AEW Dynamite vs. WWE NXT: Who Won the Feb. 12 Battle of the Wednesday Night War?
At this point, only one thing is guaranteed when NXT and All Elite Wrestling square off every Wednesday night—four hours of the best weekly wrestling television we've seen in ages.
Sure, the whole purpose here is judging these shows on their merits and choosing a winner. Because, in wrestling, winners and losers are binary. You're either one or the other. There is little middle ground.
However, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture as fans, we've truly been blessed to have both these shows come into our lives. The action in the ring is among the best in the world, the performers and craftsmen behind the scenes are clearly passionate and engaged with the audience, and the results are, aesthetically, a wrestling fan's dream.
Looking at the big picture, there are no losers here.
But there is a winner. There has to be. So, let's break down what worked and what missed the mark on both shows and decide who gets the winner's share of the purse and who slinks embarrassed to the back with their heads down and spirits low.
Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
AEW Dynamite: Overview
Where: Austin, Texas
Main Event: Jon Moxley vs. Santana
Match of the Night: Riho vs. Nyla Rose (Women's Championship)
Moment We'll Remember: Riho running across a table to deliver a dropkick to Rose. This was the best women's match in AEW's short history.
You would think the size differential would make the match seem silly, like a foregone conclusion. Instead, the performances were so good that I found myself lost in the moment.
AEW Dynamite: What Worked
—Opening the show with an action-packed match has become part of the developing AEW formula. Count me in!
This week, producers again relied on Kenny Omega and Adam Page to get the party started right, and the tag team champions delivered in a big way against SCU. This was an incredible spectacle, with all four men displaying the silent telepathic connection that only the best wrestlers seem to possess.
—Jim Ross, the legendary 68-year-old WWE Hall of Fame announcer, has no shortage of critics online. They'll tell you he has seen better days, that he's too disconnected from modern wrestling to effectively communicate with today's audience.
But his interview with Santana was vintage Ross. You wonder why he's still performing on national television? Because no one else can humanize a character who, until now, had been a background player in Chris Jericho's shadow.
This was excellent television, one of the ways AEW distinguishes itself from every other wrestling promotion on the planet. No one else produces interview segments this intense or this real.
—Let's be honest here: Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like Britt Baker was struggling. The announcers' obsession with her dental degree had become meme fodder, something for mean marks to mock rather than material for motivational moments. She was a babyface the crowd didn't quite love, seemingly destined to slowly slink down the card.
Becoming a villain cured all those ills. She's a natural, giving Tony Schiavone tough love and politely killing the crowd with her unique brand of "kindness." This feels like the start of something special.
—Her final title defense ended up being Riho's best AEW bout, a devilishly smart match that was almost perfectly performed. There's something compelling about the sheer size differential between her and Nyla Rose. It's a good pairing and a match I hope we see again one day.
The timing for this title change feels right. The roster is filled with babyfaces, and it's time for someone else to get a chance at the chase. With Rose, though, they might regret actually catching her.
—Jungle Boy is arguably the most improved wrestler in all of AEW. When he joined the promotion, he was a diamond in the rough I was afraid might get exposed under the bright lights. There was something interesting there for sure, but he was incredibly green for someone about to launch an act on national television.
Here, he delivered his part in a back-and-forth match with MJF with aplomb, hitting all his marks and nailing some of the moves that require complex timing perfectly. These were the kind of spots he'd be a second or two slow on just a year ago. Now he's capable of holding his own against elite talent. It's been a pretty remarkable transformation, mostly happening below the radar.
—One of the things that made Jon Moxley such a welcome addition to New Japan Pro-Wrestling last year was the completely unique rhythm and style he brings to the ring. That's not just true on foreign soil, it's just as compelling on American TV.
No one has the vibe Moxley does. His matches, a mix of brawling, hardcore spots and technical wrestling, scratch an itch you don't even know you have until you see him. It's pretty cool having him around.
—Two words: Jeff Cobb.
AEW Dynamite: Missed the Mark
—Dustin Rhodes remains one of the smartest wrestlers on the planet. One of the industry's hidden greats, he has been performing at an extremely high level for more than 30 years. His battle with Sammy Guevara was a competitive seven-minute television match, the kind of bout that once filled every wrestling show but is becoming a lost art.
It's good for AEW to have someone like Dustin to help teach the next generation how best to utilize their limited television time.
There will be some criticism of Rhodes going over here. The Spanish God seems to have everything you'd want from a young heel, except the gravitas that allows fans to believe he's going to beat anyone who matters.
A win over Dustin could have helped him build that all-important reputation. But the result here sets up Dustin's pay-per-view match with Jake Hager, and Sammy will have plenty of time to get his hand raised in what should be a glorious future.
—I loved Riho's match with Nyla Rose match, but immediately after it was over, AEW went to commercial break. The feed, however, remained live on the screen and we could see Rose in the back giving a piece of her mind to Riho's mentor, Kenny Omega.
It looked like she was spitting fire, so hopefully AEW shares the uncut version with fans on their shoulder programming next week.
—I'm starting to get a little worried about The Young Bucks. I understand the inclination to focus on other acts first, particularly younger talent who have less of a connection with the audience. But, to fans who weren't already emotionally invested thanks to Being the Elite, Matt and Nick Jackson aren't doing much to stand out.
This is clearly a conscious effort on the part of the executive vice presidents who helped launch this brand. Omega, too, has intentionally diminished his own star to let others shine. It's a cliche to say you only get one chance to make a first impression. It's also true.
It's time for the best tag team in the world to find themselves a pair of dance partners and hit the floor.
Where: Winter Park, Florida
Main Event: Adam Cole vs. Kushida
Match of the Night: Lio Rush vs. Hector Garza
Moment We'll Remember: Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne sneaking into "the boot" of Triple H's plane to bum a ride to Portland, Oregon, for Takeover. The BroserWeights are a gift that keeps giving, two very distinct personalities who play off each other in a very funny way.
NXT: What Worked
—It's been great to have Velveteen Dream back in our lives after an extended absence because of injury. Much like Jon Moxley provides AEW a unique energy, Dream does the same for NXT. There's no one quite like him in the wrestling world, and absence most definitely made the heart grow fonder.
His feud with Roderick Strong immediately stands out in a crowded field of contrived grievances. Bringing Strong's family into it, painting their visages on his tights, is a bold move. Going full Rick Rude is a big gamble. I eagerly await the fallout.
—Candice LeRae is one of the best wrestlers on the roster, so it's always a good thing when we get to see her in the ring. Dakota Kai, meanwhile, is really coming into her own.
A lot of wrestlers in a work-rate-style promotion like NXT are heels in name only. They come out, say something mean to the crowd, then proceed to wrestle the same exact style match as all the babyfaces.
Kai is smarter than that. There's something about her ring work, even devoid of all context, that would clearly scream "heel" even if you didn't know anything about her past. That's a good thing. They've built her feud with Tegan Nox nicely, and, with the payoff upon us at Takeover on Sunday, she was the right winner here.
—A lot of otherwise smart wrestling fans are too often convinced that any wrestler losing a match is being "buried" like it's always a bad thing for someone to come up short. That, of course, isn't true at all. There's much to be gained every time a talent gets an opportunity on television. Particularly when your 15 minutes is going to be spent with someone as gifted and over with the audience as Johnny Gargano.
No, Cameron Grimes, the artist formerly known as Trevor Lee on the indie scene, didn't beat Johnny Wrestling. But he did announce himself as someone capable of competing in an intense, back-and-forth match with one of the brand's top stars. That's a pretty big deal.
—Lio Rush may just be the best wrestler in NXT. If not the best, he's at the very least the best at what he does, casually reinventing what is possible athletically inside the wrestling ring.
It's easy to lose track of the bigger picture when focused on the minutiae of wrestling's day-to-day dramas. But make no mistake: We are witnessing the birth of a potentially genre-changing in-ring talent.
—On Dynamite, we got a very cool promo package featuring PAC as he built up his feud with Kenny Omega. NXT went with something more traditional here, featuring the legendary Mark Henry building up the rivalry between Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic.
An iconic big man himself, Henry lent the two rising stars some of his well-earned credibility and did a great job putting over just how talented they are. They haven't quite reached the upper limits of what they are capable of in the ring. We know that because we've seen the two in better bouts on the indie scene. Perhaps they will finally make magic in NXT this weekend, too.
NXT: Missed the Mark
—The show opened and closed with very similar angles, wrestlers who were wronged by The Undisputed Era looking for revenge in the ring. I actually like that they were out for revenge after being targeted the previous week. Too often in wrestling, these kinds of random backstage attacks are simply forgotten unless they were written into the narrative.
The issue here is that neither Kushida nor Bronson Reed really wrestled like a man wronged. They came out, supposedly angry at the top acts in the company, and proceeded to have their normal match with the same energy and spot sets they always have.
A missed opportunity for the emotion of the wrestling to match the emotion of the promos.
—In real life, Kushida is a perfectly serviceable opponent for NXT champion Adam Cole. He's an established star overseas and a well-respected veteran performer.
But, in the kayfabe world of NXT, it's not especially clear that he belonged in the main event. The last two times we'd seen him in the ring, he was losing to Cameron Grimes in an undercard bout and falling short in the first round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.
No matter whom he was outside of WWE, Kushida has been clearly slotted beneath the top level of talent in NXT. Inserting him into the main event mix is too heavy a lift without at minimum a few weeks of buildup. It made this match, which should have been a competitive battle, seem like a rote exercise, time-wasting athletic ballet while we await the real match at Takeover.
—Sometimes it feels like the NXT announcers need to have a baton they pass around indicating whose turn it is to talk. Beth Phoenix, in particular, is constantly being shouted over whenever she attempts to make a prescient point.
A three-person broadcast booth is a difficult challenge. But it's one Mauro Ranallo has navigated before in other sports. He's going to have to offer a better effort here as well and be more patient with his peers as they analyze the match.
Wednesday Night Wars: Grades and the Winner
Overall: Normally you'd expect NXT, just days away from a major event, to have the advantage here. But the go-home show to a rare Sunday Takeover felt uninspired.
Meanwhile, AEW continues to deliver wrestling that feels both classic and cutting edge at the same time. At the top of the card, NXT lacks the dynamic promos that drive the action in AEW. That, more than the much-vaunted ring work, is the main difference between these two shows.
Overall: AEW (5), NXT (2)