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Pro Wrestling

Let’s Try To Make Sense Of That Awful, Hilarious AEW Pyro Screwup

AEW Revolution's Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match ended with a whimper of a bang.
Screenshot: AEW Revolution

On Sunday night, All Elite Wrestling held its second annual Revolution pay-per-view, almost perfectly marking a year of the pandemic. Last year’s show signaled a new era for the then-fresh AEW, as Jon Moxley won the company’s big title in the main event over Chris Jericho. That was also the last time Luis and Lauren hung out before the world came to a standstill.

Moxley headlined this year’s show again, but this time he was the challenger, having lost the belt in December to a now-villainous Kenny Omega. The main event of the 2021 edition of Revolution was a nod to wrestling history, as the two men engaged in the company’s first-ever Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match. Though they could not be together this time, Lauren and Luis watched live in anticipation for a match that they hoped would become an AEW moment to remember. It did, but not for the reasons either of them were anticipating.

Luis: Sometimes, wrestling matches need long-winded explanations of their concepts, but this one did what it says on the box: The ring ropes were covered in barbed wire, they would “explode” with pyro whenever a wrestler hit them, and at the end of 30 minutes, a giant explosion would engulf the entirety of the ring. This type of match has a long history in both the United States and Japan. When executed properly, it’s supposed to be quite the spectacle.

Sunday’s version was not. During the match itself, the explosions were a bit underwhelming, more of a bang than the boom that fans were told to expect. It was still a spectacle, though, because Moxley and Omega committed fully to the “death match” part of the title, with both men bleeding profusely and using the barbed wire to its full carnage potential. Everything was set up for a gigantic climax 30 minutes after the ring bell hit. 

Then it all went to shit, and put a wet fart of a capper on what had to that point been an excellent show.

Lauren: Yeah, Revolution was a really good show, for the most part. The tag-team battle royale was maybe the best of its kind I’ve ever seen. The women’s division is finally getting slightly more attention, like it should. Sting’s big return alongside Darby Allin in a cinematic street fight was better than it had any right to be. It all built up to Moxley-Omega, which was humongous and campy and completely satisfied the part of my tiny brain that gets giddy over bright flashes, loud cracks, and clouds of smoke.

And then that fucking ending hit. 

Luis: After about 23 minutes of bloody violence, a DDT to the barbed wire platforms on the floor, and one of the best kick-out spots I have personally ever seen …

… I thought everything was in place for a flawless finale. 

AEW ruined its own moment with two crucial mistakes. The first was the more common, but maybe the more unforgivable one: Omega’s buddies Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, currently the Impact tag team champions, ran in to interfere, allowing Omega to pick up a cheap win in a main event that deserved a definitive victor. It’s a boring wrestling trope, but it’s one way to protect both Omega and Moxley from taking a clean loss. The most disappointing part, though, was that the finish occurred about five minutes before the timer for the big kaboom ended.

The company tried to get around this by just having Omega and his cronies beat Moxley up, handcuff him, and then leave him for dead with about 45 seconds left on the timer. That’s good storytelling, and it got better when Moxley’s long-time friend and recent antagonist Eddie Kingston came out to try to save the challenger from a cataclysmic explosion. After failing to get Moxley out, Kingston dove on his friend, risking his own wellbeing to save his buddy. It was all set up to be a dramatic and oddly romantic finish that would save the show.

Then, the “explosion” actually happened.

Lauren: They ran into a predictably simple problem: It is very hard to believably blow somebody up on live TV without ever actually putting them in danger. The July 4th sparklers that were supposed to kill off Moxley and propel Kingston into superstardom were a joke that AEW might never live down. It was cringier than a British sitcom. It had less pyro than the saganaki at a Greek restaurant. It was so improbably bad that it could only work in storyline as a troll job by Omega. It was one of the most embarrassing botches in recent memory, if not the most, particularly when you account for the $50+ price tag, the massive hype, and AEW’s constant underdog status when compared to WWE.

And I hate that I can’t fully laugh at this! If this were WWE—like when they couldn’t get the handcuffs off Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble—I’d find this level of incompetence deliriously entertaining. But because AEW in general—and Mox and Eddie in particular—have wormed their way into my cold Grinch heart over the past 12 months of loneliness, I feel instead a crushing, empathetic shock. This was my parasocial pals’ big moment, and it will be remembered forever as an absolute disaster. I guess it’s what I deserve for getting excited to see two men pretend to mutilate each other with tricked-out barbed wire. 

Luis: Wrestling, to me, has always been about the moments that I remember long after the final bell. This is one I won’t soon forget, because it’s perhaps the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in professional wrestling. The previous holder of that title was WWE’s Royal Rumble disaster in 2014, when fans were so thirsty for Daniel Bryan that they booed Rey Mysterio—one of the most beloved wrestlers of all time!—simply because he wasn’t the Bearded One. While I would have preferred a massive explosion that served as an incredible closer to this brutal match, I know I won’t soon forget the sight of Kingston diving on Moxley to protect him from the kind of sparklers you see accompanying bottle service at the club, only to then sell it like he had been shot by a sniper. 

The company had built up this match to be something that fans had never seen before, and by god, they delivered. AEW boss Tony Khan is already trying to spin this by doing what you said, Lauren, and blaming it on Omega’s storyline failure to build a proper bomb, as this was his match and his ring. Moxley also did damage control immediately after the match, laughing off Omega’s inability to build an exploding ring:

That’s all fine and well, though I’d really just prefer it if the company leaned into the failure. Wrestling fans aren’t as stupid as people try to make them out to be, and there’s no real way to salvage this in a satisfactory manner. The fans at the arena were booing and chanting for refunds immediately, so it’s almost better to admit a fuckup than to try to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. (For my money, I can’t think of a more memorable way for this match to have ended, and chanting for refunds is silly; those fans saw something in person that will be remembered for a very long time.)

Maybe I’m jaded by a year of pandemic wrestling, which has been extremely difficult for me to connect with. The dissonance between what’s happening out in the world and the idea that we need pro wrestling right now is something I haven’t fully come to terms with yet, and so I had little emotional connection to what happened on Sunday beyond uproarious laughter. I know that’s not the case for you, Lauren. How did you feel about that ending?

Lauren: I’m still kind of in shock about it all. While you’re absolutely right that we shouldn’t need pro wrestling right now, I couldn’t help but feel more connected to it than ever throughout the pandemic. To get across how bummed out I am by this monstrous screwup, I have to get into what AEW, unfortunately, means to me. 

When it comes to pop culture, I typically like to think of myself as chill and unattached—the kind of person who would never think to get into an argument about a Netflix show or a Marvel movie on the internet. But something about AEW pulled me in to an extent that I’m almost ashamed to admit. If pressed, I’d say there was a specific, unique type of relatable-yet-sexy masculinity present in the wrestlers on that show that fully hooked me. (I know I’d marry Darby Allin on the spot if he ever asked me.) But it was definitely more than that, too.

Not only did the promotion reignite my interest in wrestling by surprise-debuting perhaps my all-time fave in the former Dean Ambrose back in May 2019, but it has also been the one main constant of my pandemic. For the first six months or so of Dynamite, I’d pick out what segments most interested me and check them out a day or two after they aired. But with my life so limited for the past year, I’ve made a point of parking myself in front of the TV every Wednesday at 8 p.m., getting in some apartment exercises during commercial breaks but otherwise fully immersing myself in every story from the top of the card to the bottom. Whatever the reason, I found myself enthralled by the highs and willing to completely ignore any lows as I followed Jon Moxley, Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and all the promotion’s top stars through their little soap opera trials.

But shit, this low was so silly and disappointing (and expensive!) that it’s impossible to ever forget. The promotion can pick themselves up and take some time to rebuild for the next PPV in May, but a letdown of this scale can’t help but shatter a lot of the illusion that wrestling thrives on, and it frays some of that audience trust that AEW had been so good at building for so long. At least, that’s what it does for me.

And that’s fine, honestly. It’ll all be fine, and I’ll probably be able to laugh about it more in a little while. But I think I’m going to have to skip the next Dynamite, if only because the two best wrestlers in the world having to commit themselves to some ridiculous storyline explanation for that big dud after wrestling a hell of a match is a bit more depressing than I want right now.

Luis: I had been struggling to keep up with AEW in recent weeks. The whole Shaq mess wasn’t all that exciting to me, and in general, I had too much pandemic fatigue to commit to two hours every Wednesday. I am of the opposite mind about the fuckup, though: I haven’t been this excited to watch Dynamite since I attended the first one in October of 2019. Wrestling is often at its best when everyone involved is backed into a corner. I’m now intrigued by the prospect of how they try to get out of this, and I’m sure that Sunday’s laugh won’t be the last that the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match brings into my life. It’s probably not how AEW hoped to bring me back into the fold, but it is what it is.

Lauren: Never get emotionally invested in anything, kids. And never believe a billionaire when he tries to sell you big booms for 50 bucks.