Of all I have found fascinating about the journeys within All Elite Wrestling since its inception, one has piqued my interest more than any other. It’s one that has been a masterful work of art since the beginning, both in storytelling and in execution. Highlighted by subtle, emotional cues and incredibly beautiful black and white independent film work, Darby Allin has become this enigmatic darkness while simultaneously existing as AEW’s light.
He doesn’t shy away from challenges – even in the face of certain destruction. His body, merely a vessel for a drive unmatched in professional wrestling; Darby walks alone. The obstacles he has had to overcome – both in his life and in his career – have been immense. Yet, he hasn’t strayed when many would have. He stays true to himself and grinds through the blackness to walk out the other side a changed man, but not in the way many would change. No, Darby emerges from hell as determined as ever and ready to fight another day.
But that doesn’t mean his journey isn’t a perilous one. He will have lost pieces of himself along the way. Defining moments in one’s life require such sacrifice. Not only does Darby enter such hazardous conditions willingly, but he does so with the understanding that one day one journey will be his last. Until then, he walks on – half of his face painted to remind us and to remind himself that many years ago, part of his soul already entered into the unknown. He walks, still with honor to distinguish himself among monsters who may do him harm. He walks, still determined to walk through hell and climb out not unscathed but instead unburnt. He walks, still…
The Inferno, written by Dante Alighieri, is the first part of the fourteenth century poem, The Divine Comedy. In this feature, I will examine Darby Allin’s journey in All Elite Wrestling and how it parallels to Dante’s historic journey through hell. I am no historian, nor am I an expert in classic literature, but I am a wrestling fan. Darby’s journey through hell, like Dante’s, isn’t necessarily a completely foreign one to any of us. Each of us in our own ways experience periods when it feels as though we’ve been sucked underneath the ground. Once there, we can either succumb to forces that mean us harm or we can walk on, even if it means more pain and loss before we emerge victorious. We all have that in us. We just need to recognize that to survive and to thrive, one must be relentless.
This is Darby’s Inferno.
A part of Darby Allin is lost. That much was made clear when he debuted with AEW. The backstory, as real as he is, is heartbreaking. Yet, as many defining and challenging moments in one’s life are, Darby uses strength and personal grit to chase the dreams he feels are his destiny. Pushing through the darkness, he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t give up. Without light, many are lost. Not Darby though, because though he may not recognize it, the true light lies within him and it guides his way still.
He ascends the mountain of the professional wrestling world; earning the respect of those who matter. Though he has the opportunity, he doesn’t sacrifice his true self to make his path easier. He continues to battle beasts much larger than he, oftentimes failing to overcome them. Despite this, his bravery and will to succeed are noticed and soon enough an opportunity of a lifetime awaits. Sometimes things which seem too good to be true indeed are just so, and many times the ultimate price must be paid along the way. Darby wasn’t signing a deal with the devil when he joined AEW– nowhere close, in fact – but devils awaited him none the less.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Darby faced monsters much more experienced and much larger than he from the moment he stepped foot through the AEW curtain. Peering into the souls who existed within the company walls, he must have felt alone. But Darby does alone better than anyone. Passing men and women with different goals in mind and staggered paths, he knows what he must do. The climb through the hell that is proving one’s self and acceptance is one that never truly ends. Though AEW is filled with many superstars who have traveled entire careers to find a home, Darby is still presented as an outcast of sorts.
Is he really wanted? Everyone must know the path he will walk will lead to certain destruction. Is he a man who will be too easily seen as merely another notch in the belts of bigger names or is he one who will rip those belts off and make them his own? No one seems to know. On the word of one of the most powerful men in All Elite Wrestling, Darby is allowed through the gates, only to be met by that man himself. Darby’s first devil – The American Nightmare, Cody Rhodes.
Though signed, Darby remains very much in limbo, having not proven himself in front of those who rule. The opportunities arise to play his battle with Cody in ways that perhaps would endear himself more closely to the locker room who doesn’t understand this enigma yet. Maybe he wouldn’t be alone after all if he knocked the golden boy down a peg, by any means necessary. That’s not our Darby though. Outmatched in size, in experience, in psychology, and in name, Darby fights for his life. In perfectly ironic form, Darby leaves “Limbo” in limbo. A draw.
While a win eluded his grasp, the battle lines had been again drawn. A relentless warrior; Darby Allin has pushed Cody Rhodes to his limit. While respectful in plain sight, a draw isn’t what a Rhodes expects. Deficient not in victory or defeat, Cody licks his wounds as though he has been upset and plans for a fight befitting a king.
As Darby continues to walk deeper into the belly of the beast, other monsters search him out, taunting him – leading the lamb to slaughter. Perhaps the most powerful devil of them all, one who has reigned for longer than Darby has been alive, awaits with lust-filled eyes and dripping fangs. The Painmaker has come to collect a fare that can only be paid in blood. And blood there will be.
Like a violent storm raging in the sea without rest, Chris Jericho sits atop a throne built in bodies. Accustomed to witnessing unbridled and aimless power after years spent in a kingdom far away, he wields an ironically similar power himself. He looks at Darby and sees an ant who has lost his way home. Jericho, with an ego as large as any on the roster, cannot leave Darby to wander. He raises his boot but is shocked to learn he is not strong enough to crush our hero straight away. Darby will fight. While fight he does, proving to many that he will battle to the very end, Darby finds himself beaten.
“I fainted, as if I had met my death. And then I fell as a dead body falls.” ~ Dante Alighieri
The greedy are apt to pray on the weak, especially those who never run from a fight. As Darby recovered from one brutal fight with a monster, another he was familiar with circled in the night: one who brought with him unfinished business. This time he wouldn’t come alone.
As gluttonous as competitors get, Cody wrestles with a voracious appetite as champions tend to do but also with a voracious ego as well. Through obsessive eyes, he must avenge a loss that wasn’t truly even a loss. This battle became even more vicious than the one prior as Cody struggled at times to keep up with a faster and more focused Darby Allin. Using the darkness to his advantage, he goaded Cody into mistakes and nearly toppled the man at the top of the mountain. But the attack was doomed to succeed from the start, as those who walk alone into battle are eventually faced with those who don’t. With assistance from a man as legendary as men come, again our hero fell.
But this wasn’t enough for Cody Rhodes, as now riches awaited the winner of a great tournament. Greed does many nasty things to the minds of men. It twists them and turns them into beings they wouldn’t become without it. Darby – still on the road to prove himself – faced an enemy he knew better than any and failed once more. This time, though just barely, our hero started to crack. It wasn’t due to greed, but to failure. What more could be done against a man who had everything and yet still wanted more?
“Here, too, I saw a nation of lost souls, far more than were above: they strained their chests against enormous weights, and with mad howls rolled them back, one party shouting out: why do you hoard? And the other: why do you waste?” ~ Dante Alighieri
Was this any different than the lands he had traveled from? What more could he do to shift the scales in his favor without tarnishing the heart that he valued so much? Perhaps it really was all pointless in the end.
From the trials and tribulations of defeat, Darby walked on still. He walked until he met a monster so vicious, all he could do was smile. This was the moment – this very one – that all of his frustration and malice could be used and thrown at a man who would do the very same and laugh all the while! Wearing smirks as filthy as the river Styx, two men full of wrath went to war. Using hatred and vengeance as fuel, even if the other hadn’t been the root of such feelings, Jon Moxley and Darby Allin attempted to end each other in a battle for the ages.
Fate is funny though. For all rights and purposes, this is where Darby’s journey ends. Suffering with failed conquests and misunderstood purpose, he raged into battle with a monster he could not beat. He knew this, and he faced him anyway. Under different circumstances, perhaps this is where our enigmatic dark man ends his journey through hell. But against a monster such as this, one as vicious and unrelenting, Darby didn’t take his last breath after all. Instead, cognizant of not only his own sin but his own heart as well, Darby finds himself invigorated. Bruised, bloody, broken, and bludgeoned – he is as strong as ever.
But when one feels the most confident in one’s self, one is often the most at risk as well. Once again, with a body weakened through battle, the vultures began to circle. Men who walk alone draw the attention of those who can’t. Ricky Starks, nursing an obsession injected by a mentor whose feelings were stomped by Darby at his lowest, found an opportunity to strike too delicious to pass up. A heretic in disguise, Ricky haunted our traveler until finally the two met in a battle to be remembered. Possessing a confidence anew and the same relentless attitude from the early days, Darby defeated the man who tried to use his image against him. Anyone can paint their face, but only a select few have earned the right to WEAR it.
Continuing on his journey, it seemed finally time for Darby to live his nightmare one last time. It was one he had grown used to, one that continued to haunt him. It was time to do battle with Cody Rhodes. This time, Darby would rise or he would fall. There would be no revival after defeat. There would be no self-examination. There would only be violence.
Darby would have his hand raised in victory or this would be where his journey would end. As valiant an effort as it had been, nightmares can only haunt a human for so long until we become consumed by them. We lose ourselves; we lose everything.
“You taught me how man makes himself eternal; and while I live, my gratitude for that must always be apparent in my words.” ~ Dante Alighieri
But Darby didn’t fall. He toppled Cody’s golden throne and claimed it for himself, though it’s one he will never use himself. It seemed as though the respect and the feeling he belonged were finally in his hands as the former king bestowed honor upon his resilience and determination. Darby was a champion, yet his walk was not yet over. Standing in his way was something he didn’t expect.
Fraud. Treachery. And with those two things, more violence. Always more violence.
“Outward appearance shines brightly and passes for holiness, but under that show lies the terrible weight of his deceit.” ~ Dante Alighieri
Men of great size and monsters of great physical strength wait for Darby Allin now. But now his journey through challenge and darkness is not walked alone any longer. Acting as the Virgil to his Dante, is the man who helped create darkness in wrestling. The legend Sting walks alongside of our enigmatic man of the shadows and while he does, perhaps his walk might feel a little more safe.
Until it doesn’t that is. Those who are lost, though they may be found, never stay found forever.
Though Dante’s Inferno found closure after Dante encountered the devil himself, Darby’s journey will never end, not as long as he makes his home in All Elite Wrestling. Because as long as he walks alone and as long as he continues to do things his way, there will always be monsters lurking in the shadows.
Armed with a skateboard and a smile, something tells me he’d have it no other way.