SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•In Your House Intro & Overall Presentation – HIT: This was such a nostalgic show in so many ways. From the name of the show itself, to the logo and colors, to Todd Pettengill starting the night off running down each match. To resurrect this brand for the first time in over 20 years was such a cool idea in a time when, well, we’re stuck in our houses for the most part.
Having live music to kick off the show where there was only a minimal in-arena audience seemed a little odd to me. Sure, it certainly reached that inner metal-head in me that’s kind of been dormant since 2006 or so and started the night off with a great energy. It just seemed weird that they would even bother without a live, paying audience. Even so, the performance center hopefuls did made a lot of noise and quite the ruckus to keep that energy alive.
THE SET! OH MY GOSH THE SET! I just about jumped out of my seat when I saw the old-school physical set! Not a whole bunch of LCD screens all over the place, this gave the show a much larger feel to me – as In Your Houses always did to a very young me (compared to Raw and other TV products of the time, not the big Four PPVs to be perfectly clear).
•Shotzi Blackheart & Tegan Nox & Mia Yim vs. Raquel Gonzales & Dakota Kai & Canadice LaRae – HIT: Even before Beth Phoenix made the comparison to Chyna, I was getting Chyna vibes from Gonzales from the second she walked through the curtain… erhm, “garage”. And I mean that in the best way possible. Super imposing, towering over every other competitor. She stood out physically due to her build, but every single competitor stood out athletically and for the unique performers they are. It was really refreshing to have a larger crowd in attendance tonight. I don’t know if there was necessarily more people in the crowd, or if they did a better job at being rowdy, but it seriously helped me get sucked into this match, even more so than I had expected for a match that was just thrown on the card last minute.
Specifically, this was Raquel and Shotzi’s match to shine in, I think. Both women had significant spots in the match, seemingly quite a bit of in-ring time and were the most memorable in the match in my mind. Nox certainly stood out to me as well with her comeback at the end, her teamwork with Shotzi and her pin over her long-time rival, Dakota Kai.
•WWE Ice Cream Nostalgic Video Package – HIT: I am such a sucker for nostalgia. Shamelessly not sorry.
•Finn Balor vs. Damian Priest -HIT: After a relatively short yet heated feud, we saw these two men clash tonight. Balor started the match off hot with a dropkick to the turnbuckle before the bell even rang and that intensity carried out for quite some time. Finn Balor, since returning to NXT, still seems like a big deal given his name value after his stint on the main roster. He’s flourished in the tweener role, and I think that was really showcased here tonight. Up until now in NXT, he’s been a heel. But tonight, he had to really fight to stay in the match against the larger Priest especially towards the beginning, which ramped up the crowd. Granted, the crowd is employed by WWE, so of course they are going to cheer and boo for who the company wants them to. But as far as it came across on TV, it certainly worked to get me behind Balor.
The announce team did a great job relaying how battered Balor seemed towards the end of the match, highlighting the imprint of the metal stairs on his shoulder and other scrapes and bruises that would appear as the match progressed. Plenty of false finishes, a lot of action, I’m just a little confused at the winner. Balor didn’t necessarily need a strong win, but Damian Priest could have really used a boost from a win over Balor to propel him up the card, especially if there are a number of callups coming our way, as we’ve been hearing.
•ICOPRO Adam Cole Spot – HIT: Yeah, I pop for nostalgia…
•NXT North American Championship – Keith Lee [c] vs. Johnny Gargano – HIT: A heated and personal rivalry between Keith Lee & Mia Yim and Johnny Gargano & his wife Candace LaRae came to a head for the NXT N.A. Championship. Before the match began, we saw Gargano leaving the “house” with a picture of Doc Hendrix / Michael Hayes adorning the wall before putting the keys to the “house” in his trunks. Gargano’s entrance gear was… pretty awesome. Some sort of armor with a cape draped over one shoulder, possibly going for a Dr. Doom look. Lee walked to the ring with a purpose, more so than usual. That purpose, in my mind, was revealed when the back of his trunks and vest were shown on camera to say “Black Lives Matter”. I believe he was fighting for much, much greater purpose than any wrestling feud, angle or title tonight. He is so much more quick and agile than he has any reason being for his size. He has all the makings to be the next big thing on the main roster, and I really hope when he gets there he flourishes.
One thing that’s bothered me about this match is that the size difference between Lee and Gargano considering the heel/face alignment. Lee, the face, is essentially just beating on a smaller opponent. Typically, a heel move. They made it work though, as I certainly was invested. They used the injured fingers of Lee as a hook throughout the match where Gargano attacked them at every turn. Gargano certainly got in his share of offense here, which honestly surprised me. Sure, Gargano looked strong. But Lee looked weak getting beat down by Gargano for so long, barely fighting back until it was time for his comeback.
The spot where Lee sacked Gargano through the plexiglass was such a cool spot and visually looked stunning. But, those guards are there for safety. I know that the chances of infection are low with how quickly that interaction took place. But still. Set a good example for your audience.
LaRae and Yim hadn’t finished fighting from the first match of the night and provided the distraction needed for Gargano to take the keys out of his trunks and once again stab Lee in the eye with a key. Gargano couldn’t keep Lee down, even after stabbing his eye and a plethora of other finishing-level offensive moves. Lee finally fought back and retained his title after two spirit bombs and a Big Bang Catastrophe for the win. Even though the middle of the match seemed to drag a little for me, the match was bookended by fast paced, well told, and intense action.
•NXT Championship Parking Lot Brawl – Adam Cole [C] vs. Velveteen Dream – HIT: Triple H confirmed on the media call earlier this week that this was going to be in a parking lot, inside a circle of cars. Similar to WWE 2K19’s Career mode, if you’ve played that. Except here, the cars circled the ring. Cole entered the match in an Undisputed Era monster truck, and Dream entered in s-t-y-l-e. Mauro and I expected him to show up in a little red corvette, but he showed up in a killer yellow Lambo, sporting an amazing leather jacket with his face on the back looking like Hollywood Hogan.
Drake Muertz, there only to count the pinfall, got the match underway. But no sooner did it start, Cole left the ring and entered a nearby Stratus to “get out of Dodge” (pun completely intended) and leave the match, when Dream attacked it with a Bat. The fight spilled out to the “streets”, which I believe to be a film studio designed to look like a residential street. I will confirm this on Wrestling Night in America, as Tom Stoup and I “Takeover” the show from Greg Parks after Takeover airs. Tom lives nearby, and has actually filmed a few short films of his own at Full Sail.
Because I didn’t know the location very well, the match seemed a little disjointed as they were fighting. With so many camera angles and cuts, I didn’t know which direction the ring was any time they were fighting outside of it. As disorienting as that was, it did provide a little extra chaos to this somewhat unique bout.
I loved the visual of Cole going through the windshield, so brutal looking. Fish and Roddy’s involvement could have been predicted from a mile away, same with Lumis who then put Undisputed Era in a trunk and drove off, eerily similar to his caricature that he drew earlier in the week. Predictable as it was, it was definitely satisfying to see those two UE members get what was coming to them.
Before being kidnapped by Lumis, Fish and Roddy threw about 20 chairs into the ring, providing a great playground for Dream and Cole to end the match. Reminiscent of the scene in ECW where Cactus Jack and Terry Funk asked the crowd for chairs, there were steel folding chairs everywhere. Cole landed a Panama Sunrise to Dream on the center of this pile of chairs to retain. As far as these COVID-era, cinematic style matches go, it may have not been my favorite. That was the Boneyard Match between AJ and Undertaker, but this certainly is up there. Lightyears ahead of the awful MITB match this year, perhaps even a notch above Edge/Orton at WrestleMania, depending on how you liked that match.
•DX, The files are IN the computer! – HIT: During a nostalgic spot where Todd Pettengill was hawking NXT merch, he threw to Triple H, Road Dogg and Shawn Michaels at a computer that looked like it was ripped out of 1996. They were supposed to be in an “AOL Chat”. As an IT guy, I definitely got a chuckle out of it. As a wrestling fan – Holy crap did Road Dogg and HBK get old fast.
•Karrion Kross w/ Scarlett vs Tommaso Ciampa – HIT: It was certainly a bit of a shock to me to see Karrion Kross get cheered by every member of the Performance Center in the audience tonight, but Ciampa got booed during entrances. Kross has come off as the heel, hands down, leading up to this match. This might be the first match of Ciampa’s in a while where he hasn’t felt like the unstoppable force. Kross, standing 6’4 and inches above Ciampa, looked like a near impossible hurdle for Ciampa to overcome throughout this match. That’s not to say that when Ciampa fired up, he fired up and brought the offense hard and fast. Kross, fighting to show the NXT roster that he is not someone to mess with, Ciampa fighting for the name of NXT – and Kross took it to Ciampa, making him pass out in a chokehold.
A very dominant win for Kross making me worry a bit for Ciampa. He’s lost his last two major PPV matches. I hope this isn’t the end of this feud by a long shot.
•NXT Women’s Championship Triple Threat – Charlotte Flair [C] vs. Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai – HIT: After Rhea’s loss at WrestleMania to Charlotte, I’ve been waiting for her moment to reclaim the belt. The insertion of Shirai into this match certainly lowers her chances of winning, but I also wasn’t all that broken up about it. Shirai is one of the best female wrestlers of our day, she can only add to this match as far as I’m concerned.
Before the match started, I noticed that Ripley had one white contact in, and was wearing a white boot. She wore the white contacts and white attire at WrestleMania, and I was curious to see what role that plays into as the match progressed.
In a way, making this match a triple threat exposed more about Charlotte than anything. Sure, Charlotte is a good wrestler, but she’s not the technical master that her father was. Her character work is where she shines. Ripley and Shirai are great inside the ring, Shirai especially. I don’t mean to knock Charlotte, but she is just less believable to me than the other two women in this match.
All that said, I think they pulled this Main Event match off beautifully. All three women came into this match with a legitimate reason that they could be the next champion. They all had their moments to really shine and they were all involved in nearly all of the match. Charlotte, admittedly taking a heelish duck out of the ring every so often. Shirai climbed to the top of the house and pulled off a crazy cross body on to Charlotte and Ripley which was probably the craziest spot of the night to boot.
Shirai finally captured the NXT Women’s title, but I wonder if she broke Ripley’s face with her winning moonsault. It looked like her thigh came down square on the bridge of Ripley’s nose. Hopefully, no injuries. But this was an amazing main event and the image of Shirai celebrating amidst all the confetti and streamers will stick with me for some time to come.