When All Elite Wrestling’s Darby Allin steps into Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday, it will be a big moment for the professional wrestler.
The daredevil grappler and skateboarder is scheduled to join forces with wrestling legend Sting in a title match against AEW’s World Tag Team Champions Ricky Starks and Big Bill. The match will be the main event of "AEW Dynamite," which is being broadcast from Footprint Center and will be watched by thousands of people at the arena and millions around the world.
It’s a far cry from the 2010s when Allin was a poor skateboarder living in the Valley attending film school at Scottsdale Community College. Back then, he couldn’t get a job at the arena.
Fast-forward to today, when Allin returns to the venue as a pro wrestling superstar in the main event of a nationally televised broadcast. He described the experience as “a full circle moment” when he spoke to Phoenix New Times recently about his memories of living in Arizona, including his adventures skating around the Valley and how attending a local wrestling event helped launch his own career in the ring.
Phoenix New Times: You’ve got a significant history here in the Valley, right?
Darby Allin: Yeah. I moved to the Phoenix area to go to film school (at Scottsdale Community College). They had a really good film program. And then I just dropped out.
Why did you drop out?
A lot of it was I started really wanting to try professional wrestling, but I never had the confidence to do it. And then I went to this local wrestling show in the Phoenix area. There were probably 40 people in the audience, and I was like, “Man, this wrestling is horrible. It's so bad.” So I thought, “If people are actually paying to watch these guys wrestle, maybe I have a shot.” And when I was at film school, I wasn't getting that creative freedom that I wanted from it, so I thought to myself like, “Man, do I want to be the guy who was just chilling behind the camera or do I want to be in front of it?” Cause I've always liked to do crazy stuff like stunts, and I've always loved professional wrestling. Then, I really thought to myself, “Dude, this is the time to make things happen.” So I decided I wasn’t going to have a school control my creative freedom. So I dropped out, quit my job at the 99 Cents (Only) Store down there in Scottsdale and left the state.
You also did a lot of skating when you lived here, right? There’s a famous YouTube video of your skateboarding antics at Valley spots like ASU Art Museum.
Yeah. The ASU Art Museum thing was the first week after I'd moved back to Arizona and I dropped from this big sculpture and broke my foot. So I spent a whole summer chilling with a cast on my foot. It was pretty miserable because I didn't have a car at the time I (got injured. All the buses had stopped running and I had to sit on my skateboard and push myself home for five miles, and then I was in denial it was broken. So I jumped into the jacuzzi at my apartment complex and then iced my foot and then jumped back into the jacuzzi. And then I was like, “Man, I just got to go to the hospital.” So I ended up pushing myself to the hospital on my skateboard.
Once I got (the cast) off, I was back to going crazy around town. I skated down ("A" Mountain) in Tempe by ASU, but there's no real landing. You just skate and you fly off the "A" into bushes and rocks and stuff. So I was doing a lot of that stuff. It was fun. I had a great time. Skateboarding in Arizona is really big and there's a lot of amazing spots that you can't get anywhere else.
Are there other places in the Valley where you’d skate?
There's one called the “Gates of Hell,” it's down in Phoenix. It's insane. A lot of pro skaters won't even step up to it because it's pretty sketchy. You go down this big (canal) and then you got to go in between these two big walls, and if you barely lose your balance, you're going to fly into a concrete wall going however fast you'd go. But I love that. I love all those crazy spots. There’s a bunch of great skate parks in Phoenix. But, yeah, I personally love all the sketchy ditch spots and stuff like that because you can't get those anywhere else.
Yeah. I didn't have a car, so I pretty much lived on the (Valley) Metro bus and I would always be downtown. There's a bunch of great spots down there that I remember. I tried to get a job at the Footprint Center years ago, but I never got hired. I was going to film school and I just got the cast off my foot and I was like, “Man, I need to work because I don't have any money.” I was literally living off of $5 a week for food and I’d shop at the dollar store and make it work. So it's pretty funny thinking about it now, because I haven't performed in the Footprint Center before. The last time AEW was in Arizona, I wasn't (on the card). So it's cool because not only am I coming back to Arizona, but I'm also having a tag-team championship match with Sting at a place that wouldn’t hire me. So it's definitely a full circle moment there for me.
What job did you apply for at Footprint Center?
A food and beverage job. And they were like, "Er, no,” because I had literally a foot-long Mohawk and tattoos on my hand, which seems crazy to me. I have tattoos on my hand, but they say, “drug free,” and it was impossible to get a job. And then all these years later, I can get along perfectly fine with a billionaire like [AEW owner Tony Kahn]. It's like, “Cool, he accepts all my tattoos.” I just think it's funny how minimum wage jobs operate, how it's so controlling and try to hold you back from being you.
Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, it's definitely a full circle moment. Phoenix is the area where I decided to start my wrestling career, like, “Hey, I'm doing this.” Yeah, so it's a big thing for me to go back there, especially to wrestle with Sting. It's a big confirmation of all the hard work and everything I've put into this.
What are your thoughts about you and Sting facing the Young Bucks in March at "AEW Revolution" during what’s going to be Sting’s final match?
I don't know. Honestly, I have a lot of things I could say about the Bucks that I'll save for another time, but my whole goal is making sure Sting ends his career on a high note because to me, I always say it, everybody remembers the end. If we go out there and the match is horrible, Sting's going to have to live with that. And me, I'll settle at nothing to make sure that that man's career ends with the respect it deserves. So I'm going all out in that match. I don't care what happens. Even though I got to climb Mount Everest two or three weeks after Sting’s final match, I’m not holding back.
Would you have preferred to face Sting in a one-on-one match?
No, not at all. I have no interest in that. I think it's a wrestling cliche. It's kind of like, “The mentor has to fight the student” and I don't want that. Sting doesn’t want that. To me, I want to go all out and it wouldn't look right. To me, I just want to stick to our team, because that's what essentially brought him back to AEW is me convincing him to wrestle again. And I think we had such a good camaraderie inside the ring and outside the ring and we've become really close.
"AEW Dynamite." 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, Footprint Center, 201 E. Jefferson St. Tickets are $20 to $90 via Ticketmaster.