In case you didn’t know, last week was a huge week for the professional wrestling industry. The WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) held its “premiere week” with the season premieres of the top two longest running weekly television programs in history in Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown. Smackdown made history by making its debut on network television on Fox.
While both Raw and Smackdown had impressive showings last week, we must take a look at what may become the most competitive and entertaining night of the week for professional wrestling since the Monday Night Wars of the 1990s (I’ll get to that in a bit). Last Wednesday, WWE aired the “premiere” of its developmental brand NXT on the USA network (yet oddly enough the show had already been airing on USA since Sept. 18, so I don’t get how it could be a premiere) at 7 p.m.
At the same time, on rival channel TNT, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) debuted its very first episode of Wednesday Night Dynamite. Before I go into why this competition will make pro wrestling relevant again, I must dive deep into wrestling history and the importance of the Monday Night Wars.
Monday Night Raw debuted on the USA Network on Jan. 11, 1993 from the Manhattan Center in New York City. As a wrestling show, it ran unopposed as a prime time wrestling show in its time slot. That same year, rival wrestling company World Championship Wrestling (WCW) promoted former commentator Eric Bischoff to Executive Vice President.
It wasn’t until 1995 that Bischoff concocted the idea to run a weekly episodic television program and run it at the exact same time on WCW majority owner Ted Turner’s own network TNT. WCW Monday Night Nitro aired its first episode from the Mall of America in Minneapolis on Sept. 4, 1995.
The show was filled with many familiar WCW stars such as Sting and Hulk Hogan, but it wasn’t until the main event that people started to realize the seriousness of the new show. During the main event Lex Luger, whose contract with the WWE (then WWF) had recently expired the previous week, appeared at the show. Those in WCW knew Luger had opted not to resign with WWF and signed with WCW. However, the fans had absolutely no idea and thought a WWF Superstar was betraying his company. Luger was the first of many WWF Superstars that defected to WCW over the years, but with his initial appearance, the Monday Night Wars were born.
For the next decade, the two companies would battle for ratings supremacy. It was thanks to this war that we have legendary factions like the nWo and D-Generation X and for legendary superstars like The Rock, Sting, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Booker T and many more. To make a long story short, the competition between these two powerhouse companies put wrestling on the map.
That brings me back to the present day. The similarities between the Raw/Nitro war and what could become the NXT/Dynamite feud are real. AEW announced on May 15 this year that they reached a deal with WarnerMedia that they would be airing a weekly prime-time show on TNT (sounds familiar doesn’t it). This past August, WWE announced that its very popular developmental brand would make its debut on the USA Network beginning in September. Now, where have I heard this before?
WWE’s announcement sparked conversation across the pro wrestling world about the potential of Wednesday Night Wars. What show should I watch? Can AEW compete with the WWE? Will we see a WCW/WWE caliber competition?
There are answers to each of those questions. Let’s start with the competition. NXT’s roster consists of numerous established stars, many of which have been at one time or another considered the best in the world, in the likes of Adam Cole, Matt Riddle and Tommaso Ciampa, just to name a few. AEW has the same caliber roster featuring former WWE Superstars Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho, John Moxley (known as Dean Ambrose in WWE) and Dustin Rhodes (known as Goldust in WWE) and non-WWE talent like Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks.
But what do these rosters look like in action? That brings us to last Wednesday. Each show’s card was stacked to the brim with matches that had amazing potential. As a fan, it was so hard to choose which I should watch. So, me and my friends did the only logical thing we could think of: we set up two TVs and watched the shows simultaneously. Boy, were we not disappointed.
NXT started off with an NXT championship match between champ Cole and challenger Riddle. The high-flying acrobatics mixed with the pure storytelling had me at the edge of my seat, not knowing who was going to win. Cole retained his championship and the match ended up with a rating of four and a quarter stars out of five from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. After the match, WWE superstar Finn Balor made a surprise return from injury, making the statement that he was back in NXT to the surprise and shock of many.
The highlights of Dynamite saw a main event tag team match between The Elite (Omega and the Young Bucks) vs Jericho and Santana & Ortiz. The match saw huge spots from the Young Bucks and Jericho but was highlighted by Moxley interfering and beating Omega all over the arena.
After the match was done, Cody ran in and attacked Jericho, who had done the same earlier in the night, only to be met by his opponent from earlier, Sammy Guevara. To help out Cody was his brother Dustin who ran in to a huge pop. The largest pop, however, was awarded to the surprising debut of former WWE Superstar and current Bellator MMA fighter, Jake Hager (formerly known as Jack Swagger).
Hager destroyed any good guy he could find and stared down the camera when he was finished. Fans had witnessed the creation of a new faction consisting of Jericho, Santana & Ortiz, Hager and Guevara, that will most likely be AEW’s version of the nWo.
The next day, the coveted ratings came out for the two shows. NXT had amassed a total of 891,000 viewers while its competitor AEW had intrigued wrestling fans so much that they totaled 1.4 million viewers on their first episode. Before people start to get all worked up that AEW is greater than WWE, there’s a simple explanation as to why the numbers were the way they were. Fans were curious about what AEW had to offer. That’s it. Those numbers don’t specify who has the better product, or at least they don’t for right now.
WWE released a statement last Thursday that read, “Congratulations to AEW on a successful premiere. The real winners of last night’s head-to-head telecasts of NXT on USA Network and AEW on TNT are the fans, who can expect Wednesday nights to be a competitive and wild ride as this is a marathon, not a one-night sprint.” That statement could not be more accurate.
So before you settle down tonight to watch whichever program you prefer, let these words from former WWE champion CM Punk resonate in your head. “Don’t let either company trick you into thinking it’s an us versus them thing. Just enjoy the wrestling. Whether it’s WWE or AEW or NXT, you guys don’t have to choose. You can (expletive) watch them all. And that’s rad.”
So sit back, relax and enjoy what is about to be one of the greatest eras in professional wrestling history.