The Wednesday Night War between NXT and AEW will soon be upon us.
Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter reports that NXT will debut on USA on September 18. The show will directly compete with AEW on TNT in the 8 PM to 10 PM time slot.
What this means for both promotions is yet to be seen. One fact that isn’t in dispute is that wrestling fans will see head-to-head competition between two wrestling juggernauts for the first time in almost 20 years.
(And no, TNA’s disastrous run on Monday nights doesn’t count.)
Let’s take a look at who stands to benefit and why as pro wrestling fans await the first shots in the Wednesday Night Wars.
WWE Strikes First
Speaking of first shots.
As noted, the Observer reported that NXT will premiere on September 18 on USA with its new two-hour format.
The September debut assures WWE’s black-and-gold brand will get a two-week head-start in the Wednesday Night War.
Much of AEW’s game plan has centered around disgruntled fans who have tired of the old and familiar product they perceive WWE to be. But there’s something to be said for being established. And there’s a lot more to be said for being established and getting to the front lines first.
If there are casual fans who aren’t familiar with either NXT or AEW, NXT’s September bow gives those fans a chance to check out NXT first. And more importantly, it gives WWE two weeks to influence fans to develop their viewing habits.
After all, why check out TNT when you already know the show you like is on USA?
AEW Announced First
All Elite Wrestling may not be the first show to make the air in the Wednesday Night War, but they were the first to announce their foothold.
The company announced earlier this summer that they had a TV deal with WarnerMedia. And all of the venues for AEW’s first month on the air are already booked. Not to mention sold out. AEW’s October 2 live debut from Washington, DC sold out in minutes. Subsequent shows booked for Boston and Philadelphia also sold out.
All Elite has also announced dates in Pittsburgh and Charleston, SC.
Granted, ticket sales and viewership are two very, very different things. But AEW has one thing that money absolutely can’t buy.
The hype for AEW has been through the roof, long before there was even the concept of a Wednesday Night War. NXT is a beloved brand among WWE fans, but AEW has captured the imagination of the wrestling world in general.
Fans know what to expect from NXT. But AEW has been building a giant audience since its announcement. That audience is full of fans who can’t wait for it to succeed. But it’s also piqued the interest of fans who are just on the lookout for a trainwreck.
Consider also that AEW has already guaranteed a world championship match for its television debut.
NXT on USA is a continuation of an already-established product. It might take a couple weeks longer to see AEW, but their TNT debut will be a launching pad. And that makes for can’t-miss television.
WWE — Spread Too Thin?
We mentioned above that WWE is making it to the front lines first with NXT. Indeed, NXT has been on Wednesday nights on the WWE Network for a long time already.
But is WWE spreading itself too thin in its escalation of the Wednesday Night War?
A traveling schedule isn’t established for NXT yet. But if they’re going to attempt to compete at a national level on a national cable network, one has to assume they won’t be staying at Full Sail University forever.
If there’s going to be a Wednesday Night War, you can bet that Vince McMahon will scramble for every available dollar out there, including ticket sales.
But much of NXT’s staff of producers and agents are also coaches at the WWE Performance Center. And given Triple H’s involvement with the main roster, it isn’t certain if he’ll devote all of his time to NXT or if he’ll now be split between all three brands.
And when all WWE brands start touring nationally, that’ll be a big work load. Presumably, the appointment of Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to run Raw and Smackdown, respectively, was an accidental bit of foresight on WWE’s part.
Having said that, WWE is dangerously close to flirting with one of the trigger’s to WCW’s downfall almost 20 years ago.
Bischoff has said a number of times, including in his biography, that the mandate to produce WCW Thunder on Thursdays was a catalyst to WCW’s collapse. The roster, agents, producers, and creative staff were overtaxed and spread far too thin.
WWE is a force of nature within the wrestling business, and there’s not much they aren’t equipped to do. But the Wednesday Night War could be a major test of how far Vince McMahon’s considerable resources can reach.
AEW — Too Familiar?
A lot has been said about AEW being an upstart. The new kids on the block, the rebels, the revolutionaries.
And that isn’t without merit.
Having said that, look at the top of AEW’s roster. Chris Jericho, Cody, Jon Moxley. To say nothing of the voice of the company being the voice of wrestling, Jim Ross.
It’s by no means the talent theft that WCW engaged in during the Monday Night Wars. But when wrestling audiences tune in to the Wednesday Night War and see faces they recognize two weeks after NXT’s debut, what will be the impact?
Presumably, NXT’s premiere on USA is meant to introduce fans who are tired of the familiar to something new. For all intents and purposes, NXT is WWE’s homegrown Indy territory. Its fans enjoy it, in part, because it is presented as this niche product that your friends probably haven’t heard of.
If that’s the audience NXT is looking for and manages to capture, the familiar faces on top of AEW could potentially be a turn-off.
At the end of the day, the Wednesday Night War is going to be as unpredictable as its Monday night predecessor.
Both companies have tons of factors in their favor. And they each have more than their share of detriments to overcome.
One way or another, the biggest test is for wrestling fans to answer. Can the recall button on your remote handle the back-and-forth channel-flipping it could twenty years ago?
Let the Wednesday Night War begin.
NXT currently airs on the WWE Network on Wednesdays at 7 PM ET. It premieres on USA on September 18 at 8 PM ET.
AEW is set to debut on TNT on October 2 live from Washington, DC, at 8 PM ET.
All images courtesy of WWE and AEW.