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AEW Rampage recap & reactions (Dec. 23, 2022): Top Flight outsmarts Moxley & Claudio

AEW Rampage (Dec. 23, 2022) emanated from Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX. The show featured Top Flight outsmarting Jon Moxley and Claudio Castagnoli to win $300,000, Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett having one too many tricks up their sleeves for the Acclaimed and Billy Gunn, and much more.

Let’s jump right in with a recap of the show followed by reactions.

Excalibur, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, and Chris Jericho were on commentary. Justin Roberts handled ring announcer duties.

$300,000 Three Kings Christmas Casino Trios Battle Royal

Eight trios teams competed for the cash prize. The camera showed stacks of green in a briefcase as a nice visual. Rules were over-the-top elimination. All three teammates had to be eliminated for a trio to be officially disqualified from victory.

Three teams started the contest:

  • Orange Cassidy, Trent, Chuck Taylor
  • Rush, Preston Vance, Dralistico
  • Kip Sabian, Butcher, Blade

The remaining entered in staggered style:

  • Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta
  • Evil Uno, Alex Reynolds, John Silver
  • Angelico, Luther, Serpentico
  • Ari Daivari, Tony Nese, Josh Woods
  • Dante Martin, Darius Martin, AR Fox

Notable moments include Vance eliminating Chuck as the first man tossed. Vance did the 10 finger gimmick then flipped double middle fingers to the crowd. The Dark Order made a beeline to fight Vance.

Cassidy and Sabian were thrown out in rapid succession. Cassidy aggressively continued to fight Sabian on the outside.

The Spanish Announce Project entered from the Spanish commentary table. SAP didn’t last very long, and back to commentary they went. Rush hit his Bull’s Horns corner dropkick finisher on Yuta for an elimination. That set up a heated exchange between Claudio and Rush. Claudio got the better of it to knock Rush off the apron for an elimination.

The final four came down to Moxley, Claudio, and Top Flight. Right when they all started throwing blows, Hangman Page charged into the ring to fight Moxley. Security arrived to break it up. Dante took advantage of the distraction to dropkick Mox over the ropes. Hangman and Moxley went back to fighting on the outside.

The finish was crackerjack action. Claudio and Top Flight went back and forth with close elimination teases. Claudio showcased his strength, while the Martin brothers showcased their athletic creativity. Claudio sent Dante into Darius, but Darius popped up Dante to leapfrog over Claudio. Darius then used Dante’s chest to step off for a tornado DDT. A double clothesline sent Claudio over the ropes hanging on for dear life. As Claudio reentered the ring, Dante pounced to use Darius as a steeping stool for a hurricanrana. Claudio caught Dante to block the move, however, Darius helped push the motion to carry Claudio over the top for elimination.

Top Flight & AR Fox won $300,000 cash money.

Eddie Kingston and Ortiz were in the ring looking for a fight with the House of Black. Malakai Black answered on the big screen with an enemy of my enemy riddle. The implication was Ortiz as a rogue. Kingston took the bait to act suspicious toward Ortiz.

Daniel Garcia doesn’t like anything about Sammy Guevara, but he trusts Chris Jericho as leader of the JAS. Garcia is willing to give his best effort to learn from Sammy. Sammy replied that Garcia is a tight-ass that needs to loosen up. He hugged Garcia, who awkwardly did not hug back. Sammy was confident they were going to do great things together in the new year. I recommend watching this promo. The interactions between Sammy and Garcia were very amusing.

Jade Cargill vs. Vertvixen

TBS title eliminator. A win from Vertvixen would earn a championship contest. That wasn’t even close to happening. Jade dominated Vertvixen to win with a pump kick.

Jade Cargill defeated Vertvixen.

Ruby Soho’s win over Tay Conti was supposed to close that chapter, but Anna Jay ruined Soho’s moment of victory with a post-match attack. Ruby recruited a teammate to fight TayJay. Enter Willow Nightingale bursting with energy. Ruby reluctantly gave a fist-bump, and Willow comically muscled up with joy. This is another amusing promo worth watching.

Wardlow finds it silly that Samoa Joe claims to be the most dangerous man and yet he always attacks from behind. It is even sillier that Joe claims to be king with a crown that doesn’t belong to him. Wardlow was never pinned nor submitted when Joe won the TNT title.

Alex Marvez and the camera crew caught Will Hobbs physically threatening some dude outside. Hobbs will take everything.

Mark Henry interviewed the main event participants. Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett are better musicians than the Acclaimed, and they will prove to be better wrestlers too. Billy Gunn and Anthony Bowens are going to beat ass all over Texas. Enough talk. Henry closed with, “It’s time for the main event!”

Jay Lethal & Jeff Jarrett vs. Anthony Bowens & Billy Gunn

Sonjay Dutt, Satnam Singh, and Max Caster were ringside. Caster was not medically cleared to compete after Jarrett’s guitar shot, thus Billy was in as Bowens’ partner. Caster rapped about sending Jarrett and Lethal back to the Impact Zone, Singh as the Not So Great Khali, and jealousy that the Acclaimed has titles like Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs coach).

Competitive bout in a high energy atmosphere. Lethal and Jarrett used tag team strategy to isolate Bowens. That set up a hot tag to Billy as the crowd erupted. Billy cleaned house. Singh stepped into the ring, so Billy clotheslined the giant over the ropes. Singh smoothly landed on his feet on the floor.

Billy blocked a Lethal Injection for a slam. Jarrett made the save on the cover. Dutt was on the apron, so Bowens clocked him. Jarrett hit the Stroke on Bowens. Caster punched Jarrett, and Billy tossed Double J to the outside. While referee Aubrey Edwards admonished Caster, Dutt weaseled in for a low blow on Billy. Lethal struck with the Lethal Injection to pin Billy.

Jay Lethal & Jeff Jarrett defeated Anthony Bowens & Billy Gunn.

Three cheers for Top Flight. They had a breakout moment by outsmarting Jon Moxley and Claudio Castagnoli to win the battle royal. Best of all, it was executed in a cool manner. Claudio looked like a stud in the finishing sequence, and that made Top Flight appear even better when they used creative teamwork for victory. AEW is making the right moves with Top Flight lately, and the Martin brothers are picking up steam as fan favorites. I’m dreaming of the possibility of Top Flight versus the Acclaimed for tag team gold. That would be two super over acts for an electric fan reaction. No need to rush that though. First, Top Flight has to get past Moxley and Claudio in tag team action on Dynamite. It will be interesting to see how Top Flight keeps their momentum rolling.

Hangman Page fighting Moxley was another rowdy moment building anticipation for their official showdown. There’s been talk about Moxley leaning on the heel side as a tweener for this feud, but I’m not so sure about that assessment. That was some cowardly shit Hangman pulled in the battle royal. He had all night to pick his spot, and he does it while Moxley is in the middle of a firefight. Sure, Moxley’s trash talk has been rude, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. Hangman’s concussion was fair game as an unfortunate accident. It’s not like Moxley did that intentionally. It doesn’t matter much though for the story. To each their own on picking sides to root for. What does matter is keeping the intensity white hot, and that’s exactly what they are doing.

As for the battle royal itself, it was a standard affair with an awesome finish. I don’t mind keeping battle royals simple. Overbooking can sometimes create a mess to ruin the concept. This version was pretty clean all around while connecting dots for feuds. I really enjoy battle royals, so I was pleased. Having $300,000 cash as the prize was smart. Money is a great motivator for professional wrestling. Plus, it’s always nice to remind the audience about the prize in prize fighting. Out of all the interactions in the battle royal, Claudio versus Rush is the one match I want to see most.

Jade Cargill versus Vertvixen was uninspired filler. If AEW is going to continue serving squash matches for Jade, then she has to evolve into doing fresh stuff. Break out some cool new moves. The matchmaking for this particular bout was sloppy. Vertvixen is coming off being squashed by Athena in a ROH women’s title bout airing on Elevation earlier this week. So, she gets rewarded with a TBS title eliminator? Pfft. The reality is Vertvixen was a hometown wrestler, however, AEW did her no favors by getting squashed again. I don’t think Vertvixen actually landed any offense at all. The only reason the match lasted as long as it did was it taking place through a commercial break.

The main event tag bout was built around Billy Gunn. The hot tag popped the crowd with great effectiveness, and shenanigans caused him to eat the pin. It was a smart use of the beloved veteran. Even though the extra interference was a bit much with so many bodies involved, I was entertained by the chaos. The result should build heel heat on Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett as scoundrels.

The promos from Sammy Guevara & Daniel Garcia and Ruby Soho & Willow Nightingale were very entertaining. Both established motivation while displaying comical personality. Sammy and Garcia displayed fun chemistry as sports entertainers. Garcia is actually showing personality by playing off Sammy. The fist-bump between Ruby and Willow was gold. Willow’s reaction of satisfaction is a mood for meme material. Those are the type of promos I want more of. It provides little things to connect with the performers to build fan interest.

Quick thoughts. Eddie Kingston is a schmuck. He talks a big game about loyalty then immediately starts questioning Ortiz at the mere suggestion planted by Malakai Black. Renee Paquette ignoring Sammy and his abs was subtle hilarity. Looks like Will Hobbs is embracing the Grinch spirit for Christmas. The timing of Mark Henry’s delivery on his signature lines was excellent this week. Poor Aubrey Edwards. She has been booked on a roll of incompetence for several weeks in a row. Hopefully she can get her referee mojo back to restore order.

Grade: B

Fun show overall with the Rampage spirit. Peak positives include the battle royal helping build star power for Top Flight and personalities shining in promos.

Share your thoughts about Rampage. How do you rate it? What were your favorite moments from the show?

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