AEW Has Changed A Bit Since All Out 2019
A look back at the inaugural All Out pay-per-view
The third annual AEW All Out. Time flies by so quickly that we're well into the era of AEW having third-annual anything.
It's shaping up to be one hell of a card, too. Imagine being told at the dawn of 2021 that CM Punk and Christian would both wrestle at the same pay-per-view later in the year. You'd think the delirium of 2020 had gotten to the person making that declaration.
In fact, if you can conjure up a 2017 mindset, the whole of AEW feels like a fever dream. A direct competitor to WWE with two viable weekly cable shows, a fleshed-out roster of proven stars and ascendant talent, and a devoted fanbase that helps the company shatter records would've been a dismissible thought four years ago.
Even just the very idea of what AEW was in 2019 felt impossible in 2017.
With that in mind, I recently looked back at the inaugural All Out pay-per-view, held in the same NOW Arena in Chicago (then called the Sears Centre) where this year's event is taking place.
As a wrestling card, it holds up. Thrilling athletics, dramatic title matches, quirky characters, equal time for both promising youth and cherished icons alike - in other words, your typical AEW event, regardless of month and year.
And yet, a few things from All Out 2019 stood out to me as quite fascinating with two years of hindsight. Because a lot can change in that time, especially in the mercurial world of pro wrestling.
Here's what I noticed:
1. The field for the Women's Casino Battle Royal was quite unique
As it presently stands, only seven of the 21 entrants into the match are currently signed to AEW: Leva Bates, Nyla Rose, Penelope Ford, Big Swole, Brandi Rhodes, Allie (The Bunny), and Dr. Britt Baker. Otherwise, the match was filled with future ex-AEW talents (Awesome Kong, Ivelisse, Bea Priestley, Sadie Gibbs), as well as a host of notable outsiders, including Tenille Dashwood, Jazz, and ODB.
Future-former Retribution rogue Mercedes Martinez was the match's "Joker" entrant, while current NXT star Gigi Dolin (Priscilla Kelly) entered the fray early on. Even Roddy Piper's daughter Teal was a battle royal entrant.
The match is an interesting look at AEW's women's division in its formative state. In many respects, it doesn't exactly feel like an AEW production, given the varied roster.
2. Private Party felt like future Tag Team champions
And they still could be - it's just that the tag division has gotten especially crowded over these last couple of years.
Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen entered AEW as northeastern indie standouts, and quickly earned raves for their performance in a three-way tag match at the 2019 Fyter Fest. Based on the early hype, there seemed to be heavy interest in rocketing Kassidy and Quen to the titles, especially once they went over on The Hybrid2 at All Out.
Today, the two still play a prominent role on AEW programming, but they do as Matt Hardy's proteges, and are rather far away from the belts at this time. Things can always change, but two years ago, a betting man may have figured Private Party would've had the belts by now.
3. SCU felt like one of the premier acts on the show
Though a fair percentage of WWE's 2019 roster was disgruntled enough to consider where the "grass may be greener", Jon Moxley was one of the few able to get freed up in time for a move to AEW in its infancy. More bigger names would make the leap in the ensuing two-plus years, but for now, AEW had to make do with a smaller pool of established names.
And so Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky felt like some of AEW's biggest stars two years ago, as they defeated Jurassic Express in the All Out opener. Today, Daniels is inactive, Kazarian chases The Elite, and Scorpio pals around with Ethan Page and Dan Lambert. And none of them have the inclination to rip on whatever city they happen to be in. Alas.
4. Kenny Omega was originally supposed to face Jon Moxley
The unsanctioned match, "Winter is Coming", the exploding ring that wasn't - this is the accepted trilogy of Omega vs. Moxley as it stands today. And yet we sometimes forget that the matches were supposed to begin a little earlier. After attacking Omega in his debut angle at Double or Nothing, the former Dean Ambrose was scheduled to face Omega in a dream match at All Out in Chicago, the first-ever match between the two.
Unfortunately, a staph infection in Moxley's elbow meant that he would have to miss the pay-per-view. Instead, Pac stepped up to the plate and wrestled Omega in an excellent bout. Ironically, Pac previously had to miss Double or Nothing due to issues far beyond his control.
5. The Cracker Barrel Clash was a thing
In 2021, Dominos Pizza gets upset when their commercials are juxtaposed with the images of one man slicing another's skin with a pizza cutter. Two years prior, Cracker Barrel restaurants went so far as to sponsor a three-way hardcore match between Darby Allin, Joey Janela, and Jimmy Havoc that displayed the violent tendencies of all three men.
Among all the expected mayhem (staple guns, thumbtacks), literal Cracker Barrel barrels were employed as weapons. Reportedly, Cracker Barrel officials loved the match, got a kick out of seeing the wooden barrels busting apart in the fray, and were thrilled with the publicity this match had given them. If only Nick Gage tried to blind Chris Jericho with a little cup of garlic butter sauce, Dominos might have felt the same way.
6. The Dark Order was still finding their footing
Man, The Dark Order used to be a different group, didn't they? Evil Uno, Stu Grayson, and a bunch of anonymous toadies in masks hit the AEW scene at Double or Nothing, leaving the Las Vegas crowd perplexed as to who and what they were supposed to be. A victory over Best Friends at All Out didn't aid their case much, either.
Who would have guessed that over the next year, they'd come to be defined by wacky skits on BTE, the unique charisma of John Silver, and the brutally steady hand of Brodie Lee? At first, The Dark Order felt like a poor man's version of every doomsday-themed wrestler and stable that had ever existed. Today, they're well-liked babyfaces, defined by both their sense of humor and their earnest compassion.
7. Hikaru Shida was the one putting over the first "face" of the Women's division
Shida faced Riho to determine which one would vie for the AEW Women's championship, and it was a very good match situated deep in the All Out card. Riho won out over Shida, setting the stage for her to crumble Nyla Rose on the Dynamite premiere to become the first Women's champ.
Over seven months later, it would be Shida that took the torch of the Women's division, embarking on a year-long reign that earned fair criticism for how little play the Women's division seemed to get in proportion to everything else. Nonetheless, Shida did serve as champion for a year, but in 2019, she was setting Riho up to lead the division.
8. Shawn Spears was positioned as one of the top heels
Personally, I dug 2019 Spears.
The icy, chair-wielding sociopath that didn't take kindly to being looked upon by Cody Rhodes as merely "a helluva hand" was an enjoyable character (especially with diabolical Tully Blanchard poisoning his mind with more anti-Rhodes family sentiment). It was a far cry from flashing ten fingers for little other reason than, "Well, that's his shtick."
Having said that, it's a bit jarring to see Spears working with Rhodes in one of several main event matches, seeing as he hasn't really approached "near-lead bad guy" status since (Pinnacle membership aside). That's a shame, because Spears the iceman was great fun, just as 2021 "chair-gasm" Spears is wildly underappreciated.
9. Santana and Ortiz were an early "shock debut" for AEW
After two years of dominating IMPACT's Tag Team scene, near-eternal champions Santana and Ortiz were put in a big spot in AEW, debuting after the scintillating ladder match between The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros.
It demonstrated a lot of faith in Santana and Ortiz that they would get a worthwhile response in said big spot. And sure enough, when the "Point Break" masks came off, Chicago erupted at the sight of the former LAX members.
Since then, the two have been cornerstones of Chris Jericho's Inner Circle, and have starred in numerous chaotic brawls (Stadium Stampede, Parking Lot Brawl, etc). All that's missing from their AEW resumes is a long overdue reign with the Tag Team titles.
10. Adam Page's story was just getting started
Today, fans want nothing more than to see "Hangman" clothesline Kenny Omega's head into the twelfth row, culminating his World championship chase in grand fashion.
Two years ago, the chase was just getting started. Matched up with Chris Jericho in the bout to determine the first-ever AEW champion, Page seemed at the time like an oddball choice to headline AEW's second-ever pay-per-view.
Of course, we didn't exactly realize that AEW would spend the next two years fleshing out Page's character, heavily nuanced with demons, self-doubt, friendship issues, and the struggle to summon courage. It's been a well-crafted road to Page (eventually) dethroning Omega, one that even Hangman's biggest supporters today couldn't have envisioned back in 2019.