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AEW’s botched ‘explosion’ was a symptom of bigger problems

This will live in wrestling infamy for decades.

A battered, bloody Jon Moxley struggled in the ring, his hands cuffed behind his back. Air raid sirens blared as horrified announcers believed they were about to witness a man’s death. Then aid came from an unlikely source with 20 seconds remaining on a giant doomsday clock. Eddie Kingston, Moxley’s lifelong friend turned bitter enemy, rushed to the ring in an attempt to save his friend from a ring rigged with explosives and set to detonate. Knowing he couldn’t rescue Moxley in time he threw himself on top of Moxley, ready to accept his fate. The clock hit zero. This was it. Four limp fireworks that looked like sparklers sputtered from the ring posts, followed by some smoke and denotations that sounded like weak firecrackers.

The conclusion of AEW Revolution was unquestionably one of the funniest things to happen in professional wrestling history, and it was completely unintentional.

There is no way this is what AEW planned for. It’s clear something went wrong with the pyro, leaving us with this weak, hilarious ending to the most hyped wrestling pay per view of the year. What was supposed to be a poignant and dramatic close to the story, one that would write Moxley off TV while he took paternity leave and set up questions about the future of Eddie Kingston instead left both men, the announce team, and everyone involved looking like fools.

AEW is trying to steer into the skid. After the show went off the air Moxley took the microphone and told the Jacksonville crowd that “Kenny Omega may be one tough son of a bitch, but he can’t make an exploding ring worth a shit.” The idea is that the AEW World Champion, who has been increasingly becoming like Wile E. Coyote in his quest to destroy Moxley, messed it all up, and the hilarious botch at the end of the show was somehow intentional. A valiant effort to turn the moment into comedy, but not enough considering the preceding show, which had incredible in-ring action got utterly overshadowed by impossible expectations AEW set and knew they couldn’t live up to.

Aside from the ludicrous “exploding barbed wire death match” main event to Revolution, the biggest selling point, the reason so many people decided to tune in, was a hugely-hyped new signing announcement we were told was a “hall of fame worthy talent,” sending expectations through the moon. Could Brock Lesnar jump ship to AEW? Would this mark the return of CM Punk to professional wrestling? Was this the moment a New Japan Pro Wrestling star would jump over to U.S. television with Kazuchika Okada, or Kota Ibushi debuting? No, it was Christian Cage.

Technically Christian checks all the boxes. He’s unquestionably a big name, he’s definitely “hall of fame worthy,” but the problem is the unevenness of AEW’s announcements, and their pacing. The last huge signing the company made was poaching Paul Wight (aka “The Big Show”) from WWE, casually announcing it on Twitter on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon when nobody was expecting it. When you make that kind of move quietly, the expectation is through the moon when you hype a major signing for five days before a pay per view. Expectations of Lesnar or Punk may be unrealistic, but they were warranted in contrast to how casual AEW was with Wight.

Cage arriving to almost no fanfare, then leaving without saying a word just put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Then the botched “explosion” closing the show left the whole night feeling disappointing and sad, when it shouldn’t have been.

The biggest shame is that those two moments were so awful that they overshadowed what was otherwise a pretty stellar show. The Young Bucks vs. Chris Jericho and MJF was a masterclass is tag team wrestling when on paper it should have been mediocre. The tag team battle royale was sloppy, but exceedingly fun — especially in the close. The title match between Hikaru Shida and Ryo Mizunami was one of the best women’s matches AEW has put on PPV. Even the extremely hyped street fight that saw Sting return to the ring was brilliant, with swooping camera work and innovation that took the cinematic match to a new level.

Revolution won’t be remembered for any of that. The matches will fade into history and the indelible mark left by a show with so much promise will be a hilariously bad explosion that was the worst possible thing to happen at the worst possible time, an a lukewarm signing people predicted as their “worst case scenario.” There’s a lesson here that AEW has to learn about building and managing expectations. This isn’t the first time owner Tony Khan has over promised and under delivered on a big moment, and unless they do more to temper expectations it will turn people away from AEW. That’s how significant and terrible Sunday night was.