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NXT recap & reactions (Apr. 22, 2020): Strange Bedfellows


NXT returned last night (Apr. 22) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

A Wild Ride

The main event had a lot of moving parts.

It was supposed to be Finn Bálor vs. Velveteen Dream. But earlier in the day, something happened to Finn. It looked like there was some sort of attack, and he was missing. Who did it? The obvious in Imperium? Killer Kross? Dexter Lumis?

So it turned into Dream teaming with Keith Lee to take on Adam Cole and Roderick Strong. This came about when Lee saving Dream from a three on one attack.

But when the match eventually started, Damian Priest, who has a North American title match next week against Lee, attacked the champ with his night stick. He hit Keith right in the throat with that thing.

That took Lee out of the match. And Dream was willing to go it alone until creeper extraordinaire Dexter Lumis stepped in as Velveteen’s partner and helped him win the match.

This was a fun way to work in a bunch of stories.

There’s “Who attacked Bálor?” which is likely Imperium but maybe not. There are a lot of suspicious folk around NXT right now. There’s Keith Lee’s title match with Priest next week. And then there’s creepy ol’ Dexter Lumis.

His rollout has been quite intriguing. Last week he was staring at the ERA from the crowd. Now he took a chance to beat them up. Why? What did they do to him or what does he think they did to him? Does this set up Lumis as an anti-hero? Or just a wild card who happens to be focused on some villains?

I have no idea. But I know that Dexter Lumis being obsessed with you is not a good thing.

Cruiserweight tournament

The cruiserweight tournament had three matches this week.

The most noteworthy is Drake Maverick’s first match after being released last week. WWE opted to play this up hard. Maverick promoted this on the Bump earlier today. They played a video of him on a bridge reflecting on his last chance. The announcers kept talking about how he’s trying to save his job.

It is the obvious major story of this tournament. To the point that you have to wonder if they either already hired him back, told him they’re definitely hiring him back, or didn’t even really fire him in the first place. (The final option feels a bit dirty given they did really fire a bunch of others.)

Jake Atlas was his first opponent and looked impressive. Drake was able to carry his weight with the emotion. Maverick has never been a movez kind of wrestler. He’s a story and character wrestler. Atlas was able to bring the other part, including his impressive cartwheel on the ropes into a DDT that served as his finish.

Drake losing puts his back further against the wall, forcing him to defeat the two more established wrestlers in Tony Nese and Kushida. I doubt he loses three matches unceremoniously. They’re making too much out of this.

Speaking of Nese and Kushida, they were the second cruiserweight match of the night. It didn’t have the built in story or emotion of the first, but it was still quite enjoyable.

Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton made sure to discuss how Tony Nese wants to win back the title that he was not pinned for when he lost. (It was a multi-man match.) And they didn’t talk up a story for Kushida, but the fact that he hasn’t yet lived up to the hype, partially due to an injury, is a story that’s built in there.

He was tenacious with his Sakuraba Lock (formerly known as the Hoverboard Lock). He hooked it on Nese when they were both battling on the top rope. Tony tried to take him to the ground but Kushy never released the hold and Nese had to tap.

And finally, El Hijo de Fantasma defeated Jack Gallagher in his first match. That was also a good match. Afterwards, the parking lot bandits tried to kidnap Fantasma, but he fought them off. Rather easily... Suspiciously easy...

Mr. and Mrs. NXT

We got our first look at Candice LeRae as a heel tonight. She and Johnny cut a dinner table promo explaining their actions.

It had a creepy vibe, alternating from cheery to ominous. Trying as many new things out of the ring as possible, this was a style that hit for me. Both these characters have snapped because of what the world has done to them (at least in their mind) so this vibe made them both seem unhinged.

Plus I love when a character’s past influences of their actions. It sounds obvious, but in wrestling, it isn’t something we always get. But Johnny explained he turned heel because he played the team guy and what’d it get him? He got to watch the man who tormented him walk around on top.

Candice LeRae played the big sister to all the women, but when she needed the women, they weren’t there for her. She would always eat second but now she’s eating first.

It’s simple and certainly not the first time wrestlers have used that as their impetus for a heel turn. But there are years of evidence to back up their claims. Yes, they’re the bad guys here. Yes, they’ve lost it. But it was the NXT world around them that pushed them there.

Now NXT is going to have to pay.

Showcase Tag

Raquel González and Dakota Kai scored some revenge this week when they picked up a win against Tegan Nox (who defeated Raquel last week) and Shotzi Blackheart (who helped her do so).

This was a really fun tag match that really allowed all four women to shine.

It was another strong showing for Shotzi, who looked sharp in there. It’s a shame there’s no crowd for every reason, but it’s unfortunate for Blackheart. Hearing the crowd get more and more behind her during this push would really help elevate her.

Tegan had a long run of offense, taking it to the larger González this week than she did last week when she won. She’s a top babyface waiting to happen, as long as they don’t turn her heel like all their other natural babyfaces.

On the heel side, Raquel got her heat back by getting the win and being the larger athlete Nox & Blackheart had to work to chop down. And Kai continues to play the advantageous heel very well.

This was a good showcase for all four women, who will hopefully one day move up to the main event scene.

A Good Hand

Mia Yim picked up a win over Jessi Kamea this week. After the victory, NXT Champion Charlotte Flair walked down and asked Yim if she accepts her challenge from the other week.

Mia was happy to. That’s when Charlotte called her a good hand. So let’s hope Mia doesn’t crack a chair over the skull of the Queen because of those words.

In general, I find wrestling harder to watch without crowds. Partially because it acts as a reminder of the pandemic we’re leaving in. Partially because crowds just enhance things. They make the shows better.

That being said, I’ve quite enjoyed the last couple weeks of NXT. I don’t realize the missing crowd as much when I’m watching. And unlike other WWE programming (especially Raw), it doesn’t feel like a slog. It’s still a tight two hours.

Grade: A-

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