For those unaware, All In, which took place at the Sears Centre Arena just outside Chicago, IL on September 1, 2018, came about because of a tweet posted on May 16, 2017 by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. In the tweet, Meltzer denied that an independent wrestling promotion like Ring of Honor (ROH) could ever sell out a large arena like Madison Square Garden. Former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Superstar turned indie darling Cody Rhodes decided to prove Meltzer wrong, teaming with Matt and Nick Jackson (collectively known as The Young Bucks) to organize the biggest independent wrestling show in at least 20 years, if not more. Cody and the Bucks took a huge chance on this show, because it held the potential to be a disaster of epic proportions, especially if the trio failed to fill the venue as promised. Luckily for them, a reported 11,263 rabid wrestling fans heeded the call, filling the Sears Centre to capacity and making All In both a resounding success and a historic (not to mention potentially game-changing) event that took the professional wrestling world by storm.
As Uproxx’s Brandon Stroud pointed out, Cody and the Bucks put together a show that celebrated the past, present, and future of professional wrestling. They made sure to book matches and performers that offered a little something for everyone, from casual fans to the smarkiest of smarks to the curmudgeonly old school types who lament the death of kayfabe and feel that people like Joey Ryan (who practically stole the show with his brief appearance) are “killing the business.” Over the course of five hours, All In turned the National Wrestling Alliance’s (NWA) World’s Heavyweight Championship into the most important title in wrestling, showcased some of the best professional wrestlers in the world, provided a platform for several young up-and-coming wrestlers who deserve wider recognition, paid homage to the stars of the past, and entertained fans with some incredible wrestling. In other words, it was a great show from top to bottom, serving as a nice antidote to the homogenized—and frankly stale—product offered by WWE (though even that has its place in the world of professional wrestling).
The show itself was preceded by All In: Zero Hour, an hour-long preshow event that aired live on WGN America and kicked off with a quick but brutal match between Southern California Uncensored or SCU (comprised of Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky) and The Briscoe Brothers (Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe). Though somewhat sloppy at times, the match was fast-paced and entertaining, and it served as a good way to start the whole event because it perfectly encapsulated the feeling of All In: exciting, fun, hard-hitting, different, and not always pretty (the Briscoes were famously deemed too ugly for WWE). SCU picked up the win after Kazarian reversed a springboard doomsday device and hit Mark Briscoe with a vicious powerslam before successfully pinning him.
This was followed by the Over Budget Battle Royal, which featured some of the top stars from ROH, Impact Wrestling, and the indie circuit. The match was characterized by fast and furious action, but every single participant got a spotlight thanks to some great storytelling. Indeed, the frantic and fun battle royal showcased the friendship between Chuck Taylor and Trent Barretta, the tenacity of newcomer Marko Stunt, the power of Jordynn Grace (the only woman in the match), and more. Of course, the match’s ultimate purpose was to get Flip Gordon (repeatedly excluded from participating in All In by Rhodes) onto the main show. ROH mainstay Bully Ray (aka Bubba Ray Dudley) appeared to win the match but was ultimately eliminated by Gordon, who was disguised as masked wrestler Chico El Luchador. Thus, Gordon earned a title shot against ROH champion Jay Lethal later in the night (more on that in a bit).
All In proper began with three preliminary matches, starting with a thrilling singles match between MJF and veteran indie wrestler Matt Cross, who also portrays fan-favorite character Son of Havoc on Lucha Underground. After some exciting back-and-forth action, Cross hit MJF with a pitch-perfect shooting star press and emerged victorious. After that, Arrow star Stephen Amell faced “The Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels (the third member of SCU) in a brutal contest that saw Amell jump from the top rope only to crash through a table on the floor. Despite some minor botches here and there, Amell acquitted himself well and delivered a respectable performance. It helped that he was in the ring with a knowledgeable veteran like Daniels, one of the best wrestlers of the past 20 years. Following the table spot, Daniels rolled Amell back into the ring and nailed him with the Best Moonsault Ever to win the match. Next up, Chelsea Green, Madison Rayne, Britt Baker, and Tessa Blanchard competed in a four-corner survival match that constituted the only women’s match on the card. All four women gave it their all throughout the match, and the crowd responded to their efforts by cheering wildly and chanting “This is awesome!” more than once. Blanchard eventually won the match after hitting a hammerlock DDT on Green, and while this was the absolute right choice, the ending still felt somewhat off (it seemed like either Rayne or Baker were supposed to break up the pin but missed the cue). Nevertheless, this was a truly exhilarating match that culminated with all four women celebrating together in the ring.
The crowd was still buzzing as a video package played to set up the next contest, which saw Cody Rhodes challenge Nick Aldis for the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes made his way to the ring accompanied by an entourage that included his wife Brandi, his dog Pharoah, and coaches Diamond Dallas Page, Glacier, and Tommy Dreamer. Aldis, meanwhile, walked to the ring alongside Sam Shaw, Shawn Daivari, and Jeff Jarrett (who received a cool reception from the crowd). The match felt like an extended homage to the NWA matches of the past, complete with an injury angle, a blade job by Cody, a run-in by Daivari (who ran straight into a Diamond Cutter delivered by DDP), and a lot of old school grappling from bother performers. It also featured plenty of drama and powerful storytelling. For instance, near the end of the match, Aldis climbed to the top rope to deliver a diving elbow drop on an unconscious Cody, only for Brandi to throw herself on top of her husband’s prone body and take the brunt of the move. This sacrifice allowed Cody to recover and hit Aldis with a Disaster Kick followed by a Cross Rhodes for the win. The post-match celebration was possibly the most emotionally powerful moment of the night, as a tearful Cody clutched the belt that his father, Dusty, helped make famous.
The next match wrapped up one of the longest-running storylines on the Bucks’ YouTube series Being the Elite and led to All In’s funniest (and possibly best) moment. “Hangman” Adam Page faced “Bad Boy” Joey Janela in a Chicago Street Fight that remained mostly confined to the ring and the surrounding area but still managed to be both vicious and innovative. Each man unleashed and endured brutal punishment during the encounter, though Janela absorbed most of it and was visibly bruised and battered by the end of the match. At one point, Janela’s valet, Penelope Ford, entered the ring and showed off her impressive athletic skills as she tried to save her man from Page’s devastating assault. However, even this was not enough to stop Page’s rampage as he continued to pummel Janela throughout the match, which ended when Page laid out Janela with a Rite of Passage off the top of a ladder through a table in the middle of the ring. After the match, in a moment that recalled The Undertaker’s entrance, the arena lights went out and a video of Joey Ryan, killed by Page several months earlier (watch Being the Elite for the full story), appeared on the screen. A bloody and seemingly deceased Ryan lay in a hotel bed, but then his penis started moving, indicating there was still life in the body (seriously, watch Being the Elite). At that point, a procession of men dressed in inflatable penis costumes solemnly marched to the ring followed by Ryan, who emerged to thunderous applause. Ryan performed his patented YouPorn Plex on a stunned Page, who was then carried from the arena by the Dick Druids (for lack of a better term) while the crowd cheered. Side note: Professional wrestling is amazing.
Up next was the ROH title match between Gordon and Lethal, who wrestled as Black Machismo, a gimmick centered around Lethal’s spot-on “Macho Man” Randy Savage impersonation. Savage’s brother, Lanny Poffo (who previously wrestled for WWE as “Leapin’” Lanny Poffo and The Genius), even accompanied Lethal to the ring. The match started with Lethal and Gordon performing an extended homage to the Savage/Steamboat match from WrestleMania III via a sequence of moves that recalled that seminal match. It was an impressive performance from both men, who managed to balance the wackiness and the drama almost perfectly. About halfway through the match, Lethal “woke up” from his daze and wrestled the rest of the match as himself. From that point on, the action ramped up as both men hit big moves on their opponent and, in true ROH style, kicked out of multiple finishers. Gordon showed a lot of heart and was clearly the crowd favorite, but nonetheless he failed to earn the victory. After an intense battle, Lethal hit his signature move, the Lethal Injection, to defeat Gordon and retain the ROH title. After the match, the two competitors shook hands in a show of mutual respect but were interrupted by a returning Bully Ray who was looking for a measure of revenge against Gordon. Bully Ray beat down both men, but thankfully Chicago’s own Colt Cabana came out to make the save, teaming with Gordon and Lethal to put Bully Ray through a table via a triple powerbomb.
This triumphant moment was followed by two dream matches, starting with “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega taking on Penta El Zero M (aka AAA and Lucha Underground star, Pentagon, Jr.). Back in 2017, during a six-man tag team match that took place at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA), Omega squared off against Penta for the first time ever in a brief confrontation that only left fans wanting more. Thankfully, Cody and the Bucks were more than willing to give the people what they wanted, and they booked Omega vs. Penta in a singles match at All In. The two competitors faced off in a thrilling encounter marked by some truly hard-hitting action, with each man throwing their most devastating moves at the other throughout the nearly 20-minute match. Omega hit Penta with several V Triggers (one of his signature moves), while Penta retaliated with several wicked chops and a devastating package piledriver on the ring apron. Yet, despite their best efforts, neither man could put the other away. That changed, however, when Omega managed to finally hit Penta with One-Winged Angel after repeated failed attempts. This allowed Omega to come out on top, much to the delight of the fans in attendance, who remained loud and rowdy throughout the entire encounter.
The next dream match saw “The Villain” Marty Scurll battle “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada one-on-one. The story of the match was that Scurll wanted to prove he was main event talent by beating one of the very best wrestlers in the entire world. Okada, meanwhile, abandoned his recent crazy gimmick (which he adopted after losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Omega) in favor of his seemingly unstoppable “Rainmaker” persona for the match at All In. Even with this development, the match proved grueling for both men, who hit each other with everything they had as they struggled to pick up the win. Scurll looked like a top contender throughout the contest, holding his own against a massively overpowered opponent. At the same time, Okada demonstrated exactly why he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, appearing charismatic and tough while executing some of the most exciting moves ever seen in a professional wrestling ring. The match also featured some excellent storytelling, as each man got to strut their stuff and bust out their signature moves in some exhilarating ways. For instance, Scurll has recently been dogged by chants of “205,” a reference to WWE’s 205 Live and his less-than-heavyweight stature. At one point, Okada made “205” gestures with his right hand as a prelude to hitting Scurll with his finisher, the Rainmaker, but this momentary act of hubris allowed Scurll to grab Okada’s fingers and “break” them using one of his own signature moves. Ultimately, Okada came out on top after nailing Scurll with two consecutive Rainmakers, but Scurll left the ring looking like a main-event-caliber performer.
The show concluded with a chaotic six-man tag team match in which New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) star Kota Ibushi teamed with the Bucks against Rey Fénix, Bandido, and legendary luchador Rey Mysterio (who came to the ring dressed like Wolverine of the X-Men). Sadly, the match was pressed for time and the performers had to hurry to hit all their spots, marring the flow of the contest somewhat. Nevertheless, it was a fun encounter that featured a couple of fantastic sequences, most notably a one-on-one face-off between Ibushi and Mysterio that, like Omega/Penta at BOLA, left the crowd wanting more. Everyone else got a moment to shine, though Bandido benefited the most from the match; it was a perfect venue for him to strut his stuff and show the crowd exactly why he is currently one of the most buzzworthy wrestlers around. The match ended when the Bucks hit Bandido with the Meltzer Driver and pinned him for the win. Afterward, all the performers embraced and celebrated together while the crowd roared their approval. As the luchadors walked to the back, Cody, Brandi, Omega, and Matt and Nick’s families came to the ring. Cody and the Bucks then delivered an impassioned speech about how All In represented a revolution in professional wrestling, and they credited the massive crowd with helping to make it happen. After some concluding remarks from Omega, the performers retreated backstage to a standing ovation from the rowdy crowd.
It remains to be seen if the show is indeed the game changer that Cody and the Bucks claim, but one thing is certain: All In felt like something different, something that absolutely has the potential to alter the professional wrestling landscape, long dominated by WWE and its brand of sports entertainment. That Cody and the Bucks managed to book an independent wrestling show that sold out a large arena and attracted 11,263 people suggests that wrestling fans are hungry for a change and want something more than what they get from WWE programming. Indeed, the crowd responded enthusiastically when Matt and Nick teased the possibility of a second All In (title suggestion: “All In – Too Sweet”), suggesting that any potential follow-up show would likely draw as many people as the first. The runaway triumph of All In also demonstrates the power of social media holds over professional wrestling because Cody and the Bucks accomplished this historic feat largely due to their savvy use of platforms like YouTube and Twitter.
Ultimately, All In shined a light on the larger professional wrestling world beyond the confines of WWE, which was always at its best when facing competition from other companies (such as WCW). This is why it is ultimately pointless to compare what Cody and the Bucks did to what Vince and company do on a weekly basis (a comparison that forms the basis of many All In reviews). There is room for both because they each appeal to different audiences. In the end, All In demonstrates the need for someone that can compete with WWE rather than replace it, because healthy competition brings out the best in everyone involved, which benefits wrestling fans. Regardless of whether a second show ever materializes, All In will stand as a great independent wrestling show, as well as a historic moment in the history of the professional wrestling industry.