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NXT recap & reactions (Dec. 23, 2020): Airing of the Grievances

NXT returned last night (Dec. 23) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Pull Apart!

NXT continues to build a rivalry between Rhea Ripley & Raquel González that feels like the makings of an epic feud.

This week, Dakota Kai faced the Nightmare to prove she doesn’t need Raquel to win. But spoiler: She does. She always did.

During their bout, Kai targeted Ripley’s arm, giving her an opportunity against her imposing opponent. It wasn’t enough. González walked out to watch and possibly grab the attention of her foe. But she just ended up watching her friend lose.

That’s when the Texan marched to the ring to confront her rival. Referees ran out to try to prevent this from happening, but they were pretty powerless.

After a sweet stare down, this turned into a full on pull apart brawl. Pull aparts are great as long as they’re not over used, and NXT doesn’t go to that well often. This is program that deserves it.

In a matter of months, they made this feel like a rivalry that they can revisit many times down the road, in NXT or on Raw/SmackDown. They used Ripley, a relatively new star in her own right, to make another one in Raquel.

Street Fight

NXT kicked off this week with a tag team street fight between the champs Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch and Drake Maverick & Killian Dain.

This match helped reestablish Drake Maverick as more than a joke. When he was arrived to NXT as part of the cruiserweight title tournament that earned him his NXT contract, he was a serious competitor. Yes, he was a big time underdog, but he was meant to be taken seriously.

Then he paired off with Killian Dain and suddenly he was a goofy liability for that team. That’s not terrible in itself. It’s Maverick’s biggest strength. But it’s limited so it was good for this match to present as the never-say-die underdog that he also works well as.

The tag team champs tried as hard as they could to neutralize Dain, and wisely so. He’s far and away the threat of that team. They succeeded and picked apart the plucky Maverick. Danny Burch took to whipping the poor guy with his own belt. As Beth Phoenix said “this is getting uncomfortable” and Drake sold that brutality without ever giving up.

In the end, the good guys didn’t get the job done. It was unlikely they were going to. But this did its job in presenting Dain & Drake as more than just comedy. This is a team that can compete in the tag division.

Bad Intentions

Mercedes Martinez is back!

This was a bit of a swerve return. The segment was set up with a backstage interview where Toni Storm accused Io Shirai in ducking her. She took that time to remind us that she has a win over Shirai in the second Mae Young Classic.

These words peeved the champ when she heard about them. She marched to the ring, demanding they “hit my music” as she did. (Io Shirai is such a badass.) The Genius of Sky marched to the ring and set up a chair, waiting for Toni Storm to walk out.

That’s when Martinez struck, coming in behind her and locking the champ in a sleeper. Mercedes then dragged the champ out of the ring and slammed her headfirst into scaffolding before throwing her into the fence. The announcers informed us Shirai was stretchered out.

I appreciate the misdirect. Not only did it make Martinez’s return more of a surprise, and it was already going to be a surprise, but it set the stage for the bigger feud between Toni Storm and Io Shirai. While it’s possible that Martinez could beat Io, I don’t think it’s going that way. Shirai has bigger plans with Storm.

This should be a great program.

Here We Go Again

Well, Velveteen Dream is back again.

It’s always tough to discuss Dream given his history of allegations. Since those, he’s disappeared from TV multiple times. We don’t know for sure if his absences are directly related, but it’s hard to believe they’d keep a guy they’re pretty high on off TV otherwise.

This was a curious return because unlike all the others, he just started losing immediately. He talked some trash to Adam Cole backstage, this set up a main event for the evening, and then he lost clean.

This could just be the beginning of whatever new plan they have for the young wrestler. But if it is, they surely didn’t hint at what it was. Coming back and taking an L right away doesn’t hint at any push, but at this point, they probably want to wait before they go there again.

Very Gargano Christmas

The Gargano Christmas celebration were comedy bits aired in segments throughout the night. They took place at their home and involved gift giving and some caroling.

There were some funny bits. I especially liked Johnny gifting Indi Hartwell a PS5 box without the PS5. “The PS5 is actually mine.” Cold, dude. Luckily, he had a gift she really appreciated, which was an official Gargano Family nickname: Indi Wrestling. It set up a “we support indie wrestling” pun.

Johnny gave his love (not the North American title, but he did zoom in it when he discussed the “love of his life” earlier) a wheel from Shotzi Blackheart’s destroyed tank. Candice LeRae still has a program with Blackheart and this is a nice reminder of its roots.

Austin Theory is still a big, dull goof, but they’re playing up the fact he hasn’t really found a way to fit into the family yet.

All The Rest:

- To represent the NXT title, they aired a video of both Kyle O’Reilly and Finn Bálor separately watching their TakeOver 30 title match. The idea here was to put over how killer that match was (and it was) and let us know the next one will be awesome as well. It also did a good job putting over the idea that this is a rematch we need to see.

- Leon Ruff defeated Timothy Thatcher by roll up. It was because Thatcher was distracting in waiting for Tommaso Ciampa would come out, but a wins a win, and it’s good to see Ruff is still a player of sorts in NXT. Ciampa then dropped Thatcher, setting up a FIGHT PIT match. With his win, Ruff will get his North American title rematch next week.

- Isaiah “Swerve” Scott got his win back from Jake Atlas, and he wasn’t gracious in victory, giving Atlas the ‘suck it’ sign. Looks like Swerve is headed heel with his actions. Jake didn’t shake his hand, but I don’t blame him.

- So Xia Li & Boa went through their torture again this week, but they seemed into it this week. This likely means they’ll be on TV soon now that they’ve survived their training.

- Bronson Reed defeated Ashante “Thee” Adonis in a squash match to establish that he’s back and will be a force to reckoned with.

- Tyler Rust, with Malcolm Bivens at his side, defeated Ariya Daivari. This makes him 1-0 with Big Malc at his side.

This was a solid show, with some strong offerings from the women’s side and a fun street fight. Otherwise, this show was a lot of smaller stuff that was not very essential.

Grade: B-

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