The SmarK Rant for NXT Takeover 31 – 10.04.20
In the Network’s eternal quest to drive me crazy, they have “Candice LaRae” listed in the description of the show, but the graphic for the show says “LeRae”. DON’T YOU KNOW HOW CONFUSED I AM ABOUT HER NAME ALREADY?
Live from CAPITOL WRESTLING CENTER in Orlando, FL.
Your hosts are Vic Joseph, Wade Barrett & Beth Phoenix
North American title: Damian Priest v. Johnny Gargano
So the Performance Center has been turned into a mini-Thunderdome, but with a front row of wrestlers playing fans like Full Sail had. That’s a good combination of the two ideas, I think. However, unlike the Thunderdome, this version is really dark and kind of offsets the effect they’re going for. Priest puts him down with a spinkick and slugs away in the corner. Gargano escapes the Reckoning, so Priest boots him into the corner and puts him down for two. They head to the apron and Johnny yanks him off to the floor to block a moonsault and follows with a tope into the plexiglass. Back in, Gargano comes off the top with a forearm to the back for two and goes to work on the leg with a half-crab. Priest fights him off with forearms and puts him down with a Flatliner, then follows with elbows into the corner. Falcon Arrow gets two. Gargano tries the rollup into the head kick, but Priest blocks it and tries the Razor’s Edge, which Gargano reverses into a Code Red for two. Didn’t really get all of that one, as Gorilla would have said. They trade kicks and Priest puts him down with a spinning forearm, but Gargano runs him into the post and clotheslines him to the floor. Johnny comes off the apron, but Priest puts him down with a spinkick and hits the Razor’s Edge on the apron, THE HARDEST PART OF THE RING. Back in, that gets two. Gargano clips the knee to cut off another comeback, but Priest fights up and tries the Reckoning. Gargano counters out with a shiranui for two and gets a rollup for two. Johnny goes to the apron and tries for the DDT, but Priest hauls him in with a chokeslam for two. Gargano bails to the floor and Priest tries to follow with a somersault plancha, but Gargano pulls a couple of “security” guys in front to take the move, and then hits a low blow and superkick for two. I kind of hate when they cheapen the low blow like that, because he kicked Priest SQUARE in the jewels and that would have put him down for 10 minutes in pain in real life. Gargano Escape, but Priest makes the ropes, so Johnny puts him on the apron and aims to run him onto the stairs. Priest blocks that, then blocks the One Final Beat DDT and reverses into the Reckoning for the pin at 18:43. Great opener, a few rough spots aside. ****
So the crowd noise here, though…not good. I appreciate that they’re mixing the fake Thunderdome noise with the front row of wrestlers playing fans, but a lot of times they don’t match up and it’s pretty distracting.
Meanwhile, the Undisputed Era and Finn Balor both arrive.
Kushida v. Velveteen Dream
Maybe the Dream should borrow the time machine and tell his past self not to send those dick pics. Kushida attacks to start and chases the Dream to the floor before the bell. Back in, Kushida immediately starts going after the arm and viciously attacking it with holds, trapping him with a hammerlock while barring the other arm. Finally Dream kicks him down and to the floor and follows with an axehandle. Back in, Dream with a broncobuster, which is an image I didn’t need from him, and he blocks a handspring elbow with a sleeper. They slug it out and Kushida comes back with a dropkick and surfboards him while stomping his head. I hear that’s what they do in prison to some people. Kushida runs his arm into the post and dropkicks the stairs into his hand, although that didn’t look great, but Dream gets a superkick back in the ring. He goes for the elbow, but lands in the armbar and has to bail to the floor to escape. Back in, Dream with a powerbomb for two, but Kushida gets another armbar and Dream has to fight out of that. Dream Valley Driver and he goes up and drops the elbow, but that’s his bad arm according to the announcers and so it only gets two. Actually the replay shows it was his right elbow so I’m confused about what the problem was. Dream goes up again, but Kushida takes him down with the Hoverboard Lock and sinks it in. Dream tries the death valley driver, but Kushida hangs on and Dream taps at 13:00. I don’t know, I just find it so off-putting to watch Dream now that I have trouble rating his stuff with any objectivity. Plus I don’t even know what his gimmick is supposed to be anymore and this match was a weird clash of styles. Seemed like around **1/2 or so but the crowd was really dead for it.
October 28: HALLOWEEN HAVOC returns! With the original logo and everything. Maybe they should try to get it sponsored by Slim Jims too.
Cruiserweight title: Santos Escobar v. Isaiah Swerve Scott
Escobar snaps off a rana right away and Swerve lands on his feet, and they exchange takedowns for the stalemate. Escobar charges and gets dumped to the floor, and Swerve follows with a corkscrew dive and then another Fosbury Flop on the other side. Escobar bails again to escape and Scott uses some SMALL JOINT MANIPULATION around the post and gets two. Swerve works the arm from the apron but gets kicked into the railing, and Escobar hits him with his own dive. I still find it so weird that Escobar was nearly a giant in Lucha Underground as King Cuerno and now he’s a cruiserweight in WWE. Back in, Escobar brings him in with a rana for two and stomps away on the ropes. Escobar threatens to SPIT IN HIS FACE, which is a really bad idea on a lot of levels these days, but naturally this makes Swerve pretty upset and he mounts a comeback and boots him to the floor. Back in, a Flatliner gets two. I don’t know if it would be any consolation to Kanyon given how hard his life was, but I have to think that someone who loved wrestling as much as he did would be at least a bit happy that his finisher is now forever the generic term for the move. Escobar takes the ref and the goons come out to distract Swerve, which allows Escobar to hit a shoulderbreaker for two. “Not like this!” declares Joseph. Not with a shoulderbreaker? I mean it’s a lame finishing move, granted. But then Swerve fights off the crew and the Adonis kid who dresses like a yellow highlighter chases them off. Back in the ring, Escobar hits the Phantom Driver for two. Sounds like the title of a Goosebumps novel. Escobar with the rolling suplexes and he goes up for the frog splash, but that misses and Swerve does the arm snap and goes up with the 450 for two. They head to the apron and fight out there, but Swerve supposedly falls backwards into the steel bolt, although not really. And Escobar puts him away with what Beth calls a “double underhook improvisation into a facebuster” at 15:30 for the incredibly flat finish. Very energetic match but they did the big spot with the babyface overcoming the odds and then beat him anyway with a lame finish. Like, why go through all the other stuff and then end the match with THAT? Just do the distraction stuff for the finish and be done with it, because then at least there’s actual heat on the ending and not just your babyface literally falling backwards on his head and losing like a doofus. ***1/4
NXT Women’s title: Io Shirai v. Candice LeRae
Io gets a low dropkick to chase Candice to the floor right away, but she tries a powerbomb off the apron and Candice blocks it and hits her with a forearm to the floor. Io hits her moonsault, however, and back in that gets two. Io chokes away in the corner and that gets two, but LeRae gets a backstabber for two. Io fights up and Candice takes her down with a lariat for two. Necksnap into a jackknife cover gets two. Candice with a chinlock and a backbreaker for two. Wade notes that she’s been turning more into “Candice Gargano” these days, and I wish she would because then I’d know how to spell her last name consistently at least. Candice slugs away on the ropes and tosses Io around, then hits a suplex for two. Io rolls into a double stomp to come back and follows with the 619, and a missile dropkick gets two. Shirai tries a bulldog, but Candice blocks it and hits a senton, but Io gets a double underhook backbreaker. She goes up and LeRae powerbombs her down, but Io hits the double knees and then LeRae rolls her up for two. Io with a german suplex, but LeRae hits her own and follows with another backstabber. Lionsault gets two. Shirai takes her down with a crossface, but Candice rolls her over for two and gets her own. Io powers to the ropes, so Candice nails the ref in frustration and he’s out. Io goes up with the moonsault and wipes out the ref even harder, so Candice hits the curb stomp and Johnny Referee runs out and counts two. In a nice touch, he counts extra fast and Io still kicks out at two. Wade notes that wearing a ref shirt doesn’t qualify you to be a ref. Really? I would argue it does. Candice hits Io with the belt while Johnny argues with the revived ref, but that gets two. They head to the top and Io brings her down with a Spanish Fly and finishes with the moonsault at 16:43. For someone billed as the Genius of the Sky you’d think she would hit that thing properly once in a while. Took a while to get going and got good, but then all the “wicked skullduggery” from the Garganos as Wade puts it and multiple ref bumps kind of took it down a few notches again and it kind of ended up in the middle for me. On a show with only 5 matches it’s kind of a bad look to have 2 of them filled with ga-ga. ***
And then Toni Storm pops up on the big screen and lets us know that she’s back in NXT. I still don’t get why she’s not on the main roster, although she’s better off not being there. And then we get a night vision motorcycle ride into the building, as Ember Moon is apparently back as well. I dunno, they killed her off on the main roster so badly that I don’t know if there’s any point in rehabbing her again. I guess she was the big return being hyped? Because she wasn’t exactly dominant in her first NXT run so this was kind of a letdown if so. Which also leads me to ask: Is Rhea Ripley just not going to challenge for the title ever again?
Meanwhile, Ashante Adonis does his promo about interfering earlier tonight. Don’t know who he is, but good for him.
NXT title: Finn Balor v. Kyle O’Reilly
Balor takes Kyle down with a headlock and works on that to start tenaciously. O’Reilly reverses to the arm and takes Finn down, dropping knees on a hammerlock, but Finn dropkicks him to escape and kicks him down for two. Balor works on the arm and does a little air guitar to mock him, and follows with the running chops in the corners. O’Reilly goes back to the arm again and then hits a cool triple rolling double underhook suplex for two. O’Reilly throws strikes on the ropes, but Balor puts him down with a shot to the gut and Kyle bails to the ropes to escape. The replay shows Balor knocked the wind out of him pretty good with a spinkick. Balor works on the ribs and goes to a rear chinlock, then drops an elbow on the back for two. Balor with an abdominal stretch and Kyle escapes from that and fights back with a cradle suplex for two. Thankfully he’s now selling the opposite side from the original kick so clearly he’s fine again. Balor gets an inverted DDT for two while Kyle grabs his ribs in pain, and he follows with a sling blade. Kyle dropkicks the knee to block a charge, but Balor catches him in another abdominal stretch as Kyle is channeling Ken Shamrock and bleeding from the mouth. Kyle tries for a knee submission, but Balor reverses to a Sharpshooter. O’Reilly makes the ropes to escape that, so Balor stomps him down in the corner and they slug it out with kicks until O’Reilly hits a rebound lariat and both guys are down. O’Reilly tries for a guillotine, but Finn knees out of it, so Kyle gets a brainbuster for two and goes for the armbar. Finn manages to roll him over and stomps out of it, setting up the 1916 for two. Finn goes up and gets crotched and Kyle takes him down with a dragon screw and goes to the top himself with the flying knee and heel hook. Finn tries to kick away from it, but Kyle grabs the foot and hooks both of them. Finn pulls himself to the ropes to break, so O’Reilly beats on him with kicks and Finn begs off. But he was faking a knee injury and takes Kyle down with a double stomp. Kyle fights back with a german suplex, but Finn rolls into another double stomp to put him down again, and follows with the Coup De Grace for the pin to retain at 28:33. Hopefully they continue doing something with O’Reilly after this because it was a hell of a showing on his part even though he seemed a few steps off after the liver kick. ****1/2 But then their mutual admiration session is interrupted by Ridge Holland bringing an unconscious Adam Cole to ringside and dumping him there while the Undisputed Era freaks out.
Honestly this felt more like an episode of the NXT TV show than a Takeover, especially with how nothing of note actually happened. With a pair of **** matches bookending it, it’s an easy recommendation, but if you didn’t watch it then there’s really nothing here that makes this one stand out in any meaningful way. It was just the usual good show and that’s about it.