True Story Of AEW Double Or Nothing 2019

Everything you need to know about AEW Double or Nothing 2019

In 2019, the professional wrestling industry profoundly changed forever. After WWE held a near-total wrestling monopoly on the mainstream level in the United States for close to two decades, a new competitor emerged. Upon inception, All Elite Wrestling quickly forged ties with several notable veteran figures, a squad of cult favourites, and a prominent American cable channel. For the first time since the turn of the century, WWE was going to have a genuine US competitor backed by deep financial resources, a viable TV deal, and interest from fans seeking an alternative.

With so much hype surrounding this new-fangled promotion, it was important that the inaugural event left a strong impression, to properly get the ball rolling. For those fans of all walks that tuned in on Saturday night, May 25, 2019, they did so with little certainty as to how AEW's first card would go. As it turns out, on that night in Las Vegas, AEW's roll of the dice paid off big time.

It can't be emphasised enough just how important the 2018 All In pay-per-view was for the entire wrestling business. From the moment Cody Rhodes made a friendly wager with Dave Meltzer in 2017 that a company not called WWE could sell out an arena with over 10,000 fans in attendance, there was a genuine call-to-arms among wrestling fans that had grown weary of the mainstream rut. All In sold out a good-sized Chicago venue within 30 minutes going on sale, leaving a fair number of sceptics grasping for answers over the success of Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks' event. 

The indie underdogs continued scoring big. Over 11,000 fans, 50,000 pay-per-view buys, and heaps of critical acclaim later, there was no doubt that Cody and The Young Bucks had silenced a lot of doubters.

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One man who wasn't a doubter was Tony Khan, longtime wrestling fan-turned-businessman, and son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. Two months out from All In, the younger Khan had made his first promotional overtures to Matt Jackson, believing that The Elite were among the hottest acts in the business. Khan expressed that The Elite could be the driving force behind another national promotion, and cited his connections with executives in WarnerMedia. He iterated that the time to strike was now.

Shortly after, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega passed up on big offers from WWE after months of talks with Triple H in order to sign on with the yet-unproven All Elite Wrestling. Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky of SCU got on board shortly after, as did "Hangman" Adam Page, followed by Cody Rhodes himself. The signing with the most career prestige was Chris Jericho, fresh from a handful of part-time runs in WWE, as well as a heralded bout at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 12 against Kenny Omega.

In the moments after 2019 began, Rhodes and Page joined the Bucks in front of The Tokyo Dome for a grand reveal. Before Page illuminated his phone screen to show the AEW logo, Rhodes and The Elite held up their phones to display the logo for something called "Double or Nothing". 

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After the expedited sellout of All In (thus winning his innocent $1 bet with Meltzer), Rhodes became infatuated with the idea of going "double or nothing", to see how deep this surging demand for an alternative to WWE was.

According to Meltzer, Rhodes initially wanted to bet him "double or nothing" on New Japan's July 2018 card at San Francisco's Cow Palace, in which Rhodes would challenge Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Rhodes believed the event would draw at least 9000 fans. Meltzer, however, declined the bet, though he would have won, as the San Fran card only drew an otherwise healthy 6300 fans.

That "double or nothing" itch was pocketed at the time, but found a grander use in the new year. On New Year's Day, it was announced that Double or Nothing was the name of the inaugural AEW event, scheduled to take place Memorial Day weekend. Apropos for the gambling motif of these Elite-oriented ventures, Double or Nothing would emanate from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the land of a billion bets, Las Vegas.

At the Double or Nothing ticket rally in Jacksonville on February 7, Jericho was confronted by Omega, who signed with AEW that morning, days after the expiration of his deal with New Japan. A brief skirmish paved the way for the obvious announcement; Jericho vs. Omega II was installed as the main event for AEW's first-ever card.

Chris jericho aew rally february 2019

Omega's arrival wasn't the only newsworthy occurrence from the Jacksonville rally. Also announced for Double or Nothing was a singles encounter between Hangman Page and former WWE Cruiserweight Champion PAC. In addition, a trios match was announced, in which the members of SCU challenged CIMA and two partners of his choosing.

Other confrontations at the rally eventually led to their own matches. The newly-signed Lucha Bros of Pentagon Jr and Rey Fenix attacked the Bucks, making a battle of the brother tandems inevitable. A staredown between Nyla Rose and Kylie Rae set up a three-way match that would also include previous signee Dr. Britt Baker. Other emerging talents, like Sammy Guevara, Sonny Kiss, and Best Friends appeared over the course of the hour-long rally, the live stream of which peaked around 58,000 viewers. 

Like All In, Double or Nothing was mixing familiar faces with a handful of promising indie standouts that were receiving their first major break.

Like All In, Double or Nothing was a near-instant sellout, moving 11,000 tickets in no time at all. With the exception of a few hundred holdbacks, the pay-per-view sold out within minutes of the pre-sale, and marked the first one-day sellout for any wrestling event to ever take place in Sin City.

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Anticipation was high for the first AEW event, which continued shaping up into a greater curiosity.

In addition to undercard tag bouts like Best Friends vs. The Hybrid2, and a Joshi trios bout that included vets like Hikaru Shida and Aja Kong, a special "Over the Budget Battle Royal" was announced for the pre-show, featuring promising prospects like MJF, Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus, and others. Also added to the pre-show was a singles encounter between Guevara and Kip Sabian.

The biggest later addition to the card was a match that they wanted to happen at WrestleMania four years earlier but Vince McMahon didn’t believe it was worthy of the show. In an April promo video, it was revealed that Cody Rhodes would take on brother Dustin, who had recently turned 50 and quietly left WWE sometime over the preceding weeks.

While the story behind the match, and each brother's motivations, wove a delectable tale, there were realistic questions as to how good the match could be. After all, Dustin had not wrestled since the previous June, after undergoing double knee surgery. Now 50, could the former Goldust capably hold up against the younger Cody, whom fans at the time derided as being a mid-level "three-star" wrestler?

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From top to bottom, the Double or Nothing card had a little something for everyone. Novelty. Spectacle. Showmanship. Drama. Stakes both in and out of the ring. And perhaps most importantly to those breathlessly anticipating the event, a chance to see something completely new and different.

Unfortunately, on the way to Vegas, an issue sprung up that resulted in the loss of one promising encounter. A week out from Double or Nothing, the match between Page and PAC was scrapped. At the time, PAC was the reigning Dragon Gate Open The Dream Gate Champion, and wasn't doing any non-title jobs while holding the belt.

As AEW needed Page to go over as part of their creative plans, the company had two choices; do a DQ finish at the pay-per-view which went against AEW's preference for decisive finishes, or pull the match altogether. AEW opted for the latter and had PAC "injure" Hangman at an independent card in Nottingham, England seven days before Double or Nothing.

Still, AEW had momentum on their side. Days before the match-scrapping, it was announced that AEW Dynamite would premiere on TNT that October, in a two-hour Wednesday night time slot. For fans that still rued the loss of WCW 18 years earlier, the resumption of pro wrestling on one of Ted Turner's cable channels was like a love letter to the soul.

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But for now, there was a pay-per-view to stage. The fact that it did the numbers it did *without* the aid of a weekly hype machine on cable, only made its success more impressive. 

The 11,000 on hand inside MGM Grand Garden Arena were hyped up from the start, juiced by all of the non-televised build and anticipation. Matching them in excitement was lead announcer Excalibur, whose presence under a mask made it immediately apparent this wasn't going to be the conventional wrestling broadcast that most fans were accustomed to.

Joining Excalibur were the duo of veteran sports journalist Alex Marvez, and the man whom generations of fans consider the definitive voice of professional wrestling throughout their lives, Jim Ross.

The three seemed to represent the myriad sensibilities of the target AEW fan - Excalibur represented the open-minded wrestling diehard, Marvez the logical sports fan, and JR the nostalgic traditionalist. Each sensibility was likely to see the value of an alternative to WWE.

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Double of Nothing commenced with its "Buy In" pre-show, chiefly the 21-man rumble-style battle royal, which had been rebranded a "Casino Battle Royal". Here, things got a little messy, as the staggered entries, some indy-centric gimmicks, and a few camera gaffes (like missing the spot where Joey Janela had a cigarette stapled to his forehead) started the voyage off on the rocky side. Add in a few veteran cameos and the match resembled a Clusterf*ck from Joey Janela’s Spring Break. 

But it was the talents sticking around for the long haul that were standouts, from the risk-taking Janela, to Jungle Boy, to the indomitable Luchasaurus, to 23-year-old MJF, who quickly demonstrated his mastery of Heel 101 to the larger audience. There was also the debut of Shawn Spears too. In the end, final surprise entrant Hangman (worked knee injury and all) eliminated MJF to earn a place in AEW's World Title match down the line. 

That uneven scrum was followed by a simpler but agreeable singles match, in which Sabian defeated the panda head-wearing Guevara.

Preceding the official broadcast, Rhodes and wife Brandi, as well as Omega and The Bucks, addressed the crowd. After some playful mockery of WWE's inflated attendance figures, the extended Elite family offered some gracious remarks to the entire audience.

Michael nakazawa double or nothing 2019

After that, it was officially time for Double or Nothing.

Out of the gate, the action roared. The SCU triumvirate defeated CIMA and Strong Hearts partners T-Hawk and El Lindaman in a fast-paced 14-minute opener. The women's triple threat became a four-way after Brandi (who teased participation) introduced veteran star Awesome Kong as a surprise entrant. Kong's face-off with the equally imposing Rose had the crowd buzzing, but it was star-to-be Baker who earned the victory.

The undercard motored along with quality tag action, first with Best Friends defeating Angelico and Jack Evans. Afterwards, the participants were jumped by the debuting Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson), as well as assorted local wrestlers in masks. This was the official introduction to The Dark Order, though the angle didn't exactly work live, as evidenced by the crowd chants of, "Who are you?"

The women's trios bout was like the previous match - a good slice of excellent in-ring action, but with a misstep in the final scene. In this case, the bell rang prematurely, leading Aja Kong to admonish the timekeeper. Nonetheless, the proper finish was executed moments later, with Hikaru Shida scoring the winning fall.

To this point, Double or Nothing had delivered heavy on action, with a few noticeable blemishes. Up to now, it had been a fun, mostly agreeable night. AEW assumed their home stance for the second half of the card, however. 

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The battle of the brothers Rhodes went on fifth, and it ran the gamut of emotions. There was the cathartic (if not retroactively ironic) scene of Cody smashing a King of Kings throne with a sledgehammer, echoing a deep fan sentiment of the time. Then there were the chants of "Dusty" at the match's onset, moistening the eyes of both participants.

From there, a 22-minute war commenced, which would have stolen WrestleMania 31, or just about any other Mania it took place on. The elder Rhodes bled like a faucet as he and Cody exchanged big moves and kick-outs to the increasing sounds of astonishment. 

In the end, Cody vanquished Dustin with one last Cross Rhodes, crystallising what many consider a genuine five-star classic. But the curtain hadn't fallen just yet - when Dustin teased retirement, Cody stopped him, and tearfully asked him to be his partner for an upcoming match against the Bucks. Dustin accepted with a brotherly embrace, bringing the whole house down.

With that, AEW had its first true landmark moment (besides the night in general). In the coming years, Cody vs. Dustin would continue to be cited as an all-time AEW match.

Dustin rhodes cody rhodes aew double or nothing 2019

Following a match of that lofty calibre wasn't easy, but AEW had a respected ace in its deck.

In a true surprise, Bret "The Hitman" Hart made a well-received guest appearance, which served three purposes: put Hangman Page over by association, put MJF over by subjecting himself to a barbed Friedman tirade, and reveal the physical AEW World Title belt, in all of its platinum glory. As far as buffer segments following big matches go, they don't get much more productive and fun than that.

The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros had to follow more than 40 minutes of good vibes, but they had the collective talent to make their AAA Tag Team Title match exceed expectations. For 25 minutes, the Jacksons and masked siblings delivered an endless barrage of high spots and intricate stunts, wowing a crowd that had already seen enough evolutionary action to satiate their tastes.

The Bucks ended up retaining their titles following a Meltzer Driver on Rey Fenix. The match set a high bar for future AEW tag outings, though AEW would continue amassing an impressive roster that could rise to that challenge.

Young bucks lucha bros double or nothing 2019

Jericho and Omega finished, and while it wasn't quite at the panel-breaching levels of their New Japan fight, the Winnipeg natives still closed the event with an excellent, out-of-control battle. Jericho got his win back through the use of his brand-new finish, a spinning back elbow to the face called The Judas Effect.

Afterwards, an obstinate Jericho demanded that the battered Omega (and everyone, really) thank him for using his star power to drive AEW's success. As he continued his self-indulgent spiel to the crowd, one last surprise was revealed.

Through the audience stormed the man who, up until May 1, was professionally known as Dean Ambrose. The reborn Jon Moxley gave his notice to WWE shortly after that year's Royal Rumble, fed up with what he believed was an insulting and lacklustre creative process. 

As the crowd jubilantly roared through their shock, Moxley hit the ring with a purpose, as though Jericho himself were the head of WWE's creative team. He took out both Jericho and an intervening Omega, with Double or Nothing fading to black amid the coup of a major talent jump.

Jon moxley chris jericho double or nothing 2019

When the dust settled on Double or Nothing, the numbers were awing. Sources reported between 109,000 and 113,000 pay-per-view buys, the most for any non-WWE wrestling pay-per-view since the later days of WCW. It topped every single ECW pay-per-view, and dwarfed every TNA pay-per-view, in that metric. Seeing as All In did 50,000 buys, Cody Rhodes more than covered the "double" part of the event handle.

AEW was the number two most searched topic on Google the day of Double or Nothing. Not too shabby for an event that relied on social media for promotion, since the weekly cable show was still months away. Anticipation for the follow-up pay-per-view (All Out at the end of August) was such that Chicago's Sears Centre sold out less than 15 minutes into the sale.

As Dave Meltzer later wrote: "The show taught a lot of things, from the value of social media to the dissatisfaction with WWE."

That's to say nothing of the show's quality either. Five years on, users of the Cagematch database gave the show an average rating of 9.1 out of 10, with 76 per cent rating it either a nine or ten (another 20 per cent gave it an eight). Meltzer rated the Rhodes' match a perfect five stars, while rating five of the other six pay-per-view bouts between "three and three quarter" and "four and three quarter" stars.

Since that night, the business has changed multi-fold. WWE is no longer the WWE of 2019, both on-screen and off. AEW has undergone its own permutations, enjoying rousing successes amid their own growing pains. The business looks very different today for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Tony Khan's business venture, and his linking up with some of pro wrestling's most viable free agents.

Years later, Double or Nothing remains an AEW tentpole, along with All Out, Full Gear, and Revolution. The big four have since been joined by other major cards, and each has been fleshing out impressive and storied chronologies.

None will have the impact of that first outing. From the start, AEW seemed apt to walk the fine line between "confidently being themselves" and "openly being the anti-WWE". No other pro wrestling event has ever, or perhaps will ever, strike that zeitgeist the way the 2019 Double or Nothing did that night in Vegas. It was the right show at the right time.

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Written by Cultaholic