Well, I’m safely back home from Orlando, Florida, where my wife and I went to see our first All Elite Wrestling live show – AEW Revolution 2022, one of the company’s 4 annual pay-per-view events.
It was fun – my wife spent her early adulthood in Orlando, so we got to visit a lot of landmarks that were interesting to her growth and development as a person, and AEW PPVs have become sort of mythologized in wrestling as massive events well worth seeing, and it was my first chance to go to such an event in-person instead of just watching at home. Was it worth it?
First, on Saturday before the show, we had tickets to go to AEW Fanfest, in the same building as the show but with a backdrop row for photo ops, a few things in the lobby of the arena setup as displays. There were things included with a general admission ticket – a handful of free photo ops with wrestlers, a display box that looked like a giant action figure you could also take a photo in, and a series of live matches you could stay to watch. For a relatively-low ticket price (all-in including fees from Ticketmaster was around $41), it was a pretty decent deal. There was live Q&A happening in the ring with a rotating array of wrestlers, and there were a lot of add-on options, like special signings including signed action figures and one where you could take a photo on their TV stage with any of the championship belts and the referees. It was a pretty fun afternoon and very casual – low attendance (about 1,000 compared to 9,000ish for the show itself the next night), easy to park and get in (with a caveat that I’ll talk about as a travel story later in the post), and you had free reign to roam about the arena with only production areas off-limits, so you could walk right up to the guardrail by the stage and check it out, go up and down the arena into various seating sections to check things out, or crowd the ring (as many did).
While it was overall a fun event, the scheduling and organization was a bit of a mess, with posted times not lining up with when talent were actually out for photo ops (not in the “I’m late” way but in the “the posted time is wrong” way), some of the paid options not matching the advertising (I wanted to do the championship photo, which was listed in our email as $50, but then in all attempts to pre-purchase or purchase on-site, it was $100, so we skipped it), and general issues of lines and space (the photo op line was a clusterfuck that took nearly an hour for the crew to sort out just a smidge). Overall though, it was still a fun time, and if you’re going to travel to an AEW event with that option, it’s worth a look.
The Revolution card itself this year was awesome, with a lot of great, well built matchups.
As a live experience, the first weird thing about most pro-wrestling live is that you get no commentary sound, so you’re left to watch the matches without any storytelling nuance that might be added. That being said, wrestling is an artform in the ring and so when done well, you don’t really need that. It does mean that the show itself has little volume to offer outside of entrances, so it relies on fan interaction to fill in the rest. Luckily for AEW, they put on a good show and their PPVs are top-notch, so it was loud all night.
One of the ways AEW attempts to set itself apart from WWE is in live experience. A WWE TV taping is dull, where commercials will break in with nothing happening, wrestlers will enter before a commercial break and stand around in the ring doing idle animation poses waiting for the show to resume, and short of a few cliche live sports things (a kiss cam, ooh la la) the show grinds to a halt waiting for the TV audience. AEW TV tapings generally do more crowd work, with the ring announcer talking to the crowd and hyping things up, but PPV is a different beast, because there is no commercial – the show keeps going. For AEW, this creates a bit of a problem at PPVs in-person – because they do far fewer recap video packages than WWE (in fact, WWE’s best aspect in 2022 is that the production team makes video recaps that distill a feud down perfectly and even make bad feuds often look good!), the show very much just goes and keeps going, with no real downtime or pacing where you could run to the bathroom, grab a snack, or buy merch. Once you get seated, you’ve got 5 hours of show to watch, and if you have to step away, you’ve got to make a choice about what you can safely miss.
This also makes certain matches feel like piss-breaks, whether that is the intention or not. Both women’s matches kind of felt like cooldowns after something huge and cool happened, or a really kick-ass match went on, such that most people sitting around me went to the bathroom or snack bars during them, and that undercuts the real work those performers are putting into their matches. Ultimately, a show is going to have an ebb and flow, because everyone’s ranking of what is important to see for themselves is different, but I wish there were more break segments like interviews, or longer video packages to setup the feuds for the more casual fans. That being said, AEW is a promotion that tends to center the hardcore wrestling fan, and there’s a built-in assumption of familiarity with the product that comes with that. I think it’s not always ideal to build a show that way, but AEW PPVs are generally appealing to their main audience (including myself) so they clearly have something going for themselves.
Lastly on negatives, the merch stands don’t carry enough of the good stuff. Event-specific shirts mostly all sold out within 30 minutes, so the shirt I wanted was gone because I didn’t push into the ravenous horde at one of the only two merch tables in the venue. I would just buy the shirt online at this point, but AEW’s merch provider Pro Wrestling Tees had a pretty bad credit card breach last year that seemingly was caused by outdated and insecure systems, and they basically laughed off anyone pointing out that their response was bare minimum and poor, so I will never give them my money or credit card details until a proper response and clear indication of proper system security is given. I’m not holding my breath.
But, on the positives, there were many.
Firstly, the show was well-built, with a lot of meaningful story development done in the past several months that led to the show. One thing that pushed me away from WWE is a lack of meaningful storytelling or build – they have a PPV every month, so feuds are often slapdash and poorly written (I lost count of how many times they had people have two matches on TV, trade wins, with the PPV being the rubber match to win the series, and that was all). Given that, anything is better, and because AEW has 4 PPVs a year with at least 3 months between each, there is tons of time for things to be built subtly over time. On Revolution 2022 alone, you had the deepening divide of ReDragon and the Young Bucks which will likely pull Adam Cole in a direction towards one team over the other (a storyline that played out in two matches!), the establishment of Wardlow as a future star in the company (both by winning the ladder match at the show and by finally turning on his heel boss MJF), storylines about both women’s champions (Jade Cargill as the confident, OP TBS Champion and Britt Baker as the cowardly heel who needs help to win her title defenses), Matt Hardy splitting further from his “Hardy Family Office” gimmick (because Jeff Hardy has joined his brother in AEW for their final run together as a tag team), crazy 62-year old Sting and his weird goth son Darby Allin (not his son, but the chemistry on-screen feels that way!), CM Punk establishing himself further as a legend in-ring with strong performances that match his vigor on the mic, and a ton more that I could list and keep running with.
What I love about AEW and the way the promotion tells stories is that so many of them overlap across the card. In WWE, talent tend to be in storylines in isolation – Seth Rollins does whatever he’s doing and that often has minimal, if any, bleed-over into other storylines on the card, which makes any tag-teams, alliances, or new feuds seem half-baked because they come out of nowhere. AEW loves to have an interconnected promotion, where every story told intersects with something or someone else in some way – the rift of the Elite with Adam Cole is being told across multiple matches and segments every week, Hangman Adam Page having trouble keeping up with the pressure of being the world champion is something that pushes into the Dark Order and the Elite storylines, Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley starting a potential faction with William Regal is fascinating and the build to Revolution already called out multiple targets whom they’d try to bring onboard potentially, and there’s so much like this where it feels like the show is an ecosystem of interconnected things and not just a conveyor belt of matches and promos. Being invested is worthwhile because the show makes it matter and almost always pays off your investment in it.
As a live event, the show built and had a reasonable pace to it, issues with break times for the live audience notwithstanding. Short of the Women’s World Title match, nothing really felt forced or bad and everything kept the crowd engaged and rolling with the show, which is key when you have a 5 hour live event that wraps up at midnight local time!
Overall, without just reviewing the card or discussing the show in detail, it was a great experience for the most part, and I’m glad we got to go and experience it. We already have tickets for the next AEW PPV (a lot closer to home this time!), which is Double or Nothing in Las Vegas in late May, and since that is the event that started the company, it feels like it will be really big. Plus, I’m meeting a guildmate and my long-time friend/FFXIV Free Company leader there, so that should be a good weekend!
To close out, though, I want to discuss traveling to Florida and my first sort-of “normal” travel experience since COVID began.
Traveling In “These” Times
I felt, before, during, and even now, a lot of apprehension about the idea of traveling at present. Getting on a plane during COVID felt pretty weird, even with full vaccination, a mask, and being mindful of my own presence in these places. Ultimately, we decided to take the trip knowing these risks, with what we felt comfortable with as precautions – bringing a mask, wearing it out and about to most places, doing our best to social distance, sanitizing and handwashing regularly, and the like. Traveling to Florida, however, raised a lot of that apprehension, as the state has routinely done worse at COVID than most in the US (it has a now well-documented pattern of cases falling off sharply as the disease kills off a large number of the infected, which makes it have cycles where it looks like the best state in recent averages because it buzzsaws through people and thusly reduces active infections counted) and Orlando is a tourist center with a ton of people coming through from all around the world – us included, for the weekend.
On the whole, I found Florida’s response to the pandemic baffling. There was clearly still effort – signs up about social distancing, encouragements to wear masks, most employees in most places still wearing them – but then it was weird because a lot of the signs equated to begging people to wear masks (and I saw a mix, with more touristy stuff generally having more mask-wearers and places like grocery stores having very few) and using wrong guidance, like several signs asking for 3 feet of distance to social distance, which was strange (and would be wholly ineffective as your only precaution!). I’ve seen enough wrestling on TV since touring resumed last summer for both WWE and AEW to know that almost no one was going to be masked up at the show, and that held true, unfortunately!
For my part, my mask stayed on through nearly all of the trip, basically at any point I was going to be close enough to someone else that wasn’t my wife, it went on. There was one point where it was difficult, and that was the show itself – the air conditioning in the arena was poor at best, so it started to get quite hot late in the show – so I did end up taking a risk there with the mask off in shifts to cool down, for myself more than anyone else (one person behind us in a section of around 200 was wearing a mask, and that was it). In the end, the COVID side of things was a fear right up until I started drafting this post, where I finally cracked one of our federally-provided COVID tests and got a sigh of relief with a negative test.
As for Florida as a destination? Well, it has a lot of stereotypes about it – most of which seemed to be earned. I saw a lot of weird characters and behavior when we were out and about in Orlando – nothing rising to the level of the Florida Man legends, but it felt a bit cartoony at times. Going into the trip, I had an ironic dislike of Disney Adults – and after flying home from Orlando International Airport, that irony ran out and turned unironic, as that flight had the largest number of petulant, demanding grown-ass people I’ve ever seen in person in my life. As a city, Orlando mirrors a lot of what I dislike about modern American cities – pedestrian-hostile in design and intent, sprawling suburban communities connected by overrun feeder streets choked by traffic, and generally comprised of large strip malls of chain restaurants and big box stores. That being said, I still had a good time and there were things to enjoy, largely because I live in a place where many of those design notes are also true but there’s less to do and enjoy. Weather-wise, the humidity kicked my ass as expected – my home has dry heat in the summer and it is currently below-freezing outside, so March being near 90F with a high amount of aerial moisture was a lot for me!
But, the US is the US, and with the regional differences accounted for, navigating it was largely the same as home, which was made easier by my wife, who lived there for a handful of years prior to our paths crossing. We got to see a good mix of things, like Universal Citywalk, the Titanic exhibition (I touched a piece of reclaimed metal from the ship which was cool), and I got to try the Publix deli (it’s good for a grocery store deli, but there is some huge raving about it that I still kind of don’t get).
Flying in COVID times was about as I expected, in that it was both very similar to the current US federal approach of “if we ignore it, it will go away” (the flights were sold out and packed with no distancing provisions) and yet also different (masks still mandated for the full duration of your time in the airport and plane except for active eating and drinking). Depending on the airline, we got varying approaches to plane cleanliness (JetBlue on the way in seemed to be full-cleaning planes between trips, while United on the way out handed us a sanitizer wipe and wished us luck), and you could tell that having to be the frontline enforcers of masking wore on the flight attendants in the places you’d expect it to (the flight out of Orlando started with “we’ll tell you once to put a mask on, and if we have to again, you’ll have a meeting with the US Marshal on the ground”).
Our travel ended up being a bit weird as a result of all of this, but also one choice we made that played out rather poorly.
The flight into Orlando was a red-eye, flying overnight from LAX as a hub to Orlando, with us landing just shy of 6 AM local time. This was all well and good in theory – sleep well the day before, try to sleep on the plane, and you’re good. It mattered because booking a hotel around that arrival time was effectively impossible – late check-in with the hotels we discussed it with wouldn’t run that late, so we couldn’t just book the prior night to get a room to crash in, and early check-in for our arrival day on Friday was up in the air based on capacity and housekeeping turnover. Naturally, this meant that both my wife and I slept poorly the night before, leaving us to try to nap before leaving for the airport and then to sleep on the plane. I’ve done weird flights before – plenty of business trips, two around the world jaunts with severe jet lag on the arrival and departure side, and so I thought it would be fine. Hell, we both just did a full around the world trip in 2019 as our last flight pre-COVID, and I came from Tokyo, crashed for a half-day, and went straight to Blizzcon!
Well, we got old, I guess. And sure, 32 and 36 aren’t old, but it was old enough that the lack of sleep really caught me hard. I couldn’t sleep on the flights short of around 30 minutes total of catnaps, so when we landed and got into the rental car, I was already feeling it. By the time we were told no early check-in by the 7 AM crew at our hotel, it was hitting harder. We had breakfast, and afterwards, I think I felt what it was like to be dying and decaying – I was not having a good time! Because Citywalk was on our agenda anyways, and they had a movie theater, we made the practical decision to go see a movie where no one would be watching, so we could be air conditioned, in the dark, and could sleep. Because The Batman had just come out, we picked Dog with Channing Tatum (we wanted to see it anyways, so a win) and there was us and one other couple on the opposite side of the theater, so another win. We didn’t sleep because the movie was good, but it was enough rest to get us to where the hotel finally could allow early check-in, so off we went! By the time I finally got to sleep that afternoon, I had been awake for around 27 hours – not a lot, but rough all the same.
Lastly, while modern tools can help a lot with navigating an unfamiliar place, we ran into one funny (in retrospect) snafu during Fanfest. Parking at the UCF campus for events at the arena is limited and requires payment – a thing that varies from event to event so the arena site helpfully does not list a price or even mention payment! When we arrived to Fanfest, there were street spots on the side of the arena with an app for payment – cool! But the app was limited to a 2 hour block for a 4 hour event, so it wasn’t going to work. We parked there and paid for 30 minutes to get cash to pay for a real spot in the garages – went to the 7-11 on campus, no cash back. Went to the garage, and they can take digital parking passes bought on Ticketmaster (the night before when looking, the site said you needed to print it), but because Fanfest had started at that point, we couldn’t buy one. So we scoured high and low for an ATM, finally driving off-campus to get cash to pay for parking and then coming back, before making the funniest discovery one could make in that scenario – the arena, named for a bank in the area, has an outside ATM on the one corner we didn’t check. We could have walked to one and gotten what we needed without driving away and looping back – whoops!
In the end, what I found funniest is that the show was good enough that in my head, the trip has had most of its negatives wiped clean – the long travel day, the hot weather, the odd people of Florida – and that speaks well for our next trip to Double or Nothing in May, which is drivable (and we will be roadtripping that one), especially since my wife is trying to talk me into staying in the infamous Clown Motel on the way back home from it.
If you’re a fan of wrestling, recommending an AEW show live is easy – they rarely have an objectively bad show, the ticket costs are reasonable for the most part (floor seats especially for PPV events are crazy no matter what), and the live experience is something of a focus for the company – you’ll get pre and post-show thanks from the owner, the energy stays high, and short of a few hiccups, the overall experience of the show pacing and outside elements are pretty well put-together. And hey, if you’re in Vegas this Memorial Day weekend, maybe I’ll see you there!