10,000 is a number which entered pro wrestling lore long ago. No one other than WWE has packed an American arena with 10,000 or more people since the waning days of WCW, nearly 20 years ago. Not TNA, with their mid-00s aspirations of being the next big name in wrestling. Certainly not Ring of Honor or the other promotions floating at the top of the indie pool. Nobody draws 10,000 except WWE and that’s just how it is.
That’s set to change on September 1, when a one-off show called All In will run in Chicago. It’s being set up as a sort of indie wrestling supershow, stacked with the cream of the crop of non-WWE talent. New Japan’s IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada will be there, probably wrestling Kenny Omega. NWA champion Nick Aldis will wrestle, probably against Cody Rhodes. Joey Janela and the Young Bucks, a host of ROH guys, indie women’s wrestlers, and Rey Mysterio. We’ve not even gotten a full list yet and it’s already packed.
The idea for the show started when pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer tweeted that he didn’t think ROH could sell 10,000 tickets. Rhodes replied that he’d take that bet—then he and the Young Bucks set about promoting a show to prove it.
It’s seemed a little stop-start over the past year, but tickets finally went on sale this past Sunday. They sold out in an hour. They’re almost certainly getting a legitimate 10,000-plus, barring disaster or a rash of no shows, neither of which are likely but both of which are certainly possible in the ramshackle traveling circus of pro wrestling.
This is a big deal. Right now, pro wrestling in the United States orbits WWE, specifically WrestleMania. The pull of the latter has juiced the coffers of indie promotions for years now, as the big event has become a sort of pan-wrestling love fest. That reached its zenith this past Mania, when the truly weird and extraordinary of indie wrestling existed side by side with WWE’s corporate stewardship.
The steady transformation of WrestleMania weekend into a cultural event, broadly, and a wrestling-wide celebration of the form, specifically, may be the most apt foreshadowing of All In’s success. Mania is clearly a destination event, another one-off. For all that WWE considers it a sort of season ending show, what it’s actually treated as in practice most years is as a singular, self-contained spectacle. That explains all the part-timers, and you can watch any social media you want to see people who don’t tweet or post about wrestling any other time of year go pro wrestling crazy.
All In feels of a piece with WrestleMania. It remains to be seen what stories can be told in what is a single (big) show with wrestlers from, already, half a dozen promotions. My pro wrestling friends are buzzing over the prospect of Rhodes becoming NWA champion after beating Aldis, and Okada vs. Omega will never get old. But concentrating on the storylines seems besides the main point, which is that pro wrestling can sometimes just be a quirky, over the top, single event. Storyline drama and improv acting make it work week to week, but the way a self-contained event works is simply through performer charisma and physical storytelling.
Which is cool, because it harks back to the reasons pro wrestling ever worked in the first place. There weren’t always over the top promos, garish production values, and pyro. Once upon a time, it was just two people in a ring. And it worked. It’s always worked, even when distilled down to its essence.
Cody Rhodes seems to take the challenge of getting to 10,000 extremely personally. In some capacity, it’s a tribute to his father, the incomparable Dusty Rhodes. Dusty wasn’t just a great pro wrestler. He was a talented, long-lived booker and thinker, creator of great gimmick matches like War Games and den father of NXT’s golden pipeline from indie to WWE. If Cody is chasing, consciously, his father’s legacy, as the linked profile by Mike Piellucci suggests, booking a big show, the big show, is part of that chase. What else could Cody do?
I was with Meltzer. I didn’t think 10,000 was gettable. I’ve had a public, good-natured back and forth with Aaron Taube of the Everything Evolves podcast to that effect. Taube never wavered in his belief that the quasi-mythical number could be hit from the moment it was announced. I promised him that, in some way or form, I would admit how utterly wrong I was if it ever came to pass, and I am.
I do so gladly, however. Because this is good. It’s not the end of WWE hegemony—it will take a single promotion drawing numbers somewhere in the vicinity on a consistent basis for that to be the case. But it’s a start, proof that the confluence of fans and the wealth of global pro wrestling talent can come together outside the WWE’s grasp for a Big Deal event. It solidifies even further that there might be another path to stability and fame. And if it comes off as smoothly as it seems, All In may prove the catalyst for more from Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks.