It's a Wednesday afternoon in Lowell, Massachusetts, and as the stars of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling prepare themselves for the first night of the four-show War of the Worlds tour in the United States, there's a definite energy in the air.
The Young Bucks are preparing for the main event -- a first-time-ever match against New Japan stars Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI. Matt and Nick Jackson have been criss-crossing the globe through the first four-plus months of 2018, continuing a seemingly never-ending loop of major events over the past few years for NJPW and ROH, with the occasional appearance for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and (multiple) tours in Australia.
On top of their intensely busy in-ring schedules, the brothers have joined forces with Cody Rhodes in a seemingly impossible adventure called All In.
"We've put a lot of work in," said Nick Jackson on that Wednesday afternoon. "Now it's like, all right, we've got to try to enjoy some of this. What we're doing is pretty big."
"And we may never do it again," added Matt Jackson.
"Well, you never know, though, if it's just a crazy success," Nick countered. "And you know what? I think it's already a success, knowing that we're doing it. And a lot of people thought that it was impossible for anyone to run an arena, and you know what? We're doing it, self-promoted, all by us and the buzz that we got for it. ... It's been huge," Nick agreed, "And I think that alone is a huge accomplishment."
"We just hope the buzz translates to tickets sold," said Matt. "Obviously there's nervousness going into something like this, because we're putting our necks on the line and we're saying this is our show and we want it to succeed. We're very ambitious about this, and we want this to be a big thing. And man, for the three of us to do this, it took a lot of guts, so we're just hoping it's reciprocated and people want to actually go to the thing, instead of just talk about it online."
It was once only a dream of selling out a 10,000-seat venue with an independent show, but the buzz for the show that will feature the stars from almost every major company in the world outside of WWE has been overwhelming.
Just two hours before tickets are set to go on sale, the Young Bucks, Cody and other stars of Being the Elite set the stage for the All In press conference with 50 fans on hand at the Pro Wrestling Tees retail store in Chicago.
After building out the brand of the Bullet Club to a seemingly unthinkable degree, with merchandise ranging from dozens of T-shirts to the first-ever non-WWE wrestling Funko Pop dolls and an unprecedented deal with Hot Topic, this event is largely a release for these guys -- a chance to blur the lines with their patented style of humor featured in 103 episodes (and counting) of Being the Elite.
But in addition to a series of skits, including the ongoing saga of Flip Gordon's yet-unsuccessful journey to get booked on All In, there are three key pieces of information floating around, creating a last wave of buzz.
In addition to all of the legends announced for Starrcast, the four-day festival that's come together around All In, there's the announcement involving a CM Punk appearance in Chicago over that weekend -- albeit a meet-and-greet signing at the Pro Wrestling Tees store that still has fans buzzing about even the faintest hope of Punk's first pro wrestling appearance in more than four years at All In.
Then there's the revelation that the NWA has gotten involved with All In, with an announcement that Cody would be competing for the NWA world's heavyweight championship. The "10 pounds of gold" is tied to a small group of the most legendary names in wrestling history, including Ric Flair, Harley Race, Lou Thesz and the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.
"The two words that keep coming to mind are time machine," Cody said in a short documentary released by the NWA in the days after the press conference. "You guys created a time machine into my past. Yeah, it's the NWA's past, of course, but my dad was NWA world's champion, three times. It's a true world championship, and everyone in here will tell you that's where I want to be. ... I want to do nothing but challenge for the NWA world title."
The final bit of buzz came as the Young Bucks revealed that Rey Mysterio would be a part of All In, joining the likes of Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Pentagon, Fenix, Marty Scurll, Hangman Page, Jay Lethal, Joey Janela, Tessa Blanchard and an astounding variety of other talent set to perform on the show.
It would take less than 30 minutes for the show to be completely sold out and remove any lingering doubts about the amount of time and money the Young Bucks and Cody had invested in making All In a reality. As seen during a cut-in on Episode 102 of Being the Elite, everyone packed into a truck after the press conference and headed to the fourth and final show on the ROH War of the Worlds tour. Before they arrived at the building, it was all over.
"I started getting tweets with people saying, 'I think the show's sold out,'" Matt Jackson said during an interview that aired on a recent edition of Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast. "And I was like, 'No, that's just an error,' 'cause they [the Sears Centre box office] were alerting us, saying maybe there were errors on the page because there was so much traffic. I tried to get in myself. We tried to get the best seat possible, and a $28 seat came up. I was like, 'Wait, that's a nosebleed seat. There's no way that's the best.' Then it said 'How many do you want?' I punched in one, I hit enter and it came back and said 'none available.'"
As much as Matt, Nick and Cody bought in to the idea, a sellout in less than 30 minutes far exceeded even their wildest expectations.
"I projected low," Cody admitted during a recent appearance on E&C's Pod of Awesomeness. "I though 4,000 for the first month, and after that we'd roll matches out and we'd push our sponsors. We have a budget for advertising, and we didn't touch that budget, so now we can buy some fireworks or something."
"I knew we would do good, and I always thought we would do 10 [thousand], but I thought we would have to get walk-ups," Matt said. "I thought we would get five or six [thousand] in the first couple days, and then maybe after a week it would get a couple more hundred. Then I thought there would be a giant walk-up, and then hopefully we'd get to 10 [thousand]."
Any uncertainty was wiped away as they arrived at the building for ROH's TV tapings as representatives from the Sears Centre Arena called to confirm the sellout. As the boys in the locker room thanked Cody and the Bucks for what they'd done -- wrestlers booked on the show and those who simply appreciated what All In could mean for the future of wrestling outside the WWE -- there was a brief moment to appreciate how far things had come.
"My wedding day is the best day of my life, and the second-best day is sitting in that overpacked Jeep Grand Cherokee trying to buy a ticket online and not being able to because they were sold out. It blew my mind," Cody said.
If there's one clear message in the approaches of Cody and the Young Bucks, though, it's that they rarely take a victory lap -- even if the primary reason is that they simply don't have the time to do it. After performing in the greater Boston, Toronto and Detroit areas separately, Cody and The Bucks joined forces with Hangman Page and Marty Scurll to headline the ROH TV tapings against Los Ingobernables de Japon. More ROH shows, including a Hammerstein Ballroom show on June 2 and Best in the World on June 29 in Baltimore lie ahead, to say nothing of NJPW's massive Dominion card on June 9 in Japan. Cody and the Young Bucks will likely spend most of their few free moments over the next few months sorting out everything else that has to get done with All In.
The unlikelihood of such an event -- a kind of détente between companies -- had the Young Bucks and Cody looking internationally for venues because of potential contract limitations domestically with ROH and other companies. Instead, ROH, NJPW, Lucha Underground, the NWA and everyone else allowed for their talent to all be brought together under one roof for the show. It shows the amount of confidence that ROH, in particular, has in Cody, Matt and Nick, in allowing them and a number of other ROH-contracted talent this chance to follow their dreams. If all works out according to plan, it'll be a net positive for all involved.
"Of course we would be supportive," said Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff. "Creativity and innovation is what Ring of Honor stands for. We all share a common trust and respect, as well as a common goal to give fans what they deserve from professional wrestling. There was no question -- we too were All In."
Even with all of the enthusiasm and success thus far, All In did experience some minor controversy on the day tickets went on sale. The demand for tickets took its toll on the Sears Centre Arena's website. There were complaints that secondary resellers got their hands on too many of the premium seats. Almost two weeks removed from the initial sale, there are 567 seats available on StubHub with prices ranging from $150 to $1,800; comparatively, the initial price range went from $28 to $153.
Nick, Matt and Cody wanted all fans to at least have a chance to buy tickets at a reasonable rate upon their release.
"We're not trying to get rich," said Nick. "The three of us said, 'Hey, if we break even on this, then I think we can say it was a success.' We're hoping to at least break even."
"Someone asked, 'Why are the tickets so cheap?' and I said, 'We didn't do this to get rich,'" Matt added. "We did this to make the professional wrestling business richer for wrestling fans and for the wrestlers. We want to give an alternative, an option. Something fun. Even if it is for one night, let's celebrate it for one night."
So what will the show look like, with the top talent from so many organizations involved? With no need to rush out a card, there's been a healthy amount of debate as to how to lay things out.
"I've got about four cards," Cody said. "It's one of the more arduous elements of this. Matt and Nick and I agreed that nothing happens unless there's a thumbs-up from all three."
"This card's changed, what, like a half a dozen times?" Matt said. "Maybe more than that? A dozen times already? None of them are written in permanent marker. Or a pen. It's all been pencil."
"Matt and I ... have no clue what we're going to do on the show yet," said Nick.
No matter how things play out, All In is already a successful show by any measure. Because of the nature of the wrestling business, questions about the WWE are sure to intensify around Cody, Matt and Nick because of all the attention they're getting. While none has fully ruled out WWE in the long term, it's crystal clear that all three are plenty happy at this moment to build out their own independent legacies.
"The Bucks had the idea of doing [All In], and I think I came in with a little bit of motivation," Cody said. "I let them know right away that I'm not going anywhere. I'm not looking for this to be my springboard back to WWE. I love WWE, but I want to try this. I think they needed to hear that -- they needed a real partner."
The trio aren't content to coast into the finish line with All In, either. Between the show itself and Starrcast, they want to thank fans for their tremendous support by giving them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"We have to have a kicka-- show now," Matt said. "The pressure's still on us. ... We really have to give 'em something. We sold them the experience, and they bought it. They want to be part of a movement. They want to be a part of something bigger than any wrestling match or any dream match. They bought something bigger, more special, and that's what we're offering. ... It feels like we created a new wrestling holiday, almost. From Thursday to Sunday, it's going to feel like a big party."