SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NXT ON USA
MARCH 31, 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 hype for TakeOver. The night one matches of Shirai vs. Gonzalez and Walter vs. Ciampa were hyped, followed by the night two Cruiserweight championship match and Cole vs. O’Reilly match, and finally Balor vs. Kross.
(1) RODERICK STRONG vs. CAMERON GRIMES
This was sat up last week in a locker room skit where Grimes tried to offer his business services to raise Strong’s brand. Strong entered first. Grimes had a mic. He said last week things went bad, but they were leaving money on the table by not becoming the new Undisputed Era. He showed Strong a shirt that said “Grimes the System.” Strong wasn’t impressed. Grimes threw to a video for the “new” UE and Strong ran out and attacked him on the ramp. They took to the ring and the ref called for the bell.
Strong grounded Grimes and threw some rights. Strong put up Grimes against a rope but Grimes hit a stiff back elbow and put down Strong with a front facelock. To a corner for a chop by Roddy and a block by Grimes. Grimes stomped Strong in another corner as a graphic promoted tonight’s battle royal, which contains both these guys. Strong threw some big chops to put Grimes down and Grimes threw up a kick to get a breather.
Grimes took Strong to a corner and they exchanged chops. Kicks by Grimes. Rope run and Roddy hit a single-leg dropkick. Strong clotheslined Grimes from the ring and charged with a dropkick, and followed Grimes out. Strong stomped Grimes on the outside and Strong distracted himself by looking a fan in a weird moment and Grimes charged him into the steel light structure heading into split-screen commercial.
Back to full screen, Strong elbowed Grimes to try to get back into it but Grimes trapped Strong in an armbar. Strong tried to set up a dropkick but Grimes put on the brakes and kicked Strong. Strong hit a chop and a kick, then a clothesline, but ran into a forearm and a cover for two by Grimes. A graphic promoted the Stark-Gonzalez match tonight. Strong created separation with a quick suplex, then caught Grimes with his wonderful backbreaker for two. Strong took Grimes to a corner for some chops, then went up the corner with him and hit a superplex and covered for two.
Strong hit his rope-running forearms but Grimes caught Strong with his reverse cross-body and covered for two. Grimes pulled a foreign object from his pants and Strong hit a Samoan drop, but the foreign object was an Undisupted Era wristband and he stared wistfully at it long enough for the Cave In and the victory by Grimes. Strong was fired up and frustrated after the match.
WINNER: Cameron Grimes at 11:47.
(Wells’s Analysis: Roderick Strong is likely much better off than Bobby Fish with the implosion of the Undisputed Era, but that’s not to say he’s well off. Once again he seems to be settling into a gatekeeper role with nobody standing with him to do the heavy lifting on the mic. He is of course still as much of a ring general as ever, and this matchup was predictably very good)
-Karrion Kross vignette ahead of TakeOver. He put over his back-to-basics training. He said Finn Balor was going to try to run out the clock and wait him out, but he couldn’t run forever. He said the fans can expect a Prince dethroned. Tick tock.
-NXT wrestlers promoted the COVID-19 vaccine.
-Walter cut a promo in vignette form against Tommaso Ciampa, saying he’s a shell of what he used to be. He said he’d prove what he means when he says the mat is sacred. A graphic promoted the match for next week’s night 1.
-The announcers promoted the move to Tuesday nights starting on April 13th.
-Santos Escobar hit the ring with Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde. He said tonight he was issuing an open challenge to show Jordan Devlin what he’s in for. He said he was born a champion, which is what set him apart from Jordan Devlin. He said he represents 100 years of lucha libre tradition. He said the division would belong to him as long as he wants it, because it’s in his blood. Sangre y tradicion – blood and tradition – says he’s the best Cruiserweight in history. Tyler Breeze’s music played. Escobar smiled and took off his jacket.
Breeze said the difference between him and Escobar was that he had to work his ass off to be there. He accepted the open challenge. Breeze was fairly heavily booed.
(2) TYLER BREEZE vs. SANTOS ESCOBAR
Non-title. Escobar got the better of a scrap and stomped Breeze in a corner, then hit a basement dropkick there. Fireman’s carry, escape, and Breeze hit a dropkick. Breeze stomped Escobar in a corner, then hit a dropkick. Breeze tossed Escobar to the ramp side and followed him out and just tossed him back in. Breeze walked into a knee strike and Escobar hit a dropkick. Fans mostly chanted for Escobar. Action went outside and Breeze put both cronies into ringposts as the match went to commercial.
Escobar was in control upon return. Chop in the corner followed by some body shots. Running double knees put down Breeze as WWE piped in some boos. Escobar stomped Breeze and threw him up for a stomach breaker. Surfboard by Escobar. Escobar released and chuckled at himself, then covered for a one count. Escobar took Breeze to a corner and jawed at him, then threw some chops. Irish whip and Breeze shoved Escobar off. Rana by Breeze, who then started dropping elbows on Escobar’s leg. Breeze charged a corner with a forearm and then hit a spinebuster. Breeze put on a sharpshooter and Escobar crawled to a rope to break.
Breeze wanted the Unprettier but Escobar reversed, hit a right and finished with the Phantom Driver.
WINNER: Santos Escobar at 10:38.
The three members of Legado del Fantasma tried to set up a beatdown, but MSK made the save to run them to the ramp. Grizzled Young Veterans showed up on the tron and Zack Gibson said they’d win the match while those two teams were preoccupied with each other.
(Wells’s Analysis: A nice enough match, but at this point I’m not sure it does Escobar a favor to have Breeze get ten minutes with him. Breeze has been a good worker for a long time, but as a singles wrestler he isn’t exactly a star. The tag segment was what you’d expect – very quick and to the point given that there are so many matches to promote and so little time)
-The Way were interviewed backstage. Gargano said Regal’s idea to find him a challenger was terrible. Austin Theory said it was brilliant, and asked if Johnny had heard of the Fingerpoke of Doom. Gargano said it killed the business. Theory said they were still here, and Gargano said that was a good point. They agreed to have Theory win everything so he could lay down for Gargano. LeRae very briefly put over her own business tonight.
-A small dog ran toward the Performance Center in slow motion and Beth said “What is this about?!” as the show went to commercial.
-Last week, Raquel Gonzalez destroyed Io Shirai on a table in a spot that wouldn’t have been so painful if the table had broken. Afterward, McKenzie Mitchell asked Io if she’d bit off more than she could chew. Io said “That’s why I picked her.”
(3) GIGI DOLAN & ZEDA RAMEER vs. CANDICE LERAE & INDI HARTWELL
The enhancement pair’s names were on the screen for maybe a tenth of a second in a production mistake; I’m guessing on Zeda Rameer as I can’t find her name with some quick Googling (she’s the former Angela “Queen” Arnold on the indies). Dolan and Hartwell opened. Dolan worked a brief cravat and took over Hartwell and kicked her back. Dolan missed a shot in the corner and Hartwell slammed her for two. LeRae tagged in and took quick control but got shoved into her own corner. Both women tagged and Rameer hit with some quick shots until she was caught with a Hartwell spinebuster. LeRae tagged in and shoved Dolan from the corner. Rameer rolled up LeRae quickly for two. Tag to Hartwell. Candice hit Wicked Stepsister and Hartwell hit her finisher and covered.
WINNERS: Candice LeRae & Indi Hartwell at 3:06.
Candice and Indi did a little mic time to demand a tag team championship match at TakeOver. Shotzi Blackheart and Ember Moon drove out on their tank and asked “Did you two just say that you deserved OUR titles?” Well, that’s what Shotzi and Ember did to get them. What’s the problem? They accepted the challenge and shot a projectile from the tank to freak out the heels.
-Backstage, Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai walked down a hall. Io Shirai ran into them and charged at Raquel, who got the better of her. Two officials (Scotty 2 Hotty was one) checked on Shirai after the attack.
-The dog from the earlier segment ran into the Capitol Wrestling Center, past a sign that said Employees Only, and Beth said “Okay…what’s with the dog?” as the show went to another commercial.
-During the commercial, McKenzie Mitchell caught up with Roderick Strong. He was pushing some luggage. She asked where he was going, since he’s in the battle royal tonight. He said “I’m done.” When Mitchell asked what he meant, he said “all of it” and went out a door.
(4) ZOEY STARK vs. RAQUEL GONZALEZ (w/Dakota Kai)
Stark rolled away from a charge. Gonzalez looked to corner Stark and she shoved her to a corner and hit a couple of back elbows. Stark evaded a charge and threw some kicks. Stark hit a rana that almost went bad as she slipped a little off of Gonzalez. Shotgun dropkick to a corner by Stark. Stark wanted a monkey flip but Gonzalez caught and planted Stark for a two count. Elbow drops by Gonzalez who covered for another two. A graphic in the corner promoted the Gauntlet Eliminator Battle Royal, which now removed Roderick Strong. No word on whether he’ll be replaced.
Gonzalez trapped Stark in an armbar, and Stark fought out with kicks but got shoved to a corner. Gonzalez missed a charge and got hit with a hook kick and a superkick. Gonzalez hit the floor as she charged and Stark dumped her. Stark ran Gonzalez to a post and Kai took a cheap shot, but Stark threw Kai over a barricade with a clothesline. Back inside and Stark continued her onslaught. Running knee got two. Stark tried to go up for something but Gonzalez popped up and held her. Stark pushed off and hit a neckbreaker from the top for two. Gonzalez missed a lariat but then caught Stark with a single-arm powerbomb to finish. Barrett put over the move as something that could end a match suddenly at any time.
WINNER: Raquel Gonzalez at 4:53.
Io Shirai charged the ring and beat down Gonzalez. She put her out with a dropkick and followed, but Gonzalez got the better of her again and tossed her into a light structure. Gonzalez’s music played again.
(Wells’s Analysis: Stark got some good stuff in, but this match was the proper brief win for Gonzalez ahead of her match with Io Shirai. Gonzalez also won two fights with Io Shirai that were picked by Shirai, so she looks literally unbeatable ahead of her championship match, which is the idea)
-The dog ran up the stairs inside the performance center and across a “We Are NXT” mat. Commercial.
-McKenzie Mitchell asked Kushida about the battle royal tonight. Kushida started promoting himself and Pete Dunne walked into frame and said last week Kushida called himself the greatest technical wrestler in NXT, but he already holds that crown. Kushida said something back in Japanese and the two stared at each other.
-Prime Target: Cole vs. O’Reilly
We got some background with a previously-heard Cole promo. O’Reilly talked about how long they’ve known each other and we got some excellent shots of the two of them at a young age. O’Reilly said Cole had been the biggest blessing and curse to his career. We got some more background on Undisputed Era running NXT and heard some of O’Reilly’s words from last week’s sit-down. It’s hard to convey in words on a page, but the music and video editing were the big stars here as we got very little all-new content leading to William Regal setting up the Unsanctioned Match. The segment promoted the match like a big-budget movie. The full Prime Target video will be online tomorrow. Beth promoted the match live on Peacock on Night 2 of TakeOver.
-The announce team promoted Peacock again, including the limited time promo price.
(5) KAYDEN CARTER & KACY CATANZARO vs. TIAN SHA (Mei Ying & Xia Li) (w/Boa)
The faces were introduced before the break and Tian Sha got full cinematic entrance. Mei Ying now just had face paint and no covering. Xia Li and Boa walked toward the ring and Li did a sword dance. WWE.com vaguely promoted this as a tag match but Li is in the ring alone. The announcers mention it as well.
Li and Carter tangled first. Li got some shots in but Carter took her to the face corner for some shots. She and Catanzaro made some quick tags and put some forearms to Li and Catanzaro hit the Miz corner lariat and covered for two. Li dumped Catanzaro and put her into the barricade, then went back in. Inside cradle and Catanzaro got a one count. Lungblower by Li. Carter went out to Mei Ying, who choked her out, then blew smoke on her. Carter fell to the ground, lifeless. Ying teased getting up but sat back down. Li finished off Catanzaro in the ring.
WINNERS: Tian Sha at 3:05.
(Wells’s Analysis: It’s getting weird, but I still like it)
-Backstage, Raquel Gonzalez destroyed Io Shirai through a sheetrock window. She yelled through the window for her to stay down.
-The dog ran up to a woman who was only shown from the knees down. She had high pink boots. The screen said “See you April 13th. -Franky.” If you’ve seen this wrestler on social media with her two dogs – including this one – you already know who was being hyped in these segments.
-Tommaso Ciampa cut a promo from his backstage chair. He said a lot of people were calling him a shell of his former self. They say he’s changed. He said in some ways, he has, but he blocks out all the hate and all the people who believe. He called out names on non-wrestlers in his life, including his wife and baby. He said he was going to climb to the top of Walter’s mountain, look him dead in the eye, and chop his head off. He fired up huge and said he knows what it’s like to fall to the bottom and pick himself back up. He said he’d rather be a man who fights for something than a man with simply nothing to lose any day. He said Walter would get his answer to whether the Psycho Killer still exists next week. He said it’s a long, long fall, Walter…buckle up.
(Wells’s Analysis: I’m not exaggerating when I call this one of the great promos of recent years. Ciampa sold that match more with this segment than with the entire build to this point)
-The announcers ran down the card for the two nights of TakeOver: Stand and Deliver. The teased women’s tag team championship match from earlier is now official for night 2.
-Finn Balor vignette. He said he’s been expecting Kross for a long time. It was a matter of when, not if. He said his stamina has always been his strength. Finn Balor doesn’t get gassed out. He said the deep water later in the match is where Kross drowns.
-Vic and Wade stood in the ring in front of the tron to explain the 11-man Battle Royal to explain the rules. The final six will be in the Gauntlet Eliminator next week, and their order of elimination will decide their entrance number in the Gauntlet Eliminator match itself.
(6) 11-MAN BATTLE ROYAL TO ADVANCE TO THE GAUNTLET ELIMINATOR (Isaiah Scott, Dexter Lumis, Leon Ruff, Bronson Reed, Pete Dunne, Kushida, Austin Theory, Cameron Grimes, LA Knight, Jake Atlas, Tyler Rust)
Isaiah “Swerve” Scott was introduced and Leon Ruff jumped him. The two brawled outside for a moment and then hit the ring. Ruff clotheslined Swerve out on the announce table side and set up a tope but Swerve hugged the back barricade as the show went to commercial.
Dunne was being introduced upon return; he was the last one. The bell sounded and everyone started throwing hands. Atlas got put to the apron and he tried to get back in, but Rust’s manager Malcolm Bivens held his leg and Swerve dropkicked Atlas out. Shortly after, Swerve also backdropped Rust out. There’s two out in 90 seconds.
Theory and Reed tangled in the center of the ring and Kushida tussled with Grimes on the apro. Dunne worked over Ruff’s digits. Reed knocked Theory to the floor and his feet didn’t touch. He tried to figure out how to get back to the ring and couldn’t. His brilliant idea was to do a kip up, so he was eliminated. Reed had a near-elimination moment but fought off Grimes and Knight. Dunne and Kushida had a staredown while everyone else sold. Lumis had stood in a corner doing nothing all match long. Kushida and Dunne worked some technical spots and fought to a rope where they eliminated one another. The announcers said we now know which six are going to TakeOver next Wednesday and the match went to split-screen.
FOR THE GAUNTLET ELIMINATOR: Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Dexter Lumis, Leon Ruff, Bronson Reed, Cameron Grimes, LA Knight)
The split-screen segment of course provided some okay spots, but no eliminations. Back to full screen, Lumis had still not moved from his corner, though he and Knight were looking out at Johnny Gargano, now at the announce table. We were told Pete Dunne vs. Kushida has been added to night 1 in a pretty big non-surprise.
Gargano complained about William Regal as the match continued. Swerve and Ruff paired off, as did Knight and Reed. They fought to a corner, where Reed put up both in a fireman’s carry and tossed them to the floor, meaning they’ll start the match next week. Knight and Grimes double-teamed Reed but Reed fought them off. Knight got caught in a fireman’s carry but he and Grimes double-teamed Reed. Lumis finally moved and helped the heels eliminate Reed, who will enter the Eliminator at #3. Grimes tried to bribe his way to the win but Lumis and Knight eliminated him.
Lumis and Knight took long looks at one another. We got another fakey piped-in chant for Lumis. Lumis hit a back bodydrop and the action went to an apron. Knight choked Lumis on the top rope and tried to charge. Lumis moved and Knight hit the floor through the top two ropes. Knight yanked Lumis to the floor by his feet to win.
WINNER: LA Knight at 12:53.
Knight and Gargano jawed.
Out of nowhere, Io Shirai’s music played to interrupt the scene and she hit the ring and demanded that Raquel Gonzalez meet her yet again. The two fought on the ramp side, and a gaggle of as-yet unknown women’s wrestlers showed up to try to separate them to no avail. The crowd was hot as the two fought through the crowd and Shirai hit a springboard splash on Gonzalez and a large number of the PC women. Vic regrettably asked if Shirai can “Stand and Deliver” at TakeOver. Shirai celebrated and went mad atop a large pile of women as the show went off the air at six past the hour.
GAUNTLET ELIMINATOR ORDER NEXT WEEK:
- Leon Ruff
- Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
- Bronson Reed
- Cameron Grimes
- Dexter Lumis
- LA Knight
(Wells’s Analysis: The show-long hype for Shirai vs. Gonzalez was fantastic, as well as somewhat surprising given that there are so many major matches to promote. The battle royal itself was just okay, as they sped through five eliminations to get to a commercial segment full of restholds so they could get back to TV and do the meat of the match. Knight and Grimes were easily the most likely picks to win this match tonight though as heels neither has a particularly great shot at winning the Gauntlet Eliminator to face Johnny Gargano; Reed or Lumis will win that particular match in all likelihood. Lumis has the storyline with Gargano, but Reed would make for a considerably better match)
FINAL THOUGHTS: Every time NXT gets to the brink of feeling unbearable, they come back with some shows that send them back in a more interesting direction. I thought this was a tremendous sell job for both nights of TakeOver between the mini-feuds that were shown in the battle royal to Tommaso Ciampa’s memorable promo to Io Shirai and Raquel Gonzalez trying to destroy the place. Prime Target was also enjoyable, even if I’m not entirely sure the Cole-O’Reilly match was promoted powerfully enough before this point. Then again, the feud will be going on for a long time, so they’ve got plenty of opportunities for new story beats. We’re all going to be extremely wrestling-fatigued come this time in about two weeks from now, but at least I feel properly amped for TakeOver.
Check out PWT Talks NXT tonight or stream tomorrow. Cheers.