SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•NXT’S NEW LOOK
WWE banked themselves one more week than initially reported with which to renovate what has become the studio (and prime practice match spot) of the Performance Center in follow up on their prematurely revealed refresh of the NXT logo that spent the past two episodes clashing with the now departed “2.0” scheme. While “2.0” did fast-track the televising of many newly signed trainees and usher in an awkward phase of pairing those newer acts exclusively with their more tenured peers, simply altering NXT’s look and making up for lost time post-lockdown did not radically change what the show was all about at its intended core. Thus, reverting to the beloved black & gold colors will not bring back the halcyon WWE Network days of taped one-hour episodes featuring the Four Horsewomen or the Undisputed Era, but NXT does remain a proving ground. Unveiled with this episode, the renovation equates to more of an optimization as the 2021 renovation’s marked improvements to the set survive in merely tweaked form. White tape on the ring ropes mercifully replaces the SmackDown blue that never matched the “2.0” shades anyway. While the bright walls have not been painted, they’ve been more dimly lit to better evoke NXT’s classic feel and also help conceal some of the warehouse’s unsightly ducts. The entrance stage seems untouched, though the ringside area appears to have been widened. We also have Level Up’s solid straight man Sudu Shah as a third man on commentary alongside the stalwart Wade Barrett, with Byron Saxton bringing the 2022 Byronaissance back to Orlando for one week only as vanilla Vic Joseph is off. Safe money says Matt Camp steps into Shah’s shoes for the preliminary program assuming Shah isn’t looking at double duty. Level Up’s interviewer Kelly Kincaid (FKA Quinn McKay) has also joined the team to chat with and get interrupted by wrestlers backstage. The more familiarly toned graphics on the litany of LEDs may be superficial, but should lend improved audience perception to the newer acts that perpetually populate this developmental brand. Sure, a return to black ropes and lowered lights during matches would be more than welcome, but the fresh voices and minor enhancements to what was already working make for an agreeable approach to the “2.0” retirement (even if the splashy numeral is lingering in the side-by-side commercial breaks). One only wonders if some fans will be discouraged the coat of paint wasn’t brushed as heavily as they may have liked.
•PRETTY DEADLY’S STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
It’s always been impressive and amusing how effortlessly Elton Prince and Kit Wilson perform their characters, even if some of us may be partial to their more Anne Rice-inspired NXT UK incarnations. This goofy, costumed podium speech running down the tag division evoked the lows of the TV-PG version of DX, however, and couldn’t quite be saved by the sudden appearance of the Brawling Brutes’ Butch and Ridge Holland.
•CARMELO HAYES (W/TRICK WILLIAMS) VS. ORO MENSAH
It was a relief to see Oliver Carter retained in NXT UK’s transitional shutdown, even if he earned a Shawn Michaels era wrestling name in the process. Now Mensah, the prospect enjoyed a solid bout with the similarly styled Hayes. It’s easy to imagine the two were delighted to work one another.
•ANDRE CHASE (W/BODHI HAYWARD & THEA HAIL) VS. VON WAGNER (W/MR. STONE) – NXT NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP LADDER MATCH QUALIFIER
Chase, one of the winningest wrestlers on Level Up, has become a routine surprise. It’s easy to write him off with each appearance, yet he has come to lend a certain dynamism to his matches.
•INDUS SHER REUNITES
Sanga and Veer each come off as cool, likeable dudes. Neither was able to exhibit as much in the original version of their Malcolm Bivens-managed tag team, and Veer hit a low ceiling as he was written to stray even further from his true self on Raw. Though no words were spoken in this brief backstage reunion that followed a pleasant little chinwag between “Brahmastra: Shiva” actor Sanga and Nathan Frazer, the dapper silence leaves one hoping a second crack is all these cool, likeable dudes need. Showdown with the Creed Brothers, please?
•WENDY CHOO VS. LASH LEGEND
Choo is described by commentary as taking herself more seriously, though the persisting trappings of her somnolent persona don’t yet seem to be along for that ride. Though the shift may take, for now it’s giving a talented performer an unnecessary hill to climb. Legend, for her part, is still mostly inoffensive between the bells, but one would prefer to have seen more noticeable improvement by this point.
•CHANNING “STACKS” LORENZO INTERRUPTS WES LEE’S BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW
There isn’t much to sink our teeth into here, but credit may be due to Channing Lauren for seeming to sink his own teeth beneath the silly surface of Channing Lorenzo while he’s the only member of Tony D’Angelo’s family left standing. To this point he’s been simply serviceable, and current circumstances could be providing him an opportunity to shine.
•GALLUS VIDEO PACKAGE
The Gallus faction has always been emblematic of NXT UK’s key problem in that so much of the roster felt indiscernible and interchangeable. Three samey guys hucking threats from afar does little to mine even a modicum of enticement from the idea of this act returning to TV.
•KAYDEN CARTER & KATANA CHANCE CHARACTER PROFILE
Over the years the combined journey of Carter and Chance has been rewarding to closely track, but it is utterly strange to see them now holding tag team gold and still being introduced as characters. Especially when their curated talking points are falling short of sounding natural, this duo should be operating within their characterization rather than struggling to tell us who they are.
•TOXIC ATTRACTION (GIGI DOLIN & JACY JAYNE) VS. NIKKITA LYONS & ZOEY STARK #1 CONTENDERS MATCH
It’s embarrassing hearing Wade Barrett exclaim that Lyons is the best striker in the women’s division when she’s sloppily whiffing kicks and backhands that Dolin is practically no-selling. A ‘miss’ can’t rightly be given for that blemish alone, however, especially considering Lyons is at least easier to watch when the vastly superior Stark is wrestling half of her match.
•ILJA DRAGUNOV VIDEO PROMO
Not only is it nice to hear Dragunov discuss what it meant to him to be forced to relinquish the NXT UK Championship then watch from the sidelines as the brand was dissolved, it’s invigorating to peek into the psyche that drives the Czar’s mission. Dragunov’s old school fashion of gradually firing up across the breadth of his promo is truly sensational, and achieves the goal of making you yearn to see him win.
•THE GRAYSON WALLER EFFECT HOSTS CORA JADE & ROXANNE PEREZ
Grayson Waller pops off the screen as a future star even when NXT has had him languishing without much of importance to do for quite a while. He’s adept at being horribly annoying while still being entertaining to watch. He couldn’t save the unfortunately elementary back-and-forth between his talk show guests, though, even with both exhibiting varying degrees of promise – Perez through her advanced physical ability, and Jade through her dedication to finding herself. This era of NXT’s storied women’s division does contain its gems, but this episode was sorely lacking in glimmer. The segment spiraled as it went on, treading through another dredging of ill-fitting WCW IP in “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” before culminating in a dumb makeup effect that paid off last week’s even dumber “vision” gimmick the reclamation project Apollo Crews has been saddled with.
•JULIUS CREED VS. DUKE HUDSON
Earlier in the evening Hudson was strutting his misplaced confidence about the Performance Center, as he does, looking to stir up drama. For his trouble he ended up taking a swift loss from Julius Creed, who seems to excel no matter the context and is absolutely welcome on the victorious end of a squash. Hudson’s obliviously self-deprecating charisma has long been deserving of a higher station, but it’s undeniable his crowd heat and sheer stature render him useful enhancement. This whole affair set the stage for the Steveson who’s actually on TV – Damon Kemp – to propose that if Julius loses to him at Halloween Havoc, Brutus Creed must leave NXT. Brutus, furious from Kemp’s attack upon him last week, interjected to accept on behalf of his brother. Julius retook the wheel by adding a thematic ambulance stipulation to the premium match. One does wish Kemp’s delivery sounded less like he was cuffed to a script, but the setup of the scene was orchestrated beautifully enough to forgive even that prominent blemish. Ivy Nile was also present, which is often a plus.
•JD MCDONAGH VIDEO PROMO
McDonagh is not a particularly enthralling personality, but if he must be the obligatory heel in an otherwise mouthwatering triple threat, a moment to lay out his mentality and strategy for the audience is perfectly acceptable.
•AXIOM VIDEO PACKAGE
Superhero comic books are great, but there’s something very juvenile in basing almost the entirety of a wrestling character on a surface level passion for them. A-Kid’s new persona has shown slight variations on this all too basic premise, but has thus far left a lot to be desired.
•XYON QUINN VS. HANK WALKER
Quinn is an aesthetically pleasing wrestler on a years-long search to find substance beneath the skin that actually clicks. Walker is a radioactively green newcomer whose introductory storyline has tried to have its cake and eat it, too. This quickly cobbled conflict took the corrective step of clarifying that Walker is now an officially signed wrestler as opposed to a wrestling security guard. It also utilized Quinn’s sheer aesthetics to accentuate Walker’s everyman appeal. As such, it made chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what, while also giving the new crew of security guards (read: new signees) such as Roman Macek, Houston Miller, Isaac Odugbesan, and particularly Joe Spivak a chance to show a bit of personality on camera in a pre-match scene. Post-match, we also got a nationally televised glimpse of a Quincy Elliott more recognizable to and appreciated by Level Up viewers than the new Goldust-via-Mabel edition.
•THE SCHISM ATTACKS CAMERON GRIMES
The mystery person in the red hoodie and smiley mask had failed to hand out enough smiley buttons earlier in the night, and was later excoriated by Joe Gacy. When Grimes tried to convince the despondent distributor to leave Gacy, he was jumped by Gacy, Rip Fowler, and Jagger Reed. The Schism is a rotten faction for multiple reasons, and Grimes’ continued presence on NXT as opposed to the main roster baffles more and more as the months tick away. Yet, conceal someone’s identity at the center of a show-long sequence of events, and it’s difficult not to end up with an intrigued audience.
•JAVIER BERNAL INTERRUPTS BRON BREAKKER’S BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW
Bernal has consistently impressed as one of the most frequently featured talents on Level Up and should look great bumping around the ring for Breakker.
•THE BRAWLING BRUTES (BUTCH & RIDGE HOLLAND) VS. PRETTY DEADLY (ELTON PRINCE & KIT WILSON) FOR THE NXT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS
Booking this novel contest to be for the belts felt extraneous enough before it was inadequately sold as an important main event. As we waited for the overrun to inevitably invite Imperium to interfere, we got the usual mileage-may-vary workrate match that NXT so historically loves to put on last. The Brutes’ one-off return is theoretically fun as they currently find themselves in the middle of a main roster hot streak, but too much was working against this sadly uninteresting show-closer.