Few wrestlers in modern times have been as controversial as Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley.
Both of them are adored by legions of fans, most of whom consider both men industry-changing forces for their involvement in AEW’s creation and launch. Both men have been showered with praise for what they have done in the ring and outside of it. And both of them have won many titles and accolades over their respective careers.
And yet, their detractors are legion. Some fans and observers have criticized both of them for their looks, promos, matches, and general behavior. Some have joked about both men and have resorted to calling them cute little nicknames because they just can’t take either man seriously. There have even been a few that have lambasted both men for being such negative influences on the wrestling business and contributing little positive to it.
As someone that doesn’t wade into online wrestling flame wars (because why put your hand into a wasp’s nest when you know you’re going to get stung?) and just reviews matches, I figured the best way to make heads or tails of these never-ending debates is to look at what matters most: the end product, the thing that lies at the end of all the promos and build, the actual wrestling matches.
I’ve reviewed plenty of Kenny Omega matches over the years and so far he has been a mixed bag. When he has the right opponent that either leads the match or tells him to keep things grounded, he can be a very good wrestler. But if he’s left to his own devices and is given too much freedom to create, especially when surrounded by enablers, he tends to get too silly and exaggerated.
Moxley, though, is another matter. In the four years that I’ve been reviewing matches for TJR I’ve reviewed somewhere between 600 and 700 matches. Of those, only five have involved Jon Moxley/Dean Ambrose, either in singles matches or tag matches, and I’ve only honestly been impressed with one. But given how insanely popular he is these days, I figured I’d look back at some of his (alleged) best work and see what the big deal is with him.
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 match was five months in the making. Back at Double or Nothing in May 2019, Moxley attacked both Omega and Chris Jericho as the show drew to a close. He sent a message to both of them and naturally Omega wanted revenge. They were supposed to face off at All Out in August but Moxley suffered an injury that delayed that match all the way to Full Gear in November. In the weeks leading up to the match both Moxley and Omega introduced various hardcore implements to show that both of them were going to use any object at their disposal.
Things got so heated between them that it was ultimately decided that this take place in an Unsanctioned/Light Out match. This benefitted Moxley because such violence-heavy matches were his specialty while Omega had made his name as a moves-guy that used his body and not weapons. But Omega was nothing if not creative, so some people expected him to come up with some truly unique ideas if he sought to beat Moxley at his own game.
This match originally took place November 9, 2019. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and TJR’s John Canton.
This is a Lights Out/Unsanctioned match, which means that anything goes and both AEW and any other governing authority isn’t responsible for anything that happens to either man. If they get seriously hurt or worse, that’s on them.
The bell rings and the brawling is already underway. Jim Ross warns us that this may be “bowling shoe ugly”, which is code for “this might suck”. Omega out-strikes Moxley and knocks him down with a big boot. Moxley blocks a corner charge and counters another charge off the ropes with a Black Hole Slam. Moxley gives the audience at home an F-bomb as he pulls out a garbage can from under the ring. He cracks Omega’s head with the can lid and goes for a Deathrider DDT onto the can itself but Omega powers both of them to the floor.
Omega sends Moxley over the barricade, gets a huge running start, and lands a dropkick that sends Moxley deeper into the stands. Omega whacks Moxley with both a steel chair and a (full) beer can as Moxley tries escaping. Moxley attempt to whip Omega into some stairs but Omega reverses and throws a trash bin onto him. Then Omega climbs onto a guardrail and double stomps onto said bin onto Moxley.
Moxley escapes again but Omega hits him with another beer can. Omega teases a quebrada but Moxley shoves him away and then lands a snap suplex onto the ringside mats. As Omega recovers in the ring Moxley pulls out a barbed wire baseball bat. Moxley hits Omega’s gut with it Triple H-style (that is, with his hand covering the front), and then raises it for a downward swing but Omega checks Moxley’s gut. Omega tries fighting back but Moxley lands some normal bat shots. I don’t know if that’s real barbed wire, but judging from the puncture wounds in Omega’s back, it sure looks like it, Moxley rakes the bat into Omega’s back further, which prompts some “you sick f**k” chants for Moxley. Yes, yes he is.
Omega avoids getting his face torn apart with the bat by raking Moxley’s eyes. Moxley reverses an Irish whip and when Omega ducks a bat shot and tries a dragon suplex Moxley grinds the bat into Omega’s arm. Omega counters quickly with a garbage can shot and a piledriver onto the can. He tosses the barbed wire bat aside and pulls out a table, leading to the expected Pavlovian crowd response. Then he pulls out a barbed wire broom (because “CLEANER”), but Moxley hits him first by throwing the garbage can onto his head. Moxley charges for a dive. Omega hits his head with the broom. Moxley is already bleeding pretty badly as Omega sweeps Moxley’s back with the broom and stomps it into his back as well. Then Omega pushes the bartbed wire bat into Moxley’s face and drop toeholds him into it. Omega follows with a Kotaro Crusher running bulldog that sends Moxley’s face onto the broom and covers for a two-count.
Omega does his You Can’t Escape fireman’s carry slam/moonsault combo but with a new garbage can as an added prop, and the can misses Moxley completely. Omega gets a two-count and then pulls out a platform with mousetraps on it, which causes a couple of fans to chant “what the f**k”. I agree. Moxley cuts Omega off another strike exchange ensues. Omega blocks a lariat and lands a V-Trigger knee but Moxley hits back with another lariat. Moxley lands a crash landing-style release suplex and Omega falls onto/into the mousetraps. Still unsatisfied, Moxley pulls out a heavy pile of gold chains and slams Omega onto it back-first. One, two, Omega kicks out.
Moxley follows with a hangman’s neckbreaker onto the pile of chain but only gets a one-count this time. Moxley wraps the chain around Omega’s mouth and Omega answers by trying to hit Moxley with the trash can lid. He misses, but that doesn’t stop Moxley from landing some forearm clubs. Moxley locks in a sleeper with bodyscissors but Omega escapes with multiple garbage can shots to the head.
Moxley hits a standing side slam and then pulls out an ice pick from under the ring. Omega hits a chian-wrapped punch to Moxley’s gut but Moxley sends him into a corner. Omega dodges an attack which leads to Moxley piercing a turnbuckle pad with the ice pick. Moxley counters a dragon suplex with a back suplex onto the chains and then wraps the chain around Omega’s neck to create a makeshift noose. He goes for a hanging spot but Omega counters with a snap dragon suplex. Omega hits a second one but Moxley blocks a third by biting Omega’s face, yet Omega still manages to connect said third suplex. Omega does the hanging spot on Moxley and then gets a full running start and completes a suicide dive that sends both of them through a table.
Omega pulls out a velvet bag which contains shards of broken glass. Sweet Christ, this is getting ridiculous. Moxley blocks getting his face slashed so Omega slices his hand instead. Omega stomps on the bad and dumps out its contents, which powders and thus proves that this is sugar glass and not anything actually dangerous. Moxley kicks Omega and the two of them struggle for control until Omega lands a sitout spinebuster onto the pile of glass. One, two, Moxley kicks out.
Omega drags Moxley through that glass pile and then locks in a sharpshooter. Moxley crawls through “broken glass” (instead of, you know, pulling himself in a different direction and thus avoid unnecessary extra pain) and gets to the ropes to pull himself up (since there are no ropebreaks here). Omega picks up the biggest shards he can find and tries forcing them into Moxley’s mouth and then goes for a V-Trigger knee. But Moxley dodges and hits a German suplex into the glass. Omega fires back with two more V-Triggers to send Moxley onto the elevated entrance ramp.
Moxley tries crawling up the entrance ramp but Omega chases him and blades him with a screwdriver. He screams to The Young Bucks and Hangman Page, who then bring out what can only be described as a platform with coils of barbed wire on it. Such a thing clearly does not exist anywhere in real life but is a prop conceived solely for this match. Excalibur calls it a “barbed wire spider web” on commentary, but to me it surely must be the product of a twisted mind. Omega goes for a One-Winged Angel (OWA) into the web. Moxley escapes and tries a fireman’s carry slam onto it. Omega escapes and tries another V-Trigger. Moxley blocks and superplexes Omega and himself into the web.
A bunch of people come by to try and remove both men from this godawful predicament, yet no one thinks to count a pin, despite Moxley being in a pinning position on top of Omega. Both men are pulled from the web yet there are no visible gashes or any more bleeding than what was happening before that superplex. For what it’s worth, Hardcore Holly suffered a deep and savage gash from going through a table badly yet here Moxley and Omega got through alleged barbed wire and don’t have any new cuts. Anyone taking this seriously at all from this point on should be ashamed of themselves.
Moxley gets up first and beats up some officials as he goes for a suplex of sorts through a stage light. Omega blocks and hits him with a portable lamp and hits a V-Trigger that sends both of them through what looks like plexiglass. The referee says “this is enough” yet can’t stop the match. It takes a while but both men get up and fight back to the ring. Omega grabs a piece of broken table but Moxley hits first with a Paradigm Shift DDT. One, two, Omega kicks out.
Moxley slices several strings holding the canvas to the ring and pulls off the padding beneath to expose the wood platforms underneath. Anyone wondering just how little there is under the ring canvas, now you know. Moxley teases a piledriver. Omega counters with a back body drop and Moxley lands on exposed wood. If I took that kind of a nasty landing without protection I’d start drinking a lot, too. Omega hits a V-Trigger into a corner and tries the OWA again. Moxley escapes and tries another double-arm DDT. Omega counters with a DDT of his own but only gets a two-count. Phoenix Splash from Omega misses but he still kicks out at two. Moxley hits an elevated Paradigm Shift DDT. One, two, and three! Finally this is over!
Winner after 38:46: Jon Moxley
Coming up with something original and creative to say about this match is going to be difficult especially since most of what needs to be said about it has already been said, but I’m going to try anyway. This was…pro wrestling meets the SAW franchise but sad and silly instead of scary. It was forty minutes of torture porn disguised as grappling. It was far from the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen related to wrestling; over the years I’ve seen clips of matches and spots gone so badly wrong that the people involved were literally on the brink of death but there was no risk of that here. But that’s where this match failed: these guys were trying to make this into a CZW-style ultraviolent hardcore deathmatch with the kinds of unique implements of suffering that belonged in a SAW deathtrap. And yet, whereas that movie franchise positioned its moments of gore as genuine and filled with real human fear and suffering, this match was trying to be gory while making fun of that same thing at the same time. It was like it was parodying the very thing it was trying to be, which makes it one of the most nonsensical joke matches in modern times.
I get what these two were going for here: they wanted people to think that they were both beyond human and capable of withstanding incredible punishment and still keep going. Except they went about selling that narrative the wrong way. The violence in this match, for the most part, came across as slapstick. Everything came across as performative and exaggerated. As Omega and Moxley brawled around the arena the crowd didn’t treat them as threats or dangerous but as performers doing things so safely that they, the fans, could offer the wrestlers beer cans so that they could feel like they contributed to the match in some way. That was a harbinger for what was to come, and while Omega and Moxley did try to make this into a gruesome and violent match with the stuff they used later, they failed spectacularly because they neglected to include any sense of urgency.
Not only was this match painfully long and protracted, but the individual sequences and spots within the match lacked any sense of struggle. There were few moments, if any, during which either man was trying to block a big weapons spot or avoid getting hurt. Moxley, in his infinite wisdom, willingly dragged himself through “broken glass” instead of going to the side to make his life easier. The moments of “struggle” that they did land looked contrived, phony, and unrealistic. Neither man had the body language that suggested he was afraid of what was going to happen nor did either one try and sell any sense of fear or concern. Omega in particular had these absurd and almost cartoonish expressions on his face that made him look less like an evil twisted genius and more like The Joker minus the makeup, intrigue, and ingenuity. It became obvious very soon that neither of these men was selling this match as a serious affair; and if they weren’t trying to make this seriously then why should anyone else?
I get that AEW’s wrestlers have tried to position themselves as an alternative, but that doesn’t mean that they should treat wrestling as a playground for ridiculous things to happen. These guys came up with new ideas that I don’t think ever happened before anywhere else but that doesn’t mean that they were good ideas. The barbed wire spider web was ridiculous. The mouse trap platform was something straight out of one of the Home Alone movies. Jon Moxley tried to cosplay as Kishin Liger when he tried to stab Omega with the ice pick but no one believed that his action was ever going to work. No matter what these two did very little look real or genuinely dangerous, especially since both guys shifted from one sequence to another with the speed of two cruiserweights instead of two war-beaten men covered in gashes and allegedly demolished with brutal weapons.
Final Rating: **3/4
Jim Ross must be able to predict the future because this was exactly as he described it at the very start. It was bowling shoe ugly; both because it had senseless gore akin to the kind of nonsense that happens in deathmatch federations and because it was full of slapstick-style comedy violence at the same time. It was hard to get into this match because so many parts of it looked phony, overly choreographed, or otherwise so unrealistic that not even the most gullible viewer could take this seriously. This was the kind of thing that makes pro-wrestling look either super niche or hard to take seriously as a genuine and worthwhile kind of endeavor.
The way I see it, the best matches are those in which the wrestlers involved tell their stories without implements; in other words, by simply wrestling and letting their moves in the ring do the talking. Using weapons should be saved for serious grudge matches, but not to this level. This came across as the hardcore wrestling version of intellectual laziness and a degree of creativity that simply couldn’t be justified from a story or logical standpoint. It was shock for its own sake that didn’t make much sense, if any, and only got Pavlovian responses from people accustomed to seeing token plunder and carnage without ever questioning whether what they were watching made sense.
If you want to see an ultraviolent hardcore deathmatch that actually works and gives you an actual sense of danger and urgency, watch Terry Funk vs. Atsushi Onita from FMW in 1993. That match is a third of the length of this one, has a tenth of the actual wrestling and move variety, but has a much scarier and more serious stipulation, a hundred times the sense of fear and concern on the part of the competitors and the audience, and has virtually zero silliness to it. That match had all the alleged positives this match had with few to none of its negatives.