‘It’s come full circle’: Local wrestlers make Seattle debut at Climate Pledge Arena

“I haven’t slept in my bed on a Tuesday night in 79 weeks,” Aubrey Edwards told KIRO 7 on Friday.

It’s a schedule that most people would loathe considering as part of a job, but when you love what you do, putting in 250,000 miles of air travel in a single year isn’t that big of a deal.

Edwards is a professional wrestling referee for All Elite Wrestling, and is making her Seattle debut on Wednesday at Climate Pledge Arena.

She is one of a handful of wrestling talent that either lives in the area or were born and raised here but have never performed their craft in front of a major audience at home.

All Elite Wrestling was founded in 2019 by Tony Khan, the 40-year-old son of Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. AEW is considered to be the second largest wrestling promotion in the U.S., behind the WWE.

Based out of Jacksonville, Florida, and started one month before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has endured with its high-action style and rabid fanbase.

Their flagship television program, AEW Dynamite, makes its Seattle debut on Wednesday, and the talent from the area could not be more excited.

Darby Allin

Darby Allin, who grew up in Maple Valley and trained at the Buddy Wayne Academy in Everett, told KIRO 7 that skateboarding as all she did growing up, and performing at the then-KeyArena was the furthest thing from his mind.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen that big old lightning bolt sculpture in front of the Space Needle,” Allin said. “I got on the very top of that and dropped in on it with the skateboard. I flew off the side and splatted on the ground. It was probably my worst skate fall of all time.”

For a man who once licked the gum wall at Pike Place Market for a stunt, the insanity of Allin’s style of pro-wrestling may begin to make sense.

Although he moved to Atlanta to avoid the rain, Allin has continued to make a difference for up-and-coming wrestlers in Seattle.

Nick Wayne, son of the late-Buddy Wayne (and Allin’s trainer), wrestles for Defy Wrestling in the Seattle area. The 17-year-old is already turning heads, flying around the world to perform before sold-out crowds while he’s still in high school.

Wayne has been wrestling since he was nine when Allin started training with his father. Allin remembers Wayne was always in the ring, taking bumps and moves with the students.

Allin told Tony Khan that this kid was so good that it would be a big mistake if AEW didn’t sign him.

Khan decided to offer Wayne a contract, and Allin presented Wayne with the contract during a surprise appearance at a Defy show in 2022.

“To have that moment with him and to be there from the start,” Allin said. “I would take him to skate parks when we were younger and all those things. It’s crazy. It’s cool to see the journey, especially for him. I remember when his dad passed away, it was two days later and he was training in the ring and posting videos of himself training and I always thought that was the craziest thing. This kid lives for this.”

Wayne will be 18 in July, and many suspect his AEW debut will be soon after.

On the other end of careers, Allin has recently worked with pro wrestling legend, Sting. In a recent interview, the 63-year-old pro-wrestling legend said that he has mapped out the end of his career and that the final chapter will include Allin.

Sting, widely considered to be one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, started in 1985 and has worked around the world for every major organization.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” Allin said. “(Sting) is super humble, he’s the best.”

But Wednesday’s show is his current focus.

“It’s a full circle moment, going into Wednesday. It’s insane to think about,” Allin said. “This journey of wrestling, all these sacrifices… it’s like you don’t really stop and smell the roses, but this is our first time here.”

Allin was in town two weeks ago to film an entrance video for his match against Samoa Joe on Wednesday.

Before the end of our conversation, Allin wanted to be sure we noted that Swerve Strickland, a Tacoma native, isn’t actually from the area.

“Don’t fall for that guys’ game, man,” Allin laughed. “He lived in Tacoma for two days and moved to Germany. Don’t even fall for those games.

Aubrey Edwards

Aubrey Edwards has been living in Bellevue after moving to Washington for a job in software development.

Edwards grew up in Northern California and went to school in Redmond, and eventually worked in video games.

She said she worked for 10 years for a number of companies in Bellevue, Seattle, and Kirkland. Around the time she turned 30, friends encouraged her to become a professional wrestling referee.

“Why would I do that,” Edwards said. “I learned how to ref at the gym – it’s no longer open, they shut it down during the pandemic – that was called Evolve Fitness over in South Lake Union. It was the first time I stepped into the ring.”

From there she worked on various independent wrestling shows in Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland.

She met wrestler Frankie Kazarian during her northwest loop at a show in Surrey, British Columbia, about three weeks before AEW debuted.

Kazarian passed the suggestion of hiring Edwards on to Khan, and five months later she found herself in All Elite Wrestling.

Edwards shared her favorite places to eat around town.

“If people what to make it over to the eastside in Kirkland, there’s this place called Nick’s Grill – it’s off of 116th – and they do a lot of different food. My absolute favorite thing, and I could probably eat it till the day I die: his burritos are amazing.”

Not that it influenced her choice of favorite places, but her action figure also sits on a cabinet next to the cash register.

“The burrito – you can get steak, add egg to it, avocado… do whatever you want, but it’s the tortillas cooked over an open flamer, and then it’s nice and crispy. It’s so good!”

Edwards holds the rare distinction of being the first woman to referee a main event men’s title match on pay-per-view in the history of wrestling, a fact that she is still amazed to even think about.

Before potentially refereeing the main event on Wednesday, Edwards sees it as an opportunity years in the making.

“I saw Bryan Danielson retire at KeyArena,” she described. “There’s a .gif of me in the front row crying at his retirement, so it’s come full circle. This is insane. I have many friends who have never been to a live wrestling show that are going this week and I was just hoping I had a really awesome match to do.”

Her match, Chris Jericho versus Ricky Starks, is the main event for the Seattle debut.

Edwards’s working relationship with Jericho is something that has also developed over the years. She said that he likes the way she officiates and treats the role very seriously.

“Since then we just clicked,” Edwards said. “I know what specific questions he’s going to have based on what story he’s telling in the match. I know when he asks for things in the ring, like when he’s going to ask for time cues. How I can best help him tell his story, so we just connect really well. He knows he can trust me.”

The connection has not gone unnoticed, as Jericho even joked on an episode of AEW Rampage, “I don’t know why she’s always in my matches!”

Edwards is also a fan of the Kraken and was lucky enough to see a victory on Sunday from a seat at Climate Pledge Arena that a fan will be sitting in, watching her work this week.

Another personality that will be making his AEW debut in Seattle is Bryan Danielson, who is from Aberdeen, and worked for WWE from 2009 to 2021.

Tickets for AEW Dynamite at the Climate Pledge Arena for Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 4 p.m., can be found at ticketmaster.com.