SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Carmelo Hayes’ Title Celebration
Carmelo Hayes is far, far from the worst talker ever heard in professional wrestling, but thank goodness he has been given Trick Williams to handle the better part of the talking for him. Williams’ natural charisma is enthusiastically employed on Hayes’ behalf, while the most effective part of Hayes listing new nicknames he’s given himself was that it made Johnny Gargano’s babyface interruption all the more welcome. The refreshed Gargano, clearly on the other side of The Way before he cutely confirmed as much, lit up the room. His earned fraternity with Dexter Lumis has also – against all odds – become a winning element of his act as evidenced with the segment-closing approval the two shared. So, promise abounds as it has regarding all things Hayes since his debut, but most evident here was how much help the new North American Champion needed to open this Halloween Havoc go-home. To be clear, with NXT’s TV (finally) back to being a proving ground, there is no joy in assigning misses to talent still honing their craft. The column ain’t called “Hits & You’ll Get ‘Em Next Time, Sport”, though.
•Andre Chase vs. Odyssey Jones
Andre Chase’s university professor gimmick is one that could believably be booked to talk himself back from a beating if given the chance, though it was still surprising to see him so easily squashed by his rival Odyssey Jones. The undercard program has been amusing as it has continued to showcase Jones’ relationship with the crowd as Chase forges his new character, and has potential to stretch out another few weeks. The takeaway from this instance, however, is that Chase contrarily seems at once too cartoonish and too vanilla to become a television star of much significance. He’s got something; he needs to stay on track and keep working on it.
•Brutus Creed & Julius Creed vs. Imperium (Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel)
The Creeds were introduced close enough to the 2.0 restart to be considered among the newest crop, and in that conversation easily rise to the top as the most obviously gifted. They’re the latest in NXT’s line of dominant big man tag teams that began with the Wyatt Family and the Ascension, which means their presentation reads as primer for an inevitable title run. On the other side of the ring we have Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner, who were notable prospects during their dark match/enhancement days and have achieved plenty as members of Imperium, though the brand’s current juncture has defaulted them to a lower rung. Still, oddly, they’ve positioned themselves as challengers to the undefeated champions. This match was either going to be a leapfrog for the captivating Creeds, or a wonky loss for the brothers who don’t need to be seen losing this soon. Sadly it was the latter, and was followed by a post-match appearance by MSK who still feel anonymous on NXT despite holding one of the very best records in the brand’s history.
•Kyle O’Reilly & Von Wagner Bonding Session
The Borash Special strikes again! While ol’ JB has done enough in this department to hold his share of misses, his signature shoestring style shines through even with something as simple as two dudes on a hike using a rather light-looking tree trunk to work out. The vignette has seen its share of obligatory ridicule but serves as a suitably believable jumping off point for the new tag team.
•Joe Gacy Invites “Snowflakes” to His “Coalition”
We move from a field segment that gets away with multiple camera angles to a backstage segment that compromises itself by adding only one. Gacy’s hot-button vocabulary bit is tired upon arrival, but the Right to Censor-meets-Wyatt Family schtick could be a real meal ticket that simultaneously tickles executives of older generations while speaking to the younger audience 2.0 is aiming for. Gacy, while having the most ill-conceived name on NXT since Santos Escobar, is also still on a journey toward his character’s true endgame. All of that is sufficiently furthered with this to-camera call to join his coalition, and simply for seeing what they’re going for one might even forgive the perhaps overly clever reflection reveal that Gacy was in fact speaking to Parker Boudreaux. In this context, cutting to the reverse shot of Boudreaux – then back again – breaks the illusion and sullies the effectiveness.
•Cora Jade vs. Elektra Lopez
Elektra Lopez has had nothing but poor matches since arriving on NXT, and most egregiously a couple weeks ago she served as part of a match so woeful Darryl Sharma should receive a bonus just for trying to keep it on rails. Cora Jade on the other hand has been perfectly fine with each outing, so it’s easy to suss out the weak link here. This was also the second match in a row to end with shoulders up at three.
•Jacy Jayne vs. Persia Pirotta vs. Io Shirai
Both Jacy Jayne and Persia Pirotta have been around in their various ways prior to signing with NXT, though in Pirotta’s case you’d hardly know it. Indi Hartwell’s lumbering pal is so blatantly still putting basics together it’s difficult to think of anyone greener ever showcased on this developmental brand. While some affairs in NXT’s annals can be called out as looking like practice matches, Pirotta looks like she’s being coached through disjointed practice spots as opposed to a flowing match. From the fan perspective, being permitted to see the floor from which talent may rise can be fascinating and can indelibly endear us to wrestlers. The phrase “TV-ready” is also arguably thrown around too often and attached to acts that would be fine if initially introduced on bigger stages. In the case of someone like Pirotta, however, these things could stand to be reconsidered at a time when trainees kept off screens for years are now being hurled to the wolves. To her credit Pirotta registered Jayne’s freak accident in the moment and did her best to correct course for her opponent. To WWE’s credit they took the precaution of removing Jayne, possibly altering the match outcome but more importantly again showing the priority of health in a time when many fans, promotions, and even wrestlers themselves seem to want a return to the days of brain damage and shortened life expectancy. Further, Pirotta may have seemed frightened behind the eyes to have part of her safety net yanked away on live television, but she fought through and fulfilled what one would imagine to have been the originally allotted time. With focus on Jayne’s spill and Io Shirai earning the chance to spin a wheel in a way that may as well have been presented as random, Pirotta showed memorable reason to take up in her corner if she grows. As for Jayne, these things happen and hopefully she will return for a strong showing at Halloween Havoc. Now, how the heck is one to grade this situation as a hit or a miss? Inanity!
•Solo Sikoa Hype Video
Joseph Fatu sure sounds like his father. These hype videos have been convincing, framing Sikoa’s Halloween Havoc debut as one to pay attention to.
•Ikeman Jiro Visits Kushida in the Bathroom
Never stop someone mid-stream, especially when they’re already being filmed on live television. This segment was dumb enough before Kushida magically changed the bathroom lighting by tapping his watch.
•Tony D’Angelo vs. Ru Feng
Hey, another 2019 Shanghai tryout signee sighting! It’s a mistake to show Tony D’Angelo participating in the more violent side of his family business, but D’Angelo himself has so committed to this part that he would be getting over just the same if he were billed as an ice cream truck driver. Add the fact that the collegiate wrestler is backing it all up in the ring, and D’Angelo emerges as one of the top reasons to pay attention to NXT today. You hear that, Lash Legend?
•Second Look into Duke Hudson’s Poker Room
Duke Hudson didn’t need anything extra, and giving him a “Poker Room” because he joked about playing poker on Wednesdays to excuse his extended absence from television feels similar to when WWE made Fandangoing uncool by going too hard when it had already caught on naturally. Thus far these vignettes have only served as flavor (and merchandising fodder) for what Hudson already excels at, though, so for now they get a pass.
•Josh Briggs & Brooks Jensen vs. Legado del Fantasma (Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde)
Not much to analyze here, but Legado del Fantasma seem to be turning a more aggressive leaf in the wake of Hit Row and that’s just swell.
•Raquel Gonzalez/Mandy Rose Video Package
Mandy Rose is the new face of NXT, has been for weeks now, and will win herself a championship next week to cement as much. The former Tough Enough standout struggled to find footing for so long it seems not many wish to give her a chance now, but Rose has been living up to her billing with strong presentation, good matches, and effective promos. The rest of Toxic Attraction should be thrilled. This video perfectly showcased Rose’s shallow character in contrast to Raquel Gonzalez’ badass workhorse attitude. It is unfortunate after her years-long climb Gonzalez ultimately plateaued with the championship more than anything, but it is what it is and we’re about to move on.
•Second “Unbury the Past” Mystery Wrestler Vignette
Scarlett seemed like an eligible and intriguing candidate for this upcoming reveal, but – assuming we’re not looking at a stand-in – the figure this week shared more in proportion with Dakota Kai. Add the crutch (injuries and Tegan Nox connection) and the playing cards (Shayna Baszler connection) and we may well have our interfering method by which Raquel Gonzalez loses the championship. Whatever the case, it’s got us thinking.
•L.A. Knight vs. Grayson Waller
The issue over becoming Halloween Havoc host was not fleshed out, and the action felt extremely brief, but L.A. Knight continues to be one of the most solid performers on NXT while Waller persists as a noteworthy underdog with a high ceiling.
•Bron Breakker & Tomasso Ciampa vs. Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake & Zack Gibson)
It’s such a NXT thing to save one of the less interesting matches for last, though at least we weren’t relying solely on workrate to get us through this time. The story that was there does echo what Big E and Drew McIntyre have been doing on Monday nights, though. Regardless, the rocket-strapping of Bron Breakker has come across successfully to this point, and the Steiner had probably his best showing yet against a proven duo we may need to start worrying about. The Ciampa rub for Breakker has already worked out, so we look to see what the kid’s important next steps will be.