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. There was also a little bit of Dynamite on Tuesday night this week, but that really just consisted of two solid wrestling matches with no story, and one story-advancing match that wasn’t that impressive in its wrestling. So let’s stick with Wednesday for now, and look at the highlights from both shows.
Nefarious Heel Behavior: The Lucha Bros and Ricky Starks
After Jon Moxley had just fought tooth and nail to escape Eddie Kingston with his AEW World Championship intact (skip to the end for more on that), the Lucha Bros showed up to punish him for it. Will Hobbs, Ricky Starks, and Darby Allin all joined in and the ring descended into chaos. Ricky Starks driving Darby’s own skateboard into his body while Kingston lovingly cradled Mox’s head and also bashed it in was a particularly strong look for the heels.
And yeah, admittedly seeing Kingston’s guys team up with Ricky and Taz, who had previously been allied with Jake Roberts and Lance Archer, did seem like a last minute change related to the COVID-19 outbreak (we know Lance Archer is sick, and Jake, Cage, and the Butcher and Blade are all conspicuously missing too). On the other hand, this did build the ongoing feud between Starks and Allin, and I’m kind of down with all the heel teams working together when it serves them. They’re nothing if not opportunists.
Candice LeRae beat up Tegan Nox to keep her out of the Number One Contender Women’s Battle Royal, which didn’t seem all that necessary since Tegan just recently had a title shot. I guess it was just about continuing their storyline and generally reminding everyone how nasty Candice is these days.
Matt Jackson smashed Tony Schiavone’s phone and then dismissively tossed money at him to buy a new one, which furthered the “Wow, the Young Bucks are terrible people now” story. And yeah, I know if you followed the Bucks’ indie career, it doesn’t seem like much of a revelation for them to be jerks, but keep in mind they’ve been presented as heroes essentially since AEW started.
Johnny Gargano showed up after Damian Priest’s match to superkick him, and also followed Candice around being a jerk to everybody but her. Johnny really is the best loving but terrible husband in wrestling, at least since Eddie Edwards told Alisha, “I love you baby but I’m going to go out in the woods and murder Sami Callihan with a big stick, whether you like it or not.”
Best Enormous Charismatic Bruiser: Miro
Miro’s in-ring debut wasn’t necessarily the greatest match. I like everyone involved in it, but there were definitely some sloppy moments and missed calls. Nevertheless, Miro himself looked amazing. He’s possibly more jacked than he’s ever been, and he can throw guys like Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss around the ring like rag dolls with wiffle balls for heads.
Plus he still has that Rusev magic that just makes you love him, even when he’s putting a guy you like in the hold that JR accidentally called the Accolade before being reminded that it’s called Game Over now. Related, I love that Miro has a gamer gimmick in AEW. The truth is, he doesn’t need a “big scary Eastern European guy” gimmick, because he’s literally a big scary Eastern European guy. Let him have more personality on top of that; nobody’s going to forget he’s a badass.
Ridge Holland had a squash match on NXT, which was a good reminder of what a badass he is as well. Also, I hope he gets to have some fun in NXT before Vince McMahon catches a glimpse at what his body looks like and decides Raw needs him that very day. In any case, I do think he’s better suited for American NXT than NXT UK, because being English seems to be part of his gimmick. Over there when he comes out in a schoolboy cap it’s like, “Look, he’s wearing a hat,” but in Orlando it’s more like, “Look, he’s a tough English guy!”
Bronson Reed also had a good run in the Eliminator Gauntlet match that main-evented NXT, even though he didn’t make it to the end. He still got lots of spots to show off his strength and skill. I have to admit, I’m a little sad that his “Thicc Boi” nickname has been replaced with “Colossal,” which seems a lot more generic. I suppose somebody (maybe Bronson himself, maybe someone backstage) probably decided Thicc Boi wasn’t intimidating enough, which like, sure. It was fun though.
Best Inevitable Victory by a Scary Bearded Man: Brodie Lee Defeats Orange Cassidy
I’ve already seen some controversy about this match, but I really liked it. Cassidy’s been looking great after winning his feud with Jericho, but it wouldn’t have made any sense for him to win the TNT Championship off of Brodie so soon after Brodie squashed Cody Rhodes for it. Plus, this loss establishes that AEW is not strapping a rocket to Orange’s back for the moment. We’ve established that he’s a legit (if lazy) wrestler who can win a match when he’s really motivated, but that doesn’t mean he should win every match.
I really enjoyed Cassidy’s dismissive treatment of the Dark Order, dropping his jacket on John Silver and putting his glasses on Anna Jay, but I also liked Brodie Lee looking like a monster with no patience for nonsense. Of course he is the leader of the Dark Order, which is mostly nonsense in its own right, but as a pro wrestling heel whose gimmick is being a religious leader, it only makes sense for him to be a big hypocrite.
Tommaso Ciampa handily defeated Jake Atlas. I love that mask Ciampa wears to the ring (somebody put Retribution in touch with Ciampa’s mask guy), and Ciampa’s always at his best when he’s a heartless monster. I do like Jake Atlas, too, and I look forward to a day when he gets to do more than this, but in the meantime, he’s perfect for the job.
Best Climb Up The Chaos Ladder: Candice LeRae
Candice, now a fully evolved Poison Pixie who enters in cute little wings, used a pretty messy Women’s Battle Royal to become the Number One Contender to Io Shirai’s NXT Women’s Championship. This was far from my favorite NXT Battle Royal (they’re usually very good at them, so that’s a high standard), but Candice winning was great. Not only will it lead to a really strong match at TakeOver in a couple of weeks, but it gives Candice and her terrible husband something else to be terrible about.
Kyle O’Reilly similarly became he Number One Contender to Finn Bálor’s NXT Championship by winning the Eliminator Gauntlet Match. That wasn’t quite as chaotic as a Battle Royal, but it did enable O’Reilly to come in and win after Bronson Reed had done a lot of the hard work.
Isiah Kassidy of Private Party spoke up during a confrontation between Matt Hardy and Chris Jericho, and got himself a match with Le Champion for next week. Kassidy’s not actually great at talking yet, but I didn’t mind hearing him because that’s how he’ll get better. Later in the show Jericho was asked about it and he said something like, “I like Isiah Kassidy, and he’s going to be a huge star some day in the future … but not next week.” There’s nothing quite so powerful as a heel who tells the truth.
Best Weird Nonsense: Sherlock Dango’s Tag Team Master Plan
With his deerstalker hat and pipe, Fandango mapped out a plan to find a contender for his and Tyler Breeze’s NXT Tag Team Championship. It didn’t make any sense to William Regal (or us at home) until Danny Burch translated it into British English (which was even more incomprehensible to us Americans). It turned out to be a tag match in which Danny Burch teamed up with Roddy Strong to take on Fabian Aichner and Raul Mendoza. Danny and Rody won, which means that next week they’ll fight for the chance to face Breezango at TakeOver. Nobody ever really made it clear if that will be a singles match or if Oney and Fish will show back up for a tag match, but honestly that probably depends on who does and doesn’t have COVID.
NXT also had a weird segment in night vision (and possibly digitally animated — that mystery person didn’t look terribly real when they moved). It seems to be somebody returning, and a lot of speculation is that it might be Bo Dallas. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that guy, and even longer since he’s had much to do, so it will be interesting if that’s true. In any case, the mystery person is due at TakeOver on October 4, so we’ll see who it is soon enough.
Best Promo: Mister Brodie Lee
Cody Rhodes made his return (with dark hair and a dark suit) after the Orange/Brodie match, to renew his feud with Lee and the Dark Order. Brodie was so furious that he stormed backstage to rant about it. Anna Jay pushing Dasha Gonzalez out of the way was a great touch, too. Brodie wants to have a dog collar match, which is exactly the kind of 1980s Southern hardcore wrestling that Cody’s in love with, so I’m pretty sure he’s going to accept.
Eddie Kingston had another great promo this week too. He could have won this category, but honestly I’m worried that if I let that happen I’ll just start giving it to him every week. Still, that stuff about how he and Mox used to be similar before Mox sold his soul to become a Sports Entertainer was great. It’s not about putting down WWE, it’s about using WWE to put down Moxley.
Io Shirai didn’t get to say much before she was interrupted by Candice LeRae, but I have to give her points for directness: “I’ve never liked Candice. Never have, never will.” Most of the rest of what she said was in Japanese, but the emotions came through, which is why letting wrestlers cut promos in their native languages works. It also gave Gargano the chance to say “I don’t know what you’re saying, lady, but I don’t like the sound of it,” which was golden.
Tully Blanchard and FTR had a great talk segment too, where they no-sold SCU’s fame and then called the Best Friends outdoor comedy wrestlers. That led the Best Friends to come out and challenge them to a match right then, and Chuck called FTR “weenies” when they begged off.
Damian Priest had a good backstage promo over on NXT. I think I’m starting to get that guy’s charisma, which is exciting. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott had a solid promo too, as did Ridge Holland. Honestly I didn’t understand everything Ridge said, but I feel like that’s really on me as an American.
Best Match: Eddie Kingston vs Jon Moxley
This main event match had to be booked at the last minute after Lance Archer came down with COVID, but these two facing off was immediately exciting, and King’s aforementioned promo early in the show only increased my anticipation.
No matter what Eddie said about Mox being a sports entertainer now, this was a hard-hitting brawl between two guys who hit hell of hard. As unlikely as it seemed that Kingston could possibly win the belt, he fought like hell and convinced you it was a real possibility. One day Eddie’s going to come for that belt again, and win it, and he’s going to make a hell of a champion.
The Gauntlet Eliminator Match on NXT was actually really solid and fun. It worked a bit like a Royal Rumble but with no over-the-top-rope elimination. Trying to get a pinfall or submission on somebody while a bunch of other randos are in the ring with you is that much harder, and it led to fun spots like Bronson Reed carrying two guys on his back.
Hangman Adam Page had a solid match against Evil Uno, who was more impressive as a singles wrestler than I expected. Also after all those months of tag team angst, I love seeing Page start to rack up singles wins. This guy’s best days are 100 percent ahead of him.
Finally, AEW’s one women’s match was Hikaru Shida and Thunder Rosa teaming up against Ivelisse and Diamante. Rosa accidentally hit Shida at one point, but Shida didn’t turn on her for it, which might make her the smartest person in pro wrestling. I think this might be Thunder Rosa’s last AEW appearance, but I do hope she returns at some point. Also, Ivelisse and Diamante are literally on the show every week, so maybe it’s time to sign them?
That’s all for this week. Join me next week, for more of the best and worst of Pandemic Booking.