When it comes to modern dream matches, they don’t get any bigger than this.
Anyone that has followed indy wrestling over the past decade knows of the Young Bucks’ exploits. They spat in the face of wrestling tradition and did things their way. The two brothers wrestled all over the US and in Japan at one point had so many belts that they looked like they were wearing suits of armor. Their accomplisments and reputations made them the ultimate ‘indy darlings’ and it seemed like there wasn’t a single team on their level.
Except for one: FTR, a South Carolina duo that dominated NXT for years by being the perfect tag team throwback. And in 2020, after lots of false rumors and political nonsense, the two teams finally met in AEW. Under that company’s banner they put on their match, a contest that allowed both teams to wrestle the way they wanted. And supposedly, it was so good that it broke the scale and surpassed almost every tag match to ever take place before it?
But was it really that good? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at the AEW tag title match between FTR and The Young Bucks from AEW Full Gear 2020.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
The build-up to this match is…complicated. On one hand, this is a dream match for many people because it had been teased for years. The Bucks and their friends had been screaming ‘F**k The Revival (FTR) for years on their Being the Elite show and had wanted to face that duo in the ring going as far back as their ROH and New Japan days. And when rumors started circulating that the Bucks might sign with WWE, the possibilities of a Bucks vs. Revival match became even more likely. But that didn’t happen, and those dreams remained unfulfilled. That is, until the Revival left WWE and signed with AEW.
Upon their arrival in AEW, The Revival – now named FTR – supplanted the Bucks as the best team in the company. And soon after, discussions started happening with some people claiming that FTR were the best tag team in the world, not just in AEW. The Bucks, suffering from insecurity over those suggestions and their general lack of success in AEW, lashed out. They ‘turned heel’ basically, becoming villains and starts superkicking anyone and everyone that angered them.
They did this to show that they were both aggressive and desperate to prove themselves the better tag team. But they didn’t become ‘overt’, despicable villains; they became cheeky ‘ironic’ villains that the fans were supposed to, I guess, cheer for? Then, to muddy the waters further, FTR – the clear villains – ‘injured’ Matt’s leg. This was done to build up sympathy for Matt, even though he was portraying an unlikeable douchebag character.
But the Bucks claimed that they thrived in situations like this one, where their backs were against a wall and the odds were stacked against them. They were so confident that they would come through in spite of Matt’s injury and FTR’s dominance that if they lost this match, they would never challenge for the tag titles ever again.
Thus the stage was set for something of a tag team dream match years in the making. It would feature arguably the best tag team in NXT history against the most indy wrestling tag team to ever exist. Two teams of smaller wrestlers with different backgrounds and psychologies. One team was famous for being flashy, acrobatic mavericks that did things their own way. The other was a throwback that wrestled like the tag teams of yesteryear and did so well in an environment in which few people paid attention to that team’s strategies and logic.
With so much on the line, which team would win at Full Gear?
This match originally took place at AEW Full Gear on November 7th, 2020. It was rated *****1/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Yes, it’s another match that broke the five-star scale. It was rated ****1/2 by John Canton of this great website. Looking back now, let’s see if this match really earned such high praise.
This is for FTR’s AEW World Tag Team Championships. Matt and Wheeler start things off. They lock up and Wheeler goes right after Matt’s injured leg with multiple takedowns. After a stare-down, they lock up again and Harwood tags in, but Nick comes in to even the odds. Nick tags in officially and gets headlocked by Harwood. Nick sends him into the ropes, Harwood runs the ropes and counters a hiptoss with one of his own. A lightning-quick exchange ensues with lots of takedowns and counters. Nick ends it with a grounded armlock as the crowd applauds.
Harwood pulls Nick’s hair and tags Wheeler, but he too gets arm dragged as Matt tags in. the bucks land some tandem moves for a one-count and start targeting Wheeler’s arm with double-team moves. Wheeler responds with a big forearm and tags Harwood, who lands lots of chops and drives Nick’s face into Wheeler’s knee. Nick fights out of a corner, does a random flip and hiptosses Harwood down. He dropkicks both opponents and goes for a third one but Harwood holds onto the ropes. Nick avoids several double-team attempts, and then both he and Matt land simultaneous Frankensteiners and dropkicks. Both members of FTR escape to ringside. Wheeler gets caught on the apron and ends up held in place by Nick as Matt dropkicks him.
Matt tags in and goes after Harwood at ringside. Harwood knees him in the gut first and goes to punch his head, but Matt ducks and Harwood punches the ringpost instead. Ouch. Nick gets a measure of revenge by punching, kicking sand stomping on that now-injured hand of Harwood’s which is now bleeding. Nick tags in and drops an ax handle on Harwood’s forearm and then drags Harwood back to his corner so that Matt can land more kicks to the hand. Nick goes back to the hand but Harwood fires back with a (injured hand) punch. He tries some elbow drops (again with the bad arm) but misses. Matt knocks Wheeler off the apron but gets kicked in the gut. He blocks a turnbuckle smash and goes for a moonsault but Harwood dodges so he lands on his feet…and tweaks his knee in the process. Matt rushes Harwood but Harwood knocks him out of the ring and he hurts his knee some more.
Harwood tags in and starts working over Matt’s leg ringside as Harwood gets his hand taped up. Harwood tags in and lands a strange double-team leg snapping move that involves him hitting his own partner. Weird, but ok. Harwood lands some falling elbows and head-butts for two and applies a toehold. Wheeler tags in and smashes Matt’s knee into the steel ringpost with Harwood’s help. Wheeler continues attacking Matt’s for a while but Matt fights out so Harwood tags in and continues working over the same limb. Matt tries to fight both of FTR two-on-one but suffers a drop toehold for his efforts. Harwood goes for a Figure-4 but Matt kicks him into the ringpost. Matt starts crawling over to his brother but Wheeler sneaks over and brawls with him. But Wheeler holds Nick in place long enogh for Harwood to knock him off the apron, thus keeping Matt in the match.
Harwood lands a superplex and Wheeler goes for a follow-up dive but Matt gets his knees up. Then Matt cradles Harwood for a pin but only gets two. He reaches out for a tag but gets knocked out of the ring on the opposite side. Wheeler tags in and goes for a diving ax handle, but Matt dodges and Wheeler hits the barricade instead. Harwood tosses Wheeler into the ring to tag him and cuts Matt off as he rushes in to try and tag Nick. Harwood goes for a knee breaker. Matt counters into a sunset flip for two. Wheeler tries to help his partner but gets body dropped out of the ring. Harwood goes to capitalize. Matt answers with a sudden DDT. Wheeler tags in, but so too does Nick.
Nick lands elbows and kicks to both Harwood and Wheeler. Harwood avoids an asai moonsault and sets Nick up for a double-team. But he escapes and clotheslines both men, and then lands a combination running bulldog/clothesline. Nick fires up as he dives off the top rope with a crosssbody. But Wheeler pulls a John Cena and rolls through and carries Nick to his corner for Harwood to tag in. FTR land a Hart Attack for two.
Harwood sets up a superplex as Wheeler lands a tag that Nick doesn’t notice. Nick escapes the superplex and lands a superkick to Harwood’s head through his legs and rushes Wheeler. Wheeler avoids him and lands on his feet as Nick dodges him and makes tags Matt. Nick distracts Wheeler long enough for Nick to land a spear, which is followed by a running kick from Nick. Matt pins but only gets two.
Matt goes for a powerbomb but can’t because of the damage to his knee. he kicks Wheeler out of a corner but Wheeler still takes advantage of his weakness and tags Harwood. FTR land a Doomsday Bulldog. Wheeler spears Nick off the apron. Harwood pins. One, two, no, Matt kicks out. FTR go for 3-D but both men get superkicked. Then Wheeler eats a 3-D from the Young Bucks. Nick tags in and the Bucks land a Twist of Fate/Swanton Bomb combination. Nick pins but somehow Wheeler kicks out again.
Nick tags in and they go for double superkicks but Wheeler clips Matt’s knee. Nick answers by kicking wheeler in the face and goes for a springboard on Harwood. But Harwood catches him and lands a slingshot powerbomb. But he lands it on the wrong brother. Matt comes in and does a crucifix pins. One two, no, Harwood barely kicks out.
Matt and Harwood brawl as Harwood lands punches with his bad hand and Matt kicks with his bad leg. Both men hit and dodge each other some more. Harwood lands an injured-hand punch that connects with Matt’s injured-leg kick. Harwood lands a sudden lariat and tags Wheeler. FTR steal a page from #DIT and land a superkick/running knee combo. One, two, no, Matt kicks out again.
FTR attempt an aided piledriver but Nick knocks Wheeler off the turnbuckle and both Bucks land a slingshot/enzuigiri combination. Nick dives onto Wheeler from the top rope as Matt applies a sharpshooter. Wheeler reaches the ropes but Nick superkicks his hand, allowing Matt to crawl away to the middle of the ring. Wheeler tries to save Harwood but Nick puts him in a sharpshooter. Wheeler holds Harwood’s hand to stop him from tapping. The Bucks split them up and Wheeler starts tapping. In the ring, Matt tries to maintain the pressure but his knee gives out.
Nick tags in and they go for More Bang For Your Buck but Harwood escapes. Harwood gets backed into a corner and eats a kneelift from Nick and gets his hand stomped by Matt. Then Matt ‘snaps Harwood’s fingers’ and the Bucks setup another tandem move. Double knee smash to Harwood’s head. one, two, no, Wheeler makes the save. That was a close one.
Nick tags Matt and then corkscrew dives onto Wheeler outside the ring. Matt, now enraged, grabs a chair. But the referee doesn’t remove it immediately. Instead, Matt argues with the ref and with Harwood, and Harwood dares Matt to hit him. But if he does, he’ll lose the match. Matt has a little moral conflict as he gets yelled at from all sides. Then he tosses the chair away and puts Harwood in the Tombstone position. The Bucks go for a Meltzer Driver. No, Wheeler catches Nick and powerbombs him onto a table. Spike Piledriver by FTR. One, two, Matt gets his foot on the ropes. Great save.
Wheeler rips off Matt’s boot and tags Harwood. He grapevines Matt’s knee as Wheeler lands a diving stomp onto it. Inverted Figure-4 by Harwood. Matt starts crawling to the ropes and Nick makes his way onto the apron. Wheeler charges at Nick but misses and eats ringside instead. Nick climbs up and lands a 450 Splash onto Harwood to break up the submission. Matt pins but only gets two.
Nick starts dragging Matt to his corner but he gets superkicked by Wheeler, who then tags in. he mocks the Bucks’ ‘too sweet’ gesture, flips him off and lands a big superkick to Matt’s head. Matt looks like he’s knocked out, but Wheeler doesn’t pin. Instead, he goes for a springboard 450. But Matt rolls out of the way and lands a superkick with the bad leg. One, two, three! There’s the match! New champions have been crowned!
Winners and NEW AEW World Tag Team Champions after 28:46: The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson)
I went into this match with a lot of reservations. The Young Bucks might be the most overrated act in wrestling today and I was skeptical that they and AEW would treat FTR properly once the two teams had their big match. My concerns were proven true with this match. It was all chaotic, hard to follow, over-the-top, and once it was over, Wheeler and Harwood went from FTR to DOA.
The story for this match made it hard to get behind the Bucks, despite their attempts to justify their actions. They acted like d*cks yet fans were supposed to cheer them. They tried to be the token ‘cool heels’ while at the same time they tried to garner sympathy from the crowd because a new team had come along and beat them. The initial build was great for those that followed the Bucks’ exploits going back years. But to everyone else, we were supposed to cheer for the bucks because…some other team was better than them and they felt insecure about it? It just didn’t make sense. The Bucks didn’t come across as likable and FTR, who were the clear villains in this story, came across as level-headed and in some respects sympathetic because they were the victims of the Bucks’ antics more often than the reverse. FTR only became outwardly villainous when they injured Matt’s leg, but that was done out of desperation in response to how the Bucks were acting towards them. The Bucks tried to present themselves as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin because Austin attacked anyone that got in his way. But they failed to take one thing into account: Austin had a reason to act the way he did more often than not, and the Bucks’ reasoning in this story was really weak.
In terms of actual wrestling, it was every Young Bucks match that you’ve seen before. It was filled with Cirque de Soleil-style unrealistic tandem offense, lots of ‘crazy’ dives, blatant choreography and a lot of fanservice wrestling. The Bucks seemed more interesting in flashiness and high-spots for the most part, especially as they spammed other famous tag teams’ finishers towards the end. I guess they were trying to show that they were better than those other teams? Even with all those finisher kickouts, that idea was a hard sell.
The actual quality wrestling came from FTR, who acted as the perfect antithesis to the Bucks, at least at first. They followed a straightforward logic by doing lots of quick tags and isolating Matt while destroying his leg, even as Harwood hurt himself for real and bled all over his hand. They were more focused, more logical, and more exciting. Whereas the Bucks’ wrestling here was largely all style and no substance, FTR actually told a cohesive story that was easier to follow and more entertaining.
Both sides demonstrated some solid wrestling psychology by taking advantage of those injuries. The bucks did whatever they could to render Harwood’s hand useless and FTR ravaged Matt’s leg so badly that he couldn’t even keep himself in his own sharpshooter by the end. And as both sides kept kicking out and escaping each other, desperation grew to the point that both teams were willing to do anything to win.
But as great as that drama was, it all came crashing down at the end.
I absolutely hated the match’s ending. FTR were built up as this classic tag team that did things the old-fashioned way and wrestled with logic at the expense of flashiness. They followed that logic for 99% of the match, until Wheeler did something unbelievably stupid. He had the match won off a superkick to Matt’s head and Matt sold it like he was unconscious. With his body splayed out like he was dead, the smartest thing to do at that moment was to go for a pin. Instead, Wheeler decided to pretend to be a Young Buck for a moment and went for a springboard splash that missed. Why? What was the point of doing that extra move? To do more mockery? To get under the Bucks’ skin? FTR were seconds away from winning and barring the Bucks from ever challenging for the tag titles again. Winning would’ve stung more than any insult in the ring at that moment. But he squandered it in a way that was completely out of character.
I understand he was desperate to win given how the Bucks kept kicking out of his and Harwood’s moves. But he had Matt down for the count. All he had to do was pin the guy. It was just like that idiotic moment from Battleground 2017 when Shinsuke Nakamura had Baron Corbin seemingly knocked out and didn’t pin like he should have and instead set up for his ‘cool finishing move’, which in turn gave Corbin enough time to recover.
As if that wasn’t enough, Matt won the match in a way that made Wheeler look absolutely pathetic. FTR had spent most of the match destroying Matt’s left leg. It was already weakened going into the match and they targeted it nonstop to the point that he had to hop on one leg to get around. For once, Matt’s selling of an injury was solid and consistently so throughout the match. And yet, one superkick with the bad leg was enough to pin Wheeler. At first I thought he missed a kickout, but then the bell rang and the Bucks were announced as the winners? Out of all the things the Bucks could’ve done to win and showcase how tough and dangerous FTR were, they put them down with the weakest move imaginable. Both teams spent the entire match hitting each other with the wrestling equivalent of army tank shells yet Wheeler somehow ended up in better shape than either of the Bucks. But with this finish, that image of toughness and grit withered away as he was downed with the wrestling equivalent of a BB.
They built up FTR as this special team, these exceptional fighters that were so unlike everyone else. They were the perfect antithesis to the Young Bucks. Once the match ended, FTR became just another tag team in AEW. Not only that, the match was ruined by a combination of one wrestler’s own stupidity and the other treating him like paper.
Final Rating: ****
This match was so disappointing. I wanted to enjoy this match, I really did. I used to watch Being The Elite way back when and I understood the story and build for this match better than most. It was such a big deal when FTR signed with AEW because it was painfully obvious that the long-awaited dream match was finally going to happen. But they f**ked it up. Four years’ worth of build and they f**ked it up. Even though the match was pretty solid, it had so many glaring holes in its logic that it came across as a mess. And all that terrific tandem offense couldn’t cover for the incredibly deflating ending.
In hindsight, the Bucks’ words were true in more ways than one. They claimed that in this rivalry ‘their backs were against a wall’. That was true before the added stipulation and after they added it. Once the Bucks announced that if they lost they couldn’t ever challenge for the tag titles (copying Cody Rhodes’s promo from the prior year), then it might as well have been a dead giveaway. It was been blatantly obvious that they were winning, and in a sense that obviousness cast a pall over this match.
It’s too bad. If the Bucks never added that stipulation then this story could’ve been better. And had they done something different for the finish it would’ve been better still. Ultimately, this is a major disappointment and definitely not worthy of being called a ‘dream match’ by any stretch of the imagination.