The war has begun.
All Elite Wrestling premiered on TNT, while NXT made its two-hour debut on the USA Network, and the end result is that the most exciting two hours in the business now take place on Wednesday nights.
The shows were wrestling-heavy, featured surprises (welcome back, Finn Balor), and, at times, seemed to mirror one another. Both shows opened with unexpected moments, as Chris Jericho arrived to deliver a beatdown on Cody Rhodes at the same moment NXT champ Adam Cole stood face-to-face with Balor, who delighted the crowd with the announcement he had returned to NXT.
Jon Moxley also made his return to AEW, brawling Kenny Omega throughout the Capital One Arena in Washington, DC before sending Omega into a shattering glass table.
AEW crowned its first-ever women’s champion, as Riho played the role of underdog exceptionally well in her battle against Nyla Rose. Both shows ended on a high note, as Jake Hager, better known as Jack Swagger in WWE, arrived to destroy Cody and Dustin Rhodes, appearing to form an alliance led by Chris Jericho that also includes Santana and Ortiz. NXT closed out with the return of former champion Tommaso Ciampa, who stared down Adam Cole.
Here are the results from each show:
• Cody Rhodes defeated Sammy Guevara
• MJF defeated Brandon Cutler
• PAC defeated “Hangman” Adam Page
• Riho defeated Nyla Rose to become the first-ever AEW women’s champion
• Chris Jericho, Santana, and Ortiz defeated Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks
• NXT champion Adam Cole defeated Matt Riddle
• Io Shirai defeated Mia Yim
• Johnny Gargano defeated Shane Thorne
• NXT women’s champion Shayna Baszler forced Candice LeRae to submit
• Pete Dunne defeated Danny Burch
• The Undisputed Era’s Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish successfully defended their tag team titles against The Street Profits
And here are my takeaways from a night that took fans back to the future:
• Both shows opened with their stars. NXT kicked off with a title match between Adam Cole and Matt Riddle, and AEW countered with Cody Rhodes-Sammy Guevara. The matches were entertaining, even if the results were predictable—Rhodes was victorious, and Cole retained his title with a pinfall win.
The fireworks took place following each match. AEW champion Chris Jericho arrived to attack Rhodes, while NXT had a much bigger moment as Finn Balor made his television return to announce he is back in NXT.
• One area where AEW completely outshined NXT was in the venue.
AEW’s choice to open at the Capital One Arena paid dividends. NXT is going for the grittier look in front of a smaller audience at Full Sail Live, but I thought AEW’s product, aesthetically, looked far more like the big leagues on opening night.
• The returning Tommaso Ciampa closed out NXT, which ran eight more minutes than AEW, by staring down Adam Cole.
On the surface, Ciampa’s return seems like an odd decision if he is still not cleared for physical in-ring contact, especially when Finn Balor was already introduced earlier in the show as the top challenger for Cole’s NXT title.
But Ciampa’s abrupt call-up to the main roster this past February never allowed any closure to his story in NXT. The severity of his neck injury worsened, and he was unable to return, as planned, for his TakeOver: New York match against best friend/better enemy Johnny Gargano.
The chance to “reinjure” Ciampa and put him back on the shelf would be a perfect scenario for Cole and the rest of the Undisputed Era to show their audience that they are the baddest collection of men in the business, and gives Ciampa even more juice when he finally returns.
• Vince McMahon’s fingerprints were evident in the NXT product, particularly with the surprise return of Finn Balor.
NXT has the type of roster depth that simply does not exist in AEW. That was even on display in the crowd, as AEW had Jay and Silent Bob… and NXT had “The Outsiders” Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
Jack Swagger struggled to make it out of WWE’s mid-card, but he will now play an integral role in the success of AEW as Jake Hager. He made his debut in the final segment of Dynamite, crushing Cody and Dustin Rhodes, reintroducing fans to his unique blend of power and athleticism.
Hager’s arrival is also a message to WWE disgruntled talent that states: if you’re unhappy, come here. You can be certain that some of WWE’s unhappiest stars were watching.
• The women’s matches on both shows were key parts of the battle for supremacy on Wednesday nights.
Shayna Baszler successfully defended her NXT title against Candice LeRae, and Riho played the role of underdog perfectly in her victory against Nyla Rose to become the first-ever AEW women’s champion.
But the top women’s star, who doubles as one of the top performers in the business, was Io Shirai, who defeated Mia Yim earlier in the night on NXT. Pound for pound, there may be no better talent in all of wrestling than Shirai.
• Television ratings are not the definitive standard on the quality of a show. Over time, it will be interesting to see how each show fares in the ratings, particularly with which segments are the most popular, but ratings are not and should not be the end-all, be-all.
For the opening week, the ratings are likely to be very close—and time will tell if the losing promotion panics in week two in order to pop a better rating.
• The night was also full of nostalgia.
For those of us who recall switching furiously between Monday Night Raw and Nitro, the chance to flip back and forth between NXT and AEW was a chance to go back in time 20 years. If you were able to watch with the same friends you watched with back then, even better. An important part of wrestling for me is the memories, and the opening of wrestling’s “Wednesday Night Wars” brought back a lot of them for me.
Competition is alive and well. It’s a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling.