No one knew what to expect from All Elite Wrestling's first Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing Saturday night. It's a bout unprecedented in wrestling history, truly a contest for our times.
Without COVID-19, this 45-minutes of pure madcap genius between the Elite and the Inner Circle wouldn't exist. We'd all be in Las Vegas, making our way out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, reminiscing about AEW's amazing first year. Instead, ten of the most creative wrestlers in the world found themselves virtually alone in an NFL football stadium with free reign to wreak havoc and get weird.
And they did plenty of both.
"It was the work, like a great film, of a lot of people," AEW CEO Tony Khan told the media after the show. "We are all really proud of it...we all put multiple ideas and big spots in the match...I hope the Stadium Stampede can be a signature match here in AEW."
It would take a book to list every outrageous thing the wrestlers pulled off in this singular match. It started with the Inner Circle dressed as football players and the Elite's "Hangman" Adam Page riding into the stadium on a horse and got progressively zanier as the night went on.
All ten wrestlers had their moments. The risks were jaw-dropping throughout, from Matt Jackson's astounding moonsault off the goalpost to his brother's equally daring dive off from the stands onto the field, to Jake Hager dragging Page John Wayne style across the bar.
Each of these high spots would have been the standout moment of any regular show. Together, they created a cascade of extravagant, cartoonish violence that nearly overwhelmed the great three-hour show that preceded it.
But this was more than a mere stunt show.
Just when the audience at home threatened to become inured to the spectacle of excess, they'd toss a humorous beat into the mix to lighten the mood. Santana and Ortiz are natural comedians and Chris Jericho is arguably the funniest wrestler to ever step into a ring. They helped create truly funny moments that transcended the low bar of wrestling humor, like Matt Hardy's multiple reincarnations in the Jaguars pool and Jericho demanding a replay after a particularly close call.
It was, above all else, fun to watch from beginning to end.
Taped the Friday before the live show with 18 cameras and input from all of the wrestlers, the two teams seemed to be trying to play a dangerous game of "can you top this." It culminated with Kenny Omega's One-Winged Angel on Sammy Guevara from one level of the stadium to the next, a 15-foot plunge that could have been disastrous in anything but the most expert of hands.
"It would have been very difficult to pull that off if it wasn't a cinematic match like this," Khan told Bleacher Report. "...We did a lot to make it safe. But there is still an element of danger. Only two of the most amazing wrestlers in the world could have pulled it off."
The match continued the long-running feud between Jericho's Inner Circle and The Elite, two powerful factions that have done battle for all of AEW's short history. From the match between Jericho and Omega at the inaugural Double or Nothing to last week's main event preview on the football field at Dynamite, it's been the defining rivalry of the promotion's first year.
And something tells me that this battle won't end the war.
While the sure to be polarizing match will steal the thunder from the rest of the event, it was a pay-per-view that delivered in a big way from top to bottom. From MJF's technical classic over Jungle Boy to the unfettered violence of Jon Moxley's title defense over Brodie Lee, to the old school championship matches won by Cody Rhodes and Hikaru Shida respectively, this was a show that provided fans multiple visions of what professional can be, all executed to perfection.
In a way, it was the AEW mission statement distilled into match form. In an interview with Bleacher Report last week, Matt Hardy pledged to give fans one of the most spectacular matches in the history of professional wrestling. And one thing we're learning about AEW—when they make a promise, they deliver.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.