One of the hot topics coming out of Full Gear, All Elite Wrestling’s third PPV last night (Sat., Nov. 9) in Baltimore, seems to be “what was up with that crowd?”
Bad or muted audience reaction to a pro wrestling show isn’t a fresh talking point - it’s a discussion that happens to some degree almost every Monday night. But passionate fans have been such a big part of the AEW story. The response to Being The Elite and ALL IN led to the creation of the company. Vociferous crowds have been a staple of Dynamite, so much so they’re often used as an argument for why the weekly TNT series is so fun to watch.
So... what was up with the Full Gear crowd?
I was fortunate enough to be in said crowd. My colleague and DelMarVa running buddy Kyle Decker and I bought tickets early, back when AEW’s quick sell outs were still a big news story. The house at Royal Farms Arena on Nov. 9 was packed but not sold out. There were quite a few empty seats behind the hard cams - including the entire upper deck on that side.
Lines at the merchandise stand before the show were long, and most of the selection of shirts, hats and jackets sold out before The Buy In pre-show started. We saw the logo, and Bullet Club and Young Bucks merch, on lots of fans downtown when we had dinner and made our way to the old Baltimore Arena. BTE in-jokes were overheard, but there weren’t chants in line or any loud displays of AEW allegiance before the opening bell like we’d been expecting.
That continued once the wrestling started. We (the collective Full Gear crowd, and Kyle & myself) got loud at times, and I think there may have been some difference in how this building was mic-ed compared to past All Elite events. But reactions happened, and stopped. There wasn’t the sustained buzz viewers are used to hearing on TNT Wednesday nights.
As to why? I think there’s probably a little something to most of the arguments going around.
While I somewhat defensively wouldn’t agree that “the crowd sucked” - and my throat does hurt this morning, so I personally did what I could - at least in our section, two types of people were pretty plentiful. In one group were what I’d call more cerebral fans. They popped for the biggest spots and moments, but for much of the night were appreciating and dissecting what they were seeing. These folks would have been at home in a New Japan crowd. A handful were probably making mental notes for the post-show podcast they’d be recording later (and before you take that as a slam, I’d definitely include Decker & I in this group, sore throat notwithstanding).
Perhaps better news for AEW, there were a lot of new fans in the stands. Men and women introducing their partners & friends to pro wrestling. Parents and older siblings explaining nuances of in-ring storytelling to pre-teens.
All of the above were engaged as audience members, but not always or often screaming their heads off. There were also - to this cranky Gen X-er, anyway - people who spent the show on their phones. Filming, tweeting, or in the case of one guy seated in my sightline, scanning the Instagram feeds of female wrestlers.
Another argument I’ve heard quite a bit is that the lack of character development and storyline build hurt the show. That’s subjective, of course, but I can tell you this was being discussed in the seats just as much as it is online. People were explaining who wrestlers are and why they were feuding with other wrestlers to each other throughout the night. We had a conversation with a group of guys in the row in front of us about how AEW needs to streamline where programs are built, because we hadn’t all kept up with BTE and Dark to get every tease and promo in every angle.
Backing this point up was the reaction to certain matches. They showed Britt Baker’s promo on Bea Priestley from Dark before their pre-show match, but it was the first time many in the arena had seen it. Fans seemed to have little idea why the Shawn Spears/Joey Janela match was happening (and when the lights went out for Spears’ entrance, people were expecting/hoping for a big reveal. A lot of folks didn’t know who he was even when the spotlight hit him, and the air kind of left the room when fans realized it was the former Tye Dillinger carrying a chair to the ring, not La Parka).
Poor Emi Sakura Freddie Mercury-ed her heart out during her entrance for the Women’s title match, but it just confused people who already didn’t know much of anything about the sudden #1 contender. She and Riho got the crowd into their match about halfway through, with Emi’s heeling being as crucial to the cause as the champ’s always great selling and comebacks, but it was all uphill for the joshis.
The Tag title Triple Threat was a lot of fun, but this crowd could have used a bit more of a reminder about the heat between SCU and Lucha Bros. Private Party felt like a third wheel, everyone knew they were to take the pin, and reacted accordingly. The match was just announced days before the show, and didn’t make the cut for the Countdown special. Not having announcers in your ear to catch you up doesn’t help.
Who can say for sure what role that played in a muted response later on? But on a show that was almost twice as long as a Dynamite taping, we collectively struggled to re-engage with the show after the mid-card (I’m not sure how we sounded for the Bucks/P-N-P/Rock ‘n’ Roll stuff, but we were hyped for that and made it known as the building was rocking for the PPV opener). Both main event bouts started slowly, too, which gave us another chance to sit back down, talk amongst ourselves, or pick up our devices.
The one moment which personally surprised me was how quickly our boo-ing of MJF ended. There was heat for his overt turn, but it almost sounded like we jeered him more for throwing in the towel than the kick to Cody’s nuts. Personally, I think they could have strung out the “will he or won’t he?” of his officially becoming a heel, getting jeers for this moment and building to even more anger when he betrayed his mentor. It’s an idea I heard others kicking around before the lights out match, too. Should we have stopped thinking and enjoyed what we got? Maybe, but I’ve always believed you process entertainment however you process entertainment. For whatever reason or reasons, many of us in the cramped seats at Royal Farms were already in talking-wrestling-with-our-friends mode at that point.
And that’s it on that. Everyone is going to have their own opinion on things like booking and match order, and whether or not they’re good enough reasons to not get loud. All I can do is confirm they were being talked about in the building even as they were being talked about online. That’s probably both a statement on the type of fans in attendance at Full Gear, and the validity of the criticisms.
One last thing. Not to go all “inside baseball” on ya, but looking at Cageside’s traffic numbers from last night, I can tell you that the folks in the building weren’t the only ones who seemed to have less interest in Full Gear than past AEW shows. Is the buzz already wearing off for the new promotion? Have WWE’s attempts to dominate the wrestling conversation worked? Are we entering a post-honeymoon phase for Tony Khan’s company? I’d expect those questions will be asked along with the theorizing about and analyzing of last night’s crowd.
Just some observations from a smark who was seated on the 200 level. Please continue the debate in the comments below.