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NXT recap & reactions (Jan. 6, 2021): Lived Up

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NXT returned last night (Jan. 6) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) with their New Year’s Evil special. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Lived Up

It’s difficult to run a rematch of a highly praised bout. A match that delivered on all levels.

That’s what New Year’s Evil’s main event was tasked with. Kyle O’Reilly faced Finn Bálor for the NXT title for the second time in three months. Their first bout was highly regarded and deservedly won NXT’s Match of the Year.

They had all that hype coming into tonight’s rematch. Sometimes that makes it difficult to deliver a second time. That second bout will never have the novelty that the first does. The first is the pleasant surprise while the second has a reputation to protect. That makes it all the more impressive that Finn Bálor and Kyle O’Reilly were able to deliver a worthy sequel to their TakeOver 31 main event.

Much of that is because these men just have fantastic chemistry. They wrestle in a way that feels like a real fight, doing whatever they need to in order to find the advantage and the other going to great lengths to stop that. It looks ugly in a way a real fight does but isn’t clunky. Their styles mesh perfectly. Kyle O’Reilly seemingly can reverse anything into a submission. Bálor can hold his own there but leans more on his speed and athleticism than Kyle does. And both men can throw strikes.

They introduced some turnabout within the story of the match that helped differentiate it from their first bout. In the early goings, the champ had the challenger locked in an abdominal stretch with both arm incapacitated. So KOR bit the rope to force the break. However that proved dangerous as Bálor aggressively kicked the rope, a move that injured Kyle’s jaw.

Finn had promised revenge for O’Reilly breaking his jaw at TakeOver 31. With that kick of the ropes, he made good. The entire match, Kool Kyle kept grabbing his injured mouth, which slowed him down on multiple occasions. It likely cost him the match too as he ended up submitting to a hold where the Prince really cranked on his lower face.

After his defeat, O’Reilly’s Undisputed brethren joined him in the ring. Finn stared at him, maybe out of respect. Maybe more posturing. Maybe a little of both. The absolute look of dejection in Kyle’s face sold how important this match was. It was an expression that conveyed the agony of defeat, adding more weight to the affair.

It was a worthy successor to their original battle and definitely worth a watch if you missed it.


Swan Song?

Speaking of matches that lived up, this week’s Last Woman Standing match was also quite the battle.

Raquel González and Rhea Ripley have a great in-ring rapport, which showed in their first meeting and in the sequel tonight. A Last Woman Standing match is a tough match to pull off because it requires constant down time when the referee is counting to 8 or 9 before a competitor makes it to their feet. These women found a way to negate that. They’d only go down for an extended count after a move that was worthy of it. Big spots usually need a breather anyway. But they avoided other long spells of long counts, ensuring the match wasn’t dragged down.

In the middle of the match Dakota Kai interfered on behalf of Raquel, a detail I quite appreciated. González debuted as Kai’s bodyguard and she aided the Kiwi many times. But it was always a one way street, feeling more like an employer/employee situation. Turning the tables allowing Dakota to play that role was an acknowledgement of where González started only earlier last year and a reminder of their partnership and maybe friendship.

Unfortunately for Kai, Ripley crammed her in a locker and then moved a crate in front of it so she couldn’t get out. It’s like the bullying days of Shayna Baszler never ended.

Raquel picked up the win by slamming Rhea through the stage and making it to her feet prior to 10. Ripley wasn’t even stirring at the end, making this a definitive win for the Texan. This is a win that could catapult her into the women’s title scene at any time. They once against showcased her as a badass killer. (Ripping a fence as an answer to being handcuffed to it was a superb image.)

I’ve speculated this could be the Nightmare’s swan song and if it is, she put Raquel over in a big way.


Slow

The opening match of Damian Priest vs. Karrion Kross was advertised as commercial free so we can see all the action. But maybe this would have been better if it were the length of a standard first segment.

Unfortunately, this was a plodding affair that never hit that energy level necessary to kick off a special episode like this. Even the planted crowd, who’s usually excited, didn’t bring any energy here. Maybe they were too busy doom scrolling. Though NXT could have piped in louder crowd noise to supplement that. Maybe the piped in crowd was doom scrolling too.

It’s a shame this didn’t hit. I’ve quite enjoyed many of Priest’s matches, but he’s had some of the best dance partners in NXT. There hasn’t been a Kross match I’ve loved yet, though he had a couple decent ones against the likes of Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic. But these two just didn’t mesh. Their mutual brawling styles led to a slow pace that only sorta picked up at the finish.

NXT made sure to present Damian Priest as Kross’ equal. This was no squash, which is the right way to go. Standing toe to toe with Karrion is something few people have done. Now Priest can add his name to that list.

In the end, they made sure to put that front and center. When Priest took some damage that would put other men down, he stood there and told his foe “I’m still standing.” He wasn’t standing for long, but that’s besides the point. He came out of this looking as good if not better than he coming in. It’s just a shame the match didn’t live up.


The Return

Xia Li & Boa returned to the CWC with their mystery leader.

This was a showcase of how the gimmick would translate in the arena. And it translated quite well.

The mystery woman remains a mystery. She wore a mask and make up over the exposed areas so we really can’t tell who that is. She just watched from the ramp sitting on her throne.

Xia was tasked to have the first match of the group. She displayed the new persona they built during the videos the last couple months. This included a modified new look (more badass) and a serious, aggressive demeanor. Also, she may not feel pain. The announcers were harping on that.

It was a squash match so she wasn’t asked to do too much. But her kicks and knee strikes looked brutal. They made her feel dangerous. Time will tell how she manages a longer match.

It’s a good start, but they didn’t have to do much. They didn’t have to cut any promos or work an extended match. However, the fact the presentation was more cool than lame is an important first step.


All the Rest:

- Santos Escobar defeated Gran Metalik to retain the cruiserweight title. It was a good match involving two talented men. During the match, Wade Barrett commented that Escobar is as dominant as Io Shirai when it comes to champions in NXT. However, given Santos hasn’t had many feuds and how the cruiserweight division feels like a bit of an after thought, it certainly doesn’t feel like Shirai and Escobar are on the same level.

- Dexter Lumis channeled his inner Teddy Long and booked an impromptu tag team match between Johnny Gargano/Candice LeRae & Kushida/Shotzi Blackheart. The good guy & gal won to further those feuds. During all this, Austin Theory took two nut shots (one from Blackheart’s cannon), which is always good.


The two matches I was most jazzed for - the NXT title match and Last Woman Standing - lived up to the hype. The rest of the card was overall OK, though the opening felt like a bit of a dud. Unlike Halloween Havoc, it wasn’t great from top to bottom. Losing the FIGHT PIT likely hindered it.

Grade: B+

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