Y’all ever stop to think about how good professional wrestling is? I mean, sure it’s a terrible cesspool of weird boomer energy, a medium of entertainment that thrives on manufacturing and disavowing controversy on a minute-to-minute basis, but beyond the crushing despair of constant exposure to the flaws of humanity there is this: few things in this world are as beautiful as the movement of the human body, and there are few exhibitions of that movement as sumptuous as wrestling.
I am sorry to EMOTE, but NXT and AEW Dynamite were great this week, throwing bomb match after bomb match like it was no big deal, like that’s what wresting ought to be. On NXT you’ve got the hyped up tag match between the Undisputed ERA and the Revival, on Dynamite you’ve got Jon Moxley vs. Darby Allin. NXT offers up Adam Cole and Dominik Dijakovic in a ladder match for a SYMBOLIC BRIEFCASE and AEW, for no goddamn reason whatsoever, throws Nick Jackson and Rey Fenix out there. You get WWE’s yearly deal where they dress people up in Raw and SmackDown shirts, only Kairi Sane and Shinsuke Nakamura make it fashion. You’ve got a battle royal for a diamond ring and Orange Cassidy is the most over guy in it for sitting down through most of the match and Mr. Ass Billy Gunn is getting a Road Warrior pop for showing up. Professional wresting is SO GOOD, you guys. This week’s war wasn’t a draw, but it was pretty damn close. Let’s get down to it.
How NXT lost the war: Battling for brand supremacy.
Adding NXT to Survivor Series is something of a blessing and a curse. Whether or not it happened because WWE was down most of its roster after Crown Jewel doesn’t matter—it’s been a good couple of weeks for NXT so far as the project of shedding the perception of it as a developmental brand is concerned. NXT’s roster is a legitimate threat to Raw and SmackDown’s, and that’s true across every division. NXT Champion Adam Cole has had a massive run over the past month, a string of incredible performances that feel truly special in a way that is rare on WWE programming. The only thing that’s really suffered for NXT’s last-minute entry into the Survivor Series is NXT’s upcoming TakeOver event, WarGames.
The business of NXT has felt secondary to the show for a few weeks now, and that was really apparent this week, as Triple H threw out an open invitation to Raw and SmackDown to show up to Full Sail and a lot of Raw and SmackDown people RSVPed as attending. Tonight, everybody from those brands was an NXT alum, so it was like homecoming in that the folks who left their cool job for a more prestigious, higher paying gig were there in company swag trying to convince the people who stayed at their cool job that things are okay and great and actually much cooler at the new place, no regrets about leaving, y’all. So you get an opening promo from Becky Lynch and a real tease of a match between her and Rhea Ripley. You get Seth Rollins showing up at the end to take out Adam Cole. You get a bunch of people in red and blue shirts fighting a bunch of people in NXT’s Fiverr-designed shirts. And oh yeah, NXT has two WarGames cage matches happening the night before any of that pays off, please don’t forget about WarGames, here, enjoy a video where William Regal says the word “WarGames” and tune in on Saturday.
WWEIn fairness to TakeOver, the main event ladder match between Cole and Dijakovic was for the SYMBOLIC BRIEFCASE that would determine which team, Cole’s Undisputed ERA or Dijakovic’s Random Guys, would take the man-advantage in the match. It has been awhile since I’ve seen a WWE ladder match so briskly paced, and while that was largely to accommodate a card overstuffed with competitive-but-meaningless matches and a faux epic between the Forgotten Sons and the Viking Raiders, the two got a lot done in the amount of time they had. Like, there was some stank on Dijakovic’s chokeslam onto one of the ladders, and the whole thing felt like two men trying to wrap it up so they’d have something left for the match this match was the teaser for. Cole grabbed the briefcase signifying nothing after dumping Dijakovic through a ladder, then the three brands brawled into Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit.
The real treat on NXT was the tag team match between The Revival and The Undisputed ERA. It whipped. Like, I haven’t seen a Revival match in awhile, and they scan as just dudes to me, but they were treated like something special when they were in NXT, and their return to the show was treated like it was special, too. Unlike some of what they were doing years ago when American Alpha was their chief concern, nothing about the Revival seemed overly prepared—they weren’t looking to do anything fancy against Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, they were just looking for a fight. O’Reilly and Fish have been one of the best tag teams in the world for awhile now, and they’re almost certainly the best tag team in WWE, and they wrestled like defending their turf was a life-or-death proposition. There were some rugged looking spots towards the end, too, straddling the line between miscommunication and desperation, and I love when things are so intense that they start to come unglued. Absolutely recommended viewing, and the only reason why it’s not the match of the night is because AEW didn’t play around.
How AEW won the war: Mr. Ass (and, I guess, two incredible matches)
I used to teach college freshmen how to write, and one year I decided the best way to do this was to make them write about wrestling. My theory was that, in making students learn something completely new to them, they’d have an interesting place from which to critically analyze media, which was the point of the course. I don’t teach college freshmen how to write anymore, so you can guess how that went, but what I can tell you from experience is that if you want to get a group of people who aren’t predisposed to liking wrestling into wrestling really fast, you should start by showing this 2009 four way match between Nick Jackson, Kota Ibushi, El Generico, and Jigsaw.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s a special match, probably one of the best independent matches of the past 20 years, and it makes the argument that while he’s obviously an incredible tag team wrestler, Nick Jackson could have been/might yet be singularly talented as a singles competitor. That’s something I forget about all the time watching the Young Bucks do their thing, but this week saw the younger Jackson brother alone against the younger of the two Lucha Brothers, Rey Fenix. It. Is. A. BARNBURNER. It put me in the same frame of mind as that CHIKARA four way, which is to say that I was positively giddy watching Jackson and Fenix try to one-up each other, alive with the realization that I was watching two of the best wrestlers in the world tear it the hell up for no reason whatsoever. Fenix is unreal, just an utter joy to watch. I don’t even know what to say about him any more beyond that. It’s like he’s in that bubble rappers get into where they’re crowned the greatest rapper alive and all of their features are beyond reproach for a year and leave everybody nostalgic for years after the fact, only with Fenix it’s not a bubble, he’s just a miracle or something. An experience. An event. That’s what this match was. And AEW had the gall to do an entire show after it.
That show featured one (1) women’s match, which doesn’t bode well for Cody Rhodes’ promise that the division was in line for more airtime. That match, between Britt Baker and Hikaru Shida, was good, but AEW is often guilty of overstuffing its shows at the expense of the women’s division. I like Luchasaurus just fine, but I don’t need to see him squash The Librarian. I probably also didn’t need the three minutes where Kaz was involved in Scorpio Sky’s verbal confrontation with Chris Jericho. Give me three more minutes of Hikaru Shida, you know? Or give me Awesome Kong shaving off The Librarian’s mustache. Or give me three more minutes of Mr. Ass Billy Gunn in a battle royal for a diamond ring.
Outside of paying tribute to early 90s battle royal gimmicks and giving Mr. Ass a surprise slot in a televised match in 2019, I don’t know why the Dynamite Dozen is a thing that happened, but boy am I glad that it did. In it, Sonny Kiss twerked on Mr. Ass, and Mr. Ass almost twerked on Sonny Kiss. Mr. Ass also nearly had an epic confrontation with Orange Cassidy, who may be the most popular wrestler on Wednesday night. In both instances, Mr. Ass’ attempt at engaging with professional wrestling’s youth culture was spoiled by MJF, who eventually spoiled Mr. Ass’ night entirely by eliminating him from the match. MJF and Hangman Page were the last two standing, which was the most boring result possible, and next week one of them will end up with a totally real diamond ring that, were it destined for the hand of Mr. Ass, might have an ass made of diamonds on it. Alas, Mr. Ass.
I don’t read a ton of fan fiction, but if I had to speculate, the Darby Allin/Jon Moxley tag at Archive of Our Own is gonna blow up soon. Like, I try not to get gaze-y in these reviews, but these two wrestlers were made for each other in a way that was obvious when Allin accepted Mox’s challenge last week and in a way that makes me wish AEW had enough time to develop something longer-term between the two. If AEW ever gets into doing round robin tag team tournaments, Moxley and Allin have to team up. They just have to. The set-up for this match was perfect, with Allin getting really dramatic about everything by showing a special video and emerging from a bodybag during his entrance, and working with a deathwish is ultimately a good strategy against this incarnation of Jon Moxley. Mox, it must be said, is HUGE, and his size meant that Darby spent most of the match getting wrecked, looking for the right moment to stick Mox with something that might hurt. This match has one of my favorite sequences of the year in it, as Allin went for a Coffin Drop, got caught in a Moxley sleeper hold, and nearly won by countering with a roll-up like Bret Hart did against Roddy Piper.
Like with his match against Chris Jericho, there wasn’t any chance Allin would walk away with his arm raised, but dude is so reckless and desperate that he makes it feel like he just might win despite the odds, which is why Mox goes for a middle-rope Death Rider instead of a regular one. Moxley is on fire, but the real story here is Allin, who continues making a case for himself as AEW’s breakout star.