Connect with us
NXT

Pro Wrestling

‘TakeOver XXX’ showed why NXT is losing the war against AEW

NXT has all the tools to create magic, but is overlooking one crucial element: characters we can get invested in.

NXT: TakeOver XXX showed the wrestling world exactly why AEW is absolutely dominating the “Wednesday Night Wars.”

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

By most every measure, TakeOver XXX, like nearly every TakeOver before it, was phenomenal. The wrestling was excellent. Every match was entertaining, presented a well-crafted story, and progressed the storyline of every participant. The production and set design was something to remember. Even the music and the ambiance of the event was something to behold, a rarity in this “pandemic era” we are all suffering through.

So, what is my complaint? I don’t f*cking know anyone!

Now, I don’t mean that literally — I watch NXT religiously. I rarely miss an episode and will typically watch it during its first-live run on television and yet, I don’t really know anyone. Let me dissect this for you as I look at each match from last night and compare it to what was happening on AEW Dynamite at the same time. 

Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher

An aspiring wrestler can learn a great deal from this match. Both wrestlers presented a verifiable clinic in chain wrestling, story progression, and psychology as two seasoned, world-travelled veterans showed everyone in the wrestling world how to settle a grudge. Flash and panache gave way to grit and grime as both men sought to tear tendons from the limbs from each other. It was a great opener, but as I watched Finn Balor trip up Thatcher with a surprisingly beautiful drop toe hold, I realized I have no idea who Finn is.

Describe Finn Balor to me without using the words or phrases, “Irish,” “great abs,” “helped train Becky Lynch,” “awesome in Japan,” or “wears body paint sometimes.” He’s been on WWE television since summer of 2015. This should be easy, and yet we don’t know who he is or what his motivations are. All we get from him currently are snide promos insulting his opponents and him looking at the camera while making gun motions and grimacing as if he was clenching to stop himself from defecating. He refers himself as “The Prince”, but the prince of what? What’s his goal here besides trying to be “cool”?

AEW, meanwhile, is running with a slow-burn Kenny Omega heel turn. Omega, like Balor, is seen as an artist in the ring, both have very similar niches in the fan base, and are very similar in terms of style and character in that they choose to lean on their physical prowess vs. promo work to get the job done. So to get this heel turn in, Omega is simply acting more aggressively in the ring. After winning a match last night against the Dark Order, Omega sought to injure one of the members of the opposing team with a power bomb on an opened steel chair, only to be stopped by The Young Bucks. It was a small, simple moment, but effective in getting the point across that Kenny is feeling the pull of the dark side. In seconds, they accomplished more character work with Omega than Balor has in the past few months.

Damian Priest vs. Bronson Reed vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream  – Ladder Match for the NXT North American Championship

This was one of the smoothest and well thought-out ladder matches I’ve seen recently. Every spot was meticulously planned, every character got a chance to shine, and every wrestler came out stronger on the other side of this match as they crowned a new champion in Damian Priest. Really, it was a great match from a spectacle standpoint, but I ask you again: describe Damian Priest to me. Hell, describe any one of these six men to me.

Johnny Gargano has been around since 2016, he should be the easiest. But, what can you tell me besides he’s a great technical wrestler? What do you know about him besides he’s married to Candice LeRae? This recent heel turn is clearly an effort to refresh the character, but even with that, we have been given very, very little about what makes this man tick. He had a series of vignettes that featured him and his wife having dinner and vaguely discussing something along the lines of NXT not being what it should be in a Seth Rollins Monday Night Messiah sort of way, but even that has fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. Gargano is just kind of doing stuff. 

But instead of using ladders, AEW is using mimosas. Chris Jericho is feuding with Orange Cassidy and challenged him to a “Mimosa Mayhem” match, the angle being that Jericho has his own brand of champagne and Orange Cassidy likes orange juice. Thus, the loser will be dunked into a giant pool of Mimosa. This is so stupid but effective in the context of the feud and the characters — even more effective than five men risking serious injury with a bunch of ladders.

Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee

Why the f*ck was Adam Cole selling for Pat McAfee? Adam Cole was an excellent NXT Champion for over a year. They built the entire show around him and the Undisputed Era, and there was never a dull moment. The audience was never bored or turned off by the character due to over-exposure, and he even handed the ball off to Keith Lee in a star making moment. Adam Cole, truly, will prove to be a foundation that WWE can rest upon going forward.

So why, oh why, was Adam Cole getting a beating from Pat McAfee fair and square?

Pat McAfee, for context, was a good football player in the NFL. He played for the Colts between 2009-2017 and was a reliable, effective punter for the team, but his moment of relevance came when he accidentally posted a nearly nude picture of Andrew Luck, the team’s quarterback. He’s not a celebrity that would garner them any attention, nor did he, and he’s not a combat sport athlete ala Mike Tyson, Cain Velasquez, Tyson Fury, or Floyd Mayweather in that their ability to give a professional wrestler a “fight” would be plausible. 

The storyline, furthermore, was about how McAfee wouldn’t shut up about how small Adam Cole is and doubted his ability to be a fixture in the company going forward. So instead of allowing Cole to give McAfee a trouncing to shut up his critics and doubters, the two had a back-and-forth match and, considering McAfee was in his first match, proved McAfee right. 

I really don’t take wrestling seriously and I believe that good writing can create an effective scenario for anything. But last night, a wrestler in their first match took one of their top guys to the limit. Why?

There was no AEW equivalent for this last night, but look at how they used Mike Tyson back in May. Mike Tyson, controversy aside, is a legend in boxing and a household name. Everyone knows who Mike Tyson is, and back in May they had him do a face off with Chris Jericho. BUT THAT’S IT. No one sold for anyone, it was just a pull apart that generated more buzz and attention that this did. Not to mention, AEW’s top star didn’t look weak.

Io Shirai vs. Dakota Kai – NXT Women’s Championship

This match is a contrast to everything else happening around it, and the exception to my issues with NXT. Dakota Kai is the strongest character on the NXT women’s roster. She turned heel back in November after being cited as weak and unworthy, has been a ruthless villain ever since, and has clear motivations for her actions and why she wants to be NXT Women’s Champion. Her presentation with Raquel González is excellent, her in-ring prowess is something to behold, and her matches, as a result, are can’t-miss affairs. 

The same is true for Io Shirai. Io has a rare, Rey Mysterio-like athletic charisma as she is able to affect her character via her actual wrestling, and has the luxury of the NXT production team that consistently produces uniquely sinister promos for her character. The match was excellent as a result. 

It’s very simple. Present your characters. State their motivations. Then have the match. It was great. I don’t have anything else to say besides everyone else in NXT should take note.

This is a distinct advantage NXT has over AEW. The women’s division in AEW still needs work and coincidentally had to rely on an outside talent, Thunder Rosa, to challenge their current champion Hikaru Shida this weekend. The match should be excellent, but it goes to show that AEW still has work to do in regards to their women’s division.

Karrion Cross vs. Keith Lee – NXT Championship

There is no greater representation of NXT’s identity crisis than Karrion Kross. Kross’s presentation is tremendous: His entrance with Scarlett and the fire is amazing. His psychology and moveset give his matches a verifiable menace. He’s a can’t-miss prospect for the brand, but through all of his talk of doomsday and ominous calamity, WWE has given us nothing to latch onto with the character. 

Who is he? Where does he come from? Why is he like this? Does he want to end NXT? Does he want to end wrestling? Does he just want things to end? What are we falling and praying for? So many questions that I’m still not sure I want answers for. Putting Karrion Kross over was a great decision last night and it was a well fought bout, but they have to give us something to latch onto with Karrion. 

Coincidentally, the Dark Order got a much-needed shot of adrenaline last night on Dynamite. That group, like Kross, was conceived to be a dark-side type angle that is cut from the cloth of ghoulish macabre but until last night, was disappointing. To rectify that, they had the group’s leader — Mr. Brodie Lee — absolutely wreck Cody Rhodes, wreck Cody’s whole family, and had Brodie simply say into the camera, “you made me, by holding me back” or something across those lines. In one quick segment, they changed the entire fate of a group that has been fledgling since AEW’s inception. How? By giving them a motivation to go along with all their trimmings. 

NXT, as recently as last November, was WWE’s best product because they had the best characters. They still produce a wonderful product and still have the talent and infrastructure to produce a wonderful product, but now, they need to look inwards. They need to look at their characters and determine who is who and why and how and present that to their audience to win back their support.

Otherwise, they will continue to lose to some guy with his hands in his pockets. 


Do you love wrestling? Do you have strong opinions on AEW, WWE, NJPW, Impact, ROH, and the independent scene? Do you like to write about wrestling? Then we want you on our team. AIPT is currently recruiting wrestling writers. Apply to write for AIPT today!

Comments

In Case You Missed It

'The Amazing Spider-Man' #50 review 'The Amazing Spider-Man' #50 review

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ #50 review

Comic Books

'X Of Swords Handbook' #1 review 'X Of Swords Handbook' #1 review

‘X Of Swords Handbook’ #1 review

Comic Books

'New Mutants' #13 review 'New Mutants' #13 review

‘New Mutants’ #13 review

Comic Books

'Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn' #1 review 'Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn' #1 review

‘Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn’ #1 review

Comic Books

Connect
Newsletter Signup