SEATTLE – The first-ever AEW WrestleDream event on Sunday, October 1st, was billed as a tribute show to Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki, and while it did commemorate his legacy, it may ultimately be remembered as the day the Pacific Northwest finally got some respect.
Long known as the black hole of North American wrestling, WrestleDream featured five talents with prominent PNW backgrounds and the chants of DE-FY – for the highly-acclaimed Seattle-based independent promotion – were ringing out loud all night.
WrestleDream was the first-ever pay-per-view main event for Seattle’s own Darby Allin.
Trained by PNW legend Buddy Wayne, Allin wrestled all over British Columbia, Washington and Oregon before breaking out big on the east coast and eventually getting signed by AEW in 2019.
After dropping out of film school in Arizona, Allin returned to Seattle and showed up at the Buddy Wayne Academy with the goal to make it in the pro wrestling business.
“The very first day I was there he’s like – you look a little weird but we got something here,” Allin recalled at the WrestleDream press conference, noting he arrived to the school weighing 128 pounds.
He avoided a suggestion of getting a gas station attendant gimmick and chose to stay as close to himself as possible. He said Wayne described him as skinny, weird-looking and a crazy bump taker. Allin said he’s still all of those things today, but that he has added some size.
The impact that Allin left on Seattle just in this year alone was monumental – headlining the first wrestling pay-per-view in the newly-designed Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday and also winning the TNT title in the same venue on Dynamite on January 4.
Perhaps no one embodied the spirit of Seattle more than Swerve Strickland on Sunday.
A hated heel nearly everywhere else, Strickland questioned if his opponent Adam Page knew what he was walking into. He called Seattle a lion’s den and that the “12th man” would be behind him – and he wasn’t wrong.
Strickland broke into the business on the east coast, found television exposure on both Lucha Underground and MLW and then became a key cog in the rise of DEFY starting in 2017.
He was DEFY’s second-ever world champion and held that title for 279 days, defending the title against talents like Lio Rush, Matt Riddle, Brody King and Matt Sydal. It was that first run with the gold that established DEFY as a promotion to watch.
Strickland would go on to hold that title two more times and inked deals with WWE in 2019 and then AEW in 2022.
He said the monstrous reaction he received in Seattle was expected and the rest of the wrestling world should follow suit.
“It was like the entire city of Seattle was telling the wrestling world what they knew about me for years – that I am a star,” he said.
He also spoke on the struggles of getting noticed in the PNW and said he wants more eyes on the region.
“I had to do it the hard way, but Nick Wayne didn’t have to,” he said, referencing the signing of the 18-year-old Seattle phenom. “How about y’all do your jobs and do the research. Y’all show up to DEFY and these Seattle shows and these independent shows. Y’all do the work instead of this man [Tony Khan] doing it for you. Hopefully the next one doesn’t have to do it as hard as I did.”
Swerve took a giant leap towards superstardom on Sunday and his years in the PNW helped make that moment come true.
When you think of the PNW, likely the first person many think of is Bryan Danielson.
But up until Sunday, the former WrestleMania main eventer never had the opportunity to create magic in Seattle like he did with Zach Sabre Jr. at WrestleDream.
“I’d never even had a good match in Seattle,” he said. “All my matches in WWE were short. When we came here in January I wrestled Tony Nese for like four and a half minutes. To be able to do this match that I’ve wanted for so long in front of this crowd for an event honoring Antonio Inoki – I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Danielson also said his embrace with referee Aubrey Edwards (another Seattle talent) after his match told a bigger story about the PNW finally being noticed.
“In the history of professional wrestling there haven’t been a lot of people from this area that make it big,” he said. “And now we’re lucky in this company we have multiple people – we’ve got Darby, Swerve, me and we’ve got Aubrey. Referees are a very important part of our matches and for her to be on this journey with me, it felt special.”
Danielson initially wrestled in B.C. back in 2001 and continued making appearances in the province until 2007 before breaking out all over the world and becoming a big star in Ring of Honor and eventually WWE.
The other two talents representing the PNW at WrestleDream were wrestlers on opposite ends of the spectrum in so many ways but both unique talents – Josh Barnett and Nick Wayne.
Barnett, a Seattle native who debuted in 2003, battled Claudio Castagnoli in an MMA-inspired slugfest during the Buy-In portion of WrestleDream. He came up short, but hinted at another match between the two.
Barnett entered the combat sports world in the Washington State MMA scene and made his UFC debut in the year 2000. He is still the youngest-ever heavyweight champion after defeating Randy Couture for the title at UFC 36 in 2002. He went on to compete for Pancrase, PRIDE, Strikeforce and a number of other MMA groups.
With professional wrestling, he’s most associated with NJPW but also competed in TNA.
WrestleDream marked the biggest crowd that Barnett had ever worked in front of in his home state.
When Barnett was making his pro wrestling debut, Seattle’s Nick Wayne was two years away from being born. Wayne signed with AEW at the age of 17 after being surprised by Darby Allin with a contract at a DEFY show. He went on to make his debut in AEW earlier this summer.
Wayne is a PNW prodigy, learning under his father and making his debut in 2018. He wrestled throughout the PNW in those early years and really broke through in 2021 thanks to outstanding performances at DEFY.
Wayne and his mother Shayna Wayne were all over WrestleDream – Nick lost to Luchasaurus during the Buy-In and he shocked the world and his mom by siding with Christian Cage to cost Darby Allin the title.
In addition to the Washington State talents, DEFY has been a home away from home for several AEW talents. Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, Christopher Daniels, Evil Uno, Action Andretti and others have all competed in the promotion.
All eyes of the professional wrestling world were on Seattle and the PNW on Sunday and the forgotten outpost of North America may have done a lot to finally shed that reputation after WrestleDream.
TOP PHOTO: Nick Wayne turns on Darby Alllin at WrestleDream on Sunday, October 1, 2023, at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Photo by Ben Lypka