In just a few weeks’ time, the sold-out All In, the hugely anticipated brainchild of Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, takes place in Chicago. What started life as an exercise in thumbing the nose at Dave Meltzer has gone on to become an unprecedented success after all 10,000 tickets were sold in under thirty minutes. As if that weren’t remarkable enough, check out these statistics from David Bixenspan: “All In is the first non-WWE professional wrestling card in the United States to sell 10,000 tickets since 1999. If you take WCW, Turner Broadcasting’s WWE competitor that folded in 2001, out of the mix, All in is the first 10,000-plus show since 1994.” All of this before a single match had been announced.
Cody and Co. have generated an enormous amount of buzz and excitement. Their achievement is all the more extraordinary in that the venture is technically an independent wrestling show. Sure, it’s endorsed by Ring of Honor, and there’s a healthy number of RoH stars on the card, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a ‘Cody and the Bucks’ production. They’ve secured huge stars like Kazuchika Okada and Rey Mysterio, thrown together must-see matches like Kenny Omega vs Pentagon, and frankly the whole thing is already looking a great deal more inspiring than this year’s SummerSlam card.
So what does this mean for WWE? Financially speaking, not a great deal. WWE are sitting pretty on their spoils from the recent billion dollar Fox deal; All In probably doesn’t even register as a threat to their profits but to be complacent about it would be foolish. All In might have a negligible impact on Vince McMahon’s wallet, but it’s indicative of something far more interesting, and – potentially – far more threatening.
When the WWE machine finally swallowed up WCW back in 2001 it effectively spelt the end of any real competition. No single non-WWE promotion has, to date, been able to reach the heights WCW achieved in its heyday. WWE has enjoyed a comfortable monopoly on western pro-wrestling, and have recently made overtures strongly suggesting they intend to expand this monopoly into British wrestling too – at least while WoS Wrestling remains an unknown quantity (the timing of NXT UK was suspicious, to say the least…)
There are numerous issues with WWE’s domination of the pro-wrestling scene – not least the promotion’s unfortunate habit of snatching up-and-coming stars from rival promotions and proceeding to do very little with them. When one old man’s extremely narrow vision is allowed to dominate, the result is a stale, stodgy product devoid of innovation. This is where we find WWE in 2018: uninspired, formulaic, and going through the motions.
The landscape is changing. All In sold out within half an hour, and more recently the joint RoH/NJPW “G1 Supercard” sold out Madison Square Garden – breaking the McMahon family stranglehold on MSG for the first time since 1960. Not only that but the show takes place the night before WrestleMania. Symbolically, this is huge, and more than that, it speaks of an audience crying out for an alternative to the WWE hegemony. The demand for something fresh is evident from the sheer speed in which both events sold out. Neither Ring of Honor nor New Japan Pro Wrestling have achieved sales like these in the US before, and the MSG show to sell out so quickly and emphatically after ALL IN’s success suggests that the demand is not a flash in the pan.
The potential implications of all of this are extremely interesting. WWE has been seen as the pinnacle of achievement for pro-wrestlers, the truest mark of success. But wrestlers like Cody, the Bucks and Kenny Omega have proved that it is possible to be successful and in-demand outside of WWE and its limited vision. What All In represents is the possibility of alternative aspirations, the potential for an endgame that doesn’t involve signing for WWE – and that means a potential alternative for wrestling fans as well as performers. It’s early days yet, but if this really is a sign of things to come, then WWE would be smart to pay attention.
Keeping all this in mind, All In needn’t be a negative as far as WWE is concerned. Competition is a healthy thing and if these recent successes do put the wind-up McMahon and co, the end result could be positive for WWE’s increasingly stale product too. Nothing inspires innovation quite like a rival. ALL IN’s success is a victory for pro-wrestling, and fans of all promotions should be excited to see what comes next.