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Cody Rhodes clutches the NWA world title belt as wife Brandi and referee Earl Hebner look on. Photo provided

It was hailed as the biggest independent wrestling show of all time. And the world of professional wrestling may never be the same because of it.

The brainchild of a group of indy wrestling stars who believed, against all odds, that a non-WWE event in the year 2018 could cause a ripple that would be felt throughout the industry, last weekend’s All In pay-per-view in suburban Chicago was that and more.

The major thrust for the super-show came from Cody Rhodes (Cody Runnels) and The Young Bucks (brothers Matt and Nick Jackson/Massie). It was their strong belief that an independently promoted wrestling show, with limited resources, could rival a major WWE event.

All In wasn’t designed as a WWE-type event, nor was it promoted as “sports entertainment.” With the NWA world title as the centerpiece around which the self-funded show was built, there was more of an emphasis on old-style “pro wrestling,” with a hint of the territorial system that was popular in the pre-WWE era.

“It’s all part of this revolution that you don’t need to have a billion-dollar company behind you, if you want to do it,” NWA vice president Dave Lagana told TheRinger.com. “You have to understand what an audience wants. It’s not money. They will support you to the end of the earth if they believe in your message.”

There’s no denying that the unforgettable show was a major success, financially and artistically, and surpassed the expectations of most wrestling pundits. Amazingly,  tickets sold out 29 minutes after going on sale May 13. No U.S.-based pro wrestling company other than WWE has drawn that many fans since WCW did it nearly 20 years ago.

Some of the world’s top indy stars, along with an announced attendance of 11,263, converged on the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., in hopes of changing the dynamics of the profession’s future.

It was an event loaded with top non-WWE talent and packed with show-stealing performances. It was, as Matt Jackson declared immediately after the spectacle, a “home run.”

The atmosphere for the star-studded card was electric. Adding to the magnitude of the event was a podcast convention aptly titled “Starrcast” that was staged adjacent to All In over Labor Day weekend.

“The biggest compliment I can pay to All In is … I haven’t seen wrestlers and fans have that much passion, energy and fun since (WWE’s) ECW ONS (One Night Stand). Myself included,” declared Bully Ray.

Making history

Despite a nine-year run in WWE, it was Rhodes who had a vision when he asked for his release two years ago. Giving up a big-money contract for the uncharted waters outside the sphere of WWE, the 32-year-old Rhodes reached the pinnacle of his career last weekend when he emerged with the NWA world heavyweight title, a crown proudly worn on three different occasions by his father, the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.

It was Rhodes who, in one fell swoop, put the NWA world title, the wrestling profession’s oldest surviving champion, back in the spotlight.

Cody’s victory over previous champ Nick Aldis wasn’t short on drama or emotion. He was accompanied to the ring by longtime Rhodes family friend Diamond Dallas Page. His wife Brandi was at ringside and even took an elbow drop to protect her husband during his match. And there were real tears when he was handed the NWA world title belt by referee Earl Hebner.

It marked the first father-son NWA world heavyweight championship duo in the title’s history.

“Your pops is lookin’ down and smilin’ BIG!” tweeted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “10 Pounds of Gold!”

After the matches had ended, Rhodes sent what could be perceived as a warning to WWE owner Vince McMahon.

“Not only did I find colleagues, not only did I find peers, these people are my best friends in the entire world,” said Rhodes, referring to several stars of the show who stood with him in the ring. “That big question of what happens next with this group? We are sticking together. Because nobody, no man, no company, no entity, owns pro wrestling. We own pro wrestling.”

“Every single person knows what it feels like to be called undesirable, what it’s like to be told we can’t hire you, or that you’re not good enough for WWE,” he continued. “The reality is, this group went from undesirable to undeniable.”

Rhodes also made it clear that the event wasn’t “anti-WWE,” but rather “pro wrestling.”

Among the many stars on the All In show was Tessa Blanchard, the 22-year-old daughter of Tully Blanchard and stepdaughter of Magnum T.A. (Terry Allen). Allen, also godfather to Cody Rhodes, praised the event.

“I know Dusty is smiling as are we all. Cody and Tessa killed it this weekend as did the entire crew. Starrcast was amazing. I hope it’s just the beginning of an era,” said Magnum, who accompanied Tessa to the ring along with Tully.

What next?

Now the question is: Will this concept, this event, change professional wrestling? Could it be a glimpse into the future of pro wrestling?

Fan reaction has been mixed.

Jack Hunter of Washington, D.C., thinks, based on the increasing popularity of independent wrestling across the country, that All In could potentially be a game-changer.

“Indie wrestling is hotter than it’s ever been and All In was just the latest manifestation of that. The question is, what’s the ceiling? No one really knows, and that’s exciting. Also, as someone who always thought it was silly to try to carry on the NWA post JCP/WCW or even TNA, I honestly was excited and inspired by Cody becoming NWA champ. I think a lot of old school fans felt the same way. Tommy Dreamer's tweet probably reflected my own feelings best.”

Tweeted Dreamer, a longtime proponent of old school wrestling, after the show: “Tonight was amazing. It was old school NWA meets WWE Attitude Era meets ECW. I loved every second of it. Thank you to everyone for making wrestling history and loving something I have loved since I was 9 years old.”

“It was a major game-changer, and suddenly the NWA world title is relevant again,” wrote George Vanderpool of Baton Rouge, La. “They need to run with this … I could see a promotion growing out of this.”

Billy Metts of Charleston echoed those sentiments.

“We’re seeing the beginning of what will be our alternative to WWE in the years to come. The lines between the other promotions are faint ones. This is probably getting us closer to what Pro Wrestling USA could have been than what the NWA was.”

“It had something for everybody and was a great event! Cody winning the NWA title was an amazing moment,” posted Robby Gregg of Goose Creek.

Tom Sowell of St. Stephen believes that WWE underestimated Cody Rhodes’ worth and probably regrets letting him go.

“It did show how much WWE dropped the ball with Cody Rhodes. With his bloodline and natural ability and charisma, he could have been the biggest star in the company. And put butts in the seats.”

Fresh faces, great action and dream matches combined for a great event, said Eddie Kool of Fairview Park, Ohio. Plus, he says, “The crowd didn’t hijack the show like a bunch of marks.”

“It pulled my heartstrings. A darn good show,” posted Brandon Spec Lyles of Spartanburg.

It will take more than one show, though, for Bill Hazelwood of Greenville to be convinced.

“It was one show advertised for eight months … in a market with nine million people. Repeat and I will be impressed.”

Michael Barton of White Sulphur Springs, N.Y., also takes a wait-and-see approach.

“I think it’s too early to tell what comes of this. I loved the show, it built from the Being the Elite YouTube series. But this was a one-off for now. It's one thing to run a single show with the novelty of it all, but to try and run a regular promotion is a completely different scenario. I hope they succeed in doing that, but it’s going to take time.”

Tyler Cupp of Lugoff doesn’t think the momentum will carry over to smaller markets.

“Great for the fans, some awesome moments with Bucks, (Chris) Jericho and Cody … but that type of booking and event only works in handful of cities … Philly, Chicago, New York, Tampa and select others. Not a national brand by any means.”

While Jared Shapiro of Charleston thought it was one of the best cards he had seen in a while, he doesn’t see the concept staying the course over a long period.

“I’d love to see a show of this caliber once a year or so … a sort of ‘Indie Supershow,’ but beyond that, I don’t think it’s a viable moneymaker. The uniqueness of the show was part of why it was so good.”

While not necessarily a game-changer, says Thomas Simpson of Seneca, the event proved that WWE isn’t the only game in town.

“I’ve always said that every wrestler should run at least one show. They did. They got a variety of wrestlers and promotions to work together. That’s rare. I think rather than being a game-changer, it showed there’s room for more games than WWE.”

Dwayne Kerr of Kemptville, Ontario, believes fans are looking for something new and that there could be life outside of Vince McMahon’s WWE juggernaut.

“Obviously fans are hungry for a viable alternative to WWE. I mean, I was impressed that the show sold out in 30 minutes with only one match announced. Credit where credit’s due.”

“The attendance has to turn some heads,” wrote Ed Stylc of Baltimore. “Still too many run-ins and modern booking for me.”

Chuck Green of Goose Creek offered a bleaker overview of All In.

“Not a game-changer at all. A hipster, internet-savvy smarkfest … Professional wrestling is dead and gone. Best fans of pro wrestling can hope for now is momentary ghosts of what we had.”

“Basically take a merger of ROH, NJPW and Impact to even become close,” wrote Chip Collins of Columbia. “That being said, the show was booked incredibly well, with a perfect balance of old school wrestling themes and traditions and new school high spot-type matches. And if someone has followed the long-term storylines running through Being the Elite and Ten Pounds of Gold, then there was almost some ‘bonus’ features (the Joey Ryan appearance being one of them).”

Ring of Honor general manager Greg Gilleland told TheRinger.com that the event really wasn’t competition, but more of a big event celebrating the wrestling industry.

“This isn’t really competition to anything. It’s its own show. This is a unification of the industry — of many, many pieces of the industry. It’s a great festival. It’s a great celebration. So why not let it happen?”

Gilleland foresees little response from WWE.

“None of this is dinging them one bit. They’re going to take whatever talent that they want, whenever they want, because they can make millions of dollars.”

With that seemingly unlimited amount of funds, it would make sense for Vince McMahon to flash big money at some of the top talent that competed at All In — stars such as Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. Most of the key players on the show have contracts due within the next six months. None have completely ruled out working for WWE, but perhaps establishing a legacy for themselves might be more important to them.

It’s also possible that the continued success of this alternative wrestling product could bring to the table major investors who see a loyal and passionate fan base worth supporting. At the very least, it was a truly remarkable undertaking that proves independent wrestling is far from dead.

Old School Wrestling

On the subject of independent wrestling, highly regarded local promotion Old School Championship Wrestling is presenting its Lord of the Ring tournament on Sept. 9.

Promoter Joe Blumenfeld says he’s especially excited about this year’s offering and promises a great evening of professional wrestling.

“It’s been a very long time since we’ve done a Lord of the Ring match. There is a great lineup of champions for this one, including Wrestleforce champion Brady Pierce, OSCW champion Kevin Phoenix, BWC champion John Skyler, tag-team champs Zuka King and TJ Boss (who will fill in for Nick Kismet), and wildcard winner Scotty Mathews.

“We’re excited to welcome back Savannah Evans, who has been burning up the indy scene all over the country lately,” adds Blumenfeld. “Former WWE star Kevin Thorn will be returning to OSCW to tag with fellow former WWE star Gangrel vs. the Beautiful Bald Besties.

“We also have what I would call a battle of the giants. Odinson will be making a return to OSCW to face off against Logan Creed. Odinson’s appearance is quite intimidating, and Logan Creed is one of the largest men on our roster at 6-8 and approximately 320 pounds.”

Others scheduled to appear include Austin Theory, Harlem Bravado, Jenna Van Muscles, Stormie Lee, Francisco Ciatso, Tracer X, Josh Powers, Brandon Scott and Chris Silvio.

Doors at the Hanahan rec center open at 4:30 p.m. Action gets under way at 5.

Adult admission is $12 (cash only at the door); kids under 12 $7.

For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 843-743-4800.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on.com/MikeMooneyham.