I had time to sleep on it. This may be a controversial opinion, but as someone that has seen both Wrestlemania X-Seven and AEW's 2021 edition of All Out, I will say this with confidence:
We will look back at 2021 All Out as the greatest pro wrestling pay-per-view of all time. Maybe not today. But later on down the road. However, we'll discuss superlatives later on.
Last night's show was a coming of age moment for All Elite Wrestling; the moment that WCW was supposed to have at Starrcade 1997; the moment that TNA never managed to achieve.
AEW proved that pro wrestling itself is entertaining. It doesn't have to be as serious as New Japan or as watered-down as the sports entertainment formula of WWE. Pro wrestling can draw money—and size doesn't matter.
Small like Darby. Big like Miro. Young like Jungle Boy. Older like Jericho. Promising like MJF. Proven like Omega. Performers are being asked to be nothing more than just the best professional wrestlers they can be. AEW puts on professional wrestling shows; not shows that they hope they can cross over into something that's anything aside from what it is.
Balance is key; where other promotions have spent the last two decades trying to strike the right balance, AEW has managed to nail it in just under three years.
In a very challenging landscape as we move from a mass production to a mass customization society, a one-size-fits-all approach to entertainment is indeed passé. Cords are being cut. Streaming is exploding. Consumers have much greater choice in terms of how they wish to consume entertainment as well as how they wish to be entertained. Now more than ever, media companies are strategizing in how to offer tailored entertainment experiences to consumers.
To Vince McMahon's credit he realized this—early—and essentially allowed NXT to become a safe place, if you will, for pro wrestling enthusiasts (or nerds, or die-hards, or whatever) while still remaining in his ecosystem. But even before NXT became NXT, McMahon would throw a bone to the "nerdy" segments of the WWE audience, if you will, by booking CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in main event spots once he finally realized they had broad appeal.
But even customizing a product to succeed on narrow appeal still requires a degree of wider accessibility to spur growth. AEW got that early. Doing so has paid off handsomely.
Tony Khan, The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega that solved that riddle by developing a product that caters to enthusiast, lapsed, and casual fans alike.
This is not to say other promotions haven't tried. To their credit, mid-aughts TNA nearly pulled it off. However, TNA would repeatedly burn any goodwill that they had their fanbase and it only got worse as the years went on. After regaining the audience's trust to a degree with a strong 2012—including winning the Wrestler Observer award for Best Weekly TV show—they ended up squandering it the following year.
So what made the 2021 edition of All Out such a groundbreaking show? Because it was the culmination of trust. The audience trusts the promotion. The talent trusts the promotion. The fans and the talent trust each other. The show was a presentation of what happens when a promoter does right by their audience and their talent.
In the end, the show represented the maturity of AEW as a promotion and as a business.
Symbolism aside, the show was a complete masterpiece in booking, pace, and performance. It's unreal how many stories were told in this event:
- Miro has an Achilles' heel: his neck.
- Moxley is on a trip of self-discovery through violent encounters with Japanese legends.
- Britt Baker is a heel that is just too damn good
- Wily veteran (Punk) shows promising upstart (Allin) that while he's great, there's a reason why he's a veteran; a much different CM Punk character than the rebel against authority
- Hubris, ultimately, gets the best of Maxwell Jacob Friedman
- Potential feuds to emerge from the Battle Royale include Rosa and Soho and a teacher versus student in Sakura and Shida
- Cole adds a new edge to the Elite group
- Bryan Danielson goes headhunting
- The Lucha Brothers with an emotional rollercoaster of a ride, winning the biggest match they ever put on in North America in the greatest tag team cage match of all time