Cody Rhodes and the Real Winners and Losers from 2020 AEW Fyter Fest Night 1
All Elite Wrestling has a history of absolutely nailing its big shows. Pay-per-view after pay-per-view, from the inaugural Double or Nothing forward, the promotion has delivered in a major way every time it has presented its top wrestlers in competitive matchups.
In July, amid a global pandemic, the promotion decided rather than charge fans for a mega-event, it would give Fyter Fest away to fans for free on AEW Dynamite. Spread over two weeks, it's an amazing collection of talent, fresh and exciting matchups, with every title belt up for grabs.
Night 1 was a smash, with commentary, production and in-ring craft combining in spectacular fashion to create the kind of magic only great professional wrestling can deliver.
But for every winner there is a loser—and perfection is merely a noble goal no one on this planet has yet accomplished. With that in mind, let's take a deeper look at the opening night of Fyter Fest and see who thrived and who failed to meet the mark with Bleacher Report's "Real Winners and Losers."
Let's get the tricky part out of the way up front: MJF was not technically the winner of the wrestling match. The bouts themselves are binary. With the exception of the rare double count-out or time-limit draw, there is typically a winner and a loser.
Max's team lost a barn burner in the opener to Jurassic Express.
Technically speaking, though, MJF's shoulders weren't the pair pinned to the mat. That was Wardlow, his bodyguard/enforcer, falling victim to the mighty Luchasaurus.
MJF himself retains his sparkling record, debuted some incredibly ostentatious new hot, pink ring gear and managed to speak truth to power as usual, exposing Jungle Boy as the scion of an elite Hollywood family and himself as a workhorse forced to toil on free television to help his boss Tony Khan in a ratings war that continues to be the focus of the entire wrestling world.
Sounds like a winner to me.
Loser: Every Announcer Who Isn't Chris Jericho
Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone are bona fide professional wrestling legends. They possess rare gifts and the ability to elevate what might otherwise be everyday action and make it feel like it matters.
They humanize the performers in the ring, shining a light on both their athletic accolades and what makes them tick as human beings. Their partner in the AEW broadcast booth, the masked Excalibur, leverages his decade-plus on the independent circuit to share details of each wrestler's specific move set and in-ring idiosyncrasies.
Between the three, they don't miss much. It's a difficult and demanding job, one ripe with opportunities for naysayers to leap on every linguistic pitfall and Twitter snipers to sharpshoot any potential mistakes. Generally, they navigate those treacherous waters smoothly and professionally. In my mind, they're the best team in the business.
Unfortunately, all that excellence cannot shine nearly as bright as the mega-watt star power of Chris Jericho. Announcing is painfully hard work, but it's work that Le Champion makes look easy.
He brings an enthusiasm, verbal verve and sharp analytical mind to the announce table and slays every time the promotion features him in the role.
As great as the AEW team is, the neophyte Jericho seems a step above even the best. When he finally decides to walk away from the ring, the boys in the back better beware. If he wants the job, it should be his for the asking.
Winner: Penelope Ford
Penelope Ford wasn't able to wrest the AEW Women's Championship away from Hikaru Shida in her first title defense, but she certainly gave it her best shot in the best match of her AEW career.
She hit the spots she needed to and dodged a missile dropkick Matrix-style in a moment that will be replayed for weeks.
Ford's potential seems limitless. She's athletic, has a main event look and rises to the occasion when opportunities present themselves. In this business, those are three check marks on the short list of attributes required for greatness.
Her aesthetic was, as the kids say, fire. Her dyed-silver hair was tinged with lavender, a perfect match for her ring gear. It may seem like a little thing, but getting the details right is a big part of the job.
Loser: 'Rock Hard' Jake Hager
Jake Hager had the best match of his AEW career at Fyter Fest, pushing Cody to the limit in a bout that combined the best of the old-school "rasslin" with the exciting high spots of today's new era.
But it's hard to remember all of that when his new, absolutely awful nickname is stuck in my head.
"Rock Hard" evokes memories of a bizarre post-fight MMA interview he delivered after a win in the Bellator cage last year. Hager was late in breaking a hold and heard boos from the fans as he attempted to explain himself after the bout.
"I thought the ref was him," he said in the cage after the fight. "That's OK, y'all can boo me all you want because you're not in here right now. After the last fight, the guy was wrapping around punches on me still when I had it. So I didn't know. It felt like him, it happened so fast. But you know what, I'm rock hard right now with emotion. I got a boner."
It was, admittedly, a memorable moment, though not in a good way. Maybe it's time to let that particular memory fade.
Month after month, show after show, I find myself writing about how "pleasantly surprised" I am by Cody's latest big-match performance.
At some point, that's going to be an absurd talking point. While he was considered only an average worker by hardcore fans when he left WWE in May 2016 for unknown horizons, he's delivered hit after hit since stealing the show last year against his brother, Dustin.
Cody having a great match at this point shouldn't come as a surprise. It's time for all of us to rewrite the book on him, because the man is, simply put, the best big-match performer in all of American wrestling.
Loser: Anyone in Taz's Path of Rage
Next week won't be headlined by AEW world champion Jon Moxley and Taz's protege, Brian Cage. The titleholder's wife, WWE announcer Renee Young, has tested positive for COVID-19, and he will continue to quarantine in order to protect his colleagues.
While the decision is the responsible choice, Taz was not pleased and let everyone have it in a scathing live promo.
"You've been tested at home not once but twice and you've been negative on both," he said. "And if you'd decided to get your ass here to work next week, you would get tested again here at AEW. Because, Jon, as you know, we don't run a sloppy shop.
"Mox, you have a case of one thing—it's the chicken s--ts. You are afraid of The Machine, and you should be, son. Because he will beat your brains in and take that championship from your dumb ass."
Winner: Minivan Moms
Best Friends went out in the main event and pushed the AEW tag team champions to their limits.
Great main event matches are what Kenny Omega and Adam Page do—and when given the opportunity, veteran journeyman Chuck Taylor and Trent kept up with the world's best wrestlers in a bout worthy of its position on the card.
With due respect, that's not what anyone will remember about this match. These guys go out and kill it on the regular. We've seen them do wild and incredible things routinely at this point.
It all blends together at some point into a soup of the spectacular. As a package, it's incredible work, but individual moments don't stick out the way they might have in another time in wrestling history.
But a wrestler being dropped off at a big match by his mom? In a minivan? That's unprecedented—and arguably the best entrance of the year in all of professional wrestling.