Heading into All Elite Wrestling’s attempt to stage an Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match on US soil on a mainstream platform, I was not convinced it would end up being worth the trouble.
I had watched Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega go hardcore at Full Gear 2019, and to be completely honest, I didn’t like it at all. Some saw a great weapons/extreme match, but all I could see was 40 minutes of self-indulgence without any real rhyme or reason. Given that their feud was littered with gratuitous stunts such as Moxley putting Omega through a glass table for no real reason on the first episode of Dynamite, the non-sanctioned blow-off was par for the course, I guess.
About a year later, the two crossed paths again. This time it was for Moxley’s AEW World Title. This time it was a regular wrestling match. And this time the storytelling was far more fluid.
Omega broke a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to wrestle a clean bout and used Don Callis’ interference to sneak in a microphone shot and steal the title. Not only did that December 2nd clash leave their on-screen head-to-head at 1-1 and in need of a decider, the same could be said of the matches when it came to critical reception for many.
The jaw-dropping announcement of the trilogy match’s stipulation left me resigned to the likelihood that needless overkill would win the decider against great storytelling, regardless of which actual wrestler won the series. However I must admit: the Death Match was really well done.
Everything from the tone heading into the Revolution main event to the little nods (that Atsushi Onita jacket on Moxley, for example) set things up nicely for the masterful use of the natural suspense such a setting creates. They slow-burned into the big moments, and unlike the electric cage at TNA’s Lockdown 2007, the exploding rope bumps were the right balance of dramatic but realistic.
Showing the pyro cannons several feet away from the actual barbed wire boards on the outside during the entrances (which Excalibur on commentary attempted to pass off as “mortars” in order to cover) was a facepalm moment, and the solitary bump to the outside zones was a bit naff considering the amount of wire the two men embedded themselves upon for the spot, but outside of that the match ran a lot more logical and compelling than their late 2019 showing, and the ‘exploding foot on the rope’ to survive a One Winged Angel was superbly creative.
For half an hour, I couldn’t believe not just that Moxley, Omega and AEW had proven me wrong on the entire concept, but that they’d done it so well. And the apparent Eddie Kingston face turn post-match was unlike any other such switch, making it even more poetic. All in all, it was superb work from everyone involved.
And then the closing moments of the PPV undid all their efforts.
As you’ve no doubt seen from the tidal wave of social media reaction and four million instant memes, the 30-minute countdown to all of the explosives going off with a beaten down Mox left for dead in the ring and Kingston attempting to shield him from impending doom was in fact what appeared to be four of Johnny B. Badd’s old ‘Badd Blasters’ attached to the four ringposts plus the aforementioned and patently-fake ‘mortars’ outside.
This tribute to Gillberg’s old comedic ring entrances could have been explained on an audible, had Kingston and the commentators acted as if they had indeed been trolled by Omega and co on the promise of a huge exploding ring. Instead, Eddie laid unconscious as Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and the masked man acted as if Predator had initiated his self-destruct.
That final moment is what left the final impression, unfortunately for the two men who had just put their bodies on the line for their art and the man whose ruthless heel character was put at stake for what could have gone down as one of the most memorable babyface turns in recent history. But, AEW can certainly salvage this. And here’s what I’d personally suggest.
The immediate thing to address on Wednesday’s Dynamite is: why was Eddie Kingston out cold from being in the whereabouts of a handful of Roman candles? As some have suggested, the wise thing would be to portray that he had passed out from the panic and fear of what was to come as the clock hit zero.
That he wasn’t even awake to see that the whole thing was either a Wile E Coyote/Dr. Evil level botch on Omega’s part or merely a scare tactic because governing bodies forbade him from adding anything more dangerous deals with the immediate problem. However, it also leaves Kingston’s heroic decision when the chips were down looking decidedly less badass.
Ideally, the roster’s heels would lampshade the hell out of this on Wednesday. Omega, Callis and The Good Brothers can share a good chuckle at the fact that, while they couldn’t destroy Jon Moxley, they at least got to destroy Eddie Kingston’s reputation instead. Other heels such as Matt Hardy can shoehorn a joke at Kingston’s expense in their own segments (“well, I lost my entire first quarter earnings but at least I’m not Eddie Kingston!”).
Then, in a six-man tag a week later, The Butcher and The Blade walk out on the leader they once feared and respected, leaving his quest to save face against Omega, Doc and Anderson as a 3-on-1 mugging.
The whole thing could have vibes of Razor Ramon being mocked by Money Inc. for losing to the 1-2-3 Kid almost 30 years ago. That worked out fine for Scott Hall, and so could this, especially when it’s Moxley of all people who saves Kingston from the trio to return the favour.
There would be a lot of creative options for Kingston to do some soul-searching of sorts over the following weeks. Fellow mean-streaks-turned-popular-figures such as Lance Archer and PAC could admit a begrudging respect for the fact that Eddie did the right thing, when push came to shove. Rey Fenix could confront him on the fact that he tried to label him as soft, when it turns out the two are actually more alike than King would admit. Footage shared in the past on social media showing Eddie’s status as a locker room leader in the wake of Jon Huber’s tragic passing could further underscore that he does what it takes to get wins and feed his family, but his heart was always in the right place.
Once Kingston spent a few weeks coming to terms with the entire situation and made a begrudging peace with many of his enemies over the past year, I’d suggest culminating the situation with Omega in a one-on-one title match. I’d do it on an episode of Dynamite, and I’d actually have Kingston win the belt.
All of the defending champ’s usual shortcut attempts could be countered by those who now respect Eddie for what he did at Revolution when nobody else would or could. The Brothers and even Butcher and Blade – two mercenaries from the beginning, now hired by Callis – would be taken out of the equation by the likes of Fenix, Penta, PAC and Archer before, finally, Moxley drills Omega between the eyes with a microphone to set up a Kingston backfist for the pin and the title.
Of course, there are long-term plans in place for Omega as champ, and I’d expect the title to come back to him in the rematch just 2-3 weeks later to keep that on course. But in this scenario, Kingston’s ruined plot development wouldn’t have been for nothing, the weekly TV show gets another great moment and individual character growth on the roster (one of AEW’s admitted biggest strengths so far) would continue to flourish.
I, like all of you, will have to wait for Wednesday to see exactly how the company chooses to deal with the dead cert for 2021 Botch Of The Year. But this one scenario demonstrates at the very least that it’s possible to turn a negative into a positive, as great writing and booking should always be able to.