Planet Kayfabe: The Imaginary War Ends
By: “KC” Paul Matthews
Come home and hang your guns because on March 30 WWE officially announced that NXT would be moving to Tuesday nights starting on April 13, 2021 following Wrestlemania 37. This means the “war” between WWE/NXT and AEW is over… right? Kinda. I mean, “kinda” in the fact that this was never really a “war” to begin with and WWE and NXT are going to continue operations as usual and still be held together with record profits primarily because of their TV deals and AEW, with a fine deal themselves, still have to actually grow their base and establish the company in the minds of the mainstream.
Was this really a “war” though? Don’t get me wrong. AEW “won” in the sense that WWE decided to put NXT head-to-head on TV with them just to try and boot them off the air. Instead AEW kicked NXT’s can in ratings and key demos and the result was AEW 3 short months after their television debut already getting their deal renewed. To me, the “war” was over then. However, I never saw this as a war, the way wrestling fans speak of it, because it was nothing like the famous “Monday Night War” with WWF and WCW. It’s more like for years and perhaps decades now, fans and even younger wrestlers have romanticized that period so much that they wanted it back in any form they could. One main reason fans wanted a war so bad is due to the myth that a war brings out the best in each company and while competition does make you try your best, WWE would also need an actual threat to make them try to put on better shows. TNA went head to head with Raw and at the time WWE seemingly purposely put on terrible shows just to dare you to turn the channel. Now there’s this new company backed by a billionaire family who was even able to lure Chris Jericho away from WWE who once swore he’d never work for anyone other than Vince McMahon in wrestling again. This was enough to at least get WWE’s attention even though there is still no real threat to their business going under like the days of the Monday Night War.
AEW came to be. They wanted to be on Tuesday, even trademarking “Tuesday Night Dynamite” and being put on Wednesday, which was NXT’s night on the WWE Network, but once WWE couldn’t ignore AEW’s buzz at the time they went as far to work a quick deal with USA to get NXT on Wednesday nights two weeks before AEW aired their debut episode and NXT was now also 2 hours long.
This manner of counter-programming and trying to take shots at the other company sure made it feel like the war of old. AEW talent would commonly take shots at WWE in their promos and still do today. Some would even say too much. Despite WWE making an aggressive push to have NXT knock off AEW, AEW debuted with 1.4 million viewers (slightly less than Raw gets today) beating NXT’s 891,000 viewers head-to-head. A great number for AEW’s debut, but as expected, the debut is going to be high and eventually things settle down to where AEW’s high/low viewership would be 900,000/650,000 and NXT’s typical high/low viewership would be 750,000/580,000.
For 74 weeks these two shows went head-to-head with AEW winning 63 of them. There’s no way around it. If you consider it a war, AEW won handily. However, in my opinion, this wasn’t a war as much as it was the 3rd graders at school finally beating the 5th graders at recess only on that day the two tallest kids and the fast kid in the 5th grade were home sick and who was left was barely trying while the 3rd graders acted like it was the Super Bowl just so they could say they won… and sure, they won, but what did they win? A typical “Wednesday Night War” week saw AEW and NXT typically trade off between the same pool of hardcore fans. On a typical week AEW would get about 725,000 viewers. NXT would get like 650,000 and the internet would explode with the fans going to their battle stations either to discredit the ratings and demos or to celebrate the minor victory. The last head-to-head meeting between these shows saw AEW get 700,000 live viewers beating NXT’s 654,000. A year ago on March 25, 2020 AEW had 819,000 viewers and a week later they had 685,000. There has been no real, measurable growth on either side and AEW needs it the most.
Again, I ask, was this really a war? The Monday Night War got its name because two flagship programs from opposing wrestling promotions went head-to-head on the same night. The WWF had major stars leave to WCW and WCW got hot and for a period became the #1 wrestling promotion in the world. Then when the WWF started to get hot, they were able to lure talent away from WCW. In the end only one company was going to survive at that level and it was the WWF.
Fast-forward to 2021 and we have a company in AEW that poses no threat to WWE. WWE is set with their TV deals between NBC Universal, Fox and the blood money propagandists over at the Saudi government. WWE is not going anywhere. AEW is trying to establish their brand and their “war” is against WWE’s developmental show. That’s it. It’s AEW’s flagship program with all their top names and their title holders against WWE’s “C” brand. Their developmental crew that they throw a few guys like Finn Balor on just to give it some appeal to your casual weekly Raw & Smackdown viewer. Again, the best of the 3rd graders giving their best against a scrub 5th grade crew barely even trying because they don’t care that much.
Now the war is over, so what changes? Pretty much nothing. I was told that a “war” would bring out the best in both shows and while AEW started off excellent in my opinion, their 2020 was not great and their 2021 has been okay. That’s still much better than NXT, though. I don’t even know what to say about NXT. To me, NXT is just a show that exists on TV. While sometimes AEW is good and sometimes AEW is bad, at least there is always something to talk about. NXT is just a bland program that comes and goes without a sound. You a get a few good matches. The same WWE-riffic promos every week. The same style of worker. Everyone even kind of looks the same. It’s not the same NXT from the Network that I showered in praise from 2015 to about 2018. Good or bad, at least AEW is making noise. NXT is like the potted plant of televised wrestling shows. You just forget its there and only notice it when its gone.
I feel like Vince McMahon himself took this whole silly war seriously for about the first few months. It’s been a while since a wrestling company has been able to lure away a star like Chris Jericho from him for more money. However, then once AEW got a renewed deal, their numbers didn’t improve beyond a hardcore base of older wrestling fans (younger than WWE, but still, on average, middle aged male fans) and noticed the silly stuff that happens on AEW TV that now he just treats them like TNA. Actually, it seems he takes them even less seriously than TNA now because TNA was never acknowledged by WWE and WWE went years refusing to sign guys who were seen as “TNA guys” and just now we have the announcement that Chris Jericho, who one short year ago was an unspeakable name backstage at WWE, is now on Steve Austin’s “Broken Skull Sessions” talk show on the WWE Network. That right there says how Vince feels about this “war” when the big mainstream name that practically got AEW on cable television is now being promoted for a WWE Network television show.
So, if ya want a war? You got it if you’re willing to convince yourself that. However, in terms of wrestling history this was less like “The Shot Heard Around The World”and more like the dud during Moxley vs Omega.
Thank you again for reading, everyone. In the future, NXT is just going to chug along and be NXT which is their “C” brand and largely a developmental promotion and TakeOver events will largely deliver what you typically expect from them. AEW on the other hand still has a lot of work to do and since they no longer run head-to-head with NXT, the last thing they can afford to do is get lazy and feel as though their work is done. It’s not. They’ve been on television for a year and a half and haven’t grown beyond their hardcore base of die hard fans at all. Bringing in 40, 50 or even 60 something year old big names (or midcarders) from the past isn’t going to help matters either. Just look at TNA and they got a lot of these “old guys” when they were much younger.
As I wrote earlier, I really enjoyed what AEW was doing early on. Sure, there were a few hiccups here and there, but the company looked and felt different. They don’t feel different to me anymore. They feel like TNA who took every WWE name regardless of their age or card placement and gave them a huge debut full of fanfare and an immediate push.
In the Monday Night War, WCW was able to create noise by getting the biggest star in Wrestling, Hulk Hogan. Then they blew up even more when they got Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, who were current top guys in WWF at the time of their WCW debuts. Even TNA got Kurt Angle when he was 38 years old and very much a current star in wrestling. AEW isn’t going to grow with old Attitude Era midcarders and pushing “underutilized” WWE castoffs who have no credibility what so ever. NXT is out of AEW’s hair. Great. Now move forward, feature something young, fresh and different from WWE and actually establish a fan base. Not pander to the same hardcores and try to lure in 40 year old Attitude Era fans who stopped watching over 15 years ago just to pop a rating over 800k one night.
Thanks again for reading. Take care and God bless. For NoDQ, I’m Paul Matthews. Happy Easter.