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AEW Collision recap & reactions (July 15, 2023): Ricky Starks shocks CM Punk

AEW Collision (July 15, 2023) emanated from Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. The show featured Ricky Starks shocking CM Punk in the Owen Hart men’s tournament, Willow Nightingale with a feel-good moment in the Owen Hart women’s tournament, FTR versus Bullet Club Gold in an instant classic, and more.

Get caught up on all the Collision details with top-notch play-by-play from Geno Mrosko. AEW aired a three-hour live block of wrestling with Battle of the Belts VII. The results for Battle of the Belts VII are in a separate recap.

Collision opened with the promo package hyping the three major contests of the evening. CM Punk challenged Ricky Starks to sink or swim. Could that be foreshadowing?

Ricky Starks shocks the world to win Owen Hart men’s tournament

The Owen Hart men’s tournament came down to CM Punk and Ricky Starks in the final. The crowd’s enthusiasm gave this match a big fight feel with dueling chants for Punk and Starks throughout. This was a classic style wrestling match.

Emotions heated up when Punk hip tossed Starks over the ropes to the outside then mockingly held the ropes open for Starks to re-enter. Later in the match, Starks sidestepped a charging Punk to send him tumbling to the outside. Starks returned the sass to open the ropes for Punk. Punk didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture and increased his aggression for the rest of the match.

The action was back and forth. I’d say Punk had the edge in control. The first believable near fall came when Punk countered a wheelbarrow into a piledriver. Starks kicked out at 2. Punk motioned for the GTS. On the lift, Starks elbowed out to escape. Starks ducked a kick to run the ropes and hit a spear. Punk frantically rolled out of the ring to prevent a cover.

Starks rolled Punk back inside then went for another spear. This time, Punk caught him for a guillotine choke. Starks barely touched the ropes with his toe to force the referee break. Punk held onto the choke a little longer instead of releasing in good sportsmanship.

The finish came about when Punk set up a super hurricanrana. Starks rolled it over upon impact for a roll-up. Punk rolled through for a roll-up of his own. Then Starks rolled again for top position. 1, 2, Starks grabbed the ropes for leverage, 3. Starks was victorious.

Punk was in shock at defeat. Jushin Liger came out on stage to present the trophy. Starks grabbed it out of the legend’s hands and rushed backstage.

Wow. I am absolutely stunned at that result. I figured Punk was a sure bet to win all his singles matches until AEW resolves the rightful world champion angle Punk was pushing. Kudos to AEW for pulling the trigger on a surprise victory by Starks. Starks definitely needed that big win for his career, and he got it by hook or by crook. As soon as Starks won, I laughed hard at his tricks and instinctively did the Starks dance to his theme song’s trumpet. The method of this win makes me instantly interested in what AEW has in store next for Starks.

The match itself was solid competitive affair. The near falls were dramatic. Punk’s ring IQ was excellent with the sit up to dodge Starks’ flying elbow drop, rolling out of the ring after the spear, and the guillotine choke counter. One critique would be Punk doing Bret Hart moves in an Owen Hart tournament. That seemed odd to me, but I suppose it is fitting considering Owen was always in Bret’s shadow for WWE storylines.

Willow Nightingale wins Owen Hart women’s tournament

Willow Nightingale and Ruby Soho squared off on the Owen Hart women’s tournament final. Willow was feeling the energy to get in the groove, and Soho relied on aggression to carry her through. Even though Soho was solo without the Outcasts, she still managed to find a way to try to cheat. Emphasis on try, because Soho’s efforts were thwarted more than once.

The finish came down to the Outcasts spray paint canister. Soho was intent on using it, but Willow snatched the foreign object away. Soho pointed the finger to referee Aubrey Edwards to catch Willow green-handed. When Edwards confiscated the goods, Soho raked Willow’s eyes and executed the No Future Kick. Willow kicked out on the cover.

A little while later, Soho had the can back in her hand for a loaded strike. Willow ducked and countered for a big pounce shoulder block. Willow roared for the doctor bomb to earn victory.

Willow winning was a feel-good moment. The match told a good and simple story of the babyface overcoming heel bullshit to triumph in the end. With how often the Outcasts cheat to win, I was conditioned to believe Soho would pull it out through treachery, so I was pleasantly surprised when Willow prevailed.

FTR stands tall over Bullet Club Gold in instant classic

FTR put the AEW World Tag Team Championship on the line against Bullet Club Gold in 2-out-of-3 falls for the opening contest of the evening. They rumbled for 58 minutes in an instant classic.

The first fall started with taunts to ease into the action. Once they stepped on the gas pedal, it was full speed ahead for the duration of the ride. As “Switchblade” Jay White worked for roll-ups on Dax Harwood, Cash Wheeler made the blind tag. Harwood sent White into the ropes, and Wheeler slyly stepped in position for the Shatter Machine finisher. Juice Robinson snuffed it out by shoving Wheeler into Harwood. A punch from Robinson set up the Blade Runner from White to pin Wheeler.

The second fall began with Bullet Club Gold isolating Wheeler. Harwood ran wild on the hot tag and scored a couple of near falls. One instance was a German suplex train to a brainbuster. Another instance was Harwood leaping for a flying sunset flip. White didn’t go down, so Wheeler clotheslined him into the pin. White dramatically kicked out of those scenarios as the crowd was on the edge of their seats.

FTR gameplanned for the crucifix bomb neckbreaker to honor the Briscoes. White kicked out again. FTR was visibly frustrated. If doubt crept into their minds, it didn’t show. They maintained momentum for a superplex flying splash combo. Bullet Club Gold was ready for that one though. White got his knees up on the splash, and Juice came crashing down for a flying splash onto Harwood. Robinson pulled White on top for the pin. Harwood kicked out.

A short while later, Robinson ran the ropes into the Shatter Machine from FTR. The score was tied at one fall apiece.

The third fall kicked off with action on the outside. Harwood picked White off the apron for a powerbomb. White punched Harwood trying to get free. Harwood stumbled over the barricade, and both men smashed onto the concrete floor. AEW worked a mini injury sport with the ringside doctor checking both fighters. It didn’t last long, and fisticuffs were flying again.

The finish came down to the cherished Sharpshooter. White had control with Harwood down on the mat. He tuned up the band for a Shawn Michaels superkick then switched to a Bret Hart Sharpshooter deep in the heart of Calgary. Harwood reached the ropes to escape.

Later, Harwood escaped a Blade Runner to counter for a Sharpshooter. Wheeler did the same submission to Robinson. Bullet Club Gold was in serious trouble, then both members of FTR inexplicably fell over to release the holds. Commentary claimed exhaustion.

Harwood pulled his knee pad down. Commentary theorized that he must have done that for a reason, and they were right. Harwood countered a DDT from Robinson to apply the Sharpshooter. This time, he had better mobility to sit deeper on the submission. Robinson tapped out, and FTR remains the tag team champions.

FTR and Bullet Club Gold put on a hell of show. It was a long match clocking in around 58 minutes, but the pace was steady action throughout. All three falls felt like separate individual matches with their own flow. The near falls were rocking the arena. The final finish was a little clunky in execution, especially if you watched without audio. Commentary did well to explain the logic behind what we saw as it was taking place. If you enjoyed last week’s tag match between FTR and Bullet Club Gold, then definitely watch this one too. Even though Bullet Club Gold lost, that effort put them on the map as serious talent in AEW.

Let’s jam through the rest of Collision.

Kings of the Black Throne in action. Malakai Black & Brody King mauled nameless local talent. Julia Hart was ringside with Andrade’s mask. El Idolo came out mid-match looking for his property. Black smiled and delivered a spinning head kick on his opponent to win. Black taunted Andrade to come get his mask. Officials blocked Andrade’s path.

Notes: Kevin Kelly was away covering the NJPW G1 Climax tournament in Japan. Ian Riccaboni filled in on commentary.

Footage filmed last week showed QT Marshall apologizing to Will Hobbs. QT would not intentionally cause Hobbs to lose. Word is bond. QT sarcastically suggested that he knock out the baddest man in AEW to prove his point. Hobbs appeared to take QT up on that offer.

AEW hyped Blood & Guts between the Blackpool Combat Club and the Golden Elite for Dynamite on July 19.

AEW also aired Battle of the Belts VII with three championship matches after Collison. Get those results in a separate recap right here on Cageside Seats.

Stud of the Show: Ricky Starks

Starks earned arguably the biggest win of his AEW career.

Match of the Night: FTR vs. Bullet Club Gold

FTR and Bullet Club Gold topped last week’s fantastic effort with a more complex challenge. They maintained excitement for the entire hour of 2-out-of-3 falls.

Grade: A-

Collision was wrestling heavy in a PPV style. This grade will fully depend on how much you enjoyed the three marquee matches. I particularly appreciated the relatively clean finishes. I say clean in terms of simplicity. There was no chaos involving managers or outside intruders. Cheating took place, but it wasn’t over the top to make matches feel like a waste of time. All in all, the results made me interested to tune in next week for the fallout.

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

Battle of the Belts VII followed Collision on Saturday night. Check out the results in a separate recap here.

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