The main conclusion of AEW’s Full Gear PPV on Saturday night is that the company is ready to move into a different time, headed by some of the younger guys on its roster. Two of its “pillars” bookended the show, as Jungle Boy Jack Perry (he may just be Jack Perry now) opened the event with a killer cage match against Luchasaurus, and MJF closed the festivities by taking the world title from Jon Moxley. In between, Sammy Guevara might have been the main star of the four-way match for the ROH title ultimately defended by Chris Jericho.
They also may have discovered a new pillar, on purpose or by accident, with Jamie Hayter. While those who have carried the company through the past, tumultuous year are still around, like Jon Moxley or Bryan Danielson or Britt Baker, it really felt like something of a skin-shedding for what comes next.
I’ve often thought about what makes a match great, or memorable, and I’ve never really been able to pin it down in my head. Much like the overused definition of pornography, I know it when I see it. Maybe it’s too many factors to really list or to consider a recipe. A great story helps. Unique chemistry between two performers. Some big spots. A hot crowd, and this is only the beginning.
Whatever the makeup that any fan has in their head, last night’s Hayter-Toni Storm match would have checked most of the boxes. It was probably the best match on the card (which is saying something as AEW cranked out another ridiculously consistent and high-bar show), and almost certainly the best women’s match in the company’s history. Certainly it was aided in a way that few women’s matches have been in that there was a real surge of support from the crowd for Hayter, who has organically built the biggest fandom in the women’s division (though that lack of charge behind one wrestler is the responsibility of AEW as well). But the greatness of both Hayter and Storm lifted it to a different level than it could have gotten merely on Hayter’s momentum with the crowd alone.
While watching it, the word that kept reverberating around my head was “snap.” It’s a term you hear in wrestling a lot, and it usually refers to the way moves are delivered, and how they translate to the crowd both in the arena and watching at home. There should be a suddenness to everything, from the simplest strike to the biggest throw or suplex. It’s not about violence exactly, though it’s not not about violence either. But you can have two performers heave themselves at each other with a ton of malice without it looking snappy or even clean. If they’re just mauling each other, it doesn’t usually translate as great theater. It needs to be able to slice through.
A lot of AEW’s women’s roster is still pretty green, and when you watch a lot of their matches there’s just that missing final touch. Whether it’s one wrestler waiting for another to be just in the right position for the next move, or the lack of flourish on strikes or moves, or just a hesitation in what comes next, there isn’t a “finish” to any exchange or counter. It just kind of happens, without standing out from the rest of the match. It sometimes looks as if they’re trying to remember and correctly perform the next step instead of power through it. There’s getting all the steps to a dance, and then there’s dancing, after all. This isn’t only a problem on the women’s roster, as any less experienced or lesser talented wrestler struggles with this.
Again, it’s not about aggression. It’s about how even within the few seconds of any given move or exchange or counter, there’s a crescendo. A build and then a pow! Something like this:
The slow collection of herself by Storm as she ducks Hayter’s lariat and then gathers up her own, followed by the rush and crash of her own. It feels like time slows and then speeds up and then snaps back into place.
All of these are examples, where there’s just the slightest pause to let the crowd know what’s coming and then a rip through the move. In the second video, the way Storm hangs in the air for just a brief second before catapulting through that shotgun dropkick gives it an extra spice. Same goes for the hip attack that follows it. This is why these two women were at the top of the division, because they’re the most consistent in delivering it. Every move looks like it means something, like it was planned, and delivered for peak effect instead of just being delivered because it’s what goes next. .
While we’ve always known of Storm’s ability, Hayter’s rise up the ranks and in adoration from the AEW faithful was due to the way her matches look. There’s a crispness to them that few of the other women bring, even in the way she takes a cross-body. It’s not just about selling or simply falling on her back. She snaps to the ground to make it look even more devastating. This is the give and take of two performers in sync with each other, where both know the exact moment, both on offense and in selling, to hit to make something look vital. It’s a small difference, no more than a fraction of a second or a slightly more exaggerated movement, but it makes a world of difference.
With those kinds of peaks and valleys, Storm and Hayter created a classic without needing huge spots or weapons or too many shenanigans. Even the outside interference from Britt Baker worked because the crowd wanted Hayter to win so badly. With both Hayter and Storm popping the peak of their moves and strikes so heavily, they stand out from the rest holds and breaks that only build drama instead of just dragging a match out. The crowd is picked up and dropped down, which is a truly exhilarating feeling. For a wrestling match to truly connect, the EKG has to spike and break back, not just slowly rise and fall. You can only get there with this kind of snap to everything.
It was a great night for the women’s division in AEW, with the return of Saraya and a third match on the card for the first time in a PPV with Jade Cargill and Nyla Rose (whose match was good for what it was). Hayter and Jade kind of fill the same profile, so it’ll be worth watching how AEW navigates their concurrent title reigns differently. But they can do anything with Hayter, who can wrestle most kinds of matches, whereas Jade is more in the Goldberg mold.
Either way, there is real momentum in that division for the first time in a long time with AEW, and they can’t squander it. Hayter got here because she’s just that good, and fans want to see her every week, because she’s one of the few who brings that snap to a match week in and week out. When it’s delivered, as Tony Khan hopefully learned last night, fans will always respond no matter the gender of those providing it.