NXT & AEW: Wednesday Night War Review – 6th Jan 2021
NXT and AEW have allowed wrestling fans to expect high quality entertainment on Wednesday nights, from enthralling in-ring action to engaging characters and storylines. It’s not all five stars though, as Brandon Bethune takes a look at the best and worst from both brands’ first show of the new year.
The oft-overblown rivalry between AEW and NXT on Wednesday nights dominated the wrestling news cycle through 2019 and 2020, and the first episodes of their respective programmes showed no signs of slowing down heading into 2021.
With AEW hosting Night 1 of New Year’s Smash and NXT hosting New Year’s Evil, let’s look at the best and worst from each event, and ponder which Wednesday night show (or again Thursday morning for us unfortunate UK fans) took the spoils to start the year.
Best – Main Event Magic
Beginning with major positives for both shows, the main events of Kenny Omega vs Rey Fenix (AEW) and Finn Balor vs Kyle O’Reilly (NXT) were different in many ways, but similar in the fact that they both stole the show they closed.
While Omega/Fenix was a high risk show of dangerous athleticism and skill – from a nasty German suplex by Fenix, to an insane mid-air catch into a Kotoro Crusher by Omega – Balor vs O’Reilly was a much more snug and violent affair, with hard-hitting strikes, submissions and limb work highlighted throughout.
The styles of the matches played exceptionally into the psychology too, with Omega and Fenix’s back and fort’s presenting them as equals, while Balor and O’Reilly played up their history from TakeOver 31 by having Balor constantly target O’Reilly’s ja, and later his abdomen.
This played into the finishes of the match, with the similar story being shown of the challengers just not being good enough (yet) to dethrone the champions, with Omega’s invincible One-Winged Angel being JUST enough to put down Fenix, while Balor’s expert targeting of the jaw and one swift abdomen kick allowing for a surprising, but no less satisfying, submission victory.
Without a doubt the best thing on their respective shows, with one match of the two having one special post-match stinger to put one above the rest, but we’ll get to that later…
Best & Worst – Hoss Battles
Similarities could again be seen in AEW and NXT’s presentations of their shows, with each having a significant hoss match thrown into the mix, except this time with one comfortably outshining the other.
Damian Priest vs Karrion Kross kicked off NXT in a strong display of strikes and strength, with the story centring around Priest matching Kross beat for beat, while also trying to survive Kross’ aggressive edge and underhanded tactics. Survive he did, for a time, as much to Kross’ frustration Priest continued to fight, including a brilliant moment prior to the finish where Priest stood tall defiantly, calling Kross out before being put away for good. A strong win for Kross which didn’t at all hurt Priest.
The same can’t be said for Wardlow vs Jake Hager however, which came later in the night on AEW. While a purer example of a ‘hoss match’, Wardlow’s inexperience and Hager’s inability to mask his opponent’s rawness led to a clunky and, at times, scary match where it seemed both men were getting legitimately hurt. The match wasn’t without its positives, as Wardlow’s comeback and finish was strong, serving its purpose in pushing along the Inner Circle’s dissension narrative, yet the contest paled in comparison to the offering from Priest and Kross.
This began a trend through the night of NXT largely outdoing AEW in-ring.
Best & Worst – Sports Entertainment
Sometimes, wrestling isn’t wrestling. It’s Sports Entertainment, and aspects of both AEW and NXT on Wednesday night put this on show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although one show made better use of the various sports entertainment tropes on the night than the other.
On NXT, the minimal use of Dexter Lumis as host (SE Trope no.1) meant he didn’t outstay his welcome beyond the cool open and making the impromptu tag team match (SE Trope no.2) of The Way against Kushida and Shotzi Blackheart. Johnny Gargano’s increasingly endearing goofball faction The Way had previously arrived extravagantly with a police escort (SE Trope no.3) before another session of gift-giving between the members.
Meanwhile on AEW, Cody Rhodes vs Matt Sydal was a promotional match (SE Trope no.4) for TNT’s ‘Go Big Show’ complete with a Snoop Dogg appearance at ringside. Post match, the beloved celebrity beat up the wrestler (SE Trope No.5) as Snoop delivered a hilariously wonky frog splash onto Serpentico, who had been caught in the line of fire during the match.
What made NXT’s use of Sports Entertainment better than AEW’s I feel, was both the actual meat of the matches and the way it pushed forward the characters involved. Cody and Sydal was admittedly a clash of styles, but something failed to click in their match, while Gargano and Kushida were on fire for the little time they interacted and made me beg for more between the pair down the line. The Way’s fun character quirks better establishes them as a group, rather than a one off Snoop Dogg appearance to promote another TV show.
I’ll take Austin Theory getting shot in the family jewels by a tank over a Snoop Dogg frog splash any day.
Best – Women’s Division Consistency
AEW’s women’s division often falls behind NXT’s in both talent and storyline terms, but last night’s events showed that when they’re up to it, they can just about level NXT in quality when it comes to women’s wrestling.
Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Title defence against the ACTUALLY TERRIFYING Abadon, mixed with Xia Li’s strong reimagining, and the amazing Rhea Ripley vs Raquel Gonzalez Last Woman Standing Match, made the female action last night the most consistent aspect across the board.
Shida vs Abadon was a fun match which put over the latter’s threat as a challenger while maintaining Shida’s integrity as champion, meaning again that neither was hurt in the end following Shida’s retention. Xia Li (with Boa and the mysterious stage figure) follows Finn Balor, Undisputed Era, Rhea Ripley, Damian Priest, and Karrion Kross in having an absolutely dope NXT entrance, and set herself up nicely for the future with a quick win.
Without a doubt though, Ripley vs Gonzalez was the highlight. A brutal match that again kept both looking strong, particularly Gonzalez, who looks to have Io Shirai in her future. Some surprising levity was also added to Rhea’s BRUTALITY, with her enjoyable nuances such as putting Dakota Kai into a locker before waving at her and shouting ‘Suck It’ before hitting a senton on Gonzalez through a table.
The women’s action was consitently great throughout the night, and ensured that the often rare occurrence of both AEW and NXT successfully showcasing their female talent come to fruition.
Best – BC4LYFE
Of course, this had to be the best thing across both shows. If not enough to make AEW a better overall show than NXT on the night, it was definitely enough to make it equal, and ensure AEW, Kenny Omega, and the reunited Bullet Club remain the talk of the wrestling world.
Following the fantastic Omega/Fenix main event and a backstage assault on PAC and Penta, it was Jon Moxley (who had called out Omega earlier in the night) who made the save for Fenix when Omega went to add insult to injury. Mox went to work with a barbed wire bat, before IT HAPPENED.
Impact Tag Team Champions Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson arrived and attacked Moxley, leaving him laying with a Magic Killer before Omega himself went to work with the bat. This brought up all kinds of joy, from the sight of inter-promotion storylines between AEW and Impact, to the reunited Bullet Club standing tall, and it would only get better.
After a slew of wrestlers ran in from ringside (in an awesome visual) and got demolished, The Young Bucks hit the ring and despite their initial reluctance, joined forces with their friends to complete the reunion.
A perfect angle to close the show and open the year, accomplishing the feat of a great match followed by a terrific story with various implications and tremendous complexity to keep you wanting more next week. Utterly elite.