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Wednesday Night Wars: Dynamite vs NXT

Competition brings out the best in us. The desire to achieve a level of greatness beyond one’s competitors often leads to new levels being discovered. This can truly be said of the Wednesday Night War in wrestling, a head-to-head battle between two rival promotions, WWE and AEW. The war has become the ultimate battle in modern wrestling to capture fan attention. This competition has illustrated key philosophical differences in each promotion’s strategy. Yet, there’s a similar expectation each week from both promotions to put out top-quality matches featuring main event level talent. 

We enter this week of the war in a unique position. AEW had built a 6-Man Tag Team main event match for over a week until it was changed at the last minute due to main event star Lance Archer being diagnosed with COVID-19. Less than an hour before the episode, it was announced that the replacement match Dynamite would be a World Title match featuring champion Jon Moxley defending against challenger Eddie Kingston. This was in addition to the already announced TNT title match between Brodie Lee and Orange Cassidy. NXT, on the other hand, had built its main event for over a week, a 5-man gauntlet match to determine the #1 contender to Finn Balor’s NXT championship at the next NXT TakeOver. The competitors for this match were announced 1-by-1 over the course of the week on social media. We enter one program looking forward to two title matches, while we enter the other looking to find a contender for one.

This column shall compare and contrast the night’s competition based on the five categories that I believe comprise the perfect wrestling television program. The categories will include Matches, Promos, Storytelling, Excitement, Build

AEW Dynamite
Matches

Dynamite is rarely short on quality matches, yet despite featuring two title matches, this episode was driven more by the stories than it was by matches. I did appreciate how the matches on this episode built off of one another. For the most part, they improved as the episode progressed. The World Title match featuring Eddie Kingston challenging champion Jon Moxley was the best match on the episode. It was an absolute clinic and showed both of their admiration for Japanese Strong Style wrestling. These guys truly beat the hell out of one another. Other solid matches on this episode include Brodie Lee vs. Orange Cassidy for the TNT championship and Hangman Page vs. Evil Uno. The episode loses some points in this category for the tag match between the debuting Miro & Kip Sabian taking on Sonny Kiss & Joey Janela, which went a bit too long and was sloppy at parts.

SCORE: 7.9

Promos

This was a strong episode for promos. There is a seemingly endless supply of talkers in AEW. Eddie Kingston continues to give us a masterclass on how to cut compelling promos every time that he gets on the mic. I don’t know how any wrestling fan can change the channel after watching an Eddie Kingston promo. Chris Jericho continues to shine here with two brilliant talking segments, first against Matt Hardy and Private Party, and second with MJF. Jericho is the kind of promo that can make you want to buy his merch one moment before convincing you to want to punch him in the face in the next moment. Brodie Lee cut a promo that may have been the most “old school” thing I’ve seen in wrestling all year. There were many other solid promos this episode from FTR to Isaiah Cassidy. Even the worst promos on an episode of Dynamite usually hold up to the best promos’ on other shows.

SCORE: 8.7

Storytelling

I mentioned above that this was an episode mostly driven by stories. AEW displayed examples of long term storytelling that added purpose to the matches. The story between Hangman Page and Kenny Omega has been ongoing since the end of 2019. It’s played into a more in-depth story being told around the rise & fall of Hangman Page that’s been told since the launch of the promotion. Dynamite should be commended for its ability to feature the coming together of multiple stories in real-time. The little things are usually necessary with AEW, such as continuing Colt Cabana’s obscure membership with the Dark Order as background noise to the broader issues concerning Page and Omega. This episode also greatly added to Eddie Kingston’s story. Despite having a 2-1 match record, Kingston claimed he was never eliminated from a #1 contenders battle royal for weeks, only to lose his match questionably once again. This particular episode continued to build on its long term stories while also creating and continuing many short term stories. I’ll take some points for this plot hole: If Kenny Omega is trying to distance himself from Hangman Page…why has he done commentary for his matches two weeks in a row?

SCORE: 8.2

Excitement

This was an episode that seemed like it was designed to keep us excited in the beginning, only to recapture us for the main event. From the show’s kickoff, we are greeted with the long-awaited AEW debut of Miro (who looked like $1,000,000). Post-match, we’re given a heated segment between Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley, hyping up the main event. I can’t imagine how anyone changed the channel after that segment as it set the tone for the remainder of the program. Most segments throughout the show featured characters and actions that were largely entertaining in their own way but didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat. 

SCORE: 7.7

Build

We can’t talk about this episode in terms of its build for future events without talking about the return of the American Nightmare Cody Rhodes. After being out for several weeks, Rhodes made a fiery comeback, clearing house on the Dark Order. Brodie Lee’s post-match promo made it obvious that AEW is building to a dog-collar match between these two. The segment featuring FTR introduced their new “20-minute Brush With Greatness” concept which will feature them defending the tag titles in 20-minute matches, starting next week with the first-ever AEW tag champ, SCU. Finally, I can’t help but mention that AEW causally threw in a mention of the “30 years of Jericho” episode that will take place on the 10/7 episode. One criticism of note is that I felt that the run-in finish ending the show fell flat. It kept a bunch of characters in the mix but failed to get any of their actions over substantially. Overall, this episode did a solid job of building up future matches and programs without obviously detracting from the night’s presentation.

SCORE: 8.2

NXT
Matches

NXT is almost always a match heavy program. The brand prides itself on putting the emphasis on its in-ring product as opposed to talking segments. That being said, the majority of matches on the show felt only above average. The battle royal was entertaining but featured many unknown performers. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Jake Atlas made Atlas look like a star until he was promptly crushed. The tag match was well executed for the jumble that it was. Austin Theory vs. Damien Priest had some cool spots. It was all decent, but nothing that rocked my world….until we got to the main event. I was utterly blown away by the gauntlet match in the main event. This match was about making new stars, and it made them. It featured five talents who were unestablished as main event singles stars and gave each a chance to showcase their skill sets in ways that maximized their credibility. It was awesome, and you should watch it.

SCORE: 8.1

Promos

This is where the show starts to really lack for me. When I said this was a match heavy program, I wasn’t kidding. It’s not just that there was nothing great promo wise on this episode, but that there was some stuff that was bad. Most of the matches took place without any talking or buildup. There was a segment in the backstage area that involved William Regal and Fandango trying to put together a tag team match that was both confusing and off-putting. Despite those criticisms, the episode isn’t completely devoid of decent promo work. The Garganos clearly show the most personality of any character on the brand. Johnny Gargano was able to add depth to the episode in what little promo time he had. I found the promo work in the video package for Ridge Holland to be entertaining, and it raised my curiosity about his character. Damien Priest showed more character than I’ve ever seen from him in his promo. It’s not all bad for this episode here, just some bad and nothing extraordinary.

SCORE: 6.3

Storytelling

It feels like NXT is in a definitive rebuilding period when it comes to storytelling. Many of the brand’s leading stars, such as Matt Riddle and Keith Lee, were moved to Raw and Smackdown in recent months, leaving NXT deprived of long-term stories. The core talent in NXT that storytelling revolves around are champion Finn Balor, Johnny Gargano, The Undisputed Era, & Tommaso Ciampa, all of whom have been on the roster the longest. Finn Balor vs. Kyle O’Reilly was introduced due to the main event, which seems like it could lead to a greater storyline within the Undisputed Era with O’Reilly and leader Adam Cole. But again, this is a story that was introduced in the final minutes of the episode.

Then you have the Garganos each trying to win championships of their own at the next Takeover, a story that’s been playing out over the past few weeks. We also have Ciampa, who has been completely brutalizing his opponents. So we have heel personas for the Garganos and Ciampa, but we haven’t gotten to the “meat” of any storyline involving those personas. My main criticism is that other than those stories mentioned, the episode felt completely devoid of long term storytelling. 

SCORE: 5.9

Excitement

This is an area where I’m going to show NXT some respect. They have a unique approach to production and a formula meant to keep viewers excited throughout. The show opens with an in-ring shot of all of the women in the battle royal. You don’t know exactly what’s going on, but you know something is about to. They have a sports-centric approach to structuring a show that keeps the focus on the in-ring product. If you’re primarily interested in watching long matches, this show kept you excited. They also do a great job of filling the space between matches with high-energy video packages that highlight the brand. I thought that the video package hyping up the main event was both brilliant and unique. It got me excited for a match that eventually delivered, and that’s part of what pro wrestling is all about. Overall, I would have to add the same critique for this show that I did for AEW; it was all about the main event.

SCORE: 7.8

Build

I previously stated that it feels like NXT is in a definitive rebuilding period, which bodes well for their ability to succeed in this category. This show was all about the build. Building matches for Takeover. Building new main event stars and new storylines. If this show did anything, it made me want to watch other NXT shows that I know will be better. The episode had me excited thinking about Johnny Gargano and Candice LaRae teaming next week. I was even more excited for Finn Balor vs. Kyle O’Reilly at Takeover. I’m excited to know who the mystery return will be at the next Takeover. There is a lot to be excited about in NXT, and this show did a great job of building to it and making me aware of it. Unfortunately, most of the things to be excited about were not in this episode.

SCORE: 8.6

Final Scores

AEW: 8.2

NXT: 7.4

Both AEW & NXT primarily built to main events which delivered on every level. The critical difference between these two episodes is that AEW is overachieving in categories that NXT lacks in: Promos and Storytelling. Dynamite features a variety of the best talkers in the business as well as stories with a cannon that goes back to before the birth of the promotion. NXT, on the other hand, is building new stories around its legacy talent that haven’t fully formed yet. Additionally, NXT doesn’t give the talent that has the ability to cut long promos the time to do so. It’s not that NXT doesn’t have the talent to compete with AEW because they definitely do, but that they haven’t booked the talent they do have to excel in key categories that make wrestling the unique art form that it is. NXT focuses on building & promoting in a way that AEW doesn’t have to until the last half hour of the show. They provide some of the best in-ring product in the world, but AEW provides that and more, which is why their episode won my comparison this week.

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