Welcome to Wednesday Night’s Alright, my Uproxx Sports column where we compare AEW Dynamite and WWE NXT, the two shows that air on the best night of the week for wrestling. This week saw the return of Ember Moon to the NXT ring, and a brutal AEW dog collar match with a surprising finish.
Best Segment: Gargano World
I have mixed feelings about Johnny Gargano. He seems like a chill dude in real life, and he plays a great heel. On the other hand, I’m still burnt out from his year or so of hour-long TakeOver matches, to the point that I have a hard time connecting with his matches regardless of length. Candice, on the other hand, they never gave us a chance to get burnt out on, so I’m still all in on her. But the two of them playing heels together has been a lot of fun, and nothing beats them walking their dog in their suburban neighborhood in matching pink and blue track suits. It’s delightful.
Indi Hartwell giving them a TV just to make a point to Candice is also interesting. I love Johnny putting her down as soon as he hears her name, and then changing his tune as soon as he finds out she bought them a TV. And I’m interested to see where this leads for her and Candice. Hartwell seems to have a lot of potential, and my Australian friend who knows her from the indies is a huge fan, so that bodes well. And if Candice finds a friend, possibly a tag partner, who aligns with her current worldview and is just as mean as she is these days, how will that sit with Johnny?
Jon Moxley sat in a bar and cut a promo on Lance Archer, which was good, as he always is. I loved how he talked about Archer stalking him across the globe, like it took a lot of investigating to figure out where he was after he debuted on Double Or Nothing last year. I also enjoy Jon’s fatalism, how unbothered he seems by the possibility of losing to Lance. Of course, I don’t think he will lose to Lance. I think he’ll probably lose to Kenny, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Only Chuck Taylor and Trent could make a whole thing about calling their rivals “weenies.” It’s the sort of playground nonsense insult you’d expect from the company that brought you “suffering succotash” and “tater tots,” but the way the Best Friends are playing it like that just makes it more insulting to FTR, and honestly it kind of does. After all, the photoshopped hot dog costumes aren’t that much worse than what WWE supposedly wanted to dress them in before they left. This is the kind of thing FTR came here to escape, in other words, but the Best Friends keep dogging them with it. And as much as I love Chuck and Trent, I’m ready to watch Dax and Cash beat the ever-living hell out of them next week, so let’s go.
Finally, the show ended with MJF interrupting Chris Jericho’s 30th Anniversary Celebration to give him a present, which turned out to be a clown holding a framed poster of MJF. This came after a match that seemed unworthy of the occasion—I’m sorry, but the second most interesting wrestler in that match after Jericho was Serpentico, and I don’t even know anything about that guy—and it almost made up for it. When Jericho smashed the picture of the clown’s head, I thought maybe he was going to tell MJF that having spent 30 years as a pro wrestler, he really thinks that’s what framed pictures are for. Jericho and MJF’s polite passive-aggression is still fun, but I think it needs to reach another stage pretty soon.
Most Exciting Upcoming Show: Halloween Havoc
As part of WWE’s ongoing quest to use all the WCW trademarks so Cody can’t get his hands on them, they’re doing Halloween Havoc in three weeks. It’s just a special episode of NXT instead of a TakeOver, but it makes up for that by being hosted by Shotzi Blackheart, who is absolutely the perfect choice. I do hope, and I think the odds are pretty good in this pandemic era, that they make some real effort to set the Halloween mood beyond just whatever Shotzi does. I want to see a graveyard set up around the entrance ramp, and hopefully they’ll do that Halloween costume battle royal they usually do at the NXT House Show closest to Halloween (since House Shows aren’t a thing anymore, it’s their only chance to dress up). Basically I want costumes and decorations and candy, and I want Shotzi to be dressed as a different monster every time she comes out. Is that too much to ask?
AEW Dynamite is officially celebrating its first anniversary with next week’s episode. It’s really exciting that they’ve been on the air for a year, but I’m more excited by the occasion itself than what they’ll be doing for it, which seems to be just “Dynamite but with bigger matches” which they do at least once a month. I’m sure it’s going to be a good episode, but it’s not going to be a costume party. Plus it will only have one women’s match.
Best Promo: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega talking about being in the upcoming tournament for Number One Contendership isn’t much, but it does give us a closeup look at new jerk-ass Kenny, which is more insight than the Young Bucks just showing up and superkicking whoever’s standing there (a cameraman this week). So let me speculate for a minute: The Young Bucks are definitely heels who kick people for no reason. Omega’s talking like a heel but hasn’t really done much yet. And Cody specifically promised us this week that he’s not turning heel, even though he came back with dark hair and dark clothes and immediately won back the title he’d just lost on the show he helps run.
So maybe Kenny beats the hell out of Hangman in the tournament, then takes the World Championship off of Moxley, then Cody turns heel and the two of them reunite with the Bucks as a new Heel Elite. Things totally seem pointed in this direction, right? Cody can say he’s still a good guy, but he literally launched this company by visually promising not to become Triple H, and here he is booking himself to beat everybody. You can’t pretend that’s not happening for long.
Ember Moon opened NXT with an endearing promo about being back and not letting anyone stand in her way. It’s dorky, but she’s very up front about that. She’s not pretending to be a War Goddess Werewolf anymore, which I think is a better choice for her. Just be Ember. Or Athena. Adrienne. Be yourself, is what I’m trying to say here. WWE’s never going to let you actually be magical anyway, so you’re better off just being a person. Inevitably, she’s interrupted by Io Shirari, who’s interrupted by Rhea Ripley, who’s interrupted by an attack from Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez. It’s the sort of thing that happens on Raw a lot, but at least it seems less annoying with a shorter ramp.
Dakota and Raquel get a chance to explain themselves later on backstage. Raquel’s excited to get any chance at Rhea Ripley, clearly, and Dakota has no patience for Ember showing up and demanding things that she thinks she deserves. It’s standard heel stuff, but these girls are good at it.
Cameron Grimes has a quick backstage moment to explain his attack Dexter Lumis, but what he says is nothing compared to how good he is at walking and then turning around when you hear his name. Just with his walk and his face, he can make you want to watch him get punched real hard. That’s a natural heel, that is.
Best Match: Brian Cage vs Will Hobbs
Probably a dark horse choice, I realize. But while there was some wild stuff that happened this week, there was also this fantastic wrestling match between two guys who are built like Masters of the Universe action figures and never seem to get tired or slow down. They went hard at each other for nine minutes, with not a rest hold in sight. This definitely got me excited for more Will Hobbs, much more so than weeks of him being one of Jon Moxley’s only two friends. So I’m glad he doesn’t seem interested in joining Team Taz. I like him as a big beefy babyface, and the bit commentary revealed about his brother helps with that, as long as they don’t overplay it. Anyway, my larger point is that sometimes I’d rather watch a very good wrestling match than two guys in dog collars trying to kill each other with a chain (although that’s good too).
TH2 had a strong match with FTR, although it mostly served to set up the Best Friends segment. TH2 are great wrestlers, and it seems like they could be doing more than this, but I guess this is a necessary role in every story.
I really enjoyed Serena Deeb and Big Swole, although it was too short and had a long commercial break in the middle (an AEW women’s match, in other words). I’ve talked a bunch about how I hope AEW uses Serena as a trainer, but this reminded me that she’s also still really great in the ring, and could totally have a run as Women’s Champion before she gets too tied up with training. I always enjoy Big Swole as well, but there’s no denying being in the ring with a veteran like Deeb elevates her to a whole other level.
Kushida vs Tommaso Ciampa had a match that would have been a best of the week contender if that guy nobody likes hadn’t shown up and ruin the ending. Go away, Dream, nobody likes your style.
The Main Event of NXT was Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez versus Ember Moon and Rhea Ripley, and it was a pretty good way to bring Ember back into the ring. She’s not as smooth as I’d like her to be, but I’m sure that will come back with time. Considering her return never leaked, you have to assume she hasn’t been in the Performance Center (or wherever NXT trains these days) in a while, so she’s still got some ring rust to work through. Fortunately she was sharing the match with two of the absolute best NXT have plus the very promising Raquel Gonzalez.
So, about that Dog Collar Match. First of all, they had Greg “the Hammer” Valentine in the audience, looking like one of the witches from The Lords of Salem, to remind everybody about his match with Roddy Piper at the first Starrcade. AKA the one Dog Collar Match lots of people who are still alive might have seen, or at least can look up on a Network that shall remain nameless.
I was right that the brutality of the gimmick worked great for Brodie Lee, and that it’s exactly the kind of old school thing Cody loves doing. What I didn’t see coming was the brutality Cody would find within himself by the end, when he wrapped up Brodie’s face like some kind of chain-mummy before hitting that final Crossroads. I wish Brodie Lee could have kept the belt for longer, but I can’t really object to the finish. Between the use of that chain and how much commentary put over Cody working out and bulking up since his loss, it all made sense. I just hope the Dark Order and Mister Brodie still have good things to do coming out of this story.
That’s all for this week. Join me next time, for the AEW Anniversary Show and whatever big matches NXT runs to try and compete with it.