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Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch def. The Mighty via pinfall. Shane Thorne & Nick Miller attack & beatdown the Brit-Am Brawlers afterwards. We get a recap of EC3’s last run-in with Undisputed ERA and the Women’s title match at TakeOver: WarGames 2. Kairi Sane, Io Shirai & Dakota Kai pledge allegiance to one another and say they want a trios match with the MMA Horsewomen.
- Perfectly fine tag match kicks us off. It’s house show-quality, probably because it happened at a house show. There’s always a slightly different vibe when NXT tapes on the road, and this episode from the San Jose date prior to TakeOver: WarGames 2 is no exception. The lighting is a little darker, we have the UK duo of Vic Joseph & Nigel McGuinness on commentary (Mauro Ranallo & Percy Watson are “on assignment”), the crowd is hot... it’s all good.
So’s the match, but you knew it would be when you heard who was booked in it. Both teams are very good in their roles as scrappy faces and conniving heels, and they work as well together as those types can. The question is, does any of what we saw mean anything, or was this just a house show one-off? Lorcan scored the pin in the midst of chaos, and Thorne & Miller got to stand tall after losing, so this was about as even a result as possible. The Brawlers will come for payback - nobody hurls Oney into the corner - but beyond that this seems like a way for these guys to tread water in the mid-card. Which is better than nothing! But it doesn’t make an episode like this feel less inessential.
- Superfriends vs. Shayna Baszler, and I want to say Jessica & Mary? (Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir) should be an interesting gauge of how the last two Horsewomen to ride into WWE are coming along. The best part about this segment was Io comically overdoing her hug of “best friend” Kairi while Dakota awkwardly stood next to them.
EC3 def. Marcel Barthel via pinfall after the One Percenter, then cuts a promo demanding a match with Bobby Fish to get payback for the chair attack after his win over Adam Cole. A teaser plays for Dominick Dijakovic, and Candice LeRae refuses to answer questions about her attitude & her husband. Mia Yim def. Vanessa Borne via pinfall after Seoul Food.
- Barthel lived up to the hype from his work in Europe (where he tagged with new WWE signee WALTER as Axel Dieter Jr.) and really impressed with just a few minutes here. For the most part, his strictly regimented entrance leans into the German stereotype just enough to give him a personality without descending into parody. I’d probably ditch the “nein” schtick before Vince McMahon sees it, or he’ll be a Hogan’s Heroes extra by the time he makes it to the main roster.
Mr. 3, as Pat McAfee calls him, deserves credit for stepping up his in-ring work lately. Maybe it’s because we’re not seeing him consistently, but in his once a month outings, he’s delivering better performances than I recall from his TNA run. The crowd loved him before, during and after the match, too. A mini-feud with Fish should be fun, and could be great for both guys.
- Still don’t like the name, but looking forward to a proper push for fka Donovan Dijak. I have no idea what to expect character-wise, though. What was all that “now we struggle for our lives” stuff about? Is he a kickboxer from a dystopian future come back to warn us to change out ways? Oh snap... THAT WOULD BE DOPE! Definitely hope Dijakovic is working a Nathan Summers-as-Time Cop gimmick.
- As with the previous bout, the Performance Center act made a bigger impression on me in the women’s match than the TNA-ex. Not that Yim was bad - in fact, this was a better showing for her than a couple weeks ago when she faced
Lacey Evans Bianca Belair. San Jose popped big for the California girl, and she gave them a crisp performance in return.
Borne is very much still a work-in-progress, but she gets smoother each time out, and adds new wrinkles to her act. Here, turning the inverted bronco buster into a leg scissor head lock was a nice flourish. She also embellished another rest hold by grinding her chin into the top Yim’s head, the kind of realistically painful detail that shows someone is paying attention. There’s a ways to go before she advances past her undercard enhancement talent role, but the former Arizona Cardinals cheerleader & Phoenix Suns dancer is already farther along than other trainees with similar backgrounds ever get.
We’e told the War Raiders were “banged up” during their WarGames win. NXT champ Tommaso Ciampa films himself boasting about his latest win and saying the fans need to follow his lead when he’s on next week’s episode. Lars Sullivan def. Keith Lee via pinfall following Freak Accident.
- Worth noting that they specifically mentioned Hanson & Rowe are hurting after TakeOver. They didn’t even hint at Kairi possibly being out, and she’s publicly tweeted about being ill and likely won’t be involved in the next several weeks worth of show. Tommy Sports Entertainment looks ready to go, though!
- A casualty of the house show experience was we lost some production touches like the gimmick where Lars blocks out the sun during his entrance. Regardless, all involved managed to create a big fight feel for the main event showdown of hosses.
It seemed strange to book this match, and the outcome doubles down on that strangeness. With Sullivan’s time on the black-and-yellow winding down and Lee at a point where NXT doesn’t usually have guys losing, I figured this was going to be Lars doing the job on his way to the main roster. While I still don’t completely agree, I do think I understand the thinking behind it.
Part of it is that if these guys aren’t gonna be on the same brand for very long, you do this match while you get the chance. It’s unusual to see two men this size who can work something like this*; Sullivan kept pace with Lee and his insane agility for what amounted to a ten minute sprint by two monsters. It was like watching football linemen in a kung fu flick. This might be the last chance Lars has to go like this for a while if he’s headed toward introductory squashes on Raw and SmackDown. And you have to see what kind of elevation Sullivan can get on a man Keith’s size when he hits his finisher.
So, yes, I was surprised the relative “new guy” did the job clean for the departing “veteran”. But it was worth it. And while Lars has never been a champion in NXT, he’s been a staple of the top of the card for a while. Taking a loss to him while getting the undefeated albatross off Lee is okay.
* Although we could get it again relatively soon when they get around to doing Lee vs. Dijakovic... this roster is ridiculous.
Still not a show I’d tell anyone they have to make time for, but more fun than the last couple of weeks. Any storyline developments will be replayed on the episodes to come. If you’re into the “minor league” aspect of NXT, this is probably up your alley. It’s an interesting look at different kinds of prospects at different points in their development.