SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•NXT Cruiserweight Championship Interim Tournament – Drake Maverick vs. Kushida vs. Jake Atlas – HIT : After all three competitors wound up tied with the same score at the end of their block, this triple threat to see who will advance to the finals was booked last week. Every single moment of this match, I spent rooting for Drake Maverick, as I have bought into his “gotta save my job” storyline hook, line and sinker. I’m fairly sure, no matter the outcome of this match, he has worked out a deal with the WWE.
A lot of the action, at least to start the match, was between Atlas and Kushida with Maverick either attempting and subsequently missing his offensive attacks, or selling. I appreciated that he was still selling the arm injury from last week at the hands of Kushida. I typically don’t like multi-man matches, especially when there’s an odd number of competitors. However I enjoyed the story they told here. Maverick, the ultimate underdog, trying to overcome two wrestlers who are, kayfabe, better wrestlers than he. All to save his career in this company. It made his win just so much sweeter after that 3 count. A beautiful finish, where Kushida almost had Atlas tapping out but Maverick saw Atlas’ shoulders down while in Kushida’s armbar and took the opportunity for the pin. 100% loved everything about this opener.
•Johnny Gargano (w/Candice LaRae) Announce the “Johnny Gargano Invitational – HIT : Gargano annoyingly made his way to the ring as the NXT Trainees in the audience loudly booed his every word. He said he is going to have an invitational to give a newbie a chance. That newbie was revealed by Candice to be Adrian Alonis, an NXT rookie who we’ve only seen on TV maybe once or twice before. Gargano quickly made work of him and tossed Alonis out of the ring. As Mr. and Mrs. Wrestling were celebrating Johnny’s win, Mia Yim and Keith Lee appeared on screen sitting around a kitchen table and mocked the two similar promos that LaRae and Gargano cut over the past few weeks. I’m not too happy that they are acknowledging the real life relationship between Yim and Lee, as you can never undo that link in the eyes of the fans. I really like where this feud is going and can only imagine the magic that not only Lee and Gargano will put on in the ring, presumably, for the North American Championship, but Yim and LaRae when they inevitably square off as well.
•Maverick Reacts to His Fluke Win – HIT : Backstage, Maverick was being interviewed by an unnamed interviewer. She said that he saw the replay of the finish to his match and that Atlas tapped out before the ref counted Maverick’s pin. Maverick said that he wants to do this fairly and offered another match to Kushida, before Kushida emerged from off screen. Kushida said to Maverick in broken English, “You fight for title. You fight for your job.” He slapped Maverick on the chest in a friendly manner and said “Just go win!”. Maverick thanked Kushida and said he had all the respect in the world for him. When he wins the title, he wants to give Kushida the first shot. This is a rare feel good moment in wrestling that isn’t coming across to me as overly cheesy. Maverick really took chicken scraps and turned it into chicken salad with this angle and seemingly saved his job in the process. He’s made a lifelong Drake Maverick fan out of me.
•Shotzi Blackheart vs. Raquel Gonzales – HIT : After Nox and Blackheart were taken out by Gonzales and Kai a few weeks ago, Shotzi looked to get her revenge against the beast Gonzales tonight. Some great wrestling here by both women. Wheelbarrows, crucifixes, head scissors, middle rope springboards. And that was all in the first few minutes of the match! Kai started destroying Shotzi’s mini tank when Nox came out from the back and attacked Kai and saving the awesome little mini tank from Kai’s destructive grasp! Shotzi and Gonzales continued to wrestle through a commercial break and Shotzi looked like she may come out victorious after we returned. LaRae came down and caused a scene with Nox, distracting Shotzi and allowing Kai to interfere on behalf of Gonzales resulting in a Shotzi loss. Great match all around and an intriguing story between all five of these women.
•Io Shirai & Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair & ???? – 75% HIT : Last week, we saw Rhea and Shirai in singles action against one another in a fantastic main event, before Charlotte interfered before a winner could be declared. This week, Ripley and Shirai teamed up, somewhat reluctantly, to take on a bigger threat – the NXT Women’s Champion, Charlotte. For a few days on social media, NXT/WWE have been playing this match up, especially with the unknown of who Flair’s partner would be. Recently, myself and my two co-hosts have seen a few clues that a Rhea heel turn might be coming down the road, and teaming with a heel Shirai might be the start of this? Or, perhaps this is the start of a Shirai face turn? I’m not quite sure yet.
If you gave me 15 chances to guess Charlotte’s partner and if I guessed correctly, I would win $1 Million – I still would not have guessed Chelsea Green. There are so many more talented women backstage that deserved a main event spotlight like this. In a way, I applaud their decision to give her a try in this spot. But I don’t feel like she held her end of the bargain. Shirai is one of the best female wrestlers of our age, Rhea Ripley is on her way to becoming a major star in this industry and Charlotte is arguably the female face of the WWE, not just NXT. Green has been mostly jobbing on TV in mediocre matches while we try to figure out what this whole Robert Stone brand is all about. I absolutely hate knocking someone who has dedicated their life to their craft. But I don’t feel like Green belongs here just yet. She still feels, no pun intended, a little too green to be in this prominent of a spot.
The rest of the match was completely fine, including the cheap win by Flair at the end. I just had to deduct 25% of a hit because 25% of the competitors in this match just didn’t belong here.
•Cole & Regal Address Velveteen Dream – HIT : Cole requested a Zoom meeting with Regal after all of the problems that Dream have caused for Cole and the Undisputed Era as of late. He demanded an NXT Tag Title shot for Fish and Roddy and that Dream be barred from ever interfering in Cole’s business again. Regal, as the best GM that this company has ever seen, held his own against this badgering from Adam Cole, calling him a “Bay bay” for whining and complaining. At the end of this segment it was declared that if Cole beats Dream at In Your House, he’ll never be able to fight for the NXT Championship again. But it will be in an offsite location that will shine a spotlight on both of these attention seeking superstars. Adam Cole is, hands down, one of the best promos in NXT and that was blatantly evident here. Amazing chemistry with Regal making for entertaining TV.
•Brit-AM Brawlers Spotlight – HIT : It’s about time that we finally get some more backstory to my favorite undercard tag team in NXT! This was nothing special, but a quick look at their history as singles competitors, how they came to team, and toasting a beer while promising to become the next tag champs.
•Tommaso Ciampa Destroys Leon Ruff – HIT : Leon Ruff, without an entrance, was shown in the ring waiting for his opponent when Ciampa’s music hit. As Ciampa was getting in the ring, Scarlett appeared out of nowhere behind him, staring a hole through him. Ciampa knew this meant that Karrion Kross must be lurking somewhere. This gave Ruff the opportunity to quickly roll Ciampa up and go for the upset pin. Ruff tried to get the offensive but was quickly taken down by the Blackheart. Ciampa barely took his gaze off of Scarlett while obliterating Leon Ruff for 1-2-3. After the match, Scarlett simply turned around and walked up the ramp. Kross appeared on the screen and congratulated Ciampa on his win. He promised that he will make Ciampa feel something he had never felt in his life, tick tock. This segment played out perfectly as far as I’m concerned. A quick squash for Ciampa with the threat of a Kross attack looming at all times. For a five-minute segment, they certainly packed it with a good blend of action and drama to keep it intriguing, making you want to come back for their Takeover: In Your House match.
•NXT Fight Pit with Matt Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher, Special Referee: Kurt Angle – HIT : WWE Hall Of Famer, Kurt Angle, made his way to the ring to be the referee for this heated rivalry in the newly crafted “NXT Fight Pit”. The ropes and turnbuckle pads were removed from the ring, and a cage was constructed around it. On top of the cage is a roughly two-foot wide platform that looked like it could be walked on easily by one of the fighters.
10-count knock out or tap out, this wasn’t your momma’s typical wrestling match. The fighters started the match on the platform circling the top of the cage in opposite corners. Once the bell rang, the two jumped to the mat and a brutal fight ensued. It looked like a worked shoot in a lot of aspects, and completely worked during other spots. Eventually, Thatcher took a hit to the mouth and went down for a five count. Blood was pouring out of his mouth and he spit two teeth out. A nearby doctor took a look at his mouth and said if he could still fight he could fight. It seemed very staged to me. Especially where the two teeth looked like canines or incisors, yet when the doctor checked his mouth he still had all of his teeth. Well, all of the teeth he entered the match with anyway. The blood also looked to be the same bright red color that we saw when Shayna bit Becky and when Rollin’s tried to ”Vader” Rey Mysterio’s eyeball. Very fake looking.
In a spot very reminiscent of Kurt Angle’s moonsault from the top of the cage nearly 20 years ago, Riddle performed his corkscrew moonsault finish, the Twisted Bro, from the platform, which was such a spectacle. It was a shame that less than 20 seconds later, Thatcher was back in full control of the match instead of selling the finisher. Moments later, Riddle had tapped out to a rear naked choke. I think the finish could have been constructed a little better but otherwise, I personally enjoyed this unique match. I do realize that it’s not for everyone. It wasn’t a wrestling match, nor was it an MMA match. It was some hybrid that worked in this particular setting and story for these wrestlers. I can see true wrestling fans hating it for not being wrestling and MMA fans snubbing it because it wasn’t an MMA contest. But if you take it for what it was, a fictional story trying to portray itself as a legit fight, I think they did a pretty damn good job.
•Acknowledging Death of Hana Kimura: I want to take a quick moment here to acknowledge something that I did not expect the WWE or NXT to acknowledge on TV whatsoever, and that is the unfortunate passing of Stardom’s Hana Kimura. I thought that it was really touching that during Shirai’s entrance, Shirai being a close friend to Kimura, that Mauro acknowledged Kimura and her struggle with cyberbullying. Mauro is no stranger to mental health issues and dealing with these trolls on the internet. I was personally not familiar with Kimura’s body of work before her death, but I have been moved by the outpouring of support for her family and friends. I give credit to NXT and Mauro specifically for bringing this tragedy to light, and condemning cyberbullying on air.