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NXT Review: Jan 8th: What A Way To Kick Off 2020!

And we’re back with my NXT Review: Jan 8th. So far, 2020 has been quite a bust when it comes to the wrestling front. Smackdown wasn’t great, neither was RAW, and AEW Dark just felt off. In fact, if it hadn’t been for New Year Dash, there’s a very good chance I would’ve jacked this whole thing in and gone out and found a real job.

It really hasn’t been a good start to the new decade for grappling fans, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or in denial. I wasn’t holding out much hope that NXT would buck the trend and put on a show that was, at least, passable in light of all the other trite that has clogged up the schedule and threatened to give this year a heart-attack before it’s even gotten started.

Thank God I was wrong.

NXT was on another level and has shown its sister shows, SmackDown and RAW, how you go about putting out a product that fans actually want to watch. With that in mind, a with no apologies for the gushing praise I am about to lavish on Triple H’s baby, let’s lace up our boots and head to the ring for this week’s NXT review.

Candice LeRae, Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm in the ring

6 Woman Tag Match: Candice LeRae, Rhea Ripley, & Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray, & Bianca Belair

This was, as Jim Ross would’ve called it, a slobber knocker of epic proportions and was a hell of a way to kick-off the first NXT of 2020.

From the moment that Ripley slapped the taste out of Belair’s mouth to set this up, you knew you were going to be in for something special, and it didn’t disappoint. What did disappoint, however, was the USA Network cutting away to some adverts just as the match started, leaving only a crappy little picture in picture to show you the action in the ring while they shilled some crisps.

I mean, why? What was the point? Why didn’t they do this before everything got underway instead of swallowing up the first three minutes trying to convince people to buy life insurance?

Outside of this major annoyance, I can’t fault anything that it had to offer as every competitor involved put it all on the line as if this was an NXT TakeOver.

It was chaotic, vicious, and a breathtaking way to kick off the show and after Ripley hit the Riptide of Belair for the win, everybody walked away looking stronger.

NXT knows how to get their Women’s Divison over in a way that neither SmackDown or RAW seem to understand and that’s by letting them do what they do best, wrestle.

Winners: Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm, & Candice LeRae

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic First Round Match: Imperium vs. The Forgotten Sons

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic First Round Match: Imperium vs. The Forgotten Sons

I was worried that NXT might have suffered the same problem that RAW had done this week when it came to the pacing of the show.

The Rey Mysterio vs. Andrade bout that had kicked off Monday Night was so good, bar that damn ending, that it sucked the life and energy out of the crowd for everything else that followed it. This led me to have concerns that Imperium vs. The Forgotten Sons might not have clicked and we would’ve found ourselves just counting down the minutes until the final credits rolled.

Sometimes I love being wrong.

This was the purest definition of high-octane and is a testament to the cardio of all involved. It was like a Lucha Libre match, 100 mph from start to finish and had so many two counts and near pin-falls that I swear I almost tweaked my hamstring from jumping out of my seat every five seconds.

There were two first-round matches on offer this week for The Dusty Rhodes Classic, and both have me believing that this will be the best tournament they’ve hosted, by a country mile.

Winners And Advancing To The Semi-Finals: Imperium

Austin Theory vs. Joaquin Wilde

Austin Theory vs. Joaquin Wilde

Austin Theory vs. Joaquin Wilde could very well have just fallen through the cracks on a bill packed to bursting with Match of the Year contenders and though it didn’t reach the heights of what had come before it, it didn’t become the toilet break bout either.

I think that Theory is going to have a bright future in the WWE, right up until he moves onto the main roster and Vince decides to job him out to a re-signed Hornswoggle. Though Wilde is on the other side of thirty, there’s no reason to think that he’s just going to be used as enhancement talent.

It was a back and forth affair that ended with Theory having his arm raised but, once again, it was done with that NXT flourish that means, even in defeat, Wilde came out of this looking stronger than he did going in.

Winner: Austin Theory

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic First Round Match: The Undisputed Era vs. Gallus

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic First Round Match: The Undisputed Era vs. Gallus

With the NXT USA and NXT UK Tag Team Champions involved, there was no way that this was ever going to be anything other than fantastic.

Since their debut on the UK brand in 2018, I’ve been continually impressed with both Wolfgang and the younger Coffey brother and it seems that I’m not the only one as they’ve been wearing the British Belts since October. If the company has any sense they’ll be keeping hold of them for a while yet.

As for The Undisputed Era, well, I’m just a complete mark.

There isn’t a weak link among the four and the fact that they currently hold all the NXT gold is proof enough that they should be seen as one of the best factions in wrestling today. Besides, if you don’t like Adam Cole (BAY-BAY!), then there’s something seriously wrong with you.

There were times during this match that I honestly thought that my prediction for The Undisputed Era to win the whole thing outright, thus adding to their glory and making them the biggest targets in NXT, was going to come up short and Gallus were going to take home the win.

It did take the intervention of Adam Cole (BAY-BAY!) to secure the victory, which some might see as cheating but I see as good leadership, and even though they’re out of the competition, Gallus can return to Blighty safe in the knowledge that they won over quite a few people on their trip Stateside.

Winners: The Undisputed Era 

Johnny Gargano

Johnny Gargano/Finn Balor Promo

If you’ve read any of my other reviews about the WWE product on this site, then you’ll know that I usually dump any promos or skits under the Vince McMahon Bull-Honky Alert (Copyright Pending) part of the article.

That way I can get through the shite parts of the product as quickly as possible and can focus squarely on the wrestling aspect, of which there is sadly little these days.

It’s rare that I pick out any single section of the show to look at specifically, in fact, it’s rarer than unicorn shit, but I’m going to break with tradition and focus on the Johnny Gargano/Finn Balor promo on this week’s show.

Thank the flying f*ck Finn Balor has gone back to NXT as he was dying a slow and painful death on the main roster.

The smiling, happy-go-lucky character that he was doing might be a true reflection of the man himself but it was as dull as dishwater and about half as much fun to watch.

The Prince, on the other hand, is the same mean bastard that took NJPW by storm and as a fan, I am more than glad to see Balor truly embrace his heel side once more.

Welcome back Finn, we’ve missed you.

Mia Yim vs. Kayden Carter

Mia Yim vs. Kayden Carter

This was a lot like the Theory/Wilde match from earlier in the night where it could’ve gotten lost in the mix but still managed to hold it’s own, even if it wasn’t as spectacular as the others on offer.

I assumed that this was going to be a simple squash but Carter got in enough offense here that she came out of the loss looking good.

Even though she managed to frustrate Yim, she’d eventually succumb to Protect Ya Neck and Mia would walk away with the win. While they were showing mutual respect for each other, Chelsea Green entered the ring and attacked them both.

This would lead to Robert Stone showing up and announcing The Robert Stone Brand to which I went “Meh”.

The problem here is that this strikes me as a throwback stable, something that wouldn’t seem out of place in the late 80s/early 90s, and smells more of The Authority levels of cringe worthiness than of Bobby Heenan brilliance.

I swear, I honestly thought that Stone was going to make a comment about Green’s butt at one point and that just made my skin crawl.

If I’m wrong about this then I’ll hold my hands up but currently I think this gimmick is going to bomb.

Winner: Mia Yim
Loser: Moving With The Time

Damian Priest vs. Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic vs. Cameron Grimes

North American Championship #1 Contender’s Fatal Four Way Match: Damian Priest vs. Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic vs. Cameron Grimes

There’s always the chance that when you throw big-men into the ring and say “off you go” then you’re going to end up with a snooze-fest. Let’s be honest here if wrestling history has taught us anything then that’s usually the case but it seems that nobody bothered to inform the four men in this match that that was the status quo.

Huge, giant human beings shouldn’t be able to move around like goddamn cruiserweights; it’s against the laws of nature.

On a night full of classic matches, this one managed to top the lot somehow.

The power moves on offer were earth-shattering in their brutality and the sight of Priest flying out of the ring to lay waste to him opponents should let tell you how jaw-dropping the aerial sections of this fight were.

I was expecting Grimes to have to carry most of the high-flying elements here but all four of them were on their game in that respect.

And then there’s Keith Lee.

Watching him pluck people out the air and use them to batter the other opponents to the mat is something akin to wrestling nirvana and I pray to the Grappling Gods that he’s left on the NXT brand until Vince steps down and Triple H takes control, or he’s going to end up being rebranded as Funkasaurus 2.0.

It all ended with Lee dropping the most vicious Spirit Bomb to date and I fear for Roderick Strong when they meet.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Lee might genuinely murder him.

Winner And New #1 Contender: Keith Lee

The Undisputed Era

Final Thoughts

With the amount of wrestling on offer to us each week, you really need to do something as a company to stand out.

If you follow the Indy Scene, then you’ll know that there are a lot of promotions that push the envelope as much as they can, but if you’re only a follower of WWE, and specifically the SmackDown and RAW brands, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that mediocrity is the accepted norm.

It’s not, and NXT proves that time and again.

I’d felt so deflated, so burnt out after what should’ve been a huge start to the year from the big three companies (get over it fanboys, it’s a fact) when only NJPW seemed to deliver, while most of the WWE shows and half of AEW Dark had been rubbish and pointless that I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth the amount of time I have to put into wrestling to carry on watching it.

After all, I’m 47, and I’ve got fewer years in front of me than I do behind.

The first NXT show of 2020 has changed this viewpoint and reaffirmed my love in all things wrazzlin’.

It’s no exaggeration to say this card was stacked and has already laid down the marker for the level you’re going to need to be at if you want to be considered Match of the Year worthy. It’s also set the bar for what we can and what we shall expect from the product every seven days.

Whether or not it can pull it off every time remains to be seen but if anyone can, then it’s NXT.

Now if we can only get Vince to step aside, we could actually get back to having wrestling on a wrestling show.

Written by Neil Gray

The podcast master. The Old Metal Bar-Steward and Weekly Wrestling Ruminations are now available on Spotify and iTunes.

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