SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Tommaso Ciampa Opening Promo
Ciampa reinforced his continuing value as the “black and gold” flag-bearer by playing directly to – and in ways speaking on behalf of – the fans who are just as passionate about him as ever, in this case naming past champions and anticipating the trope of a promo being interrupted. Bron Breakker’s role opposite Ciampa may have felt neutered as he was denied a mic at the champion’s behest, but if demeanor is anything to go by the protected newcomer appeared anything but out of his depth. It’s difficult to commit to the possibly fast-tracked Breakker winning at New Year’s Evil, especially as Grayson Waller has recently burst forth as a juicier next-champ option, but you can already hear Vic Joseph signing off with “New year, new champion,” can’t you? It’s NXT 2022.0!
•Raquel Gonzalez vs. Dakota Kai, Street Fight
A pre-match ambush to kickstart the fight might have felt impactful if, you know, anyone on the program had indicated the match was scheduled to go on next. Instead we got several minutes of backstage brawling that felt like it could have unimportantly faded to commercial at any time as Vic Joseph contextualized why we should be retroactively shocked. There was reason to hope here, as Kai is the rare wrestler who can make something special of a match relying on the crutch of weaponry. Gonzalez – despite her noted progress since the first Mae Young Classic – is still a wrestler who leans on such crutches, however, and made the progression from spot to spot feel all too practiced. After her victorious decision Gonzalez mouthed, “I didn’t want to do this; you asked for this.” The sentiment isn’t deep, but it’s an indictment that it’s more compelling than any other element of storytelling this short-changed revival of an already short-changed feud got to enjoy before Kai was yet again swept aside.
•Cora Jade Answers Raquel Gonzalez’ Challenge to Mandy Rose
Jade’s star-making presentation was arguably the top story coming out of WarGames, but since then she’s been given a fluke roll-up and multiple talking segments that reveal how work-in-progress the acting side of things is for the burgeoning talent. Especially unfortunate was being able to see the moment Jade motioned to Gonzalez that it was Gonzalez’ turn to speak. Whether Jade blew her delivery or Gonzalez blew her cue, it was on Jade to cover for it and that didn’t happen. Rose then interrupting in full Phoebe Cates red bikini mode fits the Rose character, though it’s inexplicable that during her nighttime swim she knew to hop out of the rooftop pool and hop onto… an app that’s apparently linked into the Performance Center Titantron? Sadly the resulting Toxic Attraction attack saw another Jade misstep as the otherwise promising youngster failed to feed for a late kendo stick shot. But hey, it’s so tough to live up. Right, Mandy?
•Joe Gacy Addresses Brian Kendrick
Gacy said a whole lot of nothing here, which Kendrick later responded to with his own dose of nothing. If there’s anything to deduce from Harland and Kendrick getting booked for a match next week, it’s that Kendrick is probably working closely with the rookie Harland and intends to carry him to a quick squash that shows more than last week’s basic beatdown permitted.
•Grayson Waller Antagonizes Indi Hartwell
This backstage bit was really just a precursor to Waller’s post-match attack on Dexter Lumis (which itself was a segue), as well as a continuation of last week’s everybody-hates-Waller runner. Not much to discuss, but it’s always good to flesh these sorts of things out. Persia Pirotta is such a good friend, eh?
•Creed Brothers vs. Grizzled Young Veterans
Decent action does not on its own a great segment make, especially when you have a stilted Jacket Time commentary gag in the forefront. Add the Josh Briggs & Brooks Jensen run-in and this was less a match and more an obligatory stage-setting for the 2022 Dusty Classic.
•Elektra Lopez Confronts Io Shirai & Zoey Stark
Forget Lopez; it’s just nice to continue seeing the total package that is Stark on TV during her recovery, especially with Shirai – who stubbornly insists they aren’t friends – by her side. Stark’s delivery and mannerisms come off so naturally.
•Dexter Lumis vs. Trick Williams
A solid follow-up to the excellent match Lumis had with Carmelo Hayes two weeks ago, this served as another example why the Indi Hartwell storyline has worked wonders for Lumis. Once all but dead air during his awkward showings, Lumis has become an endearing character and has added subtle glimpses of personality to his ringwork that make him much more captivating. Diamond Mine stuck their nose in this one, seemingly on the hunt for an even more random storyline than their mercifully quick stop-off with Joe Gacy.
•AJ Styles Confronts Grayson Waller
In the early years of NXT once the brand moved to Full Sail Studio, main roster cameos were common. Not only would wrestlers like Cesaro and Natalya work tapings regularly, but bigger stars like Chris Jericho and CM Punk would occasionally drop by to hand out rubs. Like Jericho did with Bray Wyatt, for example, Styles shared the stage with Waller in order to recite some of the up-and-comer’s catchphrases and lend gravitas to a seemingly inevitable clash between the two. When Y2J did that favor for Wyatt, sure Wyatt ended up tapping to the Walls of Jericho but it served as many a fan’s introduction to a talent who would go on to regularly main event main roster shows for the better part of a decade. It’s safe to say more people know the name Grayson Waller after tonight, even if this oddly missed the crossover slot by a single segment.
•Diamond Mine Challenges Carmelo Hayes
Ivy Nile is promising. The Creed Brothers are promising. Malcolm Bivens, though he’s still not being allowed to perform to his potential, is promising. So why does the directionless Diamond Mine just feel like they’re in the way? The whole is certainly not the sum of its parts, and Roderick Strong in particular only seems as though he exists to make sure wrestlers can add good matches to their résumés. Strong especially isn’t helping himself by so basically challenging his desired opponent’s masculinity. Hayes would respond later in the night, adding nothing of note.
•MSK Ride Scooters with Riddle
Somehow these haphazardly filmed and woefully edited skits have managed to become even dumber. The intent to revitalize a tag team that wasn’t catching on despite a dominant record and flashy moveset is backfiring as Nash Carter and Wes Lee gape their jaws at getting to play childishly with a relatively recent call-up who’s being presented incongruously to his current main roster characterization. This time we got a dream sequence in which a merch-hawking Riddle magically conjures scooters then gets run over by a car. Enough said.
•Edris Enofé vs. Von Wagner
Robert Stone just loves a loser, doesn’t he? Wagner looked fine yet again, making the persistent “you still suck” chants seem desperate. Though the story could always pleasantly surprise, doing so would make it the anomaly in a long line of failures for Stone’s insufferable character to help produce drawing angles on NXT.
Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel were subtitled for their interview with McKenzie Mitchell, and the subtitles hit the screen before they were through speaking. Moving on.
NXT has historically done excellent community outreach, though it’s not a great look for every single company representative to be unmasked while closely interfacing with the public. When they said “it’s the season of giving,” they probably didn’t mean giving COVID to children in rec center gymnasiums, but…
•Elektra Lopez vs. Io Shirai
Much has been asked of Shirai in NXT’s 2.0 era. She’s been tasked with carrying several of the greenest talents the company is now putting on television, mostly successfully. Whether Shirai can achieve as much with one half of the horrendous B-Fab street fight will remain to be seen, however, as the wrestling here was basic while it lasted and merely served as backdrop to the overarching will-they-won’t-they between Lopez and Xyon Quinn. For what it’s worth this was probably the most palatable chapter yet in that storyline, though that is saying extremely little.