Children of the ’80s and ’90s will fondly remember the infamous Monday Night Wars. The two superpowers of wrestling, WWE and WCW, head to head on Monday nights. The battled for ratings and talent. Competition led to some of the most intense wrestling matches and stories in history. Then in March of 2001, it was all over. AOL/Time Warner put WCW up for sale and the WWE bought it. The competition was dead and ever since there has not been an intense head to head battle between wrestling companies.
Until this Wednesday night, nearly 20 years later. When two new promotions, with familiar echoes, go live on opposite cable channels from 8-10 PM EST. I, the Champion of the Retro Network, will take you through the first battle for the new war.
NXT is the third brand under the WWE umbrella. The man we all know as Triple H is also known as a member of the WWE board of directors. Legend has it one day during a board meeting he asked where they will find the next generation of talents. A week later he was given a budget and an ultimatum to prove himself. NXT began as a minor league for WWE. A place where they could find the young talent wrestling in bingo halls and high school gyms around the country, and train them in house. Eventually, this talent will be good enough for Raw or Smackdown. But a funny thing happened on the way to the actual forum. NXT became a cult phenomenon. Fans felt they were in on the ground floor of something special. What was a minor league now had not only the talent but also the fan interest to make it equal to the red and blue WWE brands.
Meanwhile, not everyone was seen as championship material in WWE. Cody Rhodes was negotiating his contract and wanted a chance with one of the world titles. He was told he wasn’t championship material. The Young Bucks, considered the greatest tag team on Earth were told WWE wasn’t interested. And a young man named Kenny Omega was released from his WWE developmental contract and went to Japan. All four men became friends in Japan and wanted to stick it to the McMan. Over the last couple of years, they have had test shows, wooed investors, and built their own cult. A place not for the discarded, but for the Elite. The All Elite Wrestling.
On Wednesday, NXT goes live on USA, the network with the longest history with WWE. Meanwhile, AEW partnered with a channel still licking its wounds from its loss during the Monday Night Wars, TNT.
Now to go through both shows. Two hours of live wrestling each. Four hours in total. Limited commercial interruption. What will happen?
Starting with AEW Dynamite. Cody and Brandi Rhodes come out first. See, when Cody left WWE he was told that they owned the name, Cody Rhodes. So in a brilliant move, they did not keep the name, Brandi Rhodes. Cody comes out with his wife and never once calls himself Cody Rhodes. But the “Cody and” implication throws the name Rhodes on there while avoiding legal troubles. Cody will fight the cocky vlogger Sammy Guevara.
Hey, Jay and Silent Bob are front row! Turns out Kevin Smith has become good friends with fellow podcaster and AEW World champion Chris Jericho over the last couple of years.
Sammy isn’t a bad wrestler, but he’s not there to look good. He’s there to make Cody look good. Cody is the number one contender for the world title, and the CEO of the company. It’s the debut episode, and dammit Cody needs someone to make him look good. Sammy also executes a great heel move when he pulls Brandi in front of him and Cody dives on top of his own wife. The crowd nearly booed Guevara out of the building, and I thought Smith was about to call for an ambulance.
Sammy is not only perfect in his role of bumping around like a heel, but he also plays the inexperienced card. By no means is he, 9 years in, but he hasn’t been wrestling as long as Cody and that ends up being the story. Sammy is good enough to beat many other wrestlers, but not one who has seen all the tricks since birth.
Guevara goes for a moonsault but Cody gets his knees up. Cody then rolls up the stunned high flyer in a small package for the pin. Former WCW announcer Tony Shiavone is back in wrestling and makes his way down to interview the winner. Sammy tries to steal the spotlight but turns it into a handshake of respect. But was it all a ruse? Chris Jericho attacks Cody from behind and beats the hell out of him throughout the split-screen commercial break.
Brandon Cutler vs. MJF (Maxwell Jacob Friedman). A couple of weeks ago a wrestler posted a selfie from the gym with the caption “I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons.” That was MJF. He is the best heel on the mic in AEW. Not the best, not the best heel, but the best bad guy on the mic. This guy needs to be cut loose and go further than 8 PM basic cable guidelines will let him. He could start riots. Cutler coincidentally is wearing a shirt with a dragon and a D20.
AEW has a turnbuckle camera innovation. Great angle to see someone get run into the post. Cutler gets a few offensive spots in. As anyone should against a cocky heel. But the outcome of the match is never in question. Cutler either injures his knee after a dive or does a great job selling it then leads to a quick finish of the match. MJF with a punch and a submission armbar and the Dungeon Master has spoken.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes say get interviewed at ringside. Heel tag team Jack Evans and Angelico come out to get in Jay and Silent Bob’s faces. The ridiculously talented tag team Private Party comes through the crowd to the hetero life mates aid.
So Cal Uncensored (SCU) show a pre-taped promo in front of the White House. Far in front of. Back to the arena and the three-person SCU tell Tony Shiavone which two men will be in the tag title tournament. Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian get the nod, with Scorpio Sky sitting it out. The Lucha Brothers – Phoenix and Pentagon Jr – come out and literally spit in the face of SCU. Both teams need to be separated and next week’s tag team tournament is already hot.
Hangman Adam Page vs. PAC.
PAC is the former Neville from NXT and WWE. Page is, well, Page is friends with the Elite and everyone is waiting for him to wrestle at that level. Page came to fight tonight though. The most aggressive, most intense I’ve ever seen him. Hangman knows how big tonight’s show is and he wants to be remembered. There’s a lot of old school to Page, but with the modern-day style. As if he was trained by someone like Barry Windham but needs to work the current day stars. PAC has seemed a second off in his AEW career. Spectacular moves, and just shy of good matches. But every match feels like his opponent is on the 3rd beat of the song and PAC doesn’t come in till the 4th.
Now is not the night for the best high flyer on the roster to work on his ground game, but that seems to be what PAC is doing. Page has done more leaps and bounds in this bout than the “man that gravity forgot.” PAC is so slow tonight I have to assume he gave Jay 15 bucks, little man. PAC avoids Page, kicks his foot back into Hangman’s groin. Now that Adam is down, PAC finally goes up to the top rope for a Black Arrow, then his submission – the Brutalizer for the win.
I’m stunned. This has been a Sasha Banks match all the way. By that I mean, I was sure PAC was going to lose and decided to sandbag the match all along. But he won it! So PAC just phoned it in for all but the last minute of the match. Meanwhile, Page has his best showing to date. I’m at least curious where both men go next on the card.
Dr. Britt Baker, DMD (for real, not just a gimmick) comes out to join the announce team for the match to crown the inaugural women’s champion.
Nyla Rose vs Riho.
Baker is already a delight on commentary. Gets not only herself over, but also both women wrestling.
Riho doesn’t look half Nyla’s size. She looks a third, maybe even a quarter. If Riho wasn’t a Japanese wrestler experienced with that brutal Joshi style, I’d be worried for her. Nyla plays the power game very well. She is an absolute beast in the ring and Riho not only doesn’t look like she has a chance. She looks like she needs to be rescued.
However, she brings something no one else does. Riho may just be the fastest wrestler I have ever seen. She is a blur from rope to rope and that speed builds momentum that can be used against an opponent of any size. She begins to make some headway but Rose is just too damn powerful. Nyla throws Riho against everything on the outside because her size and strength advantage isn’t enough. Rose starts bringing out chairs as well and she’s on a dangerous line here. The line between being a dastardly heel or not being as strong as she lets on and needs outside help. Whatever the story may be, it doesn’t work out for her. Riho moves out of the way just in time to avoid Nyla crushing her into some chairs. Riho doesn’t miss and stomps Nyla into the same chairs. All this for only a two count.
Riho continues to get destroyed but keeps putting out random bursts of hope. She gets a quick offensive move. She kicks out at two. Just enough to keep the match going, but never enough to give her any control. Nyla keeps hurting Riho like a natural disaster. Riho starts to hit and move like Ali. Staying away from the power but using her speed to keep Nyla off balance. One more running strike and to the shock of all 14,000 in attendance it’s enough and Riho is crowned the fist AEW Women’s champion.
Riho is about to be interviewed about her win but Nyla comes back and powerbombs the interviewer. She’s about to drop Riho to the floor when Kenny Omega comes rushing out to protect his ….? Friend, protege, more? Either way, Kenny makes the save.
The Elite: Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs. Chris Jericho (AEW World Champion), Santana and Ortiz.
Santana and Ortiz were known as LAX (Latin American eXchange) in TNA Impact wrestling but lost that copyright when they switched companies. Jericho plays the crafty heel veteran and has his teammates start the match. Omega shows off some moves. The Bucks dive to the outside. This looks like it will be a fun match as Kenny awaits his turn to dive to the outside. But while Omega is setting up his spot, Jon Moxley (the former Dean Ambrose) comes through the crowd and sneaks up behind him. Kenny is now out of the match as he and Moxley fight through the audience. The Bucks try to hold their own in what is now a 3 on 2 match.
Moxley and Omega fight through the crowd and into a “VIP” set up. Food, chairs, tables, the usual. They smack each other around there until Jon gains the upper hand and drives Omega into a glass coffee table. Yes, glass. The audience gasps in horror and we go to a commercial break.
Back to the show and back in the ring. The match continues, but no one expects Omega to come back into it. Not LAX are perfect counters to the Young Bucks. Just as talented, just as cocky, but with that added edge of disrespect. The Bucks usually bounce around just to bounce and not tell any story in the match. But this being a six-man, with one man down, it felt different. Their whole routine was loads of fun. In the end, though, the odds are too much. Jericho hits a code breaker and Judas effect for the win.
After the match, all hell breaks loose. A three on two attack. Cody comes out to balance the teams. Guevera comes back to attack Cody. Dustin Rhodes out to defend his brother. And… who the hell is this? The former Jack Swagger now Jake Hager returns to wrestling and attacks Dustin then Cody. Jake is 6 foot 7, under 300 pounds, and only 37. He’s the new beast of All Elite. The heels beat the hell out of all the faces and Jericho grins as the mastermind. He has strong foils to all the faces that are under his command and will do his bidding.
NXT has been on USA for the last two weeks, but with one hour on cable and the second hour on the WWE Network. This is the first week all two hours are on USA.
Matt Riddle vs. Adam Cole (NXT Champion).
Riddle has had to battle the last few weeks to earn this opportunity. He’s the Bro of NXT. Comes out with a don’t care attitude, likes the smoke, doesn’t wear shoes. It’s easy to see why there’s a long list of people who don’t want him to succeed. Adam Cole is the leader of the Undisputed Era. A faction in NXT who currently holds all of the men’s titles.
Riddle is ridiculously strong. He tosses Cole, a full-grown man, around like a pillow. The Bro is all power and no quit. Cole is a ring general. Scheming, plotting, seeing all the angles. It is a great story throughout the match. Which game plan will work? Riddle’s intensity or Cole’s experience? For near the whole match these two schools of thought are a draw. Back and forth with neither man finding an advantage for long. Cole kicks out because Riddle doesn’t take advantage of pins right away. Riddle kicks out because there’s no quit in him. The crowd is already wrapped into this at match one.
The match turns into a classic NXT superkick out party. Big move, big move, big move and a kick out. If everyone kicks out of special movies, are they really special moves? It takes about ten big moves and multiple counters to finally keep Riddle down.
Adam Cole retains but his celebration is short-lived. The lights dim and out walks the returning Finn Balor. If NXT is going to be an equal third brand they need equal level stars. Balor has returned home and this one move elevates the entire show.
Velveteen Dream comes out to cut a promo that he wants a rematch for his recently lost NXT North American title against current champion Roderick Strong. Dream is part Prince and part Goldust and will be a huge star for WWE for many years.
A Cruiserweight title match is announced and hyped for next week.
Io Shirai vs. Mia Yim.
Both of these women are extraordinary. Against each other, they just bring out something else. They push each other. They feed each other. Their work elevates against each other. Iron strengthening iron. While mismatched opponents can work at times, a battle like this is timeless. The entire time I find myself wanting to see this as a series. Fight forever as the fans say. There’s a sense of safe viciousness. A trust to beat the hell out of each other, but know it won’t go too far. Io gets the win but it could have been either woman’s match at any point.
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall are front row. Makes sense as fellow Kliq members Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and X-Pac are all in the back running the show.
Teagan Nox recovery video.
Johnny Gargano vs. Shane Thorne.
Gargano is Mister NXT. The first man to hold all three men’s titles in NXT. If the show wasn’t elevated to equal footing, he would be on Raw or Smackdown now. Maybe the most beloved wrestler on earth. Thorne comes in as a new face and everything looks like it will be a quick spotlight match for Gargano. But no! Clearly WWE has future plans for Thorne. Numerous times it looked like Shane was going to get the upset win. He hangs with Gargano so well that in one night he went from barely known to the Superstar with the most buzz. Tonight’s wrestling should be all about creating new stars and NXT did exactly that. Thorne can now come out next week and be a believable foe against any opponent. Even a victory wouldn’t be completely shocking. Excellent work for one night.
Shayna Baszler (NXT Women’s champion) vs. Candice LaRae
A great dominant force versus plucky good guy match. Candice has all the heart and charm of her husband, Johnny Gargano. Shayna has faced everyone in NXT and beat them all. She has been built up as a monster and earned every bit of it. From the same training camp that gave the world Rhonda Rousey, Shayna is becoming the bigger legend. Candice tries and tries and throws everything possible at Shayna. In the end it’s just not enough and Baszler adds another tap out victory to her absurdly long list of accomplishments.
Danny Burch vs. Pete Dunne.
I’m seeing a problem here tonight. Many of the matches are too obvious. Burch is a good wrestler, and will find his groove eventually. But tonight he is being fed to the much bigger star Dunne. Dunne takes his opponents apart and has this close style that looks like he’s actively breaking limbs inside the ring. It’s disgusting and amazing to watch at the same time. Dunne picks up the win.
The Street Profits vs. The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reily)
Street Profits are unbelieveably athletic. Also charismatic as hell. Bobby and Kyle know how to work smart heel wrestling. Keeping the ring in half. Pissing off the audience. Kyle never once forgets he’s on camera and is a treasure to watch. The match could go either way, and they play to that every step of the way. Time and time again both teams look to gain victory. In the end, it’s another member of the Undisputed Era, Roderick Strong, who comes out and gives his stablemates enough of an advantage to get the victory.
The entire Undisputed Era celebrates at the end. Adam Cole the last one out, holding up his own title, until familiar music hits. Another return tonight as the injured Tommasso Ciampa makes his return to NXT. When Ciampa left he had to give up the title, his precious “Goldy”. Now he wants it back and Cole is the one holding it.
Both shows were great. AEW looked bigger because it was held in the bigger arena with more lighting. NXT was far more passionate though, which is part of the charm of that venue. NXT and WWE have been doing this far longer, so certain things were to their advantage. Familiarity with most people on TV. Deeper roster. Video packages. AEW featured a lot of men and women making the most of their appearance and trying their best. The parallels of the night were interesting. Both shows featured a women’s match at the same time – most likely something that never happened during the Monday Night Wars. Both shows ended with a tag match. Both shows had a previously unannounced talent show up in the last segment.
The tag match for AEW was my favorite from Dynamite, because it had everything wrestling can be. Multiple storylines converging, clear good vs evil. Great spots, actual wrestling in there too. It was a nice best-of anthology. Maybe it’s because NXT has been around longer but with maybe one exception, I think every match on NXT was better than AEW. Io vs Mia being the best one.
Both shows have far more wrestlers than were on TV tonight. While NXT has shown that they need to balance everyone and over the course of a month all talent will be shown. AEW though can make that argument but if so why put on who was on? Certain acts like Orange Cassidy or Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy are ridiculously popular and would make sense to be featured on the debut.
All in all, us wrestling fans are the winners. Both shows were enjoyable. There was something for everyone. And no cheap shots were taken at the competition. There’s room for everyone in 2019 with all of the channels and streaming and other options. Just because I had NXT pie from 8-10 does not mean I won’t want some AEW pie from 10-12.
If you’re a lapsed wrestling fan: baseball is almost over and there’s no football on Wednesdays. Get a picture in picture going or make room on your DVR. You won’t regret a moment of this new golden era.
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