‘Tis the season to be jolly and, in my case, get way behind on pro wrestling because of all that festive cheer, and stuff! Both brands of the Wednesday Night War were looking to close out the year with a bang and head into 2020 with renewed focus and stockings full of ratings. With championship matches, time limit challenges, surprise returns and wall-to-wall wrestling to look forward to, let’s deep dive into the action, shall we?
Starting the Show (Week 12 – December 18th)
With the pre-advertised knowledge that the other guys were kicking things off with a World Championship match featuring their top wrestling talent, All Elite Wrestling scrambled to put up their own match that featured the very best talent their brand has to offer. The opening contest featuring The Lucha Bros against Kenny Omega and Hangman Adam Page. To the tones of Jim Ross highlighting the tag team woes Omega/Page suffered last week, the match got off to a hot start with both teams receiving loud support of the live crowd. The four competitors in this match did what they always do – show off and show out.
Aside from my usual ‘the rules are not enforced’ gripes with tag team matches in AEW, this was a solid offering to get Dynamite underway. Fifteen minutes in, the commentators started to discuss the elapsed time of the match and the thirty minute time limit. There has been discussion about matches on Dynamite going to long and I don’t fully know where I stand on the matter. Some matches are too long, for sure, but anything involving any or all of these four men can go on for as long as the like, as far as I’m concerned. The match culminated with a victory for the Lucha Bros and Kenny Omega adding another loss to his record. After the match, Hangman Page got into Omega’s face, demanding to know what happened – how the match was lost. As the two members of The Elite start to jostle, PAC appears on the tron and goads Omega to the back, threatening the safety of his ‘best friend’, Michael Nakazawa. Unfortunately, the show then goes to commercial and we don’t see the payoff. Seriously, the distance between the ring and the locker room isn’t that great… show us something.
As promised, NXT got underway with its NXT World Championship match between Finn Bálor and defending champ Adam Cole (baybay). Flanked by shiny new Prince Bálor entrance graphics, led the early going of the match with mat based grappling, leading to an early near fall. The Prince’s dominance continued for a number of minutes until the action spilled outside the ring and Adam Cole shifting momentum with a swift kick to the shin as Bálor looked for a stiff kick from the ring apron. With the match now going in his favour, Cole returned the action to the mat, rising only to knock his challenger back down. One the one occasion Bálor evaded the attack, he was able to get some licks in on the Champion with a slingblade, a nearfall and some nasty sounding chops. With the upper hand now travelling back and forth between the two men, the match became anyone’s to win. The final momentum turned only as Prince Bálor became spooked by a returning Johnny Gargano. Accompanied by an excellent Nutcracker reference from Mauro Ranallo, Adam Cole secured victory with a low blow that led to the 1-2-3. After the match, Gargano secured a chair from the audience (see Room for Improvement below) and chased Bálor out of Full Sail. This would have been a candidate for match of the night were it not for the distraction finish. I appreciate the Gargano return but I was enjoying a clean match too much for the outcome to be affected by an outside party. Nonetheless, Cole takes the NXT Championship into 2020 and that, in and of itself, is no bad thing.
Match of the Night (Week 12 – December 18th)
With all the chips on the line in the Women’s division, Shayne Baszler left her entourage backstage for the defence of her NXT Women’s Championship against a very game Rhea Ripley. What has been an incredible second run – perhaps the greatest in brand history – with the championship finally came to an end during NXT’s main event. The match began favouring the style of Baszler with standing technical grappling and exchanges of submission type maneuvers. The match became more aggressive as Baszler attempted to stomp the bent, outstretched arm of Ripley, as she has with many an opponent but this was largely unsuccessful at this time. Baszler lated revisited this move after the arrival of Shafir & Duke distracted Ripley enough to allow the stomp on the ring steps. Shayna’s horsewoman companions were soon ejected by the referee but the damage was done and the arm of Ripley became a focal point in the offense of the reigning champ.
Ripley fought on and persevered through the pain, eventually hitting the Riptide out of nothing but the challenger was unable to capitalise whilst the referee lay semi-conscious under the bottom turnbuckle. Baszler took advantage of the official’s lapse, introducing a chair and securing a very close nearfall as he awoke. Shayna carried her momentum into a Kirafuda Clutch and almost bested Ripley with the submission, but the Aussie stayed strong even as her lips started to turn blue. Escaping the submission, Ripley locked in one of the own but Baszler was able to counter and force her challenger to the top turnbuckle. Wasting time jawing on the top rope, Shayna is countered and falls victim to an Avalanche Riptide, from which Rhea Ripley is able to secure the victory and claim her second kind of Women’s Championship, almost a year after losing the NXT UK Women’s Championship to Toni Storm.
NXT Christmas Day Highlights
While AEW took a week off for Christmas, Santa Claus still delivered us an episode of NXT on the big day. While most of the show was anchored by footage from inside WWE’s cringey green-screen studio, at least we got a Pat McAfee sighting in NXT. McAfee is great; it would be wonderful if he could play a bigger role on one of WWE’s brands but he’s already on 67 other sports shows every week as is. The in-ring action of this show kicked off with an open challenge for the NXT North American Championship. Answering the call of defending champion, Roderick Strong, was standout of the EVOLVE WWE Network special, Austin Theory. This would serve as Theory’s NXT debut and the 22 year old prodigy had a good showing for himself, despite ultimately submitting to Strong’s Stronghold.
A majority of the show’s matches were taped after last week’s SmackDown and so emanated from Barclays Centre. With silver ropes, darkened crowd and not Mauro Ranallo on commentary, I felt like I’d been transported back to 2009 and was watching ECW on Syfy. From Brooklyn, we were treated to Cruiserweight action from Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott and Jack Gallagher, which was everything we’ve come to expect from 205 Live matchups, an okay match between big men Dominik Dijakovic and Bronson Reed and a random tag team main event, with the team of Damien Priest and Tony Nese squaring off with Keith Lee and Lio Rush. Overall, the SmackDown crowd were sat on their hands for the NXT matches. I almost think replays of some of the best pre-USA Network NXT matches would have been better… and I hate clipshows with a passion. There was nothing wrong with the matches, as such, but they were devoid of story or purpose and so did very little for the programme.
Also from Full Sail, was women’s action – Candace LeRae vs. Taynara Conti and the debuting Shotzi Blackheart vs. Bianca Belair. All of which had more crowd engagement than the Brooklyn taped matches but still lacked any point. Thanks for trying, WWE, but I don’t think we really needed this event.
Starting the Show (Week 13 – New Year’s Day)
After a fantastic cold open video package highlighting the best moments of 2019 in NXT, we learn that this week’s episode is… a clip show. 🤦♂️ We couldn’t have had the clip show last week and had something new and exciting to kick off 2020 this week? Major le sigh. Joke’s on you WWE, you’ve handed AEW and easy win. Their show could be a two hour long Riho match and it would still be better than a clip show…. thanks for nothing.
After ending the year in a ratings slump, Dynamite kicked off with a video package highlighting the troubles and losing streaks The Elite have faced since AEW began last year. The show itself emanated from Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Florida, which was the location of last year’s Fyter Fest event. I really like this venue for a wrestling event; it doesn’t have the usual wrestling show layout and so as you watch it, you can see different segments of the crowd sitting at strange and interesting angles to the ring. A very unique feel. Speaking of Fyter Fest, the opening contest is a rematch of that event with Cody Rhodes facing the man he teamed with on the last Dynamite, Darby Allin.
The match started fast with Rhodes and Allin laying in quick impact before retreating to corners and resetting. With momentum switching back and forth, the next portion of the match went both in and out of the ring with each man using the ringside area to their advantage. Back in the ring more consistently, Cody turned to a submission based offense, locking in a figure four leg lock. Darby Allin was able to flip the move momentarily but Rhodes restored his hold before Allin was able to reach the ropes. Allin returned the favour with a submission of his own, administering a Fujiwara Armbar to Rhodes before he also reach the ropes for a break. Seemingly becoming frustrated by his inability for force the submission, Allin rips off the turnbuckle cover to a chorus of boos from the sunshine state crowd. Darby attempts to capitalise on the exposed turnbuckle but Cody tosses Allin out of the ring and gains a stream of momentum in the match.
Back from commercial, Allin takes over the match and heads to the top rope but Rhodes rolls onto the ring apron. Undeterred, Darby Allin takes flight with his patented Coffin Drop freefall onto Rhodes. There is some discussion as to whether Cody got his knee up but it seems coincidental to this observer – at least the commentators left it was a maybe, rather than declare with authority one way or the other, as the likes of Michael Cole would do in WWE. The action spills back into the ring and Allin sets up Cody Rhodes to deliver another Coffin Drop. This time, Rhodes unquestionably gets his knees up into the back of Allin and this leads to victory for The American Nightmare. Great contest to get the show and the year underway for All Elite Wrestling.
Match of the Night (Week 13 – New Year’s Day)
AEW’s six man main event was the clear winner of the night, if not for the in-ring action but for this gem relating to the match’s special guest commentator…
The match itself kicked of with Pentagon and Kenny Omega laying in heavy chops on each other before Omega is distracted by his rival, PAC. Nick Jackson and Ray Fenix then tag into the match and increase the pace of the match. Following a fun spot in which the pair thwart each other’s kicks, then knock each other down with kicks to the head before kipping up for a reset., we head to a commercial break. Out of commercial, Kenny Omega stands alone in the ring about to leap out onto the Lucha Bros. As Omega prepares for the leap, PAC grabs his leg and sets up an epic out of ring leap of his own.
After Omega makes the hot tag to Nick Jackson, the Young Bucks go into highspot mode, delivering a series of Canadian Destroyers to their opponents.
The match returned, as it did at several points, to Kenny Omega vs. PAC but was interrupted by interventions from the Lucha Bros. After a fun series of manoeuvres culminating in Omega falling victim to a cutter, PAC climbed the turnbuckle and nailed a Black Arrow for a nearfall, broken up by the Young Bucks. As the crowd chants ‘This is Awesome’, PAC locks in the Brutalizer, only to be broken up again by the Bucks. Ray Fenix tags in and springboards into the ring, met by a knee to the face from Omega who delivered a One Winged Angel to complete a three count.
Fun moments and other good stuff
- The dude from the New Order popping up at random moments during AEW matches – adds to the realism of “they’re a cult that’s taking over”.
- Very solid ‘big man’ match between Damien Priest and Killian Dain. Good use of a very subtle injured ribs build from Takeover weekend – very obviously was a factor in the match but the babyface, Priest, was able to persevere and overcome regardless.
- Equally good, albeit different style, match from Cruiserweights Kushida and Cameron Grimes. Yes – Grimes is a Cruiserweight… he needs to stop pretending he’s over 205lbs. Grimes is building quite the run of victories for himself; I’d like to see him get a shot at Angel Garza soon.
- Nice to see Darby Allin get a W alongside Cody. Moments like this legitimise Allin as a credible in-ring competitor, rather than a deathmatch typecast.
- Kris Statlander is weird but she could be weirder. Turn up the weird, please.
- Pete Dunne is just a treasure, always a pleasure to behold in the ring and can even pull fantastic matches out of the most boring of opponents – namely Travis Banks. I appreciate his relentless consistency to his in-ring style, namely the targeting of joints and extremities; There’s something new in every match, this time the double stomp to the hands. Masterful. The Avalanche X-Plex was a sight to behold as well. Stellar performance.
- Women’s wrestling is finally starting to pick up steam in AEW. The arrival of Kris Statlander, the return of Hikaru Shida, and the consistency of Britt Baker D.M.D. have been highlights of a division on the rise. If only they hadn’t ruined it by keeping the belt on 16lb Riho. I don’t care if she’s Kenny Omega’s BFF, she’s ungood and completely unbelievable as a champion. Despite the nonsense outcome, the fourway for the title was a great match, largely because Riho’s involvement was limited. The nearfalls were the nearest I’ve seen in a while and had me going for a little minute.
- Keith Lee in a Christmas hat and Lio Rush throwing cookies at Tony Nese were the highlights of NXT’s Christmas show.
- Sammy Guevara cutting a promo using placards during a picture-in-picture commercial break was hilarious. That’s how you use that feature!
- 50 year old Dustin Rhodes nailing a Canadian Destroyer on the ring apron. The guy is just ageless!
Room for improvement
- Fake crowd getting knocked about for the third week in a row. It’s not even necessary… nothing is added by their inclusion in the show. Gargano standing on the barrier and the ‘crowd member’ screaming in pain was an even worse look. Gargano just wouldn’t do that…. it’s not consistent with his character and he KNOWS he’d get WWE sued for it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
- AEW continue to struggle with timing. Watching Dynamite on demand rather than live further highlighted this, with the commentators and video packages being cut off mid sentence and no real warning that the show is heading for a break. Very jarring.
- Further to this, too much is still happening during Dynamite’s commercials. I never saw the payoff of PAC goading Omega backstage because it happened in a break. This is one of their top rivalries at the moment and now I, the viewer, am missing part of the story.
- Nigel McGuinness is dropping Jordan Peterson quotes for some bizarre reason. Don’t Google him, kids…
- A match that was promised as the main event of the Dec 18 show, the Jericho/Jungle Boy Ten Minute Challenge was put on during the mid-point of the show, negating the big match feel they had built for the underdog, Jungle Boy. The idea was supposed to be that Jack Perry was out of his depth and had no chance of holding out against Le Champion… throw the guy a main event, put his name in lights! I guess they didn’t fancy the match’s chances holding interest above Baszler vs. Ripley on the other channel…
- I feel like NXT have put Io Shirai in a holding pattern. Hopefully, this is because they’re waiting for Ripley to take the belt from Baszler so that heel Shirai and take on face Ripley for the strap. Santana Garrett didn’t have the best showing against Shirai, despite Io’s best efforts.
- Sixty minute time limit with twenty minutes left of the show? Get outta town, AEW…
- Hey, USA… don’t you be stealing Pete Dunne during World’s Collide. He might be from Birmingham but that’s still British! He’s NXT UK through and through. You can have Travis Banks, though…. he’s a kiwi and not very entertaining.
- Justin Roberts out here wearing a coat in one of the more temperate climates in the world while the wrestlers compete in their underwear. The dude is from Arlington Heights in the great state of Illinois, where it actually gets cold. Man up, Justin!
- Stalling the answer of whether Mox is joining the Inner Circle to next week. Maybe don’t advertise stuff you’ve no intention of delivering? This isn’t the first time and you’re just alienating your diminishing fanbase. Do what you say you’re gonna do, it’s not hard.
- One thing the clip show did highlight… where the hell has Velveteen Dream been?
What the ratings said
With December 18th being important for both shows, mini pay-per view events of sorts, the ratings response to the series of pre-announced matches would be telling of the direction each brand is going heading out of 2019. This response, especially for All Elite Wrestling, was not good with Dynamite receiving its worst rating to date – a viewership of just 683,000. NXT’s 795,000 was, in honestly, not a great deal better but at least was a fairly consistent number on average. Furthermore, a win is a win, and the victory brings the total numbers to 8-3-1 AEW.
NXT’s Christmas episode, while not counted towards the overall ratings battle, brought in 831,000 viewers. This is a small spike in ratings but WWE failed to bring in much of the viewership that would ordinarily be taken by AEW. I would have been interested to see what the ratings would have been like for a regular episode of NXT, rather than a mismash pre-taped chopshop of filler matches but hey-ho.
Unsurprisingly, AEW picked up a ratings victory with their actual show, drawing 967,000 views. NXT’s offering, if you can call it that, still managed to draw 548,000 viewers, which is about 547,000 more than it should have been and is an all time low for NXT on USA. AEW’s easy victory brings the ratings score to 9-3-1 in their favour.
And the winner is…
Two Jez ratings to award then… one for December 18th and one for New Year’s Day. We came into this festive period 6-4-1 to NXT; remember, this isn’t a ratings battle, this rating is for the brand that puts on the best show. New Year’s Day is an absolute no-brainer – nobody likes a clipshow – and so the victory is awarded to AEW, bringing the score to 6-5-1. The December 18th offering was a lot harder to call but not by a great deal. AEW made promises they didn’t want to keep – Jungle Boy main event being the most notable – and on the other channel NXT put on a show that had very, very few weaknesses, Santana Garrett excepted. NXT pick up the dub and pad their record to 7-5-1. AEW are still biting at the heels of NXT, though. I can’t wait to see how the score looks when we close out 2020.
What did you think of NXT and AEW Dynamite? What were your highlights from both shows? Sound off in the comment section below or join me on Twitter @thejezshow.