Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Breezango became number one contenders to the Tag Team Championship, serial killer Dexter Lumis did some delightful caricatures, and Drake Maverick somehow earned his real-life job back by doing well at the position he’d just been fired from. It’s a thing.
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 NXT TakeOver: In Your House for June 7, 2020.
I think most of us were hoping an NXT TakeOver with an “In Your House” theme would, at the very least, include the classic (and super cheap looking) house set and an appearance from Todd Pettengill. If you’re a younger fan and didn’t grow up watching Todd, he’s the platonic ideal of a Vince McMahon-approved on-screen personality; charismatic, great at reading a full paragraph of corny shills and still sounding like he means it, and as threatening as a cool breeze on a summer afternoon. What I didn’t expect was realizing Todd’s still way better at this than anyone currently employed at WWE in an announce position. He was (and is, apparently) the perfect mix of performative, sincere, and interested slash knowledgeable about the product. Todd hasn’t been around for 25 years but you hear him say, “Io Shirai,” and your brain’s like, “of course Todd Pettengill knows who Io Shirai is, Todd Pettengill gives a shit about ALL of this.”
NXT TakeOver: In Your House is an episode of NWA Powerrr. Think about it. You’ve got a throwback concept complete with classic sets and a studio audience, featuring ironic “retro” commercials, hosted by a WWF morning show personality from the 1990s. Now all I want to see is Karrion Kross vs. The Question Mark.
Code Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Code Banana
Sad to see Code Orange perform on an NXT TakeOver without Aleister Black showing up on his creaky catapult. And besides, if we’re going to have a returning musical guest during quarantine, couldn’t we have gotten Poppy to show up and sing ‘Don’t Go Outside?’
Best: It’s True, Integrated Conditioning System IS A-boat That
The funny retro commercials throughout the show were hit or miss for me. I popped for Bugenhagen showing up in the ice cream commercial and loved the Lord Alfred Hayes tribute, but if I never see D-X putting themselves over for being confused old codgers on NXT TV again it’ll be too soon.
I DID love the Adam Cole remake of Bret Hart’s old ICOPRO commercial, though. That was hyper, hyper targeted at the exact kind of wrestling fan I am. OF COURSE I remember that commercial, and OF COURSE I’m going to wallow in the sweet, sweet nostalgia of a time when everything that happened wasn’t instantly turned into a meme, and you had to remember the more kitschy memories of your fandom with your actual human brain. After 20 years of watching WWE incessantly jack off the Attitude Era, I don’t think I realized how susceptible I am to New Generation nostalgia. Less D-X invading Monday Nitro while dorks cheer, more Papa Shango lighting jobbers on fire with voodoo magic while children cry.
Mostly Best: Low Stakes Trios Openers
I don’t actually have much to say about the six-woman tag, to the point that I’ve been sitting at my laptop for like 15 minutes trying to think of something broader than, “I liked it!” I liked it. I like that TakeOver gave these six a showcase match, and that they included an under-card match about personal feuds without any stipulations, championships, or “possible future title opportunities” on the line. They kept it simple, and it allowed almost everyone in the match to shine. Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart would be a pretty great tag team, especially in a world where the main roster Women’s Tag Team Division spans three brands despite having a grand total of maybe four teams. It’s a better match than this clip of people taking turns jumping onto the pile makes it look.
Raquel Gonzalez felt like the clumsiest part of the match, but that’s probably an experience thing. Not to mention the ongoing weirdness of Full Sail University going from an independent wrestling show with WWE production to an abandoned minor league hockey arena with a studio audience booing when the sign says “boo” and cheering when it says “cheer.” It’s interesting that Candice LeRae’s team lost — you’d think given their status as the new evil “power couple” or whatever they’d have had Candice or Johnny win at least one of their matches — but maybe Nox getting another win over Kai means Nox and Kai can finally pause their beef and expand their opponent pool. I imagine one or the other would be a solid next challenger for the NXT Women’s Championship, pending NXT picking a side with Shirai’s alignment.
Not the best match, but a perfectly cromulent way to begin the show. High energy, lots of different character flavors, and it didn’t outstay its welcome.
Best: Priest Vs. Demon
Then there’s Finn Bálor vs. Damian Priest, with Finn continuing to write the Prince Devitt page in WWE’s Book of Brothers, and Priest wearing pants that make him look like he’s in the Lingerie Football League. I love this pairing, because the best WWE opponent for Bálor (that we’ve found, at least) is a bigger, surprisingly quick guy who can easily overpower him, but keeps getting taken out of his game by Bálor’s wild swings of momentum. Bálor lives or dies by momentum, and Priest’s clearly going to make the mistake of trying to match him step for step. He’s good enough to do that for a while, but not internally powered by a literal demon, so he can’t do it forever.
I appreciated this being so straight-forward, as well. The story was that Priest wants to make a name for himself at Bálor’s expense, and Bálor — who still has WALTER in the back of his mind — needs to assert his dominance over the larger opponents who saunter in to his yard and assume they can shit wherever they want. Bálor kicking Priest’s ass here in such a competitive way means that when Bálor vs. WALTER finally does happen and jerks like me are like, “WALTER is going to chop him into sludge,” you can respond with, “well, Damian Priest was bigger and stronger than him and surprisingly fast and agile, too, and Bálor took him to the woodshed at In Your House.”
p.s. WALTER is going to chop him into sludge
Best: Keith Lee’s Black Lives Matter Gear
Wanted to make sure I got a picture of this in here. Between Keith’s trunks and entrance gear and Mia Yim showing up in a Central Park 5 t-shirt, it was a surprisingly real night of representation for WWE. I’m really happy they didn’t have Keith wear that to the ring and lose to Gargano, whose only gear statement was, “I wanted to look like The Mandalorian but ended up looking like a BMX racer who missed his jump and landed in the curtains.” There’s no better visualization of the Internet than, “I want to talk about something important” “Maybe later, first let me tell you my opinions about STAR WARS.”
(Johnny’s entrance was fun too, don’t get me wrong. It’s funny that on the outside the In Your House house set looks like a backdrop from a bad high school performance of Death of a Salesman, but apparently contains a fully sized, fully furnished house on the inside. It’s like a TARDIS. How did Gargano get the key, though? Does he live there? Is that where he’s been filming his dinner segments? And more importantly, who frames a picture of Dok Hendrix and hangs it by their front door so they see it every time they leave? I guess I shouldn’t expect much from someone who sets the thermostat to 69* and laughs at himself.)
Best: End Of An Era
The past three or four years of NXT have been dedicated to a number of ongoing stories — Undisputed Era’s golden prophecy, the women’s division bubbling over with talent to a detrimental degree, and a few others — but the “A-story,” so to speak, has been Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano. To put it another way, the last TakeOver where the main event didn’t involve Ciampa, Gargano, or Adam Cole was NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III in August of 2017. To illustrate how long ago that was, Drew McIntyre was still NXT Champion, Hideo Itami had a match, and Ember Moon was challenging for the women’s title. Sanity wrestled the Authors of Pain for the tag titles. Doesn’t that seem like it happened 40 years ago?
At NXT TakeOver: Sorry About WrestleMania, the bubble finally burst, I think. The “final beat” between Gargano and Ciampa was the first match in their series to be abjectly bad, as they wrestled nearly a full hour plus commercial breaks in relative silence for the benefit of Triple H and blew off a four-year feud with an evil wife heel turn and a bunch of dick-kicks. Ciampa can kick out of four men beating the dog-shit out of him for an entire main event and start spamming moves like nothing happened, but if Candice LeRae kicks him in the butthole once, he’s toast. It was a lot, especially once they were dedicated to finishing the story whether there were fans around or not.
The “double turn” of sorts has been bad for both characters, I think. Ciampa as a do-gooder who loves his family has never vibed with me, as he calls himself a PSYCHO KILLER and was, by his own admission, responsible for making Johnny’s life a living hell for like three years. Gargano doesn’t seem to know how to be a heel AT ALL, so he’s just being babyface Gargano but like, delivering threatening promos over dinner. It’s like they didn’t know how to end the story or what to do with either of them when it was over, so they’re just, to quote the prophet Big Bear, doin’ thangs.
Now free of their endless feud and working with character alignments that don’t necessarily play to their strengths, NXT TakeOver: In Your House gives us Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa like we haven’t seen them in years: as losers.
Johnny Gargano challenges Keith Lee for the North American Championship, which is a bit like a bird challenging a line drive. Gargano believes his ability to kick out of pretty much goddamn anything will protect him from Keith’s offense, not remembering that he loses his stat buff when Ciampa’s not around. His OVR instantly drops from 98 to like, 85. Keith has tons of momentum from Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and his spring-long dedication to closing the book on his feuds with Damian Priest and Dominik Dijakovic. That means he can, say, withstand Johnny’s observably lame heel attacks for a while until he’s able to hit a Spirit Bomb, followed by a second powerbomb transitioned into the Big Bang Catastrophe like he created a finisher in Smackdown vs. Raw 2010.
I think it could’ve been better at about half the length, as it felt like a really good 10-minute match stretched out to 20. It’s gotta be hard to come up with a believable, engaging story pitting a tiny heel who doesn’t even seem to know how evil he wants to be against a champion babyface three times his size. It’d be like booking Hulk Hogan to defend the championship against a heel Tito Santana in 1985. It’d be worth watching, sure, but also, LOL, what?
Tommaso Ciampa doesn’t fare any better, as his first TakeOver match of the post-Gargano-feud era sees him get completely gassed the hell out by Karrion Kross in like six minutes. It’s the exact finish I was hoping for. Kross is the scary new monster, who we’ve only seen squash jobbers. Ciampa’s got years of street cred as a crazy killer who kicks out of everything. So having Kross completely shut him down and make him pass out in the night’s shortest match asserts that THIS is the new crazy killer in town, and the torch has been passed. I don’t know what’s next for Ciampa after losing a feud to Adam Cole, losing a feud to Johnny Gargano, and getting browbeaten by a couple of musical theater majors, but I hope it’s a better use of his talent than sitting backstage with his elbows on his knees and obsessing over a championship he hasn’t held since the middle of 2018.
I don’t know what NXT needs to get out of the funk it’s in*, but I’m interested to see what it looks like once we’ve completely removed Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa. The upside to NXT being “developmental” and the top stars getting “call-ups” was that it let NXT tell stories with beginnings, middles, and logical ends. Now they’re being forced to learn how to get from one important story to the next without having their resources taken away, and everything feels a little dispassionate and uncertain. People either disappear without much fanfare, debut without a lot of character depth or explanation, or continue what they’ve been doing successfully for years on loop, possibly forever. So, you know. Main roster.
*live crowds and to stop being positioned as prime-time “main roster” competition against another wrestling show
Side note: I really love Karrion Kross and Scarlett née Bordeaux, and I finally figured out why. They’re basically Ryan and Sharpay from High School Musical if they started working out and got into combat sports. Kross is supposed to be this heartless, merciless assassin and you can just as easily imagine him pulling a production assistant aside and being all, “you have to play the first part in black and white, and when I start screaming you splash in the color! Also, Scarlett wrote a song that she’s going to lip sync. Yes every single time, why do you ask?” I want to see them enter to ‘Bop To The Top.’
Mostly Worst: The NXT FIGHT PARK
Speaking of the Attitude Era, here’s Adam Cole and Velveteen Dream doing a “cinematic,” G-rated remake of John Cena and Eddie Guerrero’s parking lot brawl in what looks like the city that gets blown up at the beginning of every Monday Nitro*.
Cole entering in an Undisputed Era monster truck was great, as my ironic love of Halloween Havoc ’95 has made me highly susceptible to any and all pro wrestling monster truck content, but Dream’s entrance was hilariously out of touch. Which member of Macular Degeneration X told him to dress up as Negan from The Walking Dead in the year of our Lord 2020? It’s not even current Negan, it’s 2016 Halloween costume Negan. What, for his next entrance is he going to be Left Shark? Maybe in a couple of years he’ll get to pretend he’s Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad.
The match itself was pretty corny, honestly. I think it would’ve benefited a lot from still being aired live (or at least on tape with the impression of being “live”) despite the locale. Pre-taped “cinematic” matches like this run of the risk of being even more over-edited and micromanaged by WWE’s editing team, so every little thing that happens needs three angles and six cuts. If the extent of your match plan is to wrestle a normal match outside except you’re wearing jeans and there are cars nearby, you could get away with a simpler presentation than is afforded you by concepts like “it’s happening entirely inside of Bray Wyatt’s head” or “an egotistical redneck watches his best friends get killed by a necromancer and is then buried alive.” I do think it’s funny that William Regal promised to find them a suitable location for both of their levels of stardom and then gave up looking between his office and his car, though. “THIS PARKING LOT IS PROBABLY FINE.” Maybe it would’ve worked better if the feud had anything to do with cars or parking lots**.
*I know it’s not. It’s filmed right outside of Full Sail, and the exploding Nitro town was part of the Streets of America at Disney Hollywood Studios before it got torn down to make room for part of Star Wars Land. Let me hold on to my dream of one day living in that fake town, and watching a giant projection of Lex Luger flex and scream while my house gets set on fire with wrestling excitement.
**For real though how do you do a match involving cars in the Full Sail parking lot and not tie to the multiple car-based abductions that’ve been happening in the Full Sail parking lot over the past several weeks? You could’ve at least thrown that car into the line-up as an Easter egg. Dexter Lumis stuffing the Undisputed Era into the trunk of a car and driving away with them as a heroic “evening of the odds” only poses further questions. And while we’re on THAT subject, how do you do a match with a monster truck and not get The Big Show involved? If we’re going to bring in Todd Pettengill and do ICOPRO jokes, we could take a minute to have Cole knock Dream off the roof of Cobo Hall and get accosted by Saurav Gurjar in a mummy costume.)
Best (Again, Mostly): Captain Io
First, here’s the good news: the women’s division main-evented TakeOver for the first time since 2015, and Io Shirai is the NXT Women’s Champion. Point point point! Both of those notes are huge positives, as there were clearly times when Asuka or Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane could’ve (and probably should’ve) gone on last, especially considering that previous note about three guys main-eventing for almost three straight years.
The match is very good, too. Shirai’s been one of the best and most reliable performers in wrestling, anywhere, for years. She’s also not afraid to leap from high places, and when I say leap I mean leap. A lot of people just kinda bend their knees and fall into stunts like that, but Io always gives it a full jump. Here she is living teenage Mick Foley’s dream and jumping off the roof of a house en route to winning her first WWE championship.
Charlotte Flair, jokes about her aggro dominance and apparently omnipresence across three WWE brands aside, is probably the most bulletproof “big match” performer in WWE. She almost always delivers when it comes to important matches, no matter the format or context. Rhea Ripley’s called the “future of the women’s division” for a lot of reasons, one of the primary ones being the level of emotion she brings to matches, and how good she is at communicating that to an audience. It’s a really good combination of talent that accomplishes something way overdue — Shirai as Women’s Champion — and would probably be getting a lot more praise across the board today if it wasn’t for the finish.
The first problem is that per the stipulation, Charlotte Flair didn’t have to be involved in the finish to lose the championship. So, to make it easy on everyone, Charlotte Flair wasn’t involved in the finish. She still managed to kind of “win,” though, as her locking Rhea Ripley in the Figure-Eight is what left Ripley open to a moonsault from Shirai. At least when Ronda Rousey lost the Raw Women’s Championship in a similar set-up, she took the pin. It’s hard to buy NXT as the leading women’s division in wrestling when Charlotte only got involved because someone confronted and challenged her to, won the title, completely dominated everyone, and then lost it without “losing.” Then there’s the actual moonsault, which … whew, you can count on Io to hit it flush something like 90% of the time, but Rhea wasn’t in position when Io started backflipping and came about a kneecap away from getting her spine compressed. Look how close the knee comes to hitting her on the top of her head:
It still look like it hurt like a motherfucker, though. That’s the kind of miscommunication and momentary lapse of timing that can lead to serious injuries, and I really hope her neck’s okay.
All in all, it was a good match with the right winner, even if it didn’t take the best path to get there. It’s also nice that Io actually won the championship here, as without the main event title change, this would’ve been one of the most pointless TakeOvers ever. Adam Cole retained to continue a nearly 400-day run, Keith Lee retained the North American Championship, nobody debuted, nobody switched alliances or whatever, nothing was really “earned” to set up any future shows, and the Tag Team and Cruiserweight Champions didn’t even make the card. Shirai in a bunch of streamers and confetti with the NXT Women’s Championship over her head is a great image to end on, even though I’m not certain when she became a heroic character again. Did her alignment switch because Candice turned out to be evil?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
And here comes the challenge by Big Show!
“Ow! My eye! I’m not supposed to get car keys in it!”
Got to get Scarlett out of that catsuit. A fine Bordeaux needs to breathe.
The Real Birdman
I think I’d pay extra every month to just get a hard cam only airing of matches
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Robert Zemeckis, 1988
Next up: Ric Flair’s Farewell, or: How to Shoehorn Charlotte into yet ANOTHER piece of WWE programming
Baron Von Raschke
HHH: Wow…Lumis…good job throwing them in the trunk. That was a perfect first take.
HHH: I mean…It’s almost like you’ve done that before
HHH: Okay….um, see you Wednesday.
Lumis not driving a windowless van is a real disappointment
The next TakeOver will feature Raw and Smackdown stars being booked logically in entertaining and competitive matches. It’ll be called In Your House: Mind Games.
As a final treat, here’s Keith Lee pouncing Johnny Gargano through the ringside plexiglass. Finally, something we ALL can enjoy.
That about wraps it up for the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver, a perfectly watchable show where the crowd approaches the uncanny valley — stop telling the PC people to start chants just because Full Sail does, it’s insincere! Only chant if you feel compelled to chant! Clap for who you like and boo who you don’t! WHEN YOU BUY A TICKET YOU EARN THE RIGHT TO…
…sorry, I blacked out there for a minute. But yeah, it’s a fine show, but definitely in the bottom tier of TakeOvers. It beat the hell out of TakeOver: USA Network, though. Agree? Disagree? Drop a comment down below to let us know what you thought of the show, and consider giving this a share on social media to get more eyeballs on it and keep us in the business of Disney Channel original movie jokes and Dexter Lumis asides. We’ll see you on Wednesday for the regular Best and Worst of NXT with all the fallout from In Your House, and, hopefully, the announcement of NXT TakeOver UK: INSURREXTION.
Thanks again for reading as always, and we’ll see you then.