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“Joy, it was nice to be reminded, is infectious.”
That’s the only word to describe the feeling that rippled through the crowd waiting outside the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, on Sept. 5. That same feeling magnified and reverberated with deafening cheers and chants; it danced in static-electrified goosebumps across my skin as we sat watching for All Elite Wrestling’s All Out pay-per-view special to begin. It’s the feeling that can only be found as a collective emotion, when people come together to witness something special, like performers and athletes working in perfect concert to tell an incredible story.
After (years, weeks, hours) of waiting outside as the excitement drew to a fever pitch, myself, editor Charlie Davis and our good friend Dan McMahon entered to take our seats. I expected an incredible live wrestling show. What I didn’t expect was a wrestling event that changed the ecosystem of wrestling forever, where living legends and a new generation of talent came together in the ring to create something singular. I can’t fully describe my emotions in words, if I’m being honest. It would take longer than I have here to truly get it out, and it feels a bit futile to try. So I’ll share the moments that stand out most sharply in my memory, the highlights I’ll never forget …
Me whispering into Dan’s ear, explaining how just over a year ago, Eddie Kingston had sold his boots to pay for his house, as the man entered with a broad smile, the opening act to a sold-out crowd chanting his quote: “REDEEM DEEZ NUTS.”
Me shaking and shuddering, crying, as the Japanese legend Minoru Suzuki surprised everyone with an appearance, the roar of the crowd drowning out his entrance theme. Suzuki cheering his on-again, off-again rival Jon Moxley as they traded blows laced with Moxley’s blood just for the thrill of the challenge. Charlie holding me so I didn’t fall over, hardly able to react to or process the shock and delight of Suzuki showing up, one of my favorite wrestlers, the fan-beloved “murder grandpa,” who I never thought I’d be able to see short of traveling to Tokyo Dome City.
Cheering as the AEW Women’s champion, Britt Baker, did an homage to her boyfriend, fellow wrestler Adam Cole’s signature move, causing Charlie to jump out of his seat in disbelief.
Watching the challengers for the AEW Tag Team titles, the Lucha Brothers, come out with 3-foot-tall feather headdresses and fire shooting from the entrance ramp, looking like gods as rappers performed their entrance music live. The crowd chanting “cero miedo” — zero fear — as they entered the imposing structure of the steel cage. Their opponents and the reigning champions, the Young Bucks, entering to a nuclear level of heated boos. The blood dripping from the Lucha Brothers’ masks as Matt and Nick Jackson applied a thumbtack-laced Jordan sneaker to their opponents’ faces. The collapsed form of the Lucha Brothers bearing down as they held the Bucks to a one, two, three count. The adulation and relief from the Chicago crowd. Cero miedo.
Watching the crowd erupt when Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” served as an announcement of the mystery entrant for the Women’s Casino Battle Royal, a joyous red-haired hero cast aside by the WWE. The look of joy on the big screen as the fans welcomed her, chanted her name, and that look again, this time with tears, when her arm was raised in victory. Ruby Soho. Ruby Soho.
CM Punk’s first match in seven years, the crowd willing him to get up on his feet, to try his finisher yet again, to win. You still got it. You still got it.
Finally, the main event. The crowd singing along to Kenny Omega’s theme song, knowing even if he is a villain in the story, he’s still the champ. He’s still one of the best. He’s still someone who can make you forget, for just a few seconds, that gravity exists. His and Christian Cage’s incredible athletics, leaping off ropes and steel barricades and tables in ways that defy the laws of physics. And then, after his victory, Kenny declaring, “The only people who would ever have a chance to beat me, ever, are either not here, they’re already tired or … they … are already dead.” The lights black. The air still. And then big screens lighting up with the words “ADAM COLE.” Charlie screaming next to me in disbelief. His favorite wrestler was rumored to be coming to AEW eventually, but his arrival was a dream too big to dare hang your hopes on. And now it’s real. I’m holding him, and rocking him, the man behind us giving Charlie a big thumbs up as real-life friends Kenny Omega, Adam Cole and the Young Bucks embrace in-ring. The Elite are complete and unstoppable in that moment. Unless …
Unless, unthinkably, AEW was to unleash yet another surprise. Surely they would hold off, space them out. Right? But as the beginning strains of “Flight of the Valkyries” begin playing and the stadium holds its collective breath, we know the truth. Bryan Danielson, formerly Daniel Bryan, the American Dragon, husband of WWE-made reality TV star Brie Bella, comes out and chases The Elite out of the ring. The crowd chanting his trademark “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
All I could feel in that moment, as I chanted along, was joy.
(Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling)
Mikey is a writer, graphic artist, and tabletop roleplaying designer based out of Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he watches wrestling and indulges in horror media. Find him on Twitter @quantumdotdot.