9. Stadium Stampede - Double Or Nothing 2020 (9.29)
AEW is still capable of greatness in 2023, but it is difficult to shake the troubling notion that Tony Khan hit his creative peak when nobody was allowed to attend his shows in person.
Khan looked at the bleak, empty space of Daily's Place and used it as blank canvas. He didn't see what wasn't there, but what could be there. The pandemic era was uneven, and even at its very best bittersweet. Only the worst engagement accounts would put over something like the Tooth & Nail match.
But when Tony Khan nailed it, he almost made his product better for the limitations. Consider something like the Parking Lot Fight between the Best Friends and Santana and Ortiz, which somehow isn't included in the Cagematch top 10. Almost every other match in the no fans era was an emulation of what wrestling used to be, even if the emulation was great on its own, bizarre terms. The Parking Lot Fight couldn't have happened at any other time.
AEW's cinematic output was vastly superior to WWE's because the thread of pro wrestling action was never dropped. This was the case throughout the incredibly creative, much-needed levity that was the first Stadium Stampede match.
Consider the awesome sequence between Hangman Page and Jake Hager. An amusing western bar brawl scene, it folded in slapstick elements but was a dynamic mini-match in parallel. Page executing a perfect backflip off the bar - with a very low ceiling - was a massively impressive physical feat, and there was no bullsh*t camera trickery. Even in quasi-canon, with a heavy emphasis on escapist fun, this was still an AEW main event. Page bumped on a shoot pool table to maintain the balls-to-the-wall standard.
A daft odyssey of brutality and entertainment, this was what AEW talked about when they talked about creative freedom.