Sometimes a wrestling show is just a wrestling show. Given the need to make everything meaningful and worth the time one is asked to invest in it, it sometimes works to the advantage of a reviewer to find significance where there isn’t any, to make an ordinary night seem like the greatest night in history, but last night, with NXT and AEW presenting cards meant to set up a pair of pay-per-view level cards in the near future, that wouldn’t be possible.
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How does one tell that lie? That Melanie Cruise is making the year’s strongest argument for all hard femmes to shave their head? That NXT made history by managing to put out six hype videos for next week’s show? This job: it’s not as easy as it looks! Sometimes figuring out what makes one of these shows “better” than the other is entirely up to the mood you’re in before the opening bell. In writing about Katsuyori Shibata, I was in the mood for bangers, and neither show was set up for that kind of significance. Still, there were two matches last night that aimed for and hit that mark, and the better one was on NXT.
How AEW lost the war: It’s just a wrestling show.
AEW did something different this week by not going out of its way to be great. That sounds mean, but it’s not meant to be—outside of when they trot out The Librarian or give Mox a squash, it often feels like the producer’s notes going into a match are to treat it like a PWG-style indie classic. That’s an approach that works, but I prefer it in smaller doses—I am old, and sometimes I need to rest.
Dynamite was a story show this week. In holding off Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho offered him a spot in the Inner Circle and a free, direct-to-garment printed Inner Circle t-shirt courtesy of AEW’s webstore. MJF cut a point-by-point rebuttal to Cody’s point-by-point dismantling last week. Pac got his hair wet and stripped down to his tights to call out Kenny Omega for a rubber match. Brandi Rhodes has a bald guy in her cult, but we don’t know who. The Dark Order is recruiting incels to their cult, but Jim Ross misread it as “introvert” which is a real read on those of us who spend their evenings watching Dark Order vignettes on a Wednesday night.
It was that kind of show, something to nudge the ongoing narrative forward, steady as she goes. In the ring, Moxley squashed Alex Reynolds, Cody Rhodes and QT Marshall lost to the Butcher and the Blade when the two finally singled out QT, Big Swole got a statement victory over Emi Sakura, and Kenny Omega and Adam Page beat Kip Sabian and Shawn Spears because Spears had to rescue Tully Blanchard from Joey Janella.
All of it was fine, overshadowed by the Texas Street Fight between the Young Bucks and Santana and Ortiz. This, too, was fine. Something weird about this feud is that the best thing that’s happened in it was Orange Cassidy’s surprise appearance during a backstage altercation. The matches haven’t been bad, and this one is certainly the best of them, but they seem to suffer somewhat in that they’re conscious epics— matches that we’re told are important in a historic sense and that are wrestled as such to the point that there’s something synthetic about them. The Bucks and Santana and Ortiz have chemistry, but what they’ve done with each other so far hasn’t really mined it— they’re too structured to feel the way I’ve been told I should feel. This one was also burdened with being a street fight with championship implications, so while the Bucks won cleanly, SCU’s involvement means that their business with Santana and Ortiz feels very much unfinished. Hopefully that finish is as killer as it should be.
How NXT won the war: Angel Garza vs. Lio Rush
Okay, before getting into the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, let’s talk about that wild-ass back suplex through a table. Mia Yim and Dakota Kai had a pretty good match— it’s too early for them to give us the grudge match just yet— that did its job in continuing to establish how an evil Dakota Kai works. She’s someone who will put her enemies in the hospital but who will settle for cowardly wins. If you’re the person who gets sent to the hospital and loses to a coward, you might get a little upset. Mia Yim, in suplexing Kai off a ledge and through a table, was a little upset. That thing looked gnarly, too. I screamed when it happened. Screamed.
A few weeks ago, Lio Rush defended his NXT Cruiserweight Championship against Angel Garza via pinfall because the referee didn’t see Garza’s foot on the bottom rope. It was an incredible match, one that makes a strong argument for the Cruiserweight Championship as the most exciting title in WWE, and the follow-up was even better. What it lacked in moments like Garza stripping in front of Rush’s wife it more than made up for in how significant the issue between the two felt given the relative brevity of their issue. WWE’s Cruiserweight Division always feels like it’s trying to find the right balance between technical and high-flying junior heavyweight styles the way classic NJPW and WCW divisions did in the 1990s, and this match delivered that feel in a big way, as both Rush and Garza brought out some nasty offense, wrestling like two men frustrated to not know which of them was better. Garza winning by turning the Wing Clipper into a submission move was genius, and his post-match proposal to his girlfriend was adorable. Go out of your way to check it out.
In the main event, Finn Bálor punched his ticket for an NXT Championship match against Adam Cole next week. The match was good, but kind of a victim of what I wrote about last week, where these Wednesday night shows are packed to the point that marquee matches are shortened because there’s one too many matches in the undercard. Like, I’m glad there was a women’s match and even more glad that there was time for KUSHIDA to try on a hat, but Bálor vs. Lee vs. Ciampa was good and getting better, a funky three way match that tried to find ways to keep all three wrestlers involved at all times rather than pairing off into different singles matches, cut down five minutes before it should have been because Jaxon Ryker needed airtime. The finish, Bálor hitting Lee with a double foot stomp just after Lee hit Ciampa with a Spirit Bomb, was really nice, and I can’t wait for the inevitable Bálor vs. Lee match in our future.