Jim Ross said it best as All Elite Wrestling’s All Out pay-per-view on Sunday night came to a close—the game has changed.
In the aftermath of Kenny Omega retaining the AEW World Championship via a victory over Christian Cage to close the show, AEW had not one, but two of the best talents on the planet make surprise debuts.
It wasn’t just the man formerly known as Daniel Bryan. He was second behind Adam Cole, who completes his whirlwind journey after a pitstop in WWE by returning to shockingly link up with Omega and the heel faction that has eyes set on running AEW outright.
Like the CM Punk debut, fans pretty much knew it was coming. Bryan Danielson was obvious and even hinted at and the radio silence on Cole’s part after it was clear his WWE contract was up made that obvious, too. But it just didn’t matter—like Punk in Chicago, both debuts were landmark moments in the wrestling industry.
There are very intricate details to consider when it comes to WWE leaking talent like this and AEW luring them to town. We are talking about two of the modern greats, an NXT legend and a WrestleMania main-eventer.
But even pulling back and just examining All Out’s fallout in a basic sense says it all. The implications of Danielson teaming up with a faction opposing Cole, Omega and the rest sets up some dream matches fans haven’t seen. Punk’s right there in the background in that category too after his win over Darby Allin.
Looking across the aisle, WWE has…Bobby Lashley and a 54-year-old Goldberg in one main-event scene and a rehash of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns in the other. The company’s second-biggest event of the year, SummerSlam, featured ho-hum matches, if not outright disappointments like Becky Lynch returning to bury fan favorite Bianca Belair.
Sunday night was, in many ways, probably the best pro wrestling show we’ve seen all year. And it didn’t need a Punk match or big debuts to classify as such, either. On its lonesome without any special attractions, AEW’s All Out event in 2021 was destined for greatness. The live crowd was hot throughout and the card was simply stacked.
Every title, for example, felt well respected with big-time performances. Miro defeating Eddie Kingston to retain the AEW TNT Championship was a fun slugfest. Britt Baker conquering Kris Statlander to retain the women’s title just about stole the show as the best match of the night. And while fans have seen plenty of The Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers in some capacity since the company’s beginning, they managed another near-classic as the latter pulled off the upset to win the tag titles.
Even other non-title matches managed to captivate. Jon Moxley does that on his own, of course, but slugging it out with Satoshi Kojima before a shocking encounter with Minoru Suzuki was chef’s kiss material. Chris Jericho putting his in-ring career on the line against MJF almost seemed like too much beforehand, but the two made it work. Even Ruby Soho joined the fray after debuting to only boost an already-stacked women’s division up a notch.
Just looking at some of the names mentioned above, of course the show was stunning at nearly every turn. AEW has blended the sport’s best tag-team division, a brilliant women’s side and a current and legends outlook, even boasting the likes of Sting, with apparent ease.
But it’s still a testament to the talent involved that nearly every match felt like it was about to steal the show, only to be one-upped by the next in an escalating example of what the sport looks like at its peak in 2021.
And that has to be a terrifying proposition for WWE. Sure, the company isn’t going to come close to losing lucrative television contracts or anything dramatic. But AEW has blossomed faster than most would have predicted and created legitimate, irrefutable competition in the pro wrestling space while generating more excitement for the sport than we’ve seen in a long time.
That said, we’re getting closer and closer to wondering if AEW can’t just outright get into the ring with WWE. The star power gap is closing fast. While WWE leans on returning part-timer acts, AEW’s got some heavyweight names of its own with Punk, Danielson, Omega and more. These are international stars too that have thrived outside of a WWE ecosystem, if ever been in it at all. A laser focus on homegrown talent that can reach such a status, like Allin, hints at big things for the future too.
None of this happens by coincidence, either. There’s a reason guys like Punk, Danielson, Cole and even Jon Moxley, Malakai Black—it goes on and on—got out of a place with limited creative control and went elsewhere.
The heavyweight names in AEW should make WWE uncomfortable. But so should the nature of the programming and the sheer excitement the company continues to generate. This is how a company earns more outside eyeballs and brings back lapsed fans. And when those lapsed fans return, that scale starts to tip and WWE-only watchers might start to notice.
While it’s going to be a long time before we can look back on this year’s All Out and see if it was really a turning point in the landscape of pro wrestling, it’s hard to escape the feeling fans are seeing something historic. And with AEW firing on all cylinders with WWE forced to react, it’s fans that ultimately win.
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