MORDECAI JONES / THE WRESTLING AESTHETIC
Part 1 of 2: NXT 10.23.2019
Matches: Rhea Ripley d. Bianca Belair Approx 12 mins, **3/4, Matt Riddle d. Cameron Grimes Approx 8 mins, ***, Breezango/Isiah Scott d. Forgotten Sons Approx 9 mins, **1/2, Angel Garza d. Jack Gallagher Approx 4 mins, Tegan Nox/Dakota Kai d. Marina Shaffir/Jessamyn Duke for a shot at WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Approx 3 mins, Roderick Strong d. Keith Lee & Dominik Dijakovic to retain NXT North American Championship Approx 15 mins, ****1/4
FEATURED BOUTS OF THE WEEK:
Matt Riddle v. Cameron Grimes
Approx 8 mins shown – ***
I’ve said it before, but AEW matches, for the most part, just seem like matches for the sake of a match. It becomes an endless parade of high-end combinations and in-ring work without much booking behind it. It’s understandable for a new organization, but at this point we should be seeing a transition into heavier storylines after several weeks of product. Meanwhile, we have the usual NXT booking brilliance here: Riddle, coming off a failed attempt at the NXT championship, is forced to rebuild and comes up against a streaking upstart with similar “quick finish” tendencies. That Grimes fits so well across the ring from the Supernova that is Riddle this early in his NXT career says a lot about how underutilized he was in TNA/Impact. As soon as the bell hits, they exchange attempts at their flash finishers: Grimes’ standing jump stomp, and Riddle’s leaping knee strike. Riddle takes control with what’s becoming somewhat of a predictable series of maneuvers, but the experienced Grimes catches on and is able to execute some impressive counters to Riddle’s gutwrench-based throws and suplexes.
We see a Jackhammer slam from Riddle in a nod to his online spat with Goldberg, then the signature kicks. Spot of the match sees Grimes catch a kick to turn the tide, then BACKFLIP into a rolling german suplex. But Riddle responds with the Bro to Sleep knee and a deadlift german of his own. More hot and heavy action ensues, with Grimes continuing to rely on counter-wrestling, including a mid-air horizontal Spanish Fly-type slam that gets 2. After Riddle recovers from a Floating Bro senton into Grimes’ knees, he avoids the Cave-In stomp and makes the comeback with a powerbomb, Final Flash knee and his Bro Derek slam finisher for the win. Absolutely breathtaking sub-10 minute match that keeps Riddle looking incredibly strong and doesn’t take much away from Grimes, who is “new” to the NXT landscape and still earning his stripes. Post-match, Grimes refuses the ceremonial fistbumping of bros, so Tyler Bate gets another one from Riddle at ringside. Grimes responds by shoving Bate, who gladly delivers the Bop and Bang jab of doom. And just like that, another confrontation gets set up, similar to the Killian Dane/Pete Dunne tease from last week’s show. The usual tight transitioning we’ve come to expect from NXT.
Roderick Strong (NXT North American Champion) v. Keith Lee v. Dominik Dijakovic
Approx 15 mins shown – ****1/4
With Velveteen Dream’s incredibly poorly-timed injury putting his North American Championship rematch on hold, the current champion finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place. As the announcers repeatedly remind us, Lee and Dijakovic remain at a standstill in one of 2019’s wildest feuds, with one victory apiece alongside a double countout and a no-contest. I highly recommend checking out all 4 matches, with the August 15th NXT TV match (***3/4) the best and ballsiest of the bunch. After Commissioner Regal announced last week’s encounter between the two behemoths would be for the replacement slot in the title match, Strong and the Undisputed Era decided to force a no contest, which was initially a puzzling move. Regal responded with the Triple Threat booking. But you can argue Strong was looking to increase his chances of retaining the title on the hope that the big men cancel one another out. And right on cue, we see Strong bail to the outside and pick and choose his spots while the big men clobber one another. Every time Strong interjects, he winds up tossed from the ring and we get VIOLENT SLAPSTICK in full force. Finally, Strong wiggles his way into Lee’s superplex set up and nails Dijakovic with it. Lee is back in and superkicks start flying until Dijakovic picks up Strong and hits the one variation of a backbreaker The Messiah can’t hit: he simply lifts his leg and smashes it into Strong’s ribs while he cradles him like a baby.
The follow-up is an absolutely terrifying suplex that sends Lee crashing down onto a supine Strong. To the outside we go, where Dijakovic attempts a cannonball off the apron onto Lee, but in their now-signature spot, Lee CATCHES the 6’7” Dijakovic and shows him off like a freshly caught swordfish. Who am I, Mauro Ranallo? Strong topples the big men with a dropkick and that just makes the monsters angry, and we wind up in a MAMMOTH TOWER OF ULTIMATE DOOM wherein Dijakovic holds a sustained superplex on Strong on the shoulders of Lee, who powerbombs them with such force it sends him flying out of the ring! That was absolutely mindnumbing, so let’s take a break to catch our breath. Back from the break and Strong has recovered enough to start delivering his patented backbreakers and running knees. Huge Angleslam on Lee gets 2, then everything spills out onto the floor again. Strong again plays the role of human pinball falling into the Feast Your Eyes knee right into Lee’s huge Pounce shoulderblock. With Strong decimated, Lee and Dijakovic take a moment, slide into the ring, and decide to turn it up a notch. Dijakovic maneuvers Lee to the top rope, nails a sitout chokeslam for 2, then sends himself over the top with a twisting dive that obliterates Strong. Lee responds with his own tope con hilo dive and this seems to be headed for the finish. Lee brings Dijakovic in and delivers the sitout powerbomb from the top rope (everything must be delivered from the top!) but the pinning combination leaves him vulnerable to Strong’s running knee OUT OF NOWHERE, and the champion retains! Whew.
This was just absolute carnage and big man indulgence with no apologies and no regrets. The closest thing I can compare this to is the Mike Awesome/Masato Tanaka series but with more dives. “Feast Your Eyes” and “Bask in His Glory” are catch phrases that never made more sense for the viewing audience. Strong’s Undisputed Era teammates are out to celebrate, and then…the gamechanger angle comes as Tomasso Ciampa emerges and sulks his way down to the ring. And speaking of catch phrases, “Daddy’s Home” fits Ciampa’s look and character to a tee, as the bushy bearded, hard-travelled veteran simply wants Goldy (the NXT title) back where it belongs. As he defiantly stares down the 4 Undisputed Members, Johnny Gargano is out to join his old partner, followed quickly by the returning Finn Balor. The audience is losing it, but then…BALOR PELE KICKS GARGANO! The screams, the shrieks, Ranallo’s voice cracking, it’s absolute human tragedy.
The Era swarm Lee and Ciampa as Balor goes to work on Gargano, sending him flying into the barricade, taking out an entire section of railing and several plants who sell it like a bomb went off. To call it a heel turn doesn’t do the situation justice – just take a look at Ciampa, the evil mastermind who is now welcomed as a hero, and Gargano, who spent a few weeks turning his back on the fans while nefariously pursuing the NXT title. In NXT, the motivations are deeper than simple designation. Balor returned and made one of his intentions known (pursuing the belt he held for a record 292 days) but the more significant goal was not ownership of a title…rather, it’s ownership of NXT. So he’s hunting Johnny Wrestling, the man who became NXT in his absence – Adam Cole can wait. It’s absolutely brilliant and it’s absolutely what we’ve come to expect from NXT. Meanwhile, we’re getting the usual purposefully meandering road to WarGames, which now looks like Lee/Dijakovic/Ciampa/ Dream countering the Undisputed Era. And I’m a-ok with that, as you should be.
– The women’s division is where NXT has its most decisive edge on AEW. The potential for many of these athletes is absolutely unlimited. NXT women’s booking has always done a great job of keeping experienced anchors in the mix (currently, the likes of Io Shirai, Mia Yim and Candace LeRae) and steadily advancing raw talent like Belair and Ripley. It’s the 2nd most exciting women’s division behind the strongly character-driven Impact roster, and steadily creeping back to the high times of the pre-Asuka era. September’s scintillating 4-way for a title shot stole that week’s show and these ladies are certainly capable of replicating that feat on a nightly basis. It’s definitely time for Shayna Baszler to move on to the main roster and the booking has kept things both dramatic and unpredictable. It’s a delight to see how strongly the crowd gets behind the incoming women.
– Just as I am learning to deal with the incredibly annoying split screen during commercials (going dark might be preferable to watching the performers awkwardly exchange rest holds at this point) I’m learning to tune out the increasingly eyebrow-raising verbiage from our man Mauro Ranallo. It’s been 15 years that this guy has been part of my MMA/Pro Wrestling journey, and you have to (have to!) love him, but between the non-stop hip hop references and comparing Belair and Ripley to “dogs and vacuum cleaners” it’s getting to be too much. I almost wish he knew less about 90’s pop culture and the background of each wrestler, because sometimes the action can speak for itself, and drama can dissipate with too much information. Nigel McGuiness remains amusingly deadpan in the face of Mauro’s growing enthusiasm.
– The “Bro Derek” cradle slam from Riddle is a variation on Cesaro’s Neutralizer that’s begging to be a driver rather than a slam. I’ve always wished Cesaro would make that adjustment in a big match as a murder-death-kill super finisher. But I’m pretty sure Piledrivers are still off-limits, despite the Brainbusters (a higher impact head drop) we’ve seen on NXT and WWE programming as of late. Also – what percentage of the NXT audience could possibly get the Bo Derek reference? And why did Riddle pass on a Bro Jackson move? Either way it’s totally Broverkill. Bro.
– Pete Dunne has been the recipient of some of the best booking seen in this era of American pro wrestling. He has the feel of a genuine attraction, title or no title – as legitimate as an MMA fighter-turned-pro wrestler, aggressive as some of the most respected workers of all time (you can’t help but feel the animalistic Chris Benoit vibe, with a little bit of Eddie Guerrero’s knowing wink to the camera), and the crowd hangs on his every flip, chomp, and snap of a finger. A WWE UK Championship holder for more than a year, he remains protected (even the surging Damian Priest resorted to the low blow for victory) and is an incredible asset for an incredible roster.
– Speaking of incredible assets, watching Matt Riddle, Pro Wrestling’s most successful MMA transition since Ken Shamrock, fist bump 22 year-old Tyler Bate on the way to the ring, should be a scary reminder for AEW that while they might compete in the realm of current and past talent with names like Omega, Moxley, Rhodes and Jericho, the future of the industry lies securely with WWE.
– Make of this what you will, but the endlessly entertaining Breezango, extended intros and all, seem like they would be a better fit on AEW TV.
– NXT themes are so damn good that they sometimes transcend being a wrestling walkout theme. Such was the case for Isaiah “Swerve” Scott (formerly Shane Strickland and Lucha Underground’s final season MVP Killshot) who is now rocking a more upbeat theme. He celebrated with what was arguably the spot of the night, using Jaxon Ryker’s huge chest as a springboard for a moonsault to the outside, and the pinfall for his team in the 6-man match. Now go and download that silky smooth original theme “Light Up the Night” (wink wink nudge nudge) and enjoy.
– Two sub-5 minute matches progress some storylines quickly and efficiently. Lio Rush joined commentary with his newly-titled NXT Cruiserweight championship and scouted the cocky Angel Garza. And Regal slapped together a match between Horsewomen Shaffir and Duke and UK stars Nox and Kai (both returning from injury) for a shot at the WWE Women’s Tag Team championship. Shaffir and Duke aren’t getting a lot of ring time, and when they do, it continues to be a bit of a mess. Nox and Kai benefit from a clean victory over the NXT champion’s entourage, and we see Asuka return to NXT TV on the big screen with the usual shrieking Japanese promo. A grinning Kairi Sane lets the challengers know “you have NO chance!” Bringing Asuka and Sane back to NXT is an excellent way to fulfill the promised cross-brand presence of the Women’s tag titles.
– NXT continues to be the best episodic Pro Wrestling television show in the world.
– Matches announced for next week: Bate/Grimes, Io Shirai/Candace LeRae, and Kabuki Warriors/Nox & Kai