From the moment ALL IN sold out, it had to be recognized as an unqualified success, but now that the show has come and gone we can look at it from a creative standpoint and... truth be told, they knocked it out of the proverbial park.
I was considering doing match recommendations in the style I do for the major New Japan shows, but on reflection I don’t think there’s a single match I’d go below the “it’s your call” waterline that is a three-boy and really, if there’s nothing to skip, match recommendations don’t make a lot of sense.
In the end, the show (and you can check out the full-service liveblog right here if you like) had a little bit of everything.
MJF vs. Matt Cross was a dual-layered match, pairing grappler vs. flyer and veteran vs. rookie to great effect. Stephen Amell nailed his singles debut against Christopher Daniels and looked good enough that frankly I think he could make a full-time career out of wrestling if he wanted. The women’s four-way between Dr. Britt Baker, DMD (and I do so love that they gave her her full, legitimate title), an absolutely deranged Chelsea Green, Madison Rayne, and Tessa Blanchard was fast-paced and exciting even if not the most crisp match on the card.
Cody Rhodes won the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship held by his father, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, in an emotional and yes, overbooked match that wasn’t the most exciting contest you’ll ever see that nonetheless was everything it needed to be to create his big moment. Hangman Page and Joey Janela (with an assist from Penelope Ford) went to war in a wild hardcore match that was everything great about Janela’s time in CZW distilled down to a single point, and while I’m not a regular viewer of Being the Elite by any means, used their storyline quite effectively. And also, Joey Ryan came back to life with an assist from a gang of ghost penises, which definitely is a thing that happened.
Jay Lethal brought the spirit of “Macho Man” Randy Savage into the arena reprising his Black Machismo character with “Leaping” Lanny Poffo and Brandi Rhodes as an ersatz Miss Elizabeth in his corner, against a game Flip Gordon who finally became All In after going under a hood to win the pre-show battle royal. Kenny Omega and Pentagon, Jr. went out there and destroyed each other in a wild brawl that may have been the best match on the card.
The Rainmaker hit his groove against the Villain, seemingly finally totally recovered from the mid-life crisis incurred by the shock of losing his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, although of all the matches on the card I feel like this is the one that came closest to outstaying its welcome. And in the main event, the Golden Elite and an all-star lucha trio of Bandido, Rey Fenix, and Rey Mysterio tore the house down, barely finishing before the broadcast got cut off but leaving most folks quite satisfied regardless.
So, with all that being said, if ALL IN was so good, how can they improve on it for a hypothetical ALL IN 2?
I’d take a lesson from the original National Pro Wrestling Day.
If you’re not familiar with it, National Pro Wrestling Day (henceforth NPWD) has been a Chikara mainstay for the last five years. Generally occurring in January or February, NPWD is a a free show designed to celebrate independent wrestling, and although the last few have shrunk down slightly to basically just be Chikara-only, the first edition was something special.
Bringing 20 promotions together under one roof and divided into afternoon and evening shows, everyone from Ring of Honor to Evolve to Beyond Wrestling to AIW to CZW to CWF Mid-Atlantic held showcase matches, and Chikara’s own Rey de Voladores mini-tournament featured talent from AAW, ACW, St. Louis Anarchy and more, including the legendary 2 Cold Scorpio as a free agent. Granted, the number was somewhat inflated due to how many of those twenty promotions were Chikara’s junior affiliates, the Wrestling Is... promotions, but even so it was a hell of an achievement, and I’d like to see some of that flavor come to the next ALL IN show.
As it stands, my one disappointment headed into ALL IN was that in a lot of ways it felt like just another edition of New Japan and Ring of Honor’s interpromotional War of the Worlds tour with a handful of non-regular talent tossed in to spice things up. Even the NWA title match, to some extent, felt like old hat despite how great the build was because that title regularly appeared on NJPW shows when Bruce Tharpe was president of the National Wrestling Alliance and managing his American champions at ringside in sparkly blazers.
They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and there’s no better way for ALL IN to continue help growing the indies than by giving more promotions and more talent a chance to shine. Naturally with 2018’s landscape of shifting alliances, you’re not likely to see WWE-affiliated indies like Evolve or Progress putting a match on at ALL IN 2, but there’s no reason the unaffiliated indies of the world couldn’t send showcase matches out, your major Powerbomb.tv and Highspots affiliates, and that’s without even thinking about bigger promotions that are already in NJPW and ROH’s sphere or adjacent to it, the likes of CMLL and RevPro, Impact and AAA.
ALL IN was great, and a celebration of what wrestling outside of WWE can be at its best, but ALL IN 2 could be even more impressive by taking a page from “Lightning” Mike Quackenbush’s book and collecting the best of the wider indies under their banner.