WrestleWatch: AEW All Out 2021
Time for a WrestleWatch review! I'm excited about this one. It's the mark of a great show that I can miss it live, have it spoiled for me, and watch it later still having an absolute blast. That was the case with AEW's latest offering, All Out 2021.
AEW has really gone from strength to strength. Ever since their inception at Double Or Nothing in May of 2019, All Elite Wrestling has consistently delivered at a high standard. They're very much a promotion for the hardcore wrestling fan, and as someone who has watched this wacky form of entertainment obsessively since I was 8 years old, writing at length on online forums and websites, I certainly fit that bill. But AEW is accessible to the more casual fan too, as evidenced by the tidal wave of messages I've received from various friends over the past 24 hours or so.
I still watch WWE, but my interest in it has definitely waned. After some up and down periods over the past several years, they actually seemed to be turning a corner coming into 2020. I really enjoyed the 2019 Survivor Series, and the 2020 Royal Rumble event was one of the greatest they've put on for many years, featuring a unique format where Brock Lesnar killed half the field, only to be taken out in a main event crowning moment for Drew McIntyre. Also, the Rated R Superstar, Edge, returned to the ring in what seemed to be an impossible feat. WWE followed that great event up with a really good Elimination Chamber PPV, and then... the pandemic happened.
Look, the pandemic was hard on everyone, and I'm not going to completely shit on WWE for how they handled it. But the mentality has always been, "the show must go on"- no matter what- so they did, but damn, it felt lifeless. But here's where AEW shone. They were far more creative in how they approached the pandemic, and they managed an amazing year of wrestling content, especially under the given circumstances. The video below gives a great snapshot of AEW's history, and their ability to adapt in a tough situation.
But we're not here to talk about AEW as a whole, we're here to talk about All Out. Just wanted to give a little context on the company as a whole for anyone new to checking it out. And speaking of context...
The All Out PPV actually spawned from the independent PPV that eventually led to the creation of AEW. In 2018, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer (some call him a poor man's Mick Robson) said that an indy show couldn't sell in a 10,000 seat arena. Cody Rhodes accepted that challenge, hungry to prove himself after choosing to leave WWE a couple of years prior. Along with the Young Bucks & Kenny Omega, with the help of production from Ring of Honor, the show All In was produced, featuring talent from ROH, NJPW, and various independent promotions. The show was a rousing success, and in January 2019, that group of men, known as The Elite, joined forces with Tony Khan to officially form All Elite Wrestling. The first PPV was in May 2019 with Double Or Nothing, but the second PPV happened a year after All In, and was titled All Out.
Since that time, AEW has gotten a great TV deal with the TNT network, producing their flagship weekly show, Dynamite. They supplemented it with YouTube shows AEW Dark and Dark: Elevation, and most recently added a Friday night show on TNT, Rampage, a few weeks ago. Heading into All Out, the wrestling landscape certainly changed with Rampage's second episode, titled the First Dance, a play off the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance. Why? Well...
It was one of the worst kept secrets in professional wrestling, but it was still awesome. AEW had been trying to sign CM Punk ever since the company started, and after 2 years of building themselves up to be the hottest wrestling promotion in the world, Punk finally signed on the dotted line. Immediately after the big welcome back, Punk set his sights on All Out, and his first opponent in AEW, Darby Allin.
In that, and much of the card for All Out, lies the beauty of AEW. Critics of the company have said that they use too many ex-WWE guys, but I would argue that they have a near-perfect balance. Anyone that's been watching since the famed Attitude Era of WWE, I'd like to remind you that Stone Cold, Triple H, Mick Foley and The Undertaker all came from WCW originally. It's all in how they're used (see what I did there?)
The main event is for the AEW Championship. The champion, Kenny Omega. Lauded for years as the best in the world due to his work in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and now establishing himself to mainstream American/worldwide audiences through AEW, Kenny Omega has really come into his own as AEW's top guy. The challenger, Christian Cage. A former WWE World Heavyweight, Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, Christian- much his best friend/storyline brother Edge- was thought to be done with wrestling following some serious health issues. He made a shocking return in the 2021 Royal Rumble, but didn't sign with WWE, instead becoming All Elite. So you've got Christian as the recognisable WWE name in, and then they find out about Kenny Omega. Win-win.
Same with Chris Jericho facing young upstart and uber heel MJF. Or Miro (fka Rusev) vs. Eddie Kingston. Or Jon Moxley (fka Dean Ambrose) facing NJPW legend Satoshi Kojima. Plus a cage match featuring the Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros, and if you don't know those teams, prepare to get acquianted. Something for everyone here.
Let's do this!
Buy-In Pre Show: 10 Man Tag- Best Friends & Jurassic Express def. The Hardy Family Office (at 9:25)
Thoughts: It's a sign of a loaded show when you've got a couple of mega popular stars in the pre-show match. From commentary to the crowd, this was treated with the same energy as the PPV matches, boosted by the ever increasing popularity of home-grown AEW talent Orange Cassidy & Jungle Boy. A lot of moving parts and bodies in this one, including the corner man for Jurassic Express, Marko Stunt, wiping out the Blade with a huge dive. Ultimately, it was Jungle Boy who got the spotlight, a night after sharing the ring with CM Punk in a segment on Dark. Jungle Boy made Angelico tap to the Snare Trap submission, making the crowd happy to start proceedings. Good stuff. (**1/2)
Post-match, The Butcher made his return to AEW, attacking Orange Cassidy. Butcher has dropped a lot of weight and looks great. The heels were ran off by the Dark Order. Cassidy gives a thumbs-up. Fun way to get started here.
Match 1: TNT Championship- Miro (c) def. Eddie Kingston (at 13:22)
Thoughts: The atmosphere was electric to kick off the main PPV card in Chicago. Kingston is 100% dialed into his character, and in context, it created a big fight feel- seeing how Miro has been established in AEW as this killer champion, seeing Eddie all happy and excited to fight really sold him as a bad-ass. Great psychology as well with Kingston exploiting Miro's storyline Achilles heel- the DDT- for a very convincing near fall. Miro, despite his monster status, was forced to use a low blow en route to the championship retention. Well done all around. (***1/4)
Match 2: Jon Moxley def. Satoshi Kojima (at 11:50)
Thoughts: I don't believe Kojima was the original plan here, I think it was supposed to be Mox vs. Tanahashi, but logistics meant things had to be changed up. Seeing Moxley enter the arena, wearing a GCW hoodie because he won the GCW Championship the other night, beating Matt Cardona (fka Zack Ryder)... really highlights how wild pro wrestling is in 2021. This was a very physical match. Mox has noticeably gained a bit of weight in recent months- dad life- but it actually suits him and makes his style more impactful. Mox plants Kojima with the Paradigm Shift to maintain his momentum as a top player in AEW. And it's onto the next one... (***1/4)
Post-match, Minoru Suzuki makes his entrance! Holy shit! The crowd roars, and credit where it's due. Jim Ross' commentary hasn't been up to par for a long time, but he sells Suzuki beautifully as a mad man during his entrance, noting that he had breakfast with Suzuki one time and was afraid to chew. Mox and Suzuki immediately trade stiff forearms, and Suzuki plants Moxley with the Gotch-style piledriver. It's a mark of respect that Chicago has for Suzuki that they don't boo him... or maybe they were just too scared to. Awesome moment.
Match 3: AEW Women's Championship- Britt Baker (c) def. Kris Statlander (at 11:34)
Thoughts: Some great action, but this was also boosted by the ringside antics of Orange Cassidy. The normally laconic Cassidy was very animated, shouting advice and encouragement to Statlander throughout. Statlander showed some crazy power at different points- the work she's put in to transform her body isn't just for aesthetics. There was a worrying moment where Britt didn't quite do her part on a superplex, so Statlander really had to muscle her over to keep it safe. Spot of the match had to be Baker busting out one of her bay-bay's signature moves, the Panama Sunrise (or as Excalibur called it, the Pittsburgh Sunrise). The Lockjaw followed soon after, and that's another defence in the books for DMD. (***1/2)
Backstage, an interview with Chavo Guerrero and Andrade El Idolo. Andrade was scheduled to face Pac on this show, but travel issues got in the way. Marvez questions Chavo & Andrade's involvement in those issues, and Chavo hilariously says, "I don't even have American Airlines' number! ...Assuming that he travelled on American Airlines." Heel goodness.
Match 4: AEW Tag Team Championship- Steel Cage Match- Lucha Bros def. Young Bucks (c) (at 22:05)
Thoughts: This was big time in every sense. From the Lucha Bros getting a live music version of their entrance, with back-up dancers and elaborate costumes, to the match itself. It was wild, fast-paced and super athletic throughout. It also prevented a common problem both teams have in regular matches- they often spend too long double-teaming, making the ref look stupid for not enforcing tag rules, but it worked in this case because there's no DQs in a cage match. The cage was in place to prevent the Bucks' Elite buddies from getting involved, but we had a creative workaround as Brandon Cutler hurled a bag containing a shoe loaded with thumbtacks along the sole. The match got bloody in a hurry with the use of that, but the Luchas overcame it with Fenix's massive cross body dive off the cage. We get new champions in a classic. (****3/4)
Match 5: Ruby Soho won the Women's Casino Battle Royale (at 22:00)
Thoughts: This was smart card placement. A regular match had no chance in hell of following that cage match insanity. Pretty standard battle royal fare, but the crowd was into it which elevated things. That's a common theme throughout this show, but atmosphere counts for so much, and tends to elevate the performances in their own way. As Dusty Rhodes used to say, perception is reality, and everyone was a star here. A few got a chance to stand out in their own way with intensity and aggression, like Thunder Rosa, Tay Conti and a returning Anna Jay. Jade Cargill is still green, but she got perhaps the most impressive looking elimination with a press slam of Leyla Hirsch to the outside. Ruby got a massive reaction being revealed as the Joker, and only surprise. In past Women's Casino Battle Royales, they had a few outside names, but having the regular roster with Ruby Soho getting the spotlight, it worked really well, and she looked elated. (***)
Match 6: Chris Jericho def. MJF (at 19:30)
Thoughts: This was billed as The Final Fight- if Jericho lost, he would never wrestle in AEW again. With those stakes, this was one of Jericho's better straight-up singles matches in quite some time. Chris Jericho is my all time favourite, and he is definitely slowing down, but as long as he can deliver like this, he's still got a little more in the tank. MJF pulled out all the stops here including an Asai moonsault. I'm glad Schiavone delivered the line about MJF being a great athlete and "we know he can do it, he just hasn't before". Puts over MJF's athletic ability, and it means more coming from Schiavone, given his storyline hatred of MJF. Great false finish with the foot on the ropes and re-start, made for extremely high drama in the closing minutes. Really well executed. (***3/4)
Match 7: CM Punk def. Darby Allin (at 16:40)
Thoughts: I'm not sure how I feel about Punk's long tights yet, but the rest of this was brilliant. As the main selling point of the show, excitement was fever pitch for this. The opening spots honestly gave me Rock-Hogan vibes with how simple the moves were and how the crowd reacted. Intense and psychologically excellent. The pace did pick up and Punk did keep up throughout. As the match went along, more boos crept in for Darby, while Punk continued to be revered as a god. Darby eventually played into the heat with a mocking "Go To Sleep" motion before attempting the Coffin Drop- which he missed. Fantastic final sequence included Punk taking one of Darby's suicide dives, which he notably said he didn't want to do. Roll through from a crucifix pin right into a second GTS ends it. Purely awesome. Maybe Punk was a step slower than he was 7.5 years ago at a point or two, but it didn't matter. The crowd was all in every step of the way, and so was I. (****)
Post-match, Sting comes out to check on Darby. He shares a moment of respect with Punk- hey, after Sting's in-ring performances this year, I'd love to get Punk vs. Sting at some point. Punk, Sting and Darby all display mutual respect after the match. Very cool. The usually somewhat stoic Darby looked genuinely emotional there.
Match 8: Paul Wight def. QT Marshall (at 3:10)
Thoughts: About as basic as it gets, clearly designed to be a buffer/comedown match between the top main events. Wight was moving a little gingerly on his entrance- could have been just selling the attack with the steel chair last week, but concerning if not. Wight did his chop spot in the corner a few times and hit the chokeslam. Under different circumstances this might be seen as an ex-WWE guy squashing an AEW OG, but honestly Marshall is expendable as a in-ring/on-screen talent. Probably does great things behind the scenes but has little business being on TV in my opinion. It served a purpose if any Big Show fans wanted to see what he was up to these days, I guess. (1/2*)
Jon Moxley vs. Minoru Suzuki and Malakai Black vs. Dustin Rhodes are confirmed for this week's Dynamite. Huge. We get brief promos from Mox and Black hyping those matches. Good for Black to get a little air time on the PPV for first time AEW viewers.
Match 9: AEW Championship- Kenny Omega (c) def. Christian Cage (at 21:20)
Thoughts: Like their Rampage match, really good chemistry between these two. Here they had a battle that was similar in how technical it was in parts, but also incorporated some violent table spots to liven things up. Christian almost impaled himself with a table leg after spearing Omega off the ring apron through a table, and went big time with a super Killswitch off the top rope... only to get countered with a super One Winged Angel. Really good work. Not a classic, but the Christian/Omega feud took me from being luke-warm on Christian as a main eventer in AEW to being totally happy with it. (***3/4)
Post-match, Omega grabs the mic to gloat, joined by the Elite. The Elite beat down Christian some more, prompting Jurassic Express to run out, and they get flattened too. Omega says that he doesn't care about any "best in the world" or hometown heroes. The crowd breaks out in a "YES!" chant, anticipating the arrival of a new free agent, to which Omega responds in smarmy fashion, "You're finally beginning to understand." He can beat anyone, and anyone that could have beat him is "retired... or dead." At this, the lights go out..
"It's Adam Cole, bay-bay!" The crowd erupts as an Undisputed Era style jam blares over the speakers, and Cole struts out wearing an "All Elite Bay-Bay" shirt. Cole teases fighting The Elite- and then nails Jungle Boy with a superkick. The Bucks give Cole a kiss and Omega calls Cole "one of his best friends." Cole grabs the mic and says "there's no chance in hell" anyone can stop the Elite. Omega goes to sign off the show and...
Flight Of The Valkyries hits... it's Bryan Danielson! The artist fka Daniel Bryan storms the ring and joins Christian and Jurassic Express in clearing out the Elite. Danielson destroys Nick Jackson with a running knee to thunderous YES! chants. The Elite, now with Adam Cole in their ranks, retreat up the ramp to end the show.
The last 15 minutes of that show solidified it as easily the best show AEW's ever done, but even before that, a strong argument could be made. Regardless of how you feel about Cole and Danielson as talents- I'm honestly not the world's biggest Adam Cole fan- the fact that a top guy from NXT and a top guy from Smackdown walked out of WWE and turned down their money and negotiations... that's truly a major paradigm shift for AEW. Combine that with the highly successful CM Punk return match, and a Match of the Year with the Bucks/Lucha Bros cage match, and you've got an all tme great show. The only thing stopping me from giving this show a perfect score is that a perfect 10/10 show needs more than one classic for me generally, like WM17 or WM19, but this was damn-near perfection. If you're a wrestling fan and you're not watching AEW, you are majorly missing out!
Overall Score: 9.5/10
Until next time, take care.
By Mick Robson