In a historic moment that harkened back to the glory days of pro wrestling’s most entertaining and prosperous period, the Wednesday Night War – the ratings battle between WWE NXT and AEW Dynamite – got underway last Wednesday night. This inaugural edition of the war pitted a rowdy homefield NXT crowd in Florida against a sold out Washington DC diehard set and featured several exciting and impactful moments now committed to the annals of history.
Starting the show
Without argument, I would suggest, each show needed to start their programme strong and neither disappointed. WWE publicised ahead of time that they would be kicking off with the NXT World Championship match: Cole vs. Riddle. This was a shrewd move by WWE, as this was expected to be NXT’s match of the night (more on that later). AEW, conversely, put their money behind their VP and started the show with Cody Rhodes. Cody is, or at least his group are, the biggest draws in the company. Starting off with Rhodes made a lot of sense. Starting off with Rhodes against a virtual unknown did not. With the story and groundwork done so far during PPV and B/R broadcasts, there were better opponents for Cody that would have made far more sense… Darby Allin or Shawn Spears, to name but two. That said, the match between Cody and Sammy Guevara was one of the highlights of the show. The quality of wrestling on offer was solid, the pair told a good story – strengthened by Cody’s “if I lose, I relinquish my title shot” decree – and the right person won. A solid start.
With his title shot validated, Cody was attacked post match by reigning champion, Chris Jericho. After wasting some time on a hug with Tony Schiavone and a handshake with Guevara, Jericho had barely enough time to put Cody down before the show was forced into commercials… where the best parts of the attack went down, without sound, without commentary and on a tiny, barely watchable screen. I understand why they wanted to keep the action going, with the competition on USA not having any commercials at all for the first 30 minutes but the timing choices made here, and throughout the whole show, left a lot to be desired.
NXT, by comparison, presented the best match of both shows and threw in a surprise return for good measure.
Match of the night
It should be fairly obvious by now that I considered the Adam Cole (baybay) / Matt Riddle NXT Championship contest to be the undisputed match of the night.
The match had all the qualities you’d look for in a five star bout. I could go on about it but if you’ve seen the match, you know how good it was… if you haven’t, stop reading this and go find the match. Now.
Each Wednesday night show delivered its share of surprise moments with shock debuts/returns at each event. AEW’s surprise of the night came in the form of the debuting Jake Hager (formerly known as former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and All American American, American, American, Jack Thwagger). The moment was unfortunately diminished by the fact that his arrival was foretold in the dirtsheets and by the blank expression on Hager’s face as he stumbled through the run-in, looking for things to do.
The biggest reaction from the All Elite, Washington DC crowd was for the return of Jon Moxley in the same match. The status of Moxley’s elbow injury and infection was kept mostly opaque and, even if anticipated, the crowd were set ablaze as Moxley crawled in behind Kenny Omega.
The moment of the night over both shows came in the immediate aftermath of the match of the night in the return to NXT of Finn Balor.
On a night where Tommaso Ciampa also returned from injury to the black and gold brand, Finn Balor’s backstep from the main roster is the most shocking. There was a time when leaving NXT meant you would never return but as Triple H looks to put on the best wrestling show, it stands to reason that he’ll bring the best wrestlers back to NXT; especially where daddy-in-law has had them on the main roster without any clue how to use them! Balor in NXT opens so many fantastic match opportunities. Expect Finn to receive a lot of TV time on NXT going forward as we slowly works through the roster, leaving five star matches and red paint in his wake.
Quick notes for improvement
- AEW went right into the the opening music/video at the beginning. No pomp and circumstance marking their first show, no explanation of why their show is different, nothing. Big shame.
- NXT’s commercials were too frequent after the initial commercial free period. Thoroughly broke the flow of the matches and I for one, would have preferred consistently timed commercials.
- Mia Yim looked slow and frequently hesitated throughout her match. Io Shirai managed to carry the match on her own but NXT need to consider whether they want to put Yim in matches with the top tier of talent going forward.
- I’m already bored of the AEW/WCW comparisons.
- LOTS of big names missing for AEW. Show people tuning in to your product for the first time who you have. Give them someone to attach to and bring them back next week.
- The SCU segment was just… weird. Did anyone actually find it funny? Would someone seeing for this time understand what the point was, and why they were shouting SCU? Furthermore, either putting the Lucha Bros in their faces was a tournament spoiler or a bizarre moment between two teams that won’t be facing each other any time soon…
- Beth Phoenix.
- Nigel McGuinness.
What the ratings said
The ratings came in fairly quickly on Thursday and gave the Wednesday Night War its first champion: AEW Dynamite. Dynamite amassed a 0.68 rating amongst adults with 1.4 million viewers overall whilst NXT on USA only secured a 0.32 share amongst adults, 891k viewers overall. For reference, the ratings view adults as those aged 18-49. For my money, All Elite Wrestling were always going to win the ratings battle in their debut. NXT is the established brand and watching it live wasn’t as important as watching the history of a brand new endeavour unfold before our eyes.
And the winner is…
While ultimately, the ratings will dictate the winner of the war over time, I will be keeping a record of who is winning the war in terms of putting on the best show. For this debut week, despite AEW Dynamite winning the ratings battle on Wednesday night, I found WWE NXT to be the better show in week one. NXT did not have a bad match, it had the better surprises, the better timing and the match of the night. This is not to say that I found the AEW show to be bad… nothing could be further from the truth… but objectively, NXT was firing on all cylinders Wednesday night, whereas AEW still has a few kinks to work out. I fully expect the bar to be raised again for week two; I cannot wait to check out both shows next week. I leave you with my immediate thoughts, from Twitter as I don’t think I could sum it up any better again…
What did you think of the inaugural Wednesday Night War? Did you prefer one show over the other. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or find me on Twitter @thejezshow.