Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: El Hijo del Fantasma unmasked as SANTOS ESCOBAR, a cool WWE circa 2011-sounding name that could’ve just as easily been “El Chapo Gonzalez.” Also, NXT’s spookiest freshman theater standouts gave Adam Cole a big hourglass to show him his time is almost up.
If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, you can do that here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for June 17, 2020.
Best: THE ROAR OF THE CROWD STOMP YOUR FEET TO THE GROUND GIVE IT ALL TO ME NOW CAUSE YOU CALLED TO ME CALLED TO ME
As someone who’s been writing about NXT since Bayley and Sasha Banks were transitioning from jobbers to full-fledged characters, I’m thrilled I got to watch the Women’s Tag Team Champions make good on their promise from 16 months ago and defend the belts on NXT. It brings a peaceful quiet to my brain to see them looking like themselves again, wrestling like themselves again, and connecting modern, main roster continuity to my favorite era; a time when women’s wrestling was turning a corner from disrespected to in-demand and CFO$ roamed the Earth. Like a lot of things that’ve happened since quarantine, I only wish there could’ve been a real Full Sail crowd there to react and watch them perform. It’s like finding out your favorite band is playing a show down the street but it’s happening in some dude’s living room. At the very least they could’ve gone the “unique camera angles and enhanced audio” route and given us a CGI crying Izzy.
If you haven’t been following Raw and Smackdown, you lucky dog, the Women’s Tag Team Championship is suddenly in the spotlight again after a shaky first year that even saw Bayley and Sasha’s inaugural run peter out and devolve into smark conjecture. Their opponents for NXT are Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart, which is great because Nox feels and wrestles like Bayley if she had Sasha’s confidence, and Blackheart is like Banks if she had classic Bayley’s reckless enthusiasm. They aren’t direct analogues or anything, but they’re close enough that they mesh together in the ring like the current characters are wrestling the younger versions of themselves.
The champions retain, of course, using their vennern know-how. Bayley uses her and her partner’s lifetime membership in the Eddie Guerrero match of the month club to introduce a steel chair only for it to be a distraction that allows her to reverse a submission in her team’s favor. It’s a fun main event that feels important and consequential whether it really can be or not right now, and I wish there were regular stop-ins for successful NXT alumni to remind the audience they can still go and that Vince McMahon’s tunnel vision perspective on what wrestling should look like isn’t and can’t be the only option. The only major complaint is that Sasha never interacted with Shotzi Blackheart’s tank and robbed me of a really fantastic “Sasha Tanks” joke. Can Shotzi at least call her submission finish the Tank Statement?
After the match, a babyface-again-somehow Io Shirai shows up to take them to Suplex City and make me think Exclamation Point Exclamation Point Exclamation Point at the prospect of Shirai vs. Banks one-on-one, Shirai vs. Bayley one-on-one, or, in a perfect world, an NXT vacation away from Nia Jax for Kairi Sane and a title opportunity for the Sky Pirates. If the BroSerweights didn’t exist, the Sky Pirates would be the ultimate why didn’t we get more of this NXT tag team.
As a brief aside, I wrote a big thing here about how easy it’d be to turn Bayley face by having her start spending time in NXT again and finding herself, sort of like the pro wrestling equivalent of Only Yesterday, but after making that Crying Izzy joke, I think you need to keep her condescending and casually cruel, in and out of NXT, for however long it takes Izzy to grow up and finish training. Imagine years of Champ Karen only for her to be confronted by the physical and emotional manifestation of the spirit she’d worked so hard to bury and move beyond? Remember, Bayley isn’t Evil Bayley because she had some big personality change, Bayley’s Evil Bayley because she desperately wants to fit in, and Sasha’s the only person who acts like her friend but also comes from that old peer group from which Bayley never got love. I bet if Charlotte Flair or Becky Lynch had started acting like her best friend she would’ve mirrored them, too.
Best: Head Under WALTER
Speaking of Charlotte Flair, please enjoy Breezango mocking Imperium by becoming “Emporium” and entering to the Charlotte Flair version of ‘IV. Allegro con fuoco.’ Can you believe Tyler Breeze has still never held a championship in NXT or WWE? All Fandango’s ever won is a season of game show NXT. Ridiculous.
Breezango once again does Pretty Well™ against the Tag Team Champions, but aren’t able to win the big one. They end up distracted by the random appearance of Malcolm Bivens and Indus Sher, looking like Mr. Rogers got put in charge of The Twins from The Matrix Reloaded, and a run-in day-saving from Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. All Elite’s tag division is redonkulous right now, so it makes sense the promotion that brought tag team wrestling back into the zeitgeist would want to show how good it’s division still can be, even if they’ve been handicapped by quarantine and travel bans*.
The tag teams cause a kerfuffle and Dirty Curty forgets which of the champs is legal. He picks the wrong one and gets DDT’d by the other. Like the old saying goes, you live by the putting your opponent’s head in your armpit and falling backwards, you die by the putting your opponent’s head in your armpit and falling backwards. One day I hope Breeze and Fandango are able to pull off an upset and become champs, even if it’s only for a week and just an excuse to get the title from one heel team to another. Be nice to my boys!
*It is so weird to hear WALTER’s music and know there’s still no chance of WALTER showing up. It’s like hearing the ice cream truck and running outside with your money in your hand only to watch it cruise past you and disappear down the street.
Best: Priests Vs. Southerners
A match made in Heaven … a match made in telling you you’re going to Hell!
After getting a strong victory over hoss division also-ran Killian Dain and wrestling like a total babyface, Damian Priest changes out of his ladies’ patchwork mesh wrestling pants and into his skinny jeans with the 35 wallet chains in time to wander out into the parking lot and discover his tires have been slashed by arrogant hillbilly Cameron Grimes. Grimes has gone full Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel now, literally hooting and hollering his way through even normal lines of dialogue. Dude might as well be dressed like an old-timey prospector. The next person who feuds with him should be trying to steal his gold.
Just wanted to quickly say how much I’m digging Priest’s work lately, and how Cameron Grimes’ character growth from “man who wears hat” to “chaotic neutral good old boy who is too loudly southern to get along with anybody and might just be a really intelligent chimpanzee” is Dr. Britt Baker levels of ambitious, but welcomed.
Worst For The Promo Parade, Best For The Matches It Creates
I’m so tired of promo parade booking at this point that I can’t get invested in it even when it’s full of characters I like, setting up matches I want to see.
On this week’s show, NXT Champion Adam Cole (baby) is in a couple of backstage segments and then awkwardly transitions that into the ring so people can start interrupting him with promos of their own. First it’s Keith Lee, who has been randomly confronting Cole backstage over the past couple of weeks and probably knows Cole’s calling him out over the NXT North American Championship to avoid the NXT Championship itself being the thing they beef over. Before that can go anywhere, Johnny Heel Turn interrupts looking like a Portal turret and says HE is the one who should be getting random additional title matches. Keith launches into a terrible bit about how Candice LeRae told him being fallen on and injured by a 320-pound man during a wrestling match is better than sex with her husband, but thankfully Finn Bálor interrupts to save the segment and try out some of the new wrestling jargon he learned on Wikipedia.
William Regal interrupts everyone — that’s four interruptions in this one segment, if you’re keeping score — to announce WAR GAMES that next week Lee will defend his North American Championship in a triple threat against Bálor and Gargano, with the winner moving on to a “winner take all” champion vs. champion match shortly thereafter. Important matches with high stakes, featuring key character who have a lot to lose? Count me the fuck in. I’m begging you, though; give us consequences. No goofy count-outs or draws or stolen pins this time. Just set up the pins and knock them down. NXT used to be brilliant at this, and I think they still can be with a little prompting. It’ll be worth it the next time you want people to get hype about a match you announced and believe it’s going to give them some kind of lasting emotional experience.
Best: Latter Day Santos
NXT has finally showed us what those in the know have known for years: El Hijo del Fantasma, by any name, is one of the best wrestlers on the planet. The guy can wrestle his ass off, he’s got the best dive in the business by (and for) a mile, he can play characters, he can cut promos in Spanish, he can speak perfect English — better English than most native English speakers, if we’re being honest — and he’s tough enough to, for example, put Drake Maverick through a table with a Phantom Driver and send him directly to the Local Medical Facility. Santos is the jam, has already been one of the best and most underutilized guys in any promotion he’s ever been in, and will be a huge star, especially after Vince McMahon realizes he’ll be able to deliver urine lobs and poop jokes without getting “what” chants.
P.S. if he’s the son of El Fantasma, changed his name to “Santos,” and has two henchmen, please call his group Junior Dos Santos.
P.P.S. Phantom Driver is a great name for a finisher and my favorite Victor Sjöström film.
Worst: Crud From A Stone
Here’s the latest match in the Xia Li vs. Aliyah feud that will still be happening when the rest of us are dead and gone. Xia Li and Aliyah are the most low stakes John Cena and Randy Orton ever. This one ends when Robert Stone (brand) gets on the apron but is too drunk and/or depressed to help, so he just vomits into the ring Scott Hall-style. Xia is understandably distracted, and Aliyah manages to roll her up and pin her after two attempts, because Aliyah still can’t properly roll someone up reliably on the first try. I’m not sure if Robbie E pretending to be Aron Stevens instead of Zack Ryder is going to turn that from a Worst to a Best.
Note: Between Kayla Braxton getting slimed and Bob Stone throwing up everywhere, I’m fairly certain Bruce Prichard is out as WWE’s creative lead and has been replaced by Moose from You Can’t Do That On Television. Robert Stone threw up in the ring? WHATTA YA THINK’S IN THE BURGERS?
Also On This Episode
Velveteen Dream, seen here looking like the All That logo, insists he’s a solo act who was just repaying a favor to Dexter Lumis. Dexter Lumis confirms that they are best friends forever by locating Dream’s magical couch room, planting a boardwalk caricature of the two of them, and sneaking away before Dream and find him and, presumably, turn him purple or vanish him with a snap. I don’t know how Dream’s pocket universe works. I’m still too invested in the friendship between and a wrestler given supernatural powers by a magic mirror containing the soul of a Prince impersonator and a serial killer who just wants to have friends and draw cartoons.
Mercedes Martinez is “coming soon” despite already being here, and she’s the only one allowed to wear a mask at the tapings!
Pitch: The NXT Women’s Championship division’s still crowded even after some ill-advised call-ups — does Bianca Belair still “go” to Raw at all? — so you should team up Mercedes Martinez with Kacy Catanzaro and call them “Mercedes Bends.” Shut up, I’m tired.
Timothy Thatcher has gone full Stu Hart, calmly explaining submission holds in a thick regional accent while mercilessly stretching his poor students. I just wish they’d filmed this in someone’s dirty basement. I’d like this more if WALTER hadn’t already done the same segments but better on NXT UK last year. Just put Thatch in Imperium already.
Kayden Carter takes a break from attending every single show taped at the Performance Center and standing in place for several hours to get in the ring and lose to Dakota Kai. Kai unlocked bonus stat buffs now that Raquel Gonzalez is dressing like a member of Harlem Heat. Dakota Kai wants the gold, sucka!
Bronson Reed literally and figuratively squashes PC Christ figure Leon Ruff and then issues a challenge to Karrion Kross. This is a good idea, especially coming right after he found out Keith Lee broke the big fancy hourglass he gave to Adam Cole as an intimidating gift. That came out of the school’s fall play budget, Keith, you’re gonna have to pay for that! Bronson vs. Karron is a good match to book to show that Karrion can wreck big opponents just as easily as small ones, which is essential if you’re planning to run him into double champ Keith Lee at some point. Part of me hopes Reed ends up following Kross around as a subordinate, if only for the amount of “thicc tock” jokes I could make.
Finally, The Undisputed Era send Roderick Strong to Undisputed Therapy to deal with the trauma of being thrown into the trunk of a car and briefly kidnapped by Dexter Lumis. Above is a photo of his therapist, Dr. Lyle Von Fürstenberg, who is (obviously) just Kyle O’Reilly in a costume. I don’t know what’s more interesting, Roddy having PTSD and sprinting away from the back of every car in terror, or Adam Cole and Bobby Fish seeing their friend in pain and thinking, “let’s dress up Kyle like a therapist and fuck with him.” They should’ve taken him to see Dr. Rachel Bonnetta from Backstage.
Quick question, why is Dr. Lyle just Sami Zayn with Bob Belcher’s voice? Who cares, he’s a Canadian national treasure.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
How did Tozawa not recruit Kacy for his new Ninja Warrior stable?
Zelina Vega watching this Santos promo right now
Endy_Mion (ed. note: yes, I put this right after Sailor Moon on purpose)
Poor Robert and his brand. They really should have shipped him up with Riddle as his manager. Called the label “Bromancing the Stoned”
Mauro: “The THICC BOY made mince meat out of Cheezburger!”
Beth: “Um, that’s not…”
Tom: “…NXT rolls on!”
The Voice of Raisin
Dakota: I choooose…Raquel Gonzalez!
Tegan: Tsk…I choose Kacy Catanzaro
Dakota: Oh oh! Mr. Boggs, would you like to be on our team?
Wade Boggs: You got yourself a stablemate.
Tegan: Ugh…I’ll take Kayden.
Breezango: This Ain’t Imperium! XXX
hooray it’s IO SHOWS UP AND MURDERS EVERYBODY, the idea I pitch in all my work Zoom meetings but nobody ever agrees to
Dave M J
Sasha Banks is fantastic, obviously, but my favorite thing about her is the fact that she will die to anybody’s offense to make them look like a threat.
I refuse to believe Undisputed Era would take Roddy to a real therapist and not a stripper wearing glasses.
I wish there was someway Shotzi could be in the crowd while Shotzi was in the ring wrestling.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. We’re not sure you ever actually read this part or do what we ask (or if you even scroll down through the top 10 comments of the week), but hey, it would really help us if you commented down below and shared the column if you liked or laughed at anything. The world’s tough, and that makes this kind of thing a lot easier.
Join us here next week for Damian Priest doing 1999 movie karate against the Lynyrd Skynyrd band member who slashed his tires, Bronson Reed getting sent to the crossroads by Karrion Kross, and a triple threat match for the North American Championship with WINNER TAKE ALL ramifications. GO KEITH GO! See you then!