Looking At AEW’s Debut On TNT

A historic night in the history of professional wrestling is in the books and proved why competition in the industry is such a key piece of the puzzle for success.

All Elite Wrestling brought the sport back to TNT for the first time since 2001 after Vince McMahon’s purchase of World Championship Wrestling saw the genre conclude on the network after it was a staple there for years, including the Nitro show that sparked the Monday Night Wars in the late-90s. While these head-to-head broadcasts of AEW and NXT on the same night don’t automatically translate to another ratings battle, it certainly created a fun viewing experience for the audience. More specifically, in an effort to prevent channel surfacing, an aspect that was critical during the Raw and Nitro era, there were a few commercials on both shows that used a split screen so that viewers could still see the action while advertisements ran as well.

The Cody entrance to start the show had the atmosphere of a memorable moment, and if this project truly gets off the ground, the retrospective of Cody’s walk to the ring will be a particularly historic moment. The match against Sammy Guevara looked a little disjointed earlier on, but built well to a good finish of the match. It was a very wise move for AEW to have the Chris Jericho run-in just before the first commercial break of the show and then have it run through to keep the viewers following the attack instead of flipping over to USA. Granted, maybe DVR will limit the effectiveness of the tactics to maintain an audience, but if nothing else, the program that generates the best live numbers might have an edge in the competition on Wednesday nights.

While the “Dynamite” show wasn’t perfect, it was very solid and even though the ratings won’t be listed until later this week, the on-screen presentation looked like a major league product, which is just as, if not more important than the bell-to-bell action on a national level. Obviously, it’s just one television show and only so much can be taken from a small sample size, but it’s at least an indication that All Elite Wrestling won’t be an indy style promotion put on national TV. The guys that look to be focal points going forward were made to look important on the broadcast, and the scripting of the show gave an impression about who the new stars are at the point. For example, Brandon Cutler might get a push in the future, but right now isn’t his time so it makes sense to push MJF with a one-sided victory because that is the athlete that looks to be an important part of the company as a heel in the early stages. I also thought it was a smart choice not to clutter the broadcast with too many intro videos, assuming that viewers would have absolutely no idea who the athletes were. Yes, the entire point of a national show is to gain new fans, but I’ve always thought that generic introduction packages weren’t effective because how many times has something like that really drawn someone into the product? The stories from when someone discovers a promotion is that they saw Roddy Piper on screen or Stone Cold in a memorable segment. A solid show will allow the fans to discover the product organically, which can build an audience as the company tries to make progress in the next few months.

Something that I didn’t think worked was anything involved with Kevin Smith cameo, as Jack Evans rambling came across as awkward mic work, and Private Party didn’t appear as stars, but more as an afterthought in the background. That said, the Page/Pac was a solid bout that brought substance to a lot of the sizzle that surrounded the hype of the debut on TNT. How far Pac or Page go under the AEW banner long term remains to be seen, but it’s undeniable that WWE completely missed the boat on the former Neville. From there, Riho won the women’s championship after a decent match and it was a good decision to have her go over as the first-ever champion because as I mentioned before, the Joshi athletes are a unique commodity to promote and can be used to draw a different demographic than the typical wrestling crowd.

The main event was a quality match and really helped make the impression of what the AEW brand is about on TNT. That said, the more important aspect of this was the angle that was done for it, including the return of Jon Moxley, who missed the All Out pay-per-view as a result of surgery for an injury. Moxley is another recognizable name and he’s still in the prime of his career so not only is it valuable for him to return in time for the TNT debut, but he’s a major asset as a performer as the company tries to establish itself. Jake Hager, the former Jack Swagger made a surprise appearance, appeared to align himself with a heel stable along with Jericho, Santana, Ortiz, and Guevara. At 37, it’s unknown how much Hager brings to the table depending on how long he plans to continue a professional wrestling career, and his style doesn’t necessarily fit into what AEW has presented so far, but that could actually be something useful for him. Since the formation of the promotion was based on fan support, much of the core AEW audience cheers many of the roster. Swagger using a completely different style and beating down some of the fan favorites could get him major heat from the crowd. Booking a heel stable around Jericho also emphasizes him as a centerpiece of the promotion and at the same time, it puts an additional spotlight on Guevara, Santana, and Ortiz. Plus, it sets up for an eventual major five-on-five match in a few months.

The narrative of NXT is already established because of the years of events behind it, but the transition to USA has a new objective for the product. Time will tell how effective the NXT product will be on main stream television, but the move has already yielded a boost for the brand. Adam Cole and Matt Riddle had a standout match for the championship. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Adam Cole has all the skills to be a major star in the business. Finn Balor returned to WWE TV after a brief stint to take time off and the decision to bring him back to NXT as opposed to Raw or Smackdown serves a dual purpose. First, it gives him the chances to be much more successful because the argument could be made that he was continuously underutilized on Raw and won’t get lost in the shuffle of the other brands. It also provides more depth to NXT, something that is very important since the show expanded to two hours for USA. Speaking of adding depth to the roster, Tommaso Ciampa also returned after several months on the sideline from injury. Ciampa was probably always penciled in to be back at NXT, but the Balor move is more or less a direct response to the AEW show on TNT. As mentioned, this entire situation proves the importance of competition of the industry because there hasn’t been this amount of hype around the sport in the past few years.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta