Over a year, ago All Elite Wrestling debuted their weekly cable tv show, Dynamite, in a time slot that had long belonged to WWE’s NXT (although NXT had been a WWE Network Exclusive until only a few weeks earlier). The direct competition and the backing of cable giant TNT immediately drew comparisons to the ratings war between the then WWF’s Monday Night Raw and WCW’s Monday Nitro, now dubbed The Monday Night War. This last battle for cable supremacy coincided with a massive explosion in wrestling’s popularity with the rise of massive factions such as the NWO and megastars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Fans eager to see a similar wrestling renaissance quickly dubbed the competition between Dynamite and NXT “The Wednesday Night War” despite not really knowing what to expect.
So, as we start to close the book on 2020 and enter into our second full year of the war, I think that it is high time that we examine whether or not this war was a fair fight from the start.
After pondering this question over the last few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that there are three possible answers to the question “Is the Wednesday Night War a fair fight?”. The answers are yes, no AEW has an advantage, and no NXT has the advantage. This article will lay out the arguments for all three options, and then I will give my opinion as to which conclusion I find the most compelling.
Also, for the purposes of this article, I will only be looking at the product as it is being presented to the viewer. This means that I will not consider the potential that either promotion has to improve their show (i.e., NXT’s tag-team division or AEW’s women’s division). Looking at each product as is allows the advantages of each promotion to shine rather than get bogged down by the “what ifs” of the other side.
It is also essential to keep in mind that not all of these advantages and disadvantages should be weighted equally. Just because one promotion has a couple of more advantages doesn’t mean that they are automatically the bigger dog in the fight. Just a note to remember that this exists in the real world, and the influence of certain elements cannot be overstated.
Lastly, this is not a judgment of which promotion is better or what show you should like more. This article is just adding context to a so-called war that is already taking place. Competition breeds innovation, and both NXT and AEW are consistently creating some of the best wrestling content out there right now.
Yes, this is a fair fight.
“Yes” might seem like the most straightforward answer to our question, but it also is the trickiest conclusion to arrive at. For this to be a “fair fight,” the viewer must conclude that the similarities outweigh each show’s advantages and disadvantages. While arguing that either program holds an advantage requires focusing only on the differences and ignoring the similarities. So what are the similarities?
Well, first, there are superficial similarities. Both shows are professional wrestling shows that (in ideal circumstances) are presented in a live 2-hour format. Both shows are on major cable networks and air at primetime. Both Dynamite and NXT receive praise for their more grounded storylines and sports-based presentation.
While neither show is breaking new ground for presentation, these similarities are worth noting because, at face value, neither show has anything to compel a new viewer to watch one over the other. It is the other elements these shows have in common that begin to set them apart from each other.
The first of these less superficial similarities are the rosters of both promotions. Both AEW and NXT’s rosters are made up mostly of wrestlers who have spent some time on the independent circuit or had already had successful runs with smaller promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and Impact. Many of these wrestlers will be rebranded or tweaked to better appeal to mainstream audiences. Still, stars like Hangman Page, The Young Bucks, Adam Cole, and Finn Balor all had sizable followings prior to their runs with their respective companies. A new viewer might recognize some of these names and decide to watch one show over the other just based on a preference or a familiarity with a former indie darling. This aspect of the roster makeup is reasonably similar between the two companies. Hence, it isn’t worth examining as an advantage either way, so it ends up being a better argument for why we have a fair fight on our hands.
Another similarity is both. NXT and AEW have had no problem working with “mainstream” celebrities. Recently AEW had Mike Tyson appear on more than one occasion, and the show has begun to tease an upcoming appearance by Shaq. NXT has spent the second half of 2020 heavily featuring Pat McAfee, who will be participating in this year’s WarGames.The #NXTLoud program has seen NXT partner with massive musical stars like Billie Eilish, Poppy, Code Orange, and Corey Taylor, even making NXT appearances. There is no doubt that actors, musicians, and athletes can be enormous draws for a company. It really just comes down to who excites you as a viewer.
So this is on paper why these two shows aren’t actually all that different, but like I said earlier. To claim that this is a “fair fight,” these similarities will need to outweigh the differences.
No, NXT has the advantage.
The NXT has the advantage narrative is not only the easiest one to buy into, but it is also the narrative that AEW would like you to believe. After all, NXT represents the “evil empire” of WWE, which seeks to strip wrestlers of their individuality and feed their audiences mindless “sports entertainment” week after week. If I’m honest, I totally understand why people see it that way. WWE took a lot of talent and squandered it with guys like Jon Moxley, Cody Rhodes, and Brodie Lee (although they experienced varying degrees of misuse). Many wrestlers who jumped to AEW have found success that they would not have had with WWE. Even if you look back to a time when NXT was regarded as one of the best American promotions for featuring cutting edge wrestling, it is impossible to ignore the amount of influence that WWE has over wrestling as a whole.
NXT’s WWE backing gives the show advantages, but it also adds drawbacks. At pretty much anytime, an NXT star can be called up to the “main roster” of Raw or SmackDown. The downside here is that some stories can be left without satisfying conclusions due to call-ups, or some stories aren’t given the time to develop due to an impending call-up. NXT is also pretty supplemental to the rest of the WWE story. WWE fans looking forward to an upcoming pay per view will generally want to focus on Raw and SmackDown while any meaningful stories on NXT can be recapped for the audiences that might not watch NXT. That being said, none of these downsides really outweigh the massive name recognition and money that come with being a WWE product.
Another massive check in the advantage column for NXT is the existence of their TakeOver events. TakeOvers are regarded as some of the best non-televised wrestling shows of the year, featuring wrestling masterpieces from NXT’s best wrestlers as well as spectacle matches and dream matches that may only ever happen once. The great thing about TakeOver is that it is included in the price of the WWE Network, which a lot of fans who don’t even keep up with the current WWE products might already have due to their massive library of classic matches and shows as well as their excellent documentaries and interview programs. Including shows like TakeOver in with everything else the network offers make jumping into NXT a no brainer for someone looking for high-quality wrestling. AEW’s pay per views, on the other hand, cost extra to access, making AEW a little bit less accessible for those who might not be sold on AEW yet.
Finally, we need to address the elephant in the room. The aspect of NXT that, in my opinion, gives it the most significant advantage over Dynamite, the NXT women’s division. NXT has a considerable part in creating the WWE women’s revolution by developing stars like Paige, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair. They have continued to be a significant destination for the top female talent in wrestling. Currently, NXT boasts huge names like Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, and Candice LeRae, who are featured heavily along with the rest of their women’s roster. AEW, on the other hand, has some very talented women on their roster but has yet to feature them in any meaningful way with any frequency. AEW’s lack of focus on their women’s division has been a particular sticking point for those looking to criticize the promotion, and fans of women’s wrestling will likely look to NXT or other promotions to get their fix.
These few but substantial advantages and the public perception of the WWE lend a lot of credence to the idea that NXT has the edge on Wednesday nights, but we can’t jump to conclusions until we look at what advantages AEW has in the war.
No, AEW has the advantage.
AEW has done a great job of positioning themselves as the underdogs in the Wednesday Night War since the beginning. Most fans know that AEW has roots in independent pay per view, which answered Dave Meltzer’s view that a non-WWE event would be unable to sell 10,000 tickets. All In succeeded in their goal and caught the eye of Tony Khan, who proceeded to work with Cody Rhodes, and The Young Bucks to create their own promotion. Since the very beginning, AEW has been the scrappy underdog just looking to take over the world, but they still might have the advantage over NXT.
Firstly there is the AEW roster AEW has done a great job of snagging some of the hottest names in pro wrestling, especially when it comes to former WWE guys. Three of AEW’s biggest names are undeniably Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, and Jon Moxley, all of which had huge careers in WWE prior to AEW. A casual fan returning to wrestling after a hiatus would one hundred percent recognize one of these guys and be persuaded to tune in to TNT on a Wednesday night. Other than former WWE wrestlers, AEW has a deep roster of significant stars with substantial followings such as The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and Colt Cabana. Add names like this to the extensive former indie stars mentioned above, and you have a perfect recipe for ratings gold.
In addition to the massive roster is the promotion’s attention to their tag team division. People love tag-team wrestling, but no mainstream promotion has focused on tag teams the way that AEW has. This helps them to utilize their massive roster and provides something that wrestling fans have been looking for in a mainstream promotion for a long time. While NXT has some strong tag teams, they do not get the same kind of emphasis that they do on AEW; this goes for the rest of WWE’s programming as well, meaning that AEW offers something that really does set it apart.
The last three advantages that AEW has can all be tied to the limitations that NXT faces by being a WWE product. The first being that NXT is not the main program of WWE, which makes it supplementary when compared to Dynamite, which is the main program of AEW. The second is that NXT is very isolated from other promotions, unlike AEW, which has made use of relationships with Impact, NWA, and NJPW to bring outside talent in for special events. NXT can pull in big names from Raw and SmackDown to help draw audiences, but it is not quite the same as having the NWA women’s championship being defended on a non-NWA show. Finally are the drawbacks that come with the WWE Network. NXT fans can catch their show the next day ad-free on the network, which means that it might be more compelling to watch AEW live instead of NXT. So despite the fact that WWE appears to give many advantages to NXT, it can also hold it back in ways that give advantages to Dynamite.
So with that being said, we have now explored all three potential answers, but now it is time to look at all of the arguments and reveal whether or not I think the Wednesday Night War should be considered a fair fight.
After looking at the arguments as well as watching some of the best matches from both NXT and AEW from over the last year, I was surprised to see that I think that Dynamite holds a slight advantage over NXT. The deep roster, it’s status as AEW’s “A Show,” and the backing of the TNT all give it an edge that cannot be bought by WWE simply willing NXT to be the worthy opponent.
That being said, I do not think that this advantage always leads to AEW presenting a better product each week, but it does make sense why new and casual fans have been tuning in to TNT on Wednesday nights over NXT. Sometimes NXT is more fun to watch. Other times AEW presents a far superior product.
But of course, this is all just my opinion. Who do you think has the advantage in the Wednesday Night War? What are you looking forward to from NXT and Dynamite as we go into 2021? Let me know by tweeting at me @robbydeshazer
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