Rumors swirled about Randy Orton leaving his long-time pro wrestling home, but while that hasn’t come to anything yet, and AEW pulled off an impressive talent reveal at its Las Vegas event, one moment from the Feb. 4 Being The Elite shocked me even more.
For Darby Allin to make a cameo, in a segment with Cody Rhodes offering the death-defying wrestler a contract, shored up my confidence in the instincts of the son of a son of a plumber.
Some background, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Allin. He’s one of the most beloved wrestlers at EVOLVE, the indie with the clearest relationship to WWE — which sends talent from NXT to every show now, in the aftermath of WWE’s biggest signings in 2018 (including Keith Lee and Matt Riddle) gutting EVOLVE of its top tier talent.
Of course, let’s not get too worked here. His very brief appearance, with Cody attempting to offer him a contract — in one of the show’s signature farcical segments — and Cody’s subsequent tweet doesn’t actually suggest he’s made any decision to leave the WWN family.
Because of tampering laws that Cody’s mentioned, The American Nightmare has to be careful when talking to talent signed to contracts. So, all that the above truly means is that the AEW boys want to keep themselves in the conversation and start rumors, a goal that they’ve proven adept at, countless times.
The thing is though, Darby even appearing on camera with AEW execs feels different than Joey Janela, the only WWN-related performer previously associated with AEW (and the only WWN talent that performed at All In, while being the WWN champion). Janela’s always felt like a guy on his own: he may work with GCW, but he shares event branding with them to signify that he’s as big, if not bigger than they are.
I remember being there at EVOLVE 68, Darby’s sixth show with the company, at the NYWC Sportatorium in Deer Park, Long Island, and I remember telling him which side of the tracks was right to wait on for his train (he and I were both going in the same direction) at the end of the night. And ever since he’s been with the company, especially in La Boom, Darby felt like a true star made in EVOLVE.
Darby’s story in WWN has been a major part of EVOLVE for the last 2 years and 5 months, and to see him in Being The Elite was a shock, especially considering WWN’s connections with WWE, and how AEW is trying to - all respect to Adam Cole’s crew - shock the system.
This is the first time areal WWN guy (no offense to Joey’s title run) has been seen with The Elite. From everything you can tell by watching EVOLVE, and from what sources familiar with the company told me the company thinks about him, he’s a top guy in the promotion.
And so for the All Elite Wrestling folks to show that their eyes are on this level of the system, tells me that they’re far more cannier than Impact ever was. For all the rumors of a Randy Orton signing to AEW, the company knows that signing the biggest up-and-coming talents from the WWE, would make just as big a splash. Impact signing established (or over the hill) WWE stars never went anywhere after those initial shoot promos. Seriously, where is Aron Rex, or whatever the wrestler formerly known as Damien Sandow calls himself?
But if Allin were to lose his title shot next weekend to Austin Theory, the continued mixed signals would lead fans to think something’s amok. And for EVOLVE’s sake, that better be the promotion showing it knows how to play with expectations, before Darby wins a rematch at WrestleMania weekend.
If Allin leaves for AEW, it would signal to other indie wrestlers that someone with experience in EVOLVE — which, again, is clearly connected to and related to WWE’s developmental — didn’t feel like sticking around. That AEW is as important as everyone’s saying it is.