Hi everyone and welcome to Joe Raczka’s first review of NXT for SteelChair Mag. I’ve been watching NXT since TakeOver: [R]-Evolution and I’m excited to be a guide through the world of 2-hour live developmental action. Especially if they keep giving us fun group hangs with Kassius Ohno and Isaiah Scott giving Malcolm Bivens shit. Anyway, it’s a great show we’ve got to talk about so let’s just do it, yeah?
NXT Championship: Matt Riddle vs Adam Cole (c)
This was a perfect way to open the show. I know this was motivated by trying to keep those Dynamite switchers away but equally, this was one hell of a way to make a statement that WWE might need to pull out the big guns to compete with the shiny new toy, but my god do they have some guns to pull out. This was probably the best singles match Adam Cole has had in NXT as it delivered on storytelling payoff set in place of Riddle being worn down by week-upon-week fighting big Fuzzy-Wuzzy (remember when Full Sail would chant that?) Killian Dain week-upon-week and how Cole was suffering the effects of trying to get in Riddle’s face last week. As well as this, they did the necessary amount of cool stuff and kicking out of ridiculous things to annoy a certain James Cornetto.
Riddle is arguably the smoothest and best big match wrestler in America today, everything he does he brings with him an intensity that makes it feel it important and this helped here as who would really believe that the big Gold one would change hands on TV, let alone in the first match of the show? But it’s to the two men’s credit that they really sold every rally by Riddle as if he could pull it off with a third act application of the Bromission seated twister sending the crowd bonkers in the belief that he was about to pull it off. And I can’t talk enough about how he turned an attempt at a destroyer into a Bro to Sleep, powerbomb, seated knee strike, twisting moonsault combo. Though I’m only going to say this once because otherwise, you’ll all be bored of hearing it, the thing that let this match down is Cole continues to work face. Nothing about his performance here said vicious heel champ, it was all too much that PWG style of both men just throwing shit at each other sometimes to make me boo Cole as if the fact that I was rooting for Riddle was enough to make him the villain. Anyway, otherwise superb stuff and a hell of a start to an episode. Cole retained with the Last Shot exposed knee shining wizard.
Winner: Adam Cole
Post-match: Finn Balor returns. “As of now, Finn Balor is NXT.” Not sure how I feel about the buzzcut. I’m sure I’ll get used to it though.
We get a LeRae vs Baszler package
And we get The Velveteen Dream experience. He really is the only wrestler who can get away with a sofa covered in Women. He makes thinly-veiled queer references and calls out Strong for a rematch, one-on-one
Next week: Cruiserweight Championship match: Lio Rush vs Drew Gulak
Io Shirai vs Mia Yim
This was a more-than-solid encounter with Shirai continuing to dominate appropriately since her turn to the dark side and Yim holding her own against arguably the best in the world. The finish never really felt disputed as Yim does seem to have slipped down the rankings since losing her NXT title shot but the fact that she’s still getting number one contender’s matches and 15 minute TV singles do suggest a strong level of support for her. Even if she did take the pin in both. While Io is doing great work selling her new character, not surprising for anyone who’s seen her STARDOM work, the crowd does tend to ruin Shirai and Undisputed Era matches by cheering for the villain. We get it, you think you’re cool by cheering for the villain. Piss off and cheer into your Schadenfreude flag, the best way to support them is to boo them. It’s proving they’re doing their job right. Anyway, Io won with a beautiful and terrifying Moonsault. The speed at which she flew and the proximity her head was to the floor was terrifying.
Winner: Io Shirai
The Outsiders are in the crowd
Street Profits & Bianca BelAir make an entrance
We get a Tegan Nox video package. Boy, am I excited for LeRae, Nox and Dakota Kai on the same brand.
Johnny Gargano vs Shane Thorne
This was fine. Johnny gave Thorne a good showcase but it never seemed like Thorne would win. The win could really benefit him more as he’s just at the start of his solo run really but you know what, for what it was, it was good. This felt more like a way of getting Gargano on the show than really a great match. Johnny won with the Slingshot DDT. The best thing about this match was Mansoor’s impression of Mauro Ranallo over on Watch Along.
Winner: Johnny Gargano
Next week: WALTER vs KUSHIDA. Inject that sh*t straight into my veins
NXT Women’s Championship: Candice LeRae vs Shayna Baszler (c)
Match of the show. This was up there with Baszler’s matches with Ember Moon, Kairi Sane or Io Shirai as the best of Baszler’s run. While it was possibly a few steps below LeRae’s incredible encounter with Shirai at the last TakeOver event, it was arguably a much cleaner David vs Goliath dynamic allowing for almost complete crowd support for the tough cupcake LeRae. While I didn’t need the Gargano-Thorne match before this, it did serve well thematically with this to show how LeRae has really come out of the shadow of just being booked as ‘Johnny’s Wife’ and really shown us the LeRae that captured the PWG Tag-Team titles with Joey Ryan, that she’s the LeRae who took on everyone and usually got beaten but was still standing after. The thing is and this is very simply why I preferred this match, they made me fully believe Baszler was in trouble and I have to give some credit to Baszler for that. She has that Okada style of being both dominant and also making every contest she’s involved in feel like it could be the one to take her out. Where Cole and Riddle worked hard to try and overcome disbelief, this just created belief. The last few minutes of this can be weighed up against any WWE action from the year in terms of tension. You can say it goes against the spirit of the development system that I’m talking about the brilliance of two women with 30 year’s combat sports/entertainment between them but you know what, I don’t care, this was ace. Baszler retained with the Kirufuda Clutch.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
Pete Dunne vs Danny Burch
Give Peter five minutes of wrestling and he will give you a masterpiece. What makes wrestlers like Dunne and Burch so good is that they can work your main event epics and they can work your upper-midcard sprints just as well. This was another one clearly designed as a highlight for Peter but it really did the job while keeping Burch looking competitive enough that he lost very little in defeat. Dunne won with the Bitter End pump-handle flatliner.
Winner: Pete Dunne
Post-match: The lights went out and Damian Priest appeared hitting a twisting DDT onto Dunne. That sure is some punishment inflicted. Wink wink.
Adam Cole is interviewed backstage, he psyches up his buddies for their big title match.
NXT Tag-Team Championship: Street Profits vs Undisputed Era (c)
They really gave this main event the full TakeOver treatment complete with a video package and special entrance from Wale. He wasn’t the best special guest performer of NXT history but he got the crowd going which was useful as the crowd was starting to flag as we get close to the end of the second hour. Also, O’Reilly air-guitared back in which is always fun. The match itself was good, the Profits red-and-gold gear was great, it just never felt that different in style to the other two tag title matches we’ve seen these teams have in the last two months. They work exceptionally well together, it was perhaps just a case of the frequent WWE problem of putting the same match rematched too often in proximity. That said, what this trio of matches has really shown is that Street Profits are a fully-fledged team now, not just a vehicle to get Montez Ford over but Angelo Dawkins has finally found his niché. Don’t get me wrong, one day King Tez is going to break out and be the biggest damn star on any roster but Dawkins is no slouch, moments like him pouncing one-half of the tag champs into the other were very well done. Overall, this was good but the finish with Roddy distracting allowing for the champs to hit High/Low on Ford to retain felt cheap, especially when we’d seen two previous heel champs retain without using distraction tactics. If this was a send-off for the Profits, it did its job, it still made them look very good but as a match, it did not quite compare to their TakeOver work.
Winner: Undisputed Era
Post-match: Strong and Cole come to pose with all their titles till Cole is interrupted by a returning Tommaso Ciampa who got a massive response from the NXT faithful. Adam Cole vs Finn Balor vs Tommaso Ciampa, if that isn’t the stuff title match dreams are made of, nothing is.
This was a great introduction to the black-and-yellow brand for anyone looking to familiarise themselves with the new addition to the USA Wednesday line-up. And the Women’s division really stepped up putting on two great matches. If this is how the first shots fired of the Wednesday Night Wars look, then I’m excited to see where the battle goes from here. Especially as next week is WALTER vs KUSHIDA. Beyond thrilling.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE