Every sports event has a byline, but is that its best story? In “Buried Ledes,” Scott Thomas will look at narrative threads which aren’t getting coverage and prove they truly matter. This week: AEW’s All Out pay-per-view, which premieres this Saturday night.
Knock Down The House
“Professional wrestling” is not synonymous with “progressive” aa if anything, it’s antonymous. President Donald Trump was inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame six years ago after hosting multiple Wrestlemanias (and also doing this): Glen Jacobs, the wrestler known as “Kane,” was elected mayor of Knox County, Tennessee last fall; he ran on the GOP ticket. “[Wrestling] is one of the most free-market oriented industries in the world,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Taube, “And many [wrestlers] seem to support less government intrusion, more individual rights and freedoms, and strong free-speech protections.” And though some performers are exceptions to this pattern, the pattern is the point. Because a pattern of conservative thinking doesn’t point to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez…and, last May, she tweeted about wrestling.
This is not a piece about politics; this is politics as proof that AEW is progressive, which is defined as “a person or organization implementing new or liberal ideas.” Since Double or Nothing went over in May, the brainchild of Cody Rhodes and Tony Kahn has forged new paths for professional wrestling — not just through an inclusive roster unbound by notions of race, sexuality, or gender but yielding wrestlers creative freedom, allowing their talent to cut their own promos and letting in-ring skill determine subsequent pushes. Wins and losses matter; wrestlers craft their own matches. And as those wrestlers range from Awesome Kong to a double amputee, the potential stories feel limitless.
That’s why this Saturday’s All Out is hyped to hell and back: it could be both great and different. Over the course of three hours, performers will bash, smash, and suplex each other off the top rope, dragging wrestling’s status to the mat as well. If the night goes over, TNT success feels imminent; that means wider exposure. And wider exposure? That’s what you call a paradigm shift.
Here are three of All Out’s other buries ledes:
The Buy In Must Make Bank
This was my first exposure to AEW:
Have you seen the Men’s Casino Battle Royale? Change that if you haven’t. Seriously, I’ll wait. It’s a potpourri of awesomeness, a violent clash of contestants and wrestling styles in which staple guns are brandished, dada shtick is cherished, and veteran talent gets butt-punched. Excuse me: locomotion butt-punched. To quote my boy General Maximus, “are you not entertained?!”
Of course you are and that’s the point. The Casino Royale rendered its lineup of dissonance dynamic, offering a safe space for novice viewers to fall for any fighter of their choosing. Down with bad boy antics? Here’s Joey Janela. More into six foot dinosaurs? Try Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus. Cracker Barrel may sponsor the Elite, but the Royale was more Old Country Buffet in execution and, really, all the better for it.
Why It Matters:
That bodes well for All Out’s Buy In, which also features a Casino Battle Royale bout — this time for the women’s division. It comes not a moment too soon. AEW’s roster of ladies is talent-stacked, but their main card matches haven’t clicked. Watching the acrobatic Riho topple Nyla Rose at Fyter Fest should’ve been inspiring; instead, it inspired head-scratching through a series of moves that whiffed. Ditto Allie vs Brandi, a brutal but sloppy bit of storytelling.
The issue is execution and the Royale bout may course-correct it. It’s adding veteran talent to the fold — including the fearsome Jade and brawling Ivelisse — and given how fleetly the men’s Royale let different tacts breath in tandem, Saturday should prove no different. That’s good, seeing as the winner of this match will get an early push on the weekly TNT show.
The Buy In might be many’s first look at AEW; the women can make it love at first sight.
Will Cody Make The Chair Shot Count?
It was the *thwack* heard round the world…
…And the outrage was instantaneous. Twitter cried foul; Sportskeeda dubbed it “disturbing.” And Bleacher Report’s Erik Beason didn’t mince words a bit when he graded Shawn Spears clubbing Cody Rhodes with a steel chair at Fyter Fest: “There is no reason for there to be an intentional unprotected steel chair shot to the head in 2019. None. There isn’t an explanation that can be given after this show to justify that spot.”
Yet there, on the All Out card, is a fight between Cody and “The Chairman” Shawn Spears, keeping the spot in question relevant. And Tully Blanchard — a long time rival of the Rhodes’ —will manage Spears from ringside, making the spot in question important. So if you thought AEW were shying away from the chair shot as story point, you ought to get checked for CTE symptoms. (Like Cody Rhodes, tbh)
Why It Matters:
That decision is not a small one: by extending a Not Safe For Wrestling storyline, Cody & Co are betting big. To quote the Geto Boys, they’re “flexing on ‘em.” AEW begins its run on TNT this October, facing a wrestling juggernaut whose creative foibles are (sadly) well-documented. And the Rhodes / Spears feud is the kind of story that company bungles often (See: a whole damn month of Roman Reigns attacks) Should All Elite Wrestling find a satisfying way to tie a blood-soaked bow on this very risky narrative, AEW won’t be excusing that chair shot so much as shrewdly contextualizing it. That’s the power of strong writing. And if AEW can enter October with narrative steam to spare, they’re the Wednesday the show to beat — not NXT.
So Cody vs Spears must go over – more than Jericho vs Page or PAC vs Omega. It’s the league’s creative skeleton key .
Here’s hoping it clicks.
Raise The Booth
We really need to talk about Alex Marvez.
I listened to Marvez cover football for Fox Sports recently; it was magnetic. His passionate screed about the Raiders strange (and very well-documented) pre-season was thorough and fleetly reeled me onto his line of thinking — less through abject reverence than deeply informed wonder. He had stats at the ready and takes for days.
In other words: Alex Marvez is good at covering football. But Marvez hasn’t been good on AEW.
Honestly, where to start? His work’s like a glitch in The Matrix. The pace of play by play just barely eludes him. His color commentary feels static-riddled, and its vocal energy can’t match that of Excalibur’s (let alone Jim Ross’). He seems a man less out of season than focus — and while it would be awesome to watch Marquez pop off at All Out, his failing to do so’s not an option.
Why It Matters:
As All Out is both the culmination of months-long hype and a table setter for TNT glory, the broadcast booth has a tricky balance to strike there. They’ll have to be half hype-men, half journalists, threading the needle between hyperbole and incisiveness. Should they succeed, they’ll sell AEW as the premiere wrestling experience that it often claims to be. That would be a difficult job for any broadcaster under the sun — let alone the shaky Alex Marvez.
So If AEW wants to soar this Saturday, they’ll ditch the albatross of Marvez and try a different broadcast team. Tony Schiavone was signed to a long-term deal this week; it’s not too soon to throw him into the spotlight. Goldenboy surprised at Fyter Fest; let him call the all-important Buy In.
And, most importantly, find a way to make Marvez thrive — be it in a backstage role or league-sanctioned podcast down the line. He is valuable assist; he shouldn’t be misused Saturday.
- / 1 year ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.