I have a confession to make. I am one of the mythical lapsed fans AEW is always going on about capturing the attention of. Before the debut of Dynamite (and this column), the last major American wrestling event I watched live was WrestleMania 35. Before that, it was an NXT house show in Atlanta. I’ve lapsed before and I’ll lapse again, but my finger was entirely off the pulse so far as the big leagues were concerned, and I totally forgot what feeling excited after a pay-per-view felt like.
I was very excited after Full Gear, so much so that I forgot that if wrestling PPVs are an orgasm, the show following the PPV is the refractory period. I freely admit to that being a convoluted metaphor, but bear with me here. After four days of debating whether Omega vs. Moxley was too sick or not sick enough, there’s no way AEW Dynamite could top their last major event of the year, so they didn’t. Up against an NXT Cruiserweight Championship match and a ladder match between two of the most talented women on any WWE television show, AEW chose to do a bit of naval gazing in the afterglow of their own success. I just wish that more of that navel gazing was interesting.
How AEW lost the war: Oh great, it’s those guys you tolerate.
Dynamite featured two matches of consequence this week, and until the second hour of the show I had Tony Schiavone’s cool uncle earring pegged as its star performer. After watching Jon Moxley beat Kenny Omega up real bad on Saturday, I don’t need to see him win a three minute match. After seeing him wrestle on Saturday, I don’t need to see Shawn Spears for at least a month. I could go for more women’s wrestling, which is something Cody Rhodes promised in the Full Gear media call, but Nyla Rose won a quick one and Awesome Kong cut off some of Allie’s hair in case you didn’t see her cut off some of Bea Priestley’s hair on Saturday. I was bored, y’all, and given the promise of an SCU title defense later in the evening, I thought I was going to stay bored.
Thankfully, Chris Jericho came out to the ring independently of the announced tag title match to gloat about beating Cody, and MJF came out to rub it in. With Jericho watching from the corner of the ring, MJF tore into his ex-bestie, pouring out his vitriol and making the case for the AEW EVP as a villain taking advantage of a young upstart. It was good! Then he turned around and addressed Chris Jericho as “Christopher,” and things got wild as the two exchanged barbs on the subject of whether MJF wanted to join the Inner Circle, or if Chris Jericho wanted MJF to join. The two talked over each other in a way that’s hard to achieve over a live microphone, neither man stopping until it was time to deliver their death blows, kind of the verbal equivalent of Tomohiro Ishii trading slaps with Katsuyori Shibata if claiming someone’s parents got horny watching WCW Saturday Night was a career-shortening headbutt. The two resolved the situation by asking each other who the biggest jackass in AEW was. The answer was Cody, who foolishly sprinted down to the ring as if he wasn’t gonna get wrecked. Thankfully the segment didn’t end with MJF joining the Inner Circle. Instead, MFJ hooked up with Wardlow, who looks like a mountain range outfitted in a three-piece suit.
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Pac and Hangman Page had another rematch, this one the decisive rubber match between the three, and of those matches I thought this one was the best. I love Pac as much as Cool Uncle Tony loves Pac’s quadriceps, and I think Page’s flippy boi lariats should land him in trouble more often than not, so Page getting a little cocky and Pac destroying him was tremendously satisfying. Also satisfying? Watching the Young Bucks get beat up real bad. I thought the build up to their match against Santana and Ortiz was lackluster and I wasn’t much for the match itself, either, but this brawl made up for it. The obvious highlight was Santana throwing Nick Jackson into the door of a bathroom, revealing Orange Cassidy just … hanging out. The look on Santana’s face upon the reveal and the way he politely closed the door were funny in a way AEW hasn’t figured out how to merchandise yet, which would be a miracle if putting Orange on one of those gender neutral bathroom signs that says “WHATEVER” wasn’t so obvious.
In the main event, SCU beat Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara. I hated every minute of it except for the commercial break between SCU’s entrance and the Inner Circle’s, because unlike people watching Dynamite on FITE and in the arena, I didn’t have to hear Christopher Daniels riff for three extra minutes. Like last week, I fell for the trap of thinking that Sammy was the expendable member of the team, and I bit so hard on my knowledge of wrestling’s forbidden secrets that I forgot that I’m supposed to think that Scorpio Sky is the best, most naturally gifted professional wrestler of the century. So naturally he pinned Chris Jericho clean, which caused me to audibly boo at my television again. Now I’m gonna have to endure a feel-good title match for Scorp, who still hasn’t put the Cool S on his gear to placate me. Next week promises Mox vs. Darby Allin, though, so things will get better. They must.
How NXT won the war: More decisive than a coin flip.
NXT started hot and never really let up. So much was going on that I didn’t even notice literal giant Malcolm Bivens sitting ringside until after the show. The night kicked off with a banger, as Lio Rush and Angel Garza squared off in a Cruiserweight Title match that began with Garza ripping off his pants in front of Rush’s wife. It was a fast-paced, convincingly aggressive affair, as Garza and Rush had each other scouted well and were forced to do some downright desperate variations on their usual stuff, like Garza’s weird attempt at hitting a Wing Clipper from the second rope. Rush won after getting Tanahashi-like on a second Midnight Hour frog splash, hitting Garza from an impossible angle and picking up the three because the referee didn’t see Garza’s foot clip the bottom rope. I hope they build from that finish to something else, because it was fantastic.
This isn't good.
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) November 14, 2019
The main story throughout NXT was that various members of both women’s War Games teams kept getting laid out in the Full Sail parking lot, which may be the most dangerous space in WWE history. Scores of NXT Superstars have fallen prey to the Full Sail parking lot mysteriously close to their main roster call-up, but this time around it seemed determined to change the course of the war between Raw, SmackDown, and NXT. With the locker room on high alert, Dakota Kai pledged to have Mia Yim’s back in the main event ladder match, which seemed very suspicious in the moment but was actually just sincere because Dakota Kai is a nice person.
The men’s roster, largely unburdened from Triple H’s private little war this week, instead continued the build to the Takeover that, by rights, should see every dude in NXT too banged up to hang with Raw and SmackDown at Survivor Series. Finn Bálor came out to ask what happened to NXT while he was gone and brawled with Matt Riddle. With Bálor chased off, the Undisputed Era came out to wreck Riddle but were thwarted by Keith Lee and Tommaso Ciampa.
This set up a match between Lee and Roderick Strong. Like a lot of matches in the build to War Games, this was good but had me waiting for the Undisputed Era to back their boy, which they did. Ciampa and Riddle hit the ring to save Lee, but Bálor got involved, destroying Riddle and ripping off his shirt to prove that he is still ribbed for everyone’s pleasure. Lee won despite the distraction, the Era decided to take advantage of the four-on-two advantage, but they were taken out by Dominik Dijakovic, who joined Ciampa’s team. Rather than setting the teams for the men’s War Games match, Riddle was pulled from it to take on Bálor in Bálor’s official return to an NXT ring and was replaced by Dijakovic, officially making the men’s War Games match the least interesting thing on the Takeover card. Still an enjoyable bit of organized chaos!
In the main event, Mia Yim and Io Shirai had a ladder match to determine which team would have the advantage going into War Games. In my day (you know, when I was 10 years old), the order in which participants entered a War Games cage match was determined by a coin flip, but it’s 2019 and sports entertainment is all about accelerationism, so we’re all about broken bodies and Symbolic Briefcases now.
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Before dipping into the cool, clear waters of violence, a word on the Symbolic Briefcase. I thought “torpedo el suicida” was going to be the funniest new phrase in professional wrestling, but Jim Ross went and put it on a $25 t-shirt, so now it’s this. The briefcase is symbolic of the War Games advantage, but only because WWE couldn’t think of something else to hang up there that symbolized victory. It hangs in the air, presumably containing a piece of paper that reads CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’VE WON THE ADVANTAGE, because it’s hard to hang a sheet of paper from a giant hook. Mauro screamed about the Symbolic Briefcase during the whole damn match to the point that I was begging God to make Beth Phoenix say “ce n’est pas une mallette” about the literal briefcase hanging in the air, symbolizing everything and nothing at the same time.
Oh, the match? It was great! I’ve missed a lot of WWE, so I don’t know if they’ve already had a historic first time ever women’s ladder match or if they just forgot to mention it, but the thing I was struck by during Yim vs. Shirai is how consequential the two made the ladder seem. A lot of that was the fact that Yim got her nose busted open when Shirai dropkicked it in her face, but everything about the construction of the match made things that’ve been rendered simple by two decades of ladder matches feel dangerous again. The ladders looked gnarlier, the suplexes both women took onto them seemed more painful, and Shirai really worked at selling the damage the ladder was capable of by favoring a hand that Yim crushed with one and struggling to lift the ladder up at key moments in the match.
The end of the match was chaotic in ways both exciting and disappointing. On the disappointing end of the spectrum, Dakota Kai revealed herself to be totally sincere in watching Yim’s back when her appearance in the promo had me thinking she might flip to Shayna Baszler’s crew. On the exciting end of the spectrum, NXT UK Women’s Champion Kay Lee Ray interfered on behalf of Baszler’s crew, tipping the ladder Yim was standing on over and sending the HBIC through a ladder on the floor. It was a heart-stopping drop that only got better once replays showed it from cameras that were in position, and it did the job of giving the bad guys the advantage of Ray’s surprise entry into the match and the actual War Games advantage, which should always belong to the heels. Baszler came out to celebrate with her squad, but she was attacked by EVIL BAYLEY, who was apparently summoned by the Full Sail parking lot to sacrifice most of the NXT women’s division upon its altar of asphalt. I’m gonna need Evil Bayley in an NXT ring, ASAP.