NXT and AEW went toe to toe for the past year and a half in the quest for brand supremacy in what wrestling fans labelled the ‘Wednesday Night Wars.’
WWE’s NXT brand was a show for the fans who loved the indie scene of wrestling and who were also tired of the outdated main roster style of wrestling. The developmental brand which was formed by Triple H brought in talent around the world and started off as a minor one hour weekly show. However, NXT became a major show as the PPV’s were always excellent and were clearly better than what the main roster had to offer.
As time progressed, NXT became even more popular and the PPV’s got better and better and better each and every time. I believe NXT peaked from 2018-2019, where we had world class talent such as Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Matt Riddle, Ember Moon, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and so much more wrestling week in week out raising the standard for American wrestling. However, during this period, at the start of 2019 the announcement of a new brand named AEW shocked the wrestling world.
Created by Tony Khan, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and more, AEW was set to be the show that turned the wrestling world on its head. It would bring in world class independent talent, new faces that the wrestling world would grow to love and legends who saw AEW as the future of American wrestling In May 2019, news broke that AEW would air Wednesdays on TNT, the same network WWE’s former rivals WCW aired on in the late 90s and early 00s.
This showed intent from AEW. To challenge the hottest show in wrestling was a bold move from Khan and co. WWE clearly felt pressure from this as a month after AEW’s debut on TNT, they moved NXT from an exclusive WWE Network show to the USA Network and changed the show from one hour to two mirroring AEW in an attempt to keep their audience from switching to the new kid on the block.
I believe this is where the downfall began. NXT would lose the ratings war 90% of the time which would cause them to go above and beyond to try and beat AEW. They would put PPV level matches on free TV and they’d have stars such as Charlotte Flair and Finn Balor return to NXT to bring in more fans. Even in 2019 at Survivor Series, NXT was added to the PPV and won Survivor Series, which was a method used to draw the casual fans into watching the show on Wednesday nights.
But this didn’t change much, people just wanted something new to watch, something that wasn’t WWE branded, so even though NXT were putting on these 4 and 5 star matches weekly, people would rather tune in to watch another regular wrestling show.
In desperation NXT through everything at AEW, having a pointless winner takes all title vs title match with Keith Lee and Adam Cole. The likes of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Bayley would also come down to NXT for periods of time to pop a simple rating.
I think the desperation to be better than AEW really ruined NXT because all the big matches we could’ve possibly had were created thoughtlessly in an attempt to beat AEW. Just think about how many times we saw Lee vs Dijakovic. Also a lot of this talent made their moves to the main roster and the group of talented wrestlers that replaced them, aren’t at the level of those prior, so the quality of shows and matches weren’t/aren’t as high as they were from 2018-19. It’s not that the shows are bad, they just aren’t at the impeccable standard they were a few years back.
Whereas AEW still has space to grow and improve, we haven’t seen AEW really peak yet because they haven’t been around for long enough yet. Obviously with the virus we haven’t had many PPV’s with crowds so we haven’t seen their full potential yet but we’ve had awesome glimpses. I’m certain that when full crowds are allowed in we’ll see 5 star PPV’s from AEW as the show continues to raise the level as they’re bringing in talented wrestlers constantly as wrestlers would rather join them than WWE.
NXT did make the right move by switching to Tuesdays though, I’m sure the gap between the shows would’ve increased even more as fans would’ve noticed all the factors that I’ve mentioned. Nevertheless, I’m certain if WWE didn’t try to kill AEW, and they stuck with what made NXT popular in the first place, NXT would be a much more popular show than it is now.
NXT isn’t dead but it’s definitely on the decline and AEW continues to rise. The Wednesday Night Wars were fun while they lasted.