By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
If I want to watch one event from a year in wrestling and see where we were at, I pick WrestleMania or Wrestle Kingdom. It’s not always fair to boil a whole year down to one major show, but if I’m trying to refresh my memory of 2015, the first place I look is WrestleMania 31 and Wrestle Kingdom 9. At the time the two largest wrestling companies in the entire world spent months building up stadium-size super cards. This was the state of wrestling in 2015. As the years pass, other shows matter less and these major tentpole events matter more.
AEW has no tentpole events. They have no annual spectacle bigger than anything on TV. They have no signature event or weekend. This has been a problem since AEW launched in 2019, but it is no exacerbated with the addition of All In.
The original All In in 2018 was the spiritual forerunner of All Elite Wrestling. While it had minor-league company support in the United States from Ring of Honor, it was promoted as an entirely independent pay-per-view. The parasocial relationships Cody Rhodes, Matt and Nick Jackson, and Kenny Omega made going into this show are still with them today and have helped propel Cody to the very top of the wrestling business.
All Elite Wrestling was conceived following the wild runaway success of All In. To say this event changed wrestling would be an understatement. Wrestling is a healthier and more vibrant place because All In happened. Hundreds more people in wrestling have jobs because All In happened. AEW exists because of All In, so you can see why AEW finally using the All In name for their Wembley Stadium show is a major deal.
On the legacy of a show that changed wrestling history and the excitement of AEW going overseas for the first time, All Elite Wrestling managed to sell over 80,000 tickets. This is wildly impressive. This should be the signature show for AEW. The first five years of this promotion should all be summed up in this one show because it is such a major deal. AEW should feel like a runaway success story that has been building to this moment forever.
But they don’t. Instead AEW feels like a promotion limping into its biggest show of all time. Why?
First of all, AEW has not leaned on the history of All In. Aside from a great promo from MJF on Dynamite this week, the company has avoided talking about the history of All In. Tony Khan owns the All In footage and name (they were a part of the Ring of Honor sale). There is no reason this event has not been lauded as the inciting incident that lead to AEW. All In is the small domino falling that leads to selling out Wembley Stadium five years later. Talk about it. Oversell me on its history.
Both New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE have demonstrated how to do this. Show me highlights set to inspirational moments from the show. Tell me that September 1, 2018 was the night wrestling changed and the true night AEW was born. Hype me up and even lie to me about the importance of the original show, then tell me All In 2023 will be the next major step. This is not difficult, it is basic marketing. Use your history to sell your future. Wrestling has done it for years and somehow AEW does it better with ROH (which should not exist) than they do with AEW.
The next reason is the storytelling in AEW. They are lacking the hot feud on top at All In and they’ve been telling weak stories all Summer. As much as I’m enjoying the antics of the Adam Cole and MJF team, these two as best friends main eventing the biggest show of all time aren’t as compelling as two wrestlers locked in a blood feud would be. Elsewhere on the card, you’ve got AEW’s biggest homegrown star, “Hangman” Adam Page in a throwaway “dream” six man tag no one has ever dreamt of, CM Punk and Samoa Joe running back a TV main event from a month earlier, Jon Moxley in another bloody group deathmatch, and The Young Bucks going mute while challenging FTR.
I truly believe this card will be exceptional. AEW always delivers on pay-per-view, but they have not built this show up as anything special. The Young Bucks are a key example of this. Matt and Nick Jackson did more than anyone to sell All In. They shed their normally aloof personalities to earnestly sell and celebrate the accomplishment of All In. What have they done for All In at Wembley Stadium? So far on AEW television, Matt and Nick Jackson have combined for two words and three letters to sell the show. The Young Bucks aren’t talking about what coming back to All In means to them. They aren’t talking about how this is a movement they founded and now they’re going to win at Wembley. They aren’t talking at all.
The Young Bucks try to be ironic and exaggerated as professional wrestlers, but this is a situation where they needed to be earnest. No one would be better at selling All In than these two wrestlers, yet they are silent.
AEW has suffered all Summer from booking wrestlers as less than the sum of their parts and this is especially apparent when it comes to The Elite and The Blackpool Combat Club. We should be looking at major singles matches for Jon Moxley, Kenny Omega, Hangman Page, and Claudio Castagnoli on this show, but we are not.
Finally AEW is failing to make this show feel special by following it up with a pay-per-view a week later. There is no reason why All Out needs to be so close to All In and it is a failure of AEW’s schedule making humans to run these so close together. Imagine if WWE ran Backlash a week after WrestleMania (I’m upset when they only give us three weeks). Imagine if NJPW ran the New Japan Cup just a week after Wrestle Kingdom. These would be very bad decisions.
I know All In and All Out share a naming conceit. I know AEW has traditionally ran All Out on Labor Day weekend. Putting on the biggest wrestling show of all time should impact your annual schedule and should lead to different choices being made. All Out existing this year undermines the importance of All In selling 80,000 tickets. It doesn’t allow fans time to celebrate the show they just saw. No one will have the chance to bask in the afterglow of All In, even if it’s a perfect wrestling show. AEW is missing out on two weeks of press and talk about their biggest show of all time.
AEW’s master schedule lacks a tentpole event. You cannot point to a single show from 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022 to tell me what AEW was like that year. As the years go on these pay-per-views are forgotten and even the best matches of all time can become lost classics. Major shows allow your biggest moments and your history to leave forever. I can tell you who main evented WrestleMania in 2002 (Triple H vs. Chris Jericho, sadly) and Wrestle Kingdom in 2014 (Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi) off the top of my head.
AEW is missing out on an opportunity to stick in fans heads this way. They’re missing out on an opportunity to create a bigger show than they have ever had. They’re missing out on the tentpole event custom made with the perfect history for them.
All In has all the promise in the world of being a great show, but AEW needs a show that defines the promotion more than it needs another collection of great matches.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.