Something has been missing for some time in All Elite Wrestling. Unfortunately, I’m not referring to the Dippin’ Dots. No, I’m talking instead of the feeling that one would associate with the brand.
Thankfully Tony Khan slapped on a special tournament like Phil Swift does in those Flex Seal commercials, and that feeling has been restored. Everybody, I’m talking about the Continental Classic (CC).
Announced on November 11, 2023, Tony and the Blackpool Combat Club’s own Bryan Danielson detailed what the CC was, that it would start on the November 22 Dynamite episode and end on December 30’s Worlds End pay-per-view. The prize for this grand attempt? The new, yet-to-be unveiled Continental Championship.
Many fans, myself included, openly advocated for the talents we love, who we felt deserving of the spotlight. Much like TLC in 1999, we wanted no scrub. No, a scrub is a wrestler who wouldn’t get any love from us, hanging out the side of their passenger’s ride – trying to holler at us.
This was a chance for talents we don’t see facing each other often to get that chance. Old rivalries, current feuds, and fresh matches were what we wanted. From fast-paced frenzies, big beefy bonanzas, and masterminded strategists, all of these ingredients could make for a spicy meatball.
To the delight of many, the assortment of wrestlers chosen fit that mold. The aforementioned Bryan Danielson joined the likes of Andrade El Idolo, Mark Briscoe, Eddie Kingston, Brody King, Claudio Castagnoli, Daniel Garcia, Jon Moxley, Jay White, Swerve Strickland, and RUSH. Some of AEW’s best, and Jay Lethal is there too.\
Okay, so what is this I’m hearing about a round-robin tournament? What even is that?
I’m so glad you asked.
Anyone who knows anything about normal tournaments knows that there are several brackets, consisting of various competitors. The losers do not advance, while the winners progress further and further. That’s a standard “elimination tournament”.
Round-robins are essentially a game of points set into whichever blocks needed. The opponents in their respective blocks must face each other to gain three points. If there is a draw, both parties gain one point. For those that lose, they gain zero points.
Those who lose enough are mathematically eliminated; however, they can still compete in an opportunity to disrupt the active participant’s momentum. “If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me”. Not only this but performing well in situations like these can go a long way in possibly ensuring a chance in a future tournament.
Why am I explaining all of this? Because there’s been a lot of confusion as to how round-robin tournaments work. Beings I too am an idiot, I hope this serves to help fellow idiots to better understand.
Now, back to the CC.
There are two blocks – The Gold League and the Blue League. There are no outside parties allowed at ringside. This is simply pure sport – one man waging war with another for glory and gold. This separates boys from man, man from beast, beast back into man. Angela Lansbury portrays a tea kettle. I’ve still never seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Gold consists of King, Danielson, Kingston, Castagnoli, Garcia, and El Idolo, while Blue includes Moxley, Strickland, White, RUSH, Briscoe…and Lethal.
In each block, stories are being told and advanced, despite excluding the typical sports entertainment storylines that AEW has been telling lately. There’s a subtlety to it, told purely through the actions of violence. Sweet, sweet violence.
I want to take a moment here and illustrate the plots of each story being displayed as of December 15, if you’ll kindly indulge me. Please indulge me.梁
Andrade El Idolo:
Having spent so long on the shelf, La Sombra would take to his mask once more, accompanied briefly to the ring by CJ Perry, despite her unfortunate ongoing storyline with husband Miro. Andrade remains focused on this tournament, needing a reason to stay in the limelight. This can be seen in how he performs; each leap and each strike makes a difference. He does what he must, even if it strays into morally foul territory, as seen by the targeting of the eye in the Bryan Danielson match. When you go against some of the best, you have to take your best shot.
With this being the last year of being an active, full-time wrestler, The American Dragon is giving it his all to stake his claim as the inaugural champion. Being in a setting that would require him to wrestle some elite, high-caliber opponents would give fans a satisfying taste. Though sporting an eyepatch courtesy of a broken orbital bone delivered by Kazuchika Okada, Danielson fights past the pain and the lack of depth perception to seek out a win. This makes his efforts come across in such a babyface manner. Each of his matches has told such a visible story, from being the agitated hero to downtrodden sports entertainer Daniel Garcia to the bitter rivalry with Eddie Kingston, to the struggle against the smarter, stronger, more agile Andrade El Idolo. Danielson seeks to end his time on the highest note possible.
There’s an added stipulation to the tournament I haven’t brought up yet – and with good reason. At the start of the tournament, The Mad King made things interesting. In a move that would divide some, Eddie put his NJPW Strong Championship and ROH World Championship on the line, creating a Triple Crown Championship. If he wins, he’d be living his AJPW dream, but if he loses, someone would take everything he just worked toward. Perhaps it’s arrogance, perhaps it’s confidence, but Kingston has added a heap of pressure his way. With his performance so far, he needs to pull off a miracle comeback. Eddie is an underrated storyteller in his matches, which has added to an already layered performance. With all of this combined, his matches progressively become more and more compelling as the CC advances.
The House of Black’s behemoth heavy has been great but amongst the former WWE names such as Buddy Matthews and Malakai Black and King’s fatheresque daughter-figure in Julia Hart, he needs to set himself apart. Being alone is nothing to him – he’s a monster who can rip apart whoever he needs to get the win. There’s been more of a humanity in his performances. Yeah, he’s dominant and strong, but he’s not going down easily. Brody has been massively benefitted by the CC, standing out on his own and the crowds are getting behind him.
There isn’t much to say about the Blackpool Combat Club’s Swiss Superman, other than the fact that he needs a chance to prove his worth as a wrestler deserving of time. Fans have seen it in Ring of Honor and have clamored for it during his time as Cesaro in WWE. As great as he is, there hasn’t been much to root for other than the fact he is Claudio. Otherwise, where else is he going? What is there to latch on to? He’s great and deserves to be treated as such. Thus, the CC could be a boon to him. Castagnoli has had some great outings, specifically his bitter feud with Eddie Kingston continuing and the big boi battle in opposition to Brody King. Where he stands on the card, Claudio stands in the same situation as rival Eddie Kingston, which could make things unique.
He’s small, he’s not the most experienced out of the bunch, and he falls into the sports entertainment trappings. Destined to fail, there’s a deeper story even in defeat. Currently mathematically eliminated, Garcia is finding himself to be a wrestler. Outwrestled by the ruthless Andrade, dismantled by mentor Bryan Danielson, and surpassed by the superhuman Claudio Castagnoli, the heartbreak is palpable. This brings Garcia one step closer to realizing what and who he needs to be, and will one day be in control. The body language is sufficient evidence of this.
This one is a heartbreaker, and after each match, Mark has given me the same babyface feeling I get from the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Jon Moxley, Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson, and Adam Page. What once began a journey in hopes of holding aloft the gold to the heavens to greet his dearly departed brother Jay, became a sobering reminder that life takes a lot from us. But yet Briscoe perseveres. Letting go and letting God, Mark Briscoe fights with all his heart. The tag team performances that dictated much of his career transitioned so well to his singles efforts and in doing so, he became so endearing that even though his story is of the chase, his work alone makes him memorable and lovable. Sadly, he too has been mathematically eliminated.
The CC would be remiss without the company’s ace, another Blackpool Combat Club member Jon Moxley. The Death Rider remains as vicious and wily as ever. There’s a story in the pattern of his matches, however. It isn’t just senseless violence, it’s being as cutthroat as possible to squeak out a win. Outmaneuvering Swerve Strickland and sneaking past RUSH, Moxley remains unstoppable. By his wins, he seems the likeliest out of the Gold League to advance to the semi-finals and then the finals. After all, he is undefeated thus far.
Fresh off of his win over “Hangman” Adam Page at Full Gear, this Mogul has loads of momentum behind him. He’s cunning and evil against any who oppose him. Perhaps my favorite example of this is his bout against Jay White – a game of physical chess if I’ve ever seen it. Both men have studied the tape, so relying on their biggest strengths was their only option. For Swerve, his unpredictability proved to be the deciding factor. Outsmarted by Jon Moxley, however, Strickland is not as flawless as he believes, despite his story to this point.
Oh boy. This tournament has done wonders for El Toro Blanco. We’ve all seen the force that RUSH is, but to witness him dominate others has been cathartic. In each match, anyone who has come against him would swiftly learn that they can’t match him power for power. There’s just no chance. To overcome RUSH would mean to possess the cleverness needed to survive him. For Jay White and Jon Moxley, that was the very thing implemented. This bull may have the horns, but if you can grab them then you just may get the upper hand.
Needing to rehabilitate his image after losing to Super MJF at Full Gear, the Switchblade needs to be unsheathed and succeed in this tournament. For all of his masterful manipulations and cunning wit, White has been made to look like a joke. To his credit though, Jay has put on incredible feats in the CC, with wins against RUSH, Jay Lethal, and Mark Briscoe. As stated in the Swerve Strickland section, Jay has shown to be capable of hanging with the talents that AEW is high on, so his presence in the tournament is a breath of fresh air.
I’m honestly surprised there has been no time-limit draw yet. That’s a lot of restraint. But as a viewer, I am satisfied. There are so many turning wheels that make this ship steer so beautifully. While not 100% perfect, the Continental Classic has reminded me so much of what the old days of AEW represented.
This may just be me, but when I get lost in these matches, the blue, red, and black of the AEW brand feels more white, gold, and black and if I lose myself enough, I can imagine those iconic entrance tunnels. The booking where there has to be a fair winner feels exciting, like a counter-culture to wrestling right now. There are time limits, wins and losses matter, and no interferences exist to ruin the matches.
Oh, and how can I forget the amazing, amazing promos backstage? This doesn’t feel like the camp and bombast of typical North American wrestling in these segments. These feel like real people beneath the characters. The stakes are taking their toll on these wrestlers. It’s hard to shake the feeling that, just for a moment, wrestling is real, not predetermined.
Honestly, my only complaint is that we haven’t gotten talents such as Samoa Joe, Konosuke Takeshita, Roderick Strong (without the neckbrace), and “Hangman” Adam Page. Maybe a deeper talent pool next year can rectify this. But alas, this feels like a nitpick.
I cannot state enough how tournaments like the Continental Classic are much needed for the AEW product. I wish we could get a round-robin tournament for the women’s division because there are so many women that deserve that spotlight. It’s a no-brainer considering the talent in AEW and Ring of Honor and even outside Tony Khan’s umbrella.
With the legions of fans that have poured love for the tournament, I hope AEW sees this success and returns to this level of booking. If this had existed in the early years, it would have been a welcome addition to an already great product, not a breath of fresh air. I commend Tony Khan and the team that worked on this. Even if things end awkwardly, it can not detract from the quality we are receiving from this event.
I’m so happy to say that throughout this tournament, the Continental Classic has “restored the feeling”. The spirit of AEW is still alive.