SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Kushida & Leon Ruff vs. Johnny Gargano & Austin Theory
Last week, Karrion Kross took Damian Priest out of action, allowing for Kushida to step up and offer his services to Ruff. Neither Ruff nor Kushida got an entrance and were already standing in the ring as the show started. I wish they would allow all of the competitors their moment for an entrance, with the exception of jobbers. Not allowing the main stars their time to shine and show off their charisma during an entrance doesn’t benefit anyone.
Kushida started the match off for his team and quickly tagged Ruff in to set up the “face in peril” scenario. Ruff dove to the other three men outside the ring and took a nasty bump on his neck and head. It didn’t seem to affect the match, one just hopes that Ruff is okay.
The constant threat of the women, Candice LaRae & Indi Hartwell, also added suspense to the matchup. Their ringside presence made it so you never quite knew if they would play a role in the match. Ultimately, it did not. Kushida really stood out to me tonight, as he usually does. Maybe it’s because we see him less frequently than the other three as of late, but it felt like a treat watching him in the ring.
Ruff also continues to impress. I don’t know how much longer we’ll see him with such a high profile spot on the card. But I’m enjoying the ride.
Dexter Lumis The Lone Painter
Lumis was shown throughout the night sitting in the arena by the LED boards in front of an easel. It appeared to be an iPad instead of an actual canvas, but I couldn’t be sure. Eventually, it was revealed that he was drawing the New Year’s Evil logo, but that seemed to lead nowhere as Dunne vs. KOR started.
All of this to reveal that he’s…. hosting New Years Evil? How? He doesn’t speak? This makes as much sense as Kane hosting the 1998 Royal Rumble.
Tyler Rust vs. Tommaso Ciampa
Again, no full entrance for both competitors. Rust was already standing in the ring when they cut to the arena. Tyler Rust, formerly Rust Taylor in New Japan, attacked Ciampa last week. Rust was one of the students of Thatcher’s school though Thatcher says he had nothing to do with the attack. Surprisingly, Wade Barrett strongly put Rust over on commentary, citing his 15 year long career before making it to WWE.
Ciampa set a chair up at the base of the ramp, calling Thatcher out to sit ringside once again. It didn’t take long for Thatcher to oblige and walk to the ring. Ciampa beat Rust right in front of Thatcher, trying to get him to interfere. Rust wound up accidentally hitting Thatcher with a boot causing Thatcher to charge Ciampa. Officials needing to separate them. That distraction almost made it appear like Rust had a chance.
Even though Ciampa got the win here and over Grimes last week, a lot of offense went to his opponents. For someone with Ciampa’s kayfabe reputation, he allowed lower card guys to look dominant at times. Where this is great for the newbies, it makes me wonder why this keeps happening? Perhaps sewing seeds for a long-term confidence loss storyline?
Pete Dunne vs. Kyle O’Reilly – Winner Faces Finn Balor for NXT Championship at New Year’s Evil
I am typing this paragraph before the match starts. Prediction: This is going to be one of the better NXT TV matches of 2020.
Before the bell, Vic Joseph proclaimed that this match would be presented uninterrupted. I took this to mean no commercials. However, the match was shown picture in picture with commercials, not commercial-less.
Before the match, Lorcan and Burch accompanied Dunne to the ring, as did Cole and Strong with KOR. Dain and Drake took out the tag champions and then Breezango entered the fray before Cole and Roddy also added their fists to the fray. This was a clever way to work the tag scene into the card tonight while keeping the focus on KOR and Dunne. It also took away the suspense of outside interference, knowing there was more of a sure fire chance we’d see a winner.
What. A. Match. Two of the most talented acts in NXT today, both somewhat underrated, putting on an incredible performance. A performance that will lead them to a title match at the next major show, nonetheless. Dunne’s heel work is incredible, and KOR played the anti-hero face very well.
KOR seemed to be the clear choice to win leading up to this match. As much as I would love to see Dunne vs. Balor for the NXT title, that can wait. KOR vs. Balor for the NXT title is just as exciting.
Indi Hartwell vs. Shotzi Blackheart
Shotzi’s feud with LaRae, and by extension, Hartwell continued tonight. With Gargano, Theory and LaRae ringside, Hartwell looked to take out one of their foes once and for all.
While it wasn’t a bad match by any stretch, I still feel like Hartwell has some more work to do before she is ready for prime time. She doesn’t always move with a purpose in the ring, making certain movements look forced or false. The trophy presented to LaRae by her husband last week was used tonight as a weapon. Hartwell beat Shotzi with it in view of the ref. LaRae and Hartwell continued their beatdown as the next segment came on the air.
I think this served the Gargano stable well. It wasn’t about a win. It was about taking out a threat for the NXT Women’s title.
Karrion Kross vs Desmond Troy
A very quick squash match to reintroduce the former NXT Champion to the masses. Just as intense as you would expect, up to and including his submission finisher.
At the end of the match, Kross looked into the camera and called Priest out for New Year’s Evil. While not the ideal match I’d like to see Kross have back, I’ll take it. I’d rather see Kross toil with a smaller guy like Ciampa, Gargano or even Grimes. However Priest is high enough on the card and enough of a talent where I think this is a decent enough introductory feud for the returning Kross.
Toni Storm vs. Rhea Ripley
Oddly enough, this is the first time in recent memory that going into a “big” women’s match, I wasn’t overly excited about it. I’ve been high on Ripley for years, though I’ve questioned some booking decisions lately. I’ve also been relatively high on Storm, even though I’m not overly fond of her in-ring work. Thinking about why I wasn’t pumped for this match, I think Ripley has cooled off way too much to be seen as the top dog of the division. Storm, while she has a high ceiling, doesn’t quite feel main event level just yet.
The match itself was fine. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but I do feel like it raised the bar for Storm. She had a better showing than I have come to expect out of her ring work, and at times looked like a credible threat to the powerhouse, Ripley. Even though her win wasn’t clean after Raquel’s interference, she still has a win over the dominant Ripley. Though, this really just serves as another notch in the feud between Ripley and Gonzales.
I feel like this should have been the mid-main event at the top of the 2nd hour, swapped with KOR vs. Dunne. While entertaining, this didn’t captivate me as much as KOR vs. Dunne, nor were the stakes as high. Overall, I came away from this a little underwhelmed.