AEW’s back for what could have been their difficult second show, as they hit Florida for the Fyter Fest.

We’re coming from the Daytona Beach Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida for AEW’s second show – as part of the CEO gaming festival. The “Buy In” pre-show opened with a skit based on the Fyre Festival documentary. I mean, it’s a recent reference, but man… inside the area there’s tents and models. Commentary for the pre-show is headed up by Excalibur, Logan Sama and Goldenboy.

Private Party (Isiah Kassidy & Marq Quen) vs. SCU (Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky) vs. Best Friends (Chuck Taylor & Trent)
This was a qualifier for the tag team title tournament, which was explained in the wordiest way possible in the build-up to the show.

They start out at a decent pace, avoiding the typical “let’s try and cram everything into this” mentality as Excalibur tells us that the winner of this match goes into another match at All Out to get a bye into the second round of that upcoming tag title tournament. So you’re wrestling two matches to get into the second round? Marq Quen impresses with a springboard crossbody after a blind tag in, before he leapt over his tag partner to stomp Kazarian on the back of the head. Isiah Kassidy hits a nice Nestea plunge as he flew out of frame into the aisle, before Private Party got dismantled as the other two teams double-teamed them on the outside.

Things finally settled down in the ring as Kassidy got the tar chopped out of him by Trent, before a Northern Lights into-a-Fisherman’s suplex nearly got Trent the win. A back body drop from Kassidy gets him free, but he’s forced to tag out to Kazarian as Quen hadn’t gotten back onto the apron… and he’s quickly made to pay as a Parade of Moves broke out. Quen blind-tags himself back in for a beautiful shooting star press to Trent for a near-fall, only for Chucky T to spike him with a piledriver as SCU broke up the cover.

A stomp-assisted Unprettier on Kassidy nearly got SCU the win, only for Quen to flip out of a German superplex. He’s straight back with a ‘rana into a Kassidy cutter on Kazarian as this match continued to have flashes of insanity, before the Best Friends capitalised with a Strong Zero to Kassidy for the win. Bloody hell, this was good – ignoring the wacky stipulation, as Private Party got a solid shot in on their tag team debut here. ***¾

After the match, the Dark Order interrupt via promo as they distracted the Best Friends. They still have their minions as the former Super Smash Brothers turned out the lights as those minions surrounded the ring. Lights out, lights on, and they disappear.

Backstage, the Young Bucks are freaking out about how this is very much like the Fyre Festival. More mock-umentary stuff followed, which included Kenny Omega telling the Bucks that they were getting new gear made because they’d lost their bags. The bad news was that gear meant they were over budget, so they had to lose some of the models on the stage… replacing them with mannequins.

I’m getting a WCW vibe with this background music being so low…

It gets better. Leva Bates is out to shush us. Someone else is shushing. It’s Peter Avalon. They didn’t kill this Librarian crap off. Avalon throws away a tent and a mannequin to some boos, as Leva tries to get everyone to read, and this bleeds into a match:

Leva Bates vs. Allie
There’s something wacky about Allie still having “Impact” in her Twitter handle… There’s also something wacky about Leva being forced to play one character rather than the revolving list of video game characters she used to cosplay as.

The shushing drives me wild, but the crowd like it because they can chant it, and we cut backstage as Brandi Rhodes is watching TV like a normal human being. There’s a nonchalant trip by Avalon as he was turning a page, and it worked as Leva managed to maintain the offence while Avalon was showing off his book. That kinda worked for Jake Manning and his Manscout manual, but not here.

Bates traps Allie with a crossface, using a handful of hair, before a shotgun dropkick and slingshot knees trapped Allie in the corner for a near-fall. I like how this librarian’s breaking character and making noise. Also, why is the other librarian not telling the commentators to shush? A back cracker in the ropes dropped Allie ahead of a Pedigree, but it’s not enough as Avalon throws a book at Allie. It’s caught and thrown back at Leva, who caught it, then ate a superkick for the win. That felt like a banana peel loss, although the match was eh, this Librarian stuff can get in the bin. *½

More mockumentary stuff followed, as Kenny Omega was trying to get instruments for all the bands. He’s told “Blink One Hundred Eighty Two” pulled out. Did they read that on Four Eleven Mania?

Hardcore: Michael Nakazawa vs. Alex Jebailey
Remember all the times promoters book themselves onto shows? This is the closest you’re getting to it here…

Nakazawa’s promo before the match brings up the match these two had last year, which led him into going for Jebailey’s injured leg from the off. Jebailey’s able to do some basic moves, but Nakazawa greases himself up and gets free. It made the mat slippy apparently as everyone bumps, and then it’s time for plunder. Clipboards… gaming joysticks… and hey, they go to the kiddie pool as Jebailey tries to drown Nakazawa. A slam into the inflatable pool’s next for Nakazawa, before we got back to the ring as Nakazawa hung Jebailey with a GameCube controller. At least it’s on-brand.

Nakazawa spears Jebailey through a table… but pulls him up at two so he could wrap a Kendo stick around him. These gaming references will land with some. An attempted thong claw’s ducked as Jebailey dumps Nakazawa with a German suplex, before he pulls out a bag of… whatever the hell those toys were. A back body drop dumped Nakazawa into the buttons, before Jebailey scored a visual pin with a La Magistral cradle… but Nakazawa kicks out and finally puts on his thong claw and gets the win. This wasn’t offensive, but I don’t need to see this again. *¾

Jim Ross gets an introduction, but unlike at Double or Nothing, we see him make his way to the ring as the pre-show ended with a pre-tape from Jon Moxley. This wasn’t a terrible pre-show, but it again didn’t touch much on the main show nor give you a reason to want to watch it. That needs to be fixed.

Commentary for the main “pay per view” is from JR, Excalibur and Goldenboy.

Christopher Daniels vs. CIMA
This was something of a dream match for Daniels, as he got a rematch of sorts from 2002 while I begin to curse AEW’s use of the “let’s throw up the entrance video if we need to mask something trope.

I also curse the player buffering insanely. We start with armdrags and lucha-style exchanges as Daniels had to roll outside for respite… which he didn’t get. They’re back in the ring as CIMA rolled up Daniels in what I can best describe as a modified Anaconda Vise, with only the ropes saving Daniels to give JR a chance to bemoan referees who are lax with rope breaks.

We’re back outside again as an overhead belly-to-belly from Daniels wore down CIMA, before a running STO flattened CIMA for a two-count. CIMA mounted a comeback with a back cracker out of the corner, but he took his time to follow up, eventually landing an Iconoclasm for a near-fall. A running Blue Thunder bomb keeps CIMA worn down, and left him open for Angel’s Wings as that nearly ended the contest. CIMA finds a second wind as he countered a superplex into an eventual sunset bomb, before a Ki Krusher almost got him a win. An Air Raid Crash followed, before a diving Meteora flattened Daniels for the win. Buffering aside, this was a fun opener that was a great way to get the main show going. ***¼

Riho vs. Nyla Rose vs. Yuka Sakazaki
After being upstaged by Awesome Kong, tis was Rose’s chance to establish herself in AEW.

Nyla suckered in Riho at the bell as she tried to monster her way to a quick win, as we got Rose looking to ragdoll her opponents. Riho and Yuka worked well as they tried to tame the proverbial beast, but it backfired as they got slammed and squashed for a neat two-count. An attempted double-team suplex is easily reversed, as Nyla tried to submit them both with a single camel clutch.

Nyla body presses Yuka onto Riho, which almost led to a count… only for Riho to roll out as Sakazaki was left in there alone to ‘rana Rose to the outside. Yuka eventually hits a step-up body press to the floor after steadying herself, before following up with a missile dropkick back inside for a near-fall on Riho. Sakazaki and Riho stay even until a leaping stomp caught Yuka off guard, as Rose returned and got taken into the ropes for a 619. Yuka added to that with a diving seated senton, before Riho’s stomps left both opponents down. Riho misses a running Meteora, and instead took a diving clothesline as Nyla just breaks up the cover with one hand.

A Side Effect’s next from Nyla, but it doesn’t put Yuka away, so she goes back after Riho with a body splash in the corner before hanging Riho in the ropes. It gets worse for Riho, as Nyla heads up top and brings her down with a guillotine knee drop… but again, Nyla doesn’t go for the cover. Instead, she went up for a big splash, only for Yuka to delay things… she’s shoved down to the floor as Riho ended up rolling away from a senton bomb.

A crossbody from Riho and Yuka is caught as Nyla showed off some more, but she’s almost put away by a sunset flip before Riho ate a suplex from Sakazaki. That’s followed up with a splash… but Riho got her knees up, just as Nyla returned to drop Sakazaki with a German suplex for another near-fall. In the end, Nyle still can’t put Riho away from a death valley driver, and she ends up getting caught with a leg trip roll-up as Riho scored with the upset! I’m not too keen on Nyla Rose being the monster who can’t get it done – but there’s still time for the ship to be righted. ***½

Post-match, Riho shoved down Yuka… off camera.

Kip Sabian joins commentary for this next match – he’ll be facing the winner of it at the July show, Fight for the Fallen.

Maxwell Jacob Friedman vs. Jungle Boy vs. Jimmy Havoc vs. Adam Page
MJF has a long, glorious promo before the match as he railed on the gamer crowd, along with his opponents “Seabiscuit”, “Dollar Store Tarzan” and a “65 year old man still in his emo phase”.

This one started out pretty hot, with Page and Jungle Boy trading barbs, before we began the rotating door effect, with Havoc in for Page. MJF’s forced to scurry as Page tried to take him down with his Dead Eye belly-to-back piledriver (formerly the Rite of Passage), but Page just leapt on him with a pescado as we broke into a series of dives, capped off with MJF decking Jungle Boy with an elbow.

Jungle Boy went for an imploding flip senton off the turnbuckles to the floor – catching the turnbuckle irons in the process – before things built up into a Tower of Doom that wiped out MJF on the way down. Page seemed to be fixated on MJF, but he shrugs it off – only to see Friedman put Jungle Boy’s foot on the rope after a big lariat. Page returns the favour as MJF was about to pin Havoc, which didn’t seem to draw as much a reaction as you’d have hoped for. MJF began to work over Page’s legs, chopping out the knee before he mocked Bret Hart with a Sharpshooter attempt… which Page reversed, only for Friedman to pull his way to the ropes.

The Heatseeker slingshot piledriver nearly got MJF the win, but Jungle Boy knocked his feet off the ropes. There’s one of those for Havoc, but he pushes away then stomped on MJF off the top for a near-fall. An eye poke saved MJF from an Acid Rainmaker, before he ducked away from a Buckshot lariat, as Hangman Page took out Havoc with the Dead Eye for the win. This was fine – some real good moments, and perhaps a little clunky with the crowd reactions, but it’s clear they’re building to Page vs. MJF at some point down the line. ***¼

Darby Allin vs. Cody
Darby’s out with a bodybag with “CODY 1.1” written on it – as part of Darby’s desire to give Cody his first loss in AEW.

Allin started out a little aggressive, going after Cody… who just brushed him away before using a headlock to take down the former EVOLVE star. A lucha armdrag takes Cody outside though, as he had his first glimpse of Darby’s unorthodox stylings… so Cody just retaliates by throwing Darby through the corner to the floor. It’d not be the worst landing Darby would have today.

An inverted torture rack drop keeps Allin down as Cody wasn’t giving him an inch… all while Excalibur went all emo over Darby’s history. The Figure Four leglock keeps Darby in danger, forcing him into the ropes as Darby went outside to try and recuperate. Cody cockily breaks the count, giving Darby an opening to throw his hand into the ring post… but Cody just responds with a Flatliner in the ropes as he got back on track, wearing Darby with holds.

Cody gets too arrogant though, as his stalling suplex got broken up, allowing Allin to finally get a foothold in the match. A springboard tornillo led to an armbar, as he targeted that injured limb, eventually sending Cody into the ropes for cover. After eating a tope on the outside, Cody yanked Darby into the ring steps, before he too took to the skies with a tope of his own. Back inside, Darby began to fly around with a shotgun dropkick and a Code Red for a near-fall as we entered the final five minutes – something that seemed to rattle Cody. An inverted superplex saw Cody up the ante, but it still doesn’t get the job done as Darby rolled onto the apron, where he bit away on Cody’s hand, before he pulled him onto the side of the ring…

…and then went up top for a Coffin Drop. Except Cody rolled back into the ring, as Darby took the nastiest of spills onto the edge of the ring. That THUD. Yuck.

The latest time check riles up Cody as he kicked Darby into a body bag, then wasted time trying to zip him up inside it so he could catch Darby with a Disaster Kick in the bag. He extracates Darby and pins him for a two-count – having to remove the bag so the referee could check the shoulders. As we entered the final minute, Cody keeps going for desperate pins, before he whipped Darby with his belt. Somehow, that’s not a DQ?

An attempt at Cross Rhodes was kneed away as Darby came back in with a flip stunner, before Cross Rhodes finally landed… but Cody just ran out of time. He got the cover, but he was just a second too late as the draw was announced. This was a good bout of survival by Darby, but I didn’t really buy Cody’s urgency at the end. Sure, there were some glares of anger, but he didn’t really pick up the pace and was made to pay for it. ***½

Post-match, Cody seemed to call for more time… but he’s interrupted by Shawn Spears with a chair. Unprotected chairshot time, and that leaves Cody in a pool of blood the ring. Yeah, I’m not thrilled with unprotected chairshots, nor with how this overshadowed Darby’s performance. Nor indeed how hated bad guy MJF was one of the “Nightmare Family” who bad Cody’s back afterwards. I’m sure this is the kind of thing that’d be obvious were I deeply entrenched in the Being The Elite/AEW content across all of their platforms.

Lucha Brothers (Pentagon Jr. & Rey Fenix) & Laredo Kid vs. The Elite (Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
So we got the pay-off here to the Elite’s “expensive ring gear” – it was the Young Bucks out as Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter, while Kenny came out as… Akuma. After we had a “fan” run in and to the Batista machine gun pose, because if we’re parodying the Fyre Festival, we may as well parody older stuff too.

To keep up with the video game theme, we had Justin Roberts announce the start of the match with “Round One… Fight”. Ah, this should have been under the rounds systems, just to keep the gimmick going.

We start with both teams faking each other out in the early phases, before all six men hit the ring for a shoving match that turned into a battle of kicks and a trio of dives from the luchadors. The tempo keeps up as a superkick-infused reverse ‘rana took the Elite straight back outside, only for Nick Jackson to return to take a beating. Nick gets free and forced his way in with a step-up armdrag/headscissor combo, before Matt went wild with rolling Northern Lights suplexes. A backbreaker from Omega nearly puts Laredo Kid away – but let’s be honest, it’s way too soon!

Pentagon comes in, but his early exchanges with Omega ended when he took a Kotaro Krusher, leaving Laredo Kid in there one-on-three down. The Bucks just ragdolled him with suplexes, before he ‘rana’d the Bucks into each other. An enziguiri awaited for Omega as Pentagon wrecked the Elite single-handedly, opening the door for a nice flurry of offence from the luchadors, including a Del Rio stomp from Pentagon to Matt Jackson back inside. Omega changes the momentum when he got back in, outsmarting all three luchadors with a series of suplexes… but Pentagon catches him on the top rope before lifting Fenix into Nick Jackson to the outside. Laredo Kid’s given a hand up for a Spanish Fly as the bodies continued to fly around, all while JR bemoaned “who’s legal?”. I feel his pain.

And then out of nowhere, a trip of superkicks were cut off by “Hadouken” fireballs. That’ll be good material for Jim Cornette…

Ligerbombs followed as my frustrations with the Fite player continue. So. Much. Buffering. When I get back in, Fenix and Laredo get caught with a 450 splash by Nick Jackson, but Pentagon’s around to punt away the cover as the Elite continued to do Elite things. I’m becoming a grumpy sod in old age when it comes to things like tags, as the continued bedlam started to lose my interest, save for the high spots as Fenix caught Nick Jackson mid rope-walk with a Spanish fly to the floor.

Problem was, that left Omega and Laredo Kid behind, with a Tiger Driver nearly scoring the win for Kenny, before a V-Trigger and a One Winged Angel got the win. If you’re into these matches, this was sublime, but this started to get a little frayed and unfocused – exactly the sort of thing that people feared when “these guys got their own fed.” ****

Justin Roberts announces that the lights will be going out on the “official AEW event”… but there’ll be one last match. It’s a nod to the old school “lights out” matches, but the verbiage felt really clunky in the modern era. I mean, if the match was unsanctioned, then why do both guys have music and videos? Or indeed, an AEW-branded ref?

Unsanctioned: Joey Janela vs. Jon Moxley
Moxley wasn’t out in “streetfight jeans”, nor his New Japan “wrestling trunks”, but rather in some pseudo-camo gear.

After taking some early chops, Janela low bridges Moxley outside for a tope, before a brief brawl in the crowd led to Janela posting Moxley. We’ve got throwbacks to Mad Dog Vachon as Janela used a fan’s prosthetic leg before Moxley threw him into the steps as the search for plunder continued. A chair-assisted slam gives Janela a bad landing, before Janela gave himself a worse landing as a senton bomb let to him going straight through an open chair. Moxley peels off some bloodied napkins as he pulled out a barbed wire chair, which he stomped into Janela’s chest. Janela saves himself from a double stomp instead catching Moxley with a ‘rana into the wired chair.

Janela took too long setting up a table… not to worry though, as he ended up sending himself and Moxley off the apron with a side Russian legsweep through the table. Back inside, Moxley drives Janela through the table as Moxley bloodied himself up further before he pulled out even more tables from underneath the ring. Oh, and a barbed wire board, which the crowd roared for. Sod’s law dictated that it was Moxley who took the barbed wire board, courtesy of a death valley driver after he’d propped it into the corner, before Janela pulled him away for a near-fall. Superkicks knocked Moxley onto the apron, right where he’d set up a pair of tables earlier… so Janela gets a ladder out, only for Moxley to pull Janela back outside to avoid any immediate danger.

Problem was, Janela just puts him onto some tables before scaling the ladder in the ring… and launching himself off with an elbow drop. That’s followed up with another barbed wire board, which Janela bridges between the ring apron and the guard rails, but he just wandered into a double-arm DDT back in the ring as Moxley cut him short. That’s followed up with a death valley driver from the ring to the floor, via the barbed wire board as Moxley looked to get back on top. He adds a bucket of thumb tacks to the mix, spreading them on the mat before de-shoeing Janela so he could throw him into the pins with an X-Plex. Moxley makes sure that Janela’s palms and soles got in on the act too, before a Paradigm Shift double-arm DDT into the pins finally put Janela away. A bloody satisfying brawl – albeit one that we’d later find out wouldn’t be replicated on TV, so enjoy this stuff while it lasts on pay-per-view. ***¾

After the match, Omega runs out to attack Moxley, stomping him through a table before the brawl returned to the stage area. They’re fighting in Jacksonville in a few weeks, but Moxley briefly fought back having been drilled with a mic stand. In the end, he’s thrown into a drum kit before Omega smashed a guitar on his back as referees had to carry Moxley away. Mox still had enough left in him to laugh at a cameraman who fell into the kiddie pool… before he shoved away the referees, presumably for taking him back via the scenic route. Not to worry, Kenny’s back out with a bin that he used to throw Moxley on with a Paradigm Shift of his own.

While Fyter Fest wasn’t the “home run” that Double or Nothing was, it was a solid show that raised several questions for the remainder of AEW’s “pre-TV” run. The most obvious one – what the hell are AEW doing with those pre-shows? For the second show in a row, the Buy In was a waste of time as far as building up the show – and could well have served to dissuade any uncertain viewers, especially those outside the US, where the show was on pay-per-view. I just don’t understand why you’d fill your pre-show with skits rather than any kind of build for the PPV itself. Other than “hey, these matches are happening”.

That being said, it’s very early days for AEW, who still are trying to find out and establish “who they are” as a promotion. Offering something for everyone, like they have done on their first two shows, is a smart move, but eventually the realities of trying to be all things to all men will hit home.