Double Or Nothing: How AEW Took A Chance On Wrestling… And Won
It’s time for AEW’s most influential pay-per-view, so you know what that means! Double Or Nothing has become the event most AEW fans associate with WWE’s WrestleMania i.e. their biggest wrestling show of the year. Not only was it the inaugural PPV for the All Elite brand (just as WrestleMania was for WWE), it’s also featured some of the best moments in the company’s short history. Epic wrestling matches and championship gold? Check. Well-written, multi-layered characters? Check. Actual focus on tag team wrestling? Check. AEW introduced a paradigm shift in the wrestling industry with its first-ever pay-per-view, and has since seen massive growth in terms of its roster, visibility, and earnings.
The Elite Goes All In
Before diving into Double Or Nothing‘s significance, let’s go through a little bit of AEW’s origin story. The son of a son of a plumber. A megastar in Japan, and arguably the best wrestler in the world. Two brothers who wanted to make tag team wrestling great again. Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks, a close group of wrestlers known as The Elite, decided to pool their energy and resources together in order to create a wrestling alternative.
The year was 2017. Wrestling in the indies was going strong, but WWE remained the untouchable powerhouse. Famed wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer made a comment, stating that ROH (the company Cody and The Bucks worked for) wouldn’t be able sell 10,000 tickets to an event “any time soon.” Cody’s response? “I’ll take that bet, Dave.”
With whatever cards they had been dealt, Cody and his Elite comrades went All In in 2018, and delivered a pay-per-view event that had the largest non-WWE attendance in the 20 years since WCW folded, with 11,263 fans selling out Chicago’s Sears Centre in 30 minutes. One challenge was down, so why stop there?
AEW Goes Double Or Nothing
All In was a massive success, proving the demand for a wrestling alternative was there, so it was time to take the next step. With the financial backing of a billionaire of their own in Tony Khan, All Elite Wrestling was created in 2019 and has since slowly challenged WWE’s stranglehold on wrestling in the US. For the first time in almost two decades, another major promotion was in the fold.
The stage was set for the next pay-per-view event, but this time under the All Elite banner. AEW’s inaugural PPV, Double Or Nothing, showcased the tremendous talent the young company had amassed that represented the past, present and future of wrestling.
“Hangman” Adam Page last eliminated MJF in the 21-man Casino Battle Royale, becoming one of the two participants in the first-ever AEW World Championship match. Britt Baker, Riho, Hikaru Shida and Nyla Rose were featured, and have since been the pillars of the AEW Women’s Division. Cody Rhodes faced off against his brother Dustin Rhodes in a match David Meltzer rated as a 5-star classic. The Young Bucks tore the house down with the Lucha Bros. Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho delivered in the main event, with Jericho coming out victorious with his new finisher, The Judas Effect.
A Paradigm Shift
With Double Or Nothing, AEW delivered on its promise of amazing matches and storytelling, with a focus on characters and tag team wrestling. There was something missing, though, for a first-time event; something to truly make it stand out, and to show that AEW was legitimate and ready to compete with the big boys. Enter Jon Moxley.
A former WWE wrestler making his way through the crowd in enemy territory, and staking his claim. Sounds familiar? AEW tugged on the heartstrings of wrestling nostalgia, emulating Scott Hall’s iconic debut on WCW Nitro. Jon Moxley made his way through an erupting crowd, gave Jericho a Paradigm Shift, and then went after Kenny Omega. “Moxley and Omega! Moxley and Omega!” Jim Ross may not be at the level he once was when it comes to announcing, but that call will live on in AEW infamy.
In the wrestling industry, it’s all about the gold. Titles are meant to be prestigious achievements that set apart the good wrestlers from the great. From its very first iteration, Double Or Nothing has set the precedent of showcasing championship bouts and their significance in the company.
Even without a title of their own as AEW was just blossoming, the inaugural PPV still featured a huge title match, when The Young Bucks defended their AAA World Tag Team Championships against the Lucha Bros. It set a precedent, as it wasn’t the only time other promotions’ titles would be defended on AEW. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Women’s Championship have also been featured.
Not only did they set up the first-ever AEW World Championship match at the inaugural event, but the second Double Or Nothing featured the crowning of the first-ever TNT Champion. “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes defeated Lance Archer in the finals of the championship tournament. Hikaru Shida began her year-long reign as the dominant AEW Women’s Champion when she defeated Nyla Rose for the title in a hard-fought No Disqualification, No Countout match.
In the upcoming Double Or Nothing, championships once again take center stage, as AEW World Champion Kenny Omega defends his title in a three-way match against Pac and Orange Cassidy. Newly-crowned TNT Champion Miro collides against Lance Archer, who seeks redemption following his loss last year. Britt Baker looks to dethrone AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida, while Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston look to take the Tag Team titles off of The Young Bucks.
Casino Matches And Stadium Stampedes
One of AEW’s themes when it comes to its presentation has revolved around casinos. Honestly, who can forget Moxley giving Kenny Omega a Paradigm Shift on a bunch of casino chips? Double Or Nothing not only introduced the concept, but it keeps on adding to that legacy with AEW’s featured Casino gimmick.
From Casino Ladder Matches to Casino Battle Royals, they’re matches fans are familiar with, but with an added twist to truly make it AEW’s own. The 2021 edition of Double Or Nothing carries on the tradition, as Christian Cage, Matt Hardy and others battle in a Casino Battle Royale for a chance at a future AEW World Championship match.
Speaking of Matt Hardy, his AEW debut led to one of the wildest, unique match concepts in recent memory, as he teamed with The Elite to take on Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle in a Stadium Stampede match at Double Or Nothing 2020. AEW tried to get creative in the middle of the pandemic, and in the process invented a match quite unique to them, as it takes place in the TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was one of the best matches of 2020, and the 2021 version will be looking to top that, as The Inner Circle once again find themselves in the Stadium Stampede, this time against arch-rivals, The Pinnacle.
Growth. That’s all AEW has shown since its inception. It wasn’t always smooth, but they’ve definitely left their mark on the professional wrestling scene, not only in the US, but in the entire wrestling world, from Mexico to Japan. TNT picked AEW up for a weekly television show, Dynamite, one week before the original Double Or Nothing. Just recently, an extension to their relationship was announced, as AEW is heading to TBS, with an added show, Rampage. While financial details weren’t available, the new contract was reportedly in the 8 figures. The demand for an alternative was there. AEW gambled on itself, it gambled on wrestling, and through its initial seed that was Double Or Nothing, managed to achieve massive success.