(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: The Elite vs. The Inner Circle (Stadium Stampede) – AEW Double Or Nothing 2020
When the entire world shut down in 2020 due to the global COVID Pandemic, many people saw it as TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it).
No one knew when or if things would go back to normal. Countless industries shut down, some for good, and the uncertainty that clouded the future left many people worried.
Like almost every other industry, pro-wrestling had to adapt or die. Without live crowds, some wondered if the medium, which was built on the importance of having an in-person, would end and become a thing of the past.
Thankfully that didn’t happen, at least not entirely. Some of the bigger companies survived by adapting (and because they had deep pockets of reserve cash). When it came to in-ring product, though, there was a massive difference between what the two biggest wrestling companies put on.
In WWE, they proved that crowds aren’t even always required when WALTER beat the soul out of Ilja Dragunov.
AEW, on the other hand, produced this.
Without crowds, AEW wanted to really go full steam ahead with their goal of making their product distinct. But “distinct” here was a synonym for “absurd.”
It was another attempt by AEW to be avant-garde and different. Let’s see how well this match holds up now that the wrestling world has (more or less) returned to normal.
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.
This was billed as a superfight between the two biggest stables in AEW at the time: The Inner Circle and The Elite. Jericho saw himself as the reason for AEW’s success and The Elite couldn’t accept that boasting lying down. at the same time, there was dissention within the Elite as Hangman Page wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of the group along with The Young Bucks. then, as the Inner Circle tried to take out various members of the Elite, the numbers were re-balanced when Matt Hardy allied himself with The Elite.
Jericho described it as “ten lunatics beating the hell out of each other in an empty football stadium”. The Bucks wanted to continue showing their “innovative ways”. Omega wanted to use wrestling to change the world and didn’t think he’d want to be in a world that didn’t match his vision. It was anyone’s guess who’d win, but with the contest taking place inside an empty football stadium, it was anyone’s guess what would happen.
As an aside, I tried to present this story as seriously as possible, which is WAY more than what any of the wrestlers did when the actual action started, as we’ll see in a moment.
This match originally took place on May 23, 2020. Since it was a “cinematic” match, it was never been given a formal rating by Dave Meltzer or TJR’s John Canton. That said, many fan sites have lauded this as one of the funniest and most entertaining matches of its kind. Naturally I’m skeptical of such praise so let’s see how well this match holds up after almost three full years.
Justin Roberts does intros in a ring in the middle of the football field and announces that falls count anywhere in the arena. The Inner Circle get a football-style entrance complete with padding, armor, and team numbers. Then The Elite come in sans football gear but with the same hype entrances…except they’re missing a man. Hangman Page isn’t there. Still referee Aubrey Edwards blows a whistle and the two teams charge into each other. A few Elite guys have weapons which get used right away. Chaos erupts right away as we see random brawling all over the place. Guevara hits Omega with a football as Hardy bites Jericho’s hand. Nick gets double-suplexed as Omega throws a trash can at Guevara. Then Guevara gets scoop slammed onto the turf, but the commentators point out that this is turf and therefore isn’t that hard a surface. Plus he’s wearing padding for God’s sake, so why is he selling?
Suddenly, Hangman comes out on a horse and chases Guevara down. Hangman goes after him as more indescribable nonsense continues in and about the ring. Jericho and the Bucks have a move exchange but then both of them get shut down by Santana and Ortiz. Matt eats a powerbomb but then Omega hits snap dragon suplexed on Santana and Ortiz, only to then get slammed by Hager. Side effect by Hardy on Hager. Codebreaker by Jericho on Hardy. Guevara comes back out and lands a knee on one of the Bucks. The Inner Circle all stand tall for a moment until Guevara misses a shooting star press. The Elite pull everyone down and then hit a bucklebomb/corner kick combo, followed by a spiking Twist of Fate by Hardy. Jericho stops Omega from hitting a V-trigger knee and then more brawling ensues. Nick hits a diving swanton bomb and then Santana hits a quebrada with the same groups of people standing in the same spot on both dives. Then Guevara lands his SSP this time and then the group starts splitting into smaller pairs and going in different directions.
Jericho throws one of the Bucks into the goal post on one side as Hardy eats garbage can shots somewhere else. Jericho and Guevara beat up the Bucks until Nick brings out a colossal ladder. Matt climbs it until he’s on top of the goalpost and then moonsaults off it onto Jericho and Guevara below. One, two, Jericho kicks out. Meanwhile, Omega hits Santana with a traffic cone and the fighting continues up into the bleachers. Santana and Ortiz double-team Omega and Hager’s right behind them as he brawls with Hardy. Meanwhile, Hangman is still looking for Guevara while riding the horse. Yeah, like he’s going to show himself while you’re riding a horse that weighs a minimum 700 pounds and kicks with the force of a dozen men. Fed up, Hangman dismounts and goes to the bar for a drink. Maybe once there he can rethink his decision about being involved in this affair.
Meanwhile, Santana and Ortiz beat up Hardy and Omega near some garbage cans. Bodies go flying all over the place and then Omega tries a suplex onto a piece of barricade a top a table. But he gets stopped with salt in the eyes. Omega, Santana, and Ortiz all tease a big move a top this table/barricade as the refs can clearly be seen holding it together. They hit a powerbomb though both of those things and cover but Hardy breaks up the pin.
Santana and Ortiz throw Hardy into a nearby pool and then start drowning him because apparently he, a grown adult man, can’t swim in three feet of water. Suddenly, a different version of Matt Hardy emerges from the water. Matt Hardy v 1.0 from SmackDown circa 2002, complete with Matt Facts. Ortiz appears to acknowledge the Matt Fact on screen (something about Matt being able to hold his breath for a long time), and then yet another different version of Matt emerges. He pretends to have drowned as the “crowd” chants “this is awesome” at the sight of either manslaughter or second-degree murder via drowning. Then Hardy gets up and tosses both Santana and Ortiz into the water. Hardy puts Ortiz on a table and then back body drops Santana onto Ortiz and then tolls a giant bell on Ortiz. I pity Ortiz because that probably gave him awful tinnitus and that s**t sucks. Then Hardy duct tapes Ortiz into a wheelchair and continues his fight with Santana. Hardy escapes a crucifix powerbomb and then locks Santana in an ice box.
The camera cuts to Hager looking for Hangman. He sees the horse (which, unsurprisingly, gets its own chant) and then sits down next to Hangman at the bar. Hangman asks if Hager came to fight or to drink. Each man takes a quick drink and start brawling. Hangman whacks Hager with a pool cue but Hager no-sells it. Hangman avoids getting launched across the bar, backflips, and then jumps onto Hager from the pool table. But Hager catches him and lands an uranage onto the pool table. Then Hager does the thing from every movie bar fight and successfully launches Hangman across the bar, knocking drinks and snacks all over the place. Then Hager hits a gutwrench powerbomb through a different table but only gets a two-count.
Omega appears out of nowhere (what has he been up to for the last ten minutes?) and smashes a beer bottle in Hager’s face. But Hager’s completely unaffected (seriously, if Hager’s this tough, why is he not AEW World Champion?) So both of them smash multiple bottles of Chris Jericho’s bubbly over his head and then Omega hits a V-Trigger. Then Hangman uses Omega as a platform to hit his buckshot lariat. But instead of pinning Hager, Hangman pours Omega a glass of milk (because he’s teetotal) and Omega pours Hangman a shot of whiskey. They drink and then disappear as the focus returns to whatever insanity is taking place on the pitch.
Matt tosses Guevara into a ladder and then the two of them trade move counters until Nick hits a northern nights suplex. Matt (who has a bad back and taped-up ribs), starts some locomotion suplexes as Jericho brawls with Nick. Jericho hits Nick with a yard stick as Matt is about halfway down the field with his suplexes. Nick pelts Jericho with footballs but then Jericho throws Nick into an inflatable jaguar’s mouth. Then the Jacksonville Jaguars’ mascot taunts Jericho but Jericho hits him with his Judas Effect elbow. Matt is at the 100-yard line with his norther lights suplexes as Jericho gets superkicked into a small net. Jericho hits Nick with some bat shots but only gets a two-count. Jericho argues with ref Aubrey Edwards and throws down a red flag to challenge the play. Yes, they’re using every football trope imaginable. We get replays and it’s a confirmed two-count. Wait, shouldn’t this be available in every wrestling match, then? Those two finish their argument as Matt gets a “touchdown” on the opposite side of the field from where he started. Matt starts celebrating but then gets a penalty from another ref for “excessive celebration and unsportsmanlike conduct”, which leads to Matt superkicking that ref. Matt leaves off-camera, despite the fact that Guevara is right in front of him, out like a light.
Jericho goes for another big bat shot on Nick until Matt makes the save. Matt holds Jericho on a table as Nick runs way up the stands. Then he gets a big running head start, jumps onto the guardrail and hits a diving splash through the table. Hangman walks by with the line-marker and runs it over Jericho. The camera pans to Guevara, who gets woken up by the sprinklers. He starts celebrating thinking he has won the match, but then out come Hardy and Omega driving a golf cart. Guevara bolts as they try to run him down, with another ref running alongside their cart. Guevara makes it way up into the stands and tries isolating Hardy when suddenly out comes another drone. That distracts Guevara long enough for Omega to hit a V-trigger knee. Then Omega lifts Guevara onto his shoulders and hits a diving One-Winged Angel onto a crash pad below. Ref Aubrey counts one, two, and three, and then blows her whistle to signal the end.
Winners after 33:59: Kenny Omega, “Hangman” Adam Page, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, and Matt Hardy
What. The. F**K?!
I tried watching this objectively, but I didn’t last ten minutes before I started chuckling. Not because anything shown here was funny or entertaining, but because this was so absurd and stupid. I’m sure many people that watched this match and are reading this review have played wrestling video games and remember the sort of lunacy that could happen in backstage fighting. I know I do: I remember dragging people with Undertaker’s motorcycle, fighting in bars, and jumping out of a helicopter into traffic in Time’s Square. I get the feeling that at least one of these ten wrestlers had similar if not identical memories, then got completely plastered, and somehow convinced over a dozen people to turn that video game nonsense into an actual match. Actually, no, I can’t call this a match because the word “match” connotes a professional contest and I can’t in good conscience call this anything remotely close to professional. It was the definition of tongue-in-cheek parody of something that once upon a time was taken at least somewhat seriously. It was the polar opposite of the WALTER/Ilja pandemic match. Simply put, this was absurd in the worst possible way.
This was nonsensical, inconsistent, hard to follow, and so full of holes. It was clear that no one was trying to make this into something serious or competitive. It was as if no one cared about making this logical or having any follow-through from one part to another. I get the feeling that this was shot in multiple takes and then hastily spliced together to make it look like this was all done in one take. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in the future one of the people involved in this match releases an “outtakes” or “bloopers reel” of this thing being put together just to get a few thousand views and make a handful of people chuckle once again.
I get that these guys were trying to do something unique given the limitations imposed on them by the pandemic. But this was so ridiculous because it made wrestling into too much of a joke. I get that some people like comedic wrestling but there’s a way to do comedy wrestling without causing harm to the business. This wasn’t that. This was the equivalent of taking the most serious and respected actors and actresses and throwing them into a poorly-written Wayans Brothers spoof movie. Jericho in particular spent so much time building himself up as a big deal after leaving WWE and then he flushed his credibility down the drain.
If anyone reading this is a big film buff and you follow that news as much as you follow wrestling news, and you hear or read about a big movie star turning down a role because they wanted to preserve their credibility or standing in the industry, now you will know why. The same principle applies here. There’s a reason certain wrestlers don’t do certain styles of matches; they risk losing tarnishing their reputations and losing their standing with their fans if they do something too absurd or too outlandish. That’s what pretty much everyone did in this match. I’m astonished that anyone could ever take any of these guys seriously after this. I understand the argument that you can silo this thing off and treat it as its own self-contained entity that doesn’t follow the rest of AEW’s universe. But that argument doesn’t work when this match is built on pre-existing stories and rivalries.
There are many people out there that still look down on pro wrestling and its fans. They see it as a joke, as something to be laughed at. They see its fans as rubes and suckers. And this match gave those same naysayers more ammunition and more reason to not take wrestling or its fans seriously in any way, shape or form.
Final Rating: **
I went into this match with an open mind. I’ve seen comedy matches done before and some of them in the past had been done right. This wasn’t one of those cases. This was almost 35 minutes of nonsense cut up into random jumbled-up pieces and then sewn back-up together into some kind of Frankenstein’s monster of an entity. There were one, maybe two small moments that made me smile for a second, but those few moments didn’t excuse the remaining thirty minutes of phony, exaggerated, and unnecessary bad comedy.
I know some of you out there actually like wrestling comedy. If so, then I strongly suggest skipping this thing altogether. If you want good wrestling comedy, go watch The Rock make fun of people. Or go watch Stone Cold Steve Austin embarrass Vince McMahon. Or go watch compilation of Eddy Guerrero using his creative cheating to win matches. Or go listen to Jim Cornette give himself an aneurysm as he skewers what has become of the wrestling business. Any of that is a better use of your time than this.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.