SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Fish – HIT : Tom Phillips was joined by the “Last Professional Broadcaster” and friend to the PW Torch, Sam Roberts on remote commentary this week as Dream and Fish kicked off the show with a great competitive match. I like the look of the Performance Center this week, with everything beyond the barriers around the ring blacked out. While I like how Raw and Smackdown have LED screens and new set pieces in lieu of an audience, this a completely blacked out arena provided more of a “gritty” feel to it. Which is kind of how I view NXT compared to the other two brands, anyway. As you would expect out of these two performers, the match was a great show-opener and a wonderful reminder of how great Velveteen Dream really is. After the match, he grabbed the mic and cut a promo on NXT Champ, Adam Cole, telling him to put down his video games and open his third eye so he’d see Dream coming. Though Dream is often touted for his mic ability, I feel like he is still too robotic and rehearsed to a point. It was still an effective promo, but I personally wish he would change up his promo style just a tad to sound like it’s more off the cuff than rehearsed.
Malcolm Bivens Introduces His Monsters – HIT : Backstage, Biven’s and his “associates” were interviewed by NotCathy Kelly. He said that all three of them form Biven’s Enterprises. Each of the two men, Rinku and Saurav spoke in their native languages, intimidating the Broserweights. They laid claim to the NXT Titles. With Pete Dunne presumably being stuck in the UK during the travel ban, I don’t know exactly what the future holds for the Broserweights and their tag title reign but Biven’s Enterprises sure seems to be part of it. I would have liked to see the Grizzled Young Vets continue to stay in their spot, however given the circumstances, you have to make do with what you have. And I think this is a consolation prize. We’ve needed actual tag teams on the roster now, not two singles wrestlers who get stuck together – like Dunne and Riddle.
Dexter Lumis vs. – Jake Atlas – HIT : It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Lumis on NXT TV. Most entrances in an empty arena have an odd feel to it without the roar of the crowd. Lumis’ entrance was actually enhanced, creepily, by the eerie silence. After the short video package on Lumis last week, I was hoping to see him make a splash similar to what we saw here. Lumis gave me the impression that he could have won the match in 10 seconds, but decided to inflict as much punishment on Atlas as possible. Especially where he didn’t go for a cover after performing a spinebuster so expertly executed that Arn Anderson probably started smiling wherever he was at that very moment, not quite knowing why. I forgot just how good Dexter Lumis is. His character work and in-ring ability had me glued to the screen throughout this relatively short contest. That stoic stare and sheer intensity that Lumis carried with him from the second he walked out of the back to the moment the next segment began airing was brilliant.
Second-Chance Six-Women Gauntlet Match – HIT : The winner of the gauntlet will be entered into the upcoming six women ladder match to name the new #1 Contender to Rhea Ripley’s NXT Women’s title. The gauntlet kicked off with two of my favorite competitors, Shotzi Blackheart and Deonna Purrazzo. Blackheart and Purrazzo had a very heated and competitive matchup with Purrazzo possibly getting a bit more offense in before Blackheart was able to land her senton splash from the top rope for the three count. Xia Li entered the fray with a vengeance after being taken out last week backstage before her first opportunity to enter the upcoming ladder match. Unfortunately, that extra fire from Li wasn’t quite enough to take Blackheart out of the gauntlet, getting eliminated shortly after coming back from a commercial break.
Aliyah was next to see if she could take down Shotzi Blackheart. Aliyah has certainly come a long way from when we first got a glimpse of her years ago, but there were a few spots that felt sloppy or mistimed here. Ultimately, Aliyah fell to the same submission that bested Xia Li. Kayden Karter sprinted to the ring as the next competitor in the match. She was able to get some offense in on Shotzi before going to commercial break. When we came back, it was less than a minute before Karter was staring at the lights after getting pinned. The final entrant to the gauntlet made her way to the ring, accompanied by her heater, Raquel Gonzales. Dakota Kai entered the ring and all of a sudden, Shotzi was facing her most challenging opponent yet.
I really like the way this gauntlet was put together, even if it was put together in a somewhat predictable way. The only two competitors in this gauntlet match who had a chance of winning were Shotzi and Kai. The babyface Shotzi kicks off the match, competitively takes out every other contender, and then when she’s at her weakest Kai knocks her off and steals the win. Gauntlet matches sometimes overstay their welcome and grow tiresome. This match went just long enough to keep me invested in what was going on, but it wasn’t too short where the pinfalls came so quickly that they didn’t seem believable.
Kushida vs. Joaquin Wilde – HIT : It was at this point in the night when it definitively hit me. It’s harder for wrestling to hold my attention without a live crowd. Kushida and Wilde put on a great performance, but I kept finding myself picking up my phone and surfing the web before remembering “Oh yeah! I gotta pay attention!” That’s not to take anything away from either Wilde or Kushida, as I went back and re-watched this match immediately after the pinfall (and what a great cruiserweight style match it was). At this point in the show, roughly an hour and 20 minutes in, without the live crowd feedback I was ready to watch something else. I absolutely hate admitting this considering the circumstances, because I know that these performers are out there risking their health to entertain us and keep our minds off of the craziness that the world has recently become. Crowd reaction is such an integral part of professional wrestling. I always try to be a “glass half full” kind of guy, and even I wonder how long they can keep wrestling without a crowd. Rumors are circulating that after the post-WM RAW, which has allegedly already been taped, that WWE will take a hiatus on airing new wrestling content so perhaps I won’t have to wonder much longer.
After the commercial break, Joaquin Wilde was being interviewed in the Full Sail parking lot about his loss to Kushida. In a similar fashion to how Mendoza was kidnapped a couple of weeks ago, a grey SUV pulled up along side Wilde and two masked luchadores jumped out demanding he get in the car. They forced him in the backseat and sped off. Once again, not the interviewer, cameraman, bystander, or some other WWE employee lifted a finger to call the authorities and alert them to a kidnapping. Just utterly irresponsible!
Even though I had trouble keeping my attention on the match, I’m chalking that up to my lack of attention span (I do NOT miss being in school…) and lack of stimulation from the crowd noise, not at the match itself, therefore I give it a HIT instead of a MISS.
Damian Priest vs. Dominic Dijakovic vs. Keith Lee – NXT North American Championship – HIT : Aside from Ciampa vs Gargano, this was the match I was most looking forward to at NXT Takeover Tampa. With Takeover cancelled due to the Global Coronavirus Takeover (bad pun absolutely intended), this triple threat was pushed to tonight. Though, they did change the graphics on the large video wall (do they still refer to it as a titantron? I haven’t actually noticed… hmmm.) to the NXT Takeover graphics. Before the match started, Lee stood in the center of the ring with Priest and Dijak standing to either side. All three men awkwardly posing as the ring announcer gave them their introductions. I may not have liked that awkward introduction pose-down, but I really liked the stat graphics that each wrestler had during their introductions. This is something that AEW has done, to a point, since their inception and something that I wished WWE would bring back, as it was something that they did on a variety of their shows in the past – most notably in my mind, Smackdown circa 2004 or so.
As I’ve said a thousand times in this column and on the PW Torch Dailycast, PWT Talks NXT, I generally am not in favor of multi-person matches, especially when there are an odd number of opponents. However I’ve been so invested in this angle between Priest, Dijakovic and Lee that I actually endorsed adding Priest to this matchup to turn it into a triple threat. As a lot of multi-person matches in NXT as of late have also been crafted, this match kept all three competitors relevant throughout nearly the entire match. Of course, the third man needs to get knocked down at some point to allow the other two to fight in a more traditional one on one, which certainly happened here. But it was not done to excess. It didn’t seem like one of the competitors spent a good chunk of the match “sleeping” outside the ring or anything like that. It was a competitive matchup between three of the best monster powerhouses that the WWE system has to offer.
I had been predicting a Lee victory since before this match was made official. Lee is undoubtedly a superstar and it’s well known that they want him on the main roster sooner rather than later. Where he just won the North American championship a couple months ago, I couldn’t see him losing the belt so quickly – unless the purpose of adding Priest to the match was to allow either Priest to pin Dijak, or vice versa, to take the belt off of Lee without him getting beaten cleanly. If Lee was either pinned to lose the belt, or lost it without being pinned/submitted, I’d argue that Lee’s stock would be lowered as he wasn’t able to hold onto the belt for an extended period of time.