SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NXT ON USA
OCTOBER 28, 2020, 8PM EST
LIVE IN ORLANDO, FLA., AT CAPITOL WRESTLING CENTER
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
REPORT BY KELLY WELLS, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Commentary: Vic Joseph, Wade Barrett, Beth Phoenix
Join the “PWT Talks NXT” Dailycast with me, Nate Lindberg & Tom Stoup to break down the episode:
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-A creepy-voiced actor narrated the opening hype video promoting the four announced matches for tonight’s show. The COVID-19 outbreak at the PC has apparently had no effect on tonight’s card.
-Shotzi Blackheart was done up in zombie makeup, or some sort of ghoulish creature, and she howled.
-An extremely skilled guitarist I should probably recognize played Damian Priest’s theme music as Priest headbanged in the ring; Vic Joseph didn’t identify the guitarist by name. The ring apron was Halloween Havoc-themed. Strong opening to make the show feel like something very different. Johnny Gargano hit the ramp and there was a giant inflated pumpkin on it; he took a knife to it and it deflated.
-Shotzi spun the wheel, and “Devil’s Playground match” came up.
(1) DAMIAN PRIEST (c) vs. JOHNNY GARGANO – Devil’s Playground match for the North American Championship
It’s simply a falls-count-anywhere street fight. Priest dominated early and hit a spinning heel kick for two. Action spilled outside and both guys missed shots. Gargano went for a slingshot spear but Priest caught him. He went for the rope-assisted Reckoning and Gargano held on for dear life. He dragged Priest outside and put him to the steps. “Johnny sucks” chant. Gargano went under the ring and grabbed a kendo stick. He stalked Priest, who then produced his nightstick leading to split-screen commercial; Priest beat down Gargano and sent him into the Plexiglass before charging and hitting him with the steel steps. Also during the break, Priest covered Gargano on the now totally-deflated giant pumpkin for two.
Upon return to full-screen, Gargano hit a rolling senton on the outside, then picked up the kendo stick and gave Priest three stiff shots. Back inside, Priest caught Gargano with South of Heaven for two. Gargano went to the apron and grabbed the nightstick but Priest gave him some shots and he dropped it. Priest got hung up on the ropes and Gargano sent him out. Priest caught a tope and tried to put Gargano into the Plexiglass, but Gargano reversed, then used the glass to hit Sliced Bread on the steps. He covered for two. Cool spot.
Priest recovered and hit the Broken Arrow on the announce table, which didn’t break. The two fought toward the periphery of the room where a mini-cemetery had been set up. Gargano opened a standing casket, planning to put Priest in it, but got spooked when a doll corpse fell out. The match went further into the back and Gargano put Priest into the metal shipping door. Gargano hobbled over the a trash can and emptied the contents on Priest, then put it over Priest’s head and shoved it down a few times. He put a rolling crate into Priest and Vic announced that there was more picture-in-picture tonight to be sure viewers stayed with it through the following commercial.
We returned to an “NXT” chant after some big spot (the last two commercials went to full-screen, so we didn’t see it). The two were up at the top of the cemetery space where the wheel stood. Priest set up Razor’s Edge but Gargano flipped through and hit a superkick. Gargano grabbed a nearby trash can and destroyed Priest with it. Gargano told the wheel it was stupid to some laughs. Gargano mimicked the arrow spot and Priest hit him with a quick kick. Another kick put Gargano on the floor of the platform. Priest set up for the Reckoning, but was hit from behind with a steel pipe from someone in a Ghostface (from Scream) costume. Gargano hit a tornado DDT, assisted by the wheel. Gargano looked up for a moment at Ghostface, then accepted a “tombstone” from him. Gargano smashed it over Priest, who fell all the way to the ground. Gargano crawled over to Priest and covered for three. Vic called out Gargano as the first two-time North American Champion. Gargano held up his new gold.
WINNER: Johnny Gargano at 20:54.
(Wells’s Analysis: It’s always amusing when heels complain about street fights, since they’re the ones who always benefit from the no-DQ rule. I’m pretty sure the hints are in place and we can guess who Ghostface is, but we’ll see. A fun walk-and-brawl)
-We saw the two male announcers for the first time. Vic was Waldo, and Barrett was dressed as Bad News Barrett (he had his gavel). Barrett said the Bad News is that Vic looks like a moron. The team teed up the next segment, as Pat McAfee, Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan are set to hit the ring.
-The NXT Superstar Profile, brought to us by GEICO, reminded us that Finn Balor is cool. I was hoping for a health update, but no such luck.
-Backstage, Cameron Grimes complained to William Regal about his upcoming “House of Terrors” match. He spoke in a terrified cadence. Regal asked Grimes to head to the parking lot, and Grimes said their parking lot was one of the most dangerous places in the world.
-In the ring, Pat McAfee, flanked by new tag champions Burch and Lorcan said he had the greatest debut of all time, and even the idiots in the “Internet Wrestling Community,” like anyone isn’t on the internet, can agree on that. He said he should’ve prepared just a tiny bit more for Adam Cole, and although he couldn’t be here, he made a call to Ridge Holland and paid him good money to dump Adam Cole at ringside. Then he saw his investment shatter his leg in “700 pieces.” He said he wasn’t ready to give up just yet, and he went to Burch and Lorcan. They said they couldn’t be bought, but when they lost to Undisputed Era, they called back and asked about the offer. McAfee secured mics for the other two, but the Undisputed Era theme played, bringing Kyle O’Reilly to the ring. The three mocked him as he was about to enter, and Pete Dunne’s music played, shutting them up. The small audience went wild (as did I). He brought two chairs – one for himself and one for Kyle. He handed Kyle a chair and they hit the ring, sending the three heels to the apron. Kyle moved to attack, and Dunne hit Kyle in the back with a chairshot. Well, that’s a hell of a replacement for Ridge Holland. All four beat down O’Reilly, and Dunne did his stomp spot on Kyle’s arm. Burch and Lorcan hit their team finisher on Kyle on a chair. McAfee jawed down at O’Reilly that he was smarter than Kyle, and now he and his friends are the new premier group – and that’s Undisputed.
(Wells’s Analysis: That was an effective gut-punch. The numbers would suggest that Dunne would have to turn here, but there was so much excitement about his return, it still worked. I suspect we have our men’s War Games match, which Undisputed Era have never missed. McAfee is an extremely effective heel on the mic; they might have some unexpected gold with him)
-Grimes continued to beg Regal to get rid of the match, and just give him a loss. He walked outside and a pre-taped segment, I assume, commenced. A white van appeared in front of him, and Michael P.S. Hayes/Dok Hendrix exited to a strong reaction. He said some things to Grimes, but the loud Freebird music was so loud that it was pretty much all lost. Grimes apparently had to enter to head to his House of Terrors match.
(2) JAKE ATLAS vs. SANTOS ESCOBAR (w/Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde)
All three of Legado del Fantasma had half-paintings for Dia de los Muertos; Escobar also seemed to have WCW-era Mysterio-inspired tights. Escobar took the quick advantage in the corner. He whipped Atlas and hit a running back elbow. He shoved Atlas in the corner and hit running knees. Escobar wrenched Atlas’s arm. Atlas exploded with some offense, throwing some shots and hitting a back bodydrop. He went for a belly-to-back, blocked, and then hit a German suplex. Cover for two. Atlas went to the top and hit a cartwheel DDT to the mat. He covered and one of the cronies put Escobar’s leg on the rope to break. On the outside, Atlas fought off all three until Mendoza put on a solid lucha mask and headbutted him. He tossed Atlas back in for Escobar’s finisher.
WINNER: Santos Escobar at 3:28.
(Wells’s Analysis: I thought this might be where Atlas is elevated to a bigger deal, but that was pretty brief. Swerve-Escobar may not be over after all)
-Ember Moon segment. She said when she left, Dakota Kai was scared of her own shadow. Now she’s one of the best in the world. She’s glad she stepped up.
-Shotzi Blackheart said the scares aren’t over – next up is the Haunted House of Horrors match. She howled again.
(Wells’s Analysis: Blackheart’s segments are being kept brief, and in the night’s environment of heightened reality, her schtick is working out well)
-Upon return to the show, Shotzi was now in an Elvira costume. She teed up the Haunted House of Terror, clearly a cinematic match.
(3) DEXTER LUMIS vs. CAMERON GRIMES – Haunted House of Terror
Grimes arrived somewhere and said “I hope this is the place,” and sputtered and stammered as he looked for Lumis, trying to convince himself to be brave. He missed Lumis in a tree as he walked to the house. Grimes walked into the house and freaked out as an empty tricycle drove past him. There was a referee (Darryl Sharma) in a corner of a room, standing in a position likely meant to evoke The Blair Witch Project. Sharma whipped around, freaking out Grimes. Grimes ran into a room and Lumis beat the door down (The Shining?). Grimes was now in a bathroom where a woman was showering (Psycho) and he said he was joining her, but she turned out to be the villain from The Ring. Grimes continued seeing nightmarish figures as he fought his way to the living room. He was cornered by zombies that are probably references to a specific movie I haven’t seen. He ran outside to the van and got in. Lumis was in the driver’s seat. He ran out of the van and into the woods. The screen said “To Be Continued.” Wade Barrett said it was the weirdest match he’d ever seen. It wasn’t clear how to time the segment (or whether I should bother in an event like this), but it went about six or seven minutes.
(Wells’s Analysis: These are polarizing matches, but if anywhere is the right place for this kind of match, it’s Halloween Havoc, with its history of electrocuting Abdullah the Butcher. It was fun enough, and not overlong, though some certainly just want this type of match to go away)
-A tale of the tape for the women’s match appeared. The two women hyped themselves up for their match backstage. Rhea’s entrance commenced as a hook as the show went to commercial.
(4) RHEA RIPLEY vs. RAQUEL GONZALEZ
The two had to be separated until the bell could be sounded. Both threw haymakers early. Rhea couldn’t whip Gonzalez, so she threw some shots. Gonzalez backed Rhea to a corner and shoulderblocked her a couple of times. She put Rhea in a corner but Rhea kicked herself free. Raquel blocked a punch and Rhea again sold surprise that Gonzalez was so strong. Reset and the two jawed for a minute, then threw some stiff palm strikes before breaking down to punches. Ripley had the advantage but Gonzalez whipped Rhea to the mat, and was then bleeped by a censor as she said “Come on, bitch.”
Back to their feet. Rhea’s clotheslines wouldn’t take down Gonzalez. Rope run and a dropkick by Ripley sent Gonzalez to the outside. She dropkicked Gonzalez again through the ropes. She went for a rolling senton, but Gonzalez caught her and slammed her into the Plexiglass as the match went to split-screen commercial. The pace slowed considerably and Gonzalez dominated the majority of the break.
Upon return, Ripley rolled up Gonzalez for two, but Gonzalez quickly clubbed Rhea down for two. Gonzalez whipped Ripley and charged and ate an elbow, then another. Gonzalez hit a lariat for two. Ripley was selling a huge beating and playing the rare role of underdog. Rhea hit some kneelifts and whipped Gonzalez down with her hair, then hit a great-looking basement dropkick for two. Ripley straddled Gonzalez’s back and dropped her down a couple of times. Prism Trap by Ripley. Gonzalez tried to roll Rhea up but Rhea sat down for a one count. Gonzalez recovered quickly and hit a spinning powerslam for two. The audience, as they were all night, were hot.
To a corner, Gonzalez brought Ripley up and the two jockeyed for position. Ripley tried to set up Riptide, but Gonzalez put a knee in Ripley’s head to escape. Both threw shots again with Ripley still up on the corner. Gonzalez charged the corner and hit a belly-to-belly on the canvas and covered for two. “NXT” chant. Ripley countered a slam with a sort of headscissors that sent Gonzalez to the corner. Riptide finished. As she had her hand raised, she continued to sell the agony of the match.
WINNER: Rhea Ripley at 12:49.
(Wells’s Analysis: No surprise as Ripley goes over – she’s taken enough high-profile losses recently – but Gonzalez really was established as the more powerful of the two throughout the match, which should serve her well. This was a pretty good power affair that got five more minutes than I might have guessed, as the matches that feel like real fights are typically kept brief)
-Cameron Grimes was running down the middle of the road, and the announcers wondered if he was trying to get back to the Capitol Wrestling Center.
-Hype for the upcoming NXT UK Championship match with Walter defending against Ilya Dragunov.
-Backstage, Drake Maverick was dressed up as Hollywood Hogan. He referred to McKenzie Mitchell as “Mean Gene” and mentioned his 2.4″ pythons. Some big guy and another one dressed as WCW’s The Yeti cornered him, and he called out for help. Killian Dain, wearing the Shockmaster helmet, showed up and they left. Drake was disappointed that Dain didn’t trip, because that’s what the Shockmaster does. Drake put on the mask and promptly tripped and fell. Dain laughed.
-Cameron Grimes returned to the arena. He went to the cemetery and some of the nightmarish female figures showed up and he backed up into the ring. He backed right into Dexter Lumis, who beat him down with a few shots and a bulldog. He charged into a boot, then hit a spinebuster. Beth said “Zombies need brains, guys, so Grimes is probably okay, but you guys should get out of there.” Vic giggled through his next couple of comments.
Grimes went to leave the ring but the zombies closed in. Grimes hit the Cave In on one zombie. The girl from The Ring crawled up on Lumis and wrapped around him a few times. Lumis slammed her onto Grimes, then caught Grimes with the Silencer. There was no bell, but his music played, so presumably he won whatever they were doing. The ballet zombies hit the ring and slowly flailed about as Lumis left up the ramp. The lights went down and the camera went in close on Lumis’s face, and the screen said “The End.”
(Wells’s Analysis: That really spiced up Lumis’s act, which is feeling a bit played out. A shame they can’t get away with zombies every week)
-A good hype package for tonight’s main event played, featuring Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the background (you know the piece, I promise). A good, brief segment. It reiterated that LeRae said she didn’t care if “Shotzi’s Choice” came up on the wheel. Foreshadowing?
-Shotzi Blackheart, now dressed as a she-devil, said the women’s championship was up next.
-A graphic mentioned that this is the Unlucky 13th iteration of Halloween Havoc.
-Tommaso Ciampa was backstage. He said he doesn’t recognize NXT anymore. The letters are the same and there’s still challenge, but the culture is different. “You’re hungry? You eat. I’M hungry. I eat.” He said he was never handed anything. He was simply undeniably the greatest sports entertainer of all time. He said fate took away his time as the face of NXT, but he’s taking it back. He said it starts with Velveteen Dream, a 25-year old prodigy who can’t seem to get out of his own way. Wow. That’s as close to an acknowledgement of his problems as they’ve ever gotten on TV.
-Next week, Tommaso Ciampa faces Velveteen Dream and Ember Moon takes on Dakota Kai.
(5) IO SHIRAI (c) vs. CANDICE LERAE – Tables, Ladders and Scares match for the NXT Women’s Championship
Candice was still the Poison Pixie, but her gear was made to resemble Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Poppy was on hand, to a big pop, to play Io Shirai’s theme. Only the lead singer was present, and she entered the ring with Shirai. There were only ten minutes to the hour when the intros were over. Shotzi Blackheart spun the wheel to reveal Tables, Ladders and Scares. The belt was suspended above the ring and the two went outside and LeRae put Io in a barricade. She got a table from under the ring, and there was a bag on top of it. She emptied it and prop dismembered body parts fell out. She freaked out and Io grabbed the severed arms and beat Candice with them.
The two threw shots, still outside, and Io put Candice over the announce desk and then kicked away the cover. She went for a suplex but LeRae blocked and hit Shirai with a monitor, which skimmed off her and nearly hit Barrett as well. LeRae pulled a ladder out from under the ring and made a platform with it from ring to announce table. Shirai tossed a chair over the ladder and hit Candice with it, then hit double knees on LeRae against the steel steps. Shirai went under the ring and grabbed a few chairs. She put one in LeRae’s stomach to hold her at bay as she grabbed fourth and fifth chairs. She suplexed LeRae as the match went to split-screen, once again announced by Vic. During the break, a table got set up outside the ring and it had a chalk outline on it.
The match returned with fans, as often, chanting “NXT” on return from the break. The two went into the ring and a ladder was set up in the middle of the ring, and LeRae set one up in a corner for something later. The two fought over the chairs and Shirai hit a backbreaker and let LeRae fall to the pile of chairs. She went for the Over the Moonsault but LeRae moved and Shirai hit the pile of chairs. LeRae hit Shirai with repeated chairshots to boos. LeRae tried to suplex Shirai on a set up chair, but Shirai reversed and hit LeRae with one on the chair, which didn’t give at all. Shirai started hobbling up the ladder, but LeRae held her at bay. Shirai tried to hit double knees in a corner on LeRae and she moved, and Shirai hit the ladder instead. She’ll never learn.
LeRae went up a corner, and Shirai hobbled over again, still selling pain in her knee from the moonsault. It was a bit inconsistent, so it might figure into the finish. Shirai set up two chairs facing one another and went for a superplex, but LeRae blocked and hit the apron. Shirai pinned LeRae’s leg in a chair and hit a dragon screw. Io went for 619, which missed, and LeRae hit her with a chair. The two spilled out to the floor. Ghostface showed up again and helped LeRae quickly up the ladder, but Shotzi ran to the ring and put up Ghostface in the electric chair and slammed him. Io and Candice went up two ladders next to one another. Io pushed Candice’s and she fell to the outside, on top of the ladder platform she’d set up. The fall was absolutely perfect, as she split the ladder and perfectly bisected it, draping over it backwards. A wonderful visual, and hopefully not one that caused injury. Io retrieved the championship. Johnny Gargano checked on Candice and Io sat at the top of the ladder to a huge “NXT” chant as the show ended. Bizarrely, none of the commentators even brought up the subject of Ghostface. The show had an overrun of about eight minutes.
WINNER: Io Shirai at 16:31.
(Wells’s Analysis: Another great match in a series for these two, who excel against one another no matter the type of match. With two title changes between this week and last, some stability was nice, although I really thought they were going to drape the Garganos in gold here. With the large and still growing women’s division in NXT, Io could still hold this championship for a while)
FINAL THOUGHTS: You can’t go halfway with a gimmick show like Halloween Havoc, and I thought NXT pulled it off extremely well here. Your mileage may vary on the Haunted House of Terror especially, but Grimes’s relentless jabbering in the face of fear really made it work for me. The two singles championship matches delivered, which was no surprise, and Raquel Gonzalez continues to improve as she hangs with the biggest of the big dogs in the division. It’ll be almost surreal to go back to a “normal” episode next week, though “normal” is a tough thing to define as NXT’s identity continues to shift in little ways.
There’s a new four-man faction in town, and the big question is whether they’re here for the long haul or if it’ll fade once WarGames is in the rear-view mirror. It’s a big step up for Lorcan and Burch and could have been a real star-making turn for Ridge Holland. Instead, we got a gut-punch of a turn by Pete Dunne, who as recently as a few weeks ago was portraying a face on NXT: UK.
Shotzi Blackheart and her ever-changing wardrobe were a strong element of the show, as her wild energy really sold her brief segments. I’m also pleased that she got a quick moment in the ring at the end of the show. I assume she moves on to a feud with Candice LeRae now, and Io can get to her next challenge (probably Toni Storm?).
Check out PWT Talks NXT tonight live, or stream it after. Cheers, and I’ll see you next week.