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AEW Full Gear 2023 recap & reactions: MJF main event story goes off the rails

AEW Full Gear (Nov. 18, 2023) emanated from Kia Forum in Los Angeles, CA. The PPV featured MJF on a roller coaster ride in two title fights, Swerve Strickland and Hangman Page putting on a Texas Death Match classic, the signing of Will Ospreay, and much more.

Get caught up on all the Full Gear details with the excellent play-by-play from Claire Elizabeth.

MJF regains Triple B in roller coaster ride

MJF had a busy night at Full Gear. He retained the ROH World Tag Team Championship, went to the hospital, stole an ambulance, reunited with Adam Cole, and regained the AEW World Championship. It was a roller coaster ride that went off the rails. Many will love the emotion of the moment. I thought the story veered into dud territory.

MJF’s work started on the Zero Hour pre-show tagging with Samoa Joe to defend the ROH tag straps against the Gunns. It wasn’t a walk in the park. The Gunns managed to hit the 3:10 to Yuma on Joe, but MJF saved him on the cover. As the Gunns were setting up for another 3:10 to Yuma, Cole’s music blared on the speakers for his arrival on stage. That distraction allowed Joe to submit Colten Gunn via Coquina Clutch as MJF held Austin Gunn on the outside. MJF shook Joe’s hand to honor his world about granting a world title shot.

The match was fun, however, the dynamic between MJF and Joe didn’t make sense. MJF brought in Joe as his partner for a reason, then he didn’t want Joe’s help during the match. That discord produced humorous odd couple moments as MJF tagged in when Joe set up a musclebuster and Joe tagged in when MJF was primed for a kangaroo kick. They coexisted and got the job done thanks to the surprise of Cole.

Consider that match the start of the roller coaster chugging up the mountain. This next part was a free drop into chaos. To reset the scene, Joe was already gone, and MJF celebrated with Cole on crutches. Bang bang! The Gunns attacked MJF and severely damaged his knee with a chair. Cole was helpless to provide any assistance for his best friend. The medical staff took MJF out on a stretcher and shipped him away in an ambulance. Before the doors closed, MJF made Cole promise not to let AEW take his championship away.

That was where they lost me. This whole story the past six weeks was building to a grudge match between MJF and White. The go-home brawl on Rampage was awesome and had me pumped up for this main event bout. Although we did get a version of MJF versus White, it wasn’t the version being advertised all that time.

AEW provided a status update early in the PPV. They declared that MJF was injured and not able to compete. The world title fight was canceled. Just as White was about to be crowned new champion by default, Cole interrupted to take MJF’s spot. He is going to keep his promise.

The promise was nice as a heartwarming act of friendship, which is consistent with the brochachomance between Cole and MJF. The logic was lacking though. How is Cole supposed to be cleared to compete? He was still on crutches from surgery. This moment took me out of the show again daydreaming of all the wacky ways this story could see resolution from the obvious of MJF returning in the nick of time to a nonsensical master scheme by Cole to an evil plot from Tony Khan revealed as the masked devil to save the AEW World Championship from MJF’s free agency threats in their version of Vince McMahon versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The point is that this story produced a cloud overshadowing the rest of the show.

Fast forward to the main event. Introductions took place for White versus Cole. BayBay didn’t even bother to change into wrestling trunks. He was still on crutches with his walking boot. White was flanked by the Gunns (Juice Robinson was absent due to MJF smashing a TV on his head during Rampage) and chomping at the bit to start the match. Right before the opening bell could ring, the wail of the ambulance siren signaled MJF’s return to the arena. Maxwell was at the wheel and limed to the ring with his knee heavily bandaged. MJF took his rightful spot in the match.

That part was fun and also super cheesy. Once again I have to point out the logic hole of officials trying to prevent MJF from competing while they apparently gave Cole the go ahead in his compromised condition. In regard to the Gunns, Joe should have handled them backstage. If MJF loses through Bullet Club Gold cheating, then Joe’s title shot evaporates into thin air. I would have expected Joe to protect his investment a little better.

Ring the bell!

The gist of the match story was MJF trying to grit through the pain while White focused on attacking the bullseye target. The action had its share of cool moments. MJF hit a kangaroo kick. I’ll always love that.

MJF placed White on top of the commentary table, and it immediately collapsed. MJF saved the spot by throwing caution to the wind for a flying elbow drop down to the floor.

White executed a badass avalanche uranage.

MJF one-upped him with an awesome leaping cutter over the ropes down to the floor.

For as critical as I’ve been to this point, the story was told very well when Cole got involved at the end. He had several moments of high drama. MJF was trapped in a figure-four, and Cole teased throwing in the towel. He sold it with conviction about being conflicted on saving his friend or allowing him to continue. I truly believed Cole’s struggle in that moment. MJF was able to reverse the submission, and the match continued.

Next up was the Dynamite Diamond Ring. That portion delved back into silliness. Cole tried to pass the foreign object to MJF, but White was able to intercept. There was a ref bump at this time to justify the shenanigans. Cole’s expression of concern about his screw-up was excellent. MJF salvaged the moment with a low blow to White. The Gunns rushed the ring, and MJF popped them with the Dynamite Diamond Ring. Our scumbag punched White clean, and Switchblade was out cold for the three-count. MJF celebrated with his best friends, Cole and the Triple B.

Overall, this story had its positives to bring entertainment, however, the negatives outweighed them, in my opinion. I don’t know what AEW was thinking in trying this. Maybe it was a response to criticism about an obvious outcome? In that case, the outcome was still obvious, just that there were extra hurdles. The injury angle made the match slower milking the pain, and it didn’t deliver on MJF’s anger that had been built up over the weeks. Instead, he was doing the best he could to survive and win. It was a completely different mentality. The high spots were still pretty darn cool, so that’s a mark in the positive column. The emotion from the live crowd was popping, so it was clear that they were invested in the outcome.

This ride was up, down, and all over the place. One thing is for sure though. There is no way Cole is the masked devil after all he did on this evening.

Let’s run down the rest of the card from top to bottom.

Kenny Omega & Chris Jericho defeated the Young Bucks. The stipulation stated that a win by the Golden Jets would earn them the tag title shot owned by the Bucks. A win by the Bucks meant the Golden Jets could never team again. This match had layers of drama. On the wrestling front, Omega outclassed the Bucks. They had better success teaming up on Jericho. On the character side, Omega wrestled clean against his friends. He even shielded them whenever Jericho bent the rules. That changed when the Bucks didn’t hesitate to hit Omega with a low blow. Omega didn’t hold back anymore. The Bucks tried to show up their opponents hitting the Judas Effect and the One Winged Angel, but the legends kicked out of their respective signature moves. In the end, Omega finished Matt Jackson with a One Winged Angel. The Bucks threw a temper tantrum outside after the match, and their friendship with Omega is back in the toilet.

Thumbs up for the wrestling. All four men brought the thunder for flashy moves. The character dynamic was a little odd at times, such as Omega teasing a V-Trigger to Jericho. I didn’t catch any reason why Omega would do that within the context of the match, but maybe I missed something.

This cheating tantrum turn from the Bucks is surprisingly interesting. They have earned my curiosity to see what the fallout is. There is logic to understand their anger toward Omega. Add in the stress of recent losses to make them question if father time is cashing in. Desperation could be in order hanging on for the last-gasp.

Swerve Strickland defeated Hangman Page. Texas Death Match rules in effect. Hangman stormed the ring skipping his own entrance to deliver a buckshot lariat within the first minute. Swerve rolled outside, and they brawled from pillar to post. This match was bloody insane with a stapler gun and various barbed wire objects. If a tombstone piledriver onto a barbed wire chair wasn’t violent enough for you, Swerve emptied a sack of glass shards on Hangman’s back to land a 450 splash. Hangman went into overdrive for an avalanche flipping fallaway slam through a barbed wire board, a Deadeye piledriver onto the barbed wire, and wrapped barbed wire around Swerve’s neck for a buckshot lariat. The rules turned into a de facto Last Man Standing match with a ten-count. Prince Nana helped Swerve to his feet to survive that onslaught. Boom! Brian Cage hit the ring for a powerbomb ambush. Hangman rallied to short-circuit the Machine and also hit the Deadeye to Prince Nana off the apron through the table. Swerve cracked a cinder block on Hangman from behind and used a chain to hang the cowboy from the ring post. Upon release, Hangman did not answer the count to continue.

Holy shit! This fight could earn that chant non-stop throughout. The violence was intense and awesome. I’m generally not a fan of these types of bloodbaths, but this one was great. Hangman was excellent with anger matching the story of the feud. Swerve showed a new demented layer to his character by stapling himself with a grin.

The finish was questionable. I’m all for Swerve picking up a memorable win for his AEW résumé, however, this feud wasn’t the time. And it certainly did Swerve no favors having to be saved by Cage. In my eyes, there’s no rub to push Swerve up the ranks. What I wonder is where they go from here. A Hangman win would have been justice for Swerve’s home invasion. Since Swerve won with help, Hangman shouldn’t let this feud die yet. How are they going to top the Texas Death Match to resolve the story? Sometimes the bad guys win, but this one isn’t right.

Blockbuster contract signing. Drum roll, please. Introducing... Will Ospreay. The Billy GOAT is All Elite. He informed the crowd to be patient as he finishes out his time in NJPW. Ospreay will be in AEW next year.

Bruv! The news of Ospreay lives up to the hype. Put one on the scoreboard for Tony Khan’s announcements.

TBS Championship: Julia Hart defeated Kris Statlander and Skye Blue to win the title. Statlander entered as champion, and she had victory within her grasp on Saturday Night Fever to Blue. However, Hart picked her spot to bash Statlander with a clothesline and steal the pin on Blue.

Very good match. The flow provided a couple of tense moments on pinfall attempts to make the ride satisfying. The intensity lived up to the story in the triangle of interactions between characters. Hart and Blue had a moment of heated fisticuffs that left me wanting more. Statlander was awesome in the powerhouse role with a German suplex train.

AEW World Tag Team Championship: Ricky Starks & Big Bill Morrissey defeated FTR, Malakai Black & Brody King, and Rush & Dralistico to retain the titles. Ladder match! High-octane action throughout. The biggest spot was King executing a Gonzo Bomb to Dralistico onto a hanging ladder. The finish came down to the champs and FTR. Bill saved Starks from falling off the ladder, so he could retrieve the gold. Starks was right all along. Bill’s height was a true asset for the ladder match.

Dynamite action. Everybody shined in their own way. Sometimes ladder match spots can get too ambitious to a fault. That wasn’t the case in this contest. The ladder violence was physical but not careless. They even added a few unique twists, such as Black sling-shotting the ladder off the ropes and Rush with the Bull’s Horns dropkick into the ladder.

The brief showdown between Bill and King was hoss fight delight. I want that singles match so bad.

AEW Women’s World Championship: Toni Storm defeated Hikaru Shida to win the title. Storm had a ton of cheap tricks in her bag. She hit Shida with a shoe, ripped off Shida’s shoe, and received assistance from Luther. Shida clobbered that butler with a kendo stick. Meanwhile, Storm placed a metal tray in her tights on the backside. The match progressed, and Storm had the opportunity to connect on the running hip attack with the hidden foreign object. That move finished Shida. New champ.

Hmm, thumbs down on this one. Storm’s starlet character was too much in an overwhelming manner. The match felt like a way to service her gimmick rather than her gimmick servicing the match. It was too comedic for a world title fight. The TBS title scene would be a better fit, but Storm would probably be insulted to be considered a TV star instead of a movie star. Shida wrestled well in her usual style, so that was positive.

AEW International Championship: Orange Cassidy defeated Jon Moxley to retain the title. Mox was a buzzsaw of violence. Keeping true to the story, he took the best of Cassidy’s offense and still kept coming forward. Cassidy had to go to plan B, so he went for the Redrum choke under the tutelage of Hook.

Moxley made it to the ropes for the break. Cassidy didn’t release, so the referee peeled him away. The turnbuckle pad dropped off in the process. Foreshadowing! For the finish, Moxley collided into the exposed steel. Cassidy dropkicked Mox into hitting the steel again, then he followed with five superman punches and a Beach Break to win.

That was a cool finish paying service to the story. Coming into this match, I didn’t see Cassidy’s path for victory based on the story. I appreciate the creativity of using Hook’s submission. It gives depth to their world by showing Cassidy actually developing a strategy in the gym in preparation. Five superman punches and a Beach Break was a hell of way to close. It had the crowd rocking, and it protected Moxley in a good way. As strong as the win was for Cassidy, it is also slightly tainted with the exposed turnbuckle. We’ll see if that leaves the door open for a rematch.

Sting, Darby Allin, & Adam Copeland defeated Christian Cage, Luchasaurus, & Nick Wayne. Ric Flair was ringside to support Sting. A children’s choir sang father Christian to the ring. Electricity was popping, and the energy went higher with moves like Luchasaurus chokeslamming Allin over the ropes down to the floor. Sting’s big spot was a flying crossbody off the apron jumping over Flair.

Christian was a focal point of the story on his own by avoiding Copeland at all costs. The Patriarch even duked it out with Flair. After taking some chops, Christian retaliated with a low blow.

In the end, Christian thought he could sneak a cheap shot with the TNT title belt on Copeland, but he accidentally clobbered Luchasaurus instead. When face to face with Copeland, Christian ran away and abandoned the match. Luchasaurus was the sacrificial dino eating a Stinger splash, a spear, and a Coffin Drop to lose.

That match was a blast of fun consistent with Sting’s PPV performances in AEW. Christian was the straw stirring the drink forcing the others to react off his actions. The tease of Copeland never getting hands on Christian worked to build desire for their eventual showdown, because there was a lot of other activity to bring excitement. Wayne caught my eye on his wrestling exchanges with Allin. They had nifty movement that made me eager to see that singles bout as well.

The Zero Hour pre-show had two other bouts along with the MJF’s ROH tag title defense.

Claudio Castagnoli defeated Buddy Matthews. Claudio poured on the offense at the end with a Ricola Bomb and a Sharpshooter. Matthews grit through the pain crawling toward to the ropes, but Claudio pulled the submission back to the center of the ring to coerce a tap-out.

Damn, this match was a doozy. It’s like Claudio and Matthews went out there with the goal of stealing the show. The athleticism and physicality created an intense atmosphere. Since it is free to view, this is a match worth checking out as a mid-card gem.

ROH World Championship: Eddie Kingston defeated Jay Lethal to retain the title. Jeff Jarrett, Sonjay Dutt, Satnam Singh, and Karen Jarrett were ringside as pests delivering the occasional cheap shot. Down the stretch, the referee was distracted as Kingston and Lethal crawled toward Jarrett’s guitar. Ortiz ran in to snatch the instrument away and hit Dutt over the head. Kingston caught the Lethal Injection to counter for the half-and-half suplex. Kingston was quicker rising to his feet and unloaded a spinning backfist to win. Afterward, old beef was squashed between Kingston and Ortiz.

This bout was more like an opener to heat up the crowd rather than a world title epic. The flow was aggression from Kingston and technique from Lethal. Kingston had the edge until goons got involved. Sprinkle in the story with Ortiz for extra drama. This result should close Kingston’s chapter with Lethal. AEW dropped the ball on the timing of that feud, and it was ice cold by the time this match rolled around. On to the next challenge for Kingston.

Notes: Mark Briscoe was entered into the Continental Classic tournament. Eddie Kingston is also in, and he is upping the stakes by defending the ROH World Championship and the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship in his matches. That means the tournament winner will be a triple crown champion.

Stud of the Show: Orange Cassidy

That was a statement win by the international champion.

Also, shout out to Nigel McGuinness for a night full of witty humor on commentary. Top of his game.

Match of the Night: Swerve Strickland vs. Hangman Page

The violence was off the charts. The emotion was captivating. The action was intense. Swerve and Hangman deserve a standing ovation passing through the curtains backstage.

Grade: B-

Judging purely on wrestling, I’d veer toward the A range. Mixing in all the funny business on finishes and the main event storyline, it was too much extra. Individual instances aren’t so bad by themselves. It’s the cumulative toll over the course of the show that dampened satisfaction.

Share your thoughts about Full Gear. How do you rate it? Who stole the show?

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