Note from John Canton: Welcome Jim Kress to the site. He’s going to be our regular WWE NXT reviewer moving forward. Is his style of writing the same as mine? No, and that’s okay. Everybody is going to have their own voice and their own style. Jim will give you all the key details on the show and he’ll let you know some of his thoughts along the way as well. I plan on writing about NXT every week in a different format from my other reviews. That’s because I’m going to write in-depth about Raw, Smackdown and AEW’s show every week. We’re all figuring it out as we go. Take it away, Jim.
The WWE NXT brand has long been considered WWE’s “developmental” division, but on September 18th, the brand made its jump to the USA Network. Let’s see what happened.
The show started with a promo from Triple H. The video was a close-up of Hunter’s face and followed him into the NXT Universe as it turned into a live shot of him walking into a sea of chanting fans. It was a very creative way to open the brand’s first episode on USA.
Fatal 4-Way: Io Shirai v Bianca Belair v Mia Yim v Candice LeRae
Shortly following the “NXT” chants, Io Shira’s music hit. She was part of a woman’s fatal 4-way to determine who will be the next challenger for Shayna Baszler’s championship belt. Shirai came out in a fury of chaos, then calmed into a quite composure as she waited for the remaining women to enter the ring. Bianca Belair was the next to enter. Nice pop from the crowd for her. She’s extremely talented. Hope to see a push for her soon. Mia Yim was the third competitor to enter the ring in this fatal 4-way. Mia Yim just had a bit of a mini push towards the Women’s NXT Championship. She pushed Baszler to her limit and had previously secured two(!) victories against Bianca Belair.
Candice LeRae was the last woman to enter and she went directly after Io Shirai. LeRae’s entire reason for entering this match was to get her hands on Io. It doesn’t take much to push a storyline in wrestling, just stay consistent with it. It’s nice to see that in the first match of the evening.
The first five minutes of this match were a wonderful showcase for each of these wrestler’s strengths and abilities. Belair showed off her power, while Yim and Io showed off their technique. It was received well from the fans before the first commercial break.
Following the break, we come back to the competitor’s performing a 4-woman Tower of Doom. The ToD was wonderfully executed and got a big pop from the crowd.
Toward the end of the match, nearly every competitor had a moment where they each performed their own finisher. Belair and Yim both had their cover’s interrupted before the “1-2-3.” In the end, Candice LeRae was the victor after an impressive offensive combination against Mia Yim. Her springboard moonsault landed really well and she grabbed the cover for the win.
Winner: Candice LeRae
Post match, NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler’s music hit. She was accompanied by her squad and they surrounded LeRae as an intimidation tactic. LeRae seemed bothered by it. She’ll be the obvious underdog babyface in her match with Baszler, the bully heel champion.
Adam Cole (Bay Bay), the NXT Champion, had a video promo followed by live shots of him and the Undisputed Era in the locker room. The camera then shifted to the Velveteen Dream backstage preparing for his match.
We were then given an update that #NXT was trending on Twitter.
Dominik Dijakovic v. Keith Lee was teased for next week. Those two have clashed in the past before and those are always “must-see.” Dijakovic won the last match, so I think Lee will come out victorious next week.
Sean Maluta v Cameron Grimes
This was a no contest. As soon as the bell rang, Mulata went after Grimes and Grimes hit him with the double foot stomp. Easy 1-2-3. This was odd because last week’s match was supposed to serve as a match that made Grimes look strong too. Why make him over-the-top tonight as well? I’m sure we’ll see what’s coming up for him in the next few weeks, but be prepared to see a lot more of him.
Winner: Cameron Grimes
North American Championship: Velveteen Dream (c) vs. Roderick Strong
Strong was the first to enter the ring. Dream followed with a predictably entertaining intro. “Jacked Ref” was officiating this match. It looks like he’s been trying to grow a beard. Don’t forget to throw love to our refs too! They work pretty hard in this business too. Velveteen Dream was on fire to start the match. He was getting good offense in on Strong, while also effectively playing the mind game. Strong was visibly frustrated outside of the ring after a few failed offensive maneuvers.
After a brief commercial break, we found Dream still unloading on Roderick Strong. Strong eventually countered to break Dream’s momentum. We were then reminded that the 2nd hour of the episode would air on the WWE Network.
Both men had some great back and forth action until Strong went for his “End of Heartache” finisher. Dream looked done. Against all odds he kicked out after a 2 count, only to then be held in Strong’s submission hold. Dream sold this well. The entire building was on its feet cheering for him to grab the rope. He crawled in agony and stretched his arm out to grab the rope and break the hold.
After the “near tap” moment, Dream was pushed into Jacked Ref and the ref laid unconscious. The Undisputed Era showed up ringside and waited to attack the Dream. Strong nailed Dream with another back-breaker and it appeared to be Dream’s demise, Jacked Ref woke up just in time for Dream to kick out at yet another two count. Big pop from the crowd for that near fall. The Undisputed Era played their cards right, distracted the ref and helped Strong pin Dream to finish the match. Prophecy Fulfilled.
Winner and new NXT North American Champion: Roderick Strong
The first hour of NXT went off the air with the Undisputed Era draped in gold. Time to switch over to WWE Network.
The top of hour 2 showed replays of the previous match between Strong and Dream as well as the women’s fatal 4-way finale. The replays set up a graphic for the LeRae v Baszler match in 2 weeks.
Pete Dunne v Arturo Ruas
Dunne entered the ring ready to break some bones. Arturo Ruas was his competitor in the night’s match.
At first glance, I thought this was going to be another squash match (much like the one Cameron Grimes had in the 1st hour). However, Dunne and Ruas put on a good performance. Pete Dunne let Ruas get in his offense early and sold well for him. For Pete Dunne to do this for Ruas, it shows more of a balance in the roster. You start to get the feeling every person has a chance to become a champion. Great performers getting rewarded for what they can do in the ring, what a concept.
Dunne gained offensive control in the second half of the match and never let go. His offense is simply ruthless. He has absolutely earned the nickname “Bruiserweight.” Pete Dunne emerged victorious after he got Ruas to tap. Those finger snap moves don’t ever get easier to watch.
Winner: Pete Dunne
After the Dunne v Ruas match, Lio Rush(!) v Oney Lorcan match was teased. Rush hasn’t been seen in months after some controversial backstage drama. It’s good to see him back on WWE TV. He’s a great heel on the mic and a wonderful in-ring performer.
Another Dakota Kai returning promo aired. She’ll be back next week.
Xia Li v Aliyah
If you’ve already seen the match, unfortunately, Xia Li had a pretty rough botch toward the finish. Botches happen and we all certainly don’t hope to see them happen again. Outside of that one move, she was incredibly impressive. Her entrance showed an impressive display of athleticism, her theme music gets people to inadvertently clap along, she’s alarmingly quick and strikes hard in the ring. I hope this match doesn’t derail any of her confidence or momentum. Even after the botch, she quickly recovered with some hard-hitting offense and took the quick cover for the victory.
Winner: Xia Li
Kushida was teased next. The second hour started to feel a bit more like a 205 live episode. I’m sure with a 2nd hour to cover on USA, adding in 205 Live superstars should make that extra hour easy to cover with quality wrestling.
Denzel DeJeounette was mid entrance after a break. His gimmick looked like if MC Hammer and Kris Kross were fused together. He was quickly surrounded by Imperium. “Where is Walter?” chants filled the arena as he was absent from the group beating up DeJeounette.
Without delay, Walter’s music hit hard and the crowd went wild. (Please give us another Walter v Pete Dunne someday soon!) He started on the mic only to be interrupted mid-promo by Kushida. Kushida played quite the sneaky babyface in thwarting Imperium. What an absolute match Kushida v Walter will be.
Lio Rush v Oney Lorcan
Rush is back. New haircut, but same slick quickness. It’s nice to see him back. Full Sail let out a “Welcome Back” chant as well. Rush looked strong right out the gate too. He had the crowd behind him throughout the entire match.
Oney’s power caught up to Rush and he hit him with some devastating slams. He got in some powerful offense of his own as well. Near the end of the match, Oney powered up, only to be hit with a stellar Spanish Fly from Lio Rush. Rush went top rope for the frog splash and got the 1-2-3. Throw him up to Drew Gulak now, he’s ready.
Winner: Lio Rush
The win by Rush means he gets a Cruiserweight Title shot against champion Drew Gulak.
Street Fight: Matt Riddle v Killian Dain
BRO! Riddle entered first. This guy is so talented. He’s coming off of a loss to Dain in their previous encounter and Dain has been getting booked pretty strong lately. Riddle has been pretty strong in the past too, so we’ll have to wait and see which way they’re going to take this.
The match quickly found its way backstage. NXT superstar cameos piled up as Riddle and Dain made their way further backstage. Riddle got into it with Walter (ok?) after tossing Dain through a table, then all hell broke loose.
The action made its way back inside and toward the ring. Nearly every NXT superstar was in or around the ring brawling with one another. Most of them were filtered out of the ring as Dain was the last standing inside. He hit half the roster with a suicide dive and that’s how NXT went off the air.
Winner: Match was a No Contest
Great way to start the NXT brand on USA. The first hour was impressive, showing newer talent along with more recognizable names. We also saw a title change and some storylines start to blossom. There were 7 total matches in the 2-hour span and more than half of them were very entertaining. The black and gold brand has been a reliable source of in-ring entertainment both in quality and quantity. The first episode was promising. Let’s hope to see the brand build on the hard work they’ve already put into it.