Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley from Full Gear Saturday was art.
It was a form of expression, crafted by two incredibly intelligent and creative minds, that told a story of two men fighting for supremacy in the context of their environment that generated a great deal of emotion from its audience.
See? It’s art. Unquestionably so. The complication, however, comes form with the “expression” part of that statement.
Moxley and Omega crafted their story by introducing trash cans, tables, steel chairs, broken glass, a breathtaking amount of barbed wire, and a screwdriver in the match’s first act. The second act was heralded by Moxley crawling through glass to escape a submission maneuver after which he suplexed Omega through what can only be described as a bed frame that had a web of barbed wire where the mattress should be. And, after all these weapons were used as exposition and blood and screams used as imagery to weave a cohesive narrative, the third act’s climax was reached after Omega drove Moxley through a glass pane in the stage only to fall after his head was driven into a hardwood floor by Moxley.
I don’t know what to think. After all, I’m writing this for the same reason you are reading this — to make sense of the carnage.
It was excellent from a wrestling/storytelling perspective. Understanding that a professional wrestling match, in its purest form, is simply a story of women and men fighting to make the lives of their subjective characters better — Moxley vs. Omega did its job. Omega entered the match drenched in doubt. After a stellar, game changing 2017 and 2018 in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Omega left that company to pursue a career in AEW and has struggled to recapture the success he had in the east. Omega needed this win to defuse the arguments of his detractors. Moxley, likewise, used this match to reinvent himself and prove that he is so much more than the PG, off-kilter, goofball “Lunatic Fringe” that he was known as while he was working for WWE. Both of these goals were accomplished. Somewhere between Omega using a broom wrapped in barbed wire to sweep the skin off of Moxley’s back, Moxley brandishing a screwdriver and assaulting Omega with a gold chain, and then Omega, literally, hanging Moxley from the edge of the ring with said gold chain — Omega proved that he had not “left his heart in Japan” and Moxley proved that he had buried Dean Ambrose in a cold, unkempt, and forgotten grave.
It was also a masterclass in how to craft a “hardcore match.” The weapons weren’t used for shock value, they were used as set pieces. The aforementioned scenes of violence weren’t used to get a rise out of the crowd, they were presented in forebodingly progressing and surprisingly logical order, to increase the tension of the story. And at no time was the violence presented with glee or excitement. The commentators highlighted their displeasure at the proceedings and used that to emphasize the destructive folly inherent in the mindset of the two competitors, lamented the measures that both men were resorting to, and agreed that it was a tragedy that this match was even taking place. This match had more in common with an expertly directed horror film than it did with the hardcore matches that littered WWE programming in the Attitude Era.
But unlike horror films, this match was not shot on a hollywood lot. The real-time nature of the proceedings eliminated the use of cinematography to create any sort of illusion, practical effects to mimic any of the blood, or CGI to falsify the terror. Yes, professional wrestling is professional wrestling. Meaning, well, you know. But regardless of that, the two performers had blood spilled by means of multiple lacerations, willingly and knowingly participated in dangerous stunts, and probably walked away with scars and concussions.
I’m going to shut up for a second so that we can all take a moment to thank them. No seriously, make sure you thank them. F*ck it, open a new tab and tweet them “Thank you.” Yes, they were likely paid very well for this and this is their job/passion, but they partially did this for our entertainment.
With that said, what does it say that we asked for this? This isn’t a new question. People asked it after The Undertaker and Triple H threw Mick Foley off/through Hell in a Cell in 1998 and 2000 respectively. We ask it every time Jeff Hardy so much as looks at a ladder. There was a firestorm after the infamous Joey Janela/Zandig roof incident from 2016 and Priscella Kelly just a few months ago showed us that we don’t need weapons, per say, to reignite this controversy inherent within professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling is, and always will be, an art form, but Omega and Moxley are asking us once again: is there a point where “art” becomes “depravity?”
I don’t know.
Art wouldn’t continue to be made if didn’t have an audience. After all, we as a fandom have spent so long complaining about WWE that we had a subconscious role in creating the boom period that independent wrestling companies and AEW are currently enjoying. We have spent so long lamenting that “WWE doesn’t have serious storylines,” “WWE doesn’t care about wrestling,” and “WWE matches are boring” that we’ve subconsciously ushered in the “indie style” that said companies currently employ. And since we’ve spent so long complaining that there aren’t enough “Mick Foley” type moments in wrestling while revering ECW as if it was some lost civilization that wrestling should harken back to, are we subconsciously complicit whenever a match like Omega vs. Moxley ever occurs?
I don’t know.
AEW, I’m sure, took every precaution to ensure the safety of Moxley and Omega. I’m sure each component of the match was planned well in advance with every regard given to the health and safety of two participants. AEW isn’t Joe’s Wrestling Federation that rents out your local flea market every third Saturday of the month and Moxley and Omega have a decade’s worth more experience than any JWF wrestler. This match could be called many things, but it can’t be called reckless. But that does exonerate it from criticism?
I mean, Joe was probably texting his wrestlers during Full Gear last night to see if anyone would be willing to work with barbed wire. Several of those younger/novice wrestlers probably responded by saying “Hell yea, I know a guy that can make barbed wire everything.” Oh, and check your Twitter, Joe just posted a poster for “Barbed Wire Bloodbath” at Podunkville Flea Market next week. Are AEW, Moxley, and Omega going to be responsible for that for undertrained 21 year old who scars or loses a part of their body?
Again, I don’t know.
Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley wasn’t “garbage wrestling.” Like every great piece of art, it was a provocative, creative, well planned, and well executed form of expression that told a story that will influence other creators for years to come. But, it was also violent, dangerous, and gruesome and, may have shortened the lives of its creators and will influence others to do the same. Thus is the burden of responsibility that comes with craft that every creator must consider and every audience must judge.
Should creators simply craft their art to their fiercest fruition or should they consider the consequences of their creation?
Should Moxley and Omega have wrestled that match as they did or should they have considered the ramifications on the wrestling industry as a whole?
Should audiences simply support the art, they enjoy or do they have a responsibility to consider the implications of that support?
For one last time, I don’t know.