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NXT recap & reactions: Prelude to the Undisputed Finale

NXT eases up on the wrestling and focuses more on stories as it etches the NXT TakeOver 36 card in stone.

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room before we get into the proceedings this evening: these are weird times for the NXT faithful. We don’t know what’s truly happening with the black and gold brand, nor can we discern fact from very plausible fiction. With that said, it feels obvious that change is in the air so let’s enjoy what NXT is for as long as it is until the day it morphs into something else. Cool? Cool.

Undisputed Part III: The Third One

There are movies heavy on story and light on plot. Mad Max: Fury Road comes to mind as its fairly simple plot houses a lot of story. NXT’s latest installment was a lot like that with the Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole’s beef serving as the centerpiece. Keeping it all the way real, “face-offs” in wrestling normally elicit a big le sigh from me. It’s a wrestling trope that always ends the same way and never seems to fill an actual purpose.

But I’ll be damned. NXT turned my sighs into raised eyebrows and made me even more excited for what is now christened “the Undisputed Finale.” We now know Kyle and Adam will end their feud in a 2-out-of-3 Falls match. That’s cool. Each man picked a stipulation, using their story and characters as the reasoning for each choice. That’s really damn cool.

Kyle knows Adam’s ego is too big. Something that massive can’t handle a simple loss and what’s simpler than a standard wrestling match where the only way to win is a pinfall or submission? Cole, still wanting revenge for O’Reilly’s attempted murder by chair and suplex, picked a street fight for the second fall.

The two men, who obviously know each other better than they know themselves, picked each other apart for the next couple minutes until, as per usual with these types of things, a fight broke out. It was at that point where Commissioner William Regal’s goons stepped in to breakup the fight, while Regal announced the third phase, if necessary, is a steel cage match. Because, again, stipulations are based on story and cage matches are reserved for blood feuds. At this point, there’s nothing bloodier in NXT than Cole x O’Reilly.

Kyle seemed lost at certain parts of the back and forth but Adam Cole is Adam Cole for a reason. He knows how to summon the right emotion and play the audience like a piano. However, I can live without Cole referencing their feud as the “Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly saga” because the winking and nudging is too obvious. But this is a Triple H production, so meta references of that ilk are expected. It’s a minor quibble of the best segment of the night and one that won me over completely.

Good job, fellas. You got two weeks to live up to the hype.

It’s All About Me, Me, Me, Me, Me

Dakota Kai wants the world to know Raquel Gonzalez, much like King Kong, ain’t got shit on her. Ember Moon was unable to compete against Sarray, so Kai stepped in to solidify her spot as the number one contender to the NXT Woman’s Championship, but also defeat the undefeated Sarray.

Quite the flex to not only wrestle a match you’re unprepared for but also do it against someone who looks unbeatable. The longest match of the night started as a wrestling match and turned into a fight the second Kai’s ego showed up to play. That’s because this match was never about Sarray.

Kai started the match thinking about Gonzalez and spent more time talking to the crowd than focusing on the woman trying to beat her to to a pulp. Eventually, Sarray made Kai realize it was time to take her seriously and after a couple near falls, Sarray took her eye off the prize just long enough for Dakota to finish the job for the three-second tan in the middle of the ring.

But like I said, this match was never about Sarray.

The NXT Woman's Champion showed up unannounced and made her way to the ring. Kai, like all good heels, asked her feet not to fail her and lived to fight another day. Gonzalez snatched a microphone and kept it short and sweet: If Kai wanted a title match, all she had to do was ask. But now? Kai is getting this work at TakeOver 36.

For Kai, this is about proving she’s nobody’s Robin, much less their Nightwing. She believes she’s the main attraction and wants all the love, respect, and spoils that come with that number one spot. As far as Raquel is concerned, Dakota’s betrayal cannot go unpunished. All Dakota had to do was ask for a match and Raquel was ready and willing to grant it. Because, ya know, that’s what friends do. But they weren’t really friends, were they? Raquel sees that now and has to defend her title, her pride, and her reputation.

I Must Break You

Ilja Dragunov strolled into the Capital Wrestling Center with a chip on his shoulder the size of a damn boulder. With a microphone in his hand, the NXT UK staple said he likes to be about it, not talk about it. And at TakeOver 36, his actions will speak louder than any fancy words ever would. We will witness chaos, rage, and history as Walter’s ridiculously-long reign comes to its conclusion.

Not so fast, says Pete Dunne.

Dunne, committing to yet another sturdy wrestling trope, says the only reason Dragunov can step into that ring and say—or not say—whatever he wants to Walter, is because of Dunne. Like most things in wrestling, those are fighting words, and they led to a Dunne x Dragunov main event.

Like most of the matches on this edition of NXT, it had little to do with the wrestlers inside the ring and everything to do with someone else looming over the contest like a shadow. A shadow, not THE Shadow. Although, I imagine Dragunov’s laugh is just as maniacal and over- the-top as he revels in the fact he put his NXT TakeOver 36 on the floor to close the show.

Pete Dunne outlasted Ilja Dragunov for the simple fact he was focused and Dragunov wasn’t. In a bit of beautiful synchrony, NXT bookended its show with wrestlers looking past their present opponents and not taking them seriously. While one triumphed by the skin of her teeth—or heel of her boot—the other went down for the count. In sports, there’s a theory about “trap games.” Those matchups where a superior team takes on one it should easily dispatch so they can move on to a bigger contest with an opponent of a higher caliber. While Pete Dunne is no bum at all, he’s certainly not Walter. Dragunov got a little too big for his britches though and suffered the consequences.

Or that’s how it looked.

Dragunov licked his wounds quickly enough to fend off Walter’s post-match attack, left the NXT UK Champion rolling on the floor, and made the man look mortal. Walter, due to hesitation or not taking his opponent seriously enough, didn’t take advantage of Dragunov’s compromised position. He who hesitates is lost and if he doesn’t get it together in two weeks, this picture below this sentence is one he’ll see in his nightmares.


LA Knight x Cameron Grimes

Speaking of ownership, Wade Barrett says I’m failing at life because I don’t have a butler. That hurts, Wade. Not everyone can be Bruce Wayne. And apparently, not everyone can be LA Knight, who after winning his match in what felt like 15 seconds, got the opportunity to get a brand new butler.

At TakeOver 36, Cameron Grimes and LA Knight will go one-on-one for the Million Dollar Championship. But if Grimes loses for a third time, Ted Dibiase takes his place as Knight’s new butler.

Where’s Virgil when you need him? Or Jerome from The Time? Or Mr. Belvedere?! This is a very old-school wrestling story that puts good vs. evil. It’s the type of story Dibiase was typically on the other side of back in the day, so the role reversal has layers for anyone of a certain age. It might work. But I don’t have a butler, so what do I know?

Indi Hartwell x Dexter Lumis’ First Date

Le Sigh. I really wanted to like this. It had 1980s romantic comedy written all over it. But the three-part segment just didn’t work for me. It didn’t do anything to further the story, Indi still looks bugged out for dating a man who apparently doesn’t speak, and the comedy bits performed by Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae as the concerned parents just fell flat. The funniest moments were Indi telling Candice why she didn’t need protection (she’s a former NXT Women’s Tag Team Champion who is also buff) and the fact Indi ordered freaking chicken fingers at an Italian restaurant.

Look, I know they were in Florida, which has a reputation for being its own planet, but not even Florida is that weird. I say that and then tomorrow I’ll read about someone fighting with an alligator or Florida Man’s latest escapades. Anyway, what was heartwarming last week was boring this week.

GiGi Dolan x Armani Miller

GiGi was a woman on a mission—no relation to this—and made quick work of Armani Miller. I sound like a broken record at this point, but the match wasn’t the thing. GiGi clearly has the top women of NXT in her sights, wanting to do whatever to prove she *ahem* out works everyone. Also? Clearly setting up a thing with Mandy Rose, what with the video of her cutting the heads off roses. Either that or someone really made her dislike roses and botanists are her ultimate bad guys. Not really sure what else to say about this other than it happened and...yeah, it happened.

Grade: B+

This was a good show. I know, shocker. In fact, it was a very good show. But it didn’t reach last week’s heights even if it was much more story-focused, which I like. There was a lot of setup for TakeOver 36 and a bunch of squash matches in between. This was an efficient if not great NXT episode, that, much like the matches, felt more focused on the future instead of the present. Even Hit Row, which you all know I adore with all of my heart, only got a little bit of shine after last week’s dope segment. Even then, the stable was thinking about tomorrow instead of doing anything remotely memorable today.

Still though, an enjoyable if not remarkable two hours of wrestling television that sports entertained me. Samoa Joe and Karrion Kross got a nice video package where Joe made it clear this isn’t about the championship. He’s here to “f*ck up Karrion Kross.” Joe also had the line of the night when he said comparing Kross to him is like “comparing a house fire to a hurricane.” That’s a bad, man.

Next week? Another “Face to Face,” an NXT Tag Team Championship match, a Cruiserweight Championship match, and hopefully more Hit Row.

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