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Timothy Thatcher: Master of the FIGHT PIT

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It was delayed by an “injury” to Timothy Thatcher, but we finally got the second-ever Fight Pit match on the Jan. 20 NXT.

This time, Thatcher - who defeated Riddle the first time the no ropes, steel cage with an elevated platform structure for a win by knockout or submission bout - squared off with former NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa.

Unlike last time when they climbed to the platform toward the end of the match, this time the fighters started on the walkway above the mat on either side of big screen displaying the rules. Ciampa tried for his Willow’s Bell finisher from the fence around platform, but it was Thatcher who snapped off the first suplex. The two men brawled there for several minutes until the Sicilian Psychopath slingshotted his opponent into the railing, then stomped his fingers until he dropped to the mat.

Referee Drake Wuertz counted a possible knockout on Thatcher after he was driven into the fence by a high knee. He regained control by wrenching Ciampa’s wrist in the gap in the wall, then focused his submission attempts on Tommaso’s arm and fingers.

Ciampa proved he was willing to go for submissions when he grabbed Thatcher’s leg, then proved he’d do anything to win by escaping a sleeper with a low blow. A ref-assisted DDT prompted another ten count... and a stand-up striking exchange after the big Californian got to his feet.

One final scramble took us back to that gap in the fence. Thatcher trapped one of Ciampa’s surgically reconstructed knees there and draped the other across his shoulders in a stretch muffler variant. The Blackheart struggled for a few seconds, but had no choice but to tap out.

The two men sat opposite each other after Thatcher’s hand was raised by Wuertz. Was it a sign of respect, or still simmering hatred? Both?

Time will tell. For now, the Fight Pit lived up to its billing as a brutal, innovative match type. And Ciampa and Thatcher lived up to their billing as a couple of badasses.