SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Johnny Gargano’s Wheel Of Challengers
Everybody knows that Johnny Gargano loves wheels. He opened the show with a wheel in the center of the ring with challenger names on it. Dexter Lumis, Pete Dunne, Adam Cole, and Santos Escobar were just a few names on it. It “unpredictably” landed on Leon Ruff after defying physics to do so. Ruff was also the only name added to the wheel with masking tape and a sharpie.
A great heat building device for Gargano. Tom Stoup, my co-host on PWT Talks NXT, will probably hate the fact that they’ve kept the wheel thing going. But, I thought this was a great touch.
Leon Ruff vs. Johnny Gargano (NXT North American Championship)
Ruff was supposed to be an easy win for Gargano, hence why he rigged the wheel to land on Ruff’s name. Ruff actually got a little bit more offense than I expected, but that was to drag this out long enough to have the match spill outside the ring. Why? So Priest could show up in the limited crowd, interfere and cause Gargano a title LOSS!
Yeah, Leon Ruff is our new North American Champion. Priest celebrated with him on the ramp, signaling a potential buddy pairing between the two.
I’m not even mad. For weeks, we’ve just gotten high work rate matches for the sake of counterprogramming AEW. Tonight, they gave us something different and an intriguing feud between Priest & Gargano, while swerving us by giving a jobber the gold. I’ve been impressed with Ruff every time I’ve seen him in the ring. So for them to put him in this spot in a token title run shows me that the office has faith in him as well.
After commerical, Priest loaned Ruff his black Challenger to escape the arena and the wrath of Gargano, another great touch. Gargano declared his hatred for wheels and said that he never would have booked himself in that situation. Oh god, I love delusional Gargano.
Jake Atlas vs. Santos Escobar (NXT Cruiserweight Championship)
The Champion not only entered first, Escobar was already in the ring when they cut back to the arena from the last segment. An interesting way to present the champion to say the least. I read into that as Atlas potentially having a chance to win the gold. However if we didn’t already have one underdog title change tonight, I would have believed it a bit more.
Escobar dished out a lot of offense throughout the match, really selling Atlas as an underdog. Mendoza & Wilde were outside the ring, lurking. It was just a matter of time before they got involved. They attempted to hit Atlas with the pipe he used on them last week. But Altas actually fought them both off as well as Escobar for a near fall. During a commercial break, they were ejected from the arena for further interference.
I enjoyed this match a little more than I expected. Even though I really did not think Atlas had a chance, the odds were in his favor after Escobar’s goons were ejected from the ring. Atlas showed a ton of heart and that he really did earn this title shot.
Raquel Gonzales vs. Xia Li
Last week, Xia Li requested a match with Raquel Gonzales. This week, Gonzales went to the ring only to be greeted by Boa who told her that Xia Li couldn’t perform tonight. Raquel, incensed, destroyed Boa before going backstage.
With Boa laying in the ring, Chinese Dragons appeared on every screen and an elderly Chinese man made his way to the ring. Boa bowed before him and delivered another letter. He smeared ink on Boa’s hand, bowed, and walked away.
I have no idea what the heck this was all about. But if it gets Xia Li and Boa more TV time – give me more! This was certainly intriguing and I can’t wait to see where this leads.
Candice LaRae vs. Toni Storm
To some, this could be considered a Takeover caliber matchup on paper. Going into the show tonight, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would actually like this matchup. I haven’t been super impressed with Storm since she’s returned. However if anyone could get a good match out of her, LaRae would be the one to do it. There really wasn’t a definitive reason for this match other than to put a spotlight on the main feud between LaRae and Shotzi. LaRae said in an interview before the match that she’s going to beat Storm the same way she’ll beat Shotzi.
I was afraid that they might try and put on a high work rate matchup, since that has been the MO as of late for NXT as a whole. Instead, it was a decently paced matchup. LaRae used her feet on the ropes to get the extra leverage for a cheap pin. Storm attacked her after that and Ghostface came out again to help LaRae. Shotzi came out and attacked LaRae and Ghostface, but they eventually overtook her. Indi Hartwell took her mask off to reveal her identity to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
Other than the stupid reveal of who Ghostface was, I thought this was a decent matchup. Certainly not LaRae’s best, but better than I had expected.
Timothy Thatcher vs. Dexter Lumis
Earlier in the night, Lumis saved the day when Thatcher beat August Grey up backstage, prompting this matchup tonight. I’m starting to tire of Lumis’ gimmick. At first, I loved it. I liked the mystique and intensity of the character. But at this point, it’s same old-same old and is starting to get a bit boring.
That said, Lumis has been booked to be a relatively strong competitor and came across like a credible opponent for Thatcher. This is another matchup that I enjoyed a bit more than I expected to. Thatcher had arguably Match of the Year with Riddle in the Fight Pit and I feel like he hasn’t quite reached that same level since. This wasn’t nearly that same caliber of match, but Thatcher really got to show what he’s made of both offensive and defensively.
Cameron Grimes interfered and allowed Thatcher to get the distracted win over Lumis. Grimes, still salty about the Haunted House of Terror loss, attacked Lumis after the matchup. He covered Lumis’ face with a burlap sack and destroyed him outside the ring while he was blinded.
…Please do not lead to a blindfold match. Nobody likes a blindfold match.
Tommaso Ciampa Speaks
Ciampa appeared on screen backstage, speaking directly into the camera. Something that has become a bit of a trademark for him. I love that touch, it adds another level of connection between him and the audience.
He said he remembered training with Killer Kowalski and Harley Race, incredibly tough men. He says times have changed and he says “Everyone is tough. Ask them, they’ll tell you.” He called himself the last of a dying breed, the last of the old school wrestler. To quote a duo that I’d rather not quote, but I’m going to anyway; Ciampa believes that the NXT locker room has gone S-A-W-F-T, SAAAAAWFT!
I have no idea what these series of videos are leading to. But wherever they do lead, I am on board. Ciampa has reached S-Level. He’s a tier above the A-Level guys like Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano and Finn Balor. Ciampa is in a lot of ways what Undertaker and Brock Lesnar are to the main roster. Bigger than the show itself.
Prime Target: Rhea Ripley / Io Shirai
As always, a wonderfully produced video package taking a deep dive into their feud. Ripley essentially said that she felt like her Wrestlemania Opportunity last year was supposed to be the biggest match of her life. But the fact that it had to take place without a crowd at the performance center was the start of her bad luck. I like framing it that way, honestly. I’ve said she has seemed to have a streak of bad luck after WrestleMania and even seemed like she lost a lot of the shine that she once had. Leaning into something out of her control, like COVID, as the catalyst for this bad luck is great. She doesn’t have to accept responsibility for her losses, giving further credence to my theory of a Ripley heel turn soon.
Shirai came off as a fighting champion, not necessarily a heel either. It looks to me like they are framing this feud in a way where both of them are tweeners and either before or after the match, we’ll see a turn.
“The Kings of NXT” Address The Crowd
McAfee, Dunne, Lorcan & Burch made their way to the ring to continue their verbal onslaught against Undisputed Era and the so called “Internet Wrestling Community”. He hyped the Tag Championship main event, before making his way to Commentary.
He is still dialed up maybe a notch too high for my liking, but for a virtual outsider in the wrestling world, McAfee is killing it.
Breezango vs. Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan
Six months ago, If you told me that the main event match for NXT would involve these two teams, I probably would have laughed. But, here we are. Breezango were all business tonight, determined to reclaim the NXT Tag Championships that they lost a few weeks ago. Lorcan & Burch have been jobbers for the entirety of their run before winning the gold. As much as I love all four men, this did seem like an underwhelming match on paper for most.
All that said, this was a solid Tag Team matchup. Lorcan & Burch played their heel parts very well, and Breezango looked just as good as ever.
Drake Maverick interfered to get revenge on the so called Kings of NXT, but Lorcan actually kicked out of the distracted pin. Dunne and McAfee interfered, distracted the ref and took out Tyler Breeze so the NXT Tag Champs could double team Fandango for the 1-2-3.
Glad to see them retain, as a short run would have undercut McAfee as well. I really like the momentum this foursome has even if the other three feel like they are just there to play lackey for McAfee.
After the win, the foursome was celebrating in the ring and Drake Maverick climbed to the top rope without them noticing. He jumped off, took out Lorcan and then tried taking out the other three. He was swiftly massacred by all four men, but Breezango came to his rescue. They took out Breezango as well, standing tall as the show went off the air.