All Elite Wrestling did the worst thing imaginable when you have momentum or an advantage: they eased up and ho-hummed their way through the week, while NXT did the complete opposite.
That may sound somewhat harsh with us only being two weeks removed from one of its biggest shows ever, and a week removed from its highest rating in some time, but it was incumbent on AEW to keep pushing its stories forward. Instead what we got this week was a show that — top to bottom — was a relatively, unremarkably OK show. For the most part the matches were good, next week’s card was competently set up and what they booked made sense. The problem though, coming off two big weeks anchored by cross-promotion with Impact, is very little was done to move that critical piece of the puzzle further along its arc.
This week Dynamite was very much in a holding pattern. Many components were inched forward, but nothing impactful (pun intended) was executed. The opener between Hangman Page and the Dark Order against Matt Hardy and Private Party was very good, but the 12-man tag was naturally clustered despite it being good. The women’s tag match was also very good, and was complemented by the Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker segment that moved their story forward. Cody Rhodes and Angelico had AEW’s match of the night, followed by another instance of inching a storyline forward as the dynamic between Taz, Sting, Cody and Darby continued to percolate.
Speaking of Sting, this segment was particularly frustrating as it mirrored his debut segment; his music hit and he arrived to save the day. That’s fine, yet, although slightly different, it’s debatable whether or not they really need to kill the lights, unleash the snow and cue his music absolutely every time. Pay homage to Undertaker, kill the lights and have him appear. It’s simple and more surprising, rather than giving viewers much of the same each time. That’s why these last two weeks have been successful for AEW: they’ve done wrestling differently. This week though, the show felt like a combination of resting on their laurels and setting up the next few weeks. It worked in some cases and faltered in others, resulting in a good, watchable wrestling show that was very easy to change the channel away from.
Aside from some other segments to setup matches over the next couple of weeks, the main event of the show was an inferior rehash of Kenny Omega and Joey Janela’s 2019 Lights Out Match on AEW Dark. I presume this was mostly set up, aside from the narrative of Omega defeating people he avoided in the title eliminator tournament, to play off Omega’s “cleaning out” of Sonny Kiss weeks back. Problematically there was no real overt setup for the match; they presumed each viewer had watched the match weeks ago and made that connection, which is very presumptuous storytelling. It needed one segment to establish the “why” of the match, and they didn’t do it.
That resulted in a very WWE-like move where matches felt like they just happened on the fly, only this transformed into an odd ego-massaging performance piece where Omega and Callis commentated on the match as Kenny wrestled to illustrate he was so good he didn’t need to give Janela his full attention. This ruined the flow of the match altogether, and even if one were to flip away from Storm and Ripley, that match was so good there was nothing on Dynamite to keep them invested, Omega or not.
What it did do is setup another title match with Omega for two weeks from now against Fenix, whom he has great in-ring chemistry with. The match should be a MOTY contender, however it’s very likely we could see some Impact Wrestling presence on the show stemming from this week’s Impact episode.
We have to assume AEW and Impact are coordinating their cross-promotional efforts, and if so, I have to ask what they were thinking this week. Impact’s show on its own merits was OK, anchored by the opener and Deonna Purrazzo’s match. But the reason the show had so much buzz last week was due to Omega’s baited appearance amid the Winter is Coming fallout. While this week’s show was still ahead of its recent averages with a marker of 177,000 viewers, it fell well short of last week’s figure of 221,000. We can presume much of that is AEW fans dropping off from watching an “inferior” program (a topic for another day). While it’s still ahead of their rating from two weeks ago (166,000), it’s far more in line with what the show has been pulling weekly.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise one week removed from the buzzworthy shows, but what punctuated its fate was, much like AEW, they replicated their hooks. In this case, they copied the “Omega sits in a bus” schtick, which is already growing old and tired. Where this does potentially tie into AEW is the (doesn’t quite make sense yet) Bullet Club reunion between Omega, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to setup a 6-man tag main event opposite Impact champion Rich Swann and the Motor City Machine Guns at Impact’s Hard to Kill in January.
This is where AEW and Impact failed to capitalize on their momentum. It would have been wise to continue that story onto Dynamite rather than executing the booking AEW did. This does likely mean we will see that Bullet Club presence on AEW before too long, but for Impact the hook came too late and AEW didn’t really use the best bait to catch the number of fans they did weeks prior.
Statistics… What Are They Good For?
Impact’s viewership decline wasn’t surprising (I watched on Twitch from start to finish), and neither was AEW’s drop (likewise).
Coming from last week’s high-point of 995,000 viewers, Dynamite settled back into some old territory at 806,000. That decrease includes last week’s overall 80-odd-thousand increase, plus NXT’s approximate 100,000 increase over last week. While Dynamite started strong at over a million viewers, it petered out and swung fully toward NXT by the end of O’Reilly and Dunne.
For longer-term, farther-reaching NXT fans, from top to bottom it was a solid effort and featured some old rivalries that were renewed such as Toni Storm and Rhea Ripley in the main event (which outdrew Omega and Janela in the final quarter hour 772K to 718K), the great match between Pete Dunne and Kyle O’Reilly wisely placed in the middle of the show (which permanently swung viewers toward NXT and topped out at 843,000 viewers), the return of Karrion Kross; all complemented by non-offensive matches like Tommaso Ciampa and Tyler Rust, Indi Hartwell and Shotzi Blackheart, and The Way vs. Kushida and Leon Ruff.
When it comes down to it, NXT was more coherent, flowed better and was more consistent; I think the numbers reflect that with Wednesday’s tweeners likely jumping to NXT from AEW over the first hour and simply staying put following O’Reilly and Dunne. That’s on AEW, and is a credit to the NXT team.
Despite the narrower gap the combined viewership, although obviously declining from last week’s mark (1.654M), returned to its range from two weeks ago, resting at 1.572M (up about 1,000) with NXT claiming a larger portion. The recent averages for both shows combined rest around 1.4 million, so overall it’s still a net positive for wrestling on Wednesdays. Last year there was a holiday lull and I’d expect much of the same leading into January, but who knows if either show puts together something great during that time, as we know they can.
One of the hot takes since Wednesday’s ratings came out is that the bloom is off Omega as a drawing card, or a needle-mover (which overall stats/trends refute). We’ve discussed this before, but one week does not a trend make. That’s why with NXT, for example, they’ve historically done quite well putting together solo cards that simply crush Dynamite, but they rarely maintain that momentum over multiple weeks. No recent examples other than the Great American Bash are coming to mind, which ties into the greater point. NXT stepped up this week and put together a great show to rival what AEW has done these last two weeks. But nonetheless the same questions need to again be asked of NXT as they were AEW… can they keep the momentum?
There is a positive trend with Omega, but all the same, the novelty wears away quickly where the substance is lacking and I think that’s what we saw this week. The Janela-Omega main event didn’t draw as well against Ripley and Storm, depending entirely on the entertainment value of how they chose to revisit their old feud. It fell flat, and not because of either grappler, rather the story surrounding it was average and merely a prelude to the Fenix match, which itself is prologue to Omega reappearing on Impact.
Part of any great match is the psychology behind it, where you can reason the steps taken and answer the who, what, where, why, when and hows of its construction. Exemplified by the whole show, that just didn’t happen. We can guess, but if the objective is to secure tweener viewers and casuals alike, it can’t be presumed fans consume everything all the time. It’s unrealistic, so the preamble, even if it’s one segment, is needed.
However, anyone suddenly proclaiming the supposed novelty is wholly buried is looking only at one piece of the larger picture and has failed in their point, or has been waiting for the first shoe to drop before the second one is even off the floor. That isn’t to say one company or the other will definitely edge the other next week or the one thereafter, but the point is how angles and the shows perform long-term depends on how they’re executed and received week to week, and month over month — not singularly.
As a snapshot of the whole, NXT did what it was supposed to do and put on a great show while AEW simply seemed content to slide its hands into its pockets like Orange Cassidy, rather than act like it’s as good as “The Cleaner” believes himself to be.