You know what was cool about the Monday Night Wars? It forced WCW and the then-WWF to get creative.
Sure, both companies did their fair share of mudslinging, If you watched a live Nitro against a taped Raw, you know Bischoff and Schiavone are going out there to spout spoilers; on the other hand, Raw was just regularly trashing Billionaire Ted and all of the old geezers who were “stinking up” WCW’s main event scene. And even fans were bringing “McMahon Fears Bischoff/Nitro Fears Ratings” signs and stuff like that. There were certainly moments of taunting or even pure malice from either side.
But then we got the McMahon vs Austin saga, the early days of the nWo, Mankind’s championship win, Goldberg’s championship win. Gone were the days of the Dungeon of Doom and King Mabel. Now it was time for the People’s Champion Rock and Crow Sting.
It’s been decades since two companies were just giving it their all to try and grab the American television audience and were taken seriously (sorry, TNA), and while All Elite Wrestling isn’t about to take over WWE as a household name in the next few years (if ever), it’s clear that WWE is at least seeing them as something of a threat.
WWE isn’t just using their third brand or the indie they bought to mess with AEW anymore.
WWE is putting on pretty good television.
SmackDown has been lauded as WWE’s A-show for a long while now both in terms of creativity and star power. Roman Reigns is the biggest star in wrestling, plus people LIKE him (now that they’re not supposed to). SmackDown’s mid- and upper-card roster is full of fan favorites with all walks of the audience, from Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura to Edge and (I swear I’m not joking) Baron Corbin. And, after SummerSlam, SmackDown was also home to probably the next two biggest stars after Roman, Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch.
And, for their part, AEW has been putting on bangers as well. Ever since going back on the road, AEW’s been far less likely to put on “meh” shows, often giving the live crowd — and, by extension, the audience at home — tons of stuff to latch onto. While you can point at consistent features like the rise of Hangman Page and the furthering storylines of AEW’s “four pillars,” it’s clear that a huge part of the company’s appeal right now lies with its newest signees: Ruby Soho (who’s given the women’s division a boost), Adam Cole (who’s added a new wrinkle to the Elite), Bryan Danielson (who has been a wrestling machine), and CM Punk (who is CM Punk).
When separate, both companies are already putting on great TV shows. But last week, when it was announced that SmackDown was going 30 minutes longer and overlapping with 30 minutes of AEW TV — the first time this has ever happened with AEW and one of WWE’s true main roster brands — things got kicked straight to the next level.
WWE, without mentioning any sort of competition or anything, announced that the final half hour of SmackDown would feature a singles match between Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, plus Brock Lesnar was returning.
AEW’s Tony Khan — ABSOLUTELY mentioning the competition — restated that CM Punk would be opening AEW Rampage, Junior Dos Santos was in the main event, and he added a live Buy-In special on YouTube featuring a Bryan Danielson match.
WWE announced that their final 30 minutes of SmackDown were going to air commercial free, promoted a Tag Team Championship street fight, booked Finn Balor vs Sami Zayn for a King of the Ring match, and opened the show with an Edge promo.
AEW announced that CM Punk vs Matt Sydal was now going to go commercial free against SmackDown as well, plus Bryan Danielson’s Buy-In match was against MINORU SUZUKI. And, just for the heck of it, the Buy-In women’s match of Santana Garrett vs Tay Conti was a tongue-and-cheek gesture as those same women wrestled in the first NXT segment to ever beat Dynamite head-to-head.
I don’t know about you guys, but I have no financial stake in WWE or AEW. The financial wins and losses that either company eats don’t affect me, so as nifty of a fact as they might be, my enjoyment of the shows doesn’t hinge on AEW or WWE winning the ratings for that night. I’m not on their social media team, so I’m not sweating the number and frequency of tweets that either show gets “hashtagged” into.
I just like good wrestling.
And BOY does it feel like both companies are trying to give us good wrestling.
The funny thing is the creative kick that both companies are on right now did not stop at 10:30 p.m. on October 15, 2021. I can always sit down and enjoy SmackDown and Rampage because they’re “turn your brain off” shows. I’m exhausted on Friday nights, and as long as it’s not absolute garbage, I can walk away from either show being pretty satisfied.
But AEW Dynamite? The show that I watch with a fairly critical lens because it’s the show I (try to) review weekly? That show on Saturday was absolutely cracking. Maybe it’s just the fact that a rowdy little Miami crowd was going nuts for a regular episode of AEW Dynamite, but Miro’s promo, Hangman’s promo, the SuperKliq vs the Dark Order — that whole show ruled, and I feel like it was extra spicy because the AEW guys were still fired up after a week of questionable Tony Khan tweets.
I’m not saying you have to like both shows. I’m not saying you’re wrong for being interested in TV ratings. I’m not even saying you have to like both shows going on at once, as it’s already hard trying to watch one show at 10 on a Friday, but TWO while one of them is on my PHONE? Yeah, I’m good, too.
But I am saying that these two companies being so “petty” that they would dare put a little more stank into their TV products is a wholly good thing. And, if WWE ever wants to put on another show where Io Shirai fights Asuka and Stone Cold returns while AEW retaliates with Bryan Danielson vs Will Ospreay and Frank Mir teaming up with the Pinnacle, I know one wrestling columnist who will not be complaining.
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