Be kinda weird not to talk about All Out, right? I don’t have a PPV review for you (other than to say 10/10 and every match was perfect, even if it was a bathroom break between Paul White and QT Marshal), but something else, instead…
I’ve been writing about WWE-related content on this site back before it even was this site. Before we were Cult of Whatever, we were Wrestling 101/Talk Wrestling and that’s exactly what I did. It’s what I’ve done for almost a decade on the interwebs. I got my start writing fanposts on Cagesideseats before I became a staff writer there. I later worked for The Sportster, and came on board the TW team just before we transitioned to Cult of Whatever. It’s been great. It’s still great…it’s just a lot of the wrestling stuff I have to write about that’s been “not great.”
I’ve been a WWE fan before it even was the WWE. Back when it was the WWF, in the summer of 1999, I started watching because I was in 9th grade and that’s what the cool kids in school were doing. I would not have imagined I’d make a partial living writing about it, nor did I think I’d even still be watching it over twenty years later but here we are.
Actually, no we’re not: I don’t really watch WWE anymore. I follow it. I keep up with it. I catch pertinent clips on YouTube and read more than enough on various websites to know what all is going on, but my love for the WWE has been steadily waning for a very long time. I can zoom out and examine the whole timeline of my pro wrestling fandom and pick out multiple moments where my love of this pseudo-sport peaked and moments where it cratered. For the most part, it looks like a slow, tapering line, steadily descending to the valley of apathy, helped along by moments of abject stupidity that I am only able to cope with through the SO OF COURSE PPV preview series.
Here, I made a handy graph to illustrate…
As you can see, my love of WWF/E peaked at Mania X-Seven and from there the pull of gravity slowly dragged it down. Though it sparked with life here and there, for the most part, it was trending down and down and down until the Summer of Punk and the Yes Movement brought new life to it. After Bryan vacated the title things took a nosedive again and other than a jolt from my going to my first WrestleMania, it kept trending down. Becky Lynch’s main event run sparked things a little bit, as you can see, recent history has bottomed it out to its lowest levels.
This is not the end of my love of pro wrestling, however. It’s merely the recognition that WWE isn’t pro wrestling. It’s something they’ve been trying to tell me for a very long time but I never really believed them until recently. You don’t fire as many talents as they have done without realizing it. And if that wasn’t enough there’s the idea that Vince McMahon looked at the weekly output of Raw, NXT, and Smackdown and concluded: “NXT needs a total makeover.” That was enough to convince me that, yes, WWE is definitely not pro wrestling. I don’t know what they are, but it’s not very sporty and I’m certainly not very entertained by it, but they’re not pro wrestling.
Fortunately, my love of pro wrestling has found a home…
At first, my growing apathy toward WWE/sports entertainment kept me from being too interested in the All In Supercard, but as AEW blossomed into a legit new pro wrestling company, my interest grew. Desperate and hopeful all at once, I bought the company’s first PPV, Double or Nothing in 2019. It was messy but it had potential and by the time its weekly show premiered, I was hooked and determined to support them through all their growing pains. Two years later, those growing pains look to be over. At All Out 2021, the caterpillar became the butterfly.
The event is most noteworthy because of three big names, but even without them, this would have been the best PPV the company had presented and possibly one of the best PPVs of the past decade. With these three names, it absolutely is the company’s best PPV and the best pro wrestling (or “sports entertainment”) PPV in a decade. These three names are noteworthy because they represent WWE’s past, present, and future, and they all came to AEW with different motivations and journeys behind them.
CM Punk is the superstar of the past that WWE squandered.
Had they treated him like the main-event talent he was in 2011 and not took every opportunity to cut his legs off and diminish his appeal, they could have had a ten-year merch moving, show headlining, ratings grabbing, mainstream appealing superstar. The very thing they’ve needed just one of in the post-Cena world they could have had two of for much of the past decade and been better equipped to handle the exodus of Cena as a full-time performer a couple of years back. Instead, they overworked Punk, under-appreciated Punk, and flat out mistreated Punk for even daring to try and control his own destiny.
In response to the company’s abuses, Punk did what no one really had done in the many years of WWE’s near-monopoly on the sport: He quit. He made enough money to walk away and that’s what he did. Fast forward seven years and he got the itch to come back. WWE made offers and he rejected them. AEW made offers and he listened. He watched. He paid attention. In the end, he found a place where he could be valued and now he’s back: The Best in the World returned not to the company currently synonymous with sports entertainment, but with the still-young company quickly becoming synonymous with pro wrestling.
Bryan Danielson is the superstar of the present that WWE wasted.
Sure, there were a few years there where Bryan was on injury leave, but even after he was healthy again and ready to compete the company refused to clear him. Before that, when they had him as a bonafide main-event superstar as popular as anyone since CM Punk (with some of that popularity overlapping CM Punk’s final months), they wasted what they had. The YES MOVEMENT was at first ignored, then they tried to transfer it to Big Show, then they tried to bury it, then when they finally gave in to it and produced one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time, they quickly relegated his title reign to a bland, retread feud with Kane in the mid-card of the show. He was injured and forced to vacate soon after but even before that, it was already clear that he was never going to be the man. When he returned it was to compete for the IC title. Then he retired for years. He returned to another WWE title run that was essentially in the midcard and kept on the then B-show. He was given a second Mania main-event a few months ago, mostly as insurance in case Edge wasn’t able to work at the high level they expected. After that…he let his contract expire and jumped ship to AEW.
To say Bryan leaving was a shock would be an understatement. From his own lips, the company was willing to let him wrestle some top stars in Japan. From his own lips leaving WWE was a hard choice. It wasn’t like with Punk, where deciding to return to wrestling at all was the struggle and, when that decision was made, AEW was the place to be. Bryan debated whether or not to jump ship, but despite WWE throwing all kinds of perks at him to get him to stay, in the end, he chose to leave. Why? Because AEW—with its fanbase, enthusiasm, atmosphere, and starpower—was too good an opportunity to pass up. That’s what he said, by the way.
No one had ever left WWE the way Bryan did. In the past twenty years, since WCW folded, lots of ex-WWE talent has appeared at other places, but in those cases, they were always superstars that WWE was done with: Kurt Angle, Christian, Dudley Boys, Booker T, the Hardys, etc. WWE simply didn’t lose bidding wars: They always had more money or they had more prestige to keep whomever they wanted to keep. Not this time: Bryan turned down WWE and chose AEW. The American Dragon, often called the greatest pure “wrestler” in the world, left the company currently synonymous with sports entertainment, and came to the still-young company quickly becoming synonymous with pro wrestling.
Adam Cole is the superstar of the future that WWE rejected.
It has been a whirlwind few months with firings and contract releases happening left and right in WWE, but really the story of Adam Cole leaving goes back at least two years and to the debut of AEW Dynamite on TNT. In advance of the premiere, Vince McMahon decided to move NXT from the WWE Network to the USA Network, to run counter to AEW. The hope was to blunt its early success and kill it in the womb.
The move failed harder than the XFL (either time). AEW’s first week scored 1.4 million viewers, essentially doubling the NXT output (which had been on the air unopposed for a few weeks before that). Over the next year and a half, the two shows competed for viewers but it was hardly the “war” that the fans touted it to be: AEW won the overall ratings battle 63 out of 75 weeks. NXT only won ten times (two weeks they tied). In terms of the key demographic battle, AEW won every week but one. By any metric, AEW slaughtered NXT.
Defeated, Vince moved NXT to Tuesday nights in the Spring of 2021, during which time AEW Dynamite continued to rise. For the rest of the summer, Vince—who insisted AEW was no competition—hacked and slashed and totally revamped his roster, firing countless performers that were seen as the present and future of the company. The message was clear, which was later verified by insiders: The small, fast, indie style of wrestling that NXT buttered its bread with for several years and which AEW was riding to massive success was done in WWE. In its place was the old Vince McMahon standby: Big, muscly men who don’t know how to wrestle but who look good on a billboard.
The writing was on the wall: “If you were a so-called ‘Triple H guy’ in the heyday of NXT, consider your days numbered.” And no wrestler exemplified the kind of performer Vince was rejecting than Adam Cole. So, even though he had become the face of NXT during his time there, and even though Vince personally met with Cole to pitch ideas for him, as soon as his contract was up, Cole jumped ship. WWE was no longer a place where he could work his magic. He left the company currently synonymous with sports entertainment and came to the still-young company quickly becoming synonymous with pro wrestling.
WWE’s past, present, and future—their “then, now, and forever” if you will—had their moment in the sports entertainment spotlight, but for each of them that spotlight was turned off, either being squandered, wasted, or rejected. Their loss is AEW’s gain. WWE is certainly not going out of business anytime soon, I know. But I also no longer care. If WWE decides to improve their product, or if they keep running the same five matches every week for months on end, it means nothing to me. I’ll follow the product as much as is necessary but I’m no longer a fan and there’s no point hanging on to a company that seems to actively disregard whatever I want, anyway. Why punish myself with a tired product when there’s a pro wrestling company out there that seems, genuinely, to want to entertain me with great pseudo-sports?
So long, WWE. Here’s to AEW, and to a renewed love of pro wrestling.