Several months after it first made history, the indie wrestling supershow “All In” is here. On Saturday night, the much-hyped, self-funded brainchild of Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks will, after months upon months of speculation and buzz and promotion and noise, finally become real in front of over 10,000 fans at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. If you’ve heard of All In, it’s because of what Rhodes and the Bucks have already accomplished—the event sold out in just under half an hour, with exactly one match announced; outside of WWE and Turner Broadcasting’s defunct WCW, nobody had sold 10,000 tickets to an American wrestling show in almost 25 years.
What made All In’s instant success so amazing was the fact that it was more or less entirely the result of enthusiasm generated online, albeit whipped up by contract wrestlers that enjoy bigger platforms than most of their independent peers. It has been clear for some time that All In is a big deal, and quite possibly An Important Thing. But, match announcements aside, it hasn’t been clear just what the event was actually going to be, and how it’s going to be different. We’ll find that part out on Saturday.
The baseline talent level in independent wrestling at this moment in history is higher than it has ever been, and there are great wrestling shows happening everywhere every weekend. Putting on a great or even memorable top-to-bottom wrestling show is almost the easy part. Turning it into a moment, however, is something else entirely.
“The goal is to make our stand,” Cody Rhodes told Deadspin. “I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s not just the wrestlers. It’s everybody in the Sears Centre, it’s everybody tuning in. It can be a really fun night at the matches, but why shoot low?” The idea is to do something new, and to change the way that indie wrestling works. “When I first hit the ‘independent scene’[in 2016] an individual described to me the sharing of vans with eight guys or four to a room or the low pay as ‘welcome to the indies,’” Rhodes explained.“I strongly disagree with the ‘carny’ nature of that,” he said. “Not when the athletes are so amazing.” More to the point, Rhodes is also paying indie talent multiples of their usual going rates for All In.
All In’s on-paper card has gotten mixed reviews, at least in terms of its “special”-ness, although few of the top matches stand out as especially notable. Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s champion and top star, is taking on Mexico’s Pentagon Jr./Penta el 0M (it’s complicated), for instance, in a match that is unlikely to happen anywhere else. Omega lives in Japan and rarely takes indie dates, while Penta is everywhere, or as close to it as any wrestler can possibly be in 2018. He’s on American TV for both MLW and Impact Wrestling in the U.S., a headliner for bitter rivals AAA and CMLL at home in Mexico, and also a top star for numerous American independent groups. Omega/Penta is truly unique, as is the trios match in which the Bucks and Kota Ibushi will battle Rey Fenix—Penta’s brother, and every bit as omnipresent—rising indie lucha libre star Bandido, and the legendary Rey Mysterio.
That will likely be the show’s most spectacular match, although it wouldn’t be surprising if it was upstaged by “Hangman” Adam Page vs. Joey Janela, as both those performers are well known for the degree to which they put their bodies on the line. That’s also the most politically intriguing match on the show, as Page is an ROH/NJPW contract wrestler and Janela, though not under contract anywhere, is a champion for the WWE-affiliated Evolve and a regular for MLW. Outside of All In, it’s a match that could only happen in California’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and then only because that promotion is focused on physical media and largely eschews streaming. All In, though, will not only be available on pay-per-view but also through the Ring of Honor (on its lump sum annual subscription “VIP” tier) and NJPW (on tape delay) streaming services.
Those are the standout bouts, and they are promising in the extreme. But on a long show built to celebrate what indie wrestling can do, a lot of the other matches are head-scratchers.
Kazuchika Okada, one of the first names announced for the show, is NJPW’s top native star and a performer who rarely wrestles in North America. Instead of a match unique to the “neutral” ground, though, he’s been paired up with British NJPW regular Marty Scurll. While Okada’s status as a heavyweight and Scurll’s as a junior heavyweight means that this is a first-time singles match, it’s still a pairing that could easily happen in NJPW. One of the two pre-show matches, featuring SoCal Uncensored (Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky) vs. Mark and Jay Briscoe, consists entirely of ROH talent. The women’s match, with Madison Rayne, Britt Baker, Chelsea Green, and Tessa Blanchard is rock solid on paper, but could also happen anywhere. Stephen Amell, the star of CW’s Arrow and periodic in-ring performer, had already returned to wrestling since his debut in WWE, in a tag team match in ROH last November; his opponent at All In, Christopher Daniels, was one of the wrestlers he battled in that mach. And the main event, in which Cody will face Nick Aldis in an attempt to take the NWA World Heavyweight Title that his father Dusty held three times....well, that one’s a story unto itself.
Originally a combination of governing body and protection racket, the NWA is now a uniquely situated pro wrestling brand owned by Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. There’s a story here, too, of course: Corgan lent Impact’s previous owner money before the two went through an acrimonious split. After that, the most established brand Corgan could buy and build was the NWA, which had been running on fumes for years and was largely a minor league entity for over two decades. I keep using the odious word “brand” here because the NWA, under Corgan, is neither a sanctioning body nor a wrestling promotion. “Brand” is the only word amorphous enough to describe what Corgan has built. The current NWA is a small, ill-defined stable of wrestlers with no TV deal that holds no shows of its own; it does, however, partner with existing promotions to shoot some uniquely entertaining matches and angles for YouTube. Aldis, Rhodes’ opponent, is known to some fans as the husband of WWE’s Mickie James and others for his knack for Remembering Wrestling Guys, but he never quite became a star despite his look and verbal ability. In the ring he’s reliably just fine, but it’s unclear whether Cody can have a classic world title match main event with him on a loaded show like this one. The quest to honor Rhodes’ late father certainly gives the match greater emotional weight than the rest of the show, but it’s hard to know how well it will or won’t go over.
Long-term, All In’s most important match may well end up being the battle royal on the pre-show, the winner of which will get a shot at ROH Champion Jay Lethal on the main card. Not only does that bout feature various straight-up indie wrestlers alongside ROH talent and even some Impact Wrestling names, but it will likely be the most-watched match of the night, as it will air live on WGN America. That network is in about 80 million homes via cable and satellite, which means that stealing the show in the battle royal could completely alter a wrestler’s career. This is a big deal even for the competitors who have been on TV before; for someone like Marko Stunt, who was a late addition after a quick ascension on a SummerSlam weekend indie show, it could be life-changing.
As is always the case, how well All In delivers on its promise and how long it sticks in wrestling heads’ memories will depend on what surprises are coming. It’s already been made clear that there will be unadvertised wrestlers showing up in the battle royal, and there’s also no indication of how the show’s longest-built storyline will be resolved. On the “Being The Elite” YouTube show that stars The Bucks, Cody, Omega, and their Bullet Club stable-mates, Flip Gordon has been trying to get on the All In card for months, and one way or another that will resolve itself. After months of hype, all that’s left now is to see what surprises await and which moments might be memorable enough to make All In a classic. Yes, we already know the event is a success. But the best parts, as always, are the ones that we don’t already know about.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.