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NXT recap & reactions (May 27, 2020): Fight Pit!

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NXT returned last night (May 27) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Fight Pit!

NXT introduced us to the Fight Pit, a very unique cage structure without ropes or turnbuckles. It was a ring with a cage surrounding it and an upper level competitors can fight on as well.

It was very unique, a new gimmick match that we hopefully will see used in the future for matches like these involving competitors like these.

Because this match isn’t for any grudge match. It’s for a grudge match where the competitors can work the style that Timothy Thatcher and Matt Riddle can work. An MMA infused/catch wrestling style.

This was a blast. In the first few minutes, Thatcher had teeth knocked out of his head. This was likely a worked spot, but the imagery was all we needed to sell the fact this was going to be a war.

They used the entire structure, including a suspenseful fight in the top tier. There was a guardrail to prevent them from going over the top, but it still looked precarious, making that a high pressure moment. The big spot was Riddle’s BroTon from the top onto Thatcher on the bottom. This led to a fire up by Matt, serving up an unrelenting series of kicks. But Tim was able to hook in a choke and put the Bro to sleep.

Kurt Angle added gravitas to the match without becoming a factor. He didn’t need to be there. He didn’t do anything that need the Olympic Gold Medalist. But the fact that he was present in the role as referee made the match feel even more special. (Also, he checked Riddle’s arm all three times before calling him knocked out instead of just checking once.)

Thatcher’s win makes sense. Even if there weren’t rumors about Riddle being called up to the main roster very soon, Thatcher needed to win this. If that is it for Matt Riddle, he’s had quite the entertaining NXT career, and I look forward (with the standard NXT call up trepidation) to how he meshes on the main roster. As for Timothy Thatcher, he’s now been positioned as a no frills dangerous fighter on Wednesdays. Lord help who has to face him next.

Controversy Helps No One

Drake Maverick survived the triple threat to go to the finals of the cruiserweight tournament. But he didn’t really look good doing it.

Jake Atlas and Kushida seemed to carry most of the match, with Drake Maverick nursing his injury from last week. Maverick technically won, as in the referee counted three when he covered Atlas while Kushida had Jake in the Hoverboard Lock. But replay showed Atlas tapping prior to the three. So really, Kushida should have won.

In an attempt to protect both men, neither really looked great, especially the man that won. Drake sneaking the pin would have been enough. He would have won, but Kushida would still have done much of the work and not looked any worse for it. The tapping aspect just serves to lessen Maverick.

In a backstage afterwards, Kushida told Drake to “go win it,” which allowed Drake, who was willing to fight Kushida again given the controversy, to get excited about the finals. This quick scene helped make me feel a bit better with that somewhat overbooked finish, but they still didn’t need to go that way.

The need to protect Kushida given Maverick technically isn’t with the company any more is understandable. But they could have given Drake more of a conclusive win, even if it was just pinning Atlas on his own after Kushida was knocked out of the ring since they didn’t mind Jake losing to two guys at once.

Strong Pick

Charlotte Flair was tasked with finding a partner to face off against TakeOver opponents Rhea Ripley & Io Shirai.

She chose Chelsea Green of the Robert Stone Brand. Maybe it was because she sees something in Green. Maybe it was because she couldn’t find anyone else would could tolerate her. Either way, it worked out.

This was a really fun match. All four women pulled their weight, including the newest member of the roster. (Green has proven in other companies that she can carry her own, but hasn’t has much chance to shine in NXT.) Io is always excellent and her run at the end prior to the loss was very entertaining.

Io took the pin after a miscue between her and Rhea. Ever since her character switch, she’s very protected. So taking a pin is a big deal. (And if you subscribe to the reverse momentum theory, that could mean good things for Shirai in a week and a half.)

Seeing these four work here has me more excited for the triple threat at TakeOver: In Your House.

Dinner Party

After Johnny Gargano squashed a guy who’s gimmick is “Skinny Roman Reigns,” Keith Lee and Mia Yim played their own dinner party video, mocking Johnny and Candice LeRae before telling them they should have just kept their names out of their mouths.

The segment was entertaining, though the jokey part probably went too long. Mia Yim was at home (maybe literally) in a segment like this, mocking Mr. and Mrs. NXT before telling them they should have left her and Keith out of it. This may have been the best display of her personality, shining through but not feeling forced.

Keith Lee... well he’s just charismatic as hell no matter what.

A Promising Babyface

Shotzi Blackheart continues to show she’s a strong babyface.

When she came to NXT, I knew little about her outside a very very brief stint in Impact (I believe an injury may have derailed that.) So I was a bit whatever at first. But she continues to show that she a unique babyface, someone you just want to like.

This week she worked against Raquel González, who had Dakota Kai in her corner. González has been doing solid work as the heel using her size advantage, while Dakota does all she can to cheat. Their antics brought out Tegan Nox to try to even the odds.

The end featured a nasty looking coffin drop where Shotzi got too much rotation and landed too high on her back. Soon after, Candice LeRae came out to jaw at Tegan Nox because of Nox’s involvement in the Lee/Yim video from earlier. This caused a distraction, allowing Kai to assist González in getting the win.

Blackheart doesn’t lose anything by not winning (outside losing the match of course). She’s connecting as a babyface and the heels should win if they get the chance to cheat. This also gave Tegan multiple feuds, unfinished issues with Dakota and new issues with Candice LeRae, which can be explored after LeRae deals with Mia Yim.

All the Rest:

- Adam Cole had a little video chat with William Regal (who is in the UK maybe?). Their negotiation ended with Cole defending his title against Velveteen Dream at TakeOver with the caveat if Dream loses, he gets no more chances against Cole. Regal will pick a spot that suits both their desire for the spotlight. Maybe it’ll be the empty warehouse Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa fought in but prepared with party decorations.

- Tommaso Ciampa defeated poor poor Leon Ruff with Scarlett watching ominously the entire time. Afterwards, Karrion Kross cut a video promo.

- Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch got a cool little video, discussing their new aggression and positioning them to challenge Imperium. Unfortunately, this maybe be just a quick build for them to probably lose another title match, though the fact they’re the only babyface tag team gives them a chance. Either way it will be a superb tag match.

- A quick word on the crowd. I think at best, they were easy to ignore and at worst, they detracted. I don’t know what it specifically was, but it felt too forced at times. Like they were wrestlers trying to emulate what a crowd would sound like. No crowd of wrestlers will ever be able to fully replicate fans, but something about this sometimes seemed to detract more than enhance. NXT was doing well without a crowd and didn’t need it as much as Raw and SmackDown.

This was a solid show. The Drake Maverick finish left a bit to be desired, but the rest was fun and the main event was excellent.

Grade: A-

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