The road (Arnold Schwartzenegger) called...NXT (Triple H) answered. Columbus, hello!
- A raucous Arnold Festival crowd welcomes Kalisto & Tyler Breeze for the first televised NXT (this iteration, anyway) match outside of Full Sail Live.
- The Lucha Dragon shines as a singles performer, but he doesn't have an answer for gorgeousness. Prince Pretty is on a winning streak.
- Her hometown and the Women's champ are going to find out what Alexa Bliss is capable of tonight.
- Hunter says "brand" a lot as we're treated to video packages highlighting both Ohio shows.
- Pay-per-view quality promo piece for tonight's main event, where Alex Riley plans to "rage". The #1 contender tells him to focus on staying out of the hospital, but promises to keep an eye on things.
- Very interesting seeing the familiar show in unfamiliar surrounding. It brought to mind all the times I've watched Ring of Honor, or TNA outside of the Impact Zone, or even New Japan and wondered, "I wonder what this would look like with money and/or WWE producers & techs?" After this, I don't have to wonder anymore.
- If Breeze is on the card for any given show, there's a really good chance it will be favorite match on that show. He's firing on all cylinders...works the crowd as well as Kevin Owens, makes his opponent look like a million bucks and even takes a mediocre, babyface-ish finisher and turns it into convincing wins. I especially mark for his counters, like the end sequence - Although I think I liked the mid-match fake sell to set-up the drop kick on a springboarding Kalisto more.
- He's also the kind of performer that WWE needs to start proving it can turn out. The successes, both here and on the main roster, have almost all been independent stars (I guess Roman Reigns is the exception, depending on where you fall in the debate on his "readiness"). Mike Dalton was trained by Lance Storm, yes, but he didn't work CZW or PWG shows five years before landing in Florida. Love Hunter's willingness to sign the Jon Moxleys of the world, but I think he wants the Performance Center to be known as more than just a finishing school for indy darlings.
- Since I can't be there live to chant along, I have no reason to care about him. But Kalisto looked good on his own.
- The Sparkley One is even greener on the stick than she is in the ring. I like the flashes of fire Bliss is showing on the mic and while wrestling, but she still comes across like she's reading off a teleprompter. The bit later on when she and Sasha Banks talk in the same segment really demonstrated how far Alexa has to go.
- Still not sure how I feel about all this "NXT is its own brand" business - like most things, it will depend on how it plays out more than the fact that it's going to happen. But this episode and Trips' comments on both of the video pieces about the Ohio weekend make it crystal clear that it's happening now, so we're about to start finding out what effect that will have on our precious little corner of the WWE empire.
- Finn Bálor's promos may underwhelm me, but at least they make sense. A-Ry comes across as delusional at best, if not a little heel-ish. His interaction with the Irishman wiped out the empathy they created for him last week. By the time this segment was over, I was back to looking forward to seeing him get his ass kicked.
- The Guys prove that Full Sail is the only room they're the Realest in, as they quickly get the Ohio crowd eating from the palm of their hands while introducing Big Cass for his match against Wesley Blake.
- It takes a distraction from the other half of the tag champs, "the Australian one", to stop the seven-footer's beatdown on Blake, and earn him a roll-up win.
- Either the women's division is about to get another player, or they just couldn't resist showing footage of their female bodybuilder competing at The Arnold.
- Wow, Enzo and Cass are going to make a ton of money for themselves and WWE. Their pop gets lost in the regular crowd popping for everyone, and it's hard to tell how much is just folks parroting Enzo's opening lines. But it sounded like they blew the roof off the joint at the LC Pavilion, and that crowd was hot all night.
- The exception being Carmella, of course, as even a couple of thousand fanboys and girls pause to boo the foil to our beloved Blue Pants. I kind of wonder if the injury they were playing up at the end of their match tonight won't be a way to write her off for a little while. She was back to being a babyface manager/valet tonight, and it's been quite some time since we've seen any trace of tension between her and Zo. But then there's the full-blown heel she plays as singles wrestler. Anyway...
- Corey Graves made me laugh out loud when his reaction to the "How You Doin'?" chant is "at least they're worried about Wesley Blake's well being."
- Not saying much about the match, because I don't have much to say. This was put together as a showcase for Cass, and, Lord love him, but he's not ready for a showcase. He didn't botch or anything, but he's work rate is "young Kevin Nash", and that pretty much means I forgot everything that happened here shortly after it was over.
- In fact, Amore's histrionics at ringside made a much bigger impression on me. I hope they both improve in the ring, but I don't think it's going to have an impact on their drawing power if they don't.
- Don't get me wrong, based on what we've seen them do with a mic in their hands, I'm not asking for a lot more promo time from the tag champs. But if it would be nice if they weren't just the heel version of Lucha Dragons. Commentary talked up their interest in stealing Carm from her fellas, but we didn't see them do much to emphasize their lechery. It was nice that Blake grabbed the tights on the roll-up, though.
- Not much to go on in the Dana Brooke teaser, but I think she might work out.
- Bliss unfortunately takes a step back from her recent showings, but picks up a big count out win over the champ due to some well-timed brutality.
- The Boss rightly cuts off the hometown girl's post-match interview to point out that she was not pinned or submitted, and General Manager William Regal is quick to make peace by making an appointment for more violence next week.
- Blood runs hot as Riley looks to make a statement against the men's champ. But the announcer may have been a little too fired up, and ends up sentoned and powerbombed into oblivion.
- KO goes to close the episode with his signature hospitalization spot on A-Ry, but Bálor leaps from the stage to make the save. The two men brawl for a bit before the Owens decides to save it for next week.
- Going to cash in one of my objectifying chits here to say...Ms. Bliss, I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave. Seriously, is like 33% of her body weight in her seat? Whatever the numbers are, it's glorious. Almost Breeze-esque. Almost.
- What wasn't glorious was this match. Sasha was on point as usual, but Alexa didn't really connect on much, from the opening drop toe hold to the drop kick near the end. She even took the drop double knees in the corner spot awkwardly. And the Glitz Flip is just a no-go for me. Two weeks in a row, I can't even see where the knees connect. It just looks like she backflips over a downed opponent.
- Nice spark to the finish, and it's shocking how rare a count out seems on NXT. Maybe it is its own brand and not a WWE show! Sasha needs to end little miss glitter next week though.
- Loved how the main event started and ended. The champ's mind games in both spots were phenomenal, and Riley's reaction to being pushed and laughed at was perfect.
- I do wonder how this would have felt in Florida, where the crowd might have stayed on script in actually supporting A-Ry. "Kill Owens Kill" was fun (and "Rest Owens Rest" was great), and probably what I would have done too were I there. Given that this was the only time folks in the Buckeye state's capital can count on seeing these performers for the foreseeable future, you can't begrudge them reacting however they wanted to react. But it would have helped the match if the audience had been into Riley's comebacks instead of the champ's headlocks.
- Don't do spinebusters, Alex. I watched Arn Anderson. You're no Arn Anderson. You're not even a Triple H, Bobby Roode or Adam Rose.
- The one thing I wanted for this show was to add some spice to next week's title match, and hoo boy, did they deliver. Again, the save could have been a bigger moment had the crowd not been cheering for KO to crack Riley's back on the apron, but Finn made it work. His facial expressions as he was "going to that place" before Kevin bailed were really something. Either he hasn't been displaying those mannerisms in WWE to date or the war paint he's worn for big matches has hidden it. They need to work on conveying those unhinged looks at key moments, because it really adds something.
- Not to steal one of my boss' catchphrases, but Owens' pausing while scurrying off to stomp A-Ry in the gut one more time was THE BEST THING.
Harder to grade than normal, because of the novelty of the different setting - and because you just know the live version was so much better than the edited down stuff we got tonight.
The runtime was back up to what we're accustomed to, but that included ten minutes of event video. Another good but not great show, but one that built nicely to what should be an epic episode next week.
This is where I kick it to you, Cagesiders. What'd you think?