Two competitors stand across from each other in the middle of the squared circle. The crowd, the fanfare, the referee declaring the rules, the ding of the bell that starts the match and timer – all drowned out by the sound of their body pounding with adrenaline. This is the deciding factor, the end-all be-all that determines who the better fighter is; this is the proving ground. The announcers and commentators buzz with excitement, ready to live in the moment. The crowd sings its choruses and chants, forgetting the predetermined nature, forgetting their daily lives.
Blow for blow, each opponent strikes with force and power that starts with confidence before transitioning to pure desperation. Every move counts, every second matters. This is the pulse that drives the match because it can go either way. Near pinfalls, near submissions, it can end at any moment. They employ all in their arsenals – and some that belong to their peers – with finishing moves, signature moves, or simply using the deadlier parts of their limbs. The whiplash reactions of the audience illustrates just how important these are. Each spot or move could easily signify the curtain’s call for whosoever loses this bout.
It drags on. And it drags on.
Still, with bated breath and throbbing hearts the spectators look on, at the edge of their seats or on their feet. The fighters are worn and weary, and the timer continues counting down. All of that time, all of that investment, and all of that wanting for the favorite to raise their hand in victory…snatched away like a thief in the night. Time-limit draw.
Anger seeps through, permeating every soul in attendance. There has to be a winner, there just has to be. And yet the bell tolls, and it tolls for thee.
Ticking away, all the moments that make up a dull day.
We all flock to professional wrestling to forget our lives and watch our stories play out as competitive sports meets dramatic fiction. You know, the place where the jock at your school can indulge in fantasies of playing the role of a lifetime in theater class. I know some of you are out there, don’t you hide from me.
In watching wrestling, with any entertainment medium, we seek to forget our lives and find something to think about, to feel, to live for and aspire to in these stories. Sometimes we just want to see someone’s ass get kicked. Or perhaps you watch because you’re a nerd for statistics and work-rate.
For many fans of the sport, a time-limit draw elicits a certain reaction. Whereas someone would find it compelling to see where the story goes from there, others could be pissed off that the goody-two-shoes didn’t get their geeky ass beaten or the heel didn’t get their comeuppance.
I understand all of these reactions. Oftentimes I experience these emotions within the span of seconds. The end result from my perspective is the question of: where does it go from here?
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
Wrestling fans are coming off of the emotional rollercoaster of Hangman Adam Page vs Bryan Danielson at AEW’s 2021 Winter is Coming. After making mostly easy work of the Dark Order, it was time for the American Dragon to take on their dear friend, the Anxious Millennial Cowboy. Surely, since Page was once the least important member of the Elite and associated with jokester losers in his eyes, surely the revitalized former WWE and ROH champion could send Hangman out to pasture.
Except, he didn’t. Much like his match with Kenny Omega months prior at the Grand Slam episode of Dynamite, Danielson couldn’t get the job done. While his fight with the Best Bout Machine went to a thirty-minute time limit, the one with Page went to the sixty-minute time limit. But how? Bryan had defeated so many in his time since joining AEW’s roster, even Minoru Suzuki and Eddie Kingston! Page was not supposed to be on his level.
In the build-up, many fans speculated as to who would win. Some thought Bryan would be the more compelling champion, while others were staunchly stood behind Page. The fact that these two draws were so close to each other didn’t sit well with most, the worry was sitting high that time-limit draws could one day become relied on too heavily. Some equated it to how WWE often implements DQ or non-finishes.
Personally, I believe that non-finishes and time-limit draws are fine, permitted they be used sporadically enough, especially if that is where the story is headed. The difference nevertheless, is that many (including myself) trust AEW with how the story plays out from there. Short-term or long-term, the company has delivered to many that love the product and invest in it and the wrestlers.
I see the story that, for all his boasting, Danielson is able to back up his word in his ability to be a formidable opponent, but when it comes to those like Page and Omega, his arrogance in believing others aren’t on his level has misled him. If he were as great as he said he was, surely they wouldn’t be a problem. Though Page couldn’t slay the dragon, he didn’t sit upon his spurs as he tanned a crimson hide onto Danielson.
A time-limit draw can feel like a cop-out, but with the instances of famously acclaimed matches with that finish, it can be a phenomenal storytelling device in professional wrestling. By no means is this writing meant to change your mind; you’re going to feel how you feel regardless and that’s what makes you, you.
No, this is to illustrate that this is a strong storytelling device.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.
There are many acclaimed matches that end in a draw; Manami Toyota vs Kyoko Inoue; Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels (before that decisive finish) in 1995; CM Punk’s two draws against Samoa Joe in 2004. Earlier in 2021, Stardom had a similar finish which saw Utami Hayashishita and Syuri incapacitate each other during the Tokyo Dream Cinderella Special Edition, resulting in a count-out ending, yet it still made people’s lists for match of the year.
Even one of the most acclaimed series of matches known to pro wrestling fans ended in a draw: Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada, Dominion 2017, and everyone was left anxious as to where things were to go from there.
Another highly regarded draw finish this year came from the same company, featuring the American Dragon himself. His first match since joining AEW, right as he was about to rip a victory from then-champion and aforementioned Kenny Omega. However, since it was a non-title match, the longest the bout could last was thirty minutes.
Danielson’s arrogant attitude continued to fester and be tested against men who could perform to the same point. Deep waters, where anyone can drown, just to be brought back to the surface in a climax that holds a storm of mixed emotions.
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say.
In some of the aforementioned feuds, the story would be followed up on in their own time. Joe would learn and adapt from CM Punk’s strategies, Michaels would achieve his childhood dream, and Inoue would surpass Toyota a year later after the latter competed against the likes of Aja Kong.
Rest assured, there will be closure to the story of the Cowboy and the Dragon. The shackles will be lifted, and titans will clash and gods will be made in the pantheon of wrestling.
In the aftermath of Full Gear, I wondered what a reign for Adam Page would look like. As the gunsmoke is clearing, it is clear. This is a babyface that is strong and believable.
And he’s just getting started.
Far away, across the field, the tolling of the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees.
Nobody knows where the story goes from here. Unending possibilities.
Does Hangman solidify his legacy upon defeating one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots? Or will he be struck down into the potter’s ground, to one day build himself back up again? Or, and I’m taking a mighty buckshot in the dark with this – could it be a triple threat on the horizon? A powerful champion, a strong contender, and a certain former title holder, exiting the chamber all rested up – the good, the bad, and the ugly engrossed within the ecstasy of gold.
Possibilities. This makes me want to see what doorways within the infinite multiverse of our reality open for us.
The pen is in the booker’s hands, and all that disappointment and frustration waits, like a monster in the dark, until the final tolling bell and the softly spoken spells.