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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 5/22 - 5/28 (Part 2)

AEW Double or Nothing 2023

MJF vs Sammy Guevara vs Darby Allin vs Jungle Boy

MD: We're almost a month from DEAN's passing now. I think about him all the time and about how he'd feel about this match or that. I miss his presence IMMEDIATELY after every single pro wrestling show was over, when he'd drop his train of thought, endless paragraph full of all the DEAN-isms you'd want. He was wildly positive, so much so that I kind of hate invoking him at the start of what's going to be a pretty negative write-up, but for all that the DVDVR guys disagreed on, there was one thing all of them, even the big guy, were all sure of: four-way matches are terrible. 

And sorry, but so was this.

Let's pull it back a bit and generalize. Why are these matches terrible? On paper, having more wrestlers in there should lead to more possibilities, more interactions. It should allow for more creative nearfalls due to break-ups, a better ability to hit and protect big moves. There should be different stories you can tell: temporary alliances, betrayals, fighting against the odds, etc. Unfortunately, all of that comes at a price. Wrestling is ultimately subjective. We all know that. Different people value different things. I put a lot on coherence and consequence. I want build and payoff. I want things to resonate and matter. You can only get that build and you can only achieve meaningful payoff if everything matters along the way. You get that resonance, that stickiness, that mattering through struggle and selling, through measured escalation and bringing things up and down and up again, through leaning into certain expectations and inverting others. The thread that runs through any match is suspension of disbelief and the ultimate killer of that is anything that raises a question in the mind of the viewer. If they're wondering why something happened or why something more logical or reasonable or simple didn't happen, then something's gone wrong. Thankfully, wrestlers have a lot of tools in their belt. It's not reality or an assurance of objective truth that guides the viewer but instead those tropes and expectations. It lets them accept an Irish Whip or a head going down for a back body drop, certain aspects of physics. It allows the viewer to accept a lot of things, so long as the execution is sharp enough. 

Not everything though, and any four-way is riddled with contrived moments. The language of pro wrestling tends to be communicated with two people in the ring at the same time. That's how lock-ups work. That's how most holds work. That's how struggle-filled competitive spots work. When you put a third or a fourth person in there, it changes the dynamic. All of the tropes and expectations start to fall apart. The natural state of a four-way is to have people asking "why?" and questioning things that are generally accepted in wrestling. It's not sustainable in the way a double team during a 5 second interval or even things breaking down towards the end of the match in a tag may be. When it's an exceptional state, it can work. When it's the baseline for a match, it becomes far more difficult. Therefore, much of the match is spent figuring out how to get wrestlers out of the picture, how to leave them prone on the outside so it can slip back to a more comfortable one on one engagement. 

Then, you couple that contrived necessity with the need to stress all the inherent possibilities in the most creative ways. What's the point of having a match like this if you don't push the envelope with it, right? That leads to guys waiting around for complex and cooperative multi-man spots for the sake of clever visuals. That's not bad in a vacuum but when you're starting from a point where that all important thread of disbelief being suspended is already frayed, it leads to one "Why" moment after the other, when the answer, more often than not, is that in a match like this, the spots are the point and the creativity is the point. Instead of trying to use the inherent possibilities to create a more compelling narrative end, the possibilities become the point in and of themselves. It means you might get one or two very clever, character driven, logical moments, but they get lost in an overflowing sea of sensation and creativity. 

So, those are the generalities. I don't want to get too into the specifics as this had the deck stacked against it to begin with by the nature of the match itself. What made it worse was the metatextual underpinnings of the specific storyline. You already had the dual-pressures of getting guys out of the match temporarily and the emotional need to push the creativity to the limit. On top of that, the wrestlers weren't necessarily wrestling to win but to prove their own importance and show off their legacy and cement their spot. In a controlled environment, you can still make that work. In a four-way with these specific wrestlers in this specific moment? Even the good things (and there were good things, the best of all being MJF's reactions) were drowned out. Let's just leave it at that. 

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Anonymous bucky said...

excellent stuff matt. they really went out there and did a bunch of shit huh

12:41 AM  

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