SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NXT ON USA
FEBRUARY 17, 2021, 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, Tom Stoup & Nate Lindberg to break down the episode:
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-The show opened with spots from all five TakeOver matches shown, in the order the matches happened, and finished with the show-closing angle where Adam Cole superkicked Finn Balor and Kyle O’Reilly.
-The announcers teed up the show and were interrupted as O’Reilly strode to the ring wearing his Undisputed Era hoodie. He said everyone saw what happened at the end of TakeOver, and he keeps trying to make sense of it, but he can’t. He’s shocked, confused, pissed off and disappointed. He said UE was supposed to be special, and not like every other group in the business, but Adam Cole ruined it for everyone. He said Adam Cole stabbed in the back, but he was still his brother, so he’s giving him the benefit of the doubt and he needed him to come out and explain himself, and when they were done, he was probably going to punch Cole in the face but he was ready to hear him out.
UE’s music brought Roderick Strong to the ramp instead. Strong said UE was still very special. He said they know Adam and he knows Adam did it solely off of emotion. He said he knows Adam regrets it. O’Reilly yelled at Strong not to waste his time and speak for Cole. Strong started entering the ring and O’Reilly told him not to. He said he didn’t know who to trust. He said something like “I don’t need to hear sh*t from you,” and the whole sentence was bleeped. He said he wanted Cole out here.
Finn Balor’s music played instead. Balor said Kyle may not be looking for him, but he was looking for Kyle. He said O’Reilly could get in line behind him. Strong got between Balor and O’Reilly, and Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch stormed in and attacked Strong and Balor and then O’Reilly as well. Glad to see Dunne isn’t yet a total afterthought in the main event picture. Dunne’s music played and the heel trio stood at the top of the ramp, victorious in this segment.
-William Regal said that earlier today, he received a message from Santos Escobar. Escobar said nobody threatens him, so he’s going to go home and the match won’t happen when Regal wants – it’s when Escobar wants. Regal said it will happen next week, and although the Cruiserweight Championship isn’t on the line, Escobar will be stripped of it if he doesn’t show up. Regal also announced a six-man tag main event with the players from the opening segment opposite each other.
(Wells’s Analysis: Strong hook for both the show and perhaps the next several weeks of TV)
(1) SHOTZI BLACKHEART & EMBER MOON vs. CANDICE LERAE & INDI HARTWELL
Johnny Gargano showed up at ringside as well and handed out Missing posters for Austin Theory. The babyface women rode Blackheart’s tank to the ring as they did on Sunday.
Blackheart dropkicked LeRae to open. Quick tag to Moon, who ran the ropes and dumped LeRae with a basement dropkick. The match went to quick split-screen commercial.
Back to full-screen, Gargano was on commentary complaining about the faces dominating. Hartwell kicked out from a Moon cover and Blackheart tagged in and hit her question mark kick, then covered for two. The faces looked for a tandem move in the corner but LeRae dumped Blackheart and Hartwell hit a big boot on Moon. LeRae tagged in and covered for two. Front chancery by LeRae. The feed went to the back where a white van was arriving, and then the camera angle showed LeRae watching while controlling. LeRae hit a lariat on Moon. LeRae stomped Moon and then tagged Hartwell. Back elbow by Hartwell and a cover for two. Hartwell took Moon to a neutral corner for some shoulderblocks. Moon tried to get to a tag but Hartwell hit a sidewalk slam for two. Hartwell dragged Moon to the heel corner and tagged LeRae.
LeRae dropped her hips on Moon, who was still crawling toward Blackheart. LeRae trapped Moon’s arms behind her back and then rolled her up for two. Hartwell tagged in and threw some shots, then booted Moon in the heel corner. Moon threw some desperation shots. Hartwell draped Moon on the second rope and booted her head. Candice tagged in and again the feed went to the back and showed the van. The match went to commercial as Gargano started to make his way back to see what was going on.
Back to action, Hartwell tagged in and Blackheart made the hot tag in. Corner knee by Blackheart. Blackheart planted Hartwell for two as a graphic hyped the trophy presentation for both winning teams in the Dusty Classic. Blackheart made a cover and LeRae hit a senton to break it up. All four women were briefly involved and yet again we went outside to watch Gargano beat on the white van and ask “Austin, are you in there?” We went back to the match where LeRae tagged in. Superkick by LeRae got two. Blackheart hit a jawbreaker and made the tag. The two teamed up on the heels and Moon made a cover for two. Moon went up but LeRae knocked her off the top. Tag to Hartwell.
At the top of the ramp, Gargano showed up with Austin Theory, and LeRae cheered and ran up the ramp to celebrate, allowing Moon to roll up Hartwell for three. The Way all chatted on the top of the ramp and the faces cheered in the ring.
WINNERS: Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon at 16:18.
(Wells’s Analysis: Why did the arriving van get shown on the big screen? Why did Gargano know to approach it? Why was LeRae dumb enough to abandon a match she ostensibly tried to win for the previous 16 minutes? With eight minutes of commercials and several breaks to the tron, this match did nothing for the women in it. I know the rules are a little different with The Way being a comedy act, but they asked for a lot of suspension of disbelief here, even compared to the norm)
-Pat McAfee made his return in a video via a private jet, where he said he was right and the Internet Community is stupid in a continuation of the most outdated taunt in wrestling. He said he was going to a warmer climate and added “hashtag – Pat was right.”
(Wells’s Analysis: Good to see that McAfee is still around, though there are s many more heels than faces right now it just makes the roster even more unbalanced.)
-Kushida was receiving medical attention when McKenzie Mitchell asked him about TakeOver. Kushida said he wasn’t done with Johnny Gargano. Bronson Reed entered the picture and said he had business with Johnny as well. He said if it comes down to the two of them, they’ll cross that road. They bumped fists. Reed left and Malcolm Bivens got into frame, saying that if Kushida wanted a match tonight, he had just the competitor for him. The implication is Tyler Rust, but in the background, Jake Atlas was also being worked on by medical staff.
(2) LEON RUFF vs. ISAIAH “SWERVE” SCOTT
Swerve shoved Ruff to a corner and mocked him. He asked for some shots and evaded them. The two went to a corner and Swerve avoided a hip toss. To the opposite corner, Ruff managed to hit a hip toss. Rope run and Swerve hit a running knee. Backbreaker by Swerve. Swerve jogged around the ring and hit a corner dropkick. Ruff got dumped and Swerve brought him back in and covered for two. Swerve worked a scissors on Ruff, who threw palm strikes until Swerve broke. Swerve begged for more and Ruff tried to fight from underneath. Chop by Swerve. Back elbow and a kick by Ruff. Running elbow by Ruff. Rope run and a lariat by Ruff. Corner cutter by Ruff and a cover for two; Swerve grabbed the bottom rope rather than kick out.
Ruff threw some forearms and Swerve threw vicious shots in response. Swerve missed a dropkick and Ruff hit a double stomp. Big discus clothesline by Swerve. Swerve went for his finisher but Ruff turned it into a crucifix and got the three.
After the count, Swerve laughed and acted like it was no big deal. He shook Ruff’s hand and then took him down and stomped him in frustration. He did a release Death Valley Driver into a corner and told Ruff he was tired of him getting handed everything. This is Swerve’s time, and Swerve’s house.
WINNER: Leon Ruff at 5:25.
(Wells’s Analysis: This version of Swerve really does gain more in losses than he does with wins, as it continues to build his frustration to a breaking point. Follow-up will be key, but it’s something, and Ruff just got his first win in weeks as well)
-Martin Luther King, Jr. spot for Black History Month.
(3) KAYDEN CARTER & KACY CATANZARO vs. ALIYAH & JESSIE KAMEA (w/Robert Stone)
The faces cut a promo on Xia Li and Mei Ying via video before the match. The faces dominated Kamea early and Carter covered for two. Boot and a tag to Catanzaro, who flew into a headscissors. Boa appeared at the top of the ramp and distracted the faces and Kamea got some shots in. Tag to Aliyah. Tandem cutter by the heels as Kamea tagged back in for a two count. Jawbreaker and a forearm by Carter. Both teams tagged. Catanzaro dominated Aliyah with body shots in the corner and hit a forward flip into a boot, then covered for two. Carter tagged in and the two hit a tandem finisher.
WINNERS: Kayden Carter & Kacy Catanzaro at 2:35.
Xia Li hit the ramp as well and she and Boa walked down it. Catanzaro tried to reason with Li, who made a marking on Catanzaro’s hand and said next week, she would hurt her.
(Wells’s Analysis: They’re really getting a lot more out of this by taking their time, and Li’s long losing streak is looking more like a thing of the distant past as a result. The match here was fine, though had some slight miscues)
-Malcolm Bivens cut a promo on Kushida with Tyler Rust silently approving of his words. He said they’d tangle tonight.
-Beth Phoenix was in the ring with the Dusty Cup. She put over the tournament and Dusty Rhodes himself, then threw to the tron for a short video showing a little hype and some spots from the tournament finals. Phoenix announced MSK, the winners of the men’s Dusty Cup, and they strode to the ring excitedly to enjoy their victory. The camera went in tight on the plate on the Cup, which showed their names now added. Nash Carter said that soon, Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan would have their day against them. Wes Lee said it would be even better when they were announced as champions.
With MSK still in the ring, Phoenix announced Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez, who walked down the ramp and entered. MSK held open the ropes for them. The heel women got a “You deserve it” chant. Kai said crushing the competition always takes their breath away. She said they were by far the best tag team in the division, so it was no surprise –
Shayna Baszler’s music played to bring the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions to the ramp. Baszler told Nia Jax to take a look at the winners. On that night, they were on the right side of history, but soon they’ll be on the wrong side. MSK held open the ropes for the champs as well. Jax threatened Carter afterward and he bolted across the ring. Kai introduced the champions by dressing them down to Gonzalez. In the corner, MSK and Beth Phoenix were eating popcorn. Baszler said this was the same old Dakota Kai – whining and crying when she broke her arm. Kai said she wasn’t the same anymore and would happily kick Baszler’s head off. Gonzalez said Baszler doesn’t run the place anymore, and when they face them in two weeks for the championships, she’ll make sure they know that. Jax told the women to take it down a notch. She said she came to honor the great Dusty Rhodes. She said she’d never forget Dusty calling her the biggest, baddest bitch, and he was right. Gonzalez said Dusty Rhodes – god rest his soul – never met her. Baszler said on March 3rd, they’d come to the challengers’ home turf to humiliate them. Gonzalez told Jax to watch what she says, or she’ll stick her boot so far up her hole, she’ll never get it out. MSK mimicked a seizure on the mat laying in the popcorn.
(Wells’s Analysis: I didn’t see this match happening so quickly with heel champions. The match could be used to turn Gonzalez and Kai into badass faces, I suppose, but they seem too valuable in their current roles for that. I might have chosen Kai and Gonzalez if this was farther in the future, but it’s tough to see them coming out with the titles as is)
-Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong argued outside, seen but not heard by the camera.
-The Cameron Grimes hip-hop track from TakeOver played again. It led into a shot that revealed that Grimes crashed his luxury car. He laughed it off and said he’d have to buy another one.
-Io Shirai had a photo shoot and got ambushed and was left laying by Toni Storm. I figured one of the challengers from TakeOver would get a little more of a chance with Shirai, and now we know which.
(4) KUSHIDA vs. TYLER RUST (w/Malcolm Bivens)
Quick reversals and a reset. To the corner and a clean break from Kushida. Rust backed to a corner to evade Kushida and they reset again. Arm wringer by Rust, reversed, then reversed again as Rust threw Kushida. Kushida wrung the arm again and Rust reversed and took down Kushida with an armbar. Kushida used the ropes to reverse and tie up Rust, then kick his arm as Bivens complained. Rope run and a springboard back elbow by Kushida. Quick reversals in the center of the ring and Kushida rolled up Rust for two. Huge palm strike by Rust, followed by some European uppercuts. Enzuigiri from Kushida, who then wrenched Rust’s arm over the top rope. Kushida went up and Rust yanked him off, and Kushida fell awkwardly. Rust tried to tie up Kushida on the mat and Kushida reached the bottom rope to break. The match went to commercial as Kushida took a breather outside the ring.
Rust had Kushida dominated with an armbar but Kushida immediately got back in it upon return with a hip toss. Running kick by Kushida missed, and Kushida slammed Rust’s arm after Rust fought off the Hoverboard Lock. Brief guillotine by Kushida, but Rust hit a backdrop and then worked a brief sleeper and then hit a suplex. Beautiful scissor kick by Rust got a two count. Kushida rolled into a crucifix but the rope broke. Pump kick and a cover for two by Rust. The two blocked suplexes, and Kushida tried a rollup but Rust caught him with a sleeper. Rust transitioned into what Barrett called a modified Bow & Arrow that defies simple description. Rollup by Kushida broke. Rust put Kushida in a fireman’s carry, but Kushida put Rust in the Hoverboard Lock on the way down. Rust didn’t tap, but Bivens called to the ref and threw the match so Rust could live to fight another day.
WINNER: Kushida at 11:15.
(Wells’s Analysis: Kushida gets his heat back to some degree with a win against a game opponent. Rust and Bivens could still be working an angle about tension between them, but I still don’t think that’s in the cards, and Rust is waiting until a spot higher on the card opens up for him)
-Hype video for Zoey Stark – formerly known as Lacey Ryan – who debuts next.
-The announcers threw to the TakeOver pre-show, where the wrestler formerly known as Eli Drake made his debut as L.A. Knight. The camera caught up with him at his condo and he said the NXT Universe should be excited about the hottest free agent on the market, but they’d better not knock on his door unannounced again. Wade Barrett, who worked with Drake recently on NWA, put him over as a megastar waiting to happen.
(5) VALENTINA FEROZ vs. ZOEY STARK
Barrett said Stark looked like Shakira, except more of a badass, and she kind of does. Stark took Feroz to a corner with a boot and then laid her out with a clothesline. Feroz tried a headlock. Rope run and Stark missed a stomp. Feroz dropkicked Stark. Judo throw and a one count by Feroz. Repeated knees by Stark. Feroz blocked a suplex but got caught near the corner, where Stark dropped Feroz on her neck on the buckle. Release half nelson suplex by Stark. Running knee strike by Stark. Stark did a tilt-a-whirl with Feroz and hit a knee at the end to win with her as-yet-unnamed finisher.
WINNER: Zoey Stark at 2:28.
(Wells’s Analysis: Stark is being presented as a heel badass; will there be room for her with Raquel Gonzalez and Mercedes Martinez already filling that role?)
-Karrion Kross and Scarlett segment. Kross said Santos Escobar’s destiny was already decided. He has option A) show up next week and lose, or B) don’t show up and be stripped of his championship, and Kross eventually catches up with him anyway. Tick tock.
(6) FINN BALOR & KYLE O’REILLY & RODERICK STRONG vs. PETE DUNNE & DANNY BURCH & ONEY LORCAN
The heels entered together. Balor entered first for the faces, curiously, followed by Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly. Strong wanted to do the UE pose at the top of the rope and O’Reilly walked right past him. The match went to commercial as it was just about to get started.
The bell rang right as the show returned. O’Reilly dominated Lorcan with rights and went to the face corner, where he elected to tag Balor. Balor and O’Reilly made frequent tags to ground Lorcan. In a surprising bit of continuity, the announcers said Lorcan was extra fired up because he was fined for shoving an official Sunday. A corner graphic promoted the tag team championship match two weeks from now. Strong tagged in and got himself stuck in the heel corner. Dunne tagged in and worked Strong’s left arm. Strong reversed and hit a dropkick for two. Strong wanted a backbreaker and Dunne fought it off and reached a rope to break, then exploded off the rope with a lariat. Strong threw a couple of rights but Dunne put a knee to him and put him outside. Strong fought off the tag champions outside and walked into the ring, where he blocked a suplex and hit a backbreaker on Dunne.
O’Reilly and Lorcan tagged in. Lorcan hit a couple of shots and tagged Dunne. O’Reilly dominated Burch with combo punches and kicks. O’Reilly destroyed all the heels and ran off the apron for a PK that missed, and he ran into a forearm by Dunne as the match went to split-screen commercial.
Dunne had O’Reilly grounded in the heel corner upon return. O’Reilly hit a dragon screw, but Dunne tagged and Burch cut him off. Burch got rolled up with a backslide for two. Burch tied up a leg and tagged Dunne, who put a boot to him. Tag again to Burch, who charged into a waiting boot in a neutral corner. Double clothesline and both guys were on the mat. Burch made the tag to Dunne, who punked Strong to the floor and went at O’Reilly, who was able to duck a shot and tag Balor. Balor hit a basement dropkick on Dunne’s knee, then put the boots to the invading tag champs. Half-crab by Balor but Dunne hit an inside cradle for two. Balor planted Dunne. Balor covered and the heels made the save. All six got involved and before long, the illegal men were cleared out. Step-up enzuigiri by Dunne. Bitter End was blocked. 1916 blocked. Sling blade by Balor. Dunne made his finger guns but Danny Burch distracted the ref, and the ref got bumped in the process. Balor cleared Burch and went to the top rope, and Adam Cole appeared out of nowhere and tossed Balor from the top, where the ref got bumped again. On the outside, Cole hit a pump kick on O’Reilly, then suplexed him onto the steel steps.
Inside the ring, Oney Lorcan crawled over to Roderick Strong. Strong tried to get Balor’s attention, but Balor thought it was a foe and hit a Pele kick on him. As Balor surveyed the situation, Dunne hit the Bitter End on Balor for the win.
WINNERS: Pete Dunne & Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch at 12:01.
After the match, Cole again invaded and hit a superkick on Balor. Referee Drake Wuertz begged for some help as Adam Cole posed with the NXT Championship in the ring. The show ended at five past the hour.
(Wells’s Analysis: With Adam Cole looming over the proceedings, the ending was never in doubt. What surprised me is Dunne getting the pin on Balor rather than Strong, which would generally point to Dunne staying in the championship picture. I’m not so sure this is the case, though, as it was likely more about Cole costing Balor the victory to move himself into contention. The match was a standard high-energy schmoz like you’d expect from a main event six-man)
FINAL THOUGHTS: NXT is really leaning into the goofy stuff these days. With the entire act of The Way, the popcorn business with MSK, and Cameron Grimes laughing after crashing his new $400,000 car, they’re going into territory on a regular basis that they’ve mostly avoided in the past. A little of it can be a good thing, but it’ll be interesting to see how people respond if that kind of business starts dominating the show.
The main event scene, on the other hand, is a good old-school wrestling angle with a lot of moving parts and intrigue to carry the show through a good many weeks and months of TV. The show had a good variety of flavors tonight, and most crucially, set some hooks for upcoming episodes. Join me, Tom Stoup and Nate Lindberg on PWT Talks NXT tonight or stream later. Cheers.