All Elite Wrestling has had plenty of big nights and moments in its short existence — but this one felt different. This was New York and that still means something.
AEW made history on Wednesday in its New York City debut. The market has been dominated for decades by the McMahon family and WWE with the help of having the right of first refusal for wrestling events at buildings such as Madison Square Garden. AEW didn’t need to use a building associated with WWE to make its splash in the five boroughs. Instead, it found one that hadn’t been run before and can now call it its own long term.
“AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam” was the first wrestling show ever at Arthur Ashe Stadium and delivered AEW’s largest live audience — 20,177 — since its inception in January 2019. The event was the highest attended non-WWE wrestling event in the United States since World Championship Wrestling’s show at the Georgia Dome in 1999.
And what a night it was.
AEW delivered five hours of pro wrestling — as it also taped “AEW Dark: Elevation” and “AEW: Rampage” around “Dynamite” — to a New York crowd that may have actually gotten louder as Wednesday night made its way to Thursday morning. Late into the night they were still swaying to Jungle Boy’s “Tarzan Boy” theme song, belting out Chris Jericho’s “Judas” and CM Punk’s “Cult of Personality.” It is that engaged, passionate fan base that so often makes AEW look, feel and sound different. It gives AEW its greatest chance at success.
The momentum Tony Khan’s company has right now is undeniable. “Dynamite” has been the No. 1 cable show on Wednesdays for the past four weeks in the 18-49 demo prior to Grand Slam. The past two weeks, it topped WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” in that coveted demo. Serving an ace at the home of the US Open only adds to the intrigue of how far they can carry all of this. It’s been 20 years since the wrestling industry has had a viable second promotion to push WWE.
You could sense this night meant something to the talent. Many of them took a moment to soak everything in, looking at the people stretching to the very top of a roof-closed Arthur Ashe Stadium. From Sting to Jericho to Punk to locals Eddie Kingston, Santana and Ortiz. They all did it. They knew how important this night was for their company and the feeling you can do anything once you’ve made it in New York.
The show felt like a team’s first game after some big trade-deadline acquisitions. Former WWE stars Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole and Ruby Soho debuted at the “All Out” pay-per-view earlier this month. AEW’s roster is so jam-packed with talent that Punk’s first television match in seven years was on “Rampage,” as was the case with Cole, The Young Bucks, the tag team champion Lucha Brothers and Jericho.
Ashe and Prudential Center for last week’s “Dynamite” was sold out before that WWE trio arrived, but having them and Punk only adds to the possibilities as AEW is currently WWE’s competition for talent and wrestling fans’ dollars and eyeballs. Yes, Ring of Honor and New Japan sold out MSG in April 2019, but that ended up being a one-off crescendo. Wednesday felt like the start of something for AEW in this city. Their tickets, which are priced lower, have sold quicker than WWE’s for shows at USB Arena, the new home of the Islanders, in November and December. It means while it’s unlikely AEW will have shows at the Garden or Barclays Center, they aren’t going to be shut out of New York.
“Before certain people got here we sold this mother out,” Kingston, a Yonkers native, told the crowd to end the night. “And we put our flag down in New York in dirt. But with those people that just joined us, we’ve retook our flag and put it in cement. New York is now AEW’s town.”
For one night, at least, it was.
The Kenny Omega and Danielson non-title dream to open “Dynamite” — yes open — set the tone for the evening. The crowd buzzed as they stood across the ring from each other, roaring at the bell, giving them a near standing ovation at one point and booing as the match ended as a perfectly booked time-limit draw. Fans didn’t want to leave without a winner.
Danielson, even with some Daniel Bryan underdog qualities still there, showed exactly what he meant when he told The Post prior to the event that he wanted the freedom to be a “wild horse” in his post-WWE life. He took some serious bumps — including a running V-Trigger knee down the ramp and a Snapdragon suplex from the top rope in a super-stiff affair that is only the first chapter between Danielson and Omega, the AEW world champion. Maybe we even get AEW’s first Ironman match out if it.
It was also likely a dream for some fans to get to see Sting wrestle a match live, something not many thought would happen after he retired because of a neck injury in 2015. Sting is 62, but the Icon looked great and had arguably the second best match on “Dynamite” as he and Darby Allin defeated FTR. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood’s superb selling and work cutting off the ring only added to the pop for the hot tags to Sting, who even delivered a flying crossbody from the top rope.
While Sting continues to be beloved, there were heavy boos for Cody Rhodes. The majority of the crowd was behind Malakai Black, who squashed Rhodes in their first meeting and took out his brother Dustin. Even a returning Brandi Rhodes — fresh off having the couple’s first child in June — couldn’t keep Cody from the boos. There is also some tension between him and coach Arn Anderson brewing. The former member of the Four Horsemen yelled at Cody to get back in the ring after he knocked him from the apron. Cody dresses like Homelander from the series “The Boys.” AEW has two options right now with him. Let him stay Homelander — a hero to some, a villain to others — or have him turn on Arn and push him full heel.
One person whose push continues is women’s world champion Britt Baker. Choosing to close AEW’s biggest “Dynamite” with her championship match against Soho shows how much they value both of them and what the company believes this feud can become. The crowd was behind each of them at different points. The final image from “Dynamite” was Baker victorious via submission with help from outside interference. It will only make her eventually dropping the belt that much more impactful.
After “Dynamite,” “Rampage” provided a huge moment for Kingston in front of his hometown fans while UFC stars Jorge Masvidal and Junior Dos Santos of American Top Team got into an angle with Chris Jericho and Jake Hager.
AEW isn’t perfect. While MJF working a crowd is even more impressive in person, his match with Brian Pillman Jr. didn’t seem to resonate with the fans in attendance the way others did. There was one women’s match on each of the three TV shows filmed, but you can make the case the division still needs a greater presence and more intriguing storylines on the overall product.
But those are small subplots to the greater story of Wednesday night, another big one in AEW and wrestling history. This one hit differently because this was New York — and that still means something.