Welcome to Wednesday Night’s Alright, my new Uproxx Sports recap of the big events from Wrestling’s biggest night, when AEW Dynamite on TNT goes up against WWE NXT on USA. I’m still finding the shape of this column, but I’m glad to be here with you and writing about two of the best wrestling shows on TV.
Exciting Arrival: Ridge Holland
Ridge Holland’s at Full Sail, which is particularly exciting for those of us who saw him in NXT UK (remember that show?), and know how impressive he is. Even though he lost to Damien Priest, he should be an impressive addition to the roster going forward, and could even make it to the top. The flat cap/nightstick/overcoat gimmick may seem dated at first, but he’s good enough to overcome it. And once you see how he’s built under than coat, and how he can move that body in the ring, it’s hard to deny that he’s got the stuff.
Matt Cardona, the former Zack Ryder, is in AEW now, and tagged with Cody against the Dark Order’s own Beaver Boys. I can’t say I find Matt all that exciting, but I know WWE did him wrong so I’m trying to keep an open mind. Of course, he may not stick around. Backstage reports say he’s currently only signed for five appearances. Cynically, it seems convenient that he’s appearing on Dynamite right when AEW has action figures to introduce. Is that far-fetched? I don’t know, we’ll see if Cardona goes anywhere in AEW.
Nefarious Heel Behavior: El Legado del Fantasma Beat Up Breezango
This was a close one, but Santos Escobar’s faction maliciously taking down the fun-loving cosplay guys really demonstrated what a serious threat they are to the NXT roster. Breezango were the perfect victims, because they’re the most good-natured and fun-loving team NXT has, so attacking them proves that you’re evil and hate fun. Also nobody mentioned Fandango’s blatant appropriation of Hispanic culture, but I suspect it was an unspoken factor. But ultimately, the beating was a message to Isiah “Swerve” Scott, because there’s no stronger message in wrestling than beating up some guys you don’t care about to prove something to a guy you hate.
Santana and Ortiz destroying Trent’s mom Sue’s van was a close runner up in this category, but I feel like heels destroying cars is something we’ve seen a lot of, as much fun as that minivan is. Still, the sheer malice of writing Sue’s name on the hood and then X-ing it out… that’s just mean. Mercedes Martinez and MJF also deserve a mention for interfering in the night’s top two matches (but we’ll get to those).
Thing I Could Have Done Without: Pat McAfee vs. Adam Cole
Honestly, I’m at a loss with this one. Is it just pandemic desperation? Now okay, sure, McAfee isn’t the least likable guy WWE ever hired to sit on preshow panels (that’s Sam Roberts), but I don’t love him on commentary and I can’t even begin to contemplate why he’s now feuding with former NXT Champion Adam Cole. This is one of those angles that WWE starts and all I can do is zone out until the next thing that interests me (a bad habit for recapping, I’ll admit).
Nothing else was quite that bad this week. At first I really didn’t like AEW’s “Debate” setup or the decision to bring Bischoff in for it, but ultimately I thought it was entirely justified once Orange Cassidy started talking. And maybe this is stretching the category (but it’s a category I just made up), but i could live without AEW having just one women’s match that lasted like two minutes. I mean, yeah, they did a great job of leaning into Rebel/Reba’s greatest weakness as a wrestler (the fact that she just barely knows how to wrestle) and make it part of the story, but as usual I’m just left wanting more from that whole division.
Best Promo: Jon Moxley
This is where Moxley spelled out his connection to Darby Allin. He made sure we know that he’d kill Darby if he had to, or at least break him in half and end his career, but Mox would feel bad if anything like that happened. Mox has a human conscience, apparently, it just can’t control what he does in the ring. What makes his promos so great is that Jon Moxley is kind of a cartoon character, but he makes you believe that he absolutely is that character in real life. All he cares about is wrestling (and his wife, but he can’t talk about her on AEW TV), and he doesn’t care if he gets hurt, but he does care if you get hurt, but he needs you to accept that he might be the one hurting you. That’s what you get for stepping in the ring with him.
As I said before, Orange Cassidy’s promo redeemed the debate segment. It was funny when he rattled off a bunch of knowledge about ocean levels, but he stepped it up when he finally addressed Jericho, the disingenuousness of the debate, and how much he actually cares about their upcoming match. AEW has done a masterful job of building up Orange Cassidy little by little, with the kind of patience we rarely see in televised wrestling. Debate trappings aside, this was a huge step in that process.
The Best Friends also had a nice moment reacting to the destruction of Sue’s van. I’m really torn about their upcoming match, because I’d rather see Santana and Ortiz win, but now I also want to see them have to apologize to Trent’s mom on speakerphone.
Best Match: Dakota Kai vs Rhea Ripley
NXT has once again proven itself the place to go for top-shelf women’s wrestling. Kai and Ripley are two intense and hard-hitting opponents, plus they have longstanding beef: It was Rhea not initially choosing Dakota for her WarGames team last fall that led to Dakota’s heel turn during that match. Commentary made a point of reminding viewers of that history, but you didn’t really need it to enjoy the story these women are telling in the ring. Obviously Rhea is bigger and stronger, but Dakota’s better at kicks than anybody, and quick enough to apply some of those kicks to Rhea’s head before Rhea had a chance to bring her strength to bear.
Still, even after Kai showed she’d stand a chance of winning this match clean, she got some help from Mercedes Martinez, who kicked Ripley behind the ref’s back. Martinez is working for the Robert Stone Brand, but it looks like they’re just continuing their own feud with Rhea, not acting out of any particular loyalty to Dakota.
Darby Allin versus Jon Moxley was the other standout match of the night. Moxley has made it clear that he sees Allin as a younger version of himself, and that sums up this match pretty well. We’re used to the intensity of Jon Moxley, but things can only get amped up that much further when he’s facing an equally intense younger version of himself. This wasn’t the first match between these two, and it’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen this story about how Darby is fearless and talented and looks great even in a loss (to be fair, he is very good at telling that story).
This did feel like something coming to a head in Darby and Mox’s relationship, however. There have been hints in the past that Mox considers Darby a potential protégé, and judging by the end of this match we’re going to see that develop further. Sounds like a great idea to me. Moxley could use a friend in AEW, and Allin’s the perfect choice to play a skater Robin to his back-alley Batman.
MJF’s involvement (and by extension Wardlow’s) also continues his feud with Moxley, but thankfully it didn’t play a major role in the outcome of this match.
That’s all for this week, let me know what you think in the comments, and feel free to suggest other categories I can include!