NXT returned to us last night (Jan. 22) from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. You can find the results to the episode here.
The main event this week saw Keith Lee finally claim gold in WWE/NXT.
In a very well structured bout, the Limitless One over came a few obstacles to win the North American title. He couldn’t just focus on his opponent Roderick Strong because the rest of the Undisputed ERA were on the outside of the ring. Plus he was dealing with the ankle injury that was wisely introduced last week.
It was not an easy row to hoe for Keith, but it also wasn’t in your face overbooking. The ERA surely got involved, but with petty pot shots here and there. It was never anything to the degree of a ref bump and a four on one attack. And the ankle injury was tough for Lee, especially because his legs have to support his large frame. Add in an in-ring technician like Roddy Strong who can exploit such an injury with the greatest of ease, and it was a rough night for the big man.
But Lee has proved to be unstoppable and tonight, even with the obstacles in front of him, he was able to finally pop up and deliver a new finish for the win. (This was one gripe I had with this match. Why not end with the Spirit Bomb, the finish that we know? Why choose this important match to unveil a new one, depriving fans the moment of realizing he hit his big move?)
While Imperium were destined to attack Undisputed ERA, they waited until after the match. This ensured that Lee won this match without any help. Winning because of a prior beef between ERA and Imperium would have diminished the feat, which is why it was smart not to go that route
This is the beginning of the breaking of ERA’s stranglehold on NXT and was the end of an overall bad night. Imperium cost them a spot in the Dusty Classic finals, and then Roddy lost his North American title. After that, they had to brawl the larger Imperium.
Are we looking at the beginning of the end of Undisputed’s reign of dominance?
I’ve realized recently that the UK addition to the Dusty Classic this year has dampened some of my excitement for it. I don’t watch NXT UK much so it has the feel of exhibition matches involving teams, talented teams mind you, that I don’t have any attachment to one way or another.
The matches have all been entertaining, which has helped, but it has hindered my overall investment, and I imagine that may be the same for those who also only watch NXT and not NXT UK.
It was the opening bout between the Grizzled Young Veterans and Undisputed ERA where this really came into play. It was a heel vs. heel match, which is a tougher to book. It really only works if you have an attachment to both teams since there isn’t the hero vs. villain dynamic to attach on to. But given Zack Gibson and James Drake are a team we rarely seen on Wednesdays, it was a villain vs. another villain we don’t know much about.
It was a rather predictable Imperium distraction that allowed the vets to go to the finals, which should have been the guess since they beat the established Time Splitters last week. (A move that is more disappointing the more I think about it, especially since the Vets are probably headed back to UK after this.)
The second match didn’t suffer from this issue as much for a couple reasons.
For one, there’s a clear face/heel dynamic that makes it easier to buy into.
But the other reason is the UK team in this one isn’t as much of an unknown. Imperium has been on NXT as a unit when NXT moved to USA. And before that, Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel had many matches when they went by the European Union. So we know more about these guys, giving more investment weight to this semi-final match.
The Broserweights won clean, eschewing the very predictable angle of ERA getting their revenge.
They closed out the build to next week’s finals with a promo between the remaining teams. I’m always a fan of just using a simple promo to build a match and this was just that. It was simple but effective and put a little more heat to the match. Pete Dunne telling the Grizzled Young Veterans that they’ve never beaten him and never will is a great touch. It gives next week another angle outside winning the tournament.
Servicing Two Feuds
Io Shirai’s match with Toni Storm, a fine bout but one that never got to that next level, ended with Bianca Belair attacking Toni, one #1 contender attacking another. (Or is Belair technically the #2 contender?)
It led to a brawl between these three woman and the champ Rhea Ripley. This was a bit scattered feeling, likely because NXT is trying to build to two shows at once, the exhibition Worlds Collide event and the true next event TakeOver: Portland. Thankfully, all four women are very good and any program that comes out of this with any combination of them is going to be entertaining. (Especially if Toni is coming to NXT Prime after Saturday.)
The other takeaway here is the fact that Io Shirai has a level of protection. Yes, she lost in the battle royal last week and was on the losing side of WarGames. But when it comes to one on one matches, she does not lose clean. The standard booking would be to allow the #1 contender to pick up a win going into her title match. But instead they avoided that to protect Shirai.
In my opinion, that’s the right move. It may have given us a match that never got to be as good as it could (it was still good) because the competitors knew it was a non-finish so save the good stuff for when stakes are higher. But Io is too strong a character and should be protected. We just need a stronger program for her to warrant that.
The Last Match?
Shayna Baszler is still winning on Wednesdays.
After getting eliminated from the #1 contenders battle royal last week by Shotzi Blackheart, the Submission Magician had a chance to get some revenge. And she did just that via submission win over the rookie.
It was a match I quite enjoyed. It may not have been the crispest affair, but honestly, this is one those matches where it made it feel a bit more like a fight. Shotzi really got a chance to show off against the two time champ. Clearly meant to elevate Blackheart even in a loss, it did just that.
My guess is this is Shayna’s last match in NXT, whether she wins the Rumble or not. And if that’s the case, she won’t be going out on her back but with a win. (Though given it’s not an entirely different territory and people watch both NXT and the rest of WWE, I can see not wanting to beat the woman who’s about the win the Rumble just four days prior.) Even without winning, Shayna helped elevate Shotzi in the last two weeks, which is important.
Finn Bálor picked up pretty much a squash win over Joaquin Wilde, who’s entrance music now has the airhorn sound he made in TNA all the time. Finn will face Ilja Dragunov, who I’m informed is not a vampire which was takeaway from his video package tonight, at Worlds Collide.
This episode spent a decent amount time building to Worlds Collide, which still feels like an exhibition show that won’t have any real bearing on anything on Wednesdays going forward. Because of the time spent building to a show that just doesn’t feel important, this show felt less important. That was especially the case early on with the first match ending as part of the build to Undisputed vs Imperium and then a women’s match that tried to service two different stories.
It picked up in the second half with Shayna’s match with Shotzi, the second match of the Dusty Finals, and Lee’s big win.
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