Last week, All Elite Wrestling delivered the kind of show NXT couldn't quite match, a rollicking collection of high-end matches and goofy skits. That it happened on a cruise liner in front of an adoring audience was icing on a very tasty cake.
But that atmosphere can't be recreated in a standard arena, and the chance of a letdown lingered in the air as the two promotions went head-to-head once again.
Meanwhile, NXT was coming off its own smoking-hot pay-per-view over the weekend, a masterclass in great in-ring wrestling.
Once again, the stage was set for a classic battle between the two best wrestling shows on television. Who would emerge the victor and who would have to settle for second place?
Read on, wrestling friends, and let me know what you think in the comments.
Where: Cleveland, Ohio
Main Event: Chris Jericho/Santana and Ortiz vs. Private Party/Darby Allin
Match of the Night: Main Event
Moment We'll Remember: Jon Moxley, wearing an eye patch like a freaking pirate, taking the fight to the entire Inner Circle. The Moxley versus Jericho pay-per-view match on February 29 will be the bout with the best buildup in AEW's short history. And there are still weeks to go before fans finally get to see Moxley attempt to take the title from the only men's world champion AEW has ever known.
—The show opened with an interview segment that lasted more than 15 minutes. On paper, that's a bad thing, reminiscent of WWE at its worst. There's nothing I hate quite like wrestlers droning on and on, attempting to regurgitate a script they likely read for the first time earlier that night.
This, however, didn't feel like one of those endless segments that drive hardcore fans crazy. Moxley and Jericho, both speaking extemporaneously and from the heart, never wore out their welcome.
Instead of feeling like sports entertainment at its worst, it reminded me a little of the famed Attitude Era, when stars like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock could mold those potentially terrible quarter hours into pure gold.
Obviously AEW has a few million viewers to nail down before it can be compared to WWE at the height of its popularity. But, for wrestling in 2020, it doesn't get much better on the mic.
—While The Young Bucks work great with other high spot-intensive teams constructed from the same mold, I think they are at their best against brutes like The Butcher and the Blade. If you were making a list of AEW's best in-ring tag technicians, that team wouldn't likely appear as anything more than an afterthought. But, against the Bucks, they looked like world-beaters before eventually coming up short.
That's a feather in the cap of the Bucks, the best tag team in the world sans championship gold.
—It's been very interesting to watch the slow unraveling of The Elite. Despite their newly minted status as tag team champions, "Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega's relationship feels fairly tenuous, despite the latter's apparent obliviousness to his partner's inner turmoil.
Page, drink in hand, continues to torment and taunt stablemates The Young Bucks. Where this all goes is undetermined. But it's a surprisingly well-done version of the cliched "feuding tag team" story, in part because that story is typically built around a team falling apart due to failure in the ring.
Hangman and Omega continue to win despite not being entirely on the same page. That's an interesting wrinkle and a premise unfamiliar to wrestling. Perhaps winning alone is not enough to satisfy a man like Page? Time will tell.
—Cocky attitude? Verbal attacks on two beloved icons? Trash talk running down the local sports team?
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Britt Baker is officially a heel...and so far, so good. She has the sneer down and this week seemed more assured in her delivery.
The women's division doesn't have a character quite like her. This is going to be fun.
—The video package with PAC, standing outside in just his tiny trunks despite it being cold enough to see his breath, railing against both Moxley and Omega. This had a unique look that helped it really stand out.
—The main event was a really fun match. The Inner Circle took three young babyface by the hand and led them to a really incredible bout.
Private Party matches can sometimes feel more like an exhibition of individual spots than a coherent whole. That wasn't a problem here, as the veteran presence in the ring helped hold it all together and make sure the timing was on point.
What can you say at this point about Allin? There's no one else quite like him. The crowd is ready for him to ascend to bigger and better things, but without a midcard title, there aren't distinct tiers for wrestlers to rise into. Maybe that might change later in the year?
Missed the Mark
—There was nothing wrong with Hybrid2 vs. SCU. But, a few minutes removed from it being on my television set, I couldn't tell you a thing about it. A filler bout to get SCU back in the win column. This is the kind of thing AEW Dark is for. Dynamite, typically, is more filling fare.
—There were portions of her match with Nyla Rose where Big Swole looked like the next big thing in the women's division. When she's hitting, she looks like a special talent capable of delivering serious matches at an elite level.
But then, in the same bout, she'll hesitate at an inopportune time or throw strikes soft enough or far enough off the mark to pull even the most forgiving fan out of the moment.
Unfortunately for the women in AEW, there are no Jerichos or Dustin Rhodes to help show greener talent how to perfect their craft. They'll have to learn together in the ring, and that will lead to some growing pains as they figure out how to get the most out of what they have.
Where: Winter Park, Florida
Main Event: The BroserWeights vs. The Grizzled Young Veterans (Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Final)
Match of the Night: Dominik Dijakovic vs. Damian Priest
Moment We'll Remember: Tomasso Ciampa, blood streaming down his bald head, spending some quality time with "Goldie" after powerbombing Adam Cole through a table. The two will meet for the NXT title Ciampa never lost at the next Takeover event in Portland on February 16.
—I had the opportunity to sit ringside at Worlds Collide last weekend and saw firsthand just how hard-hitting and aggressive Finn Balor can be when motivated.
Well, the man appeared plenty motivated against Trent Seven here, delivering a whooping to the senior member of Mustache Mountain.
He appears to be hitting his stride in NXT, adjusting to the faster, harder-hitting style easily, no doubt a product of years in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling ring working a similar style. His match with Johnny Gargano at Takeover will be a perfect litmus test to see just how "back" he truly is.
—Damian Priest wanted to be the first man to challenge for Keith Lee's North American Championship. The problem? Dominik Dijakovic desired that honor for himself and suggested, none too kindly, that the "bootleg Marilyn Manson" leave the heavy lifting to him.
This being NXT, the two settled the dispute in the ring, in an absolutely wild sprint. The two big men delivered all the spots from a 20-minute match in just over eight minutes in the ring, doing things no men their size should be capable of.
Dijakovic walked out the winner after his Feast Your Eyes, a kind of standard Go To Sleep-style finisher he makes look particularly compelling due to being an enormous human being. This was a ton of fun.
—Kayden Carter, an enhancement talent beloved by the NXT crowd, finally got a moment to shine against Chelsea Green, the brand's latest cocky heel in the women's division.
It was surprising to see Green, whose return has been kind of a big deal in vignettes across multiple weeks, lose like this, but NXT has earned my trust and I'm intrigued enough to see where the story goes from here.
—The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic again delivered an outstanding month of tag team wrestling. I was relieved and pleased to see WWE stick with the Dusty Rhodes branding, even after the late, great legend's son, Cody, offered the company its first compelling competition in years in the form of AEW.
I visited the Performance Center when it first opened and saw the impact Dusty had on the young wrestlers developing their craft there. They called themselves "Dusty's Kids" and he helped mold a generation of top talent.
More than that, his career warrants this kind of recognition. Rhodes was among the greatest babyfaces the territory era had ever seen, wowing fans across the country with his unique charisma and powerful performances on the microphone.
It makes me truly happy to see WWE didn't attempt to erase him from history out of spite.
Missed the Mark
—Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai had something special brewing, successfully convincing an audience used to technical classics that they truly hated each other and wanted to do the other woman serious harm.
Unfortunately, it was over just as it was beginning, a blood feud settled in just over three minutes. I was left wanting more. Unfortunately, that wasn't a good feeling because it wasn't entirely clear there would be more.
Presumably this isn't it for the two former tag team partners? In a way it felt like a blowoff match. But, surely not? Right?
—The BroserWeights and Grizzled Young Veterans delivered a heck of a main event. This was excellent tag team wrestling and, as a match, it certainly doesn't belong in the "missed the mark" section.
However, this wasn't just any match. It was the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Classic. As such, it should have been something special, an exhibition of state-of-the-art wrestling like the one delivered at Worlds Collide by DIY and Mustache Mountain. But it never quite got there, mostly, I think, because I was never convinced The Grizzled Young Veterans could truly win.
Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle are both stars in the NXT Universe. Hidden away on NXT UK, the Veterans don't shine quite as bright. I just couldn't stop my mind telling me this was a foregone conclusion, and it sucked the drama right out of the match.
Overall: NXT remained NXT. It delivered a solid, well-constructed show filled with really, really good technical wrestling. My attention was fully captured for the entire two hours.
But, when AEW is firing on all cylinders, it hits top speeds NXT can't match. From the WWE Raw-style opening to the strong main event, this show maintained the momentum established last week on the Jericho cruise, and the promotion looks like it will be scorching hot by the time Revolution comes around next month.
Overall: AEW (3), NXT (2)