Last week, FanFyte editor Hunktears declared the first round of the Wednesday Night War a win for both sides, bringing some much-needed objectivity to an argument that is usually pretty pointless. Whether you’re Team NXT or Team AEW or Team How Am I Supposed to Watch Four Hours of Wrestling Every Wednesday, there is a palpable excitement to mainstream wrestling that, before now, really only existed on the independents. It’s all good! Mostly! But with NXT kinda taking their foot off the gas and AEW doing their level best to introduce new wrestlers by leveraging them against established names, I’m giving this week to AEW.
Same as it ever was: How NXT lost the war
I’m going to be up-front and say that this is the first time I’ve seen a whole WWE production since the 2017 Royal Rumble, and the first NXT event I’ve seen since 2016, when I went to a house show to scream my undying love for Shinsuke Nakamura out into the universe. It’s been three years, but the only thing that’s really changed, at least as far as I can see, are the faces repping the black and gold. Only those faces aren’t exactly new either. Assembled from Ring of Honor, other American independent promotions, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and the once-great European scene, NXT feels more like a showcase of the past five years of underground, buzzy wrestling than ever, and once you’ve lost the flavor for that environment, it’s hard to get it back.
That is probably something that a ton of people have complained about while I was busy watching 30 year old matches featuring cowboys in high-waisted trunks, and so is this: Mauro Ranallo makes it near-impossible to enjoy even the best wrestling match. My notes for the show are full of disbelief at just how many two or three sentence metaphors he fires off, just a freight train of contrivances. Like, he called the women’s division “the distaff division.” And imagine if Mauro were into other kinds of music than dad rock and 10 year old backpack rap. He’d be saying things like “Daniel Johnston once said that true love will find you in the end, but tonight it was WALTER’s ripchord lariat that found KUSHIDA.” At one point the sound on the broadcast went out and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then it came back on and I endured.
I’m glad I did, because KUSHIDA vs. WALTER was incredible stuff. KUSHIDA has been regarded as one of the best wrestlers in the world for a long time, but he’d reached his ceiling in New Japan as the ace of the junior heavyweight division. Seeing him against giant men in something other than a tag team match is something I’ve always wanted, and he and WALTER delivered in the best match of the night on either show. WALTER, man, I don’t even know how to get into how good he is. There’s this way he has of positioning his body in the ring where the tiniest motion can convincingly ruin an opponent’s night, and it’s altogether different than most wrestlers his size. The way he was able to ramp up from finding KUSHIDA annoying to finding him a threat to his dominance in NXT was thrilling to watch. I just wish the presentation around it was capable of the same kind of crescendo.
Something borrowed, something new: How AEW won the war
Ed note: Unfortunately, AEW gets an F on making pictures available for press in a timely manner this week, so we’re using tweets from the ever-reliable gif account @TDE_Wrestling.
The first thing I noticed about AEW Dynamite this week and last is that it sounds like a fun show to go to. The crowd is so engaged with what’s happening that they cheer and boo like the crowds at other sports while keeping the chanting to a minimum. That might be because they haven’t figured out what to chant at people like Sammy Guevara and Private Party yet, but I’ll take a good, honest roar when something crazy happens for as long as I can.
The crowd in Boston was given plenty to cheer for, as the Young Bucks and Private Party put on a phenomenal match to open the show, the best thing AEW has committed to television thus far. It’s part of a pattern the company has established over the course of its first few shows, leveraging the skills and popularity of its more established stars to create new ones out of even their most esoteric signings. Private Party, compared to the rest of AEW’s tag team roster, are a relatively unknown quantity. The safe play would have been to give them a competitive match against the Young Bucks, who were a consensus pick to make it to the finals of the tournament to crown the company’s first tag team champions. Private Party’s win is indicative not only of how confident the promotion is of its lesser known stars, but of their decision making in general. It was a thrilling match with an unexpected finish, and if Private Party keep up the momentum they’re going to be one of the most popular tandems in AEW before long.
Confidence was a huge factor in what made this episode of Dynamite better than its premiere. Production wise there are some rough spots, and Jim Ross leans too heavily on old clichés and references, but AEW hasn’t run ten broadcasts yet and things feel like they’re gelling. Letting Chris Jericho go out with a live microphone and no script was a good call that differentiated one of the main differences between AEW and WWE. In less than five minutes, Jericho was able to: 1. explain what he saw in the random-seeming group of men he’s assembled around him, 2. give that group a name, 3. quash Jake Hager’s former life in WWE, and 4. trash the Rhodes family to build his match against Cody at Full Gear. Also, it wasn’t framed as a talk show segment. How refreshing!
Elsewhere on the card, AEW continued to establish their women’s division as a different take on the genre overall, and kept their exuberance that Britt Baker went to college down to a minimum, even when she won a tag match with an impressive display of mouth stuff, which she presumably learned at mouth school. Pac made an argument for himself as the best color commentator in wrestling by running down Jon Moxley and Shawn Spears during their match, which was fine if unspectacular. Pac also took a chair to Kenny Omega, who came out with a broom wrapped in barbed wire to challenge Mox to a fight, which was good because I don’t know if I’m ready for barbed wire brooms to become a thing in professional wrestling.
Sk8 or die
For me, the biggest match of the night was between Jimmy Havoc and Darby Allin to determine which skeevy mall punk will take on Chris Jericho, king of the mall goths, next week in Philadelphia. They 100% made the right call in giving Darby Allin the nod, as he’s quickly become one of the most captivating wrestlers on television. Putting Allin up against Chris Jericho in Jericho’s first defense of the AEW Championship is another sign of the company’s confidence in who they’ve brought to the dance. Also, Allin attacked Jericho at the end of the show by riding a skateboard down the ramp and hitting a flying tackle from it, which would have been enough for AEW to win the evening’s war even if everything else were terrible. Give him the strap. Go back in time and put him in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skateboarding 2. Coffin Drop the world, King.
In the main event, Jericho and Sammy Guevara teamed up against the duo of Dustin Rhodes and Adam Page. Early in the match, Tony Schiavone made a point of comparing Page to Barry Windham, a wrestler Rhodes tagged with in the early 1990s. Beyond that being a fair comparison, it made me think about how Dustin has managed to come full circle in his career, from a wrestler with unlimited potential teaming with more experienced wrestlers to being the more experienced wrestler leading other young studs into battle. He looks revitalized in this role. Frankly, everybody in AEW who used to wrestle for WWE looks revitalized by the opportunity. Whether or not this mix of old and new faces is able to create a long-term challenge to WWE’s throne remains to be seen, but tonight, at least, the potential that they might was enough to win them the war this week.