Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Keith Lee became the new NXT North American Champion, some bros and a pair of grizzled young veterans made it to the finals of the Dusty Classic, and Finn Bálor took Joaquin Wilde to every woodshed in Florida.
If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, you can do that here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for January 29, 2020.
Best: Unlucky Seven
On last week’s show, Finn Bálor, prince of the sovereign nation of Abs and Underpants, beat the bromanticism out of bird person Joaquin Wilde. Finn followed that up by defeating Russian Finn Bálor at Worlds Collide, and took time out of his busy schedule of crunches and finger guns to attack Johnny Gargano for existing. Gargano’s opponents for the night, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven, made the save. Bate picked up Finn by the waist like a child and carried him out of the fight, and they exchanged words. Tyler Bate is really good and really goddamn strong, however, so Finn was like, “uhhh I’m gonna kick your dad’s ass,” and jumped Trent Seven in the parking lot.
All of that set up Bálor vs. Seven for NXT TV. If you’re trying to get Bálor over as a killer heel who wants to rob the NXT Universe of every nice thing they have in his pursuit of championship gold, there are worse things you can do than feed him a 10-year veteran who also happens to be the pro wrestling equivalent of a lovable teddy bear. He’s like a Care Bear with a mustache on his belly badge. Seven can have an edge, but on WWE TV he rarely does, so he’s the perfect babyface counterpart to Finn and his lithe, sneering machismo. For example, here’s Trent deciding to do his cheeky ring entrance while a guy who wants to kick him to death is standing like 10 feet away and paying dearly for it:
Trent (?) lasts for 10 good minutes here, but Bálor is currently overflowing with ruthless aggression heading into NXT TakeOver: Portland against Johnny Gargano. This was exactly what it needed to be, told a good story, and, if there’s justice in the world and God’s not truly dead, will set up Bálor vs. Tyler Bate. Honestly? John Wrestling hasn’t really been doing much this year, just have Bálor roll over Gargano and run the Prince against the Big Strong Boi at TakeOver: Cardiff II, or whatever.
The Numbers Don’t Lie, And They Spell Disaster For You At Sacrifice
Everybody’s saying this looks like the Velveteen Dream’s sunglasses and that since 2-5-20 is the date of next week’s NXT, it means Velveteen Dream’s returning next week. But since when have you known anything having to do with the Velveteen Dream to be understated? Or, you know, not purple? Maybe it’s Killer Kross? Maybe Charlotte Flair’s actually going to make an appearance, like rumors have said? Who knows? Maybe they’re bubbles, and Emma’s returning on the 2nd of May. You heard it here first, folks.
Best: Tank Habit
In case you missed it, Shotzi Blackheart pulled a small-scale Rusev by entering Full Sail in a mini-tank. It’s so corny and inexplicable to ride to the ring in what amounts to a Power Wheels while wearing a helmet with Loki horns and howling like a werewolf, but I unabashedly love it. I am all in on Shotzi being the weirdest person on a wrestling show already filled with the weirdest people on the payroll.
If Shotzi continues to lean into the weirdness and focus on her strengths, she’ll be one of the most over stars in NXT by this time next year. It’s already hard to not like her as is.
(In case you’re still trying to Pepe Silvia the Wednesday Night Wars and figure out every little reference or “shot” at the competition that occurs, Shotzi got this tank before she signed, so this is not in reference to AEW’s Sammy Guevara “invading” the Royal Rumble in a similar children’s tank.)
Blackheart gets a win over Deonna Purrazzo, who showed up as an “NXT Superstar” on Raw last year more than she actually showed up on NXT. She’s here to make Shotzi look as good as possible, which she does, and I hope she sticks around as an actual in-universe NXT character instead of just being a recognizable jobber with a brand logo beside her name.
Worst: How Green Is Your Valley
Deonna’s former proposed NXT tag team partner Chelsea Green — they got coordinating t-shirts and everything! — follows up her embarrassing performance in the Royal Rumble with … [checks notes] an embarrassing, three-minute loss to [squints at notes] Kayden Carter. I mean, all right. I don’t know what the grand narrative is for a character who shows up with a sports agent manager only for both of them to look like constant failures, but I’m sure there’s a plan in there somewhere. Maybe they’ll keep her losing until she comes up with a better taunt than trying to “shhh” an audience she wants to make noise for her.
As a bonus, here’s their post-match interview where Robert Stone almost refers to himself as the “Robert Strong Brand.”
Best/Worst: Die, Die, Kai, My Darling
Another decision I kind of understand but don’t necessarily agree with is the choice to put Tegan Nox over Dakota Kai strong with total comeuppance and, more or less, end their feud. I know in WWE land nothing’s ever really the “end of a feud” anymore, but when the story is, “Dakota Kai attacks Tegan Nox and re-injures her knee,” the end of the story is, “Tegan Nox defeats Dakota Kai by hitting her in the face with a knee brace after preventing Kai from cheating and causing more damage.” Right? It’s also totally on theme as the end of an arc, as Kai’s been carrying around Nox’s knee brace and using it to attack people. So she lived by the sword and died by it, so to speak.
If we’re moving past the feud already, that was awfully quick. The match was only three minutes long, again, and it looks like the finish was set up to pivot to Kai vs. Candice LeRae. Plus, Kai never really got her wheels spinning. As soon as she turned heel she was getting her ass kicked by Mia Yim every week, culminating in her getting backdropped through a table. And then Nox comes back and kicks her ass, with Kai’s only real one-up being to get Nox eliminated from a number one contender battle royal. Just seems like Dakota Kai has/had a strong personality and a lot to do with the new character turn, and they burned through it like it was a Lucha Underground plot. What’s next? Kai getting her ass kicked by Candice all the time?
Best: Hoss Summit 2020
Keith Lee makes an appearance to put over his North American Championship win and gets confronted by the two most logical challengers: Damian Priest and Dominik Dijakovic. Highlights here include:
- Keith Lee using “salutations” like he’s Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. “Greetings and salutations” is the kind of thing a true dork says, and I appreciate Keith’s legitimate, underlying lack of cool. It makes him extremely cool
- The two things Damian Priest wants to take: “priceless possessions,” and, “a group of women.” Keith’s look at the audience like, “did this motherfucker just say he wants to abduct a group of women,” is hilarious
- Damian Priest holding the microphone like he’s gonna use it to stab Janet Leigh to death in a motel shower. Is that how he takes his group of women?
- “Bootleg Marilyn Manson.” When did Damian Priest join the band Dope?
- Keith’s pink shoes, and the way he nonchalantly rolls out of the ring to (smartly) bail on the fight
This leads directly into Bootleg Marilyn Manson vs. Tall Nationalist Roderick Strong in one of those really entertaining “big guys doing shit big guys aren’t supposed to be able to do” NXT TV matches. It’s hurt by not actually having Keith Lee in it (because he’s exclusively the best part of those), but it’s still pretty good. I am enough of an armchair booking nerd to hate Dijakovic kicking out of a poisoned rana off the second rope at two, but it is what it is. I’m also not a fan of that bump “into the post” that Priest takes at the end. Dolph Ziggler popularized this thing where you jump into the top turnbuckle belly-first and slap the top of the ring post with your outstretched hand, which is somehow meant to convince folks you “hit your head on the ring post,” when your head is still literally an arm’s length away from it. If you just swish your hair around, it counts. That bugs the hell out of me.
But yeah, no, it’s still an entertaining match while it lasts. Keith made the right call. Dijak going over Priest clean suggests that he’s the clear number one contender to the North American Championship right now, assuming Roderick Strong doesn’t still have beef, which means we might actually get a Lee vs. Dijakovic match at TakeOver on WrestleMania weekend after all. No better use of Keith’s time between now and his inevitable match for the NXT Championship Proper.
Best: Blood Of My Blood
Speaking of the NXT Championship scene, oh man, here’s the latest example of how blood can add to the drama of a wrestling match.
Adam Cole is WILDLY overconfident as champion, especially for a guy who just got his whole team’s asses whooped by big daddy WALTER, and signs an open contract for an NXT Championship defense at TakeOver: Portland. Tommaso Ciampa attempts to “earn” this spot against Cole by clandestinely murdering the other three Undisputed Era guys with a pipe, coming to the ring to demand the contract, and spray-painting a big yellow “X” on a table with the intent to put Cole through it. Regal shows up like, “goddamn, man, I was gonna give you the shot, chill.” Cole, being Cole, is like, I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS, and heads to the ring with the contract. Ciampa tries to attack him, so Cole pops him in the forehead with the microphone. For real, apparently.
This busts Ciampa open, and he starts spurting blood from his face. Through this, what started on paper as a pretty by-the-numbers contract signing with ballyhoo~ turns into one of the greatest images we’ve ever gotten on NXT TV: Ciampa, the man who never lost the NXT Championship and worked through multiple career-threatening injuries to get back to it, bleeding on the championship belt. Bonus points for Ciampa responding to the “use your blood” chant by wiping a shit-load of blood on the contract. Makes The Fiend’s corny stunt blood look even worse. The black and white YouTube version doesn’t really do this segment its full justice, but it ruled. Shit is all the way real now, and the image suggests that Adam Cole is going to have to physically separate Ciampa’s head from its body and scatter the pieces around the world to prevent him from reforming and winning back the NXT Championship through sheer, indomitable will alone. A-fucking-plus stuff here.
Best: Classic, Bro
The best match of the night in a walk is the 20+ minute Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic finals between NXT UK’s Grizzled Young Veterans and NXT’s makeshift “Broserweights” team of Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne. It’s great, and only hurt slightly by the fact that the Grizzled Young Vets had no chance in hell of winning. Like, Dunne and Riddle are not only an all-star team of popular singles stars, they were expressly put together with the purpose of winning the Dusty Classic and challenging Undisputed Era at TakeOver: Portland. Were they ever gonna run Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish vs. Zack Gibson and James Drake? Who thought that?
It’s great, though, as you’d expect. Drake and Gibson are almost too good as a tag team, and Dunne and Riddle share a unique connective charisma with the NXT crowd that’s so palpable you could practically hold it in your hand.
Riddle has a long history with Undisputed Era, and Dunne is the man most directly affected by the formation of UE and its role in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic; if you’ll recall, he’s the guy who teamed with Roderick Strong and made it all the way to the finals of the tournament only to have Strong betray him, cost him the trophy, join Undisputed Era, and bring that group to full strength. I’m not certain Riddle and Dunne win in Portland, but it’s gonna tear it up nonetheless.
The Dusty Classic is so good. Can we expand the field again next year? You can get like a fourth of a year of TV full of great tag team matches if you just add more teams and do a full tournament instead of rushing through it in like three weeks. P.S. bring back the Mae Young and Cruiserweight Classics while you’re at it. You have your own Network, and we can watch that 15th daily replay of Chronicle some other time.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Found footage of Riddle and Dunne outside of events.
DD vs a Punisher!
The Voice of Raisin
I haven’t seen that much green in the tank since the 2017 New York Jets.
Serious Journalist Jeffrey Wienerslav
When they inevitably break up Dunne and Riddle, maybe they can bring back one of the classic Wrestlemania storylines and fight over a shampoo commercial.
Matt Riddle vs. Angelico would be the lankiest match of all time, they could lariat each other while standing in opposite corners
Baron Von Raschke
Going to need Dunne to throw Riddle into a move so Mauro calls it a BROTON TORPEDO!
*Priest’s music hits
Me: Why isn’t it Dijakovic???
*Dijakovic’s music hits
Me: Why isn’t the love of my life knocking on my door, carrying a pizza?
Beth really distraught over Edge getting RKO’ed Monday night strikes me as strange considering her brain almost fell out Sunday night
If you told me Shotzi beat up Guevara and stole that tank, I’d believe it.
oh god my kingdom for a freeze frame of ANGRY WILL REGAL and that raised eyebrow/deadeye stare of his. reminded me of Ian McShane which is the highest compliment.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. A pretty low key episode, honestly, dotted with some really great moments.
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See you next week!