It’s a very exciting time for wrestling fans at the moment with the emergence of AEW. With IMPACT’s decline and Lucha Underground never really taking off, WWE had been cruising for well over a decade without any competition and as much as they have tried to mix it up over the years, certain parts of the product had become stale. Thankfully though, with Triple H in charge, NXT has not been one of those stale products. It first started as more of a stupid game show and has blossomed into the best wrestling show in the World and is currently better than it ever has been. As much as it is still a stepping stone for a lot of wrestlers before they make the jump up to RAW or Smackdown, it has its own roster, its own TV show, and has hiked up to 2 hours. AEW on the other hand is brand new. It’s had less than 10 shows to its name but with names like Chris Jericho, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, PAC, Jon Moxley and others it’s made big waves in that time. It’s an exciting show with a mega potential but can it actually compete with WWE in the long term?
The early indications say yes. TNT and AEW are winning the ratings war early on against USA and NXT. NXT have beefed up their roster with the return of Finn Balor and the most popular superstars from NXT UK being brought over, as well as adding cruiserweight matches to the newly formed 2 hour show, but the AEW hype is staying strong and staying ahead.
With the first few weeks under their belt let’s have a look at where the strengths of the 2 shows lie. As much as both shows as a whole have their strengths and weaknesses in their divisions I think the biggest strength for either show is none other than Chris Jericho. One of the biggest names in professional wrestling not only because of his in ring talent but his charisma and his promo skills which is something that AEW does lack somewhat. A lot of the talent in AEW have had stints with WWE but simply didn’t have the promo skills to get the push they thought they deserved. He’s a massive draw every time he’s in the ring, a main event caliber wrestler still at his experienced age and a crowd pleaser. They’re building young talent up around him whether it’s as part of his new stable or against him in the ring and it’s really working. The other main strength that I think AEW has over not only NXT but the whole of WWE at the moment, is their tag team division. There’s a really good mix of young and experienced tag teams in a jam packed division and a massive focus on how important that division is going to be to AEW moving forward. Unfortunately the opposite could be said about their women’s division. That Women’s Championship match between Riho and Nyla Rose was quite evidently the worst match on the card. Nyla looked dangerous in the ring and the size difference between the two was just too much. Riho is obviously a very talented wrestler and as the commentary team love saying for someone so young she’s very experienced, but she can’t carry the whole division and there’s not a lot there to get excited about.
AEW have certainly captured an audience that WWE had lost with the introduction of the PG era. It’s not only a quality of wrestling that WWE seemed to have given up on with their restricted 5 minute matches involving underused world class wrestlers, but it’s the added violence that gives AEW an edge of excitement. But the excitement in the ring can only go so far and it does need backing up with production and promotion. It might seem like an unimportant factor when the wrestling is as good as it is, but in a 2 hour show every week, the little things become very noticeable and in AEW it needs serious work. This week for example we could hear the commentary team talking when they thought it was on a commercial break about the matches they’re about to announce for next week. One of the little things they have spot on however is their group of referees. WWE tends to go for the invisible referee’s, they do their job but you’re not really supposed to notice them. The AEW referee’s are all very much part of the match and their personalities all shine through. The commentary team I’ve got to say I’m not a massive fan of. As much as the world of wrestling loves to hate on Michael Cole I’d have him commentate all day over Tony Schiavone. JR is obviously a legend and absolutely loves wrestling and you can tell he loves AEW. He’s probably the best wrestling commentator of all time and that hasn’t changed with age. Excalibur is just sort of okay. Works well with the others but certainly needs the help, they’d be in serious trouble without JR but even with him it’s not a strong commentary team. I would have thought with Lucha Underground folding we might have seen Matt Striker make an appearance but they seem happy with their selection for the time being.
The production that AEW loses out on is where WWE will always thrive. Between the commentary, the promos, the entrances, and the camerawork, NXT has AEW beaten comfortably. They have decades of experience in their production and it shows. The commentary team for me is the best team in WWE. Beth Phoenix is still learning but has grown into the role very well with the help of the experienced Mauro Ranello and Nigel McGuinness. Ranello has enthusiasm somewhat reminiscent of JR but turned up to 11 as he would say. I see some people commenting that it’s too much for them but I wouldn’t have him any other way, and with McGuinness’ calmer British demeanor I think the combination works perfectly. Phoenix was a welcome addition as I think the female vocal is necessary when the brand has such a strong women’s division.
The women’s division is where I will start on the positives for NXT. Right now for me it’s at a higher quality than it ever has been. Whilst the WWE main roster was living with the ‘Divas Division’ in the early 2010’s the likes of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, Paige, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Bayley amongst others were showing the NXT crowd how good women’s wrestling can be and from there the entire landscape of women’s wrestling in WWE has changed. Shayna Baszler is not only one of the best female wrestlers in the world she’s also great on the microphone and one of the best heels in the entire company at the moment. It’s not just her though, she could have a different challenger every week at the moment and they’d all be great matches. With the extra hour, we’re getting at least 2 women’s division matches every week in NXT and they’re always an insanely high quality. However just like where AEW has its lows, NXT also does, and that’s the Tag Team division at the moment. As much as there are good tag teams, especially with the arrival of Imperium being brought back from NXT UK, there’s still not enough. The Undisputed Era are obviously a phenomenal tag team and stable but there’s no real challengers for them. Adam Cole and Roderick Strong have a horde of strong singles competitors waiting to challenge them at the moment especially with the returns of Balor and Ciampa but Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish don’t seem to have anyone to defend against. NXT also doesn’t have a stand out star like AEW has with Jericho but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The crowd reaction for Jericho in AEW is noticeably louder than any other superstar but the crowd reaction for the whole of NXT stays at that high level throughout the whole show.
For me, NXT has the better show, it’s going from strength to strength, not only surpassing AEW but it’s a much better watch every week than RAW and Smackdown as well. The most recent episode of AEW (October 23rd as of writing this) was the worst episode yet, production getting sloppier, storylines making no sense, a DDP appearance for no reason, MJF not knowing whether he’s a face or a heel, Shawn Spears already forgotten about, even PAC Vs Moxley couldn’t save the show because as shown in WWE, Moxley is good but just not great. At the same time that night was the triple threat for the North American Championship in NXT, one of the best matches (albeit with a telegraphed ending) you’ll ever see. The ratings might not show it yet, but at the moment it’s looking like the AEW hype will die down and the NXT quality will shine through. However there is still plenty of improvement to be made from both shows and only time will tell who will come out on top of the Wednesday night wars.