I’m a professional wrestling fan. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had less time to follow along and watch as obsessively as I once did, but the never-ending male soap opera still has its hooks in me.
If you’re reading this and you don’t know anything about ALL IN, the record-setting independent wresting show that happened Sept. 1, 2018, at Sears Centre near Chicago, allow me to point you to this well-written, comprehensive article about the event, who organized it and what it means for the world of professional wrestling.
For me, ALL IN was a must-watch. I haven’t said that in a while about a wrestling event, but one way or another, even after it happened, I was going to have to watch it for myself, avoiding spoilers until I could. It was an amazing card full of people I wanted to see perform, and I was rooting for it to be as spectacular as its organizers and boosters said it was going to be.
And it was. It really was an awesome show, with literally no filler, nothing that made me want to skip ahead. I was already a fan of many of the people on the show, but the show gave me a few revelations about certain wrestlers that will inform which wrestling promotions and events I pay attention to from now on.
I will do my best to avoid spoilers in the points ahead, but I will, at the very least, be describing the matches and circumstances surrounding them, even if I don’t reveal the ending.
I really must watch more of The Villain Marty Scurll: The relatively diminutive British wrestler, to my mind, had a bit of a difficult task at ALL IN. He was wrestling one of the current greatest performers in the world, Kazuchika Okada, a man about 40 pounds heavier and six or seven inches taller than him, in what amounted to a come-down match (the position on a wrestling card after a massively anticipated match, and perhaps before one as well) after Best-Match Machine Kenny Omega and Pentagon Jr. threw bombs at each other for about 20 minutes. Scurll’s style, an intriguing mix of comedy wrestling and classic British chain and lock styles, didn’t seem at first glance to be a great match with Okada’s arena-rocking heavyweight methodology.
But over the course of the match, Scurll proved that analysis extremely incorrect. These two wrestlers told an amazing, timeless wrestling story of the disrespected underdog surprising the nonchalant juggernaut, waking him up and taking him to the very edge of his ability. There were the classic strength vs. agility spots, with Scurll escaping Okada’s clutches and turning his power (and arrogance) against him. There were also several spots where Scurll’s techniques were simply no match for Okada’s size and strength advantage. At one stage, Scurll took advantage of a taunt by Okada to apply his patented Finger Breaker hold, then reversed an attempted Rainmaker finisher a moment later to apply the Finger Breaker to Okada’s other hand as well. At another moment, Scurll was unable to cinch in his finishing submission move, the Crossface Chickenwing, because Okada’s shoulders and arms were simply too broad.
On one hand, this is all simple stuff. On the other hand, so many wrestling promotions and so many wrestlers don’t do the extra work to tell the story in the ring. The looks of exasperation, fear, determination; the way a person moves when they’ve been hurt in a certain way, and are fearful of being hurt that way again. Okada is one of the world’s greatest wrestlers in part because he has a mastery of this in-ring vocabulary. Scurll is right there as well.
Hangman Adam Page is seriously impressive: On the Being The Elite YouTube show featuring luminaries such as Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and the aforementioned Marty Scurll, sometimes fellow Bullet Club member Adam Page feels a little overlooked. He’s had a long-running and entertaining (and more than a little lewd) storyline involving the comedy wrestler/promoter Joey Ryan, but it feels like we hardly ever see Page in the ring in the show’s highlight clips. As such, I must admit not being as familiar with Page’s talents as I was with most of the rest of the wrestlers on the ALL IN card going in.
Page more than held his own with certified wrestling wild man Joey Janela, showing he could take as much punishment as he could dish out in the Chicago Street Fight (extreme rules) format. Janela is known for putting his body on the line to entertain the crowd, and Page not only facilitated Janela’s craziness with several pretty dangerous moves (through ladders and tables and chairs), he seemed totally in control, dictating most of the action, and worked in some references to his Joey Ryan feud/story to advance that piece as well without at all diminishing what was happening in the ring.
A lot of people I’ve read online since the show said that Page vs. Janela stole the show for them, and I can’t disagree. I’ve also seen ALL IN co-producer Cody Rhodes describe Page as a potential centerpiece for a wrestling promotion and I can’t disagree with that, either.
I need to get familiar with Jordynne Grace: The lone female entrant in the Over-The-Budget Battle Royal for a shot at the Ring of Honor Championship showed pretty quickly that she wasn’t a gimmick entry. On a side note, the world of women’s wrestling has, over the last several years, produced many wrestlers who aren’t “good for a woman,” they’re good wrestlers, period. And as more promotions are giving women chances to compete against the men and win top belts, those women are proving that women’s wrestling has come a long way since the 1990s “lingerie matches” the WWE became notorious for.
Grace is clearly a good wrestler, period. She’s powerful and stocky and represents a physical presence in the ring. I’m not sure if the spot where she nearly lifted renowned giant muscle man Brian Cage onto her shoulders was supposed to actually happen and she couldn’t quite get her feet under her, or if Cage was supposed to squirm out of it, but the fact that someone standing 5-foot-1 and weighing in at about 150 pounds had a 270-pound man in the air at all is an impressive feat.
Besides the feats of strength, though, Grace showed a lot of emotion and enthusiasm, the kind of in-ring physical vocabulary I was talking about earlier with Scurll, but obviously on a smaller scale since she was one of 15+ competitors in a Battle Royal match. And she’s obviously very comfortable catapulting drop kicks and forearms and suplexes in all directions inside and outside of the ring. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from this 22-year-old (so young!) ass-kicker.
I used to think Magnus/Nick Aldis was kinda meh. Not so much anymore: The National Wrestling Alliance, better known as the NWA, hasn’t really been very relevant for a while. It used to be a wrestling promotion with champions like Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair, but for the last many years, it’s been more of a relic, an icon from times gone by.
In 2017, the NWA was purchased by some wrestling industry people (and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, a wrestling superfan in his own right), and they’ve been putting money, time, and effort into rehabilitating the promotion, or at least its world-famous championship belt, which hasn’t changed in appearance since Flair and Rhodes hoisted it more than three decades ago. Part of that rehabilitation involved hiring heavyweight wrestler Nick Aldis, formerly known as TNA/Impact champion Magnus, to carry and defend the belt in various promotions around the world.
To his credit, Aldis, another British wrestler, has done that and done it well. Somehow this guy who I barely even noticed when he was wrestling in TNA brought an air of professionalism and legacy to the legendary championship, imbuing it with a new sense of meaning and pride. In the run-up to ALL IN, Cody Rhodes, the aforementioned co-producer of the show as well as the youngest son of former NWA champion and wresting legend Dusty Rhodes, challenged Aldis for his title on Ring of Honor television.
I’m a big fan of Cody’s, and I’m a big fan of wrestling history, so him booking Aldis to fight for the historic belt at this history-making wrestling event, well, lets just say I was ALL IN on that (and that fulfills the one “all in” pun quota for this post).
The match itself wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it did FEEL like a big damn deal. It had the crowd buzzing from bell to bell. These guys wrestled their asses off in the ring, and there were even a couple of cameos from other wrestlers from years past. Clearly this was booked and planned as a showcase match, and it met that standard.
Not only did it make potentially millions of people around the world care about the NWA again for the first time in years, it made me, for one, want to see more of Nick Aldis in the ring going forward. In fact, I hope these two have a rematch at some point in the near future, and as great as all the matches on this show were, it’s the only match that made me feel that way.
There will absolutely be an ALL IN 2, and I am absolutely looking forward to it: This event really did change the face of professional wrestling. Nobody had sold this many tickets to an independent wrestling show in the United States, ever. And within a month of ALL IN selling out after 30 minutes of online sales, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling announced they would be holding an event at the famous Madison Square Garden in the heart of WWE territory, on the same night as WWE’s Wrestlemania in 2019.
WWE is the big dog in the yard. It’s ruled the world of pro wrestling since it defeated and absorbed its last serious competitor, WCW, in the early 2000s. This is unlikely to change any time soon. But what ALL IN does change is that it proves there is excitement, attention, and most importantly, big money out there for wrestlers who are able to build their own brand, build their own following, sell their own merchandise, and book their own shows. There are successful wrestling promotions outside the WWE orbit, but nobody has done what ALL IN did more or less completely outside the orbit of wrestling promotions, period.
After the close of ALL IN on Sept. 1, Cody and his co-producers the Young Bucks led the crowd in a chant of “ALL IN 2! ALL IN 2!” ALL IN is the biggest proof yet that wrestlers don’t have to kiss the ring at WWE to become rich and famous in their chosen profession. That’s exciting to me as a fan, and I know it’s exciting to wrestlers across the world.