NXT returns tonight (Apr. 22) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
- Finn Bálor vs. Velveteen Dream
- Drake Maverick vs. Jake Atlas
- El Hijo de Fantasma vs. Jack Gallagher
- Kushida vs. Tony Nese
- Tegan Nox & Shotzi Blackheart vs. Dakota Kai & Raquel González
As per usual, here are our five questions about NXT tonight:
1) Is this cruiserweight tournament now all about Drake?
Before last week, Drake Maverick’s role in this cruiserweight tournament to crown an interim champion was pretty clear. He was going to probably lose to three men but help sell it with his huge personality.
Then last Wednesday, he was one of the many superstars released from their WWE contract. However, he is still working the tournament surprisingly enough. Which makes him the new focus. It’s not about El Hijo de Fantasma’s big debut or Akira Tozawa’s quest to win back the title, or the newcomer Jake Atlas trying to make a big first impression. It’s about Drake Maverick.
After his tearful video last week, he’s got to be the fan favorite. If there were a crowd for him, they’d be going nuts for a man who clearly loves this business, and WWE, as much as he does. (Of course, if there were a crowd, he wouldn’t have been released.) But the support will still be there.
2) Do they play into this story?
I think WWE should play up this aspect of the tournament. They’d be foolish to just ignore the fact that Maverick was released last week. Most of the fans who watch NXT already know, hell he already cut a promo about it, and NXT would be leaving an emotional story on the table.
But since there are no fans, they’d have to show that support in another way.
If it were me, I’d use the announcers and the locker room to play the surrogate of the fans. Show the announcers get more emotionally invested in these matches or air clips of the roster watching backstage. I’d even have them clap for him on the entryway when he loses his final match. Someone needs to stand in for the fans who can be there to cheer him on.
Of course, this would also be WWE putting effort into building up a man that they released and will no longer be part of the company after this is all said and done. That being said, making him look good on his way out is the least they can after releasing him in the middle of a pandemic.
That’s just what I’d do though. This being WWE, they’re just as likely to pretend he still works there so they don’t have to draw more attention to the slew of releases.
3) Any kidnappings this week?
The last two men to face Kushida, Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza, were kidnapped in the parking lot after the match. That fact should give Tony Nese pause. This is starting to look like a pattern.
Unlike the other two men, Nese has two more matches he’ll have to wrestle after tonight so he can’t just disappear. But I doubt these kidnappers are giving much care to their victim’s schedule.
The other factor is tonight is the debut of El Hijo de Fantasma. It’s a big debut in general, but there’s been a lot of speculation that he is the man behind the abductions. That’s another reason to be leery of the WWE PC parking lot.
4) Will there be interference?
Finn Bálor vs. Velveteen Dream is a big match. Bigger than set up one week and match the next on NXT TV. Meaning tonight will probably give us some, but not all, of what this could be. And it certainly means we’re not getting a real finish.
Both men are feuding with entire factions. Finn is feuding with Imperium. Dream is feuding with the Undisputed ERA. There’s just too many people who want to beat these men up that a clean finish is very unlikely.
And that’s OK. That’s the way to go here. They just need to book it so the inevitable interference is somewhat creative. And tease the eventual legit face off between these two stars.
5) Can Timothy Thatcher tolerate Matt Riddle?
While Pete Dunne is stuck in England, he’s tapped blue chip signee Timothy Thatcher to take his place until he can return.
Much like Dunne, Thatcher is a no nonsense kind of guy. Which doesn’t mesh with their tag partner - very nonsense kinda guy Matt Riddle. The Bruiserweight started to come around though. He started to find Riddle charming.
I don’t know if Thatcher will. He seems more BS averse than Dunne. He and Riddle got the job done against the Undisputed ERA last week, but he seems like the kind of guy who would eventually snap if Riddle got to be too much.
We’ll see if we get any answers to these questions at 8 PM ET tonight on USA Network.