My original plan for covering the dueling pro wrestling buzz factories of AEW Dynamite and WWE NXT was to compare the shows and definitively state who won the war that week. Here’s the thing though: it’s dishonest. That’s not how it works. Many things can be objectively true, but such and such wrestling show won against other wrestling show isn’t really one of them. I’m too dedicated to things like nuance and indecisiveness to pull off a gimmick like that. So instead, I’m going to write both the “NXT won” and the “AEW won” articles. (It’s libra season, duh!)
Smooth Sailing: The case for NXT
If you’re grading the war (and mixing metaphors) on match quality and show consistency, NXT was the hands down winner. There’s not really a debate to be had. Comparing Adam Cole versus Matt Riddle in a title match as an opener to a Cody-Sammy Guevara thing where Sammy Guevara barely even got in any cool, flashy spots? It doesn’t even seem fair.
I would have been content with skipping almost the entire first hour of AEW Dynamite. I mean, AEW had MJF in an overlong squash of the Young Bucks’ childhood friend up against Io Shirai and Mia Yim over on NXT. There’s no comparison. Hangman Adam Page versus Pac had plenty of things going for it. Still, it felt like a good opener, not something you stick after two other men’s singles matches.
Even the two NXT matches I felt less enthusiastic about, Thorne/Gargano and Burch/Dunne, were miles more exciting than AEW’s first three matches. It’s funny that Kenny Omega cut that promo about how NXT’s top stars would be in the dark match of his show, because the dark match of AEW Dynamite, a singles bout between Darby Allin and CIMA, sounds much better than most of the matches they actually televised.
AEW Dynamite, for all its slickness, crane shots and big money, big sports vibes, was rough around the edges in ways I don’t think they intended. Even the good things were messy. The company’s story felt confusing. NXT, on the other hand, knows its brand. They leaned hard into the intimacy and loyalty of the Full Sail experience. They sold their underdog-made-good story much more effectively than AEW did, delivering consistently clean, measured wrestling in their signature fake-PWG style.
In terms of major show surprises, comparing the debut of Finn Bálor/return of Tommaso Ciampa to Jake Hager joining AEW’s big post-show brawl feels unfair. Bálor and Ciampa are proven stars, while Hager is a failed WWE midcarder who’s been doing pretty well in MMA. There’s no contest here. NXT simply put on a better show.
High Risk, High Reward: The case for AEW
NXT may have been more smooth, consistent and, well, technically good, but let’s actually look at what they did. There were three title matches and no title changes. The surprise debut of beloved NXT alum Finn Bálor was always going to be a surefire hit. So was Tommaso Ciampa’s return. They did the show at Full Sail, where they do every show, where the small audience is the same every week and reacts pretty predictably. NXT put on a good show, yes, but they did it by taking no risks whatsoever.
AEW, on the other hand, sold thousands of tickets in an arena that hasn’t done a pro wrestling show in years in a city they’ve never played before. As riddled with odd choices and rough around the edges as Dynamite was, AEW’s whole schtick is gambling. Gambling and losing may not be as “good” as playing it safe and winning, but it’s a lot more endearing and unpredictable.
The women’s title matches are a great example of this. Yes, Candice Lerae and Shayna Baszler wrestled better than Riho and Nyla Rose. The NXT match was cleaner, more crisp, and beat for beat better structured. But Riho and Rose brought an energy I can honestly say I’ve never seen on American televised wrestling. The two women (who would never have been signed by WWE) were a little shaky, more than a little messy, but so full of heart and ambition that their match felt massive. As the least proven stars on either show last night with the most to prove, the stakes could not have been higher for them. And they delivered a match that was exciting, unpredictable, and genuinely fresh-feeling.
This difference was also very apparent in the shows’ respective main events. Just like LA traffic being bad, cookies and milk being delicious, and My Bloody Valentine hitting just right when you’re feeling melancholy, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish having a solid match with the Street Profits is something that you can pretty much always depend on. But Chris Jericho teaming with Santana & Ortiz for the first time ever against Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks? When Kenny Omega gets taken out and smashed through a glass coffee table a few minutes in by the much anticipated return of Jon Moxley? Even taking into account how consistently good Santana & Ortiz always are, that’s a risk. And it worked. It was weird but it was exciting. For how WWE a surprise attack and out of the ring brawl is, continuing and putting on a great match instead of calling for a DQ was decidedly un-WWE.
It’s not hard to predict where NXT is headed, or what the shows will feel like when they get there. With AEW, though? I have no idea what to expect from next week’s episode of Dynamite. Maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe I’ll love it. I’ll probably do both. The first ever episode of AEW Dynamite may have been very uneven, but where NXT played it safe, the new guys ventured into the unknown, and they ventured big. That’s got to be worth celebrating.