AEW All Out 2021 - The Genesis Of A New Era In Wrestling, Or Another False Dawn?
Can All Out 2021 prove to be a huge moment in wrestling's landscape or another 'what if'?
When CM Punk cut his 'Pipe-bomb' promo in 2011, I realised I had to start paying attention again.
I didn’t understand most of the references he made, and I didn’t understand the words people were using to talk about it online - ‘work’, ‘shoot’, ‘kayfabe’ and so on.
But that didn’t matter, because for the first time since I was ten, wrestling felt magical.
I suspect (and hope) that a lot of people are feeling the same way in the aftermath of AEW All Out on Sunday. Again, it featured Punk, although when all was said and done his first match in seven years somehow became a footnote.
There’s a crucial difference between the two events, though. Before the Summer of Punk was diluted, complicated and drained, 2011 felt like the beginning of a new era.
2021 actually could be.
There still hasn’t been enough time to properly register the explosive one-two punch of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson. Many have hailed the segment as a masterstroke of Tony Khan and the AEW booking team, using Punk’s box office value to draw in the lapsed, the casual and the curious, before blasting them with a pair of ground-breaking debuts.
Equally, it may have been less calculated than that. Remember that Khan is an excited wrestling fan in an industry traditionally run by jaded insiders. His enthusiasm is refreshing and relatable, and while we might like to think otherwise, let’s not pretend we’d have had more poise in his shoes.
If you were sat on CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, with Adam Cole likely to follow, would you strategically plot their debuts over the course of months? Or would you turn the wrestling world upside down in a few short weeks?
I know which option I’d take, and it’s not the sensible one.
Ultimately though, whether Khan put together All Out with his heart or his head, it doesn’t really matter. It happened, and we’re all still reeling from the effects.
In almost any other scenario, this show would have been too much. We didn’t just get that seismic closing segment, or the in-ring return of CM Punk. We also got the shock appearances of Ruby Soho and Minoru Suzuki, Chris Jericho teasing retirement, and a truly outrageous cage match.
Under normal circumstances, jamming a year’s worth of highlights into a few hours can be seen as unwise. All Out, of course, did not take place under normal circumstances.
Huge credit must be given to AEW for realising that, quite literally, the stars had aligned last weekend. This wasn’t the time to abide by convention.
Typically, I’m a wrestling fan that enjoys patient booking. I love slow-burn heel turns, long title reigns, and all that boring stuff. In blowing two defining moments at once, All Out’s finish threw the rulebook out of the window. In doing so, we got magic.
Who knows what happens from here. AEW’s new acquisitions have been saying all the right things in the aftermath, praising the roster, the fans, the creative freedom, the sense that the promotion has made wrestling fun again. It suddenly looks like the most attractive place to wrestle, and with WWE bringing their interest in the indies to a sudden halt, the landscape is about to change dramatically.
I’m not suggesting that AEW will soon overthrow WWE and rule the wrestling world, nor that this would be a completely good thing. WWE retains the advantages that come with being the only mainstream promotion of the past 20 years.
But the events of All Out have certainly nudged the two companies closer together, and nudged wrestling fans closer to something we’ve wanted for decades: competitiveness at the top of the business.
But are we falling for the same old trick again? When CM Punk walked out of Money in the Bank 2011 with the WWE Championship, the possibilities seemed endless. Those hopes were dashed, and there’s every chance that AEW could squander their chance too.
After all, as brilliant as it was, All Out wasn’t a perfect show. Should Chris Jericho really have gotten his win back over MJF, for example? In an ideal world, the match would never have even taken place, with the feud long gone and MJF moving on to his next big storyline.
In hiring the likes of Punk and Danielson, AEW is bound to encounter more of these scenarios. When your biggest names are competing with young, promising talent, a very difficult balance has to be maintained. The megastars can’t lose too often, but neither should the likes of Darby Allin, Jungle Boy and Hangman Page.
Nevertheless, I remain confident that AEW can walk that tightrope.
Although not always perfect, there's been a general commitment to giving the fans what they want - a concept that really shouldn’t be so alien as it's become in wrestling. Hopefully this means that in a few years, we're all looking back at All Out 2021 as the beginning of something special, rather than another false dawn.