Begun, the Wednesday Night War has.
With AEW Dynamite taking next Wednesday off, there won’t be a head to head for the holidays. Therefore, the Wednesday Night War has a Christmas truce, allowing us all to relax, reflect, and enjoy our time with our families. Except that Vince McMahon apparently insists NXT put together something for a #HappyHolidaysNXT episode. But that will be Christmas. I want to talk about the 12 weeks before it.
Phase 1: 10/2/19 – 12/18/19
For 12 weeks, the young company with a lot to prove went head-to-head with the brand that went from being a WWE reality competition to perhaps the best part of WWE’s weekly programming week in and week out. WWE NXT got itself started on cable network via the USA Network for a couple weeks in September to pave the way for its full-time two-hour run that would coincide with AEW’s television debut in October on TNT. And for those same 12 weeks, both shows have gone toe to toe, back and forth, and have both hands down out performed WWE’s long established shows, Monday Night Raw, and the once again Friday Night SmackDown. Now, entire articles could be devoted, and have been devoted, to talking about why those two shows aren’t what they should be and who is to blame *cough* Vince */cough* but that’s not this article. My sole focus is on NXT VS AEW.
I’m also not going to worry about showing and comparing ratings. I don’t care all that much for ratings when it comes to a show I’m watching. Why? Well what do ratings really tells us? If something is popular. Now obviously, if a show is doing something a lot of people like, then it is popular and it gets good ratings. And I’m sure everyone heard how AEW dominated the ratings against NXT for the earliest part of this first phase. But that’s because AEW was the brand new thing that everyone wanted to see and be a part of. It had the buzz of an entire year leading into AEW TV. From All In, September 1st, 2018 being the unofficial birth of All Elite Wrestling, to AEW Double or Nothing back in May, Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen over the Summer, and All Out being the one-year anniversary on August 31st, 2019, there was so much excitement built up, how could Dynamite not get a ratings win over NXT?
But then those ratings have started to wane, haven’t they? They’re not hitting quite as high. That isn’t to say AEW got worse in quality, because I don’t think it did. But the buzz wore off, many of us came down from the high, and now we’re seeing AEW even just a little bit more soberly. However, I am here to point out the quality of the two from actually watching them, not seeing ratings and thinking those are the be-all-end-all metrics to measure pro-wrestling by. That said, let’s take a look at how the scores turned out for Phase 1.
PHASE 1 SCORE GRAPH
PHASE 1 FINAL SCORES: NXT – 9.11; AEW – 9.08
Phase 1 Analysis
That first week, October 2nd, that was a week that definitely paralleled what we saw in the ratings. AEW wanted to make a big impression, and they did. Not including when I watch NJPW encores on AXS TV, because those are a special thing in themselves, Dynamite was the first thing on television to break into my 90% range. That’s even higher than a good number of WWE Pay-Per-Views. NXT has always been high quality for me, so 8.9 wasn’t a concern for them. AEW only dipped below 90% early on because they were still finding their footing, or rather I was perhaps still getting used to them.
As it went on, NXT was building up in October and November. We know now that it was all to lead to the massive Survivor Series weekend where NXT would join Raw and SmackDown. Crown Jewel’s strange mishap with the plane actually helped the overall booking of NXT’s “main roster” takeover and gave great exposure to the brand and its superstars so that viewers that only watch Raw and SmackDown understood how good the third brand really is. AEW was also building towards Full Gear, which turned out to be an amazing Pay-Per-View. You can see the jumps up in quality as each show went into their respective events.
For AEW, it was just a matter of not being able to maintain that high when there were just some strange choices. I was certainly skeptical about this “Nightmare Collective” stuff in its early phases. We didn’t learn about the purpose of the attacks on the Women’s Division and the hair cutting for a few weeks, and then it just seemed really odd. Shaving Melanie Cruise in her debut was a bit like Straightedge Society Serena Deeb, but there are still ways the Nightmare Collective story is differentiating itself from that. But to that point, and I’ve said this before, AEW needs to shy away from taking jabs at WWE. You acknowledge your competition by outdoing them, not making passive aggressive promos. Though, Chris Jericho doing it in relation to Jake Hager “We The People” and The Lexicon VS The List, that stuff is great and it just works somehow. Maybe because it’s Jericho.
But the Survivor Series build just raised the bar for everything in the WWE for that entire month. NXT showing up on SmackDown in that last minute improvisation worked out so well, and then just week after week, NXT became a big part of Raw and SmackDown and they became an exciting part of NXT. WarGames III and Survivor Series were amazing events, and as I said for Survivor Series, it was well-deserved for NXT to win the whole thing. NXT is the best brand, they’re the brand many fans prefer over the others, and obviously it’s the brand being put up against AEW, not just because it’s Wednesdays but because it’s the only one that can hang with AEW.
Now, there are things AEW needs to work on from a production standpoint. Just from 12/18/19, the Tully Blanchard and Shawn Spears promo didn’t have the best mic work. I couldn’t hear how it started. And I don’t think I’ll ever get past how TNT cut off Jericho’s cue card promo during picture in picture. And for that matter, for 12/18 being the 2019 finale, there was still something AEW could’ve done to bring it up from “great” to “amazing.” And as much as The Elite don’t want to put themselves over as champions, such as Cody losing to Jericho at Full Gear so that he can’t ever challenge for the world title again, why not just give The Young Bucks the tag titles? Fans love the Bucks, they really are an amazing tag team, there comes a point when it wouldn’t be bias and it’d be good booking. NXT had the buzz of Shayna Baszler finally losing the NXT Women’s Championship to Rhea Ripley, it was an exciting and even (kayfabe) historic moment. Title changes shouldn’t be spammed, but when the timing is right, do it.
Honorable mention would be to how there are memorable NXT moments but honestly, not as many AEW ones. Who doesn’t love Keith Lee sending Adam Cole flying with a pounce? Or Keith Lee climbing up behind Finn Balor? Honestly, I think Keith Lee is just an incredible talent and NXT is lucky to have him.
Phase 1 Conclusions
NXT takes Phase 1 but by a narrow margin of .03, just 3%! AEW by no means “buried” NXT, despite what that commercial TNT put together says. But at this point, it doesn’t seem NXT is going to leave AEW in the dust. This war is far from over, and honestly, it hopefully goes on forever. Even though that is a lot of wrestling in one night for even someone as dedicated as I am… But I haven’t been wholly disappointed by either show yet and I don’t see that ever happening. Hopefully I haven’t just jinxed it…
Phase 2 Preview
I think I personally will consider Phase 2 to be from New Year’s Day, 1/1/2020, to the Wednesday before WrestleMania Weekend. Oh, that Wednesday turns out to be April Fool’s Day. Hopefully there won’t be any pranks pulled, except maybe in kayfabe and part of story.