NXT ON USA HITS & MISSES 1/22: Strong vs. Keith Lee for North American Title, Balor vs. Wilde, Storm vs. Shirai, Baszler vs. Blackhart, Iija Dragunov vignette, Kelly interviews Baszler, Dusty Tournament

By Nate Lindberg, PWTorch contributor

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•DUSTY CLASSIC SEMI-FINAL – Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish) vs. Grizzled Young Veterans (Zach Gibson & James Drake) – HIT : Before the match began, Adam Cole rushed the announce table and told Mauro that he knew Imperium was here and that they know where to find The Undisputed Era. Great touch to start the night off to further the feud between the two factions. This match was just as good as you would expect when seeing these two team names on paper. Both teams split the ring isolating their opponent from their partner when on the offensive and told a great story before the interference from Imperium. I had a feeling that we might see a bit of a screwy finish here, especially after Cole’s challenge to Imperium at the top of the match. It was probably the cleanest way to get out of it. You don’t really want the tag champs going all the way in the Classic, I’d think you would want to use the tournament to elevate another team. The finish, though predictable, allowed for the GYV to advance in the tournament and added more fuel to the rivalry between U.E. and Imperium. Win, win.

•Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai – HIT : If you were a casual fan or a fan tuning in for the first time, I would be willing to bet you’d think that Storm was the heel and Shirai the face. Toni pulled out some heel moves to start the match, like reaching for a handshake and slapping Shirai’s hand away. Then right after, slapping Shirai in the face three or four times during a flurry otherwise legal strikes. Not to mention the fact that the crowd was solidly behind Shirai and rather quiet for Storm. I think could be a slight issue for Shirai going forward if she remains heel (which she should because as I keep saying, Heel Io is the best Io). She is just so entertaining, and her move-set still suits her former babyface persona with the moonsaults, handsprings and other high-flying moves. The Full Sail crowd adores Shirai. It may be hard to find a babyface who the crowd will cheer over Shirai at this point in time. All of that said, I enjoyed this match. There were a few lulls in the noise level of the arena when Storm went on the offensive where it was painfully obvious that she didn’t have the crowd. Still, the action was solid and for what it was, it was an enjoyable watch. Bianca’s interference was great. She had an intensity when attacking both Storm and Shirai, it really showed me how far she has come since I first saw her a couple years ago. Ripley entered the fray, and before you know it all four women were brawling. Toni Storm stood tall and held Rhea’s championship high in the air. I was surprised at the amount of boo’s that moment garnered. Perhaps the subtle heel tendencies from Storm and the subtle face tendencies from Shirai in this match foreshadows a potential double turn? Doubtful, especially since Shirai so recently turned heel. But, if it happens, then forget everything I said after “potential double turn”. I knew it all along.

•Ilja Dragunov Vignette – HIT: A response to Finn Balor’s vignette last week. What a great video package to further introduce Ilja to the audience. This is probably the match I’m looking forward to most this Saturday.

•Finn Balor vs. Joaquin Wilde – HIT: I haven’t seen a large body of work from Wilde, but the first thing I noticed right off the bat – I hate his facials while selling. Wide open mouth at every bump, punch or chop. I don’t know why, but it was so distracting to me. Regardless, it was obvious that this was going to be a squash match for Balor the second we saw who his opponent was. With the match against Dragunov at Worlds Collide, a quick and decisive win for Balor puts him over strong going into the match. It was fine for what it was, I’d say I’m agnostic on it. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. Another night, I might give it a miss. But I’m in a good mood, so hey. Hit it is.

•Cathy Kelly interviews Bazsler – HIT: Cathy asked Shayna about Shotzi Blackheart and how she eliminated Shayna in last weeks’ battle royal. Shayna cut a scathing promo about how Shotzi didn’t make a statement last week, she ended her career before it even started. She said that she will reclaim her gold from Rhea and that she’d go through every woman on the roster to make that happen. I think this was one of the finer promos that I’ve seen from Shayna. It came off believable and far less forced than most.

•Shayna Bazsler vs. Shotzi Blackheart – HIT: After Shayna’s elimination last week, I spent more time than I care to admit trying to fantasy book where I thought Shotzi may fit within the women’s division. On Tuesday, Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell put on a rare afternoon live call-in show for the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast, and I called in to get their thoughts on the matter. Like me, neither Wade or Bruce had seen a large body of work from Blackheart. But from what they have seen and heard about her in other promotions, we all agreed that she could potentially pull off an upper mid-card to main event level act. She has a unique look, unique presence and really seems to be at home inside the ropes.  We were also in agreement that we’d have to see how they booked Shotzi going forward to have a clearer picture. This match was that clearer picture. Shayna’s entire gimmick is that she is this MMA fightin’, submission expert. Shotzi countered or escaped from multiple submissions that Shayna attempted to lock in throughout the match. That’s saying something right there. Not just anyone counters Baszler.  Shayna may have gotten the win with the Kirafuta Clutch, but not after Shotzi but up one hell of a fight to escape. The message that this match sent to me was this: Shotzi Blackheart isn’t going to break out into the main event scene just yet. But they potentially see big things for her in the future.

•Teagan Nox vs. Dakota Kai Video Package – HIT: The NXT Production staff just keeps pumping these spectacular video packages out. A brilliant recap of their entire story told in about 60 seconds. Last week, we noticed that Dakota Kai was in the graphics for the battle royal but she wasn’t in the match proper (she interfered and cost Nox the match). They addressed that here by saying that when Nox saw her image in the graphics for the match, she knew she had to enter and make sure Kai wasn’t victorious. If they had this in mind all along, kudos to them. If they made a production mistake and then actually tried to fix that small little detail by making it a story, also kudos to them.

•DUSTY CLASSIC SEMI FINAL – The Broserweights (Pete Dunne & Matt Riddle) vs. Imperium (Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel) – HIT: Riddle’s braids. Yes or no? Let me know in the comments. I’m not sure if I’m sold on them or not. What I am sold on, however, is this Riddle/Dunne pairing. For a duo that’s only teamed twice now (on TV anyway, not sure about live shows) they look like they’ve been teaming for years. On paper, I didn’t know how that team would play out. In practice, I love it. Before the match began, I expected some sort of shenanigans from Undisputed Era to cost Imperium the match. An eye for an eye, so to speak. However, the Broserweights didn’t need the help. They took Imperium to town. As Dunne and Riddle walked past the giant Dusty Classic trophy on stage, the Grizzled Young Vets emerged from the back. All four men in the Classic final face to face. Gibson cut an impressive promo on both his future opponents and the crowd. Riddle, in his “bro” glory, said, and I’m paraphrasing “So… I don’t really know what you said just now.” Referring to Gibson’s thick accent. “But I heard manipulating a joint and started daydreaming, bro.” The crowd started chanting “Riddle’s gonna smoke you!” Such an entertaining segment. Right after the match, a graphic aired showing that the finals would air next week on NXT. I’m kind of surprised that this match isn’t going to be on Worlds Collide considering its an NXT UK team against an NXT US team. But, then again, in kayfabe this match would have been slotted in advance and the teams would be filled in later once the winners were determined. They wouldn’t have known it would definitively have been one team from each roster.

•Keith Lee vs. Roderick Strong for the NXT North American Championship: – This was the match that I’d been waiting for all week. Partly because I wanted to see Lee capture his first championship. And partly because I think the outcome of this match may shed some insight into Lee’s potential role at the Royal Rumble this Sunday. If Lee lost, I thought his odds of either winning the rumble or having an interaction with Lesnar goes up. If he won, I thought those odds would go down. It would be a little strange to see him win an NXT Championship, and then go on to win the Rumble to challenge for a main roster title. An interaction with Brock maybe, but not the winner. I don’t trust Vince to properly book that in a way that wouldn’t belittle NXT and the North American title anyway. The match itself was executed very well as far as I’m concerned. Lee’s strength was on display time and time again making him look like the beast that he is. I must give Lee credit for his selling here. Mid match he looked like his gas tank was running on empty, selling the idea that the longer the match goes the odds begin to favor the smaller and more fit, Strong. Then just as you think he might be down and out, he kicked out of a pin attempt at one, hulked up and hurled Strong out of the ring and on to the Tag Champions. A great comeback. Strong obtained the upper hand again, prolonging the story of this match. But inevitably, Lee took out the other three members of U.E., and as we predicted on PWT Talks NXT, Keith Lee walks away with the prettiest belt in NXT. If he has a strong run with that title, then he can wait a year to win the Rumble and make his way to Raw or Smackdown. And that’s fine by me, I selfishly want to see him stay on the Black and Gold brand forever.

RECOMMENDED: 1/22 NXT ON USA REPORT: Wells’s report on Lee vs. Strong for the North American Championship, Fish & O’Reilly vs. Grizzled Young Veterans, Riddle & Dunne vs. Imperium

2 Comments on NXT ON USA HITS & MISSES 1/22: Strong vs. Keith Lee for North American Title, Balor vs. Wilde, Storm vs. Shirai, Baszler vs. Blackhart, Iija Dragunov vignette, Kelly interviews Baszler, Dusty Tournament

  1. Stardom turned Io heel too. Fans continued to cheer her as she turned on and beat down her former tag team partner, the fan favorite Mayu Iwatani. Io always gets cheered.

  2. What made you think Lee was ever going to win the Rumble even if he had lost there is no way he was winning… Maybe he eliminates Brock and sets up a match at WM but that’s it because outside of the NXT fanboys nobody really knows who he is and they wouldn’t let an unknown win the Rumble… Also we don’t need a rambling recap of the match in it’s entirety or the results there are other places for that how about just giving your opinion without putting me to sleep while I read it

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