The SmarK Rant for NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day – 02.14.21
Well I’m pretty sure they don’t have to worry about anyone stealing the trademark on THAT name.
Speaking of names, apparently Eli Drake showed up on the pre-show as “LA Knight”, which is a pretty great name, so expect him to show up on the main roster in about 4 years.
Speaking of Knights, I finally finished Arkham Knight after giving up for about 2 years, getting the normal ending and then doing the 7 Most Wanted missions to get the “real” ending, although to get the Double Super Secret Real Ending you have to get all the Riddler trophies and SCREW THAT NOISE. But overall, I have to say my general disdain for the game up until recently was misplaced, as once I did a playthrough where I put all the resources into pumping up the stupid Batmobile before anything else, It made the game way easier to deal with. And the numerous side-mission stuff was really fun after the main game as a result.
Live from the Performance Center. I wonder if they’ve considered moving the Thunderdome to the PC for the main roster shows as well, given that the stadium setup is apparently ridiculously expensive and they were making record profits when the shows were being done from here in the early stages of the pandemic.
Your hosts are Vic Joseph, Wade Barrett & Beth Phoenix, who is now a real live person in the studio and not just a disembodied voice! I was beginning to think she was an out of control artificial intelligence experiment for a while there, only capable of going “OOOOOOH!” at big spots and reminiscing about her career.
Dusty Classic finals, Women’s division: Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez v. Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart
Beth sets a new record by making the match about herself 5 seconds in, which I guess is fitting for a tournament named after Dusty Rhodes. The babyfaces double-team Gonzalez to start, but Raquel fights them off and overpowers them, and blocks a sunset flip from Shotzi for two. Over to Kai with a pump kick out of Raquel’s bearhug for an awkward two, but Shotzi pulls her out of the corner with a cloverleaf and Kai quickly makes the ropes. Moon slingshots in with a splash for two and they work on her knee a bit and trap her in the corner. Moon puts her in a kneebar and we get some odd confusion over a possible tag in the heel corner, but then Moon puts Kai back into the kneebar again and this whole first part has not been particularly good. Raquel makes the tag for real this time and throws Moon around with slams, but only gets one. Kai comes in with a flying clothesline for two, but Shotzi saves and pulls Raquel to the apron, but gets powerbombed into the plexi as a result. Back in the ring, Moon fights off the heels on her own, but Kai dropkicks her in the back and Gonzalez gets two. Kai with a boot in the corner and that misses by a foot but still gets two. Gonzalez accidentally clotheslines Kai and Moon makes her own comeback and goes up with the Eclipse on Gonzalez, but the ref is busy sending Kai out of the ring, and it only gets two. And then Moon gets distracted by Kai, but Shotzi hits Gonzalez with a missile dropkick for two. So Shotzi makes a hot tag and gets a neckbreaker of some kind for two. She fights to the top with Gonzalez and they’re practically planning lunch up there on camera before Shotzi gets Sliced Bread for two. And then she dives onto Kai for no reason and the babyfaces double-team Gonzalez and that’s pretty clunky as Gonzalez has trouble moving to where she needs to be. And then they double-team Kai with something off the apron and have to stand around forever while Gonzalez hits her cue and lays them out. Back in, Moon gets an STF on Gonzalez, but Kai makes the save and hits Shotzi with a Code Red for two. Gonzalez with a GTS for two on Shotzi and she dumps Moon onto the ramp and then throws her off the stage, but Shotzi splashes her through the ropes on the way back in and gets two. But then she goes up and Raquel shoves her off and splashes Kai onto her, and they dogpile for the pin and the cup at 17:50. I know Gonzalez has been getting better but I thought she was AWFUL here, missing a bunch of stuff and looking greener than Shotzi’s hair. Also the match was way long, as they kept trying to do all this complicated stuff with the near-falls and it just dragged way past the peak, perhaps because they spent much time calling spots during the match and added an extra five minutes to it. Regardless, everyone worked hard so I don’t wanna sound all grinchy about it, but it didn’t click for me. *** And why put over the heel team if they’re building to a title shot with the heel champions on the main roster?
North American title: Johnny Gargano v. Kushida
I appreciate Wade’s snark during the entrances, as he jokes about how many “Rs” in “The Corre”. Also, Austin Theory is kidnapped during Johnny’s entrance, likely by Dexter Lumis. Kushida holds Gargano on the mat with PRO GRAPS and stays on top, but Johnny escapes and they do some cool reversals off submission moves until Kushida hooks Johnny into his own Gargano Escape and Johnny makes the ropes. They fight to the floor and Johnny runs him into the stairs, but Kushida hits him with a Falcon Arrow and transitions into an armbar, which means nothing on the floor but presumably hurts more. And speaking of hurting more, he hits Johnny with a chickenwing suplex out there and that’s gotta hurt, and back in for a dropkick to the arm as he continues to work on it. Gargano fights out and Kushida goes to the apron to try an armsnap out there, but Gargano hits him with a neckbreaker through the ropes to put him on the floor and buy time. Back in, Gargano goes to work on the neck and tries a neckbreaker, but Kushida wants a backslide, so Johnny hits him with a front suplex and then kicks him in the back of the neck like a REAL HERO. Johnny ties him up and tortures the neck with a submission, but Kushida reverses to an Octopus and they reverse into a series of near-falls before clotheslining each other and they’re both down. Kushida comes in and takes him down for a curb stomp, but Johnny blocks another chickenwing suplex, so Kushida counters into an anklelock and then hits him with a german suplex and a head kick for two. Kushida dumps him and fakes a dive, but then catches Johnny with a chickenwing suplex back into the ring for two as he blocks the slingshot spear. CLEVER BOY. Almost like he had a time machine and was able to see the future. But that’s crazy talk. Johnny fights back from the apron again but Kushida swats him down and then runs the elbow into the post. They fight to the top and Kushida brings him down with a handstand kick, but Johnny counters to a suplex in mid-air and follows with a tornado DDT for two. They have a bit of a botch while trying a tilt-a-whirl reversal and Kushida recovers and takes Johnny down for an armbar, but Johnny rolls him over for two and they put each other down for a double count. They slug it out and Kushida tries a springboard elbow, but Gargano reverses him into the Gargano Escape, and Kushida reverses him into the Hoverboard Lock! Johnny makes the ropes, but Kushida reverses him into a rollup for two, and Gargano lawn darts him into the corner to escape another armbar. They trade elbows to the head and Kushida suplexes him into the corner, and they fight to the top for a flying armbar off the top from Kushida. He can’t quite lock it in 100% and Johnny is able to roll to the ropes after some tense moments, and they fight to the floor as Kushida just won’t let go. So Johnny smashes him into the barricade to break, but Kushida punts the arm again and dives into the Hoverboard Lock back in the ring. But Johnny drops him on the top rope to break and then hits him with the slingshot DDT onto the ramp. Back in, another DDT and Johnny retains at 24:50. Absolutely incredible match, with each guy viciously targeting a body part and Gargano finally winning a battle of attrition. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, what can I say? ****1/2
Dusty Classic Finals, Men’s Division: MSK v. The Grizzled Young Veterans
I only know MSK as “the guys who used to be the Rascalz in Impact” so hopefully they’re good. Nash Carter takes Zack Gibson down with a headlock and they fight for an armbar. Over to Drake and he takes Carter down with his own headlock, but Carter springboards out and MSK double-teams Drake in the corner. Over to Wes Lee, who kicks Drake out of the ring and MSK double-teams Gibson with kicks before the heels bail to the floor. So Lee hits them with a dive, but then Carter does his own and Gibson lays him out because he’s a showboating jackass. Back in, Gibson with a neckbreaker for two as the Vets get the heat on Carter and Drake gets two and ties him up with a chinlock. Elbow gets two, and Gibson comes back in and holds Carter on the mat, but he fights back and then walks into a lariat from Drake that gets two. Carter keeps fighting out of the corner, but Gibson takes out Lee to prevent a tag, and the Vets double-team Carter with a flatliner for two. This is “maximum skullduggery” according to Wade, which is a high compliment. Drake beats on the neck and goes to a chinlock, but Carter does a slick Tenacious D powerslide under a kick and makes the hot tag to Lee. The Vets bail to the floor to avoid this confrontation, and Lee dives over the post onto them and then back into the ring for a crazy handspring kick that gets two. He goes up and gets cut off by Gibson, but YOU CAN’T POWERBOMB WES LEE and he slingshots Gibson into a superkick from Carter. Nash gets all fired up and slugs away on the mat to set up a springboard cutter for two. Gibson fights off the kids and yet still takes an enzuigiri from Lee, but he counters the handspring kick this time with his own kick. Vets with a Jackhammer into a 450 splash, and that gets two for Drake. They continue double-teaming Lee in the corner and try a Doomsday Device, but Lee reverses to a rollup for two. Carter recovers from the floor and MSK double-teams Drake in their corner with flying splashes, but then poor Lee gets hit with a DOOMSDAY DEVICE on the damn floor. Holy shit. Carter keeps fighting on his own, but the Vets hit him with a double-team lungblower for two. But Lee makes another save and MSK fights them off with superkicks, and they hit a Hart Attack Blockbuster on Drake to finish and win the Dusty Cup at 18:42. Wes Lee is a freak and this was a great match after a slow-ish start. ****
Meanwhile, Cameron Grimes has cashed in his Gamestop (Gamespot? I can’t remember, it’s called EBGames in Canada anyway) stock and now he’s a Beverly Hillbilly, complete with his own rap song about how rich he is.
NXT Women’s title: Io Shirai v. Toni Storm v. Mercedes Martinez
The challengers dump Io right away and slug it out, but Io dives in with a knee on Mercedes for two. Io rolls Toni into a double stomp and chokes her out in the corner, but Storm boots her down and follows with a clothesline on the ropes before Martinez pulls her out with a neckbreaker to the floor. Shirai tries a moonsault and misses that by a mile, and Martinez sends her into the barricade and takes Storm into the ring for two. Tree slam gets two. She wraps Storm up in a submission on the mat, but Shirai makes the save and then takes over the submission attempt on Storm with her own crossface. But then Martinez breaks that up with her own sleeper on Shirai and suplexes her. Io hits her with a 619 and dropkicks her to the floor, but she goes up and Toni cuts her off. Mercedes breaks that up with a german suplex on Storm, but Shirai hits the double stomp on Mercedes. They fight to the floor and Martinez takes Io into the plexi with a death valley driver, but Storm takes out Martinez and preps the announce table. Mercedes blocks that attempt, but then Io climbs up a light stand and dives onto them both with a nutty spot. But then Martinez tosses her into the stairs and takes Storm back into the ring for some knees to the FACE and a fisherman’s buster that gets two. Storm fights back with a headbutt and hits Storm Zero for two, giving us our first Shocked Face of the night. She goes up with a diving headbutt, but then Shirai moonsaults out of NOWHERE and pins Martinez to retain at 12:20. Ending looked a bit awkward as they had to move around to get into the position for the finish but this was a hot match. ***1/2 Felt like they should have put Toni Storm over because there’s not really anything left for Shirai to do anyway and she’s already cleared out the division. Maybe Edge will challenge her for Wrestlemania, who knows.
Meanwhile, LA Knight signs his contract with NXT. I love Drake but I don’t know how he’s gonna work as a top guy without a real crowd. Most of his act is smoke and mirrors.
NXT title: Finn Balor v. Pete Dunne
They work on the mat to start and Balor goes for the arm and holds him on the mat, but Dunne goes for the fingers and Balor backs off. Balor takes him down with the headlock again, but Dunne reverses him to a headscissors and squeezes that on the mat before Balor reverses out for the stalemate. Dunne takes some shots at the jaw and then finally gets a hold of the hand for some SMALL JOINT MANIPULATION and then takes Balor down with another headscissors before Balor reverses out of it. Dunne goes back to the fingers again, but Balor stomps on his foot and takes Dunne down to the mat and works the leg so he can keep Dunne away from the small joints. But then Dunne does just that again, so Balor has to break it off and try again with something else. So this time, Dunne punches him in the ear to fight him off. Balor counters an armbar attempt into a slam for two, but Dunne gets an enzuigiri for two and then Balor puts him down for two. Balor beats on the knee and then wraps him up in an STF, but Dunne grabs the fingers and smashes them into the mat to break. That’s just mean. Balor beats on him with chops in the corner, but Dunne gives it right back, and stomps him on the mat into a powerbomb for two. Dunne goes for the arm again and stomps the elbow like Shayna Baszler, then double stomps the fingers for good measure. Balor kicks out the knee, however, and hits him with a backstabber and shotgun dropkick into the corner. This sets up the coup de grace, but he lands into a triangle from Dunne, who then rolls Balor away from the ropes to keep it locked in. But Balor still fights his way to the ropes to break, despite being out on his feet. So Dunne brutally stomps on his face, but Balor counters out of the Bitter End and turns him into an abdominal stretch. Dunne snaps the fingers to break that, complete with an awesome camera angle of Dunne getting this evil look in his face beforehand. Balor keeps stomping while Dunne holds the fingers and won’t let go, and the Bitter End gets two. Dunne stomps the fingers AGAIN, but he tries a powerbomb and Balor reverses him into a DDT for two. Another Bitter End is reversed to the 1916 for two, however. But Dunne still won’t let go of the fingers and snaps them again, so Balor double-stomps the back and rips out Dunne’s mouthpiece before dropkicking him into the coup de grace. Dunne won’t stay down, so he hits the 1916 for the pin to retain at 25:06. They really need to pull the trigger on Dunne at some point because he’s 100% ready and Balor doesn’t need the title. A tremendous main event to cap off a tremendous show, though. ****3/4
And then Lorcan and Burch attack Balor in a show of sportsmanship, but the Undisputed Era make the save…only for Adam Cole to lay out Balor with a superkick and then turn on O’Reilly as well! Roddy seems pretty conflicted and I don’t think I’m OK with this myself. Why would you hurt me like this, Adam Cole? Bay-Bay? It’s still real to me, dammit.
Anyway, your mileage may vary on the opener, but the rest was a high-level show that blew away most of the PPVs I’ve seen in the past year and this was a strong, strong thumbs up that was not only great, but didn’t overstay its welcome.