February featured one company putting the final touches on a PPV build, while the other planted seeds for its eventual WrestleMania weekend showcase. Not to sound like a broken record, but this month was a lot like last month, except the focus of the two shows is flipped. Last month AEW had Revolution still a bit on the horizon, while NXT had a Takeover in its immediate future.
This month it’s AEW trying to close the deal on a PPV. Revolution is the first PPV to have a full TV cycle devoted to it; Full Gear came out only a month after Dynamite began airing on TNT. We’ve had three full months to work ourselves toward this show and the result has been tremendous. There was a lot of talk about whether a limited PPV schedule is sustainable in the modern (short-attention-span) era. In response, AEW has put on two consecutive months of outstanding television, building the hype for the PPV so that it peaks right now, during game week. Well done.
Did NXT offer compelling enough counter-programming to ward off AEW from winning the monthly war twice in a row?
WINNER: advantage AEW
A couple of things stood out this month, both in AEW’s favor.
First was the excellent camera work during the Cody/MJF “ten lashes” segment. I can’t imagine a WWE production being so restrained. The deliberate, invisible, camera work allowed the soap opera drama to be the star; there was no getting sucked out of the moment to say “geez what idiot is controlling the camera?”
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The second was the company’s first-ever cage match. The look was similar to the modern “mesh” style, but with some tweaks to improve the overall design. You really have to watch the match—Cody vs Wardlow—twice to appreciate it fully; the first time you watch is to focus on the match (which was stellar), while the second time lets you focus on how the match was laid out, shot, escalated and concluded. AEW’s secret sauce so far has been their hesitance to go crazy with their camera/edits. Hopefully that trend continues because it was the deciding factor for their winning this particular battle in February.
WINNER: advantage AEW
Occasionally, NXT can sound louder, but Full Sail can’t escape the fact that it’s a tiny venue holding only a few hundred people. No matter how loud the fans get, they still sound like a small crowd in a small arena. That said, if AEW had larger crowds that were dead and bored the nod would go to the Black and Yellow show.
That’s just not happening.
AEW’s fanbase brings it every week. They’re not selling out every show like they did in their first month, but good placement, strategic blocking and camera angles, and loud (loud!) audiences make up the difference and put them over the top once again this month.
WINNER: advantage AEW
NXT’s best match of the month, in terms of ring work, storyline, crowd-heat, and stakes, was their last match of the month: Charlotte vs Bianca, with the runner-up being the big NA Title triple threat. Other than that, the month was…kinda tired? The show has lost a bit of steam and this was the first month since their move to USA where the statement “they can’t keep doing mini-Takeovers every week” finally caught up to them.
AEW, on the other hand, has been criticized for being too deliberate with their weekly cards; they were pacing themselves too much last year. This year they’ve got their groove. The Jericho Cruise was a special episode in January that made for a special-feeling show and this month we had a mini-PPV in Atlanta, highlighted by Cody vs Wardlow in a cage and the Young Bucks winning the Tag Title #1 Contendership. The final episode of the month opened with a thirty-minute IRON MAN match between Kenny Omega and Pac and it was easily the best match in the show’s short history. AEW has been on fire since the new year and this month was even better than last.
WINNER: advantage NXT
NXT brought back Charlotte to challenge for the NXT Women’s Championship in a move that has much bigger implications than the previous jump from Finn Balor back to Wednesday nights. Like Charlotte, Balor was a dominant champ on the yellow show, but unlike Flair, he never reached (and stayed) at the top of the mountain on the main-roster (sans a one-night run as Universal Champ). Going back to Wednesday nights for him was like a medium fish going back to a small bowl.
Charlotte, however, has been a too many-time women’s champ, WrestleMania main-eventer, and just won the Royal Rumble. She’s a dominating, protected, and well-favored superstar; her going back to NXT is the biggest surprise of the month, hands down. I doubt she hangs around after Mania, but until then, when she’s on the show it’s like when Brock Lesnar comes to Raw.
WINNER OF THE MONTH:
There’s a clear winner in February and it’s not even close.
AEW has hit its groove and until that changes, it’s going to be hard to change the channel on Wednesday nights. Here’s to March, to the Revolution fallout, and to the final push for the biggest wrestling weekend of the year.