QUEENS – The message that All Elite Wrestling wanted to convey with its sold out tickets Grand slam The show at Arthur Ashe Stadium was clear: WWE no longer has the New York City wrestling scene in a headlock.
It was a message delivered in words: “New York is now the city of AEW,” Yonkers native Eddie Kingston told the crowd at a closing promo for the show, and even louder actions.
More than 20,000 people packed the exclusive US Open venue in Queens for the company’s first show in all five boroughs. They stayed in the parking lots for hours; the line for the vaccination verification already extended until train 7 an hour before the doors opened. They cheered loudly inside the arena for a prerecorded video package featuring CM Punk. They blew up during the undercard matches taped early in the evening to Dark: Elevation, one of AEW’s two YouTube series. When the song “Flight of the Valkyries” by Bryan Danielson arrived and the fans realized that the most important match of the night, the match of their dreams with Kenny Omega, would be the start of the live broadcast of Dynamite, the place took off.
AEW put on a show worthy of such an enthusiastic and massive crowd. The Danielson-Omega meeting was one of the best the company has ever had. (Users of the popular wrestling site Cagematch.net have rated it the third best match in AEW history.) Danielson and Omega have been two of the best performers in the industry for years, but until the formation of AEW, a union between them seemed like an unattainable fantasy. Omega seemed happy to continue working in Japan and Danielson had no reason to leave WWE. Watching them lock up was a rundown of what makes AEW so exciting: America has a wrestling promotion capable of staging dream matches that won’t happen in WWE.
Not only would Vince McMahon’s company never put a game of that quality on free television, it would never end up in a time-limit drawing. That’s partly for technical reasons, the WWE rules don’t include time limits, but also because of WWE’s approach to storytelling. The Danielson-Omega match should not have had a decisive winner. It was Danielson’s first AEW match and it would have been detrimental to his character if he lost. But having Omega, the world champion, lose to a guy who had never fought for the company, would have cheapened his reign for the title. In WWE, a no-ending would have featured outside interference, a double countdown, or some other kind of ruse that makes it an unsatisfactory conclusion. But in AEW, the story Danielson and Omega told made both men seem stronger.
While none of the other matches on the card could match Danielson and Omega’s display, each did their part to help the event live up to the high expectations. Since the moment Dynamite aired at 8 p.m. local time, until midnight, when the Friday episode of Rampage shrouded, the energy of the crowd barely wavered. Almost no one headed to the exits early. It seemed like all but a few of the fans remained in their seats until the end of the five-hour show.
Grand slam it was an anomaly for AEW. Starting next week Dynamite In Rochester, the company will once again perform in arenas with around 10,000 seats, primarily on college campuses. It won’t be filling an arena the size of Arthur Ashe again for long, but just proving that you can sell the largest indoor venue in New York City is a remarkable feat for a company that’s less than three years old. Before AEW was formed, it would have been ridiculous to suggest that any wrestling company in the world other than WWE could sell 20,000 tickets in the United States. If Wednesday’s show proved anything, it’s that AEW will have no problem doing it again.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.