SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Tommaso Ciampa vs. Grayson Waller
Waller confirmed the heel switch suggested on last week’s “Lashing Out” segment, interrupting WWE’s opening graphic by insulting the depicted legends thereby leaning into the current old guard vs. new generation storyline. This preceded an action-packed opener that served as an unintentional response to social media complaints that, instead of a cold match, Raw opened with a top angle featuring a rare Vince McMahon appearance and involving long-term seed-planting for The Rock and Roman Reigns. Look, people hit each other every week on these shows. It doesn’t mean anything unless there’s story behind it. Thankfully on top of his aforementioned mic work Waller comes with a built-in underdog story, which even under heel alignment led him to survive Ciampa for the longest match of the night before falling to the champ’s finish.
•Women’s WarGames Backstage Segments
We saw Dakota Kai officially approach Toxic Attraction for a spot alongside them in WarGames, while later Kay Lee Ray was shown appointing herself as the babyface team’s fourth as well as their representative in next week’s advantage ladder match (which, against Kai, should be excellent). Ray didn’t need a “thing,” so having her inexplicably smashing up more of the Performance Center with a bat than Retribution ever did feels silly, but – being Ray – she’ll be just fine. Moreover, the multiple feuds carrying us through this WarGames speed bump have been woven well enough that these expected teams of four make perfect sense for this spot on the calendar.
•Cameron Grimes Promo
Grimes showed off his cleaned-up look without appearing unlike himself. Where he wasn’t himself was in how seriously he addressed Duke Hudson. Sounds counter-intuitive, but this is Grimes – the guy who became all the more lovable for not being bothered playing butler to LA Knight. Firing up more than he’s ever fired up over a haircut seems out of character. Assuming he keeps it, the freshened look should be more palatable to suits seeking surprise Royal Rumble entries, so that at least is a promising development for one of NXT’s current favorites.
•Tiffany Stratton Video
A silver-spooner with a tennis racket talking about their parent? Sound familiar? One has to imagine the tongue-in-cheek Jim Cornette correlation is intentional, but more importantly this is the first Jessica Woynilko – US gymnast and recent signee – has been seen on our screens under her WWE name. The video nailed its intended vibe, too, as it felt so much like an ad for Paris Hilton’s new reality show it was easy to miss that NXT had even come back from commercial.
•Kayden Carter & Kacy Catanzaro vs. Indi Hartwell & Persia Pirotta
The ring work from these four genuine developmental projects can be picked apart, but it was solid enough that such picking should really be a Performance Center coach’s job. All four wrestlers held up their ends of a good match that highlighted Hartwell amusingly acting distracted by her husband Dexter Lumis’ plight while hitting roll-ups like it’s second nature. Also of note: a merciful lack of the booking poison that is Robert Stone, who had been admiring Pirotta’s handicap squash last week.
•Andre Chase University’s Performance Center Tour
Chase’s professor gimmick sounds rotten on paper, but the performer has been squeezing juice from it. The yet-named Bohdi Hayward (AKA Brady Booker) was again shown to be Chase’s foremost student. Cameron Grimes taking issue with Chase during the tour could either lead to a simple squash for Grimes ahead of WarGames, or perhaps Grimes eventually putting over Hayward on his way off the brand.
•Malik Blade vs. Santos Escobar
Blade has performed consummately as enhancement, and a squash match is always welcome, so no real complaints there. This was billed as Escobar’s return, however, despite Escobar not having disappeared from TV. Then the post-match involved Legado del Fantasma being interrupted by Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner, who were in turn interrupted by Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel. As curious as it is tracking Wagner’s trajectory, this whole affair was fairly dull.
•Mandy Rose vs. Cora Jade
Another Rose match on NXT means another good Rose match on NXT. The leader of Toxic Attraction has been impressing time and time again, while Jade for her part has certainly living up to her presentation as one to keep an eye on. Kay Lee Ray’s distraction in the end was awkwardly handled, and Rose might be over-selling with her facials, but these are mere quibbles.
•Diamond Mine Confronts Joe Gacy
It was a puzzle determining just what to make of Gacy approaching Diamond Mine last week, and this week’s response turning it into a Cruiserweight Championship match on the WarGames card is even more puzzling. We’re working with heels who have such unclear motives that it took Wade Barrett mentioning Roderick Strong’s championship on commentary to establish what’s really on the line. Furthermore, being forgiving of Gacy’s act finally started to wear out after this week’s buzzword cavalcade.
•MSK Reenact “Black Sheep”
On top of how haphazardly edited prior installments in this vignette series have been, how long they’ve been drawn out, and how they’re not doing any favors for a team struggling to find a connection with their crowd, we can now add that Nash Carter and Wes Lee are no Chris Farley and David Spade.
•Yulisa Leon vs. Ivy Nile
Nile again stood out in her second match, while most importantly showcasing a varied moveset as opposed to simply repeating what she’d done previously against Valentina Feroz. Leon, who has performed on 205 Live, joins Feroz and Erica Yan as women’s division enhancement talent with potential to grow before our eyes.
•Solo Sikoa Video
Sikoa explained that even though his brothers are a tag team, he’s a loner. Get it? There was nothing wrong with Sikoa’s delivery nor the package’s technical quality, but explaining why he’s named “Solo” was sillier than Kay Lee Ray’s bat.
If you missed the visual storytelling of Boa inheriting Mei Ying’s spirit, Boa is here to explain to you exactly what happened. Boa has shown promise for years now, but this exposition was about as necessary as the goofy lights and music that now accompany his matches.
•Josh Briggs & Brooks Jensen vs. Grizzled Young Veterans
•Pete Dunne vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Carmelo Hayes (c) for the NXT North American Championship
As with the women’s WarGames teams, it was clear going into the night just whom would get involved in the men’s “Black & Gold” vs. “2.0” WarGames match. True to format, several interviews preceded the workrate-based main event including one from Tony D’Angelo. D’Angelo had been among those named by Ciampa last week, but this week in a needed move away from kidnapping he was taking bets on the title match while giving the “tip” that Dunne didn’t stand a chance. This came around in the form of D’Angelo interfering against Dunne and directly triggering the anticipated Hayes retention, which in turn triggered the obligatory pre-WarGames announcement brawl. While the accompanying sirens and swirling red lights are too theatrical, as a whole the segment was just effective enough to fall on the side of function.