NXT HITS & MISSES 12/25: Austin Theory challenges Roderick Strong for NXT N.A. Title, Arturo Ruas vignette, Rush & Keith Lee vs. Priest & Nese, Belair vs. Blackheart, Reed vs. Dijakovic

By Nate Lindberg, PWTorch contributor

Keith Lee and Lio Rush (photo courtesy WWE.com)


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a heck of a 2020 to everyone!

Roderick Strong North American Title Open Challenge – HIT: The show was kicked off with a pants wearing Pat McAfee, Cathy Kelly, and the last professional broadcaster Sam Roberts in a clearly green-screen stage hyping the show. They said that Mauro and Nigel are at Full Sail and Tom Philips and Beth Phoenix will come to us from Brooklyn at the Barclay Center. Roddy then issued an open challenge, putting the N.A. Title on the line. Former Evolve Champion, Austin Theory answered the challenge and this match was under way! I’d only ever seen Theory in action once before, and after watching this match I must go back and find more. I was very impressed with how crisp, clean and natural Theory looks in the ring and he has one of the most majestic dropkicks I’ve seen in recent memory. Seeing as how I haven’t really followed Evolve, I appreciated Nigel giving some backstory to this match saying that Austin Theory started his 11 month Evolve Championship reign defeating Fabian Aichner and Roddy himself in a triple threat. Going into this show, I knew that it was going to be a night of great action with little story progression and this match played right into that. A fantastic technical match between these two men, but we all knew that Roddy would be walking away with the gold. Still, a very entertaining 20-ish minutes.

Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. “Gentleman” Jack Gallagher – HIT: As we were told earlier in the night, Beth Phoenix and Tom Philips were going to be calling matches emanating from the Barclays Center, filmed presumably before SmackDown this week. Every time we see Swerve in action, I seemingly can’t gush enough about the talent and charisma of the man and this time is no different. This was filmed in front of a non-NXT crowd and most likely before the arena had filled up for SmackDown explaining why the crowd was so quiet. Even with those two variables against them, they still managed to somewhat hook the crowd as the match went on.  Admittedly, I think that the length of the match played against them. There was a lot of mat wrestling throughout that really slowed the match down. Personally, I’m totally fine with it. But, for a crowd that probably doesn’t care very much about the match being presented, I was a bit surprised it wasn’t a shorter and more explosive to try and real the non-NXT fans in attendance in even more.

Candace LaRae vs. Taynara HIT: Back at Full Sail, Nigel and Mauro were ringside for this match. I’ve been waiting to see Taynara in action again after the rather lackluster showing against Santana Garrett about a month ago. I wasn’t sure if Taynara or Garrett was to blame, or if they just didn’t have chemistry with one another. Garrett redeemed herself in her match last week and I was curious to see if Taynara would do the same against a veteran like LaRae. The first commercial break is when this question was seemingly answered for me. Taynara had the upper hand for the entirety of the commercial break, shown in split screen. She looked a lot more in control of her body and her opponent than during the Garrett match which was a relief for me. I’m rooting for Taynara, so glad to see her in a much cleaner and crisper showing tonight. Still a little green, sure. But light years ahead of what I saw a month ago. Not only did Taynara’s offense look good, but she put LaRae over and looked like an old-pro in doing so. I hate to add a caveat, but considering this match was pre-taped, its possible it was edited together to look better, so I still look forward to Taynara’s next live match.

Vignette for Arturo Ruas – HIT: Hats off to NXT for their video packages showcasing talent in recent weeks. This was yet another excellent vignette promoting an up and coming star, Ruas, while highlighting his backstory about growing up in a war-torn country and how it turned him into a martial arts champion.

Bronson Reed vs. Dominik Dijakovic – HIT: A little strange on paper where both of these wrestlers have been positioned as faces in recent weeks. Back at the Barclays Center, these two powerhouses squared off! A bit hard to predict who would go over here. Dijakovic, to me, seemed to need the win more than Reed. Even though Dijak has rubbed elbows with all of the main event talent in NXT, he still doesn’t feel like a main eventer himself. Reed is still being built up to be a threat, so losing to Reed could definitely define Dijakovic down. But, by the same token a win over Dijakovic would elevate Reed. Inevitably, the more logical choice of a Dijakovic win is what we got! Dijakovic did seem to play a bit more of a heel role here, which I was also a fan of. I think Bronson Reed, especially at this point in his run, is a great mid to upper card face.

Bianca Belair vs. Shotzi Blackheart – HIT: Back at Full Sail, Shotzi Blackheart made her NXT TV Debut against Bianca Belair. Admittedly, Blackheart had been on my radar but outside of seeing a few clips online here and there, this was my introduction to her and wow I was not disappointed. Going into this match, I had a good feeling that it was going to be a showcase win for Bianca. But that was one heck of a debut for Shotzi Blackheart and I was very impressed with what I saw out of her. She seems to already be pretty polished as a performer and once we learn more about her as time goes on, I can see her being a mid to upper card player in the NXT Women’s division.

Keith Lee & Lio Rush vs. Tony Nese & Damian Priest – HIT: Both teams were seemingly just smushed together for no reason, but this match worked better than I expected. Last week when this match was announced we, on PWT Talks NXT, were a little unsure of how this would play out. It didn’t occur to any of us that two mismatched teams on a pre-taped show would be doing a comedy match but they pulled it off well. They kept the silliness to a minimum, nothing like you’d expect to see in a main roster comedy match. Where Priest leaned face during last weeks episode, I feel like any progress for a full blown face turn was undone this week, but that was just about the only casualty. Tony Nese, as talented as he is, is a mid-card player at best with the way that he’s been booked. I felt like the only reason he was in the match was to eat the pin. Lio Rush and Keith Lee were an incredibly fun tag team and I hope we see more out of this pairing going forward. Granted, I would rather see Lee in the NXT Championship scene, but I’d settle for a Rush/Lee Dusty Classic showing as a consolation prize.

RECOMMENDED: 12/25 NXT ON USA REPORT: Wells’s report on taped show featuring Roderick Strong Open Challenge, Lee & Rush vs. Priest & Nese

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