The 15 Matches and Moments That Defined AEW's 1st Year

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2020

The 15 Matches and Moments That Defined AEW's 1st Year

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    Credit: AEW

    "Do you want to change the world?"

    It was a question asked by Cody and The Young Bucks from the very inception of All Elite Wrestling, a question that would become the foundation of the promotion and a promise made by the executive vice presidents to the fans who accepted their invitation to go on a ride unlike any the pro wrestling industry had seen before.

    They promised a company for wrestlers and wrestling fans, by wrestlers and wrestling fans, that would provide the first real competition to the other industry giant in two decades.

    Saturday's Double or Nothing pay-per-view represents the one-year anniversary of AEW's first show, a loud and exclamatory announcement to the industry that it was real and here to shift the paradigm.

    Over the course of its first year, AEW provided fans with unforgettable moments such as the debut of Jon Moxley and Cody breaking the throne, and classic matches, like "Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega's defense of the tag team titles against The Young Bucks.

    All this while still establishing itself, an upstart unafraid to swim with the big fishes.

    Its television deal with TNT, the introduction of Dynamite and the signing of major free agent Chris Jericho allowed AEW unprecedented success in its first year, all while captivating fans craving something new and exciting.

    As the 2020 edition of Double or Nothing draws near, relive these 15 moments that defined AEW, beginning at last year's debut extravaganza in Las Vegas.

15. Darby Allin Skates to the Top (AEW Dynamite, October 9)

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    The October 9 episode of AEW Dynamite ended with a wild and chaotic brawl that saw The Elite at war with The Inner Circle, sprinkled with a bit of MJF, as storylines built toward the Full Gear pay-per-view.

    As the heels found themselves reeling, world champion Chris Jericho headed toward the ramp. Instead of escaping to higher ground, he was greeted by his No. 1 contender, Darby Allin.

    The face-painted enigma skated down the ramp and launched himself at Le Champion, wiping him out and sending a message loudly and clearly about their match on the following week's show.

    It was one of the star-making moments that immediately established Allin as the future of AEW while showcasing his aura and what made him different from the rest of the young stars on the roster.

    It was a seriously cool spot on top of that, making for an even more memorable moment.

14. Cody Wipes out Wardlow (AEW Dynamite, February 19)

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    The final test for Cody before his AEW Revolution showdown with MJF, the Steel Cage match against the massive Wardlow on the February 19 episode of Dynamite provided the company with a high spot it can replay over and over in video packages for years to come.

    Bloodied and battered after a physical battle against the heavy for MJF, Cody had created some separation and was rolling. Looking to the skies, he decided to scale the cage and when he reached the top, he delivered a breathtaking moonsault that wiped out his opponent and left himself with a broken toe.

    The bumps and bruises proved worthwhile as he would go on to defeat Wardlow and cash his ticket to the pay-per-view match against a man he once considered a friend but now, was little more than a pissant he would try to stomp out.

    In an industry that thrives on high spots, the moonsault was very Kurt Angle-esque in both its risk and execution. As he did so many times over the course of the year, Cody threw caution to the wind.

    The result? Another example of why The American Nightmare was the undisputed MVP of AEW in its first 12 months.

13. Sammy Got Run over by a Golf Cart (AEW Dynamite, May 6)

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    For a single moment to stand out in the unpredictable Street Fight that closed out the May 6 episode of Dynamite, it had to be unforgettable.

    It was.

    After emerging from an icebox, Matt Hardy's Damascus persona commandeered a golf cart and proceeded to run down Sammy Guevara, turning The Spanish God inside out in a moment immortalized by social media and a strong meme game.

    There was nowhere one could turn online that did not feature some sort of meme, GIF or other social media post equating Guevara to any plans fans had in 2020 and Hardy's charging golf cart to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The sheer ridiculousness of it, combined with Guevara's fantastic bump, only helped make the ordeal that much more memorable. 

12. A Night of Debuts (AEW Dynamite, March 18)

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    Global pandemic be damned, the March 18 episode of AEW Dynamite was slated to be one of the most significant in the history of the show after two major debuts had been teased for some time.

    First up, the long-awaited reveal of The Dark Order's Exalted One. 

    After months of speculation, Mr. Brodie Lee emerged from the darkness and unleashed hell on SCU. The artist formerly known as Luke Harper with WWE sent a message to the AEW locker room that no one was safe and that The Dark Order was only just starting to spread its influence across it.

    Later in the night, moments after another major victory for The Inner Circle, Matt Hardy debuted in dramatic fashion, perched in the stands and looking over a broken wonderland he hoped to control.

    Both stars would prove essential to the storylines that would unfold in the weeks that followed, all the way to the Double or Nothing pay-per-view.

    At that show, Lee will challenge Jon Moxley for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship, while Hardy teams with Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Hangman Page to battle The Inner Circle in a Stadium Stampede match.

11. A Little Bit of the Bubbly (AEW All Out)

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    If there was ever any question about Chris Jericho's ability to stay relevant and get over even the smallest of catchphrases, look no further than the All Out post-show, where he coined "a little bit of the bubbly" during a celebratory backstage promo.

    Within hours, the clip had circulated around social media. Millions viewed his video, bringing new eyes and attention to him and AEW.

    It was only a matter of time before Jericho had his own champagne line and sold untold numbers of T-shirts with the phrase emblazoned across their chests.

    A silly moment, sure, but one that exhibited the value a performer with the experience and wherewithal of  Jericho can bring to a young company like AEW.

10. MJF Lashes out Against Cody...Literally (AEW Dynamite, February 5)

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    Watching MJF angrily lashing Cody on the February 5 episode of Dynamite was a raw, guttural experience for the viewer.

    Here was a guy in Cody so desperate to get his hands on the snot-nosed punk, the arrogant young performer he once took under his wing as a protege, that he was willing to endure the unimaginable pain and humiliation of a public lashing.

    And MJF did not hold back.

    Each time his belt made contact with Cody's skin, the segment became more uncomfortable to watch. Yet, it was impossible to turn away from.

    The fans hung with The American Nightmare throughout the ordeal, encouraging him to take one more in the name of kicking the unholy hell out of his rival at Revolution.

    By the time the ordeal was over and Cody's back was decorated with welts and bruises, the depths he would allow himself to sink in order to tear MJF apart were clear, as was the gravity of their upcoming encounter.

    Arguably the most uncomfortable AEW moment in its first year.

9. Riho and Nyla Rose Make History (AEW Dynamite, October 2)

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    The debut edition of Dynamite on October 2 featured several unforgettable moments, but the match of the night saw Riho battle Nyla Rose to crown the inaugural AEW women’s champion.

    A classic David vs. Goliath encounter, The Native Beast overwhelmed Riho with her size and strength advantage, but the resilient underdog fought from underneath and evaded defeat at every turn.

    Frustration set in for Rose, who took her attention off her opponent for a split-second and paid for it as the Japanese competitor seized an opening and etched her name in the AEW history books as the first woman to hold the gold.

    The celebration was a warm one as the lovable babyface proudly held the gold high. It was a banner moment for a women’s division that would have many ups and downs over the next eight months.

8. Hardcore Hell (AEW Full Gear)

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    There is a certain level of violence wrestling fans in North America are familiar with. We have all seen Mick Foley thrown off the top of the Hell in a Cell and saw him go back-first on a pile of thumbtacks and through a flaming table.

    Outside of small, regional independent promotions, a mainstream audience had not yet witnessed ultra-violent wrestling on the scale of AEW until Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega settled their differences in an unsanctioned Lights Out match at AEW Full Gear.

    A brutal, violent, bloody and gut-wrenching match at times, it ramped up the violence in the name of the story and featured a horrendous superplex off the stage, into a bed of barbed wire that saw both stars sliced and diced.

    Back in the ring, Moxley finally put Omega down for the win but not before doing incredible damage to his body.

7. Cody Is Undeniable (AEW Dynamite, November 6)

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    "This is Ellis Island for a professional wrestler. This is freedom!"

    With that one line on the November 6 episode of Dynamite, Cody told fans what AEW meant to the wrestling industry.

    It is for that reason that he made the tough decision, as EVP and in-ring competitor, to relinquish any opportunity at the AEW World Heavyweight Championship if he lost to Chris Jericho at the following Saturday's Full Gear pay-per-view.

    From there, Cody turned it on, delivering a promo that was fiery and passionate. "It's like we shared the same silver spoon, you stupid d--k!" he said in response to Jericho's criticisms of his contender's upbringing.

    "This isn't about the dead, it's about the living," he saidp. "It's about the 14 years it took me to go from undesirable to un-goddamn-deniable!"

    And with that, the most gifted storyteller in AEW laid all of his chips on the table and set the stage for a can't-miss world title match.

    His ability to create emotion through promos and his in-ring work is, and will continue to be, Cody's greatest attribute as a performer and an invaluable asset to the company he oversees.

6. Chris Jericho Forms the Inner Circle (AEW Dynamite, October 9)

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    The conclusion of the debut episode of AEW Dynamite on October 2 saw the debut of Jake Hager, who joined Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, Santana and Ortiz in a beatdown of Dustin Rhodes, Cody and The Young Bucks.

    One week later, in the opening promo of the October 9 broadcast, Chris Jericho labeled the new group "The Inner Circle."

    The group would go on to become instrumental in all things AEW. Like The Four Horsemen or Evolution, they were the heel faction around whom all top-level stories and feuds were crafted. Their wars with The Elite have been the foundation on which Dynamite has grown and evolved since its inception and at Double or Nothing 2020 this Saturday on pay-per-view via B/R Live, that program concludes in the first-ever Stadium Stampede Match.

    If their previous encounters are any indication, it will be a wild ride for the AEW faithful.

    None of it, though, happens without that pivotal moment in AEW history in which Jericho brought the heels together in grand fashion.

5. Cody Breaks the Throne (AEW Double or Nothing)

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    If Double or Nothing was the genesis of a new, exciting and energetic promotion in professional wrestling, Cody literally destroying the throne was a not-so-subtle "screw you" to the establishment. 

    Moments before an emotional showdown with brother Dustin Rhodes, The American Nightmare took a sledgehammer and, in a display of defiance against WWE, Vince McMahon, Triple H and anyone else responsible for holding him and the entire industry back from evolving, shattered a literal throne.

    It was a blow across the bow in the new war for the hearts of wrestling fans and one that AEW's most ardent supporters rallied around in the wake of the pay-per-view extravaganza.

4. Chris Jericho Becomes First AEW Champion (AEW All Out)

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    Chris Jericho is and was the first major superstar to hitch his wagon to the upstart AEW. By signing with the company, he announced to the world that he believed in everything Cody, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Tony Khan were putting together.

    He lent the company his star power and with it, provided it legitimacy.

    It only made sense that AEW would tap Jericho to be its first world champion ahead of a much-talked-about debut on TNT in October.

    At All Out on August 31, 2019, Jericho put Hangman Page down with The Judas Effect and forever etched his name in the history books.

    The inaugural world champion, he would become the central figure of AEW television and as a result, attract a portion of the audience unfamiliar with the Bucks or Omega, but very knowledgeable of Le Champion's greatness.

3. Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes (AEW Double or Nothing)

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    Fans knew heading into Double or Nothing that the sibling battle between Cody and Dustin Rhodes was going to be an intensely personal, highly emotional contest. The promo work had been exquisite and the very real tension between the brothers had been well-documented.

    What they did not know was just how far the grudge match would exceed expectations en route to becoming the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year.

    Dustin was wounded but continued to fight until he could not fight anymore. His face the proverbial crimson mask, the canvas painted with his blood, Dustin backed himself into a corner while his brother implored him to be his tag team partner against The Young Bucks at the following July's Fight for the Fallen.

    Their embrace was the perfect exclamation point on a brilliant bit of storytelling that highlighted the strengths of the performers involved while simultaneously providing the upstart company its first classic encounter.

2. Hangman Page and Kenny Omega vs. the Young Bucks (AEW Revolution)

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    AEW overproduced from an in-ring perspective in year one. The action between the ropes was extraordinary for the most part as passion and opportunity fueled the competitors. One match, though, stood head and shoulders above even the best, emerging as a contender for all-time excellence.

    At Revolution on February 29, AEW tag team champions Hangman Page and Kenny Omega battled The Young Bucks in a match between friends, partners and The Elite. 

    Page, disenfranchised by the group that had been the foundation of AEW, showed signs of a potential heel turn leading into the event. Would he be able to coexist with Omega, who still very much considered Nick and Matt Jackson friends? What was his relationship with the Bucks and what lengths would he go to retain the titles?

    Surrounded by those questions, the match took to the ring as the third on the card and proceeded to steal the show out from everything else ahead of it. For 30 minutes, the four competitors captivated audiences with masterful storytelling, high drama and the "will he or won't he" element of the Hangman story.

    From the Young Bucks' mockery of the Omega and former partner Kota Ibushi's Golden Trigger, to Page finally coming to his senses and obliterating the opposition with a double Buckshot Lariat for the win, the match had something for everyone.

    The post-match show of respect from the competitors, except for the beer-drinking Hangman, was a nice way to wrap things up while staying true to the characters and story involved. It was also a suitable exclamation point on what was the absolute best match in AEW's short history and, arguably, one of the greatest tag team bouts of the last 25 or so years.

1. Jon Moxley Debuts (AEW Double or Nothing)

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    His contract with WWE expired, Jon Moxley stunned the wrestling world by debuting in the closing moments of Double or Nothing, coming through the jam-packed crowd inside Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena and attacking both Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega.

    The crowd erupted for the arrival of the world-renowned competitor, then watched in all as he planted Omega on the pay-per-view set. As the show faded to black, Moxley stood tall on a pile of casino chips, the paradigm having shifted in what was an appropriate exclamation point on the evening's extravaganza.

    That final image was apropos as Moxley went all-in on AEW in hopes of creative freedom both in and out of the ring.

    Thus far, it was a gamble worth taking.

    It was, also, a loud and clear announcement to the wrestling world that AEW was a destination for any and all free agents, including the biggest and most noteworthy.