Wrestling Night in America Reunion: PWTorch columnist Greg Parks is joined by former PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill for a full match-by-match preview of WrestleMania 36
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app or CLICK HERE to subscribe in Apple Podcasts.)
Preshow, Mia Yim vs. Kay Lee Ray – MISS: I think that this is where this match probably belonged. Going into the match, it was relatively devoid of heat. Mia Yim and Kay Lee Ray have had a few interactions over the last couple months, but nothing that really boiled over to the point of making me really want to see this match. Subpar booking aside, the match was okay. It seemed to me like their timing may have been off in a few spots and in others the match looked somewhat rehearsed. There were two pin attempts where Mia Yim pinned KLR after sitout powerbombs. KLR kicked out of both so easily, it barely looked like Mia Yim was holding her to the mat. The crowd wasn’t into it, I wasn’t quite into it… It wasn’t the greatest way to kick off this dual brand PPV, in my opinion.
Finn Balor vs. Ilja Dragunov – HIT: I’ve been writing this column for several months now and I very rarely pre-fill a “Hit” or a “Miss” before the match even begins. This was the match I had been most anticipating going into the show and I knew that I had a better chance of finding out that I won the lottery while simultaneously getting hit by lightning than it being a stinker. What a fantastic match to kick of the show proper. I am a very new Dragunov fan, really only introduced to him a couple of weeks ago. However, I’ve seen a large body of work from Finn, in and outside of WWE. Balor is an incredible talent that almost always makes his opponent look one notch better than they actually are, and from what I have seem from Ilja thus far he seems to be as well. This match was what you get when you combine two of those talents. They elevate each other to incredible heights.
Cathy Kelly interviews Grizzled Young Vets and the Broserweights – HIT: Cathy Kelly, ringside, introduced GYV who were sitting front row watching the action. Gibson cut another fantastic promo ripping on the Broserweights and the Texas crowd. Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne play so well off of each other with their differing personalities, when they had their turn on the mic I was sucked right in. Riddle also revealed, as he was told today, that the winners of the Classic will get a Tag Title Opportunity. Though he didn’t specify which Tag Titles, NXT or NXT UK. Perhaps the winner can choose? We’ll find out Wednesday, I’m sure.
NXT Cruiserweight Championship – Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. Jordan Devlin vs. Travis Banks vs. Angel Garza – HIT : Earlier in the week on social media, Garza was given a new NXT Cruiserweight title belt and I could not be happier. Now that this is officially branded an NXT title, the gawdy purple strap had to go. The NXT brands have started to change my opinion of multi-man/woman matches. If you’ve read my columns in the past or listen to the PWT Torch Thursday Dailycast, PWT Talks NXT, you’ll know that historically I’m not a fan. Lately, I seem to be enjoying nearly every multi-person match I’ve seen. This was no exception. All four men are amazing talents, and as I said about Finn and Ilja raising each other to exceptional heights, so did they.
The match was fast paced from start to finish, kept the crowd on the edge of their seats if not on their feet, and kept everybody involved in the action just about throughout the entirety of the match. I don’t know which competitor I was most impressed with, truthfully. Which his high praise for all four men. They were all so uniquely good, I don’t think a single person outshined another. Which may not always work well. If everybody is amazing, then nobody is. However, I don’t feel like that was the case here. I feel like this match really made each and every wrestler shine. Selfishly, I wanted to see my man, Swerve, win the gold. That said, the only outcome I would have scoffed at would have been a non-finish. Well done, gentlemen. Well done.
DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano) vs. Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) – HIT : I’d been wondering if Gargano and Ciampa would come out separately or as a unified team. I was glad to hear the ol’ DIY music once again. It was at this point in the night where I realized how stacked of a card this show really had. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to Worlds Collide, but its been booked to seem like a glorified house show, not a co-branded special. To a casual fan, most of the names on this card may not mean much. To myself and to you (if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re more of a seasoned fan) these names mean so much more. This match may not be for everybody, I will admit. But, I absolutely adored it.
There were a lot of goofy spots throughout, but that should be expected with these two teams. Sure, Gargano and Ciampa have been much more serious as of late. But this was a fun reversion to the DIY of old. Face vs. Face matches can be difficult to pull off, and boy did they. This was a match to see which fan favorite team was the better team in a purely physical contest. No shenanigans. No interference. Just some excellent wrasslin’ and plenty of crowd pleasing spots. I think I would have liked to have seen Moustache Mountain get the win considering they are a team a bit more consistently and this seems like it may be a one off for DIY. But, DIY was one of my favorite tag teams in recent memory so I can’t be too upset. Besides, Ciampa and Gargano are two of the top singles guys in NXT. In a match without interference or shenanigans, it makes sense for two former NXT champions to go over here.
Dakota just wanted to watch the show! – HIT : After DIY vs Moustache Mountain, Mercedes Martinez was shown in the crowd as a few other NXT stars had also been around throughout the night. Dakota Kai was shown next, when all of a sudden, Teagan Nox came out of nowhere and attacked Kai. They knocked over a barrier and the fight spilled ringside as Nox continued to viciously attack her former best friend. Security ended up breaking it up as the crowd chanted “let them fight!”. Though I should have expected it, I didn’t at all. When she got attacked, I almost thought it was a fan attacking Kai. Great little 60-90 second spot to add fuel to their supposed match this Wednesday.
Rhea Ripley [c] vs. Toni Storm for the NXT Championship – 60% HIT : Earlier in the week, in a decision that I mostly agree with, the news circulated around the internet that the gender identifier would be dropped from women’s titles in NXT. I’m all for it, I think it adds a level of equality to the divisions. I do think having the men’s and women’s titles with the same names can be a little confusing, but we’ll either get used to it over time or they’ll find a better way to do it, I’m sure. Now, to the match. As I have said numerous times as of late, Rhea Ripley has become my favorite female competitor in all of WWE. I think the placement on the card hurt this match a little. The crowd was so electric, and rightfully so, for DIY and MM that I think they may have been coming down from that high during this bout. The crowd was much more subdued for this bout than I had imagined. Though, the usually rowdy Full Sail crowd was also relatively flat for Storm’s last match. I’m “borrowing” the Percentage Hit from J.R. Harris’ NWA Powerrr Hits & Misses column for this entry. It wasn’t a bad match. But it wasn’t all that great either. I think because Bianca was named the next contender for Rhea’s belt before this match took place, it really telegraphed that Ripley was going to retain. Plus, I would hope that they would book her to retain this close to her win anyway. It wasn’t deserving of a miss, but it wasn’t deserving of a complete hit either.
Undisputed Era vs. Imperium – HIT : I have really been digging this feud between U.E. and Imperium. Over the past five or six weeks they’ve done a great job building the feud and telling their story. Going into the match, Imperium still did not seem like they were quite the threat to bring down the Undisputed Era. In their prior interactions, U.E. still seemed to best and outsmart Imperium a couple more times than Imperium outsmarted them.
About five or so minutes into the match, Alexander Wolfe took a dual kick from Fish and Strong, Strong kicking him in the back of the head and Fish in the face. It looked like Fish’s kick legitimately landed on the chin of Wolfe and he flopped down to the ring, seemingly not in full control of his limbs. I don’t think Fish realized right away and went for a cover. Wolfe couldn’t kick out and referee, Drake Muertz, at the last second seemed to realize what happened and had to shove Fish off Wolfe to break the pin and allow the match to continue. The camera cut away from Wolfe, but before they did the scene, to me, was oddly reminiscent of watching Stone Cold laying on the mat after that fateful botched Owen Hart tombstone. Austin’s arms were up in the air as he was trying to regain feeling in them and it looked like he was trying to sit up. Very similar here, Wolfe’s arm was up in the air and it looked like he was trying to sit upright and just couldn’t. He was helped out of the ring by referees. It looked like he was able to walk to the back, albeit with quite a bit of help. Thoughts are with Wolfe and I sincerely hope that the injury is not as severe as it looked like it could be.
The injury didn’t seem to throw off the flow of the rest of the match and with the combined years of wrestling experience in that ring, I wouldn’t have expected it to. It also kind of changed the complexion of the match. Like I said, coming into the match it seemed like Imperium wasn’t the threat to defeat Undisputed Era. But with the Wolfe injury a new story had to be told where Imperium needed to overcome the odds to win. A bit backwards since they were the heels, but considering the real life injury they did the best with what they had. Every man was showcased at least once in the match, but the real stand out to me was Walter. His size, his strength and his presence is so very reminiscent of an old school monster heel. Overall, a great match and I was glad to see Walter get the pin. Is this the beginning of the end for Undisputed Era’s dominance over NXT? First, they lose the North American Championship, now a pretty large loss. We shall see as we move towards Takeover Portland!