WWE NXT Review 12/18/19 by Jim Kress

The show opened with a quick review of the events that took place last week. NXT has done a great job doing this at the start of their show. It gives new and returning viewers a chance to catch up on the action and story leading into the current episode. They do it while also mixing in Slipknot’s song “All Out Life” that adds an extra layer of awesome to start the show.

NXT Championship: Finn Balor vs Adam Cole (c)

Finn came out with a new look. He’s added a large red ‘X’ on his trunks, jacket and knee pads. The red ‘X’ also appears on a new video intro for Finn where his name is displayed as “Prince Balor.” I have a feeling that when the demon makes it’s first appearance, the ‘X’ will find its way into Finn’s makeup. I like the new look for Finn.

There was a distinct “Undisputed/Let’s Go Finn” chant that erupted as the bell rang to start the match. Finn got out to a strong start in this match. Balor landed some big knife chops on Cole that had him on his heels. Finn started to look a bit small on WWE’s main roster as he was regularly paired in matches against larger wrestlers like Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar. Seeing Balor against Gargano, Ciampa and now Adam Cole is starting to make Finn’s physique standout more.

Finn was charging Cole on the apron, while Cole was laying ringside. Adam Cole got his offense started with a well-timed superkick to Balor’s knee. Cole focused his attacks on Balor’s left knee early on in the match. He made a point to target that specific area. The crowd was amped-up for this match. Cole hit Balor with a superkick that lead to “NXT” chants filling the arena. There was a big reaction during another particular big spot too. At one point Balor went for his ‘Coup de Grace’ on Cole, but he countered that into the ‘Last Shot.’ Cole went for the cover, but Balor barely kicked out in time. The finale of the match had Finn landing a ‘Coup de Grace’ on Cole in the center of the ring, only to be distracted by Johnny Gargano. Gargano made his way slowly down the ramp, capturing the attention of both Balor and the ref. Cole took the opportunity to deliver a cheap shot on Balor. He delivered a low blow, then a ‘Last Shot’ and got the cover.

This is the first Championship match I’ve seen in a while where both combatants are clear heels. I was curious to see when that might bleed into the match itself. It was a clean match until that final, nut-cracking moment. It’s incredible to see what Cole and Balor are capable of. The majority of the action took place inside the ring and it was breathtaking. There were moments that existed outside of the ring that delivered too. Balor dropkicking someone into the guard rails has become one of my favorite weekly occurrences.

This was a fantastic match that I wish had more time. They got about 15 minutes. It would be a shame not to have these two go at it again in the near future. This was the 2nd week in a row that NXT delivered a great championship match to start the show. We are truly spoiled to get this type of action every week on Wednesday nights.

Winner (AND STILL) NXT Champion: Adam Cole

After the match, Johnny Gargano attacked Finn Balor with a chair. Gargano had Finn running after landing some big chair shots. Finn took some big bumps during and after the match, but he won’t have a lot of time to recover, as his new rivalry with Johnny Gargano is forming. It’s good to see Gargano back, and his new feud with Finn should be fun to watch unfold.

The announce table showed a replay of the triple threat match between Killian Dain, Damian Priest and Pete Dunne. They informed us that Damian Priest has recovered from his rib injury that sidelined him a month ago.

Damian Priest vs Killian Dain

Killian Dain is fresh off of a victory against Pete Dunne. Damian Priest is fresh off of a rib injury courtesy of Killian Dain. Dain made sure to target Priest’s ribs early and often. Dain was delivering dropkicks and cross-body blows to Priest’s ribs. Priest looked like he was done early, but instead of going for the cover, Dain continued to inflict damage on Priest’s ribs. Priest had k-tape on his injured ribs, which Dain had eventually ripped off. Priest was groaning in pain, and the arena began to turn on Dain. “Shave your back hair” was being chanted throughout the crowd and Dain took exception to that. Instead of going for a pin, he yelled back at the crowd until the chants began to die down. Dain continued his offense during the PiP break, but Priest finally began his comeback when the action returned to full screen.

Priest wasn’t on offense long, but he used that time effectively. His toe-pick springboard flip is impressive. I don’t know if he has a name for that move yet, but he should. It looks good and is even more impressive given Priest’s size. Priest’s offense included a snap suplex that took 3 attempts to execute. He was selling his injury well throughout the match which gave a sense he had lost most of his strength. That suplex went over well with the arena, who was looking for Priest to explode on offense throughout the match. The finale was well executed. Killian Dain set up Priest for a ‘Vader-bomb’ after landing a punishing senton in the corner of the ring. Priest countered Dain’s ‘Vader-bomb’ by getting his knees up in time to take the wind out of Killian Dain. Priest used the momentum to deliver his ‘Reckoning’ on Dain. Priest got the pin, despite the punishment.

Priest now has a singles victory against Dain, who recently defeated Dunne in their own singles competition. Priest is also batting .500 against Dunne in singles competition. However, Dunne beat both Priest and Dain in the triple threat match at Takeover WarGames. Could this be setting up another triple threat match? The matches these three have been in have looked quite punishing. I wonder if a future triple threat match will have any stipulations to help expand the brutality.

Winner: Damian Priest

There was a promotion advertising the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which is returning in 2020. The NXT tag team division has been weak since the departure of some key teams. There aren’t too many teams left on the main NXT roster. I’m not sure who will get pushed during this tournament, but I can tell you it won’t be the Forgotten Sons.

Cameron Grimes vs Kushida

Kushida ditched his sunglasses for Grimes’ hat during his entrance. Grimes was not happy about it. Cameron Grimes really loves his hat. He kept trying to attack Kushida during his entrance, but was being held back by the ref. I do find it funny when wrestlers tear apart swarms of zebras to attack their opponent, but struggle to get around one ref when another wrestler is making their entrance.

Kushida looked strong early, toying with Grimes. His in ring expertise is on another level. He’s playing the part of a babyface right now, but if he ever flipped the switch, he would be deadly in the ring. He grapples into submission moves from the most precarious spots. Early in matches he’ll get caught releasing holds that could easily end matches if he was ruthless enough. Grimes finally caught up with the quicker Kushida and got his offense started during the PiP break. Grimes continued to carry that momentum on offense as the ad break ended. Grimes began to enforce his power in the ring, when he started grabbing Kushida and tossing him around. There was a big tilt-a-whirl side slam that Grimes landed on Kushida that landed well. Grimes doesn’t look like a large competitor, but has surprisingly, sneaky strength.

The ending was a little bit sloppy when there was a botched count by either the ref or Grimes. There was a distinct, “That was 3” chant for Kushida by the Full Sail Arena after Grimes escaped a pin attempt. The match went on despite the awkward moment. Kushida and Grimes reversed each other a few times, each trying to land a big time finisher on eachother, until ultimately Grimes got the ‘Cave In’ double boot stomp for the win. That finisher looks pretty good. This was a good match that was very entertaining.

I wasn’t a fan of the story building up to this moment, though. Kushida handled Grimes relatively easily in their last singles match, and Grimes looked even weaker when getting distracted by Kushida in his defeat against Raul Mendoza. It’s a bit of a lack of consistency in the booking.

Winner: Cameron Grimes

Io Shirai vs Santana Garrett

There were “Io’s gonna kill you” chants that greeted Santana Garrett as the match began. It’s hard not to agree with them. Io Shirai has been a big pop with the NXT Universe since her heel turn. Santana Garrett had different plans though, because she came out of her corner hot. Garrett showed off an assortment of offensive prowess, while the announce table read off her accommodations. Garrett looked comfortable in the ring and kept her focus on Shirai, but eventually, Io caught up.

Io Shirai landed her running double knee strike on Garret, then turned her attention to the top rope. Shirai landed a moonsault and got an easy 1-2-3 pin. Shirai didn’t exactly break a sweat getting the victory in this match. It went about 5 minutes, and the action came mainly from Garrett.

Winner: Io Shirai

Pete Dunne vs Travis Banks

Travis Banks looked to get his second victory in as many weeks against a member of the NXT roster. The Kiwi Buzzsaw was set to take on the Bruiserweight.

Pete Dunne continues to show up week after week and give quality matches. Johnny Gargano might be “Mr. NXT,” but Dunne has been putting on clinics every week since making the jump to the states. What’s more impressive is that Pete Dunne has been paired in matches against unproven talents, giving them a platform to showcase their unique abilities. He doesn’t shy from selling for his opponent either, giving opportunities to help get them over as well. The action in this match didn’t disappoint. The match only went about 11 minutes, but was filled with loads of offense. Banks and Dunne were moving around the ring like pin balls, colliding with each other and inflicting as much damage as possible.

The action made its way to the top rope, where Dunne landed an incredible ‘avalanche x-plex.’ Dunne kicked Banks in the head and set up his ‘Bitter End’ on Travis Banks. It was his third attempt on Banks in the match, but the third time was the charm. He got the pin, but both of them got a standing ovation. Great match.

Travis Banks took a victory over Jaxson Ryker last week. The match didn’t go very long, but Banks looked good. It’s good to see that he was given more time to shine against Pete Dunne. He is very talented in the ring, and Dunne has an incredible ability to mesh well with almost anyone.

Winner: Pete Dunne

Dakota Kai had an interview promo after the match. It’s good to see she is still standing after a terrifying crash she had through 2 tables last week. She was fired up when asked how she felt about Mia Yim. Kai isn’t concerned with what happened after the match last week (despite the 8 staples in her head) she’s only concerned about the victory she had in the ring. She’s calling out for the NXT Women’s Championship. Despite what Kai wants, I think her rivalry with Mia Yim will continue until it has a clear finish.

NXT Women’s Championship: Rhea Ripley vs Shayna Baszler (c)

Rhea Ripley looked pumped making her entrance. She’s been waiting her whole life for this moment. Baszler wasn’t going to roll over and let Ripley’s dreams come true. Baszler has been a dream crusher against every woman who has challenged for her belt. Baszler wanted to end Ripley’s night early. Shayna went for an early snap on Ripley’s arm, but was punked out and dropped onto the mat when Ripley countered and faked a punch. No one has made Shayna look this scared before. Ripley has been an intimidating force ever since first switching the NXT’s main roster.

Ripley continues to show her strength, throwing a competitor of Baszler’s stature around with ease. Ripley hit an impressive super-plex on Baszler off the top rope. Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke sensed danger for their champion and made their appearance ringside. Ripley handled The Horsewomen with relative ease, but turned her back on Shayna. While Ripley’s arm was on the steel steps, Baszler slammed her foot down onto it. Ripley sold it well, and Baszler continued attacking Ripley’s left arm. A submission hold followed by a devastating arm drag-slam and even the announce table mentioned how hard it was to watch.

The match went to a second commercial break, but the second commercial break wasn’t a PiP style ad break. However, there was a replay that showed what happened during the break. The Horsewomen were tossed from ringside after attacking Ripley (again targeting her left arm).

Baszler remained in command and still grappling with Ripley’s left arm when the 2nd ad break ended. Ripley eventually escaped and drop kicked Baszler. Unfortunately, her dropkick hit Baszler so hard that it knocked Baszler into the ref and knocked the ref unconscious. Ripley hit a ‘Rip Tide’ but it meant nothing as the ref was out cold. Baszler took a moment to recover, then went to choke out Ripley. Ripley escaped, so Baszler went for a chair instead. She threw the chair into the ring rather lackadaisical. Ripley was crawling back into the ring at the same time as Baszler, and nearly got to the chair before Baszler. That wasn’t the smartest of decisions by Baszler. The chair fell to the mat, but Baszler had a better idea. She planted a DDT on Ripley headfirst into the chair. Shayna went for the cover as the ref finally regained consciousness, but Ripley kicked out! This got a big pop from the crowd on the nearfall. This moment was set up well to look like the match’s finale.

Shayna didn’t let that slow her down as she immediately transitioned her offense into a ‘Kirifuda Clutch.’ Ripley tried escaping on three different attempts before she started to fade. The ref went to grab her arm and drop it to see if she had passed out, but instead Ripley grabbed the referee and shook her head “No.” While grabbing the ref, Ripley balanced herself and countered her way out of Baszler grasp. The action made its way towards the corner of the ring, where the finale commenced.

Ripley set up Baszler on the second rope for an ‘Avalanche Rip Tide.’ The move landed and she immediately went for the pin to get the 1-2-3. Rhea Ripley is the new NXT Women’s Champion. The match went about 20 minutes.

Winner (AND NEW) NXT Women’s Champion: Rhea Ripley

The ring soon flooded with people and Ripley was hoisted on everyone’s shoulders as she raised her new championship belt above her head.

This was a great moment for both Ripley and NXT. A fantastic match to end a dominating run as champion for Baszler. Ripley won this match despite all of its obstacles being thrown in her way. She earned that belt.

Closing Thoughts

A new Women’s NXT Champion. There have been many candidates to take the belt from Shayna, but Ripley was the one to pull it off. She’s been booked incredibly strong, and to cap off her run she is now the champion. I would suspect that this will be a long title run, much like Shayna’s. The match and story building up to it were great, it’s still surprising to see a title change of that significance on a random Wednesday night. The match had the quality of something you would see on a PPV/Takeover.

The women’s division has a new leader, but the talent in that division remains unparalleled. Io Shirai, Dakota Kai, Candice LeRae and Bianca Belair are just a few of the talented wrestlers all lurking around the corner, waiting for their own spotlight.

Some of the mid-card talent is starting to look better and better in the ring. Talent like Angel Garza, Kushida and Cameron Grimes continue to impress each week. Dunne, Priest and Dain seem to be the Big 3 at the top of the mid-card. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of the three of them take Roderick Strong’s open challenge for his belt next week.

I think having Johnny Gargano return will set up a good feud for Finn Balor, while it gives Keith Lee and Tommaso Ciampa some time to claim the championship. I think Lee is turning into a megastar before our eyes, and the belt should be his. However, Tommaso Ciampa’s longevity with NXT will always remain a question mark given the injury he just recovered from. It’s tough not to give Ciampa a shot either.

What are your thoughts on NXT’s future going into the new year? Feel free to comment below or on Twitter to carry on the conversation.