wrestling / Columns

Cook: NXT Becomes The Land of the Giants In Battle With AEW

October 20, 2019 | Posted by Steve Cook
Keith Lee WWE NXT

We all know that one of WWE’s main desires right now is to nip this whole AEW Dynamite thing in the bud before it can fully bloom. Vince McMahon ran everybody out of business once, and it’s annoying that these new people are trying to defy him and run wrestling shows in prime time on a major cable network. Why are they making Vince do this again at his advanced age?

Fortunately, Vince has help these days. His son in law has been given control of NXT, WWE’s brand of sports entertainment that’s been created to appeal to Internet nerds like me that spend most of their time whining & complaining about the stuff they see on Raw & SmackDown every week. Basically, WWE signed most of the independent wrestlers people online loved over the past several years, with some international names thrown in as well. There’s still young boys training at the performance center, but the NXT TV show largely became a super indy wrestling show appealing to fans that bought Ring of Honor DVDs in the 2000s.

Which I had no problem with, being one of those people.

Given that All Elite Wrestling was expected to appeal to the smarkier portion of the wrestling fanbase that was all about star ratings & workrate & things of that nature, putting NXT on USA in the Wednesday night 8PM timeslot made sense. Much more sense than sticking the wrestling people were already complaining about against it. NXT presented a pretty loaded show for the first head to head battle, full of championship matches and starting off with Adam Cole vs. Matt Riddle. The show got good reviews from the Internet and most people said it had better matches than AEW’s first TNT show.

The show also got beat by Dynamite in every demo except the senior citizen crowd. This continued the week afterward…both shows lost some viewers, but AEW maintained a similar lead over NXT in every demo except the oldsters. Now, plenty of you would tell me that WWE wouldn’t over-react to something like their third brand losing a TV ratings battle on multiple weeks. You would also tell me that TV ratings are an outdated metric, along with whatever other argument people are pitching these days.

I would tell you that Vince McMahon hates losing to anybody by any kind of metric. Especially to a professional wrestling show. He probably didn’t throw a temper tantrum or treat anybody like they were a commentator on one of his TV shows, but it would be foolish to think that Vince was all sunshine & butterflies the last couple of Thursdays. It would also be foolish to think that the NXT brass isn’t already rethinking some of their strategy in response to the way AEW has been doing things.

I watch NXT at 8 & catch the AEW replay at 10. I’ve been off work the last couple of Thursdays, so I’m able to do that kind of thing. One major difference between the two shows stood out to me this week. It had nothing to do with the venue or the announcers or production, or even the match quality. Both shows were pretty even in match quality to me. The main difference I saw is something that Vince McMahon has always put a ton of value into. Hell, it’s something that Vince’s dad always put a lot of value into.

Bigger is Better = The McMahon Family Motto

Early on in the show, Io Shirai made pretty short work of Kayden Carter before going on to declare herself as the next top contender for Shayna Baszler’s NXT Women’s Championship. Rhea Ripley took exception to Io’s statement & came down to have some words.

I do tend to flip over to AEW during commercials to see what they have going on, and I couldn’t help but notice that they were running their Women’s Championship match at the same time Io was advertised as “in action”. Larry Csonka’s theory is that Billy Gunn is forwarding Triple H AEW’s format sheets…I dunno it sure seems like somebody’s trying to play off of somebody here. AEW’s match featured Riho, a 22 year-old Japanese wrestler who’s managed to get over with their audience largely due to her Mysterioesque ability to gain sympathy from a crowd and do amazing things despite a dimunitive stature.

Riho’s 22 years old & billed at 5’1 & 93 pounds. These may be generous numbers, I’m not sure. In any event, NXT presented pretty much the opposite of Riho after Io’s match came to a conclusion. I’m very high on Rhea Ripley’s future with WWE or wherever else she may go, and a large reason is her physical ability to stand out. At 5’7 Ripley already looked imposing when she made her WWE debut, but once she adopted her punk rock look she became a monster. Riho is the cute young girl everybody is happy to see, while Rhea is the one we’re a little bit afraid of.

We’re also a little afraid of Io since she went evil. The fact that Rhea & Io make us a little afraid is the complete opposite of a bad thing in my book. Baszler is an indestructible force in her own right, so you need a badass chick to knock her off the top of the mountain. NXT becoming a battleground for badass chicks is a very good thing, and an interesting contract to AEW.

Bask or Feast?

If you want to talk about large human beings on a wrestling show, go no further than Keith Lee & Donovan Dijakovic. Lee is approximately the size of a brick house, and Dijakovic has that classic look that you expect to see from a professional wrestler. Last time they went out there on NXT they did a bunch of stuff to get pops & got old people like me talking about how they were killing the business. This time they were smarter. Lee worked DD’s arm to perfection, they worked slow enough to tell a story but not too slow.

Then you had the screwjob finish thanks to North American Champion Roderick Strong, who somehow thought that would lead to him not having a #1 contender. As it turns out, William Regal plays chess while Roddy plays Candy Land, and now Strong gets to face both of them next week. Good luck with that!

I think all of this hoss action might have been right around the time that the Lucha Brothers were taking on Jungle Boy & Marko Stunt. That’s spawned a ton of opinions all over the place, but I would say that you can’t find a bigger contrast between NXT & AEW than the likes of Keith Lee & Dominik Dijakovic versus Marko Stunt. In fairness to AEW, Luchasaurus was supposed to be in that match before he got hurt, and he’s right in Lee & DD’s weight class. Not many people in AEW are.

An Interesting Main Event Choice

NXT’s main event this week featured the Bruiserweight Pete Dunne going against a relative newcomer in Damian Priest. I thought Preist had a decent run in ROH as Punishment Martinez and could have some potential here in NXT, but I wasn’t sure about this match as a main event.

Then I thought about it for a minute.

He’s 6’5 & AEW was running a main event featuring Chris Jericho defending their championship against Darby Allin. Allin put in a great performance & has won over the vast majority of AEW’s fanbase early on…but he’s billed at 5’8 & 180 pounds. Jericho looked huge next to him, and that isn’t me trying to be funny about his body changing with age. As crazy a sumbitch as Darby is, and as much as he could possibly tap into that Jeff Hardy demographic with the young boys & girls & whatnot…it makes a hell of a lot of sense to run a match featuring a big dude against Darby Allin challenging for the World Championship.

You think Vincent J. McMahon would have ever had Darby Allin challenging Bruno Sammartino or Superstar Billy Graham? Hell, VJM wouldn’t have even booked the kid in an Andre the Giant handicap match.

Going Big

When in doubt, go with size. That’s been WWWF, WWF & WWE’s strategy ever since we can remember. They manage to find all the pro wrestlers with any kind of size and get them under contract. They’ve trained fans to think that bigger = better forever & ever. People online will laugh at the idea of people thinking that, but plenty of people do. It’s a thing.

The good news for hardcore NXT fans: All of these bigger people I mentioned here are incredibly talented. I didn’t even mention Killian Dain, who’s got plenty of upside, or Bronson Reed, who’s apparently a bro. Lots of big folks down in Orlando these days.

I bet AEW would like to have one of them, but NXT is now the Land of the Giants.

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Steve Cook