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WELLS’S NXT BATTLEGROUND REPORT
MAY 28, 2023
LOWELL, MASS. AT TSONGAS CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON PEACOCK
Commentators: Vic Joseph & Booker T
Ring Announcer: Alicia Taylor
Torch subscribers can check out a VIP roundtable later as Bruce Hazelwood, Nate Lindberg (who will be attending the show) and I break down our thoughts.
-There was a video of big happenings in Lowell, including Rock’s first championship win, then some local hype Carmelo Hayes did before the show tonight in his backyard.
There were some friendly angles showing a mostly full crowd, though Nate Lindberg reports that the hard cam side is entirely tarped off.
(1) WES LEE (c) vs. TYLER BATE vs. JOE GACY (w/Ava) – Triple threat match for the NXT North American Championship
Champion Lee entered first to a strong reaction as the announcers mentioned he’d be the champion with the most total defenses with a win tonight. Bate entered next as the announcers talked about whether Bate was underhanded or not in working toward this match. Gacy entered last, with Ava (in preparation for their contracts running out, Jagger Reid and Rip Fowler haven’t entered with Gacy for weeks now despite occasionally being on TV otherwise).
Quick rollups by all three guys to start, then a reset. Bate and Lee agreed to attack Gacy but Bate stayed back and it was a moment. Gacy got dumped and the babyfaces paired off. Before they could pair off, Gacy tried to stir something between them. The faces went out and threw some hands at Gacy, then rolled him inside but couldn’t agree on who would enter first to try a cover. They exchanged fists and Gacy hit them with a tope. Bate entered and Gacy hit him with a slam and covered for two; Lee broke it up.
Bate and Gacy paired off and Lee flew over the top and rolled up Gacy for another near-fall. Lee punched down to Gacy and Gacy bailed to a corner. The faces exchanged some more shots. Bate hit a leaping uppercut on Lee and a suplex on Gacy. Exploder and a standing shooting star press for Lee. Gacy flew in and Bate evaded the senton, then hit bop and bang on Gacy. Bate put Gacy up in a fireman’s carry and did a big swing on Lee at the same time to oohs and aahs. Bate covered Gacy and Lee broke it up.
The faces paired off again and exchanged strikes and kicks. Rope run and a backdrop from Bate to Lee ended with Gacy catching Lee and darting him into Bate. Gacy hit a combo uranage/slam on Lee and Bate. He snapped on his submission and Lee fought it off until Bate booted Gacy, who sold the kick but held on and smiled. Bate had to throw a few more strikes to break the hold. Bate missed a shooting star press and Gacy snapped the submission on Bate, and Lee broke it up with a double stomp. All three sold on the mat for a “this is awesome” chant.
Lee took over on offense with strikes for both guys but both returned fire until Lee moved and they hit each other with lariats. Lee hit a Cardiac Kick on both and covered Gacy, then Bate, both for two counts. Lee worked on Bate in a corner, then charged Gacy in the opposite corner. Lee hopped up to put Gacy in a sleeper and Gacy hit a cannonball in the corner to break. The three kept hitting finishers for covers and breaks by the third man. Bate got dumped and Lee put Gacy up in the corner. Lee hopped over Gacy to lay out Bate on the outside. Gacy fired up and hit a uranage but Lee stunned him and hit him with the Cardiac Kick to defend.
WINNER: Wes Lee at 11:58.
(Wells’s Analysis: They continued the story of awkwardness between Lee and Bate in the first half before settling into a more straightforward triple threat. Strong work by all three and it didn’t overstay its welcome like so many triple threats on this brand. Gacy is an also-ran as usual while Bate, who didn’t eat the pin, can likely continue the story and get a one-on-one and quite possibly be the one to dethrone Lee after his marathon title run)
-The feed must have had some issues after a commercial as we got “The event will continue shortly” before coming back to the end of a short video on Tony D’Angelo and Stacks.
-Tiffany Stratton got a pre-taped backstage promo ahead of her match in the finals of the Women’s Championship tournament.
-Bron Breakker and Carmelo Hayes arrived (separately) ahead of their main event.
(2) DRAGON LEE (w/Nathan Frazer) vs. NOAM DAR (c) – British rounds match for the NXT UK Heritage Cup
Lee entered first to a good and growing reaction. Dar cradled his Heritage Cup like a baby to get the usual heat. Round one started slowly and Lee connected with a kick before the two did some mat work. Dar went for the eyes and the ref broke it up. Dar went to an armbar with Lee on the mat and he kept him grounded with the help of a knee. Lee managed to reverse for a short armbar before Dar reversed again and worked Lee’s knee, a usual attack for him leading to his finisher. Lee worked a head scissors and Dar escaped. The two missed a number of impact spots and Dar backed off near the ropes. Dar bailed as time was about to expire but Lee dropkicked him to the floor but was held back from a tope as time had expired.
Oro Mensah went to Dar’s corner, apparently rethinking his position after rejecting Dar on TV this week. Lee controlled Dar early in round two in a corner, hitting a big corner dropkick for a two count. Vic sold the importance of Lee knowing the clock because he can’t afford a draw. There were some reversals and Dar got a rollup victory out of relative nowhere with 1:29 left in the round. Frazer and Mensah gave their guys some water and the action quickly got going again.
Dar caught Lee in an armbar early in round three but Lee kicked his way to freedom. Lee went to the second rope but Dar kicked him to the mat and covered for two. Dar rained down with some elbows and posed on the turnbuckle to boos. Lee managed a rollup for two, then hit a couple of thrust kicks. Lee backed up for a corner lariat and Dar went to the apron, so Lee instead sailed over the top and hit a rana to the floor. Lee hit a tope suicida, called a “suicide dive” in a rare usage by Vic, so maybe their position is relaxing on what to call it. Lee covered inside for two as the announcers continued to beat the drum of how important it was for Lee to get a fall. Lee threw punches up to the bell and made a clean break only for Dar to hit a cyclone back elbow and pretend he didn’t hear the bell.
Dar begged the ref to get going as the fourth round started. Lee evaded one shot but Dar hit a running boot, then rolled up Lee for two. Lee sold on the mat and Dar set up for the Nova Roller but Lee collapsed to the mat. Dar went in and Lee rolled himup for two. Dar worked an armbar on the mat but Lee rolled him up to break. Crescent kick by Lee set up for a Texas Cloverleaf. Dar reached the rope when Mensah pushed it closer to him. Frazer took issue on the outside and Mensah feigned that he was stepping away, but Mensah charged Frazer into the steps. Inside, Lee managed a win with 55 seconds left in the round. Frazer attacked Mensah in the ring to a big pop and the ref sent them both off.
The fifth round opened with the score 1-1. Dar worked his way to an ankle lock but Lee rolled him to the apron. He tried a springboard rana again but Dar caught him and slammed him on the floor. Wow. Back inside, Lee sold death believably and kicked out at the last moment. Both guys sold on the mat. Lee woke up and hit a snap suplex and a powerbomb for a long two. Miss Jackson, called Jakara Jackson here again, charged and distracted the ref. Lash Legend struck Lee from the rear side and opened him up for a Nova Roller, allowing Dar the pin and the victory with 45 seconds left in the round.
WINNER: Noam Dar (14:21 from first to final bell)
(Wells’s Analysis: I predicted on a podcast that Legend and Jackson would help Dar retain, but didn’t expect Mensah to get involved again and create what I assume is a bona-fide faction. I love these rounds matches in the right dose and there was a lot to like from a storytelling standpoint here. Dar and especially the other three heels gain a lot here, while Lee provided a believable threat but will move on to bigger things while leaving the Heritage Cup with Dar where it honestly belongs)
-A quick spot promoted the weaponized cage match between Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne this week on NXT TV. Vic revealed that the match would open the show.
-A video package ran down the bizarre events leading to the Last Man Standing match.
(3) ILJA DRAGUNOV vs. DIJAK – Last Man Standing match
Dijak entered to a strong mixed reaction. Dijak has a cool factor, but this particular storyline has been cheesy at times in its forced intensity. He stopped on the ramp to tell his wife and adorable 5-or-6-year-old daughter (who covered her ears) not to watch what he was about to do. Dragunov got a good pop.
Dijak beat Dragunov in a corner to open. Dragunov fought out of the corner with chops until Dijak laid him out with a lariat. Dragunov tried a deadlift German but Dijak powered out. Dijak booted Dragunov to the ground as he was setting up Constantine Special, then separated the steel steps on one corner and brought the top segment into the ring. Ilja booted Dijak to the outside and they battled on the announce table side, where Dragunov got the better of it. He moved the lower art of the steps and tried to use it as a springboard to land on Dijak, but Dijak got a boot up, then slammed Dragunov on the steps. The ref started the count but Dijak, knowing it wasn’t over yet, brought out a table to the usual overreaction from the crowd. Amusingly, the table was used immediately as Dragunov barreled through the table and took out Dijak. Dragunov was bleeding hard from the…chin?…and it was unclear whether this was due to the stairs or the table spot without going back. The camera lingered on Dijak and the match went to recaps of the early going as I assume the blood was dealt with.
Back to the ring, Dragunov (for now) had a clean and clear face as he went after Dijak in the ring. He tried to suplex Dijak onto the stair segment in the ring, but Dijak shoved Dragunov back into the steps. Dijak set something up but Dragunov reversed momentum into a DDT onto the steps, then continued selling the back. The cut on Dragunov, now bleeding a little again, was across the underside of the left side of his jaw. He grabbed the stairs and charged them into Dijak in a corner, then buried Dijak in them. He went to the other side of the ring and went up to the top. He blew a kiss and went station-to-station to dropkick the stairs into Dijak’s face for a “holy shit” chant. The ref started counting as both guys were down. He got to nine as both guys broke it up.
Dragunov laid into Dijak with chops, but a few big strikes got Dijak into it. Dragunov went back to chop city, using his other hand to cover his jaw and staunch the bleeding. Even lying on the mat, Dragunov went ballistic throwing chops as the crowd gave a “this is awesome” chant to the brutality. Release German suplex by Dragunov. Dijak went all fighting spirit and got to his feet quickly, met by Dragunov. Dijak powered Dragunov to the ropes and chokeslammed him to the apron outside, where he collapsed to the floor on the ramp side. The ref started counting and reached nine again and Dragunov got to his feet and met Dijak’s eye from the outside. Dragunov reentered and hit Feast Your Eyes. The momentum took Dragunov to a corner where the ref couldn’t count, allowing an out for Feast Your Eyes not to be the finish. Dijak got frustrated and went under the ring and got a kendo stick.
Dijak entered the ring and went to the corner where Dragunov was seated on the bottom buckle. He threw a hard kendo shot and Ilja wailed in pain. He threw another shot. Ilja yelled “not even close.” A third shot also seemed to catch Ilja on the left knuckles as the minor injuries piled up. Dijak got into Dragunov’s face and said he needs to stay down. “Don’t make me do this,” he yelled twice at Dragunov. He threw two more kendo shots, the first of which also possibly caught Ilja’s knuckles. Dijak went out and grabbed a chair to a pop. Booker T said Dijak seemed to be in “interrogation mode.”
Dijak gave some shots to Dragunov, then went back for a running shot, but Dragunov dropkicked the chair into him. Flying forearm by Ilja to a grounded Dijak. A “this is awesome” chant rang out again. Dragunov went up on the step segment, still in the ring, and dove onto Dijak, driving his head into the steel chair below. The referee counted quickly. Dragunov got up at eight or nine but Dijak remained down to finish.
WINNER: Ilja Dragunov at 15:54.
(Wells’s Analysis: I don’t know whether they’ll work it into the story, but either way, Dijak’s out for losing is that the count was significantly faster on the finish. Pure adrenaline seemed to power Dragunov through the match, but he’s going to be banged up, as he often is as someone who works as stiff as anyone in this company. Last Man Standing matches aren’t typically my thing, but the story told in this one worked in spades and it was a very enjoyable war of attrition. One of my predictions coming out of this is that the two will team up, but I guess that won’t happen – at least tonight)
-Duke Hudson led a Chase University segment. He said everyone did well on the last assignment, except Ricky. He yelled at Ricky repeatedly. He introduced Charlie Dempsey and Drew Gulak to talk to the class. Thea Hail wasnt happy about it. The two threw to a video of how not to become a superstar. They said her lack of wrestling knowledge put her at a disadvantage against literally anyone. Duke finally looked up from his study guides and took them to task for letting Thea burst out of the room in tears. Gulak said there was no crying in NXT. Hudson said they’d better have a better lesson plan next week.
-McKenzie Mitchell interviewed Noam Dar and his new faction. Dar gave a fired up promo about his new group as they celebrated. Jakara Jackson held up the Heritage Cup trophy and pretended to shine it up.
-The Great American Bash will take place Sunday, July 30th at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas. They posted the ticket information on the screen.
(4) THE CREED BROTHERS (Julius & Brutus) (w/Ivy Nile) vs. GALLUS (Wolfgang & Mark Coffey) (c) (w/Joe Coffey) – NXT Tag Team Championship match
Alicia Taylor handled formal intros. Brutus was once again going with a rooster look with his hair, a little more unkempt than Wednesday. Coffey and Julius opened the match and reversed some power grapples. Julius powered Coffey to the face corner and made the tag. Brutus worked an armbar and Coffey escaped and made the tag. All four went to the center of the ring and a schmoz was threatened but didn’t come to pass. Brutus controlled Coffey and made the tag. He and his brother took turns giving hard knees to Coffey. Julius grounded Coffey, who kept finding ways to get back to his feet. Rope run and a blind tag led to Brutus flying off the top to hit a double ax-handle followed by some clubbing blows. Brutus cleared Wolfgang off the corner and both ran the ropes. Blind tag by Wolfgang allowed him to lay out Brutus. Booker called Brutus “Bruti,” reminding everyone my age and older of Gorilla Monsoon’s nicknaming of Brutus Beefcake. He must have liked how it sounded, as he kept it up.
Gallus made some quick tags to continue controlling Brutus. Coffey tagged in and hit a leaping elbow and covered for two. Julius, getting frustrated, had to be shoved back to his own corner. The crowd was pretty out of it in the wake of the LMS match leading into a competent but slow-paced tag match. Brutus managed a backdrop on Coffey and rolled toward his corner, but Wolfgang tagged in and ran to cut off the tag. Wolfgang gave an elbow to Julius, then jawed with him, opening up for the tag. Julius destroyed Gallus with repeated belly-to-belly suplexes and exploders. As he reached five, six in a row, the audience woke up and appreciated the flurry. #7 for Wolfgang. #8 for Coffey. Standing shooting star press by Julius. Tag to Brutus, who hit a standing moonsault for two. The Creeds set up their finisher, but Coffey went into a victory roll for two. Bonzo gonzo as all guys got involved. Brutus Ball to both members of Gallus. This match got a “this is awesome” chant as well. The Creeds fired each other up and all four met in the middle of the ring and it broke down completely. The illegal men cleared out and Julius hit a knee lift on Coffey. Joe Coffey tried to get involved and Ivy Nile tripped him.
Ava attacked from the ramp and took out Ivy Nile. As Julius showed concern, Gallus hit their finisher.
WINNERS: Gallus at 9:32.
(Wells’s Analysis: The workers made the best of the death spot after the Last Man Standing match and definitely brought the crowd back to life. It was the expected strong, hard-hitting affair leading to Ava sliding into a feud with Ava that may or may not involve Jagger Reid and Rip Fowler if they remain on TV.)
-Lyra Valkyria got a pre-taped hype segment ahead of the Women’s Championship match. Her mic work has been much more hit and miss than her in-ring work throughout her entire stay including NXT: UK, but this was a strong enough segment to cast some doubt on the result that everyone’s been expecting.
(5) LYRA VALKYRIA vs. TIFFANY STRATTON – Tournament final to crown a new NXT Women’s Champion
Valkyria had a nice pop, also growing of late. Stratton had high pigtails and had spent a bit too much time in the tanning booth, with her midsection reaching Hogan levels. Alicia Taylor handled formal intros and the reaction was messy as a lot of the vocal males cheered Stratton. The two jockeyed for position to open until Valkyria managed a headlock takeover. Stratton escaped and worked an arm wringer. Valkyria reversed and whipped herself down into a headlock in a nifty transition. She then transitioned into a crucifix for two.
Stratton hit a back elbow and rolled up Valkyria for two. Valkyria returned the favor. They reset. Rope run and Stratton blocked Valkyria to the mat. Valkyria leapfrogged over Stratton and sold her bad leg on the landing, which was set up with Cora Jade’s post-match attack in the semifinals. Stratton bailed and took a quick breather. She reentered and Valkyria armdragged her. Stratton bailed again. Valkyria charged for a dropkick through the ropes, but Stratton casually caught her leg and laid her out on the apron, then dragged her to the floor and charged her injured leg into a corner post. Stratton entered and posed to another mixed reaction, then went back out and pulled off Valkyria’s knee brace off.
Back inside, Stratton dropped Valkyria’s exposed knee over her own and Valkyria sold it like agony. She did it again before going into a dragon screw leg whip. She covered for two. Stratton worked a leg submission with a bridge and Valkyria screamed “no” at the ref and broke the hold. Stratton covered for a one count. Stratton stalked Valkyria. Valkyria got to her feet and threw palm strikes. She missed and Stratton charged Valkyria’s knee into the mat. Stratton worked a stretch muffler and Valkyria nearly reached the rope. Valkyria threw some boots at Stratton and rolled her up for two. Stratton wanted a figure four and Valkyria booted her away and rolled her up for two.
Valkyria managed a back elbow and hit a second-buckle dropkick. She sold the pain from the fall and both women laid on the mat. Valkyria hit a series of kicks and strikes and hit a couple of suplexes. She hit an enzuigiri on a charging Stratton, who bailed afterward. Valkyria hit a dropkick through the ropes and laid out Stratton on the outside. She rolled Stratton inside and went to the top. She slapped at her knee to wake it up. She hit a high cross-body but Stratton rolled through for a slam. Valkyria rolled into a crucifix for a near fall.
Valkyria went up and Stratton hung her up in the Tree of Woe. Stratton went up and splashed Valkyria with her previous finisher and got a two count. The two exchanged control and rollups. Stratton hit a cross-body on a grounded Valkyria and got two as the match crossed over into much more time than I expected it to be given. Stratton set up a splash in the corner and Valkyria tossed her off. Valkyria set up her roundhouse finisher and sold the pain. Stratton picked up the pieces and went up and missed her finisher! Valkyria hit her roundhouse finisher and couldn’t make the cover. Stratton amusingly slid closer to the ropes so she could get a foot on the rope during the next count. Valkyria went up and Stratton met her there. Valkyria went for a powerbomb but Stratton fought it off, set up her moonsault finisher and hit it absolutely beautifully to finish.
WINNER: Tiffany Stratton at 15:59.
(Wells’s Analysis: The match really earned its runtime as the two worked toward the finish that’s been inevitable since the injury angle (or really, since the bracket was announced) and found ways to really sew doubt throughout the match about how it would end. Stratton was bound to anchor this division at some point and has been a tremendous in-ring performer for some time now, so it’s time to sink or swim in a title reign. Valkyria gained a ton of respect and fans, I assume, with this match going off as well as it did. There were a couple of mistimed spots if I’m nitpicking, but the match simply couldn’t have gone much better)
-More hype for the Dolin-Jayne Weaponized Cage Match.
-Recap of the Breakker-Hayes saga started with the long overdue Breakker heel turn and Hayes and Trick Williams leaning further into traditional babyface roles.
-Breakker headed to the ring with a dog muzzle mask that was either a good idea or a silly one depending on your view (I think it’s an okay idea that could use another attempt; it has a kind of cool look from the side with Breakker’s hoodie pulled up, but it’s dopey from any other angle). Carmelo had “H” and “M” banners hanging from his arms to make the word “HIM” (with Melo himself being the “I”) and it too was a little…iffy.
(6) CARMELO HAYES (c) (w/Trick Williams) vs. BRON BREAKKER – NXT Championship match
Alicia Taylor handled formal intros; this time around, the intended heel-face dynamics were obviously shared by the fans. Basement dropkick by Melo to open and he struck quickly and often for the next half-minute before Breakker gained separation with a back elbow and blocked Hayes to the mat. Hayes booted Breakker to the outside and flew out at him. Hayes would’ve fallen short but Breakker stepped forward and kept Hayes safe and took the bump as well as possible (camera angles helped a little). Back inside, Hayes charged into a scoop slam. Breakker lingered over Hayes to boos. Breakker’s singlet said “Meaner than Evil.” Okay.
Melo came off the second buckle and Breakker caught him, shook his head, and bealed him. Breakker is so good at riling up the fans and cutting off babyface hope. Breakker took Hayes outside and beat him around the barricade and put him back inside, where Hayes hit the Fade Away for a one count. Hayes stomped on Breakker’s leg and worked a half-crab. Trick got into from the outside, miming putting more torque on the hold. Breakker escaped and managed a quick lariat to take control again. He kicked off some pain from his leg and stalked Hayes. Suplex by Breakker, who continued slowing it down and got into it with the crowd again. Belly-to-belly by Breakker got just one. Breakker did a couple of push-ups afterward. “You suck” chant.
Hayes tried a rollup, but Breakker shrugged it off and slammed Hayes again. He went at Hayes in a corner and set him up on the second turnbuckle for a suplex. Hayes kicked Breakker to the mat but Breakker popped up and hit a Frankensteiner for two. Breakker hit a lariat and held on as the crowd just continued raining down boos on the match. Breakker missed a lariat and Hayes got in a few shots while selling all the work down. Breakker shut it down with a belly-to-back suplex. Breakker did a few presses on Hayes’s back, and Hayes turned around on the mat to crotch Breakker. Hayes hit a DDT. The crowd woke up as both guys sold on the mat.
Punch exchange got the yay/boo treatment. Hayes hit a crescent kick and a pump kick, then a springboard cross-body. Spinning cutter and Hayes covered but didn’t even get one. Hayes hit another cutter, this time getting two. The two went to another strike exchange where Hayes used his greater speed to keep control. Breakker took Hayes up and Hayes reversed into a jawbreaker. Nothing But Net missed and so did a Breakker spear. Melo flew off the ropes into a giant spear by Breakker that got a kickout that fooled a large percentage of the audience.
Breakker stayed on the offensive with some slams. Hayes hit an inside cradle for two, then threw repeated superkicks and a springboard DDT. Hayes went up and this time hit Nothing But Net to retain.
WINNER: Carmelo Hayes at 14:14.
(Wells’s Analysis: The right length for this one as the two worked the perfect match given their current characterization. The champ outlasted the most foreboding version of Bron Breakker so far while Breakker was out there perfecting a version of himself that can make money as a heel for a long time. This was much more thrilling than the previous match with Breakker providing a huge heel threat in front of Hayes’s home city. I don’t know how you get much more out of NXT Breakker unless you give him a token win over a midcard guy before he heads up as a winner, so I’m not expecting him to hang out in Florida much longer. Hayes could obviously contribute there tomorrow if need be, but is a good anchor for the brand until someone else is ready for the spot)
FINAL THOUGHTS: There have been too many of these shows for me to continue remembering which matches were on which cards, but without looking I’d have to say this was one of the strongest top-to-bottom shows in a long time. Of course, that all started with proper hype building to each match, giving them a boost out of the gate; even matches in historic death spots ended up drawing people in. A hot crowd (I’ll ask Nate on the podcast to confirm this felt like the case live) added to the slate of strong matches that felt like TakeOvers in 2014-15 where talent were repeatedly seemingly working over their heads and delivering matches that belied the fact that it’s a developmental brand. Bruce, Nate and I will record a roundtable after Nate braves the traffic and gets home, and we’ll see you on Wednesday as NXT shifts into new directions.