Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Velveteen Dream made his big return to NXT, finally ending the week-long mystery of, “what’s up with those rings?” Additionally, Matt Riddle sang a jaunty tune about Bobby Fish that’s already the worst t-shirt you’ve ever seen.
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 February 12, 2020.
Best: The Adventures Of Pete & Pete Matt
Of all the things I didn’t expect when I tuned in to this week’s NXT, a well-shot, well-acted, actually funny series of attempted road trip vignettes starring Matt Riddle, Pete Dunne, and the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic trophy was at the top of the list. When was the last time you saw anything this ambitious from WWE’s production team? And yeah, I know in actual television and film terms a stoner buddy comedy is the last thing you’d call, “ambitious,” but for pro wrestling and WWE TV in particular, this felt like such a positive, wonderful step forward in their backstage segments and character development.
In case you didn’t see the show, we got a story in three parts starring Matt Riddle, a man too dumb and enthusiastic to do anything but look on the bright side, and Pete Dunne, a cultural fish out of water who built his career on breaking people’s fingers and can’t do anything but catastrophize. When they were announced as a tag team I think most of us assumed they’d have good chemistry in the ring, but it turns out they’re also awesome outside of it, and just as capable of comedic dialogue in absurd situations like trying to sneak onto Triple H’s private jet as they are at anchoring 20-minute TakeOver bangers.
- the Dusty Classic trophy officially being a “person” for some reason
- Riddle foreshadowing the end of the story at the beginning by introducing the suggestion of a road trip with, “I’ve got two words for ya”
- Dunne not knowing which side of the road he’s supposed to drive on in America, followed by the reveal that they planned a road trip despite neither of them having a driver’s license
- “This isn’t FOGGY LONDON TOWN …” “I’m not even from London.”
- “So go on then, smart ass, how exactly are we gonna get to Portland?” “Beautiful man, this isn’t a time for compliments.”
- Riddle revealing he hangs out on a swan paddle boat when he needs to think, and, based on the wide shot right after he says it, seems to think a swan is a “silly goose.” Which, I mean, they kind of are
- Riddle suggesting they can fly on a private jet because he “knows a guy,” which turns out to be Triple H, who literally everyone in NXT “knows”
- Riddle trying to pop Dunne by calling the luggage compartment the “boot,” getting shut down for it, and making a little, “aw, but” gesture while Dunne’s talking. One witty part of that is while “boot space” describes a luggage compartment, the term “boot” originally meant “a space on board the carriage for one or two servants to sit.” So when Riddle’s calling the luggage compartment a boot, he’s inadvertently pointing out that two servants (the Broserweights) are going to sit in a little space on their master’s carriage (Triple H’s plane).
- Triple H’s music playing as he’s walking to the plane, which is how wrestler entrance themes should work
Everyone kind of assumes they only put Dunne and Riddle together in the Dusty Classic so they could break them up and feud them, a la Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor, but I hope they never do. I didn’t know I needed this team in my life, and it’s gonna be a long time before I’m ready to let it go. Replace whatever feud concepts you had with a WWE Network show shot and acted like this where the BroSerweights remake Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road To … movies.
Best: Prepping For TakeOver
NXT TakeOver: Portland (featuring the 🐐 Poppy) is this Sunday, so Wednesday TV is dedicated to maintaining the status quo, making sure everyone gets there in one piece, and, for lack of more elegant phrasing, the “right people” winning. Thankfully, all of that in NXT terms means putting on really good TV matches that don’t contain a lot of character development and don’t quite escalate to TakeOver level, but are still entertaining as hell for fans of the wrestling part of wrestling.
For example, Dakota Kai goes one-on-one with Candice LeRae. This is a great and useful combination of talents as they’re both great in the ring and have beef extending back to LeRae being on the team Kai betrayed to kick Tegan Nox’s ass at TakeOver: War Games. Even better, Kai shows her in-ring acumen when she turns LeRae’s attempt to roll through on the Gargano Escape into a roll-up and pins her in the middle of the ring. Beth Phoenix tries to play this off as some nefarious act of cowardice because Kai had cheated earlier (but not here), and because NXT Beth Phoenix has never said something it sounds like she actually means.
After the match, LeRae tries to get revenge on Kai by stalking and attacking her, you know, like a babyface might, and gets her face thrown into the ring bell. Long story short, this leads to Tegan Nox showing up and brawling with Kai in defense of LeRae, to sell their street fight at Sunday’s TakeOver. Nox seems like the favorite because righteous indignation, but Kai just showed no amount of heart can keep you from getting your shoulders held to the mat by a smart wrestler. That’s what we mean when we say the “right” wrestler won. The win on TV accomplished something that adds to the narrative of the more important match at the “pay-per-view.”
The main event accomplishes something similar. We know that Adam Cole could beat KUSHIDA with three guys helping him, but if we want to create maximum drama heading into Cole’s NXT Championship defense against Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver, we need to remind everyone watching that Cole is, believe it or not, good enough to defeat top-level challengers by himself. That’s the long an short of it. I would also like to see KUSHIDA not used exclusively as a jobber to the stars — maybe add him to the cruiserweight division, where he can shine? — but he’s an excellent hand to have around when you want to cap off your go-home show with a great 13 minutes.
Tommaso Ciampa’s promo from the auditorium where he gave up the NXT Championship because of injury was really good, too. I just wish they’d edited out the random guy in the crowd who yelled “you scared me!” right at the end and got everybody laughing, because there’s a time and place for fun heckling, and it’s probably not at the end of a tense character piece about passion and career-threatening injuries ahead of your live special main event.
The best match of the night for me, and another example of effectively spotlighting one of the big names people are gonna see in a marquee match at TakeOver, is Johnny Gargano vs. Cameron Grimes. It’s a fresh match that entertains with its in-ring work (obviously), shows Gargano’s ability to adapt to unorthodox opponents ahead of his match with Prince Bálor, and, in the process, shows that an up-and-coming star like Grimes has what it takes to hang with a guy generally considered the “top performer” in NXT history. You know, it’s a shame that Bálor is going to absolutely eat Gargano alive at TakeOver. I was hoping we’d get to see more matches from him. OH WELL.
But yeah, no, this was one of those bouts you wanna seek out and watch. Again, it’s not a big TakeOver-style blowout, but it’s a casually excellent match that stands just above its peers on a night full of wonderfully watchable pro wrestling and informs part of what you’re going to see on Sunday. Also, here’s Gargano dropping a People’s Elbow on a hillbilly’s prized Lynyrd Skynyrd hat.
You know you’re a wrestling fan if this doesn’t even seem weird to you.
While Gargano vs. Grimes was the best match of the night for me, my favorite match was Bianca Belair going HAM on Santana Garrett in like 45 seconds. I’ve always thought Belair could use a little Bill Goldberg in her presentation. If she’s facing someone who isn’t Rhea Ripley or Shayna Baszler or someone comparable, she should probably straight-up murder them with extreme prejudice. The announcers putting over the fact that she’s “in a groove” helps, too, because she’s really doing excellent work in the ring and on the microphone this year. She’s so good she’s got a large portion of the audience hoping she beats Ripley at TakeOver, when just two months ago Ripley was everyone’s pick for everything. Not that there’s any reason to NOT like Ripley, as she’s still a total bad-ass and deserving of her meteoric rise to the top, but damn, Bianca Belair is on some next-level shit right now.
Best: Marking Out
Before we move on to the stuff that built to next week’s NXT instead of TakeOver, I want to point out how surreal and awesome it is to hear Mark Henry, of all people, narrating a video package about how hard the Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic North American Championship match is going to be on Sunday. This is such a good use of WWE legends. Most of them like wrestling, right? Have them make appearances like this every now and then to put over the evolution and value of the younger stars to communicate that to an audience that, let’s be honest, doesn’t always get it. Plus, you give a current star a legend bump without having to bring out the legend to succeed or fail at physicality they abandoned years ago. Bill, I’m looking in your direction.
Best: Next Week Matters
TakeOver is on Sunday, but NXT TV remembers it’s not just selling a WWE Network live special; it’s selling NXT weekly TV, and shouldn’t pretend like next week’s show doesn’t exist just because there’s an important aside happening over the weekend. NXT understands this, and uses every segment not earmarked for TakeOver to put over the stories and characters doing important things three days later.
Firstly, Roderick Strong has a match with Bronson Reed, based on Strong’s opportunistic jumping knee during last week’s UE backstage hatefulness. Like Cole and KUSHIDA, the match reminds us that yeah, Strong cheats and is generally a total scumbag 24/7, but is also an impressive athletic performer who can win a match against a bigger and stronger opponent using his skill, stamina, and timing. It also plays up the Velveteen Dream’s return and his desire to get revenge on the Undisputed Era with an attempt at a distraction that works in the short term, but ultimately fails. Strong recovers enough to counter a top rope splash from Reed with a jumping knee to the goddamn face and wins, Dream be damned. Bless NXT for not giving their end-of-match distractions a 100% success rate. When a distraction starts on Raw or Smackdown, you can just change the channel because you know what’s going to happen.
After the match, Dream gives us a good look at the Rick Rude Versus Roderick Strong’s Family airbrushed tights a lot of people seemed to miss last week, and confirms that he’s going to counter Strong’s 4-on-1 gang violence with psychosexual mind games. Dream has no interest in any of the things he’s threatening to do, especially being the father of a random 3-year old, but he’s going to have a lot of fun manipulating an emotionally unstable and insecure dirtbag by saying it’s so.
Finally, Angel Garza and his public domain bop of an entrance theme get another match with Lio Rush of the Moth Tribe with a shot at the NXT Cruiserweight Championship on the line. Rush is the former champion who lost to Garza and wants to prove himself. Garza never really “lost” the championship in a physical sense, as he wasn’t the guy who got pinned in a fatal four-way. Also, Garza once whipped off his breakaway pants in front of Rush’s family, and you don’t talk about or do anything near or even THINK ABOUT a MAN’S FAMILY.
This isn’t the best match these two have had together, but that’s a high bar. They’re magical together, honestly, and are the kind of wrestlers who work hard to make every match they wrestle build on the foundation set by earlier matches. There are a few callbacks to the Cruiserweight Championship match here, including Rush connecting with a frog splash from the top rope to the floor, and Rush learning to counter the Wing Clipper with a small package to get the win. I can’t tell you how happy I am that the cruiserweights are part of NXT and wrestling in front of this Full Sail crowd, because for better or worse, the Winter Park dorks are actually excited to see wrestling and react to the good and bad things the wrestlers do.
In summary, a show dedicated to promoting Sunday’s live special also took a huge chunk of time to promote Velveteen Dream vs. Roderick Strong and a Cruiserweight Championship match between Jordan Devlin and Lio Rush for next week. Outstanding.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
“Bro’d Trip” needs to be a 2 hour WWE Studios movie or what’s the point of even having a studio?
If the first thing that happens at Takeover Portland ISN’T Riddle and Dunne trying to sneak out of HHH’s plane, HHH catching them and ripping them new assholes, then I don’t even know what the point of tag teams are anymore
The Real Birdman
I don’t know how Candice can focus with vampires on the loose
Dave M J
Guys…you don’t have to call it the GargaNO Escape.
CANT-dice Cape is RIGHT THERE.
Matt Riddle knowing how to smuggle things onto a plane seems in character
Flew by as always. See y’all Sunday for NXT Portland: You’ve Probably Never Heard of It
This Pete Dunne/Matt Riddle stuff would ten times better if Neil Patrick Harris showed up.
WWE just sold a PPV by promising good wrestling. I’m in shock.
What Pete Dunne is thinking every second he is with Matt Riddle:
“MUST NOT MURDER MUST NOT MURDER MUST NOT MURDER MUST NOT MURDER!”
GRIMES: I can kick out of anything because I’m Johnny Wrestling! That’s right! I can take fifteen superkicks and a dozen chair shots and still get back up. I don’t need safety gloves, because I’m Johnny Wres—
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. Make sure you’re here this weekend for our complete TakeOver: Portland coverage, including results, Best and Worst, live news breakouts, and general, high pitched squeeing noises.
Until then, make sure to drop down into our comments section and let us know what you thought of the episode. If you liked or laughed at anything in here, give us a share on social media and go vote for us for Best Wrestling Media in the RSPW Awards. See you on Sunday!