It was a night of fantastic wrestling action, all contested in the shadow of news so big it overwhelmed the entire industry. The All Elite Wrestling revolution will continue to be televised—the new organization extended its deal through 2023 and added a new TV show on TNT to boot.
Business, as they say, just picked up.
If WWE thought it would deliver a knockout blow to its competition by putting NXT opposite the newcomers, it was a swing and a miss. This is a battle we now know will rage for years, not just weeks. And that's good news for all of us.
Every week we'll watch both shows, break them down, and declare a winner. After all, this is sports entertainment—it's not good enough to be, well, good. The goal is greatness. And each week there can be only one.
Where: Miami, Florida
Main Event: Darby Allin vs. Pac
Match of the Night: Omega/Page vs. PNP vs. Young Bucks vs. Best Friends
Moment We'll Remember: Jon Moxley, his damaged eye covered to prevent further harm, ignores the advice of medical professionals to confront Pac in the ring. They'll meet next week to decide the No. 1 contender to Chris Jericho's championship.
—The show opened with four of the best tag teams in the world already in the ring, ready to compete for a shot at the tag team belts. They proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes wowing everyone with a pulse with spot after incredible spot.
Everyone had a chance to look like an absolute wrestling god—and to a man they delivered. Somehow, amid all this action, they continued to tell the story of poor Adam Page's descent and the tension within The Elite. This was just fun to watch. As good a television opener as you could possibly imagine to get the crowd's collective heart beating.
—Cody Rhodes remains the best promo in all of wrestling. We all knew he'd step up to MJF's challenge, no matter how unfair it is. That's what heroes do. And Cody is the last white hat left in a sport gone grey.
—Darby Allin was a relative unknown when he debuted with AEW, an indie favorite with tons of potential and a lot to prove. In a few short months he's become an institution, a wrestler fans know they can count on to sacrifice everything for their entertainment.
As usual, he fell short in the main event, in typical self-destructive fashion. But his fighting spirit and unique ring presence means it won't hurt him much. He's interesting because of how he puts himself out there: fear, if it exists, hidden behind the face paint and chutzpah.
Eventually success will have to follow if fans are going to fully invest their hearts in him. For now, though, his mere existence is enough.
Missed the Mark
—Jon Moxley is AEW's "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the tough-guy loner who's not safe to be around whether you're a babyface or a heel. But times have changed and the business that built Stone Cold doesn't exist anymore.
Austin rarely looked weak, except against overwhelming odds or the very best in the business. Moxley, by contrast, spent most of his match against Sammy Guevara getting his butt handed to him. Austin would have never given that much to an undercard opponent. Whether that change is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. It worked for the match but may have harmed Moxley's aura in the process.
—The match between the Nightmare Collective and Kris Statlander/Hikaru Shida was thrown a curveball when it was determined late that Awesome Kong wasn't medically able to compete. No doubt this meant the entire segment had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And while it didn't go perfectly, kudos to all involved for giving it their best effort.
—I understand that MJF isn't supposed to be the ultimate tough guy. He's the classic chickens--t heel who uses his mind more than his muscle to win matches. But there's a level beneath which he probably shouldn't slink if he's meant to be serious competition for the sport's top performers.
I'd humbly suggest that being physically dominated by Cody's older brother, a 63-year-old mentor and a personal assistant may be a bit too much. This match was surprisingly fun, but MJF has to remain formidable to work. This walked the line and may have teetered over.
Where: Winter Park, Florida
Main Event: NXT Women's Championship No. 1 Contender's Battle Royal
Match of the Night: Isaiah Scott vs. Lio Rush vs. Tyler Breeze (No. 1 Contender match)
Moment We'll Remember: Just as the DIY reunion appeared to be taking a turn towards the tragic, Keith Lee emerged to rescue the reunited pair. His pure physicality can be frightening.
—Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews, days removed from a brutal ladder match at NXT Takeover UK, came up big in the long opening tag match.
Not, of course, big enough to win. But they looked good against two of NXT's best in Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle. I'm bullish on their future, though I was tempted to dock points for Riddle's new creeper mustache.
—There's nothing particularly dynamic about Tomasso Ciampa's interviews. He isn't a smooth talker or particularly dynamic on the stick.
What he does have is the kind of intensity you can't fake. It's either there or it's not. And, when he says Adam Cole's is the only name on his list, I believe him. And making someone believe is the greatest trick any wrestler can pull off.
—The cruiserweight bout was an incredible spectacle, unlike anything else on either show. No one else in all of professional wrestling moves like Lio Rush. He does things with his body that should be impossible, making what would be groan-inducing and hokey spots in any other hands look absolutely amazing.
But this was no one-man show. Swerve has serious upside as well and the returning Tyler Breeze did so many little things to hold the entire thing together. I loved this.
—Is it any wonder AEW has struggled out of the gates with its women's division? Most of the promising talent on the independent scene just a couple of years ago now plies its trade in NXT. And, as the main event Battle Royal showed, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.
Will this finally be Bianca Belair's time? My instinct says no, but she's also the kind of athlete who could believably beat anyone in the world. And that makes her a great choice to challenge Rhea Ripley in Portland.
Missed the Mark
—I hate to sound like the world's biggest mark, but it hurts my heart to see The Time Splitters lose. The match with The Grizzled Young Veterans was very good, but Kushida and Alex Shelley didn't find a way to get their hands raised.
Yes, I am that petty.
Overall: Last week, I promised a harsher curve, and I'll be true to my word. But these shows were both so much fun to watch that I couldn't, in good conscience, give them anything but sterling marks.
The difference was NXT's consistency. AEW reached the higher highs, but there are some things that just aren't working.
Right now, NXT is putting out a flawless show. When the margins are this slim, that's enough to decide who wins and who loses.
Overall: AEW (1), NXT (2)