For a more detailed recap, check our live blog here.
Tommaso Ciampa and Velveteen Dream have a promo duel to further their burgeoning feud, which involves both insinuating the other was behind the attack on Aleister Black. Nikki Cross runs in to taunt both by telling each, “I know what you did”.
The NXT champion remains a singular presence and a hell of a promo, but from the time he and his kick-ass new music hit the stage, I couldn’t wait for the interruption we all knew was coming. Such is the star power of the Velveteen Dream.
They’re allowing Dream to accept the crowd’s adoration without pandering to it, or really doing anything clearly babyface-ish. A rivalry between these two is also a great way to keep Tommaso Ciampa away from cool heel pops for as long as possible, too. This war of words was pretty even. Tommaso was either a little thrown by how strong Velveteen came on, or he did a great job acting like he was. Either way, he recovered from being called “an angry little bald man hiding behind his insecurities” to land the best line of the battle (or should I say the belt did, since Ciampa wanted to be clear it was a message conveyed to him by his precious) when he questioned if Dream was “tough enough”
It was also refreshing to watch the Blackheart roll with Velveteen’s sexual innuendo without shaming him for it, or doing anything to indicate it bothered him at all.
And then NXT’s Twisted Sister showed up.
Triple H just got done explaining to us how he doesn’t see a place for intergender wrestling in WWE, but damnit, can we make an exception for Nikki Cross? Or bring SAnitY back so she has an excuse to occassionally crossbody dudes under The ‘E’s weird “girls can hit boys sometimes” rules? Full Sail was chanting for a Triple Threat, and I was wishing we were in Lucha Underground’s Temple, because that would be a fun match.
What we got was fun anyway. If there isn’t an answer to the mystery of who took out Aleister Black on the horizon, at least they’re dropping more tidbits for fan theories each week. Nikki might just be looney tunes, she could have a mental file full of various crimes which have been committed by the NXT roster, or there may be a vast, brand-wide conspiracy afoot. I still don’t think it was either Ciampa or Dream, but the investigation angle set up their feud and gave us a segment where Cross played with the tassles on Velveteen’s jacket and smacked a microphone out of Tommaso’s hand - so I ain’t complaining.
Keith Lee def. Kona Reeves via pinfall following Super Nova. A reminder about the Women’s title match at Evolution leads to another Shayna Baszler training/interview video and a scene where Kairi Sane meets with “the media”. General Manager William Regal declines to provide an update on the investigation into the Black attack, but indicates he may talk to Cross again. Kassius Ohno cuts him off to again lobby for a match with a debuting Matt Riddle, then Nikki shows up to tell Ohno she knows what he did, too.
- Got rightly called out in the comments for my hope NXT will figure out a character for Ricochet by the time he’s called. All my man TMadeBurner and others had to say was “Finn Bálor” and my hopes were dashed. I knew y’all were right.
It’s early days, but I’m getting the same vibe off how they’re rolling out Keith Lee. I keep wondering, “If I had no knowledge of him before he showed up at TakeOver: Chicago 2, what would I think?” And I think I’d think he was in the mold of Finn, or Ricochet, or Apollo Crews. His charm isn’t coming across in one-off matches against enhancement talents. I’m not even sure how well they’re getting his wrestling skill and athletic ability over. The strategy seems to be to unveil different aspects of his moveset each time out, but are viewers going to remember them if they’re not invested in his character? I get that when you’re introducing so many new performers simultaneously you have to try different things, but this doesn’t seem like a winning formula for the Limitless One.
And Kona? Maybe he could be a manager? Props for going all in on the gimmick, but he continues to to next-to-nothing for me once the bell rings.
- Not much new to report in the build to Evolution. The UFC style documentary pieces are a good way to present Shayna Baszler, and I didn’t get the sense NXT was trying to make her less heel-ish like I did last week. If anything, Kairi Sane’s supreme confidence in her chat with “reporters” came across as a little more heel-y than what we’re used to from the Pirate Princess. It all adds to a sense of uncertainty about their next match, and that’s as it should be.
- It’s about time Mr. Regal decided to talk to Nikki again! And please just give Kassius Ohno the damn Riddle match... he drops more “broh”s into casual conversation than a Rick & Morty episode description.
Next week’s co-main events (War Raiders vs. Undisputed ERA’s Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly for the tag titles and Cross vs. Bianca Belair) are previewed. Ricochet def. Pete Dunne & Adam Cole via pinfall (springboard 450 onto Dunne) to retain the North American title.
While not my favorite NXT main event in recent memory, this was a humdinger that would fit in on a TakeOver, and it’s well worth seeking out if you missed it.
Why wasn’t it my favorite? The usual Triple Threat crutch where one guy was taken out so the other two could have the ring was used early and often, and at times this repeated like a playlist of greatest hits from singles matches between the wrestlers involved.
That’s also part of why it was really good, though. They managed to structure it so the spots which resulted in it being one-on-one were as logical as possible and served the story. See the opening minutes, where the two champs teamed up on Cole, then the North American titleholder paid the price for forgetting he was dealing a ruthless man in the United Kingdom champion. The callbacks were to stretches (like Ricochet trying to prove he can hang with Pete Dunne in a technical grappling match) or spots (such as Ricochet getting superkicked in the neck while moonsaulting) that were well worth repeating.
And all three guys are just so insanely talented, in different and complementary ways. Ricochet’s the aerialist showman, Dunne the back alley torturer and Cole the actor playing an 80’s action movie villain. They’re also pretty damn inventive. While there were things we’d seen before - and better, in the case of the moonsault-into-superkick - there were others we hadn’t. The best example, and possibly the best use of the Triple Threat stipulation, was the finish. The Bruiserweight pretty much only gets pins in his WWE matches with the Bitter End, so when he connected with it a second time on Cole, it was somewhere you’d expect him to pick up the win. Ricochet breaking up the cover by springboarding onto him with a 450 splash was smart... and not something you’d expect to end things since it wasn’t one of his finishing moves. That provided a rare treat, a non-false finish, if you will.
If anything, it was a little surprising we got a clean result at all. I didn’t expect NXT to go back to the Undisputed ERA run-in again so soon after they did it for Ricochet and Dunne’s singles match, but I expected some cover for the losing parties. It was refreshing to not get any excuses a straight-forward multi-man match doesn’t provide . And it still fits into the bigger picture most of us think they’ve been building to, since the two wrestlers who didn’t win will want one more chance to prove they can, and the victor is always looking for new ways to prove he’s the best.
The opening talking segment may have been even better than the stellar main event match, but a show that gives you both is always welcome. After a few merely good weeks, this was NXT at its best.