All In was a watershed moment for professional wrestling. Over Labour Day weekend in 2018 wrestlers from Ring of Honor, Impact, the National Wrestling Alliance and New Japan Pro Wrestling came together in Chicago to celebrate their industry, play their own music, and most importantly, thumb their nose at Dave Meltzer.
The Opening Bell
All In was, as we know, the launchpad of what is now AEW. Now two years removed from the event that showcased a dozen cross-promotional matches — chief among them being Nick Aldis vs. Cody Rhodes for the NWA worlds championship — All In punctuated what professional wrestling companies could accomplish when working together toward a common goal. This is not unlike how AEW and NWA came together once again at All Out. And in doing so, as a product of these two promotion’s efforts, Hikaru Shida and Thunder Rosa executed one of the best, most important matches of 2020. Perhaps even more so, they set the precedent for the future of the business’ scope.
Setting The Tone
Without taking anything away from previous AEW women’s champions Riho and Nyla Rose, Hikaru Shida has been the best-booked, most effective women’s champion in the title’s short history. But much like the other champions, she hasn’t been tested inside the ring like a champion should. When we think of champions, regardless of whether we’re talking about wrestling, boxing or MMA, we think of those who defend their claims to their thrones; turning away challengers left and right. But it’s only when they’re tested that they truly rise and become great. That’s what happened this past weekend at All Out when Shida defended her championship against her NWA counterpart, Thunder Rosa.
On Saturday night Shida and Rosa competed in a well-booked, excellent wrestling match that teeter-tottered with momentum changes from the opening staredown and lockup to the final moments where the defiant Rosa fell to the AEW champion. Yet, there were no losers. Like a competitive MMA fight, both tested themselves against the other and due to the nature of competition, there had to be a victor to claim the spoils. That night, it was Shida. However, the magic of the match rests in the possibility that Rosa could have won. And neither’s star would have been lessened by it. Both women competed hard, both women left it all out inside the ring and they set the standard for what a wrestling match should be in the women’s division. Perhaps as well, we need to enter it into the conversation among the best AEW wrestling matches in company history.
Yet, to say that they competed on Saturday was the story in and of itself is a disservice to what actually happened. Surely if you scoured and read enough predictions for the match, the bulk would have stated Shida would win. That only makes sense from a booking standpoint; why would you book another company’s champion to defeat your champion when your division is already subject to so much criticism over its direction? What made this match so dynamic and critically important to the division’s growth lays not simply in Rosa being Shida’s biggest threat to date, rather as the match wore on, despite the prevailing logic, Rosa and Shida made you forget you were watching a wrestling match. They made you believe Shida’s reign was in danger, that Rosa could become a triple champion. Beyond the actual ringwork, psychologically they sucked you out of your own headspace far removed from the prevailing “wisdom” that comes with being an internet wrestling fan and made you believe Rosa could win. That’s wrestling at its best, and it’s something the AEW women’s roster needs to work towards, obtain and execute with consistency.
This cross-promotional match-up reset the tone for the division, changing the optics of what a match could be in the company. More importantly, it highlights what professional wrestling companies can accomplish when they decide to work together for the pedestrian, all-too simple goal of putting on the best possible product that puts fans ahead of ego in honour of showcasing the best of pro wrestling. At its core, that’s what All In stood for, what its spiritual successor showcased, and in the vein of Cody Rhodes and Nick Aldis, what Rosa and Shida excellently executed.
The Hot Tag
The prevailing theme in professional wrestling for years has favoured isolationism over cooperation, with WWE being the chief culprit. That shouldn’t be anything other than expected as Vince McMahon’s warlike cannibalization of the territories throughout the 1980s, and later the deconstruction and eventual embarrassment of the WCW legacy, have been a hallmark of the WWE-first model. Even if it means devaluing Sting’s legacy. To varying degrees over the years we’ve watched other companies work together for mutual benefit, a more recent example being the NJPW-ROH partnership. However, there’s a distinction between partnerships like the NJPW-ROH deal and what All In represented, and moreover, what needs to occur in the modern pro wrestling landscape.
Shida and Rosa was one of the most important matches of 2020 because it reinvigorates this notion of putting fans first, and putting on the best possible product for them and the company itself, as well as letting wrestlers work and tell their stories.
This moment however comes with the dangerous potential that nothing will come of it down the road, that this opportunity to revitalize the North American pro wrestling landscape will be lost. All In showed what a small group can accomplish if they have the desire to do so, and Tony Khan, Billy Corgan, Thunder Rosa and Hikaru Shida reminded us of that fact Saturday night. Simply put, they showed that pro wrestling can be better, that it can be unique and special, that collaboration to better the whole isn’t just a pipe-dream.
While you may dismiss this as fan service, the counterpoint rests in the reality that as consumers of this product the idea of dream matches always intrigues and prevails; that possibility that two world champions can compete for supremacy with one left standing at the end with their head and belts held high. This is the new frontier wrestling needs to shift towards, a move set into motion two years ago. It need not be frequent, as its shine would diminish, but imagine for a moment a landscape where once a year the major companies came together and put on a supershow featuring the industry’s best in a modern, true showcase of the immortals. One akin to All In or the MSG supershow last year.
Following All-Out, AEW World Champion Jon Moxley stated during his post-PPV press conference that he would like to see AEW forge common partnerships with NJPW, ROH, Impact and the NWA. As champion, that carries serious weight, and as we’ve seen, Khan and Corgan are open to collaboration. There are plenty of hurdles to clear, and probably more than enough WWE-style self-interest to go around that could squash any hope of this coming to fruition. Yet, North American promotions have more to gain than to lose amid such a partnership, and it’s just the type of move that needs to be made to revitalize and rekindle fan interest, their own businesses and hopefully a new pro wrestling boom.
The truth is out there regarding why this is necessary, and why it should happen sooner than later. The WWE model is failing, and it’s time to move forward. And while All In was certainly the spark the industry needed — needs — and certainly Mox’s comments hold some gravity, if anything happens going forward it will be because Hikaru Shida and Thunder Rosa were the catalysts that preceded what’s coming just over the horizon.