It has now been one year since AEW Dynamite and NXT kicked off Wednesday Night Wrestling and to celebrate the Wrestling Headlines Super Powers, resident AEW mark, me, Sir Sam, and long time NXT reviewer JCool, collide with a look at the top five matches from each TV show’s first year on the air. For the first week, we will be taking on NXT and make sure you check back in next week for AEW Dynamite’s top five.
Sam: Great to have you here as my guide JCool. Believe it or not, I haven’t actually watched any NXT since the Wednesday Night Wars kicked off so I’m coming in completely blind.
JCool: That’s alright, Sam. You’re in for a real treat. After following the brand for the past 5 years, I am comfortable saying you will find something to like in nXt. The style and presentation of wrestling matches will be quite familiar to you, since both brands share a focus on athletically impressive matches, old school booking, and emphasis on building up new stars from the low or mid-card to the main event.
Before we get to the top five, here is my Honourable Mentions Watchlist:
#1 Contender for the nXt Women’s Championship Battle Royal (15.1.20),
Cruiserweight Champ #1 Contender: Lio Rush vs. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. Tyler Breeze (15.1.20),
MMA Cage: Timothy Thatcher vs. Matt Riddle (27.5.20),
NA Champ: Keith Lee [c] vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Finn Balor (24.6.20)
Alright, Sam, let’s get’r done. The Top 5 nXt TV matches of their first year on the USA Network are next.
5. Roderick Strong [c] vs. Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic
nXt North American Championship (23.10.19)
JCool: To anyone who has followed the Cool Points for the past year, you know how much love I have for Keith Lee. This triple threat match is essential viewing for Lee’s road to the nXt Championship because it’s often the losses that make a man great. The chemistry between him and Dijakovic was already known by this point, but Strong hadn’t faced either man. So, it was interesting watching him try and defend his title against two much bigger men.
Turns out it was one of Strong’s last big singles matches before he’d drop down to more of a supporting role again in the Undisputed Era. It was also a preface to the WarGames match a month later that would see both Lee and Dijakovic (along with Ciampa and the visiting Kevin Owens) claim a victory over Strong and the UE. Gotta appreciate the story-building in this one.
Sam: My goodness this match was a contrast in sizes. I couldn’t help but laugh when Roddy Strong tried to shoulder block Keith Lee and got completely planted, it was an entirely predictable spot but absolutely hilarious.
I will say I was wondering why you picked this one up until we hit the final stretch. When Lee hit the Tower of Doom Spirit Bomb, that nearly didn’t work, it completely changed the match for me. I love when moves don’t hit quite as planned and look a little dirty and this one immediately added a level of danger to this match, ratcheting up the intensity and the performers seemed to feed off that with increased desperation.
The ending was exactly what the story of the match called for: a tour de force for Keith Lee who he pretty much beat up both men single-handedly but was outsmarted by the cannier operator in Roddie Strong. Really fun triple threat.
4. Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews & Flash Morgan Webster
First Round- Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (15.1.20)
JCool: Redbull/ High Octane. Turbo Tag Team Wrestling. This is how you want your annual tag tournament to begin.
Riddle & Dunne complement each other well in this one, demonstrating a willingness to work together and an offense that even stopped Andrews and Webster’s high-flying ways. Plenty of near falls and incredible timing of aerial assaults. At one point, Andrews gets caught trying to get around Dunne in the ring, feigning left and right, until Dunne just clocks him in the face. Andrews flies backwards and breaks the pinfall attempt of Riddle on Webster.
The nXt UK stars, Andrews & Webster, were well-received by the Full Sail fans, and Riddle & Dunne were already willing to pose with one another to celebrate the win. The match is under 15 minutes, too, since it was 1 of 4 first round matches taking place on the same show. Very digestible tag match. Pairs well with its AEW counterparts on these lists.
Sam: So JCool I have to ask, did you intentionally pick something from the Dusty Rhodes Classic just to rub the Rhodes thing in my face? I’m not sure I’m in endeared or enraged by it, to be honest.
Still, this match is absolutely fantastic pro wrestling, fast and furious from the gun, with neither team relenting for a second to even catch their breath. I was reminded when his music hit that Pete Dunne is one of the guys I’ve missed most since I stopped watching WWE and this pairing with Matt Riddle was inspired, they are very different characters but both possess bucket loads of X-Factor. I was nowhere near as familiar with their opponents, the commentators tried to talk them up as a duo but I just could not buy them beating the team of two undeniable stars. Also is it just me or does Flash Morgan Webster constantly look to be just a hair’s breadth away from landing directly on his head whenever he leaves his feet?
Jokes aside this was a very fun match to catch up on, I absolutely loved how Riddle and Dunne tried to blend their individual moves into tag team moves, almost gave me Omega and Hangman vibes in that way. Their X-Ploder into a Powerbomb was probably the highlight of that and the way Dunne nailed Mark Andrews off Andrews’ Shooting Star Press was gnarly. Really great tag team match here even if the result felt inevitable from the start.
3.Adam Cole [c] vs. Matt Riddle, nXt Championship
Debut match of 2hr nXt on USA (2.10.20)
JCool: If you’re trying to make a good first impression, bringing out your promotion’s champion and most loved tough guy is an A level decision. At this time, Riddle’s momentum was rising fast and a match against Adam Cole (Bay-bay) could have been slotted into the main event at TakeOver. As it was, though, they packed more entertainment into a shorter match time in front of a typically hot Full Sail crowd.
It bears mentioning how much I respect Adam Cole for fighting many of his championship matches without the help of his Undisputed Era brothers. For a guy who is supposed to be on the baddie side of things, the fact that he prefers to handle things on his own makes him not a complete jerk of a heel wrestler.
Riddle got plenty of crisp offense in on Cole in this bout, and the two superstars wrestled at a very engaging pace. Plenty of high moments in this one and Riddle came oh so very close to defeating the champ, but didn’t, and I’d say that was the right call. Sometimes, a win by the skin of your teeth riles up fans even further in wanting to see a guy lose. Cole plays that role very well.
Sam: So this is how NXT kicked off the Wednesday Night War, with a huge championship match. I had forgotten just how hard WWE came out swinging on Wednesday nights, at the time I don’t think they could have gone much bigger than this. I will say that WWE production does not let down and the introductions to this match have a big match feel.
Overall it was an interesting blend between smart psychology and the classic American Indy styles of moves on moves on moves on moves on moves on moves. Given it’s where both men came from that is to be expected. I also know now where the Canadian Destroyer Apocalypse we are living through got started too!
That said, I did really enjoy the psychology of this match, Matt Riddle was by far the stronger and more skillful of the two but Cole just had the smarts to pull the right move at the right time to keep himself in things. That dynamic fed fantastically into the finish with Cole surviving Riddle’s submission attempts and hitting a perfectly time shot with his arm cast to turn the tide and set up his own finisher.
All in all this match was a pretty fantastic way for NXT to kick off its side of this Wednesday Night Wrestling rivalry.
2. Shayna Baszler [c] vs. Rhea Ripley
nXt Women’s Championship (18.12.19)
JCool: Shayna Baszler stood atop the nXt Women’s Division for over a year with no real threat of losing. Yep. She did lose the title briefly to Kairi Sane, but it wasn’t a passing of the torch moment. It was merely a chance victory by a worthy opponent. Baszler faced talent like Nikki Cross, Dakota Kai, Io Shirai, and Bianca Belair, and all eventually tapped out to the Kirifuda Clutch.
And then, nXt brought over some of their top talent from nXt UK, namely Rhea Ripley. Ripley had the skill, look, ring presence and promo chops to match Baszler and be a believable threat to her reign as nXt Women’s Champion. Their teams even faced off for the inaugural Women’s WarGames match. This match, a week before Christmas, was an early present for nXt fans and, really, all fans of women’s wrestling.
Ripley wins in convincing fashion in a highly competitive match. She pins Baszler at the midpoint of the match, but the referee had been incapacitated and couldn’t make the count. Full Sail fans counted to 5, very much in Ripley’s corner. She also struggled through the Kirifuda Clutch for easily 3-4 minutes before grabbing the referee’s shirt, shaking her head and insisting she was not going to give up. RAGE! A true high point for the nXt Women’s Division in 2019/2020.
Sam: Can I get an Aussie, Aussie, Aussie in the house?
Man this was fun to see, I remember how for a few months Rhea Ripley was undoubtedly the hottest commodity in women’s wrestling and the WWE really needs to be applauded as to how well they timed her ascension to NXT Champion. A lot of the praise has to go to Baszler too, she was the perfect heel champion and the way the crowd explodes throughout this match is exactly why you build up strong heels like Baszler.
Throughout this match Shayna shows how much of a master of psychology and body language she is, acting intimidating but also backing up in fear when Ripley showed how much of a strength and power advantage she had. Baszler’s elbow stomp always looks nasty and the champ’s constant targeting of Ripley’s arm in this match was as predictable as it was effective at building tension.
As obnoxious as I can find the Full Sail crowd, I have to give them a huge wrap for how they helped elevate the final moments of this match. From the moment Rhea kicks out of the chair shot aided false finish onwards, they absolutely raise the roof in support. They ride the roller coaster of emotions so well in the submission and then having them flooding the ring really create the feel of a fairytale ending.
Adam Cole [c] vs. Keith Lee [NAc]
Champion vs. Champion, Great American Bash on TV (8.7.20)
JCool: The journey of Keith Lee to claiming nXt Championship gold certainly began when Lee decided pro wrestling would be his career. My buy-in on Lee began when he and Dominik Dijakovic resumed their agile giant feud in 2019. I anted up in the fall when Lee secured a key spot on Tommaso Ciampa’s team at WarGames. Then, the WWE Universe felt the electricity of Keith Lee going face to face with Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble earlier this year.
Dude is a superstar and once Adam Cole’s feud with Johnny Gargano finally wrapped up, the next logical choice for a #1 contender was North American Champion Keith Lee. I’m so glad they went the route of the Champ vs. Champ. It is a rare courtesy given to only the best of the best and an nXt first, seeing Cole vs Lee fight for both championships.
The empty arena matches are not ideal and a match of this magnitude misses the usual sold-out Full Sail audience, but hearing how hard-hitting and fired up both champions were was a treat. As Sam says, the jaw jacking, especially from Cole, was notable in enhancing the rivalry of the match. Even Lee gets in on it, channelling his inner Ivan Drago, “I must break him” around the ten-minute mark.
The turning point in this match is Cole managing to hit Lee with the Panama Sunrise. It is the beginning of the final onslaught of the champ, ending with the error of going for a second Panama Sunrise. That leads to Lee making history and the timing of his victory, amidst the heightened racial injustices in the United States, should not be overlooked either. A glorious moment for pro wrestling.
Sam: Ah yes, the night the WWE decided to counter-program AEW with a rebadged version of Cody’s Dad’s own PPV. I’m not bitter.
Interesting that this was the only Empty Arena Era match on the list for you JCool. It was a shame that a match of such incredible significance was robbed of a hot NXT crowd, it has been one thing NXT’s presentation has always benefited from. Aside from that this is a very worthy number one match for the list as both men work their boots off to make it special.
I love how they lean so heavily into the obvious size dynamic, Cole comes across as the technician who is taking a thousand strokes to fell a giant tree while doing everything he can to avoid the potential match swinging blows from Lee. Even his jaw jacking throughout the match is clearly to try and force Lee into a reckless mistake. When it is Lee’s time on offence it is immensely satisfying, the fella just knows how to hold himself as a beast and make his offence look completely devastating.
This was a fantastic match that would have been a fitting TakeOver Main Event but was instead put on TV for free and I for one am very happy I got to watch it.
That wraps it up for this week, what were your favourite NXT matches in the first year of Wednesday Night Wrestling? Let us know in the comments below or you can find us on Twitter @JCoolWH and @Sir_Samuel.
Make sure you check back next week for the top AEW matches of the Wednesday Night Wars.