It was a huge win for independent wrestlers everywhere when “All In” took over the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on Saturday.The tremendous 5-hour show, the brainchild of Cody and the Young Bucks, was a year in the making and featured top talent from New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, Impact Wrestling and a host of other independent promotions. The best part? There wasn’t a World Wrestling Entertainment logo in sight.
“All In” wasn’t conceived the way most pay-per-views are, in a corporate boardroom with a team of writers and executives. It started in May 2017 when a fan sent a tweet asking wrestling critic and journalist Dave Meltzer if Ring of Honor could sell 10,000 tickets. Meltzer responded, “Not any time soon.” Cody, who at the time was prepping for a Ring of Honor World Championship match, took Uncle Dave’s words as a challenge and tweeted, “I’ll take that bet Dave.”
After fifteen months of hilarious promoting on the Being the Elite YouTube channel, Cody and the Bucks made good on their promise. What was initially planned as a Ring of Honor-exclusive show became a massive, multi-promotion extravaganza that sold out the Sears Center in 29 minutes for a total of 11, 263 fans in attendance.
In front of a rabid Chicago crowd, the evolution of professional wrestling unfolded with one spectacular match after another. Tessa Blanchard emerged victorious in a wild Four Corner Survival Match against Chelsea Green, Madison Rayne and Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.
Later, in a destruction-filled Chicago Street Fight, Hangman Page bested Joey Janela after dropping the Bad Boy through a table from a ladder with Rite of Passage. Page didn’t have much time to celebrate, as his nemesis Joey Ryan (the famous dick wrestler who Page murdered on Being the Elite) rose from the dead and flipped Page with his penis before ordering a procession of Dick Druids to carry Page away. True story.
Two championship matches highlighted the star-studded “All In” card. Cody claimed the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, the same title his late father Dusty Rhodes held decades ago, in a stunning performance against champion Nick Aldis.
Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Lethal, in full “Black Machismo” garb, blasted Flip Gordon with the Lethal Injection to retain the title he’s held twice in his career. Gordon won the Over Budget Battle Royal while disguised as Chico El Luchador earlier in the night to qualify for the title match.
The Sears Center was still packed to capacity when IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, who’s always in the conversation for who’s the world’s top wrestler, squared off with hardcore luchador Pentagón Jr. The two gladiators weathered move after move for twenty-plus minutes before Kenny landed his One-Winged Angel, perhaps the most devastating move in wrestling today. Not even Pentagón could kick out of that.
Kazuchika Okada, the longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight champ ever, dueled with Bullet Club’s resident Villain, Marty Scurll. A bevy of Rainmakers put the junior heavyweight Scurll down for the three-count, but the Villain proved, against the doubts of his Being the Elite castmates, that he could hang with the heavyweights.
Lucha libre superstars Rey Fénix, Bandido and Rey Mysterio battled Kota Ibushi and the Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson, in the “All In” main event. The Golden Elite toppled the luchador team with a scintillating Meltzer Driver and closed out the pay-per-view with only three seconds of broadcasting to spare.
In the wake of a top-to-bottom awesome show with zero corporate backing, the future of pro wrestling has, for the first time in recent memory, been thrown into question. This recent surge in indie popularity, spearheaded by Cody, the Bucks, their Bullet Club running mates and a long list of other standouts, has brought about a revelation that would’ve been inconceivable a decade ago: WWE isn’t the wrestling end-all. Not anymore.
Here’s a bit of perspective. For the better part of four years, WWE has been sucking up the best wrestling talent from every corner of the planet, trying to snuff out any attempts at competition. Since 2014, Vince McMahon’s empire has snatched up AJ Styles, Prince Devitt (now going by Finn Bálor), Asuka, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Styles debuted in early 2016 and was WWE Champion eight months later. The latter four tore through NXT but have been essentially ruined by how they’ve been presented on Raw and SmackDown.
Meanwhile, the reincarnated Cruiserweight division is hanging by a thread, and all the while Roman Reigns has been mercilessly thrown at the WWE Universe as the company’s next franchise player, negative fan reception be damned.
Outside the doldrums of World Wrestling Entertainment, some of the most epic wrestling matches and stories in the history of the sport have been lighting up arenas worldwide. Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega put on a quartet of mind-blowing bouts, starting at Wrestle Kingdom 11 and culminating with Omega’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship triumph three months ago. New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament hit an all-time high in 2017. Cody and the Bucks have taken Ring of Honor by storm. Lucha Underground gets more outlandishly insane every season.
Of course, none of these promotions are within spitting distance of WWE’s global business scale. With no real financial competition, WWE has fallen into a lazy cycle that breeds dull, repetitive feuds, low ratings and contempt from an audience that hungers for something more fulfilling.
On the flipside, NJPW pay-per-views like Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion and Fighting Spirit Unleashed practically guarantee at least one classic match per event. They’re endlessly entertaining, the commentators give the matches their full attention and fans don’t feel mentally depleted at the end of a marathon show. They feel thrilled, not exhausted.
Compare that to WWE’s SummerSlam from three weeks ago, which was highlighted by screwy finishes, questionable booking and the two guys in the main event (Reigns and Brock Lesnar) getting lustily booed by fans who have had quite enough. They’re tired of their voices getting buried under a mound of corporate micromanaging, buried almost as regularly as the stars they so desperately want to cheer for but can’t because said stars are booked to look like idiots (see: Asuka and Kevin Owens).
If WWE is too scared or too complacent to recognize the paradigm shift happening right before its eyes, its grasp on the wrestling world will weaken as the downward spiral continues. International ventures and long-term TV deals will keep the company buoyed for years to come, but “All In” is the opening shot of what will prove to be a revolution in pro wrestling.For WWE, that’s just too bad. For everyone else, it’s just too sweet.
The Young Bucks, Nick (left) and Matt Jackson, teamed with fellow Bullet Club member Cody to produce “All In,” billed as “The Biggest Independent Wrestling Show Ever.”