At the end of the night on September 1, two days before Labor Day, Cody stood in the ring celebrating 18 months of constant hard work alongside The Young Bucks and the rest of the Being the Elite crew. Their collective journey crescendoed in front of 11,263 people packed into a rarely-filled arena in the exburbs of Chicago. It shouldn’t have worked but it absolutely, undeniably did, thanks in part to an unexpected content and promotional partner: the National Wrestling Alliance.
In a show that was about being different from the norm, it was Cody vs. Nick Aldis in the NWA title match that felt further from anything else on this or any other card. There was an aura there that feels absent from most pro wrestling title fights, and especially absent from the past 30 years of the NWA. It felt professional.
“We believed in one word: Patience,” David Lagana, vice president of NWA and Lightning One Productions says. “Go read everything that was said about the purchase and the brand a year ago. It was dead. ‘What did Billy buy? Who is the champion? They won’t be able to do anything without TV.’
“People made fun of the 20-year plan. Year one turned it pretty darn OK.”
While ALL IN represents the crowning achievement of a year-and-a-half of hard work for Cody and the Young Bucks, it was the NWA that left ALL IN with the most buzz, springboarding towards their next chapter–the NWA’s 70th anniversary show in Nashville on October 21.
At this point it’s hard to separate Cody from the NWA title, and it should be. The story of Cody ascending to his family legacy is emotional and, as of ALL IN, satisfying.
“I will carry the title with me everywhere,” Cody says of his role as the NWA champion. “If you contract me, you’re contracting the champ. If you don’t want the ten pounds of gold, you don’t get me. However, I can’t see a company not wanting it.”
Though it’s currently unthinkable for a company to not want the NWA title on their show, that idea wasn’t so outrageous a few years ago. The NWA has been “back” for less than a year following decades of nomadic devaluing and shady business practices–new owner Billy Corgan announced a rebrand when he took control in October 2017 and shortly thereafter started publishing the Ten Pounds of Gold series on YouTube.
But the 2018 successes of the NWA are about more than Cody; they’re about the NWA reclaiming it’s history. It wasn’t Cody who elevated that title to the point where it could highlight the largest independent wrestling show in a generation. Perhaps to the surprise of many, it was Nick Aldis.
Aldis held the title for more than 300 of those days in an effort to rehabilitate the championship and restore some luster to a fallen brand. When Aldis took the title from longtime journeyman Tim Storm, the wide reaction was one of dismissal from those who found grounding realism in the grassroots nature of Storm’s reign–the literal grandfather carrying your grandfather’s world title.
But Magnus? The TNA guy? What are can they even do with him?
As it turns out, Aldis looks really good in a suit.
Whether or not it was the plan when he won the title, Aldis’ ability to believably stand with Cody in a suit on Ten Pounds of Gold elevated their match from “Cody chasing history” to “prizefight.” It’s a subtle trait that no one else available to NWA could have pulled off.
Before Aldis, NWA was using Storm and Josephus as contenders. Their story was engaging if not bordering on the absurd at times. Neither Storm nor Josephus have the ethos to be the champion to Cody’s challenger.
So, for 300 days and more than 20 defenses, Aldis rehabilitated the NWA Worlds Heavyweight title. He took the belt around the world and classed the joint up more than anyone else had in 25 or more years. Corgan, Lagana and Aldis eventually brought the NWA to Ring of Honor to build towards Cody and ALL IN.
By the time Aldis and Cody emerged with their surprise fight camps at ALL IN, the match was already going to be an emotional epic. The aura of history surrounding Aldis in the form of former NWA champions Storm, Jeff Jarrett, Shawn Daivari and Sam Shaw elevated the stakes of the NWA title above anything else on the card. The shared history of Cody, Dusty’s real kid, being escorted to the ring by Dusty’s metaphorical kids reaffirmed how deeply the future of this championship was rooted in it’s past.
“As important as Tim was, Nick Aldis helped create the vision of this first year,” Lagana says. “A mega talent who was overlooked because he had an opinion.
“Our team goal, from Billy, to Nick, to Tim, to Cody, was to get fans to care about this ONE fight. Give them a reason to care. The noise at the bell [at ALL IN] showed it’s possible. It wouldn’t have happened without Nick Aldis.”
Aldis is a wrestler with name cachet who looks good in a suit standing across from Cody. It was enough for months of build on Ten Pounds of Gold, and the end result gave fans around the world goosebumps. Aldis deserves more credit for the NWA title match at ALL IN than he will ever receive.
“Billy has dug the title out of the earth, Nick has given it breath, and I think ALL IN gave it a soul,” Cody says. “The organization can now sit at any table, and I’m sure with the recent announcement of the National Championship they are thinking expansion.”
The NWA crafted a titan to stand tall opposite the prodigal son, dashing as ever. And now, in the post-ALL IN world, the NWA is in position to be something in 2019 that almost no one could have imagined: professional.