Welcome to Hard Time Blues: The World of Pro Wrestling from Merry-Go-Round Magazine! It’s a great time to get into professional wrestling. In each Hard Time Blues feature, MGRM contributors Luke Phillips and Maxwell Flynn will be exploring the wild, weird, and wooly world of the squared circle, and all of the angles, feuds, gossip, and evil wizards therein.
This week, we’re offering a preview of All Elite Wrestling’s latest DOUBLE OR NOTHING pay-per-view event, which is set for this Sunday, May 29th.
“Hangman” Adam Page (c) vs. CM Punk
Maxwell Flynn: AEW’s aesthetic is so weird. Just how gambling and Vegas is like a significant part of their brand.
Luke Phillips: It’s because DOUBLE OR NOTHING was the first AEW pay-per-view.
MF: And ALL IN being the impetus PPV as well…
LP: It’s a gambling-themed wrestling promotion. They have a gambling gimmick.
MF: I’ve got a really hot take I’ve been saving about Hangman/CM Punk: I’m not interested in it at all! They’ve had such bad luck because Hangman got COVID. I don’t think the build’s been enough and it feels like a whatever match.
LP: I’m interested in where they’re going to take it… with Hangman, they’re always running the long game and playing 4D chess with his booking. I’m definitely interested in where they take this. I think—if I’m getting into the booking psychology of AEW—I’m more willing to believe there’s going to be more to the match than they’ve been letting on and have presented so far. Since CM Punk’s comeback from retirement, he has been nothing if not methodical and very extremely interested in telling story through matches and letting the matches speak for themselves—obviously, he’s still one of the best promos in the world, but he has done a great job of actually applying storytelling to each and every one of his matches—a masterful use of storytelling in the ring. Which is funny, because he’s also mostly been ripping off Bret Hart.
I think there’s an opportunity in this match, much like in the best AEW matches, and the best matches with The Elite, or any of the best AEW PPV matches—in any great pro wrestling match, the match always speaks for itself. You can pull someone in who’s never seen any of the buildup, and they’ll immediately understand the interpersonal story and angles being told. That’s pro wrestling at its finest as a medium. I think there’s an opportunity to tell various hypothetical stories over the course of this match. Does Hangman go heel? Does Punk go heel? If I’m the one booking this match, I think given it’s been over six months since Punk’s ultimate babyface return, I don’t think you give Punk the belt yet. I think you have a cocky, edgy Hangman who’s still letting his insecurities get the best of him, and maybe you have him working heel for the first half of the match, but then I could see a switch. In any case, I think there will be at least one if not several Hart vs Piper style heel turn teases and finishes. Hell, that’s not even considering a potential KENTA run-in. I would still have Hangman go over Punk, so maybe the Punk heel turn could come after Hangman beats him. In the wake of this match, I think you should end up with the heel, striver Punk again. He can really sink his teeth into his heel work that he’s so good at, and it will give him a compelling climb back up for when he makes another run for the championship. That also keeps Hangman strong as a champion and gives him the opportunity to have a stronger reign like his predecessors in AEW. I want Hangman to come out on top.
MF: I love Hangman and I think he’s a good wrestler. Kenny had a really good title run. It was incredible—he was a dick, you hated him, but he put on good matches. This Hangman title run hasn’t really been living up, it’s been kind of meh. Yeah, there’s been some decent matches. Those two against Adam Cole… who gives a shit?
LP: That’s more on Cole than it is on Hangman.
MF: For sure, absolutely. They haven’t really wowed me with his title run so far.
LP: He does Texas deathmatches, and that’s about it… I feel like Hangman needs to remain champion so they can give him better matches. Fuck, I mean, throw Miro at him after he beats Punk! Whoever wins the Owen cup—that too! Put him in a program with Hangman. Even if Hangman drops the belt to Samoa Joe or something, then you have a Punk vs Samoa Joe match in the chamber. We don’t see the forest for the trees right now. We have no idea what they’re planning down the line. At this point, they could do anything!
Samoa Joe vs. Adam Cole
Men’s Owen Hart Cup Tournament Final
MF: I saw a thing about how the Owen Cup is predictable and they could clearly see who’s going over and I was like “How?!” Jeff Hardy was obviously in it to lose a match, but other than that…
LP: I think the Owen Cup has been pretty fun so far on both the men’s and women’s side—AEW always seem to excel at tournaments. I just really do not get Adam Cole and I’ve never gotten Adam Cole and I’ve always thought he was an extremely overrated guy. I really don’t know what people see in him. He’s like if Tom Cruise was trying to method his way through a Shawn Michaels biopic, except Tom Cruise is in better shape than Adam Cole. He’s supposed to be this cool, conniving guy in kayfabe but he’s also like an epic Twitch streamer? No. It’s completely incongruous and cringey, and he’s over reliant on the same toolbox in all of his matches that they become boring as sin. Plus he’s just like slowly shadowboxing with superkicks most of the time. I have no idea why this guy gets treated like such a big deal and has such a devoted fanbase when he offers such little return on your investment.
Cole and Britt both winning the Owen Cup makes sense I guess, but I don’t know why you put them over a current title holder and future champion like Samoa Joe. I would greatly prefer a wrestling landscape where Cole wasn’t booked the way he is.
MF: He needs to go away and reinvent himself.
Thunder Rosa (c) vs. Serena Deeb
LP: I think Deeb vs. Rosa will be a really good match considering that they had history feuding with each other even prior to AEW, and their rivalry extended into the start of their time in AEW. Now, has that been translating into their promos and the buildup angles the past several weeks? Hell no! The buildup for this match has been mostly fucking awful and bizarre.
MF: I’m starting to think Thunder Rosa can’t cut a good promo.
LP: She can’t! She’s not very good at it. I don’t know what they need to do. It’s definitely a gulf coming back from Britt as champ, when Britt could sleepwalk through good promos and basically had her promos carry her above everything else, including her actual inring ability. That being said, I think Britt is a more interesting worker than Adam Cole.
It’s definitely kind of a whiplash going from a women’s champion who could cut an amazing promo, to one who is obviously a better worker inring, but who can’t really thread the needle and sell herself as good as Britt could. I think, with all that being said, Rosa & Deeb are going to speak for themselves in the ring. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Rosa and deeb are not sports entertainers. They’re both fucking pro wrestlers. I just want to see these women beat the fucking shit out of eachother, and they’re going to! It’s going to be really sick. It’s the most high profile match ever for both of them. Who knows! Maybe Heel Punk will take Deeb back under his wing and reform the Straight Edge Society!
Hookhausen (Hook and Danhausen) vs. Tony Nese and “Smart” Mark Sterling
LP: Rampage has been getting very gay lately, between The Acclaimed and The Gunn Club scissoring eachother, and the Hookhausen angle. A lot more overtly gay angles coming to the fore on AEW’s Friday night show.
MF: Is Danhausen going to join Team Taz?
LP: Fuck! I hope not. I just really don’t get Danhausen and I don’t find his buffoonery amusing. It’s Deadpool type shit which, I guess kudos to you if you like it, but I think too much of AEW’s fanbase caters to like a Funko Pop enthusiast soyfacing at the MCU strain of wrestling fan, and I honestly think it might be in their best interest to move away from that. Plus, I think it’s way too early in either Danhausen or Hook’s careers to pair them up like this.
MF: HOOK doesn’t need this type of cute stuff so early on, especially when he’s been portrayed as such a killer before.
LP: Right! It’s just goofy fanservice for the sake of it and I don’t think it does Hook any favors. I suppose I’m a minority in this—I just do not like this angle.
MF: Danhausen is just on the mic too much and it’s stretching a little thin. When he was just popping up and being a Hornswoggle goofy side character and trying to curse people it was funny and it worked.
LP: It’s a joke that’s funny once and then proceeds to get less and less funny the more you do it, so of course they would immediately run Danhausen into the ground by the time they could actually put him in an angle. Awful. Awful awful awful awful. SEND HOOK…to a better angle!
That being said, Smart Mark Sterling has been doing great character work lately, so pairing him up against the still likely injured Danhausen is smart, as is booking HOOK against the Premiere Athlete Tony Nese. Nese has been a little under the radar since debuting in AEW, so having a big moment against one of AEW’s hottest up-and-comers in HOOK could lead to some good inring moments.
MF: A casual viewer isn’t going to look at Danhausen and think “Oh this is…funny.”
LP: He’s an evil wizard who stuffs teeth down people’s throats. No one’s going to see that and take it seriously. It’s just like catnip for RICK AND MORTY fandom brain. It does nothing for getting people into pro wrestling, if anything it cloisters people away with its nerd stink.
MF: Maybe the dichotomy of HOOK and Nese actually wrestling will balance the hijinks. If Hook and Nese are in the ring doing badass shit, the duality of it might be funny.
LP: Like Orange Cassidy. Orange Cassidy’s gimmick entirely revolves around his actual innate in ring wrestling ability and psychology. Danhausen’s gimmick does not revolve around wrestling and is just a bad improv character gimmick.
Jade Cargill (c) (with Kiera Hogan and Red Velvet) vs. Anna Jay
LP: AEW’s propensity to treat the women’s division like a bit of an afterthought is indicative in this booking. This match kind of came out of nowhere with next to no build beyond Jade and Anna already facing each other back in January in one of Jade’s best matches up until that point. It makes sense that they’d have a star in the making like Jade on the PPV but you wonder why they’re hurriedly booking her in a singles match instead of booking a tag match featuring the newly formed Baddies faction. Anna has proven to be one of the most improved workers since she debuted amidst the pandemic, so either way this will likely be a good second match between these two that will only deepen their feud and enhance their stature overall.
MF: The sudden booking of this match is interesting. Obviously they needed to represent the TBS title on the card, but with zero build it makes me feel like something interesting could happen.
Dr. Britt Baker, DMD vs Ruby Soho or Kris Statlander
Women’s Owen Hart Cup Tournament Final
LP: Speaking of the women’s division—I feel like the Owen’s Cup qualifying matches have been mostly good, with some wonky booking and finishes here and there. Toni Storm has been a little underwhelming I think since she debuted in AEW, and I wish Jamie Hayter was getting more of a chance to shine. It looks likely that the final on Sunday will be a rematch between Dr. Britt and former WWE Superstar/current personification of a Rancid song Ruby Soho. Britt is usually able to turn it on for PPV matches and Ruby has desperately needed a push since debuting on the AEW roster last year. It seems like she’ll get the rub Sunday unless a His & Hers Owen Cup is in the cards for Britt & her shoot partner Adam Cole (let’s hope not!!).
Jurassic Express (Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus) (c) (with Christian Cage) vs. Team Taz (Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs) vs. Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland
LP: Jungle Express’ tag team title run has been absolutely miserable—AEW does not seem able to juggle three separate Face champions at the same time. Practically every JE title defense match has been a slog and showed the seams of their partnership. Luchasaurus is a great gimmick that unfortunately has not translated via his in ring work. I get that he’s supposed to be a dinosaur but it does not excuse how slowly this man moves in the ring. Every Luchasaurus tag is like watching someone wrestle in half time, as if they are wrestling in a pool. They need to pull the trigger on the Jungle Boy vs Christian Cage angle that’s been bubbling under and reestablish Jungle Boy as a singles competitor while planning a mass extinction event for poor Luchasaurus. Putting the belts on Team Taz seems like sound booking and a good payoff for all of the great work they’ve been doing across AEW programming for several years. Team Taz eventually feuding for the belts with FTR is also a good compelling future angle for everyone involved. Swerve and Keith Lee have some momentum since both debuted in AEW but the pairing still feels a little oddball—the bloviated
Jericho Appreciation Society (Chris Jericho, Matt Menard, Angelo Parker, Daniel Garcia, and Jake Hager) vs. Eddie Kingston, Santana, Ortiz, and The Blackpool Combat Club (Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley) (with William Regal)
LP: Eddie Kingston & Proud & Powerful were feeling the numbers advantage facing off against Chris Jericho and his Jericho Appreciation Society over the last month or so of AEW programming, so it makes sense that naturally one of his two best friends in AEW (Jon Moxley) would come to his aid via Moxley’s new Blackpool Combat Club faction with Bryan Danielson. I really like this angle and I think Eddie and his crew teaming with Moxley has led to some very interesting character interactions. Eddie and Danielson have history feuding with one another in AEW and are essentially still feuding over custody of Jon Moxley, with the legendary William Regal caught in the middle of the personality maelstrom.
MF: Jericho looks better than he has in years. This whole angle has been incredible. Him bringing together the Jericho Appreciation Society to fluff his own ego after getting defeated by Eddie Kingston—it’s great stuff.
LP: Eddie Kingston broke Chris Jericho’s brain.
MF: I could see them going on and doing this match and then a third match, a rubber match down the line. The Painmaker has to make an appearance. “The Wizard” Chris Jericho could start doing inferno matches to add to his fireball gimmick.
LP: The Jericho Appreciation Society just seems good for everybody involved. You have 2.0 and their son Daniel Garcia re-establishing themselves as sports entertainers under Jericho’s wing. It’s good for Garcia as a promo. He’s doing better character work in JAS than he was prior. He’s not so much a Baby Randy Orton or whatever he was anymore.
I would have loved for this to have been a Blood & Guts match, but it seems like that could still be something they could book down the line. Teasing the Stadium Stampede but then diverting and referring to the match stipulation as “Anarchy in the Arena” leads me to believe the match will still feature a lot of backstage brawling and no DQ fun—which are matches that AEW also excels at.
House of Black (Malakai Black, Buddy Matthews, and Brody King) vs. Death Triangle (Pac, Penta Oscuro, and Rey Fénix) (with Alex Abrahantes)
MF: This angle feels like it’s been going on forever, mostly due to the up and down momentum it’s had over the past couple months, but I’m excited for what could be the conclusion. This is one of the matches I’m really looking forward to and it’s further establishing the imminent Trios championship we all know AEW is planning. There’s an incredible blend of wrestling styles involved here: high flying, hard hitting, technical wrestling. A real smorgasbord!
LP: Death Triangle have perennially delivered excellent trios matches together and I’m sure this match will only add to their highlight reel. The House of Black have gelled great together since they’ve built out the roster and I really think this is anyone’s match. Whichever team wins will be the odds-on favorite to win the eventual trios belt, and they can keep the feud alive and going for that title as well.
The Hardys (Matt and Jeff) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) (with Brandon Cutler)
MF: Jeff Hardy has definitely not been looking great in the ring lately.
LP: I don’t know if he had an injury recently, or if he’s just old. It’s kind of insane that even a year ago, Jeff was a pretty good, reliable worker in ring, but then he fell off a huge cliff between his WWE release and signing with AEW. I guess both of the Hardys fell off a huge cliff after signing with AEW. His match quality has been pretty shaky since his debut. I think Tony Khan is a Hardys purist and wants them to do the crazy Hardys ladder match stuff live while they still can.
MF: I feel so bad for Matt. He was looking pretty good until he got that gnarly concussion in the match with Sammy Guevara.
LP: And with Jeff not looking great either, hopefully they can get it together for a good match against the Bucks. I guess this might be their last shot.
MF: Tony Khan should just replay the Hardys vs Bucks match from ROH SUPERCARD OF HONOR the night before they came back to WWE at Wrestlemania in 2017.
LP: “The Hardys died on the way to their home planet.”
MF: They need to do Broken Hardys again. If they hurry up and get to the bit that they’re good at and that people actually want to see right now, they can do less inring shit and do it similar to how they built up Sting in AEW. Do less live matches, do more cinematic matches and Hardy Compound matches.
LP: I feel like at some point, they’re going to have to do that. Because it’s not looking good right now!
MJF vs Wardlow
LP: One angle that I think AEW has really knocked out of the park—and it’s a testament to everyone involved, really—is Wardlow/MJF.
MF: Oh, it’s fantastic!
LP: I could watch Wardlow tear through security personnel every single week. I get such a ROAD HOUSE-style lizard brain euphoria activation whenever I see Wardlow overtake entire teams of security. He’s taken out dozens of security guards over the last several weeks. It’s been a long time coming for them to do big man angles in AEW. They did Miro good, right? But this is on another level. Obviously Wardlow—by extension Wardlow vs MJF—has been a project that’s been two years in the making. Much like the slow build on the Hangman as champ angle, they took their time, and Wardlow is ready. He’s good. He’s a total star. I don’t know how they’ve made squash matches that compelling.
MF: He’s been doing some good stuff. Making both sides look good—that match against Morrison/Big Cass from a few weeks ago was great.
LP: He made Big Cass look good! He never got the opportunity to look that good in the WWE! Cass also made Wardlow look fucking awesome, piledriving a seven foot tall man. Insane.
It’s crazy how the last several MJF angles to an extent have followed a formula and have purposefully echoed previous MJF angles and stipulations. MJF is just such a master of his craft and he’s already so good and so smart and so young. 100%—he’s going to be the talk of wrestling next year for sure. He’s already building himself up for that. He’s got such a mind for pro wrestling psychologically, and all of his angles are ingenious in their own way.
MF: All the trials and tribulations. He’s putting Wardlow through a combination of the Labours of Jericho and what he put through Cody in their initial feud—throwing a bunch of other guys at Wardlow and then forcing him to be whipped and go through a cage match before he can finally get to wrestle MJF. It’s incredible that they keep doing it and it’s always incredible each time.
LP: It’s evergreen heel work.
MF: It makes him more of a prick, it makes you not like him more each time, and it’s funny how it’s always the same bit each time! It always works on every level.
LP: He’s such a cartoon villain. He’s just awesome. MJF just fucking rules. If WWE wants to snap him up, you bet he’s going to make that the focus in all of his promos. He has a built-in program with Cody waiting for him at WWE. And imagine what kind of angles and shit he can come up with in WWE! He’ll be even more of a supervillain!
MF: The Cody thing is setting a precedent. They’re letting Cody come in and do the same thing he was doing before, the thing that got him over in AEW, and so I wonder if that makes jumping over to WWE more enticing to members of the AEW roster. On the other hand, Cody and MJF are kind of different birds compared to the rest of the AEW locker room.
LP: MJF for shoot and in kayfabe has a relationship with Bruce Prichard, so that already seems like an opportunity for him to onramp into WWE. Working his way into the WWE inner sanctum, as it were.
MF: I mean, Jesus, can you imagine? Especially if he came back interrupting a Cody promo with Cody as champ.
LP: He’s Cody’s Joker! It would be outrageous! He’d be even more of Cody’s Joker than Seth Rollins is trying to be! But who knows – maybe he jumps ship to Freddie Prinze Jr’s upcoming promotion and forces his roster to play his twisted little games like Jigsaw.
MF: That would be really smart for him, because that would get his foot in the door in Hollywood—so if you want to transition to being a Rock-type movie star. Plus he’d be a member of SAG.
LP: And he could still build his name and brand and potentially go to WWE after a year or two anyway. The world is just MJF’s oyster – and it’s very exciting to see where his career will take him. He’s so young!
Whether you’re a lapsed fan or someone that’s been borderline interested in professional wrestling this is a great time to dive right in. AEW has created a strong competition for the WWE, giving fans more variety in the type of wrestling they want to consume. DOUBLE OR NOTHING is not only their biggest show of the year, but it also acts as their anniversary event, making it one of professional wrestling unmissable nights. In the meantime, you can expect more upcoming wrestling coverage from us, as we recap WWE’s upcoming Hell in a Cell premium live event, going over the current storylines and backstage shenanigans therein, as well as serving up a preview of AEW and NJPW’s upcoming Forbidden Door supercard pay-per-view.
Catch Max and Luke in a couple weeks for another edition of Hard Time Blues: The World of Pro Wrestling from Merry-Go-Round Magazine!