SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NXT ON USA
DECEMBER 30, 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
-Hey, gang. My cable company did me dirty on Wednesday night, which meant I couldn’t get this to you live as normal. Apologies for the hiatus.
-In memory of Jon Huber “Luke Harper” 1979-2020
(1) BRONSON REED vs. ISAIAH “SWERVE” SCOTT
Reed had new gear with a…Stegosaurus? Komodo Dragon?…draped around his neck. Headlock by Reed to open. Headlock takedown and Swerve fought to his feet and worked into an arm scissors. Reed lifted Swerve up and he escaped. Reed clotheslined Swerve to the outside and hit a tackle from the apron, and Barrett mentioned that Reed took it from the playbook of Stan Hansen. Back in the ring, Swerve hit a knee and another. Reed bailed and Swerve hit a PK from the apron. Swerve did the nWo crotch chop, strangely. Back into the ring, Swerve hit an elbow from the second rope to Reed’s back and covered for two.
Action went to the corner and Swerve hit an uppercut, then ran the ropes and dropkicked Reed’s knee. Flatliner by Swerve got two. Swerve looked frustrated but focused. Swerve worked Reed’s left knee but Reed threw a forearm to break. Reed hit his feet and Swerve threw some punches. Swerve kicked the bad knee and ran the ropes for a sunset flip, but Reed splashed Swerve for two. Tackle by Reed. Forearm. Running elbow and a corner splash by Reed. Huge chokeslam got two.
Reed hit a waistlock and Swerve reached a rope. Swerve did his back headbutt from last week on Jake Atlas and it just ticked Reed off. Reed laid out Swerve and hit his Tsunami frog splash for the win.
WINNER: Bronson Reed at 6:17.
(Wells’s Analysis: A nice opener that didn’t overstay its welcome, as many of the openers do despite having no issue attached to them. Fun big vs. small match that further established Swerve’s cocky lean and Reed’s continued push upon his return)
BREAKOUT STAR OF THE YEAR AWARD
Pat McAfee, Damian Priest, Shotzi Blackheart, Cameron Grimes, Dexter Lumis, Timothy Thatcher, Raquel Gonzalez, Santos Escobar and Ilya Dragunov were nominated. Blackheart was the winner. She gave a backyard promo in a shirt that said “Stephen King rules.” She gave a promo that came off as genuinely thankful before hitting some catchphrases.
(Wells’s Analysis: Many fans wonder if these awards are kayfabe or if votes actually matter. From my experience, I’d say it’s likely that they matter. I was the representative voter for PWTorch.com, and when the WWE representative saw that he hadn’t asked for an overall top competitor vote, he got back to me to make sure he got the vote. I voted for Dragunov here, though I knew it would likely go to an NXT US competitor. I have no issue with Blackheart winning, and as always, there was a slew of worthy candidates in this field)
-Earlier today, Jake Atlas and Leon Ruff arrived. Elsewhere, so did the four members of The Way. Johnny Gargano saw a black cat in the hallway of the PC and lost his mind over the bad omen as Candice LeRae tried to talk him down.
(2) BREEZANGO (Tyler Breeze & Fandango) vs. GRIZZLED YOUNG VETERANS (Zack Gibson & James Drake)
Drake and Breeze to start. GYV got no entrance, which seems silly given that they’re likely a priority. I can dig the new pacing of the show, but entrances are important. Breeze controlled early, grounding Drake with a wristlock. He tagged to Fandango, who ran the ropes and hit a tackle, then an arm drag. He worked a brief armbar and Drake hit a knee to create separation and he tagged Gibson. Gibson hit an arm drag but Fandango held on with a headlock in a cool spot. Vic mentioned in breaking news that the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic would return in two weeks.
Drake tagged in and threw a big left to ground Breeze. Body slam got a one count for Drake. Drake hit a knee to Breeze’s back and worked a headlock. Breeze hit a few shots but Drake didn’t let go, and he made a tag. Breeze escaped trouble and made the tag and Fandango dominated for a moment. He rolled up Gibson for two and tagged Breeze. Fandango hit stereo kicks to Gibson and all four men got involved on the outside, on the ramp side. GYV were outside anticipating trouble from Breeze, but instead Fandango splashed them from the steel structure at ringside. Vic teased an injury to Fandango after the move as the match went to commercial.
Back from the break, GYV had dominated Fandango and were double-teaming him on the outside. Gibson was legal and he smashed Fandango’s leg against the barricade, then tossed him into the ring. Gibson ran into the ring to be sure to cut off any potential tag, and then hit a dragon screw on Fandango out of the corner for two. Gibson leaned in to two more covers for two. Gibson hit a body slam on Fandango and made a tag. Drake tried to yank Fandango out of the ring but Fandango kicked him away. Drake tagged again and Fandango crawled under Gibson’s legs for the hot tag. Breeze was a house afire and hit corner elbows on both guys. Breeze put both of GYV outside but missed a tope and took stereo shots. Once again all four got involved and on the inside, Drake rolled up Breeze for two. Gibson tagged in and Breeze again took control, but GYV hit Ticket to Mayhem to finish.
After the decision was rendered, Ever-Rise went to the top of the ramp and demanded a fight with GYV. The referee said she wasn’t interested in their fight and she told Ever-Rise to do what they wanted to do, but she was done. Once she wasn’t separating the teams, Ever-Rise weren’t so tough anymore and GYV’s mere presence ran them off.
WINNERS: Grizzled Young Veterans at 9:41 (shown. I watched this without commercials so it was a few minutes longer).
(Wells’s Analysis: An okay formula tag match designed to show off some of the tag division ahead of the Dusty Classic. GYV are still in an awkward position, getting a strong push as heels while heels are champions, and now they’re in a feud with heels as well. It’s probably pointing to a face turn by GYV, though this hasn’t explicitly been teased and I also don’t think I’d waste their heel act by turning them this early after their return)
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD
Nominations were Undisputed Era, Breezango, Imperium, Gallus, Legado del Fantasma, Burch & Lorcan. The winners, of course, were Undisputed Era again. As much as NXT sought to beef up their tag division this year, it seems like the field didn’t come together and the winners were never in doubt, even though it’s not clear which two were winning the award. UE gave their usual snarky promo and Adam Cole announced that this year, it would be Cole and Roderick Strong representing UE in the Dusty Classic. Kyle O’Reilly looked subtly miffed in a spot that may or may not mean anything.
-Xia Li and Boa showed off their new confident, aggressive styles in a continuation of the storyline brewing for weeks in cinematic segments. The old man who led the proceedings painted black lines on the foreheads of both, and then a fog machine got involved and there were some quick cuts between the two. The still-unseen cloaked woman led them outside in a clear display that they were about to be unleashed. Wade Barrett explained the symbolism for any of the slower viewers.
(3) VALENTINA FEROZ vs. MERCEDES MARTINEZ
Martinez took a condescending look at Feroz and laid her out with a slam. She begged Feroz to “come on” and wrapped her up in the ropes with a brief choke. Feroz flipped through a suplex but Martinez backed her into a corner. Spinebuster by Martinez, who put the boots to Feroz and mocked her. Slap by Martinez. Martinez set up Feroz for her finisher, but she flipped through. Martinez instead hit a belly-to-belly. Martinez hit Air Raid Crash to finish. Beth said that Io Shirai was taking note.
WINNER: Mercedes Martinez at 2:10.
(Wells’s Analysis: I could watch Mercedes destroy enhancement talent every week of my life. I remain unsure of where she’ll be slotted in NXT, but even in a stacked field, I think she’s got a good chance of being the next women’s champion, particularly with Candice LeRae’s injury)
FEMALE COMPETITOR OF THE YEAR
Nominations were Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Kay Lee Ray and Tegan Nox. Shirai was the (no doubt?) winner and she thanked everyone who voted for her (you’re welcome, Io). She put over the division as the best of the best.
MALE COMPETITOR OF THE YEAR
Finn Balor, Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Keith Lee, Walter and Tommaso Ciampa were nominated. Cole was the winner. He was my vote as well, but there were some legitimate contenders here. Cole put over the Undisputed Era and said although it meant a lot, it would mean even more to him when Kyle O’Reilly wins the NXT Championship next week.
(4) RODERICK STRONG vs. PETE DUNNE
Quick takedown by Strong, who worked a little ground and pound and then threw vicious chops. Dunne threw kicks in response. Headlock takeover by Strong. Rope run and a lariat by Strong. Strong threw some shots and Dunne worked a brief headlock. Strong escaped, ran the ropes and hit a kick to Dunne’s face. More chops by Strong. Dunne took down Strong and worked a head scissors, then manipulated the joints and worked a quick double armbar. Strong hit his feet but Dunne held on until Strong reached a rope. Strong hit another big chop to lay out Dunne, but he moved in and Dunne launched him from the ring. Dunne tossed Strong back in and on the inside, Strong caught Dunne for a backbreaker and he dropkicked Dunne from the ring.
Back from the break, Dunne hit a big Irish whip on Strong, then grounded him with something like a butterfly lock and he wrenched Strong’s ear. Dunne took Strong to a corner and leaned in with a boot until the ref broke it up. Strong kicked his way out of the corner, then hit a lovely dropkick and both sold on the mat. “This is awesome” chant. They’re right.
Shot exchange. Strong got the better of it and planted Dunne, then hit a high knee in the corner. Strong ran the ropes and hit his running forearms. Cover for two. Dunne bailed and Strong missed a dropkick to the outside. Dunne put Strong into the steel steps and went for The Bitter End on the outside, but Strong reversed and hit a sidewalk slam on the apron. Strong went inside and covered for two. Dunne rolled up Strong for two and hit an enzuigiri. One from Strong also. Dunne countered a slam into a triangle, but Strong turned that into a backbreaker for two. Dunne did his stomp spot and went for a triangle, but Strong threw forearms to break. Strong wanted the Stronghold but Dunne kicked to keep out of it. Dunne snapped Strong’s digits and hit The Bitter End to win.
WINNER: Pete Dunne at 10:03 aired, plus commercial.
(Wells’s Analysis: Not surprising that Dunne would win this match, though Roddy is so good he always sews doubt. These two have counters so innumerable that they could face each other forever, but hopefully this issue can become more personal if it’s to continue)
MATCH OF THE YEAR AWARD
Nominees were the Fatal Four-Way Ironman match between Balor, Cole, Ciampa and Gargano, Balor vs. O’Reilly at TakeOver 31, Walter vs. Ilya Dragunov from NXT UK TV, the men’s WarGames match and Shirai vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Ripley from TakeOver: In Your House. The winner was O’Reilly vs. Balor. Some of the nominees from my ballot weren’t even listed here, including Gallus vs. Andrews & Morgan vs. Grizzled Young Veterans, which was my vote, though I know not nearly enough voters are keeping track of what’s going on in the UK. The men’s WarGames match is kind of a questionable entry here, but otherwise, all were excellent options. Balor met William Regal backstage and instead of taking his own award, he took O’Reilly’s so he could hand-deliver it. Balor ran into Pete Dunne near Gorilla position, teasing a future match between the two.
-The Fight Pit match between Timothy Thatcher and Tommaso Ciampa was promoted. Speaking of which, the Fight Pit should’ve replaced the men’s WarGames match in the previous segment (in fairness, the match was on the ballot).
-Finn Balor stood in front of his championship belt and Kyle O’Reilly’s match of the year award. He put over their match of the year and said that Kyle O’Reilly surprised a lot of people, but he didn’t surprise him. He said O’Reilly deserved it. The UE music played, bringing O’Reilly to the ring. Balor told O’Reilly to take the award, because he didn’t need it. He has three steel plates in his face that remind him every day. O’Reilly said the award was proof that he belonged in the ring with Balor and belonged at the top of NXT. He said he wouldn’t carry it around as a consolation prize. He wants the real prize. He said that next week, he’ll do anything and everything to become NXT Championship and prove that the last fifteen years were worth a damn. Balor said that last time they wrestled, O’Reilly broke his jaw, so this time he’d make him pay.
Scarlett ruined their fun by appearing on the ramp with Karrion Kross. She said it was irrelevant who walks out with the championship, because Karrion Kross will take it back afterward. Kross said “Tick tock” but Damian Priest appeared behind him. Priest and Kross went at it on the ramp and near the ring, then crashed through a Plexiglass barrier. They both got up quickly to sell their giant status. They fought to the backstage and knocked over some drapery covering the tech area. Kross hit a flatliner on Priest through a covered table and both sold death. Scarlett was heaving with elation at the show of violence in a way we don’t normally see on PG WWE.
-Rhea Ripley segment. She promoted the match with Raquel Gonzalez with some candid non-kayfabe photos showing how close they’ve been on the road, using them as proof of how they grew apart. The two got matching “RnR” tattoos on their fingers. Ripley said they were there for each other until Gonzalez wasn’t there anymore and was jealous of Ripley’s success. Gonzalez, elsewhere, said she was the biggest and baddest woman in the company. The music swelled and the two were more intense in their promos as the segment hit a crescendo. The screen showed “RnR” but changed it to “R vs. R” to promote the match next week. Very, very strong segment ahead of New Year’s Evil.
-Legado del Fantasma stood in the ring. Escobar told his cronies to enjoy the moment. What a year we had, he said. He said the voting for tag team of the year was a sham. He said William Regal was out there looking for the next challenger to his cruiserweight title but he can’t and he won’t find anyone. He said they were the leaders of lucha libre and in 2021 it would continue. The Lucha House Party theme played to disrupt the promo.
Lince Dorado asked Escobar if he really thinks he owns lucha libre. He said it was for everybody. Raul Mendoza made some comments in Spanish and the two teams went at each other. Referee Drake Wuertz hit the ring and said he got word from William Regal that a tag match is on.
(5) LUCHA HOUSE PARTY (Gran Metalik & Lince Dorado) vs. LEGADO DEL FANTASMA (Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde)
The two teams brawled before the bell, with LHP getting the better of things before the break. The match was in progress upon return from commercial. Dorado tagged in and hit a huracanrana on Wilde, who tagged Mendoza, who was hit with a springboard moonsault for two. Dorado went for a springboard but Wilde held him from the outside, leaving him open to a dropkick from Mendoza. LdF worked over Dorado in the heel corner and Wilde hit a slam for two. Wilde worked a brief headlock but Dorado fought him off and hit a cross-body from the top rope. Metalik tagged in and hit a superkick, a sling blade and a second-rope dropkick for two. Dorado tagged in and put Mendoza up on the second rope. Tag again and a huracanrana by Metalik and a splash by Dorado. Cover for two, broken by Wilde. All four were involved and Metalik hit a rana on Wilde to the outside. Poison rana by Dorado. Metalik walked old school and hit an elbow drop to finish.
WINNERS: Lucha House Party at 3:51 aired.
(Wells’s Analysis: This was unconventional, but LHP could involve themselves in the Cruiserweight championship picture but could also be a surprise entrant into the Dusty Classic)
FUTURE STAR OF THE YEAR AWARD
Austin Theory, Jake Atlas, Leon Ruff, Kacy Catanzaro, Kayden Carter, Indi Hartwell, Xia Li, A-Kid, Aoife Valkyrie and Pretty Deadly were the nominees. Austin Theory won. Catanzaro, Carter and Hartwell were bizarre nominees here. The NXT UK contingent is strong but Theory is the no-doubt winner here. The Way appeared backstage for Theory to accept his award. Gargano and LeRae were thrilled while Hartwell wasn’t too excited about not winning. Theory allowed Hartwell to hold the award, which she was happy to do. Theory told Gargano that he’d go out there and break the curse of never defending successfully. Gargano said Theory shouldn’t say the C-word and he threw the award off camera. He broke a mirror and figured it was another bad sign.
Vic announced that TakeOver: WarGames was the event of the year and the Rivalry of the Year was Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee.
(Wells’s Analysis: McAfee remains off TV for whatever reason, when he really could have gotten a boost here by selling the award win. WarGames isn’t a good choice for event of the year, but fans understandably vote for it because the show has such a tremendous identity whereas a lot of the others blend together after a while)
OVERALL COMPETITOR OF THE YEAR AWARD
It’s Io Shirai. I’m a massive Io fan, but I voted for Cole because Shirai had so few feuds throughout the year. I find myself happy that my choice lost, though both were excellent representatives for the brand so it was win-win. Shirai simply stated her gratitude.
(6) LEON RUFF vs. JOHNNY GARGANO (c) – NXT North American Championship match
Alicia Taylor handled formal intros. Barrett said there was no curse, and said the proof was that Barrett won his fantasy football league after years of trying. Gargano took down Ruff with a headlock. Ruff worked his way to his feet and took down Gargano with a couple of rollups for one counts, then another for two. Gargano took a powder and went outside with the rest of The Way. Austin Theory distracted Ruff, but Ruff didn’t take the bait and hit a crucifix for two. Ruff worked into a few more pin combinations, then took Gargano to a corner and threw some forearms. Ruff charged in with a kick and went for a corner move, but Gargano shoved him off the ropes to the floor.
Gargano chopped Ruff against the apron and put his head into the mat. He tossed Ruff to the barricade, broke the ten count, and went back outside. Ruff jumped from barricade to steps to barricade to avoid trouble and hit a back kick to Gargano in an impressive sequence. The Way distracted Ruff so Gargano could hit a neckbreaker, and then Gargano hit a tope and tossed Ruff into the steps leading to commercial.
Upon return, Gargano had Ruff in a headlock. Ruff threw some body shots but Gargano grounded him again and wrenched his back over his knee. Gargano looked derisively at the fans and went for another neckbreaker, but Ruff blocked and hit a kick. Ruff threw some more quick kicks and some forearms, then a couple of flying forearms. Ruff hit a leaping neckbreaker in a corner, then a German suplex. Cannonball in the corner by Ruff and he covered for two. “NXT” chant.
Gargano hit a lariat to the back but Ruff sprung off the ropes with a bigger lariat. Gargano darted Ruff into a corner and set up a superkick. He feinted, waited for Ruff to lift his head again, and hit the superkick for two. Gargano wanted One Final Beat, then a crucifix bomb. Ruff reversed but Gargano hit a powerbomb for two. Gargano transitioned to GargaNo Escape but Ruff made it to the corner. Gargano complained and didn’t break the hold until four. Action went outside and both did some quick reversals and Ruff hit a stunner off the apron to Gargano, then threw him into the ring. Ruff went to the top and hit a frog splash for a long two. It went to a corner and Ruff jumped up for some forearms, but Gargano dropped Ruff on the turnbuckle and hit One Final Beat right after. The announcers put over “the end of the curse.”
WINNER: Johnny Gargano at 11:45, plus commercial.
Dexter Lumis, host of New Year’s Evil, appeared on the platform in the back. Some of his drawings promoted next week’s matches. Santos Escobar will defend against Gran Metalik. Timothy Thatcher faces Tommaso Ciampa in the Fight Pit. Damian Priest faces Karrion Kross. Raquel Gonzalez faces Rhea Ripley in a Last Woman Standing Match. Finn Balor defends his Championship against Kyle O’Reilly. The camera went in tight on Lumis as the show ended.
(Wells’s Analysis: The Gargano-Ruff match delivered pretty well. It probably didn’t surprise anyone that Gargano won to bring a little stability back to the championship, but Ruff continued to look good and I have to wonder where he’ll slot in and how often he’ll actually get to win as part of his push. Lumis as a host is still a funny and intriguing choice, though I assume most of the gag has already been delivered as he did all the promotional art for the matches.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: A decent go-home show that had no chance against a very emotional night on AEW, which no doubt captured not only their own fans but a lot of NXT/WWE fans as well who seemingly universally loved Jon Huber under any and all names. The show here did a little work to promote what’s going on next week, but did at times feel like another empty calorie week as everything happens so fast it doesn’t have much time to land. The awards, though, were worked in nicely and when appropriate were used to promote ongoing feuds and storylines. New Year’s Evil has a bigger degree of difficulty after this week’s AEW show, but I guess they’re probably happy that they had a semi-major weekly TV show planned before the tragedy.
For more effusive praise of Jon Huber, VIP members should check out Tom Stoup and me on the “NXT: Eight Years Back” VIP podcast from Saturday. See you on Wednesday.