Wednesday Night War Week 6: A Dialogue!

This week we decided to experiment with a different format: LB Hunktears and Colette Arrand typing paragraphs at each other in Google Docs. It’s kind of like a podcast, but for your eyes. You could get a computer to read it to you, if you want. We hope you like it!

Hunktears: Hey Colette, we are writing this together and I have to say hi to you in a normal and non-stilted way to start this conversation, and this is me doing that. A normal hello.

Colette: Hello, Elby! I, too, sound extremely normal when I’m writing collaboratively. It’s like we’re in the same room, only instead of talking, we’re looking at a blank piece of digital paper, unable to begin with something devoid of context like “wow, Matt Riddle’s gear is totally hugging his nuts tonight.” But now that I’ve broached that subject, maybe we two geniuses of professional wrestling can come together and decide which boutique wrestling promotion did a better job of doing, as Wikipedia puts it, professional wrestling matches consisting of faces, heels, and less distinguishable characters.

Hunktears: I think it was Dynamite. Or AEW on their flagship TNT program Dynamite. What do you think was better?

Colette: I also think it was Dynamite, but like most weeks when I do this column, I think it was something won more by inches than miles.

Hunktears: I liked Dynamite because it was more fun to watch. I feel like NXT is squishing two one hour shows together instead of structuring one two hour show. It felt SO LONG! They do this thing where they show me something that, theoretically, I would want to see, like Swerve and his crystal versus Donovan Dijak+, but I’m so tired from already having watched an entire episode of one hour long NXT that I don’t want it. Dynamite, on the other hand, felt so fun. There were lulls, obviously (BRANDON CUTLER), but it felt cohesive and I was pumped by the end for the PPV on Saturday.

Colette: I don’t have that issue with NXT because I stopped watching for a few years and forgot how briskly paced WWE shows are at one hour, but I totally see where that would be a problem. NXT is defined as WWE’s in-ring storytelling brand, but really there’s not a whole lot of difference between it and its older, pre-Monday Night Wars way of doing things, where the matches are either squashes or Good, Competitive Affairs where the winner is rarely in question. If you’re into everybody on the card, two hours of that might not be a bad time. I certainly liked it last week, when the focus was squarely on War Games. But now that NXT is involved in Survivor Series and has to push that, I feel like I’m watching a show that’s subservient to RAW and SmackDown, which is an issue for me on a couple of levels. On the AEW front, two hours of their show is still two hours of something fresher and looser than anything else in the mainstream. It doesn’t have time to mess around, even if it is funding Brandon Cutler’s expensive collection of roleplaying die at the expense of my patience. Everything matters in AEW, whereas some stuff in NXT is just like “oh hey, we’re gonna put some new women on TV and maybe one of them will be in War Games” which is obviously not gonna be the case.

WWE

Hunktears: So, I guess we should get into the shows themselves. One big mark against NXT for me was starting with that Damian Priest/Pete Dunne match, which I hated. I don’t understand Damian Priest’s deal at all. Is he an industrial DJ? Is he an archer? Is he a rock and roll man?? I know they were doing cool wrestling moves, but it really fell flat for me. If I wanted to watch people I don’t care enough do flips I would watch men’s gymnastics. (Were they even doing flips? I cannot remember.) I do like that Killian Dain came to beat up Pete Dunne at the end. I’m assuming we’re finally going to get into his Northern Irish backstory and do a hardcore anti-English pro-Irish reunification angle. Which makes sense to do right now because of Brexit and all.

I didn’t think that Taynara/Santana Garrett match that followed was quite worth the complaining I’ve seen people doing about it, but it wasn’t much of a second match. I guess the big exciting thing to start off the show was The OC invading, but that mostly got me confused about what happened to Bobby Fish’s face. WHAT HAPPENED TO BOBBY FISH’S FACE?

(Sound off in the comments about what YOU think happened to Bobby Fish’s face.)

Colette: Yeah, when Bobby hit the shipping container parked across from catering, it looked like he straight up yakked a lung, like some alien parasite had chosen to occupy his body by ejecting all of his newly redundant organs. Either that or he was snacking on some barbecue before The OC mmm whatcha say’d him. I … don’t know what to make of Damian Priest either, except that, in watching him and Dunne I was struck by how moves that were once guaranteed to make me flip out now kinda pass by unnoticed. A big guy like Priest doing a step-up tope con hilo should have had me screaming, but instead I was like “oh, huh, I guess he can do that, too.”

I actually enjoyed Taynara/Garrett more, but that was largely due to Taynara, who rules? Like, it wasn’t exactly a ready for TV match, but that’s fine, and if anything I think it has to do with how effectively WWE has promoted itself as having a more competitive style of women’s wrestling, and Garrett seemed a lot softer by way of comparison. But I did have to grit my teeth though both matches, as Nigel McGuinness compared Dunne’s run with the NXT UK title to Hulkamania and said that Taynara’s use of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was influenced by Rhonda Rousey, rather than the fact that Brazilian people might be interested in their home-grown martial arts.

I feel like the best match the show had to offer was between Shayna Baszler and Dakota Kai, which was ostensibly an audition for Kai, who wanted to be on Rhea Ripley’s War Games team. Baszler is, of course, really, really good at what she does, and while her crew of henchwomen in Target athleisure backed her at ringside, this was a clean match where the story was whether or not Kai could beat Baszler before her knee gave way to Baszler’s focus. Mia Yim making Ripley’s team because she brought a kendo stick to the fight sets up an interesting dynamic for Kai, who has put up two phenomenal matches over the past two weeks. I hope there’s room for her on the War Games card despite not making the team. What was your favorite match on NXT this week?

WWE

Hunktears: Shayna/Dakota NO QUESTION!!! I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Dakota Kai, since she was out injured for so long. She’s able to convey such an endearing kind of desperation, and it really works for me, especially against someone as formidable as Shayna Baszler. Also, that gear?? The sequins?? Fantastic. Mia Yim coming out with the kendo stick ruled. I’m sad for Dakota Kai that she doesn’t get to be in War Games, but it would be an actual crime to not put Mia Yim in the goofy big cage stipulation after all those years she spent in CZW. Is there going to be a women’s Survivor Series match in addition to the Baszler/Lynch/Bayley thing? Kai would be a good addition to that. Also, Candice Lerae looks RIPPED. That’s not relevant to anything, but it’s important for me to note that she is jacked.

I also really loved the Tony Nese/Angel Garza match that followed! I don’t really see how 205 Live is going to maintain its presence in the WWE line-up with the cruiserlads being part of NXT, but I’d rather watch NXT than 205. (Sorry Mer.) Like, I don’t know why they started with Damian Priest and Pete Dunne when they had this gem on the card. Two handsome, charismatic hunks brimming with charisma posing at each other?

Where WWE has the big leg up on AEW is horniness. AEW has zero horny gaze. The AEW cameras can show me Pac’s body with the clinical detachment of an anatomy textbook. NXT’s cameras film Tony Nese like they’re trying to get me to invest my savings in cakes.

Garza and Nese are also just both very talented performers! The match had moves but they still felt fun and exciting rather than rote. There were stakes! And then Tony Nese POWERBOMBED ANGEL GARZA’S TEARAWAY PANTS!! I’m a simple person. I like simple pleasures. I live for slapstick. This popped me.

I also liked the main event, mostly because I like seeing Matt Riddle having a fun time. Watching him in the sidelines of a tag match always makes me think of that story about the WWE tryout where he was THE ONLY ONE hooting and hollering and cheering during someone’s tryout match. I’m also glad to see them valuing Keith Lee. But, I don’t know, it was all a lot. And Keith Lee versus Luke Gallows isn’t exactly enough of a “dream match” vibe to get me truly pumped.

It really did feel though like Damien Priest/Pete Dunne, Taynara/Santana and Kai/Baszler was one episode, and Garza/Nese, Swerve/Dijak+, and OC/NXT was a second episode. I envy your ignorance of their one hour structure. I did enjoy the Adam Cole/Finn Bálor staredown. Like I said, NXT has that gaze, so props to them on having hot people look at each other effectively.

WWE

Colette: I feel very differently on the match between Nese and Garza, if only because it’s one of those matches where the winner wasn’t really in doubt, so everything felt perfunctory to me. Building a new faces in the cruiserweight division is important given how many 205 Live people went off to RAW or SmackDown to get waxed by burly fellas like Braun Strowman, and having Pretty Dece take the number one contendership over Garza would have been a huge mistake. I, too, worry about the fate of 205 Live given that it’s being haphazardly folded into the texture of NXT, and wonder how developments like Garza winning a match to challenge for 205 Live’s belt on the next episode of NXT reverberates on that show, but since the brand is moving back to the friendly confines of Full Sail, maybe the brand’s role is going to be to occupy that breezy one-hour studio show spot that NXT occupied in the days before this cruel, endless war.

Riddle’s hot tag in the main event was all I wanted from that match. Riddle mostly kept to indie promotions I wasn’t following, so everybody he wrestles is a new matchup to me, and man was it fun watching him get his licks in on AJ Styles. That said, something I’m tired of from the perspective of having watched WWE for literal decades is the idea of Brand Supremacy. That’s been the crux of a lot of excuses to do RAW vs. SmackDown matches for a long time, and NXT getting thrown into the mix, with the notion that NXT is trying to prove that they are the Main Roster, is loaded in ways the company isn’t smart enough to pull off. Like, if NXT is part of the main roster now, cool. Y’all paying people that way?

Hunktears: These are all very good points, but how would you feel about them fighting for Personal Brand Supremacy? Like, Oney Lorcan versus Big E for best Twitter Account? Mandy Rose versus Lana for horniest Instagram comments? Xavier Woods versus Asuka for best YouTube Channel? I’m onto something here, right?

Colette: If I were a billionaire sports man trying to live out my fantasies, I’d be pushing a briefcase full of money across the digital table we’re sitting at right now to make that happen.

Hunktears: I will spend every last penny on hypebeast wrestling streetwear and creepers.

WWE

Colette: But alas, we’re being forced to watch Triple H and his kids roleplay as Paul E. Dangerously and ECW, and if it was hard to take that seriously back when ECW was taking checks from WWE on the sly, it’s impossible to put a lot of stock in NXT being a pack of hungry, overlooked misfits when its leader is Triple H, a guy who once bought a T. Rex skull for his father in law. There are few avatars for Cool Management quite like The Game.

Hunktears: I think Cody is really giving Trips a run for his money in terms of making his identity be “the cool boss.” This seems like as good a place as any to transition to talking about AEW Dynamite, and I have to say, I don’t know about that promo last night! When I opened Google Chrome today, Google News wanted me to know that The Rock thought it was very good. Here are some more headlines: “Cody Rhodes Cut an All-Time Great Promo” (Sports Illustrated), “Cody Rhodes Cuts Hall of Fame Promo” (The Big Lead). It was well-delivered and well-written, but like… have these people never seen acting before? Could I take a wrestling journalist to the theater and expect a “Blanche Dubois Delivers Hall of Fame Promo” headline the next day?

Lee South / AEW

I’m not trying to besmirch Cody’s ability to say words into a microphone, because I did think it was very good, but if you take a second to actually think about it? What was he even saying? That he grew up rich, but Chris Jericho also grew up rich? An “all-time great promo” needs to have a better message than that, doesn’t it? I guess “the Ellis Island for a professional wrestler” thing was a good line even if it’s kind of horrifying in the context of real actual life in 2019? Am I being overly critical? Am I being naïve? I guess he’s in a difficult position because his promos will always be compared to his father’s and his father’s will always be better. But that “difficult” position is also a very comfortable position of privilege. It’s all very complicated, I guess. I know you have thoughts on it.

Colette: Yeah, Cody started out by referencing an era of wrestling that I love, and a lot of people whose work in that era, as bookers and performers, that I respect and admire. Chief among them, of course, is his dad Dusty Rhodes, whose shadow he’s never going to escape, so he’s intent on embracing it. The line Cody is walking here is a difficult one, for a number of reasons. First and foremost is this: the era of booker/performers he’s referring to operated under a different general understanding of how wrestling worked. Yeah, “Virgil Runnels” was listed in the credits of WCW Saturday Night as the producer, but Dusty Rhodes didn’t make management part of his character. Beyond that, the circumstances Dusty came out of, where he was sleeping in his car during training and eating at soup kitchens early in his career, made his approach to the wealth and privilege he came into entirely different than Cody’s. Dusty’s fur coats and Rolex watches and backstage hangouts with Willie Nelson were aspirational for his audience. He wasn’t humble about his skill or his fame, but he never lost the humility of his upbringing.

Cody, like plenty of second and third generation wrestlers, doesn’t have that. Even if he wasn’t already a well-off dude with a hot wife and a taste for fancy cigars and tailored suits, he was a Rhodes, and a Rhodes with movie star looks. He hit a ceiling in WWE because WWE arbitrarily decides that certain wrestlers have a ceiling much lower than what they’re capable of, but it was only at the end of his run in WWE, where he was forced to play in his brother’s shadow as Stardust, where it seemed like he was actively undesirable. I have never liked this aspect of AEW’s presentation of itself and its more famous stars— everybody in The Elite would be fine without AEW, so if AEW is Ellis Island, then it’s a modern day one where it’s the people who’ve already benefited from opportunity who are welcomed ashore first.

Lee South / AEW

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the promo. Cody’s emotion and fire were palpable, and the match against Jericho at Full Gear is probably the most well-built main event of the year so far as mainstream American wrestling is concerned. But Cody’s whole persona post-WWE is that he is entitled, but that he’s good enough to back that up. How good this promo was ultimately depends on the outcome at Full Gear. If he wins the title, what stakes does it really have? If he loses, then he’s lost something he’s talked about his whole life, which is an opportunity to return his family to the top of the wrestling world as a wrestler. Those are stakes that matter to me, not the notion that the sons of famous athletes.

Hunktears: Yeah, I definitely loved the promo as it was happening. I was fully worked! So it was very successful in that respect.

AEW’s ability to make things work for me even though I know better is probably one of their biggest strengths. Like, why were Pac and Trent wrestling? Because Trent is all about friendship and Pac is all about no friendship ever? I don’t care! It was fun! Find me a mid-card babyface better at dying and being lovable than Trent. I dare you! Why is Emi Sakura always doing Freddie Mercury drag? WHO CARES! AEW Dynamite is figuring out how to embrace a certain kind of endearing messiness in a way that just really, really works. I don’t even like Brandi Rhodes. I don’t think she’s particularly good at anything. Yet, I love her in rhinestoned tights in a chair in the dark clutching a glass of wine and threatening me in her beautiful, flat voice.

AEW

Colette: As a lady from roughly the same town as Brandi, goodness gracious is her voice aspirational. I’m pretty excited that they pumped the breaks on having Awesome Kong as part of the show, if only because it’s allowed for them to figure out how she and Brandi work together. My hope is that it’s a She-Hulk thing where when Brandi gets angry, she morphs into Kong somehow and wrecks people.

Trent vs. Pac was good, even if the finish wasn’t, but I want to talk more about AEW’s women’s division. Our pal Kath Barbadoro tweeted about how diverse it is in terms of body type, and that is true. It’s also a division where a 22 year old wrestler with 13 years of wrestling experience will wrestle her 43 year old trainer in pay-per-view title match that people are actually excited for. This is an entirely different approach to women’s wrestling in a mainstream promotion, and it’s working out way better than I thought it would. Like, Riho is maybe the most exciting wrestler on the entire AEW roster, and fans are really responding to her as such. What did you think about that tag match?

Hunktears: Emi Sakura’s terrible entrance music aside, god I loved that match. Riho continues to impress me (especially after her stellar performance in DDT over the weekend), but I have to say, this match really got me on board for Jamie Hayter. I know she’s in Oedo Tai now in Stardom, but I’m so behind that I hadn’t really seen much of her.

Lee South / AEW

Jamie Hayter feels like she is doing very successfully what AEW had been trying to do with Bea Priestley— being a vaguely goth, vaguely fetishy British-y heel I can love to hate. Stepping on Riho and asking, sarcastically in Japanese if she’s okay… (“大丈夫?”) I’m in love. A little bit. The wet willy spot was also deeply, deeply unpleasant, and would have been even more so if I hadn’t just seen someone else do it over the weekend. A lot of her offense happened during the commercial break, which I consider a form of biphobic violence against me personally, but I’ll let it slide. Shanna was really impressive in the ring as well. Emi Sakura had her own moments, and her win felt both earned and satisfying. (I’m a sucker for anyone crying, ever, though.)

In my review of All Out, I praised the women’s Casino Battle Royale for displaying a wide range of ages, body types, and experience levels. Now that I feel like I’m finally getting a sense for the identity of AEW’s women’s division, it’s great to see that they seem to be continuing in that vein. Looking at this match as well as Big Swole and Mercedes Martinez showing up on AEW Dark on Tuesday, I think AEW’s women’s division might just be the most refreshing part of an already very refreshing company.

Colette: And it’s so different from WWE’s presentation, which, at least according to the lead in to War Games, is still being touted as an “evolution.” Like, it’s nice to see women’s wrestling on television without being reminded every four seconds that I’m watching something HISTORIC and IMPORTANT and FIRST-TIME EVER. Women’s wrestling doesn’t have to be any of that to be good. It just has to be good.

The main event— where are you at on what it did as a “go-home” segment for Full Gear? Given that Sammy Guevara was out there as the clearly expendable participant, I was expecting a New Japan Road To style tag match, but instead everything devolved to the point where every marquee match had someone out there doing something. I don’t want to compare things to 1990s wrestling too much, but it was a very WCW Nitro style ending, where a ton of people were throwing fists and Tony Schiavone was like “we’ve got to go!” because there was a very important screening of Olympus Has Fallen.

Lee South / AEW

It didn’t work for me, because squaring everybody off into their respective rivalries meant that Kenny Omega was letting his friends get beaten up by the Inner Circle because he had to get his goofy broom to do a stand-off with Jon Moxley. As a reminder of how stacked the top of their roster is, it was alright, but AEW has done a much better job of building to these matches with promos and video packages, to the point that a gigantic brawl felt cheap. It also didn’t do its job so far as the Young Bucks/Santana & Ortiz match was concerned, or in the department of making MJF someone I’m supposed to feel good about because he’s Cody’s friend. Are you hype for Full Gear? Does any of it have to do with this brawl?

Hunktears: Hell yeah I’m hype on Full Gear. Okay, so I guess not everything “made sense” or whatever, but I’m not a logic cop. I don’t need things to make sense. I don’t even need things to be good as long as I am having fun. And I had fun in that post-match brawl! The tag match itself didn’t do much for me— I guess they were wrestling because it’s The Elite versus The Inner Circle, but Kenny Omega is wrestling Mox and Hangman Page is wrestling Pac? Chris Jericho has already beaten Kenny and Hangman, and had lukewarm chemistry with each, so I wasn’t too psyched on it.

The brawl was what saved it for me! Literally my very last notes were: “I’m havin fun baby!!!!!” Everyone in there seemed to be having fun. I will admit that if this wasn’t as fresh as it was, I’d have been pretty bored. The novelty of things like seeing Jake Hager beating up on MJF did a lot of heavy lifting. But it was certainly more than enough to get me to tune in on Saturday night and to win the week, as far as I’m concerned.

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Colette Arrand

Colette Arrand is a minor transsexual poet and nu-metal enthusiast.

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