SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NXT ON USA
FEBRUARY 24, 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:
•STREAM LIVE, STARTING 30 MINUTES AFTER NXT
•CALL: (515) 605-9345 (press “1” to queue)
•E-MAIL COMMENTS/QUESTIONS: firstname.lastname@example.org
•SEARCH “PWTORCH” ON YOUR PODCAST APP TO SUBSCRIBE, AND DOWNLOAD/STREAM THE FULL POST-SHOW RECORDING
-I’m getting aggressively sick over the last few hours, gang. Hoping to be on the livecast tonight but my body might have other plans. If I’m unable, my usual gang of idiots will still soldier on.
-The show opened by promoting the (main event?) no-DQ match between Karrion Kross and Santos Escobar.
(1) DEXTER LUMIS vs. JOHNNY GARGANO
Non-title. Lumis was being introduced just after the Kross-Escobar segment and the rest of The Way pumped up Gargano backstage and walked him to the ring. Austin Theory, Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell wore matching shirts with The Way’s logo on them. They all stayed at ringside.
Gargano charged, then freaked out and backed up. Lumis crawled after Gargano, who ran into a big right and hit the floor outside early. Lumis slid outside as Gargano went for a slingshot spear and Lumis crawled under the ring and hit Gargano from the other side. Lumis threw some rights in a corner. Whip to the opposite. Thesz press and some mounted punches by Lumis. Lumis covered for one. Delayed suplex by Lumis, who held on even as Gargano twice tried to wriggle free. Gargano bailed to the ramp side to some scattered boos. Lumis followed and Gargano shoved him into the apron, then laid him out on the foot of the ramp. Ground and pound by Gargano. Gargano broke the ref’s count and went out after Lumis. Gargano missed a PK and Lumis dropped Gargano face-first on the apron. Theory tried to get in a cheap shot on Lumis, after which so did Indi Hartwell. Candice tried a huracanrana and Lumis set her up on the apron; Gargano came flying through LeRae’s legs with a tope and he took control on the outside of the ring as the match went to split-screen commercial.
Gargano controlled throughout the break. Indi Hartwell, who made a “call me” motion at Lumis seemingly as a distraction, was now gazing lovestruck into the ring, so this feud might be about to get weirder. Lumis fought back with some rights and hit a bulldog. Slingshot suplex by Lumis. Belly-to-back by Lumis. Legdrop and a cover for two by Lumis. Beth Phoenix noted the smile on Hartwell’s face. To a corner, Gargano avoided a charge and both guys ended up on the mat, exchanging attempts at their submission finishers. Right and a spinebuster by Lumis for two.
Lumis went high and Gargano attempted to follow. Lumis knocked him down and missed a double stomp. More reversals in the ring. Superkick by Gargano for two. Candice got up on the apron to run interference and Theory got a chair for Gargano. Lumis stepped on the chair to stop that. Step-up enzuigiri by Gargano. Gargano feigned an injury to let Theory get in for a chairshot. Lumis turned his attention to Theory and suckered in Gargano to run him into Theory. Silencer by Lumis and the ref called it off.
WINNER: Dexter Lumis at 13:36.
(Wells’s Analysis: Lumis has to be in line for a big push here. I’m not sure his work warrants the spot, but the top of the card seems a little thin at the moment so they may as well go for it. The tease with Hartwell didn’t come to anything yet, but maybe it’ll lead to at least a small character tweak for Lumis, for which he’s overdue. Strange for Gargano to win a 25-minute clean match against Kushida at TakeOver and lose with his entire squad present, cheating all the way through, just after)
-MSK hype segment. Each of them got some time to promote their story. Nash Carter focused on his late father, getting very emotional. He and Wes Lee soaked it up as Vic said “We hear from MSK…next!” Didn’t we just do that?
-The NXT Profile sponsored by Burger King reminded us that Shotzi Blackheart is a thing. It was just a recut of content we’ve seen before.
-McKenzie Mitchell tried to interview MSK, but before they could speak a single word, Zack Gibson flew into frame with a chair and put it to the back of Wes Lee. He and James Drake laid out MSK to boos.
(x) LEON RUFF vs. TYLER RUST (w/Malcolm Bivens)
Rust was introduced, after which we were shown a backstage segment where Malcolm Bivens got Leon Ruff to agree to a match. Bivens, in the ring presently, referred to Leon Ruff as the son he never had and never wanted. He said tonight, Tyler would remind Ruff why he was a diamond…in the Rust.
Ruff was doing his pre-match hype antics and out of nowhere, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott hit Ruff with a superkick, then hit a Death Valley Driver on Ruff onto the apron in a fairly sick spot. Swerve laughed as he walked up the ramp. Bivens held up Rust’s arm as if he won something. Rust played along and soaked it in.
(Wells’s Analysis: Ruff and Rust both seem like they might not be in a spot to lose a match like this, so this existing as an opportunity to get over a Ruff feud and still get the Rust-Bivens act some screen time was more effective than a nice but forgettable six-minute match would have been)
-Yesterday at the Performance Center, William Regal offered Zoey Stark a non-title match with Io Shirai. Stark sold it as a huge opportunity and said “Hell yeah.” Back to present, McKenzie Mitchell tried to interview her but there were some bizarre technical difficulties and the camera froze on a shot of Io Shirai. Vic apologized for the tech issues as the camera went back to the ring.
-Sasha Banks/Rosa Parks Black History Month spot.
-Earlier today, Cameron Grimes was watching the famous Ted DiBiase scene where he challenged a kid to dribble a basketball ten times before he knocked it away. Grimes tried the same thing with a stagehand backstage and then apparently forgot to knock the ball away, so he had to pay the guy $10,000.
-The announcers talked about the Kyle O’Reilly injury angle after last week’s show. They said the estimated return time was 4-6 weeks.
(2) IO SHIRAI vs. ZOEY STARK
Non-title. Stark was introduced way back before the commercial before the Rosa Parks segment, so she’s just been waiting in there. This match is also apparently brought to you by Burger King. Collar and elbow and a break. Another, and Shirai took Stark down briefly. Reverse by Stark. Waistlock by Stark and Shirai worked the fingers to reverse. Stark did some acrobatics to reverse and Shirai broke the hold with some back elbows. Armdrag by Shirai. Ugly landing as Stark did a back bodydrop. Abdominal stretch by Shirai and a rollup for two. Rope run and a basement dropkick by Shirai. Shirai kicked a grounded Stark in the corner. Chops by Shirai. Shirai tripped Stark and did her slingshot double knee spot. Shirai went for the 619 and Stark caught her and tossed her to the outside. Stark wanted a tope but Shirai booted her. Shirai went to the top rope and Stark knocked her to the floor. The match went to commercial.
Back to action, Vic told us that Stark dominated most of the break, but that changed immediately upon return. Shirai hit a couple of kicks but Stark tripped her on a third attempt and hit a basement dropkick for a two count. Stark went to the top and missed a 450 but rolled through. Double cross-body and both women sold on the mat. Crucifix rollup by Stark for two. Half-and-half suplex by Stark got two and she sold shock that it wasn’t over. Brief sleeper by Stark. Shirai broke and hit an uppercut that showed too much light thanks to a bad angle. 619 hit this time. Shirai went up and hit a missile dropkick. Long two count. Shirai went for a suplex but Stark hit a backdrop. Stark went up and Shirai went up with her. Top rope rana by Shirai. Double-underhook backbreaker by Shirai got two. Stark fought off a shot and hit a German suplex for two. Stark wanted another but Shirai darted her into the bottom buckle. Double knees. Over the Moonsault finished.
WINNER: Io Shirai at 11:48.
After the decision, Stark embraced Shirai in a show of mutual respect. Toni Storm hit the top of the ramp and said Shirai might be willing to fight Zoey whatever, but she was ducking Storm. Shirai said she’d fight Storm anytime, anywhere. Storm said if Shirai thought she could beat her one-on-one, she’d have done it by now. She told Shirai to prove her wrong and make the match with William Regal. Shirai held up her belt and yelled “You’re on!”
(Wells’s Analysis: There were some timing miscues that I’m content to chalk up to a lack of familiarity with each other, because the good parts of this were very, very good. Stark’s debut seemed to point to a heel act but she came off as a clear babyface by the end of this, so maybe someone noticed the glut of heel badasses on the roster and went another way with her)
-McKenzie Mitchell caught up with The Way. Gargano took issue with Theory not using the chair. Theory said Lumis was just misunderstood, and Gargano said it was crazy. He tried to get backup from Hartwell, who said “Actually, he’s kinda hot.” Gargano was incredulous. He said Theory had Stockholm Syndrome and was going to therapy.
(Wells’s Analysis: The Way have a comedy segment that sets up a much higher-concept comedy segment. It’ll likely work, though I can’t shake the feeling that this will wear out its welcome all at once sometime down the road)
-Cameron Grimes was still trying to run his basketball con, and said now he’d watched the entire DiBiase video and understood the con. He ran into some people and made a challenge to a woman, then freaked out when she stood up and was taller than he is. She easily evaded his attempt to kick the basketball away with an under-the-leg dribble and went well past ten. Grimes stormed off and yelled that DiBiase isn’t smarter than he is, and he’ll get this done yet.
(3) KACY CATANZARO (w/Kayden Carter) vs. XIA LI (w/Mei Ying, Boa)
The heels got their full cinematic entrance again. Catanzaro charged immediately and got some shots in. Catanzaro evaded some shots and hit a headscissor takedown. Li caught Catanzaro and dropped her on the top rope to slow her down. Li put Catanzaro’s head in a corner, then stomped a mudhole. Snap suplex by Li got two. Carter slapped the mat to get Catanzaro into it. Li kicked Catanzaro and went for a – torture rack, maybe – and Catanzaro rolled through but Li hit her with a back kick and covered for two.
Li charged Catanzaro in a corner and ate boot, then did so again. Catanzaro threw kicks and forearms, and hit a shotgun dropkick in the corner. Forward flip legdrop by Catanzaro got a two count and Li bailed. Catanzaro wanted a cross-body from the apron but Li caught her and tossed her head-first into the barricade. Catanzaro ended up with a leg up on the steps and Li stomped it in a spot made to look like it caused injury to boos. The ref checked on Catanzaro and Li dragged Catanzaro into the ring by her hair. More refs hit the ring and ended up splitting up Carter and Li.
WINNER: Xia Li by ref stoppage at 4:40.
Carter tried to get at Mei Ying, but Boa got in her way. In the ring, Li attacked Catanzaro further and Carter went back to help her friend. Li and Boa flanked Mei Ying at the top of the ramp.
(Wells’s Analysis: Very effective match finish and angle that does more for Li and to create sympathy for the babyfaces than a pin or submission)
-Hype for next week’s WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship match pitting champions Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler against Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez. All four got brief sit-down mic time interspersed with the segment last week in a short but sweet segment to promote the match.
-Cameron Grimes sulked as he walked outside with his basketball. He ran into a guy and offered him the con. This time, he just punched the guy after one dribble and lost his mind and yelled “Money can buy happiness!”
(4) DRAKE MAVERICK & KILLIAN DAIN vs. GRIZZLED YOUNG VETERANS (Zack Gibson & James Drake)
The faces, kind of absent on TV in important spots, got full intro. GYV carried mics to the ramp. Gibson pretended to be sad at the news that Wes Lee had suffered injuries. Drake, in an extremely rare turn, got live mic time as well. He’s no Gibson, but he’s perfectly fine.
Dain hit James Drake with a quick dropkick to open. Tag to Maverick. Senton by Dain, who then slammed Maverick atop Drake for two. Maverick wrenched Drake’s arm. Back elbow by Drake and a tag to Gibson who ran the ropes and hit a running knee. GYV wanted a Doomsday Device but Dain made a blind tag and tossed both of GYV to the floor, then launched Maverick onto GYV at the foot of the ramp as the match went to commercial.
Back to TV, Gibson had Maverick dominated. Tag to Drake, who went for a corner splash but Maverick hit double knees on him and scurried for the hot tag. Dain destroyed both guys. Belly-to-belly for Drake. He shoved Gibson into Drake. Dain lifted both guys for a Samoan Drop/fallaway slam combo. Senton for Drake. Two count, broken up by Gibson. Breaking News on the ticker on the bottom said that courtesy of Burger King, next week we’ll see Io Shirai defend her championship against Toni Storm.
Maverick tagged in and continued on the offensive. Blind tag by Gibson and GYV hit a tandem DDT and got two, broken up by Dain. Gibson dumped Dain, who dragged Gibson outside. Drake hit a tope on Dain. Gibson went back inside and Maverick hit a charging elbow and a bulldog. He went up but Gibson recovered and yanked him down. Tag, Ticket to Mayhem, done.
WINNERS: Grizzled Young Veterans at 8:22.
(Wells’s Analysis: For weeks now, every match has been at the high-octane speed seen here. This match came off better in a week where that speed doesn’t seem to be mandated, because it stood out as something different. Decent affair that continues GYV’s upward momentum toward an eventual tag championship match)
-Outside, Legado del Fantasma arrived in style ahead of tonight’s main event.
-Backstage, Killian Dain carried Drake Maverick to safety. Alexander Wolfe got into Dain’s face and mocked him and said he used to be a monster. Dain shrugged him off and asked for a doctor.
(5) KARRION KROSS vs. SANTOS ESCOBAR – no disqualification match
Legado del Fantasma’s music played and Kross attacked all of them, even as they were still outside. There was no bell but the brawl started and the two fought against the side of a semi, each getting some shots in. Kross missed a forearm and Escobar got into the cab to escape. Kross grabbed a pickaxe to go at the truck door. Joaquin Wilde tried to interfere but Kross backdropped him onto the hood of the truck. Raul Mendoza got tossed into the grille. Escobar got in a shot with a trash can, allowing all three to assault Kross and toss him into the side of the truck. And again. A third time. Escobar walked into the door of the studio and the cronies carried Kross in. A ref was now in the thick of the action, so apparently this officially started despite no bell (or maybe we couldn’t hear it outside). Kross recovered long enough to destroy a barricade with Wilde and Mendoza. “NXT” chant. The action went inside the ring briefly and Kross dumped Escobar again and went after him. Kross bounced Mendoza off a barricade and Escobar got in a chairshot. Escobar tore off Kross’s shirt and disgustedly tossed it aside. Escobar put Kross into a post, then a set of steel steps. The match went to split-screen commercial, and shortly into this segment, finally got running inside the ring.
Escobar hit a corner dropkick followed by a basement dropkick. Escobar tied up one of Kross’s arms in a folding chair and ran him into a post on the outside. Kross sold agony. Escobar stomped the worked arm, then set up the chair and hit a DDT on it. Escobar rolled Kross inside and got two. Escobar tossed Kross to the outside yet again and Kross tried to get it back into the ring, and the cronies kept him busy long enough for Escobar to hit a tope. Scarlett watched on intensely. Escobar stood over Kross, satisfied. Escobar rolled Kross inside for two. Escobar dropped elbows on Kross’s left arm some more and hit an armbar on the mat. Kross hit his feet but Escobar hit double knees in a corner. Three Amigos by Escobar, but on just the second one, Kross reversed and hit a suplex. Kross cleared Wilde from the apron and hit a Saito suplex on Escobar. The action went outside again and Escobar tried to yank Kross into the post, but Kross reversed. Kross got a chair and went for a chairshot on a prone Escobar, but Mendoza dragged him to safety. Mendoza charged Kross. Saito suplex. Wilde charged and ate a barricade.
Back inside and Kross hit a running elbow in the corner. Back outside again. Kross hit a Saito suplex through the announce table from a set of steps. “NXT” chant. Kross put Escobar in the ring for another Saito suplex. Kross hit a running elbow to the back of Escobar’s neck and got the pin.
WINNER: Karrion Kross in about 15:00 (no opening bell)
(Wells’s Analysis: Kross is underwhelming in regular wrestling matches, but this format certainly worked for him, and I daresay he came off better as a babyface than I thought might be possible thanks to the relentless attack by all three of Legado. Escobar losing with all that extra help does him about as many favors as Gargano, but the idea was to put over Kross in a big way leading either to a big program on NXT or a move to Raw or SmackDown, so mission accomplished there)
-Adam Cole walked backstage ahead of his main event talk segment.
-Earlier today, L.A. Knight said that everyone was wondering when he’d make his debut. He said it was on his time. It could be three months from now. It didn’t matter. He said all your favorites have a first-class ticket to get knocked out by L.A. Knight.
-The announcers promoted the Women’s Tag Team Championship match next week, as well as the Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai match in two weeks. Originally the MSK-Burch & Lorcan match was stated to be next week as well, but with the storyline injury to Wes Lee tonight, I assume it’ll be held off for a later weekly show or even a TakeOver.
-Adam Cole hit the ring to boos right as the two hour mark hit. He watched the tron as it showed what he did to Kyle O’Reilly last week. “You suck” chant. Cole looked concerned. He said he had every intention of explaining why he did what he did to Kyle, but after watching the footage he was sick to his stomach. He said the championship was important but he doesn’t like the guy he’s become these last few weeks. He said at first he was pissed off that Kyle got opportunity after opportunity and continued to fail, but that doesn’t excuse him, and he’s ashamed of himself. He said he knows Kyle’s at home watching and he wishes they could have this conversation man to man, but they can’t, and it’s because of him. He said Kyle knows Cole hates to admit when he’s wrong but he made a stupid mistake and he hates himself for it. Cole apologized to O’Reilly and said he was going to do everything he could to fix it.
Roderick Strong appeared at the top of the ramp and said “Now?” and asked why Cole held back for ten days on an explanation for what he did to Kyle. He said this whole thing, Undisputed Era, was built on love, trust, brotherhood. He said they’d do anything for each other and Cole shattered the trust. He told Cole to look at him and understand that Kyle would heal, and Strong didn’t know if he could save him from what he was going to do to Cole. Cheers.
Finn Balor’s music played to more cheers. Balor attacked Cole in the ring and Strong, after a moment, made the save. Cole laid out Balor with a superkick. Cole went in to check on Strong, who hit Cole with a lariat. “Roddy” chant. Cole told Strong he was sorry and he wanted it to go back to normal. Strong checked on Cole in the ring and said he shouldn’t have hit him. The two hugged. Strong started to help Cole to his feet, but Cole hit a low blow to huge heat. He said Roddy was stupid. He laid out Strong with a superkick and stood above him as the show went off the air at eight past the hour.
(Wells’s Analysis: Main event non-match segments always worry me, but there really weren’t any particular matches that would have made sense to try to follow this. The murky waters of the Undisputed Era-Finn Balor story are just a bit clearer now, as Cole further solidified his position while also showing that Strong will likely remain babyface. Keeping O’Reilly off TV is a good idea while Cole continues to settle into a new version of his heel role, still obsessed with championship gold, but no longer caring about the success of his brothers. There should be zero doubt that Cole will be the next NXT Champion, and while Finn Balor has had a pretty interesting run, the Cole-O’Reilly feud could be electric)
FINAL THOUGHTS: NXT is still in the middle of struggling with its identity, but if tonight’s show is the direction they settle on, I’ll be very happy with that. The nonstop action in previous weeks has left nothing to build up toward; we’ve been seeing TakeOver matches between non-feuding opponents on TV and stories have been a bit of an afterthought. Tonight the pace in the ring slowed down to a manageable level outside of a quickie from GYV and Maverick & Dain (half of which happened during commercial) and the show offered a rarity in a no-DQ match that came through. I’m not a huge fan of champions losing non-title matches and two of them did so tonight, but otherwise, I’m finally not internally struggling with giving the weekly show a strong thumbs up. Here’s hoping for more psychological, story-driven work next week.