The premiere of AEW Dynamite on TNT has finally come and gone. It’s time for AEW to show if they compete on a week to week basis on national television. How does one debut a wrestling television show? AEW checked all the expected boxes: Hot opening match, showcase your big stars, high profile title match, and surprise entrances. While my personal enthusiasm for AEW waned after attending All Out, Dynamite pulled me back in.
When comparing the first episode of Dynamite to other shows like Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro, AEW seems to have risen above the competition in this aspect. Comparing the product to NXT debuting on USA however, is a different story. It’s hard to compare both shows since they’re trying to appeal to different audiences. Also, with NXT’s stacked roster up and down the locker room, there’s no comparison. AEW produced a solid first episode, but they still have a long way to go.
It was no surprise that AEW Dynamite would outperform NXT in the ratings. Fans were excited to see something new. Fans also got a channel flipping worthy kind of night. NXT came prepared with a few surprises of their own. Leading off with NXT Champion Adam Cole vs Matt Riddle, Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler vs Candice LeRae, an appearance from Finn Baylor, and the biggest return probably in any company: Tomaso Ciampa. I can’t remember the last time feeling the buzz from wrestling. The “pipe bomb promo” into Money in the Bank in 2011 was close but that moment seemed to come and go very quickly. I’m hoping this momentum of the Wednesday night shows continue.
There were many positives for the first episode of Dynamite. I loved seeing the addition of Tony Schiavone to the commentary team. Schiavone has been absent from mainstream wrestling commentary for a long time. What better way to bring him back than have him reunite with his old broadcast partner Jim Ross. The quality of matches was top notch. I saw a diverse opinion on Twitter of which match was their favorite. Mine was the opening match in Cody vs Sammy Guevara. I saw Sammy wrestle Darby Alin at AAW (Chicago independent wrestling promotion) early in the year and never thought he would get the opening match to debut a company but both guys delivered.
Dynamite had its fair share of surprises with an appearance from Jon Moxley. Who would slam Kenny Omega through a glass table. Jake Hager, formerly Jack Swagger in WWE, made his surprise debut at the end of Dynamite. I was never fond of Hager’s work in WWE but the same could be said about Moxley. The roster in AEW is finally to starting to take shape. The women’s division is still a work in progress, however. Riho vs Nayla Rose for the AEW women’s championship was better than expected. When you compare this women’s division to WWE’s though, they got a long way to go.
Dynamite was far from a perfect show. There were some awkward transitions to ad breaks, occasional sloppy ring work, and inconsistent refereeing. All these can be perfected as the show goes along. AEW has only produced one-off pay per view like shows where they didn’t have to adhere to the obligations of TNT. I saw some criticism of the lack of storytelling on the show as well. Dynamite was heavily stacked with matches. I thought the show would start off with a promo. That’s how ubiquitous the WWE has become over the years. Raw and Smackdown have conditioned wrestling fans to start the show off with a talking segment. I thought AEW made the right move here and I hope they continue to look for ways to differentiate from the norm.
Whichever promotion you favor, this was undoubtedly an exciting week for wrestling fans. Smackdown also happened to debut on Fox with a big rating. My hope is that each company learned from past mistakes and will not depend on cheap tactics to pop ratings. Money talks though so we could see knee-jerk decisions that hopefully won’t hurt the product. The “Wednesday Night War” will never reach the height of the late ‘90s. I’m hoping to see new fans enter the fold. AEW has made effort to advertise outside the wrestling landscape. Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, sat front row at Dynamite. AEW World Champion Chris Jericho made an appearance at the New York Rangers home opener. Several members from AEW including Jericho were at the New York Comic Con. Again, like everything else (booking, high energy crowds, high ratings) can this all be sustained long term?
I think the first episode of Dynamite will be looked at fondly years down the road. Whether or not Jack Hager has a good run in AEW, the groundwork has been set. When looking back at first episodes of Nitro and Raw, both of those shows were lacking. That might have more to do with the changing of the business at the time. Both started as one hour shows and didn’t captivate the fans off the bat. Lex Luger in a puffy shirt at the Mall of America isn’t going to put butts in seats. AEW Dynamite knows what it wants to be. Owner of AEW, Tony Khan, is a lifelong wrestling fan and has manifested his vision successfully so far. The best touch of Dynamite was displaying a wrestler’s win/loss record next to their name graphic. These are the details AEW will need to continue to innovate.
Overall, I’m excited for weekly episodic wrestling programming for the first time since probably 1999. NXT being on USA is huge as well. Ciampa was my favorite wrestler when he was healthy. My attention from NXT dipped drastically with his neck injury. AEW has Luchasaurus who was absent from television. He was on a dark match which will be posted to AEW’s YouTube. The success of AEW depends on the ability to build new stars. Guys like Luchasaurus and MJF have the potential for a high ceiling but as seen in past wrestling wars, it all depends with the wrestlers on top already.