joining the heel participants. Since then, he’s not only been a member of the Inner Circle, he’s betrayed the group, established his own Horseman-inspired faction, and now finds himself the key figure in a bout he was initially nowhere near.
With this background of radical upheaval, how likely is Blood and Guts to succeed?
At first glance, the match has a very tricky dynamic: the Pinnacle are still relatively untested as a unit, while the Inner Circle only recently turned face. However, I don’t think that’ll pose too much of a problem, because the Inner Circle never represented the same sort of villainy as their usurpers.
Yes, they were absolutely capable of dishing out a vicious beating, or bending the rules to keep the belt around their leader’s waist. But they also had a cartoonish side, allowing them to play the role of episodic TV villains, before ramping up the intensity to sell a pay per view. As much as we hated their actions, they were genuinely funny too - remember their send-up of the Nightmare Family’s distinct video packages? The Inner Circle should fall easily into the role of loveable rogues tonight, because they were always flirting with that position anyway.
AEW has also wisely split the feud into recognisable sections: Spears vs. Sammy, FTR vs. Proud and Powerful, Wardlow vs. Hager, and the overarching rivalry between the two stable leaders. And while we’re all counting on a good dose of chaos given the nature of the stipulation, a bout of such scale and variety needs structure too. Thanks to a careful build, several stories should rise to the surface amidst the carnage. So far, so good.
But the most important of these stories is probably going to be MJF vs. Chris Jericho - and it’s high time we talked about AEW’s marquee man.
As mentioned, the company’s other big stars are not quite in the groove at present, which places Jericho in an incredibly important spot. He’s the main man once again, and predictably, he’s revelled in the build to this week’s match. He even appeared as a guest on Wrestling Observer Radio with Dave Meltzer and Brian Alvarez, and as entertaining as his interview was, one part left me a little concerned.
When asked about the planning of the feud between the two stables, Jericho stated ‘This is not the end of the story at all; it’s just the beginning in a lot of ways. I like to book ahead. [...] It’s a pretty cool, long-term storyline, which is my favourite type.’
While I would usually agree with Jericho’s philosophy, and his belief in the value of long-term storytelling, this has made me worry a little ahead of tonight’s show. I’d always assumed this feud was a launchpad for MJF’s group, not the first chapter of a great war between the two sides. Is the latter scenario even necessary? I’m not against a renewal of hostilities somewhere down the line, but a match of this magnitude should surely be the feud-ender - at least for the foreseeable future.
And while we’re at it, the Pinnacle should absolutely win. An Inner Circle victory may give us the joy and catharsis we watch wrestling for, but I don’t think the situation calls for that. If AEW are serious about establishing MJF as a major star for years to come, his group should go over without question here.
Before Jericho’s Observer appearance, I was fully optimistic ahead of Blood and Guts. Now I’m struggling to get too excited. Honestly, this could just be a sign of the times; under the magnifying glass of lockdown life, no major promotion is without its glaring problems. WrestleMania was a fun two-day distraction, but WWE’s creative issues continue to cripple its flagship brand. New Japan just saw Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi put on the best match of 2021 so far, but the promotion’s booking still suffers from inflexibility in an age of pragmatism.
In fairness, this wider perspective also reminds us that AEW has impressed mightily throughout a very trying time. Blood and Guts could be the first step back up to that captivating pre-pandemic level, but the stakes are high. It could just as easily provoke another wave of criticism and ridicule were it to fall short of expectations.
For the sake of the talent involved (and our own enjoyment, of course) let’s hope this hugely-hyped match lives up to its potential - or at least doesn’t turn into another damp squib. We remember the last one all too well.