It’s been a busy week for professional wrestling. As I type this, WWE is cashing a gigantic novelty check written by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, recoiling from a 15% dip in their stock valuation, and doing their level best to spin NXT star Albert “Jordan Myles” Hardie Jr.’s public, painful, and ongoing discussion of a racist t-shirt designed for him as something he consented to. There’s no room for jokes so far as any of that is concerned, and all of it, particularly the issues surrounding the Jordan Myles shirt design, hung over the night’s offerings like a fog. It’s hard for wrestling to be fun when that fun is meant to distract you from the horror the industry is capable of.
The worst thing about it is that wrestling frequently is fun enough to push aside your objections to it for the sake of the show, and week five of the Wednesday Night War between AEW and NXT was a lot of fun. Both shows delivered last night, to the point that declaring a winner feels facetious. NXT is getting the nod from me this week, less because it was the better show and more because I’m so befuddled by the direction of AEW’s tag team division that I’m at a loss to explain the last five minutes of Dynamite. This week, let’s start with them.
How AEW lost the war: The Okay Wrestling Guys win the tag team titles.
It’s cliche to acknowledge it at this point, but AEW’s crowds remain one of Dynamite’s strongest assets. The show was Charleston, West Virginia’s first televised event in 19 years, and they were wild for everything. By booking their television shows at smaller arenas than the basketball arenas WWE tends to run, AEW makes their shows feel more intimate, more exciting. When you think about the height of the Monday Night War, when WrestleMania 15 rated a 20,000 seat venue and WCW routinely ran war memorials, that makes a lot of sense.
I keep bringing up the crowds at AEW Dynamite because they keep surprising me with what they’re enthusiastic about. One of the open questions about the company is how they planned to build their women’s division, which, unlike their tag team or men’s divisions, isn’t buoyed by an established star. One answer appears to be making Brandi Rhodes into some kind of candle-obsessed witch. Another answer is by continuing to add solid prospects from places no other major company would think to look.
Last night was the unadvertised debut of Shanna, a Portuguese wrestler who made a brief splash in the United States years ago but has largely wrestled in the UK and Europe. She wrestled Hikaru Shida, who, despite having opened a checking account in the United States, is still pretty new. And Charleston, West Virginia ate that match up.
I spent most of Dynamite dreading how the advertised Rick and Morty tie-in would play out. Would Adam Page punctuate his promo with a hearty “wubalubadubdub?” Would Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks wrestle in Pickle Rick costumes? Would Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle celebrate breaking Dustin Rhodes’ arm with a little bit of the schezwan sauce? Nope. Turns out that Best Friends were tasked with dressing up like Rick and Morty. It was adorably shambolic, with Greg’s Morty wig falling off every time he moved and Orange Cassidy’s commitment to the bit extending only to the extent that he wore a lab coat over his wrestling gear.
The Elite also played dress-up, as the Young Bucks came to the ring dressed as Ryu and Ken Street Fighter, and Kenny Omega was Sans Undertale. Omega’s entrance was unusually ornate for a squash match, as an 8-bit Undertale video package about his relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling and the absence of his best friend Kota Ibushi played out before Omega hit the entryway.
Given that Omega’s normal video package shows him forlornly wandering the streets of Tokyo, he may be the first wrestler in history to make being depressed and playing video games while dissociated part of his character. It worked for me, but between the Elite, Cody, Jon Moxley, Pac, and a few wrestlers beyond them, there are a ton of guys on the AEW roster who are still upset with some Other Place, and it’s really starting to grate.
Having SCU win the Tag Team Titles, to be frank, sucked. It’s not SCU, who are good wrestlers, it’s just that I cannot figure out why, of all the teams they have to choose from to establish the division, it’s a trio of journeymen wrestlers who average out at 42 years of age. In the other corner, you have the Lucha Brothers team of Pentagon Jr. and Fénix, who may be the hottest act in AEW. While there’s something to be said for an upset victory (Private Party vs. The Young Bucks worked incredibly well), the feel good story here would have been how fun it is to watch the Lucha Brothers wreck people. The flash pinfall, which came after Frankie Kazarian nearly killed himself on a hurricanrana from the ring apron, was pretty deflating. Hanging the L on the decision to run with So-Cal Uncensored as the first AEW Tag Team Champions feels mean, but it’s the first time I feel like the promotion completely failed to read the room.
How NXT won the war: Asuka and Kairi Sane, duh.
Meanwhile, on NXT, the Kabuki Warriors and Team Kick had the best tag team match of the AEW/NXT head-to-head to date. I cannot begin to express how much I love Asuka and Sane, who are so delightfully mean, so wildly overconfident in their abilities that they sometimes flat-out fail to do things like cut-off the ring or use the tag rope because they’re too good for small mistakes to haunt them.
This was an old-school tag match, where Asuka and Sane kept beating up poor Dakota Kai, working over her good knee just to be jerks. Kai and Tegan Nox didn’t seem out of their depth, which is a risk in bringing main roster talent to NXT, but they were clearly the underdog team, relying on pluck and ambition to get them through. Then, even though she didn’t need to, Asuka sprayed her very green mist at Kai, which let Sane drop the elbow for the win.
The rest of NXT featured a lot of fighting between large groups of people, so it’s a good thing the brand has an event coming up where two large groups of people can beat each other up in a cage. Pretty random how that works out! I have mentioned my love of War Games before, and I’ll grudgingly set aside my misgivings about WWE’s take on the format and my general distaste for their penchant for FIRST TIME EVER things for the ol’ distaff division because I’m hype as hell for the incredibly random teams coming together for the women’s War Games match. I’ll dip into my undying love for War Games closer to the event, but I like the way the NXT women’s division gels so far as character traits and wrestling style goes, and the result should be very good.
Finn Bálor, squeezed out of the men’s War Games match because there’s already a four-man heel team, explained his actions in a promo that was pretty weird about the nature of wins and losses in pro wrestling. Like, I’m not trying to yell at clouds, but Bálor claiming that he “laid down” for The Fiend at SummerSlam was pretty needless, and the rest of the promo was a bit stilted. I would have preferred Bálor wrestle somebody, but the focus of the evening was on setting up both War Games matches.
Otherwise, NXT was NXT, a show where very talented wrestlers get together and have a series of nice matches. Bronson Reed and Shane Thorne had a showstealer, and Cameron Grimes beat Tyler Bate in a way that built on an issue between Bate’s partner Pete Dunn and Killian Dain, though both matches had an odd tinge to them as the NXT Breakout Tournament, won by Jordan Myles, was a point of discussion in each. In the main event, Keith Lee and Matt Riddle took on the NXT Tag Team Champions Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. It was good, though the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship should have been the main event given that the Undisputed Era was always going to cost Lee and Riddle the match. Tommaso Ciampa saved the two from a post-match beat down and put his quest for the NXT Championship on hold so he could go to war. Ciampa remains the only millennial in the world who can say “Daddy” in a way that’s not erotic. I don’t know how he does that. It’s an achievement more impressive than any title.