Busy night in WWE, with this episode premiering at the same time as a surprisingly meaningful Tribute to the Troops over on USA Network. Of course, most people don’t have to watch NXT live, but your boy was multi-tasking. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
Video package catches us up on the recent developments in the Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe title feud, right up to General Manager William Regal informing both men of the “final encounter” rematch we’ll get tonight.
We head to Melbourne, where they’re lowering the steel cage as the ring announcer makes her introductions. Of the nine or so minutes of the match we get, things start slowly, and with rhythm & spots we’ve seen from both men before. There’s an awkward cut to a commercial when Joe has Nakamura pinned against the cage, delivering strikes.
Upon return, we’re approaching the finish, so this seems to be where most of the editing took place. Nak delivered a German suplex where Joe seemed to land square on his head, but he gets up and dodges a Kinshasha to hit his powerslam and transition into a Coquina Clutch. Shinsuke climbs the turnbuckles and flips over to slip the hold. Another knee strike leads to a two count, after which Nakamura climbs to escape.
That’s the set-up for the super-Muscle Buster spot Joe used against Finn Bálor, which the champ fights off, smashing his opponent’s face on the steel as part of the counter. Shin comes off the top with a Kinshasha and looks to leave through the door, but then changes his mind and closes it. Two Kinshashas later, he pins his rival to keep the belt and end their feud.
From there, the rest of the show takes place at Full Sail. A recap of the angle with Billie Kay, Peyton Royce & Daria Berenato transitions us to an interview with the Australian pair. They say they didn’t lose to Ember Moon, Liv Morgan & Aliyah, Deonna did. Kay & Royce still have big plans for the future, but before they can talk about them, Purrazzo walks up. She’s not interested in their future plans, but does want to hurt one of them next week. She says she’ll let them choose which one, then makes them flinch before the scene ends.
- So that’s that. Pretty sure that’s not the reaction you’re supposed to have when a long title feud wraps in a cage match, but here we are.
- As discussed last week and by many others, the best part of Joe and Nakamura’s story was the build between matches. Bringing it to a close with three matches in a month that had minimal build was always going to be a tough sell.
- Melbourne seemed into it, which helped a great deal. But otherwise, this was another okay match for the NXT title. Kind of weird to think that the most memorable moment in the history of that belt arguably happened after a championship bout (Kevin Owens attacking Sami Zayn), while the Women’s and tag titles have produced the Match of the Year candidates.
- Anyway, yeah. Tom, Corey & the production team did their best to sell this as “vicious”, and I very much appreciated Nakamura rejecting the escape win (alway a ridiculous option in a program between two bad asses). But even the structure of this episode said, “we’re gonna get this out of the way so we can move on to what comes next”, so...
- Peyton & Billie’s gimmick feels like they’re doing it because they couldn’t come up with anything better, not because anyone thinks it’s actually a good fit.
The first of our four qualifying matches for next week’s Fatal 4Way which will determine who next faces Nakamura for the title is a quick one. Just as Tye Dillinger starts to get rolling against Eric Young, Nikki Cross jumps him from behind, triggering the disqualification. When SAnitY tries to jump him after the bell, Young gets some offense in, but the Perfect Ten fights them off... until Damo returns to wreck him. The Big Irishman leaves as EY, Nikki & Alexander Wolfe look on, giving them a smile and nod but nothing more.
Our second qualifier starts with No Way Jose and Andrade “Cien” Almas’ usual antics... when Jose dodges rope-running offense to dance, Cien hits him with the Tranquilo pose and then goes back on the attack to keep the Dominican from mocking it. The babyface connects with his airplane spin and leg drop spots, but Andrade returns fire with strikes in the corner, setting up a single-leg drop kick of his own for two. A big boot counter allows No Way to land a flurry of punches, then his neckbreaker, but Almas ducks the fastball punch. A pop-up punch gets a nearfall, but ACA fights out of a TKO and gets up a boot of his own to set-up his hammerlock DDT finisher and advance in about four minutes.
- Smart piece of business, that SAnitY/Dillinger “match”. NXT still doesn’t go to these kind of finishes to protect everyone too often, so I’ll allow it, and with a short segment they accomplished things that give us a better sense of the stable, Nikki and Damo - all while getting Tye’s story moving forward.
- Appreciate the announce team reminding us that Dillinger was beaten up by Eric Young’s squad in the Dusty when Roode bailed on him. Not sure it’s that crucial to the plot, but at least they didn’t pretend it was irrelevant.
- On the subject of the announcers, I don’t hate Percy, but I don’t know what he adds. So far, he’s the equivalent of a video game commentator who spouts cliches at expected junctures in the action. We’ve seen folks grow in this role before, though, so here’s hoping that’ll be the case for the former Showtime.
- There’s not a ton of suspense to they “will he or won’t he join” story for Damo, which hamstrings it a bit even as its capably told.
- Maybe that was an issue with Almas/Jose as well? I’m honestly not sure, but their match didn’t grab me at all. Other possible factors: ACA being AWOL, No Way getting owned by SAnitY for the last three weeks.
Next up is Elias Samson vs. Roderick Strong, which begins with a song from the Drifter and the usual over-the-top vitriol from Corey Graves about his fellow Pittsburgher. After working Roddy over in the corner to start the actual match, Strong comes back with a quick drop kick/backbreaker combo for a two count. They battle until Elias gets the upper hand by snapping his opponent’s arm over the rope when the referee asks for a clean break. The usual Samson offense follows (strikes, knees, chin lock), until the Ring of Honor (ROH) ex gets free, escaping a slam to deliver another drop kick. A gut buster and a Sick Kick at right around the three minute mark send Roderick to the Fatal 4Way.
Our announce team of Tom Phillips, Percy Watson and Graves tell us Purrazzo will face Billie next week, and then Corey starts flipping out about Gloriousness. Oney Lorcan and Bobby Roode trade head and wristlocks to kick-off their qualifier, before Roode slips behind for the takedown so he can pose and taunt Lorcan. Oney fights back with uppercuts and hip attacks, getting an early cover off a Northern Lights suplex.
After another cover, Lorcan sets Roode up top for half-nelson suplex from there, but Bobby elbows out. The Glorious One got nasty from there, stomping Oney down and rubbing his face on the mat before trapping him in the apron to elbow him for a bit. Another comeback as they trade for a minute, and a Blockbuster gets a nearfall for Lorcan. But he tries a sunset flip and misses, finding himself in a spinebuster instead. Roode finishes things with his implant DDT after five minutes.
The Fatal 4Way to determine the #1 contender is next week, and that’s that.
- Why is Full Sail not excited about the Messiah of the Backbreaker? Do they know he’s also from the Sunshine State? After California popped huge for him, it’s weird to see the muted reaction again.
- As much as it’s fun to blame Full Sail for things (do we still do that?), that’s not really on them. Strong’s a phenomenal worker, but we know next to nothing about his NXT character. This match did very little to address that issue.
- For the life of me, I can’t tell if I hate the Drifter as a character or am just totally disinterested in him as a performer. This match did very little to address that issue.
- Almost by default, the last qualifier was my favorite thing on the show. Roode is really settling into a zone with this schtick, and Lorcan was able to make the wrestling more interesting than anyone not named Dillinger has been able to since Bobby hit NXT. Throw in Corey giving Gloriousness the full Eva Marie treatment, and that’s a winner every time.
- Lorcan has to be the front-runner to be the next act NXT fans get behind and force Triple H & team to push. I still have some doubt about the name, but it’s memorable. The theme song is perfect. He’s different and dangerous-looking when he wrestles. It’s a blast to watch him work.
- Unfortunately, in what I guess was a theme for this whole edition of NXT, there was never any doubt who was winning here. Oney’s last cover could have been electric, but no one in the stands or at home thought this short match was ending there.
- Giving us the Fatal 4Way these matches set-up on next week’s show makes me think perhaps the winner’s title shot will happen before San Antonio. Maybe as a way to complete Tye’s tale?
I almost hesitate to grade this one at all, because my attention wasn’t 100% on it, so I can’t tell where that’s the cause of it not hooking me, or if that’s on the show itself.
Taking my cue from how it was presented, however, I think this was an episode NXT knew we’d rush through to get to the next big story beats. And unlike the Dec 7 edition, where they were teasing exciting developments, this felt much more perfunctory.
What impression did it make on you?