Fleet Files #17: End of an Era

Just over two years removed from their television debut, AEW is finally ready to conclude its opening chapter. Lots has happened, especially as of late but in a big picture sense, the promotion’s ultimate arc ends at Full Gear, cementing an era of The Elite in pro wrestling’s history books. This Saturday, Hangman Adam Page finally becomes World Champion, headlining the brand’s best PPV line-up. For most though, it’s all about Page’s pursuit of gold, attempting to topple his old tag team partner in the process.

Now, before I go any further here, I feel that it’s important to cover another occurrence at Full Gear. On Saturday, AEW announced a brand-new signing that to put it lightly, immensely disappointed their ardent viewer. That includes myself and so, from now until this series’ conclusion at the end of 2021, I’ll probably be including some sort of disclaimer or note. In an ideal world, I could cover a whole wrestling roster without feeling grimy about it, I wouldn’t have to pull praise at every turn.

Unfortunately, AEW further proved that it isn’t an outlier on Saturday. Now more than ever, it’s difficult to trust their decision-making elsewhere and as a fan alone, that’s immensely frustrating. I’m saddened by how easily this ‘drama’ will likely go away and would rather not contribute to that by immediately ignoring the topic for the sake of this project. If I’ve done that before, I’m sorry, because it isn’t fair to prioritise how comfortable my content is when stories like this go so quickly forgotten.

Any praise below does not negate the very real allegations against a performer’s name. Instead, it is simply my way of continuing this project in its current form for another six weeks. With that being said, I will include an abbreviated version of this note moving forward, as it’s important to me that I don’t naively look the other way for the sake of, ultimately, much less important matters. Granted, that isn’t much but I just wanted to tackle this immediately because in truth, it means more than any title change ever could.

There is no way to neatly transition from that to match reviews but again, the comfort of myself or any content creator isn’t the priority here, plain and simple.

Match of the Week

This speaks for itself, the week’s ten best matches. 1 point for the ten spot, 2 for the ninth and upward from there.

  1. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston – Full Gear 2021

From what I can gather, this isn’t the consensus match of the week which in many ways, speaks to the quality of Full Gear. With that being said, it really isn’t particularly close for me personally, as this could very well be my match of the year. CM Punk and Eddie Kingston only needed two weeks to build this match, telling a backstory packed with emotion and hate. Together, they’d set the stage for a fight, a brawl that stood separate from the athletic, exciting pro wrestling contests alongside it.

To say that Kingston and Punk delivered would be an immense understatement, as the pair produced an absolutely enthralling 11 minutes, reaching ‘classic’ status within about 90 seconds. The blunt brutality spoke for itself, but it was the match’s atmosphere and energy that made this truly magical. This thing felt alive, enriched by the raucous crowd and paced to perfection. Simply put, this was two absolute masters of the craft, controlling the crowd with ease and pairing a perfect match with its perfect build.

This promotion has hosted many great matches, but this stands alone as a visceral fistfight, one completely divorced from the era surrounding it.

2. MJF vs. Darby Allin – Full Gear 2021

Full Gear’s opening match, this exceeded even my expectations, perhaps a career-best effort for both parties. Though slightly overshadowed by the card’s other blockbuster matches, this one actually had a good build in my view, with the match utilising that beautifully. Sharing elaborate sequences for much of the match, this was about two of AEW’s young pillars proving a point to the other, with MJF eventually taking the easy way out because of course, he’s MJF. Seriously though, his in-ring has been underrated for some time honestly, with this match being the best evidence yet of exactly that.

3. World Title: Hangman Adam Page vs. Kenny Omega (c) – Full Gear 2021

This is hard because all things considered, I totally understand having this in the top spot. There was a lot of moving pieces here and so, it’s a very reasonable pick for best and/or favourite match. For me personally, it fell slightly short of that as an actual match, but it doesn’t really matter. In the moment, this was a breathtaking route to the ideal destination: Hangman Adam Page as World Champion. Both men performed admirably and produced a match befitting this story, bringing Omega’s wonderful world title reign to a close.

This was a homerun, regardless of the actual match’s placement on my personal rankings. Thankfully, AEW did the right thing, which was the other story within this grand on-screen tale.

4. World Title Eliminator Final: Bryan Danielson vs. Miro – Full Gear 2021

Trying to follow two dynamic, explosive ‘sprints’ that also went around twenty minutes a piece, this wasn’t exactly positioned to succeed. Of course though, it did exactly that, giving the audience a chance to breathe before going into an immense closing stretch. The selling on display here was unsurprisingly magnificent, pairing two of the world’s best in that regard. Danielson’s eventual triumph wasn’t obvious which helped, adding drama to the whole thing and allowing those false finishes to pack an even bigger punch.

5. Pac vs. Dax Harwood – Dynamite #110

This one jumped off the page and indeed, proved to be every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. Gritty and intense, packed with physicality, this was a gruelling television match to close Dynamite’s in-ring portion. Pac is obviously one of the world’s best but in my view, Dax Harwood belongs on that list also. His singles resume doesn’t compare for obvious reasons but with every outing, the FTR man makes it clear that few are better. The aggression in this one was just wonderful, a truly refreshing stylistic choice.

6. Tag Team Titles: The Lucha Bros (c) vs. FTR – Full Gear 2021

Speaking of Dax Harwood, he was great again on Saturday, challenging for the AEW Tag Team Titles alongside his partner Cash Wheeler. FTR and The Lucha Bros gelled seamlessly here in my view, producing some spectacular false finishes before unfortunately, settling on an admittedly anticlimactic close. That flaw limits this match’s placement somewhat, but I loved the meat of the match too much for it to fall far. Considering the thought process behind that finish though, I’m hopeful for a rematch.

7. Christian Cage & Jurassic Express vs. The SuperKliq – Full Gear 2021

This match entered Full Gear in an interesting place, becoming a supporting match due to its slightly uneven build. Even still, it seemed inevitable that all involved would deliver and they certainly did, even if perhaps slightly overstaying their welcome. There was so much good here though, it’s hard for me to be anything but positive, as this thing felt truly chaotic from start to finish. In addition, I personally loved the finish, and have thoroughly enjoyed the Jungle Boy character’s progression throughout this programme.

8. Dante Martin & Lio Rush vs. Lee Moriarty & Matt Sydal – Dynamite #110

Creating the feel of a 90s Cruiserweight thriller on Nitro, this really was something quite special. In an era where in-ring acrobatics certainly aren’t uncommon, these four still produced something that stood out and then some. This really felt like a group of guys pushing the envelope, exploring and innovating on a major, international stage. Martin and Sydal have delivered all year but it was great to see Moriarty and Rush deliver alongside them, both of which reiterated their immense futures in AEW.

9. Bryan Danielson vs. Rocky Romero – Dynamite #110

This was AEW at its slightly weird best, announcing a match out of the blue and giving it the time to succeed. There is nothing left to say about Bryan Danielson really, quite possibly the greatest of all time. With that in mind, this one was about Rocky Romero in my view, once again proving himself as one of his generation’s most underrated in-ring performers. This was just masterfully executed pro wrestling, two wonderfully skillful peers combining for a tremendous television opener.

10. Women’s World Title Britt Baker (c) vs. Tay Conti – Full Gear 2021

Hurt by the lack of substantial build, I thought that this match did an admirable job of making up the difference. Even though the audience was given no real reason to buy Tay Conti as a title contender, the match itself actually convinced me otherwise down the stretch and that was no mean feat. Conti was great here and though it got off to a slightly shaky start, her and Britt Baker willed this into the final spot. The finish didn’t feel as earned or organic as I’d like, but that’s much more on the promotion than Conti or Baker.

C-Show Stealer

With only three places as a lesser category, this is a nod to AEW’s more subdued C-Show titans. They missed out on match of the week, but entertained regardless.

  1. Dante Martin vs. Frankie Kazarian – Dark #116

On an especially loaded edition of Dark, this was my personal favourite offering. A generational clash of sorts, this was a neat television bout that didn’t need much time to do the job. Kazarian’s in-ring versatility is a real asset, making him a natural dance-partner for any and all foes.

2. Darby Allin vs. QT Marshall – Dark #116

Again, I know that his time as a television focus was divisive, but QT Marshall is consistently good on these C-Shows. He was perfect here, preparing Darby Allin for the PPV and producing a competitive match without taking away any of his foe’s shine.

3. Christian Cage & Jurassic Express vs. The Hardy Family Office – Dark #116

This was a steady house show trios match, which is understandable considering Christian Cage’s surprising Dark debut. This was still enjoyable though, a pretty star-studded affair for the C-Show world.

The Promo Pack

The second of our three A-categories, this award also quite literally speaks for itself, the promotion’s five best verbal offerings.

  1. Hangman Adam Page – Dynamite #110/Rampage #14

The star of Wednesday’s contract signing and absolutely immense in Rampage’s backstage segment, Hangman Adam Page couldn’t have proven himself more ready for the role of AEW World Champion. Page is authentic at every turn, an increasingly perfect top babyface.

2. Kenny Omega – Dynamite #110

A worthy adversary in that aforementioned contract signing, Kenny Omega brought his A-game on Dynamite. Omega gets a lot of criticism for his wackiest moments but as champion, I think he consistently showed that he can be just as serious as the moment requires. Omega was great here, conveying his character’s frailties perfectly.

3. Miro – Dynamite #110

The latest entry in Miro’s ongoing collection of incredible pre-tape promos, this was as great as usual. Miro’s next step as a character fascinates me honestly, because this return to action obviously wasn’t planned, but feels like it could only accelerate his path to another stint of domination.

4. CM Punk – Rampage #14

By design, Eddie Kingston dominated their memorable in-ring promo segment, but CM Punk made the most of the following week’s pre-tape. Separated on Wednesday, Punk continued to twist the knife on Rampage, brilliantly pondering how Eddie Kingston will continue his “life story” of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  

5. Orange Cassidy – Rampage #14

Bless Orange Cassidy. He probably won’t appear in this category often but his pre-match disinterest spoke to me honestly, I can relate.

Squashes to See

Good television wrestling needs many ingredients, but it never forgets the squash matches. Here are the week’s three funniest showcase bouts.

  1. Wardlow vs. Wheeler Yuta – Dynamite #110

My instinctual response to this graphic was “why?” but then I watched the thing and couldn’t help but grin. This was a brutal battering, the second in only a few weeks for poor Yuta. That’s an interesting choice, but Wardlow looked immense here.

2. Jade Cargill vs. Santana Garrett – Rampage #14

I’m cheating slightly, because this is really just my way of crediting the post-match angle, which I thought was executed refreshingly well. Jade squash matches are nothing new but this was one of the stronger ones and better yet, actually served a worthwhile ultimate purpose also.

3. Andrade El Idolo vs. Warhorse – Dark #116

Not even a particularly good squash, I just want to acknowledge C-Show Andrade finally arriving. Thank goodness, here’s to many more!

The Fleet Five

Our third and final A-category, The Fleet Five is simple, the promotion’s five best performers of that particular week. All the above decides this, so it’s a big one.

  1. Hangman Adam Page

Owner of the week’s best promo and a top three match, Hangman Adam Page is an unquestionably worthy category winner. With that being said, this particular ranking works best when its about more than just the numbers above, and that’s what makes Page such a lock. After two years, Page finally fulfilled his destiny at Full Gear, producing a wonderful main event in the process. This week is Hangman’s, always and forever.

2. Dax Harwood

With immense showings in two great matches, Dax Harwood continued to solidify himself as one of the wrestling world’s most watchable workers. Harwood is incredibly consistent, bringing that innate aggression and physicality to every outing. FTR finally feel truly at home in AEW as of late, and I’m hoping that results in more signature singles matches for Harwood, as well as the inevitable tag team classics of course.

3. Eddie Kingston

The man that got an arena to boo CM Punk, Eddie Kingston continued to silence any doubts about his in-ring performance. Even after over a year in AEW, Kingston continues to battle this puzzling “and then the bell rang” perception, even after producing multiple promotional classics. Eddie Kingston is a special professional wrestler but he’s surprising even me with just how brilliant he’s been as a main event player for AEW. This is an all-time run, and pro wrestling is better for its existence.

4. Kenny Omega

Credit to Kenny Omega, who quite visibly battled through a whole lot of pain to get this belt where it needed to be. Omega was a fabulous world champion and remains a brilliant pro wrestler but for his own sake, it’s probably time that he sits the bench for a while. If so, it’s important that his contributions aren’t forgotten as AEW looks towards a new era of sorts. No doubt, Omega will still be featured in some form or fashion but as champion, this was a wonderful swansong if that’s indeed what it was.

5. CM Punk

If somehow, any questions remained about what CM Punk was able to produce after returning to pro wrestling, they should’ve been answered for good on Saturday. Punk’s ability to command and manipulate a live crowd is almost unparalleled, and that hasn’t wavered an inch in his absence. I loved Punk’s initial in-ring offerings but this was his first programme and he couldn’t have been more brilliant. He’s just brilliant, an absolute natural, a master of this strange craft.

League Leaders

Updated weekly, this is the result of our above categories. Below is your current top 20, the All Elite Fleet’s league leaders thus far. Tiebreaker is my preference, grow up.

  1. Eddie Kingston – 77 Points
  2. Bryan Danielson – 75 Points
  3. CM Punk – 66 Points
  4. Miro – 65 Points
  5. Jon Moxley – 63 Points
  6. Kenny Omega – 58 Points
  7. Nick Jackson – 56 Points
  8. Dax Harwood – 52 Points
  9. Penta El Zero Miedo – 50 Points
  10. Matt Jackson – 49 Points
  11. Rey Fenix – 49 Points
  12. Darby Allin – 49 Points
  13. Jungle Boy – 46 Points
  14. Adam Cole – 44 Points
  15. Hangman Adam Page – 43 Points
  16. Christian Cage – 40 Points
  17. Orange Cassidy – 38 Points
  18. Pac – 37 Points
  19. Cash Wheeler – 36 Points
  20. MJF – 36 Points

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