Double or Nothing was dope, but not because of one match or a specific moment.
If anything, it was due to several moments made better by a packed crowd who seemingly didn’t sit down once in four hours last night (Sunday, May 30). Well, minus those who got up close and personal with Darby Allin. AEW’s latest pay-per-view succeeded because it was an ode to fans and reinforced the obvious: pro wrestling just isn’t the same without a live audience.
For what feels like an eternity, Florida arenas housed what resembled dress rehearsals. AEW and WWE did their best to replicate live bodies—with AEW finding the best solution—but yeah, it never fully worked. Hearing everything in the ring echo throughout an area, whether the thud of a power slam or the spring of the ropes, is more than a bit ominous. Every reverb reminded those of us watching from our couches how important fans are to the wrestling experience.
Let’s not get it twisted: we got some great things from AEW during the pandemic era: Blood and Guts, Shaq, Jade Cargill, Dr. Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa’s unsanctioned match, or pretty much anytime Darby displayed his cavalier attitude about breathing. Which he did a lot.
But seeing a man thrown down a flight of steps without the sweet serenade of “holy sh*t” is just uncivilized. Sting’s in-ring return last night needed a crowd. Sting is the Icon for a reason, and even at the age of 61, the audience adores that man and wants to see him succeed.
That same audience remembers what happened the last time Sting stepped into a wrestling ring. That knowledge puts them on pins and needles as they wince at every bump, fearful it may be his last. So, when the former face of WCW gets suplexed on the entrance ramp, people hold their breaths, and the tension is palpable to those of us at home. In those seconds, what happens to Steve Borden is infinitely more important than whether or not Sting wins a match. When he immediately bounces up from the suplex as if it didn’t affect him, it resonates with everyone in attendance. The crowd makes that routine spot anything but and turns the mundane into special quicker than you can say “hallelujah.”
AEW baked other crowd-pleasing moments into Double or Nothing’s Sunday dessert that tasted just as sweet: Jon Moxley parting the sea of humanity with Eddie Kingston by his side, Lio Rush’s surprise entry into the Casino Battle Royale, Mark Henry’s arrival, Urban Meyer’s NSFW reaction, and Stadium Stampede part Deux. That last thing had the spirit of an action movie, complete with a bar fight where innocent bystanders caught stray shots just for living. The crowd loved every minute and accentuated the story.
Nobody in Daily’s Place wanted to see the end of the Inner Circle, and everyone knew just how vital the Stadium Stampede was to one Mr. Sammy Guevara. While the commentary team did an excellent job getting that last point across, the rabid masses made the emotion tangible. The whole ordeal with MJF took the most significant toll on the Spanish God. One could even argue Sammy is the reason the Inner Circle found themselves on the brink of destruction.
The match was more than just survival for Guevara; it was redemption. Sammy was the sentimental favorite, and the crowd erupted when the referee raised his hand in the middle of the ring. For the second time this month, the Inner Circle’s youngest member stole the show in a big match. But this time, he did it with a sold-out arena chanting his name and pushing him over the finish line.
Maybe absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. Wrestlers missed fans in the seats, and we missed showing up. In several months when things settle into somewhat normalcy, perhaps the relationship between the audience and the athletes reverts to its sometimes-antagonistic norm while chanting “CM Punk” to register their displeasure. Maybe.
For now, let’s hope Double or Nothing is a preview of coming attractions. 2021 is supposed to be the year the world gets its groove back and in our little corner on this spinning blue ball, thanks to fans like you, wrestling looked ready to rock and roll.