All Elite Wrestling’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view name started out as just a nice play on words. Though it’d later become the name of their first pay-per-view in early 2019, its title was indicative of the Elite members betting on themselves for a second time, after the success of 2018’s All In. Since then, the casino/gambling motif has stuck with the company, as aligning with AEW is always something of a gamble; sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it crashes. And sometimes what seems to be an important initial return can become something less successful, while at other times, what appears to be fizzle at first can pay off big down the line.
A strange parallel runs between two of AEW’s most high-profile athletes which involves questionable ring attire and lackluster finishes juxtaposed with career-making moments. Sammy Guevara and Cody Rhodes seem to be on as different trajectories after the 2019 show as they are currently. The story of the 2019 and 2021 shows describe the situations perfectly.
Sammy Guevara was the AAA Cruiserweight Champion when he signed with the company in February of 2019. Guevara wasn’t a big star on the indies but had accumulated a solid reputation in six years of work. The promotion’s first-ever singles match included Guevara and Kip Sabian at the 2019 Double or Nothing show. Guevara came to the ring dressed in a ridiculous and overpriced panda outfit, which did little to impress the Las Vegas crowd. Sabian scored the first official singles win in AEW history. It seemed Guevara might be just a historical footnote to one of the most well-regarded pay-per-views in North American history.
One of the big stories that night was the match between Cody Rhodes and his brother Dustin. Cody’s gamble to leave the security of the WWE provided one of the first sparks that eventually led to the formation of the company. But the match with his brother, who most fans were just thought of as the aging Goldust, didn’t do much to spark interest. Instead, what happened was an incredible and brutal affair between the brothers that stole the show from Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. Cody was one of the promotion’s top heroes, while Sammy Guevara was just another guy on the roster.
Their paths would intersect on the first episode of Dynamite in October—and in the first match, no less. To no one’s surprise, Rhodes won. Afterward, he was attacked why then-World Champion, Chris Jericho, setting the stage for the creation of Jericho’s stable, the Inner Circle. With Guevara as a founding member, his stock in the company immediately rose. Guevara went from being an opening match player in a brand new company to teammates with a legend like Jericho, who took the “Spanish God” as a protegé.
Two years later, the world is a much different place. Though the company couldn’t return to the MGM Grand in Vegas, they successfully sold out their home amphitheater in Jacksonville for the third edition of Double or Nothing. Cody Rhodes was in one of the most exciting and beloved matches on the 2019 card. However, this year he found himself in the middle of a mid-card feud with 2012 Olympic Bronze Medal boxer Anthony Ogogo. Ogogo is a top prospect for the company. Thanks to his liver punch finish and an abundance of social media charisma, he began to make a name for himself, though he wasn’t ready for a spotlight match with Rhodes, who seems to have lost part of the sting that connected him to the Vegas crowd in 2019.
The feud between the Nightmare Family and the Factory has been a decent rivalry to fill television time. It’s also far from the main event position most assumed Rhodes was poised to grab when the company launched. For his part, the American Nightmare seems to be in a bit of a funk as well. His long-winded promo turned his program with Ogogo from a “teacher/student” rivalry into a geo-political between the US and the UK. For many, the promo, in which Rhodes tried to latch on to his father’s American Dream persona, missed. The match itself was just as perplexing as Rhodes came to the ring dressed as Homelander, the villain of the popular Amazon Prime series The Boys. Many wondered if Rhodes actually watched the show and didn’t just see the blond Superman pastiche and try to clone the look without realizing he was cosplaying a sociopath.
The match itself was decent, at best, and took the wind from a super-hot Jacksonville. By the end, the fans who reveled in the previous three matches seemed deflated. The man who had audience members in tears two years prior seemed to lose them today. Ogogo wasn’t ready for the spotlight and Cody couldn’t carry him further. As a result, it was the lowest-rated match on the card.
The main event told a different story, though. Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle and MJF’s Pinnacle have engaged in a feud that has been both hot and cold during its run on Dynamite. The two teams were set to battle in a Stadium Stampede. The match itself served as a great metaphor for the era. Starting in the empty stadium and trading through the buildings before climaxing in front of the ravenous crowd. However, as the show came to a close, it wouldn’t be Jericho or MJF who the company called on to deliver. It was Sammy Guevara, the man who lost in the first singles match in company history, the player who served as the storyline lynchpin, hit a beautiful 630 splash to pin Shawn Spears as the Jacksonville faithful cheered. AEW told their audience that Sammy Guevara was a star not in the making, but in reality.
What a difference two years can make.