I started watching wrestling way back in 1990, and ever since it has been my dream to attend Wrestlemania. Being in the UK, grown up with three kids, that’s been a hard ask, and in recent years in particular, it’s felt more and more like a pipe dream.
As an adult fan who has been excited about AEW from day one, throughout the good and the bad over these past four years, the news of them coming to my country, with over 80,000 people in attendance, was beyond belief.
With reasonable ticket prices (for £71 a ticket, I got two seats on the lowest tier, just six rows back from the pitch), and a huge buzz prior to the event, this wasn’t just a wrestling show: it was a gathering. In many ways, going into the show, it felt like Woodstock.
Even as a writer who is unabashedly a fan of AEW, I’m not blind to the criticism of the product. Some of it is well deserved, and whilst Collision has been what Dynamite could have been from the start, there are without question moments on Dynamite that make me cringe.
But, in the same way that a lot of criticism was levelled at a WCW Nitro product that garnered weekly crowd reactions that promotions today, WWE included, could only dream of, a lot of the criticism today comes from a weird tribalism that adds nothing to the product.
For example, I saw so much in the weeks prior to the show claiming that All In only got close to a sell out because the UK is a wrestling-starved market. This is patently untrue. Whilst PPVs have been a rarity until recently, we get several WWE tours a year, including Raw and Smackdown tapings, as well as having some of the best independent wrestling HB the world. As a journalist, I was close to TNA at its apex here, when it was running big arenas around the country. TNA did huge numbers on TV, far outstripping WWE, and we were without question its largest audience worldwide.
Still, TNA would never have dared to run Wembley.
Much like the original show, All In was a huge gamble. And, also like that first PPV that spawned what we now know as AEW, it was an ambition that paid off hugely.
AEW had been all over town in the days prior to Wembley. From a Fozzy concert to fan events, to Jericho turning up to attack Will Ospreay at the RevPro show, AEW was here to make its mark. The buzz online and around town was huge.
And so (at last, you may say) to the show itself.
As reminded on Dynamite, Rampage and Collision, most fans were in their seats for Zero Hour, beginning at 5pm. There were treats before that, however, with Jarrett and his band of misfits coming out to denigrate UK wrestling, only to be beaten down by Paul Wight and. We also got a Powerhouse Hobbs promo, interrupted by Miro, to a monstrous reaction.
The crowd was hot by the time Aussie Open’s music played, and went wild for MJF and Adam Cole. Their match for the Ring of Honor tag team titles did everything it needed to do, from kangaroo kicks to the famous double clothesline, to teasing tension between the main events. It was a pleasant surprise to see MJF and Cole take the titles with no real initial drama ahead of the main event.
Hook vs Jungle Boy was next, for the FTW title. Whilst Hook brought the strap back home, the bigger news was an altercation between Perry and CM Punk backstage, reportedly due to Perry’s use of real glass during the match (despite Punk having had words with him prior about working safer on Collision), then openly mocking Punk on camera. Full details are yet to emerge, but Perry was sent home immediately. Punk left the arena around an hour later. It’s fair to say Punk’s early exit was planned, however, as the opening match slot his bout with Samoa Joe took was clearly intended to keep him away from The Young Bucks (and the media scrum…).
The show proper got underway with Punk retaining in a tremendous match for the “Real World Championship” with Samoa Joe. The crowd boisterously cheered Joe’s heelish antics, whilst being more split, albeit passionately split, when it came to Punk. The match went the right way, although it was noted in the arena that Joe rolled out of the ring and walked to the back after the pin, seemingly no-selling the Pepsi Plunge. Given the pace of the show and the number of matches on the card, however, this may just have been to keep the show moving.
As a quick sidebar; Mercedes Mone was shown on the big screens several times and got a huge pop every time.
The Golden Elite vs Bullet Club Gold was up next, to wild fan reactions. This showcased the best of everybody in the match, and was a great trios encounter. Don Callus, as always, had white hot heat whenever he was on camera, and Takeshita pinning Omega was the right result ahead of All Out this coming weekend.
Next up was one of two contenders for match of the night, with FTR defending the AEW World Tag Team championships against The Young Bucks. Coming into the match it seemed obvious that The Bucks would win the belt, given both Cash Wheeler’s firearms charge in the USA, and the Jackson brothers’ well-reported prediction for putting themselves over as the best of all-time. And yet… FTR won.
In truth, match did more to cement The Bucks’ legacy that a win here ever could. This was The Young Bucks at their best. Gone were the silly facial expressions and histrionics, instead replaced by a serious tag team fighting to be the best of the best. The story was simple, and the action was crisp and impressive throughout, including the best false finishes of the entire night. Wembley came unglued when FTR retained, and it was the right result, right now. The Bucks refusing a handshake at the end of the match was an interesting development, though what it means is yet to be seen. What happens with Cash’s legal issues in the coming weeks will dictate what happens next, but, for now, FTR are on top of the world.
From there, the matches came thick and fast. As a television viewer, I’ve always been ambivalent about the Stadium Stampede/Anarchy in the Arena matches. It’s a struggle to keep up with what’s going on at times, though the big spots are normally huge. In the arena, however, it all became crystal clear. It was simply tremendous. The excitement of action happening all around you, from Kingston and Claudio brawling in the stand above, to brutality with Moxley and Orange Cassidy in the ring and a blood war on the stage, made it impossible to know where to look, and it was breathtaking. The violence and physicality in the match was as expected, but Cassidy picking up the win with a glass-covered Superman punch to Claudio was still a surprise.
The women’s four-way for the world title felt thrown together, and saw perhaps the biggest mass toilet break in Wembley history, but that was an unfair reaction to four of the best female wrestlers in the world. Whilst match didn’t set the world on fire, the reaction to Saraya winning the belt and celebrating with her family in her home country was something to behold.
From there we flew into the coffin match, featuring Swerve Strickland and Christian Cage against Darby Allin and Sting. The reaction to Cage and Sting was phenomenal, with hearty chants of “TNA” showing appreciation for their journey to this point. The coffin stipulation was maybe superfluous, but the no-DQ format made sense, as it enabled the action to keep moving and work around the limitations that come with Sting’s advancing age. The match, the insane Darby spots, and Sting and Darby picking up the win drew strong reactions, and the match earned its place on this card.
Jericho and Ospreay came next, with Jericho, along with Fozzy, playing himself to the ring. 80,000 screamed themselves hoarse singing along to the anthem, before the elation immediately turned to vociferous boos for Jericho and unbridled support for Ospreay in his home country.
Though the match started a little on the slow side, the pace soon picked up, with Jericho yet again rolling back the years to crisply hit some big, high-risk moves. The match, put simply, was great, and the crowd went banana when Ospreay picked up a hard-earned victory.
Nigel McGuinness briefly but the ring to announce the attendance as 81,035 fans, before The House of Black made the way to their ring, paying tribute to Windham Rotunda by bringing a lantern with them to the stage.
And then… the place exploded for Billy Gunn and The Acclaimed, and I’ve never scissored so many grown men in my life! Foam fingers went wild in the stands throughout the match, and when Billy and The Acclaimed picked up with win to take the titles home, a huge celebration ensued.
What a way to head into the main event.
And so it was that Adam Cole, BAY BAY, made his way to the ring to the biggest pop so far, followed my MJF wearing a devil mask, on a throne, to an even bigger reception.
This, of course, was the second contender for match of the night. The storytelling was tremendous, with MJF on top of his game, performing like the second coming of Ric Flair. The crowd was split at every twist and turn, with both Cole and MJF teasing heel turns, trepidation and second-guessing just how far to go to win the match, before Roderick Strong made his way to the ring, seemingly teasing a Cole heel turn.
The moments that followed were tribute to the tremendous backstory of the last several weeks that had accompanied them, including ref bumps, comedy spots, a taste finish and indecision. Cole ultimately did the right thing and shunned Roddy, only for MJF to pick up the win. After the bell, Cole initially refused to acknowledge MJF, before swerving fans on the anticipated heel turn and uniting with his partner, as fireworks screamed into the night sky and the enraptured crowd brought the house down. It was the perfect ending to a show that featured, heartstring-tugging and fan service. After the show closed MJF gave a brief, emotional promo about what being champion means to him, before an exuberant Tony Khan joined them in the ring to announce that we get to do it all over again next year.
I can’t express fully just how special the show was. From the sheer size and love of the crowd, to the scale of the ring and stage set up, the fact that this was the first AEW show in England from a company that truly loves its fans back, it was everything it needed to be and more. Pouring out of the stadium amongst tens of thousands of elated fans, scissoring all of the way to the car park, I’ve rarely ever been happier to be a wrestling fan.
Perhaps this real life interaction summed it up best. I woke up this morning, turned to my wife and said, “I don’t need to go to Wrestlemania anymore.”