The Ballad Of Darby Allin

(Photo Credit: AEW)

Darby Allin is a microcosm of All Elite Wrestling not getting out of its own way.

Earlier this month, when the legendary Sting had his last match of a career that spanned 40 years, Darby Allin, one of the homegrown and popular stars on the roster, took a rather ridiculous plunge from the top of a ladder through a pane of glass to the floor. Allin’s back was gashed, causing a grotesque scene as he bled profusely on the floor. Aside from the fact that such graphic violence can sour a portion of the audience and can prevent expansion, it was an unnecessary risk that could’ve ended the career of one of the company’s primary talents, and will undoubtedly shorten his career. Stunts like that are suited for independent shows in front of 200 fans in the parking lot of a used car dealership, not for a national company that should theoretically look for more ways to expand its audience, specifically after such major investments in new talent from the free agent market. Sure, it makes sense to leave the door open for more violence when the situation calls for it, especially as a way to differentiate the organization from WWE, but there’s a line between being an alternative and resorting to car crash tactics as a substitute for proper storytelling throughout a feud.

If All Elite wants to use blood to add a level of intensity to a segment, fine since it brings something to the table that you won’t see in the corporate WWE product, but when wrestlers bleed too often, and that’s often the case in AEW, it’s not nearly as impactful. You can push the envelope without being so gory that a portion of the audience gets soured on the experience. Outside of the diehard AEW fan base that is already willing to invest money into the product, who is the Darby glass bump supposed to draw?

More importantly, there was footage and subsequently reports that surfaced online that fans in the front row were hit with flying glass from the Darby bump. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, there are only so many times that the PR team can smooth it over with free stuff until one of the fans see dollar signs from an incident. It’s well-known that Tony Khan is from a billionaire family and eventually, someone will look for six figures even for something that isn’t a serious incident. Again, similar to Darby bleeding all over the place, the glass flying into the crowd is amateur hour. A truly national organization with the structure to be successful on that level doesn’t let something like that happen.

As far as Darby as a performer, it goes without saying that he can go in the ring and has a very unique charisma that the audience can identify with, which is much more valuable in terms of drawing money than the reckless bumps. Speaking of the bumps, very similar to how All Elite jumps the shark with concepts that can make it an alternative, Darby doesn’t take measured risks that enhance his character, but rather will take foolish bumps just for the “shock value” of it. Fans didn’t dress up like him or paint their face at the arenas because they want to throw themselves down a flight of stairs, but because they connect with his persona.

Furthermore, and this is probably the biggest strike against Darby as a performer since it shows how narrow-minded his viewpoint is of the business, he’d rather be known to a niche audience as the folk hero that destroyed his body for a few years instead of being a major star for a national organization. The bottom line is, the entire point of the pro wrestling business is to draw money, and with the expansion of media in the modern era, there are numerous ways to accomplish that. There are live event tickets, pay-per-views, merchandise, conventions, ad revenue with television, sponsorships etc. A talent can’t draw money if they are on the injured list, and proof of that is Darby’s current status with the company.

As I said before, the fact that Allin was planning to climb Mt. Everest was ridiculous, particularly because mountain climbing on that scale isn’t something advised for amateurs to attempt because of the legitimate danger involved. Darby wanted to not only pause any momentum that his career had to attempt the dangerous climb, but was also risking his wrestling career, the potential he has to be successful in the profession, and financial stability to do it. Unless Darby already has enough money for the rest of his life, specifically if he got seriously injured on the mountain then it’s completely irresponsible to make the climb. Yes, obviously, Darby Allin can make his own decisions, but it doesn’t make those choices any less foolish. It’s just a total lack of any common sense, an aspect that is also reflected with his wrestling style.

While Darby’s decision to climb Mt. Everest was ridiculous, the fact that Tony Khan was willing to allow it was even more ridiculous. In some ways, it proves how much of a vanity project AEW is because it shows that the goal isn’t about profit, or a return on the investment of Darby’s contract, but rather it allows Tony to be friends with the roster.

Darby worked a match against Jay White two weeks ago on Dynamite after he announced that he would soon depart the company for a few months for the previously mentioned Everest venture. Despite the fact that the audience was already told that he would be leaving, they did an injury angle anyway to write him off of television. Ironically, during the match before the scripted foot injury to provide an unnecessary reason for him to be off TV, Allin legitimately broke his foot in three places, scrapping his Everest plans and putting him on the sidelines for an extended period of time before he can wrestle again.

Allin posted the news on social media, and it was actually picked up by TMZ. Allin also posted that he would have to wait to climb Everest next year since they are only certain months of the year when the mountain is considered safer to climb. If this is the case then Darby will be on the sidelines for at least a few months with the legitimate broken foot and then he will leave again for 2-3 months to try to conquer Everest. When exactly is he supposed to draw money for AEW? How will there be a return on the investment of his contract? Why should the company continue to invest money and TV time into his character if he plans to disappear from television again next year? Hypothetically, after he heals up from the foot injury, if Darby gets involved in the most over storyline on the show, should Tony Khan cut it short so he can have fun playing in the snow on the mountain? Theoretically, Darby is in the prime of his career and if he’s not going to be available for All Elite then it’s not worth the TV time or cash to promote him, simply because if the company is going to continue to expand, they need the talent on the shows to accomplish it.

Again, Darby is a microcosm of the bigger picture of AEW. He’s more concerned with being the folk hero that crashed and burned to a niche audience the same way that Tony Khan books matches for The Wrestling Observer rather than a national television audience. Darby takes bumps for shock value instead of bumps that could enhance his character, whereas the All Elite product jumps the shark with violence that can sour the audience rather than establish it as an an alternative organization. Don’t get me wrong, Darby has talent, but his approach probably won’t allow him to make the most of his potential, which is very similar to the way that All Elite has plateaued compared to the potential that it had a few years ago.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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