In 2018, me and a few close friends flew from Manchester Airport in merry old England, and we traveled across the ocean and landed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the premier airport of Houston, Texas. From there, we jumped into a rental car despite never having driven in the good ol’ US of A before, and we drove 350 miles westbound on the I-10, surviving a pit stop at a 1940s garage in the pitch-black Louisiana swampland en route to crossing the Mississippi River before finally arriving at New Orleans. Our digs consisted of a glorified shed masquerading as a house, deep in the Southeast side of the city, the pavements and gardens and populated overpasses still showing the very real effects of Katrina. I drank coffee on the porch in the morning, watching chickens roam the road as if they owned the tarmac, and stretched my back after spending a night on Satan’s sofa bed, surrounded by the combined stench of four other dudes and their various charming nightfall bodily functions in a confined space that would’ve had a dung beetle taking a hard pass.
We did all this for WrestleMania, and now, five years later, none of us watch WWE anymore. It’s not even a fleeting moment in our day-to-day lives, it just doesn’t exist, as if it faded to black overnight on that April Sunday evening, and was left in NOLA after we packed our bags the following night, barely even watching the Monday Night RAW that had been switched on the telly out of moribund curiosity. I can only speak for myself, but I had WWE on the back burner since the previous November after a dreadful fall from grace that saw WWE’s habits froth and copulate during Survivor Series, with WrestleMania being the unattended pan that boiled over and into a kitchen fire that smoked out the last remaining remnants of my fandom. A fandom that has been through its ups and downs since first becoming enamored with the WWF in 1997, a fandom that weathered various trials and tribulations, but ended with a whimper as I slowly let go after seeing the writing on the wall. As I watched from the sidelines, 2018 and 2019 would turn out to be monumentally dreadful. I look at WWE now, and it’s the total opposite of what I want from my big-league mainstream pro wrestling. Always follow your instincts, folks. You’re worth more than sitting through five hours of tepid-at-best colostomy curry per week just because it was good when you were a kid.
WrestleMania 34 ended up being a celebration of my WWE flag-bearing ways, even as the dreadful second half kicked into high gear as a reminder that no matter how good the biggest game in town can be, at the end of the day, they’ll always be a company run by an elderly fart cushion who hated what he dabbled in. As I left the SuperDome in silence, along with 70,000 other contemplative wrestling fans, I knew this would be the last full WWE show I would ever see. It was wonderful finally being in person for a WrestleMania, but I’d also been growing tired and frustrated with WWE’s many, many creative faults and crutches, and THAT was that. All those years, all those miles, all the money spent, and losing any semblance of being cool, gone the way of the dodo, and I didn’t look back. WrestleMania 34 is still the last full WWE show I saw, and I can count on one hand the number of WWE shows I have attempted to watch since then.
You may be asking yourself why any of the above paragraphs matter, and that’s because I fear that history may be repeating itself with AEW All In London, and I don’t feel like it’s a process I can stop.
I have a ticket to Wembley Stadium. It’s not a cheap ticket by any means, especially during a financial crisis, and although I’m not crossing the ocean and spending thousands, I am leaving my wife and child for the weekend, which is not something I do lightly. I’m a family man now, having left the free and easy jet-setting lifestyle behind in exchange for a wedding, a baby, and a Steam Deck.
Some people can better articulate the AEW All In London build than I ever could, and they can run through the highs and lows and the should-haves and could-haves, but here is the simple skinny for you; Wembley Stadium is the biggest stadium in England with a capacity of 90,000. The closest runner-up is Manchester’s Old Trafford, which can house a paltry 74,000 in comparison. When you run Wembley in England, you are making a statement of intent. It’s a signed-and-sealed guarantee that the show will be something extremely special, and worthy of sticking fans in the far-reaching corners of space so that they can squint at pea-sized figures and say, “I WAS THERE.” It’s a spectacle, it’s larger than life, it’s once in a lifetime. WWF never went back because they cemented themselves as the number one with a bullet in this country with Bret vs. Davey at SummerSlam 1992. They didn’t feel the need to return to Wembley, such is the power of that show. AEW proceeding to drown themselves in a creative and political rut in the months leading into the biggest wrestling show of all time in that very arena is not what I call inspiring or satisfying. It’s slapdash, just like their attitude towards the show.
The announced card for All In London right now is on par with every other AEW PPV, and suitable for their usual range of between 8,000 and 16,000 fans in your average North American arena. AEW All In London is shining a blue-lighted beacon on their prospering ugly side. Backstage drama is par the course with pro wrestling, an odd circle where one reads the newsletters, then watches the shows, then reads the newsletters to see what changes have been made to shows, repeat ad nauseam. When this circle starts to leak and infect the on-screen product, to the point of stifling the weekly TV shows and indulging in the very worst of McMahon matter of course, that‘s when I start to consider why I’m wasting my precious free time on something so infuriating.
It’s infuriating because I LOVE AEW.
I love AEW for putting on more excellent televised pro wrestling matches in four years than WWE has managed in thirty years.
I love AEW for taking the perfect number of variables and saying FUCK IT, and starting a wrestling company based around high-octane matches and long-form stories that matter rather than becoming just another TNA from the get-go.
I love AEW for giving people a chance.
I love AEW for putting on weekly TV shows where stuff actually happens.
I love AEW for capturing the essence of WWF in the year 2000, where all these moving parts were clashing and banging into each other, where the lower card would mix with the upper card, and stories contained their own self-contained stories.
I love AEW for praying at the altar of Kreski rather than the anus of McMahon. I love AEW for reminding me why I loved pro wrestling, and why I would spend all my money on tapes and infect my computer with every virus known to man whilst downloading matches from dodgy file-sharing sites.
God damn, I used to love AEW so much that it was easy to handwave the occasional backstep because they’d be sure to leap forward three steps soon after as a make-good. They were the best whilst also being major league, at a time when most other wrestling, major league or otherwise, didn’t hit right with me.
Today, most of the other wrestling out there still doesn’t hit right with me, and this year I clung to the AEW ship as my only regular source of wrestling. Like most gateway drugs, I found myself craving more and more as the supplier reduced the quality little by little. AEW’s massive positives used to hide their growing negatives, and yet I increasingly found myself sitting there watching the weekly episodes of AEW Dynamite, with a puzzled look on my face. Or a bored look. Or a frown. Or with my phone sitting in my hands and my finger on the fast-forward button. The Machiavellianism, dire leadership, and self-serving, self-centered maneuvering within the many layers of AEW’s locker room and executive ladder was now on my TV screen, and it’s not the TV show that I signed up for or what I was invested in.
All In London at Wembley Stadium is not the AEW that I signed up for or the AEW that I was invested in, and I stupidly thought that when I bought the tickets back in May that AEW would book this show like a room full of adults would. Instead, we’ve got a cheap WCW re-run of, “Well…we’ve already got their money…”.
I’m looking forward to All In London now in a completely different way. The show will be fun because the roster is going to be full of piss and vinegar over the disappointing booking, and they’ll see this as their one chance to wrestle their hearts out in front of 80,000 boisterous fans. It’ll be fun taking in a massive wrestling show with my siblings, and it’ll be fun trying to sneak a flask past Wembley security. I’m also seeing this as a kind of ending to the AEW we all rallied around in 2021 and 2022, so I’m looking forward to AEW All In Wembly as a Viking Funeral, seeing all the faces I’ve been watching every week in person and on the biggest stage possible, and setting the boat ablaze as it sails into the ocean.
After All In London, I’m looking forward to dropping the four hours a week I reserve for AEW and putting them to better use. There are still plenty of 80s movies, 90s sitcoms, and books upon books that I’ve yet to dive into. I’ve got a couple of guitars that could be played with more, and a growing belly that could use some thinning. Hell, there’s a car in the driveway with 50 ways to get lost. And I hear from trusted sources that those CMLL and All Japan shows are a bit of alright these days! Remember, everyone, it’s not 1981 anymore, where the only option for entertainment was kicking a can down the street whilst waiting for the shows you circled on TV Guide to come on. In 2023, you have the world and its rich history at your fingertips; it’s up to today’s forms of entertainment to present a compelling reason to watch their content instead of the audience feeling obliged to keep watching no matter how bad or lazy it gets.
Now I’m not talking about a full-on divorce from the promotion, but more of a trial separation. I’ll dip in for the themed shows and the PPVs, but man, am I tired of the week-to-week (often day-to-day) bullshit. Some people enjoyed following the real-life Daniel Bryan stories and seeing how it affected the booking on WWE TV and PPV back in 2013 and 2014, but I found it incredibly frustrating and tiresome, and that’s how I feel now with AEW’s current creative woes; politics and drama getting in the way of the on-screen product.
Maybe after detaching myself from AEW’s weekly shows, I’ll go back to enjoying the backstage in-fighting and grown men acting like massive toddlers, much like I did when I dropped WWE way back in 2018. It’s no skin off my back, after all, it’s just professional wrestling; It’s not like I’d travel across the ocean or leave my family’s side for it or anything. I guess it’s the whole ‘taking advantage of your audience’ thing that hurts the most. Always follow your instincts, folks. And always have those divorce papers ready.
It’ll be alright on the night, but please, AEW, convince me to stick around afterward.