On Friday night’s debut episode of AEW Rampage, everyone was talking about the triumph of Christian Cage as he defeated Kenny Omega to win the IMPACT World Championship. While the story was certainly noteworthy, perhaps lost in the fanfare was a moment equally, if not more special. For it was on AEW Rampage, that Fuego Del Sol, finally became All Elite.
AEW Dark and a Track Record of Success Stories
The 25-year-old Fuego Del Sol is just the latest in a recent line of AEW success stories, brought about by the company’s use of indie talent to fill spots on AEW Dark during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID, AEW Dark effectively functioned like a Main Event or Superstars. It was AEW’s answer to those WWE programs, one used to get talent the proverbial “TV time” as the roster was just way too stacked for everyone to have matches and segments on Dynamite. Thus Dark, a YouTube exclusive show, was born, in October 2019. In its early days, Dark often featured AEW’s midcard talent or offered additional showcases to wrestlers in divisions including the women’s and tag team groups. Occasionally, however, Dark would get its share of star power, with top AEW wrestlers working the program from time to time. Such was the case during Dark’s year-in-review episode in December 2019, where the Young Bucks, Cody, Kenny Omega, and Jon Moxley were on the card in addition to two title changes taking place. This episode of Dark featured no shortage of top names in matches that had previously been taped. In some ways, it felt like this was the precursor for what Dark could soon look like as talk had begun to swirl around AEW getting a second televised program.
Dark wouldn’t end up being that program but nevertheless, it continued to carve out its niche as the product offered a supplement to Dynamite, all presented in a tighter and shorter format. However, in March 2020, the world seemingly stopped turning. COVID had become more than just a passing threat. It was a global virus that had infected the world like a parasite, infiltrating our lives and livelihoods. COVID was everywhere and so too were its implications. The world shut down for a period of several weeks, with many sporting events shutting down for longer than that. Some even became casualties, like the 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and the ATP Grand Slam of Wimbledon. Others, like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, were postponed for over a year. The NBA went into a bubble, MLB started a truncated season late, and so much more. But through it all, AEW continued to follow the old trope that the “show must go on.” Even as many of their colleagues weren’t or couldn’t afford to do so. Indie wrestling, in particular, took a huge hit, as shutdowns meant cancellations, none bigger than that year’s WrestleMania Week. With bookings few and far between, Tony Khan and AEW had an idea. As they themselves were missing a chunk of their wrestlers due to some not feeling comfortable working during COVID and others being unable to travel to the United States given the travel bans in effect, Khan turned to local enhancement talent to fill out the cards. Fans got their first taste of this new-look Dark during episode #26, which aired on March 24, 2020. Featured on the card were seven wrestlers, who had not otherwise been affiliated with AEW, wrestling in little more than squash matches against established AEW talents.
And the trend continued. Week after week, AEW brought in fresh faces from the indies to fill their cards. At the time, no one probably expected that any of them would be competing for contracts. But as the opportunity came knocking several wrestlers took advantage of it. Understanding that each match could be a one-off, these wrestlers put everything into their work, even if it was just for a few minutes of being on the losing end of a one-sided affair. This led to a series of Dark success stories with guys like Serpentico, Pineapple Pete (Suge D), Shawn Dean, Lee Johnson, Alan Angels, Preston Vance, Brian Pillman Jr., Griff Garrison, and more, all impressing and earning more and more screen time as a result. Because while the champions and AEW wrestlers were getting tune-ups, the challengers were getting unofficial try-outs. In some cases, Dark matches led to opportunities to appear on Dynamite or PPV, and in other cases, they led to being offered contracts with the promotion. And that is the story of Fuego Del Sol, who made his AEW debut on episode #37 of Dark, which aired in June 2020.
“Undesirable to Undeniable”: The All Elite Journey of Fuego Del Sol
Del Sol, the real-life best friend of AEW’s Sammy Guevara, was perhaps in the favorable position of having someone in his corner. But, Guevara doesn’t do the hiring and firing and while he may have had Tony Khan’s ear, there is no denying that Del Sol had to work for his All Elite status. And work he did.
Fuego Del Sol wrestled on Dark 16 times in 2020 in both tag team matches and singles bouts. In 2021, he wrestled 28 matches across Dark and Dark’s own spinoff, Dark: Elevation. Del Sol had become a regular on AEW’s programming as well as Sammy Guevara’s vlog. As Guevara’s friend and road roommate, Del Sol featured prominently, getting to show a character that we often didn’t see in his sub-eight minute squash matches. It was also through the vlog, that Del Sol’s legend grew. He was the man with the best tornado DDT in the business and while we had never seen him hit the move in-ring, there was no doubt when he did, Del Sol would rise to prominence. Such was the story that became one of the side plots on the vlog as Del Sol had the backing of t-shirt Cody (but never suit Cody), as he continued to fight for his first win. Unlike anyone else on Dark at the time, Del Sol’s off-screen journey was running parallel to that of his on-screen one.
All the while Del Sol was being booked on Dark, he was feuding with QT Marshall over the latter’s comments. Marshall was still a babyface on screen, but on the vlog, his character was the guy who hated booking the indie talents for Dark and always had disparaging things to say about them. Del Sol took umbrage with the comments and thus begun his vlog-exclusive feud with Marshall as he lobbied for a match to settle things once and for all. After months of trying, Del Sol finally got the match on episode #79 of Dark, as well as an entire vlog episode focused on the lead-up to the bout. Marshall won, but the result almost didn’t even matter as Del Sol had finally been in a position to hit the Tornado DDT. It was the first time Fuego Del Sol hit the move in AEW, and in many ways represented that his journey with the promotion was far from over.
A few months later, Fuego Del Sol checked off another AEW box, as alongside Marko Stunt, he got his first win in the company. He did so, with the tornado DDT, a move that began trending that night as did Del Sol’s own name. If it hadn’t been abundantly clear before, it was now. Fans had gotten behind Del Sol and were rooting for him as much as his colleagues were. It seemed everyone wanted Del Sol to succeed and the next step after his first win, was that AEW contract which had been as elusive as the tornado DDT once was. That is, until the week of August 9th. Del Sol received a match against Miro for the TNT Championship, but that wasn’t the only prize on the line. If Del Sol were to beat Miro, not only would he win the title, but he would also receive an AEW contract. While Del Sol’s early offense saw him shot out of a cannon and hitting three tornado DDTs, it wasn’t enough. Miro easily defeated his challenger in under two minutes, seemingly ending the boyhood dream.
But then something amazing happened. As Fuego Del Sol was allowed to soak in the moment with fans chanting his name, Tony Khan emerged on stage with a clipboard, which he subsequently handed to Sammy Guevara to do the honors. “Sometimes, there’s victory in defeat,” Guevara said as he walked down the ramp, fans twirling their fingers in a tornado DDT motion in the background. “Tony Khan thought it was only right for me to be the one to come out here, since you’re my best friend, to say officially, Fuego Del Sol is All Elite.” It was a moment that was pulled right off the pages of a fairytale, and one that according to Khan, only he and Guevara had known about prior. “That was a complete shoot,” Khan told Sports Illustrated. “Sammy was the only person I told, and Fuego was legitimately surprised to receive the contract he’s been dreaming and chasing.”
The fans cheered as Del Sol and Guevara celebrated while Chris Jericho yelled on commentary, “Dreams do come true, Tazz!”
And they had. The boyhood dream was realized as all of the blood, sweat, and tears Fuego Del Sol had put into AEW the last year, was rewarded in the highest manner possible.
Like many young kids, Fuego Del Sol got his start in wrestling in the backyard, performing moves on his friends, emulating the wrestlers they admired most. Only instead of a ring, Kids Backyard Wrestling saw Del Sol and some 20-or-so friends competing on trampolines as part of a wrestling federation they started themselves. KBW was more than just your standard backyard wrestling affair. It had its own YouTube channel, which saw matches garner anywhere from 500K to over a million views. Their most popular video, KBW Royal Rumble 2 now has over 4.5M views on YouTube. KBW went viral as did the impressive and acrobatic exploits of its young wrestlers. At age 14, Del Sol left KBW to focus on in-ring wrestling where his first opponent was fittingly his fellow KBW founder, AK-47. While the transition from trampolines to ropes and turnbuckles was tough, Del Sol realized that the kind of energy and enthusiasm he had spent years entertaining people on the internet with, could easily translate no matter what the “ring” looked like. According to Del Sol, that first match in front of a live crowd showed that as he and AK-47 “did by stealing the show that night.”
From KBW to the indies, Del Sol spent his early career wrestling as a rising star in the Midwest, primarily for Imperial Wrestling Revolution in his home state of Oklahoma. By 2019, Del Sol had his first bit of a breakout, wrestling 40 matches and picking up bookings in WrestleCircus, AAW, and IMPACT Wrestling, where he worked a few co-promoted shows with IWR. The following year, however, is when Del Sol’s career really took off. After opening 2020 with a Monday Night Raw debut in a squash match against Erick Rowan, Del Sol received his first opportunity in AEW. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Del Sol’s All Elite moment hit all the right notes, especially when he made his way to the back. As Del Sol recalled it on his Twitch stream that night, “Everybody came up to me, shook my hand, said kind words. Even the champ, Kenny Omega, pulled me aside and said kind things. I know he doesn’t do that for everybody and I don’t take that for granted. It really made me feel good about myself. (Chris) Jericho took time to say good things. Mark Henry. I had so many people show me love and support. When you have the respect of your peers, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Young Bucks said kind words and Nick even sent me a DM.”
While the journey to his contract is now over, the All Elite journey of Fuego Del Sol is just beginning.
“This doesn’t feel real. Wake me up, pinch me, somebody, because this doesn’t… When you work your whole life for something, when you dream about this, when you eat, sleep, and breathe this. This doesn’t feel real. I’m so grateful, I’m so thankful, because it wasn’t me, it was these people. It was every single one of these people that watched, that cheered, that tweeted, that made their voices heard. And now Fuego Del Sol can finally say with pride, that I’m All Elite.”