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NXT recap & reactions (Jan. 20, 2021): The Pit


NXT returned last night (Jan. 20) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.


Capitalizing Fight Pit the way we do at Cageside is slightly tongue in cheek. It’s such a ridiculous name for a wresting gimmick, over the top as we expect in our sports entertainment.

But it’s actually one of my favorite innovations in recent memory. It has a very unique look. It’s a cage, but there are no ropes and there’s a balcony that the men can fight on that always seems perilous. The tap out or knockout rule is also unique enough. It’s part Last Man Standing, part submission match. In itself, that’s not new, but coupling it with the structure, it’s a different presentation.

It’s the Fight Pit, and it works.

With the unique style brings a different psychology. There’s no reason to do anything to try to pin your opponent. It’s either hurt your opponent enough so they can’t meet a ten count or force them to tap out.

The structure is tailor made for Timothy Thatcher, which is why it’s pretty much his personal gimmick match. He can lose his matches in the regular ring, but the Fight Pit is his. Tommaso Ciampa was a worthy competitor. Unlike Tim’s last opponent Matt Riddle, Ciampa isn’t going to keep up with the grappling. But he can viciously beat the hell out of a man. That’s what he did here. Knocking Thatcher’s head into the steel bar of the Pit demonstrated that.

However, he couldn’t beat Tim in his structure. Ciampa got his leg stuck between the walls of the cage and Thatcher capitalized, applying a Stretcher Muffler to the other leg, forcing the dangling Blackheart to submit.

It wasn’t a long match. Maybe 15 minutes, though a third of that was Picture in Picture. But it was effective. It’s a match I want to see again, but I know that the Fight Pit is best used sparingly. We shouldn’t see it again until at least later this year.

I have to wonder if this loss is going to bring Ciampa’s self doubt to the forefront. His locker room policeman persona hasn’t really clicked. But there’s plenty to explore with a Tommaso Ciampa who lacks confidence. Remember, he once got straight up squashed by Karrion Kross. That top of loss is not something that competitors forget about. Thatcher called out Ciampa’s doubt last week. We’ll see how the Psycho Killer responds to another substantial L.

Upset City

The Women’s Dusty Cup debuted this week. And it wasn’t without fanfare.

Beth Phoenix, who returned to the announce desk in person for the first time in months, put over this new historic event. And while I would normally roll my eyes at them pushing history for a tag team tournament, I appreciated that the focus was on the history of women’s wrestling in NXT’s relatively short tenure.

We know it, but it’s still pretty amazing to hear the list of women who became stars that came from NXT. Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alexa Bliss to name a few. And while those people became stars within the WWE system, that’s important because it was the beginning of WWE’s new focus on women’s wrestling.

The match that kicked off the Cup was the underdog Kacy Catanzaro & Kayden Carter facing Toni Storm & Mercedes Martinez.

The KCs were fighting from the bottom most of the match, often just surviving.

An impressive hot tag from Carter started evening the score, but the big factor was Io Shirai, who returned to get her revenge on Martinez when the referee was not looking. This allowed the underdogs to pick up a win when Kacy delivered an incredible finisher from the top rope.

The right team won. Carter and Catanzaro are the truest team in the entire tournament so their battle cry to win the whole thing should be on the table. Toni and Mercedes are a formidable force, but they’re not a real team. The loss here means they’ll both have matches with Shirai in the future, two programs that should be great.

Baby, I’ve Got Your Number

The kickoff match for this week’s installment was a Dusty Cup match between the Way (Johnny Gargano & Austin Theory) and Kushida & Leon Ruff.

Kushida picked up a pinfall on Gargano and the win for his team. It’s the logical next step for the eventual Kushida/Gargano North American title program. The small amount they worked in that bout was a fantastic teaser for the full match in the future. They showed strong chemistry in a short amount of time. A 20-minute title fight should be a banger.

I’m very glad that Leon Ruff is still thriving in NXT. There was real worry that he’d fade into nothing after his North American title program ended. Instead, he’s stuck around and has been treated as more of a legit competitor than he was when he won the burgundy belt. He’ll always play the underdog given his size and stature, but he already does it very well. As he gets more experience, he’ll only get better with it. Plus, he’s got Johnny Gargano’s number like few do.

I don’t expect Ruff and Kushy to defeat the Grizzled Young Vets (possible favorites to win it all), but they accomplished what they needed to with their win this week.

All the Rest:

- Finn Bálor convinced William Regal to give him a match against Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch next week. But the champ needed to find a partner and settled on his foe Kyle O’Reilly. This should be an interesting dynamic. It’ll also give us a clearer view of whether Kyle has a program with someone else soon or if he’s still part of the NXT title scene.

- Karrion Kross won a squash match against Ashante Adonis (he’s not using the Thee any more, but he’ll always be Thee to me). Kross works well in these types of bouts because it’s all character and less wrestling. And of course, there’s whatever was on Scarlett’s head.

- Lucha House Party scored what could be an upset victory over Imperium to advance in the Dusty. This sets up a second round match against El Legado del Fantasma and possibly another cruiserweight title match for a member of the House Party. When these teams brawled later, #1 contender Curt Stallion (something that happened on 205 Live a while back) joined in. He’ll finally get his title match next week.

- Tyler Rust booked himself a match against big Bronson Reed this week, much to the chagrin of his manager Malcolm Bivens. Rust had a good showing against the big man they’re clearly pushing, but he was not able to pick up the victory. A little bump in the road for this Bivens Enterprises partnership, but it’s early.

The Fight Pit delivered in the main event. The tag bouts were fun and the tournament should only get better as we get deeper into the bracket.

Grade: A-

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