Expectations have been high for the debut of NXT on the USA Network as WWE attempt to get an early advantage on what’s already being dubbed as the “Wednesday Night Wars” versus AEW’s offering coming in October.
The show was split into an hour on the USA Network and an hour on the WWE Network to make way for the final season of Suits but that didn’t stop NXT from making the most of their exposure to a much broader audience. But was it enough to keep viewers away from a potential WWE competitor and could the show live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
No 1. Contender’s Match for the NXT Women’s Championship: Io Shirai vs Bianca Belair vs Mia Yim vs Candice LeRae
The action started frantically with a fatal four-way match to determine the challenger for Shayna Baszler’s NXT Women’s Championship in two weeks’ time. This match was fast and frenetic with Candice exploding at Shirai right out of the gate, continuing their rivalry since Shirai’s heel turn and assault on LeRae.
Everyone had a chance to show off to the USA Network audience starting with Belair performing a wicked handspring moonsault. As the action continued, Mia Yim hit a suicide dive to the outside followed up by a corner post to outside moonsault from Shirai. They even managed to find time to hit a tower of doom spot with all 4 girls right after the ad break.
But it was Candice LeRae that picked up the victory with an impressive poisonrana followed by a Springboard Moonsault for the pin on Mia Yim. After the match, Baszler and her cronies came down to intimidate the new No.1 contender as LeRae stared them down defiantly.
This was a great showcase for all four women and the speedy breakneck pace is something that is often lacking from most matches audiences see on RAW and SmackDown Live which immediately demonstrated the unique qualities of the NXT brand in WWE.
Sean Maluta vs Cameron Grimes
A match that was shorter than the entrances that came before it, Sean Maluta took a standing double stomp from Cameron Grimes and Grimes won via pinfall in about 10 seconds. Although squash matches can be a good way of showcasing a superstar’s dominance, this really didn’t do much for Grimes and he probably would have been better showcased with an actual match that would have allowed him to demonstrate his wrestling ability and character.
NXT North American Championship match: Velveteen Dream vs Roderick Strong
Roderick Strong finally got his chance to take on Velveteen Dream one on one in a match that’s pacing was marred by too many ad breaks. This was more of a methodical technical showcase that built over time with the fantastic storytelling Dream brings to all his matches.
Velveteen took advantage early showboating and enraging Strong before Strong mounted a comeback with some vicious backbreakers. As Dream tried to mount his comeback, a vicious knee strike from Strong stopped him in his tracks followed by a combination that involved a flurry of forearms, a backbreaker, a tiger bomb and the Stronghold submission but Dream refused to tap.
This brought out the Undisputed Era to ringside whose distraction allowed Strong to use Dream’s body to knock out the referee preventing Dream from getting the pin after a surprise Dream Valley Driver. Sadly, even Dream kicking out of the End of Heartache wasn’t enough as a sneaky superkick to Dream by Adam Cole allowed Strong to hit another End of Heartache for the win becoming the new champion.
This was a fun match from both a storytelling and technical perspective but the all too frequent ad breaks caused the momentum of the match to suffer. The breaks weren’t used at effective moments hampering what should have been a fantastic match from the two and it’s something that NXT will have to get on top of before they go for a full two hours on the USA Network.
Pete Dunne vs Arturo Ruas
Back on WWE Network, Pete Dunne took an Arturo Ruas in a great little match that changed the pace by focusing on strikes and mat wrestling. Ruas and Dunne traded hold for hold in a stalemate before moving into a strike-fest with Dunne coming out with the momentum.
Ruas managed to counter the joint manipulation of Dunne using his martial art style strikes to wear Dunne down and dodge Dunne’s clutch attempts. Dunne regained control after catching a kick and using the chance to try and break Ruas’s exposed toes. Even Ruas’s beautiful German Suplex wasn’t enough to keep Dunne down as he continued his offence before using a finger joint manipulation submission to make Ruas tap out for the win.
This match was short but sweet with both competitor’s style’s meshing perfectly. Ruas does look a little like someone couldn’t decide on an outfit theme for their create-a-wrestler but he has a unique style and flair that is unmistakable, even if he looks little stiff at times. Dunne continues to be an exceptional talent that has clearly outgrown NXT UK and is now being shown on a grander scale.
Xia Li vs Aliyah w/ Vanessa Borne
WWE’s first Chinese female competitor took on Aliyah here in a short match that served to showcase Li. An unfortunate botch on a top rope spot saw some miscommunication between the two but they recovered enough to show off the kick based offence of Li with a wicked Tornado Kick securing her victory. Xia Li controlled the whole match and came out looking strong despite the botch. She’ll likely be a solid addition to the women’s division in NXT.
Denzel Dejournette vs Kushida
Denzel Dejournette entered the ring first here but before Kushida could show up, there was the surprise NXT debut of Imperium along with the Ring General himself, Walter. Imperium demolished Dejournette before Walter cut a promo on bringing back tradition and honour to NXT. Kushida had heard enough though as he came out to let Imperium know this was his time before getting the better of Imperium and Walter with his speedy offence before having to retreat due to the numbers game. Kushida vs Walter is the kind of dream match that NXT has the fortune of being able to offer and will certainly be enough to entice hardcore fans to keep tuning in to NXT at its new home.
No.1 Contender’s Match for the Cruiserweight Championship: Oney Lorcan vs Lio Rush
A returning Lio Rush took on Oney Lorcan here who was unfortunately not sporting his new self-made t-shirt design he revealed on Twitter.
Lorcan nearly managed an early victory with a blockbuster but Rush used his speedy offence to mount a comeback. Rush hit fast strikes and utilised even faster dodges to avoid the clubbing blows of Lorcan but it wasn’t enough to stop Lorcan getting his hands on him and keeping the high flyer grounded. This was truly an underdog story as Lorcan wouldn’t let Rush mount more than a short flurry of offence before bringing him down again.
In the end, Rush managed to overcome the odds with a stunning standing Spanish fly counter followed by frog splash for the win. As fun as Rush was as the hype man for Bobby Lashley, having him back in this position is a breath of fresh air and I can’t wait to see more of him on 205 Live and beyond. This was a star-making performance.
Street Fight: Matt Riddle vs Killian Dane
This was total anarchy from start to finish. Riddle and Dane brawled briefly in the ring and on the outside before manoeuvring their fight to the backstage area and the car park. This disturbed Walter, apparently having an outdoor meeting in between some cars, who began to attack Riddle with the aid of Imperium. And that’s when hell broke loose.
The Street Profits attacked Imperium, the Forgotten Sons attacked the Street Profits and eventually nearly the entire male roster spilt into the arena in an all-out brawl. Attempts by WWE officials to regain control failed and the brawl continued to raucous applause crescendoed with a suicide dive from Dane to everyone left standing.
This was a really fun way to end the night and leaves fans mouth-watering about the potential fallout. The potential idea of NXT UK vs NXT this hinted at would be a perfect fit for Wargames and it leaves the door open to continue the Riddle vs Dane feud.
In summation, this was a solid episode of NXT that managed to showcase the vibrant roster and wrestling styles that mark it as a clear alternative for those who aren’t satisfied with the current direction of WWE’s flagship programming. While the ad breaks on the USA Network will need to be considered more carefully for the different pacing matches NXT usually feature, the matches were great and set things in motion for future stories. Whether this is enough to keep hungry viewers away from AEW is another story, but this was an effective first outing outside the WWE Network bubble.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE